Sunday, February 22, 2009

First Passengers!

After looking marginal this morning, the weather decided to cooperate with me this afternoon and I took my wife and 4 year old son to the airport for some flying. After checking and double checking the weight and balance, I did one last check of the weather: scattered clouds, 9 knots of wind, and 15°F. The TAF spoke of improving conditions, with the cloud deck clearing out and the wind dying down. So, I preflighted the bird, got the family all situated in the cabin (wife and child in back) and took off.

I'll have to admit, it doesn't happen very often, but everything with the flight went very well. Taxied to the active runway, did my runup (mags were fine), and launched into the cold air. A couple seconds after we lifted off I heard my little boy shout "woo-hoo!". That was a good sign!

We climbed up to 1500 agl and set a course for our house. On the way we flew over my in-law's house and snapped some pics, but it was hard because I didn't fly low and slow (for safety reasons). My wife tried to take a pic of our house but with a low wing going 100 knots and her in the back seat, the shot didn't turn out.

Next stop was a large nearby lake, Lake Waconia. It has a nice little ice fishing house town and a cool island. We circled for a bit then decided to head back to Flying Cloud. My wife took a couple pics of the airport, then the runway when I was on short final. Red over white, you're alright!

I squeaked the landing, I have to admit. My wife told me that if I hadn't bragged about the landing, she would have thought they were all like that. To be honest, it was the first non-short field landing I've done in a long time, so it seemed easy to do a regular landing.

On the ride home my wife admitted to feeling queasy (yes, we had sick sacks on board) but not nauseous, and it passed within an hour or so. I had the same feeling on my first few flights too. I tried to make all my maneuvers as gentle as possible, but we did get a little turbulence while we were up there.

All in all, it was a lot of fun but I can't wait for it to be warmer.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Student Pilot Stories.

Since I'll be flying less frequently as a private pilot than I did as a student, I'll fill in some gaps with random experiences I had during my training, but didn't get included in the previous blogs (or wasn't described in detail.)

Close Call

After winter set in, the airport line crew would pull the plane out of the hangar and plug in the engine block heater and plug the air inlets with foam blocks. One time I preflighted the whole plane, and got to the part where I turn the key to start the engine. I actually put pressure on the key but at the last second, stopped. Something (I don't remember what) prompted me to think about the extension cord that was plugged into the engine block. I jumped out and sure enough, there was the cord. Had I started the engine, many bad things would have happened. I was fanatical about pulling that cord off before the preflight after that incident.

Silly Truck You Are Not An Airplane

I never blogged this flight due to the incredible amount of time I was spending studying for my checkride. Just prior to my Stage III check, I recieved an endorsement to fly to Glencoe airport to practice nontowered airport operations and short / soft field landings and takeoffs in a new environment. I got to the airport, circled, noted the windsock, and noticed a snowblower working along the side of the runway. He was clear of the runway, but I wasn't all that sure, so I kept my eye on him as I approached for landing. At 300 feet I noted that he was almost to the far end of the runway and was no factor to my landing. Just then a truck drives out onto the runway and hauls ass down to the other end. I shoved the throttle in and took the flaps out and got out of there. There was enough self-doubt to abort the landing. I checked the NOTAMs (Notices To Airmen) when I got back to Flying Cloud but there wasn't anything about Glencoe being closed. I found out that another CFI had gone there about 30 mins after I did and aborted his landing too, so I felt like I did the right thing.

More next week!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

One week later.

I've decided to continue this blog into the next chapter of my aviation adventures. I still haven't flown since my checkride, but my wife's schedule is very busy right now and she is quite adamant about being the first passenger. We've got Feb. 22nd down as our day to fly.

Sadly, today was absolutely perfect flying weather and I was committed to helping with a fundraiser with my wife, so no flying today. Pity.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Checkride passed.

My first flight lesson as a student pilot was on May 8, 2008, almost exactly nine months ago.

Today, I took the checkride, which was a 4 hour test of my knowledge and flying skills that I've accumulated over the last nine months.

The first two hours was slated for the oral exam portion of the test. The examiner, Marsha, quizzed me on weather, airman privileges, airspace, and more. Except for a few really obscure things she threw at me for the heck of it, I did very well on this portion of the test.

Then I went to preflight the plane, but alas, it was not there! Some commercial student had taken it up to St. Cloud and was fueling it up when he called in. Knowing that he was at least 30-45 minutes away, I elected to take the solid but clunkier sister ship, 2240G. Marsha did not watch me preflight the airplane, which was sped things up a bit (seeing as I didn't have to explain everything I was doing). We started up the plane and she had me dive right into on my planned flight to Des Moines.

I hit my closely spaced and easily recognizable checkpoints. One thing I wasn't happy about was the insane windspeed at 2500 feet. Marsha told me to calculate my ground speed vs. airspeed. The first time I used my E6B flight computer to determine our groundspeed, I looked at her and told her I wasn't sure my answer was right. But it was...our groundspeed was 68 knots, or about 78mph. Our airspeed was 110 knots, so we were facing a 42 knot headwind.

After the first couple of waypoints, she had me divert to the airport I assumed she would choose. Unfortunately it was lousy with traffic. I made an over pass, and then had to circle before I could see the tiny windsock. After I overflew, I attempted a cloverleaf to 45 entry to downwind, but I started too close the airport. After I flew south a bit to get some space, I made a nice 45 to downwind and thought I was doing a nice pattern when she started acting a little nervous and saying "look how close we are to the ground!". I kind of looked at her and said, "uh, the altimeter says were at 700 feet" (plenty of altitude). She kind of backed down and said "oh yeah it does". I then made the only real mistake that came close to a bust...I made a hard soft-field landing. The reason was, it was very windy and gusty, and just getting the bird down was a chore. I know she gave me some credit for the windy conditions, plus, the landing wasn't bad, just firm and a little left of center.

She said I was still within the standards, but if I busted I could still continue (then reminded me I hadn't busted). I gritted my teeth and told myself "I am not failing this test".

She then had me perform a short field takeoff, and I cleared her imaginary obstacle by a large margin. She was happy with that, and told me to run the pattern for a short field landing. Turning downwind, we spotted a plane above and to our side, which appeared too low to be just passing through. We watched it as we made our pattern, and I extended my downwind a bit to give me some time to setup my landing. Just then, this guy, who was not on the radio, swooped inside our pattern and landed!

Marsha was NOT happy, and attempted to raise the guy on the radio, but he wasn't talking. She said "this isn't safe, let's depart the area". So we did, and moved onto maneuvers.

She had me do turns around a point, slow flight, instrument maneuvers (no unusual attitudes though), some stalls, and a simulated engine failure. I did all of these well within the standards, thankfully. Then she told me to dial up the Flying Cloud VOR and head home for a full stop landing.

But I knew one more test remained.

The short field landing. I was cleared for a straight in to runway 10L. Marsha said "The threshold is a 50 foot obstacle. Clear it and make a short field landing."

Ok, now, none of my CFIs ever had me practice this way. They always told me to pick a point and hit it, +200 / -0 feet tolerance. I honestly didn't know what point was my target, and maybe that was the intention. So I configured for a sink rate that would bring me over the threshold at about 100 feet, and then I flared hard and I THOUGHT I floated and landed way long, but the touchdown was a greaser. Marsha smiled and said "well that's a nice way to end a checkride!" I didn't argue with her.

I parked the plane and shut it down, and Marsha shook my hand and said "Congratulations, you're a pilot now!" I was exhausted but happy.

They typed up my temporary airmen certificate, and that, ladies and gentlemen, brings the first chapter of my flight training to a close.