Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Aviation Time

One of the hardest things for me to adjust to in flying is 'aviation time'. I remember when Husband was first working on his license... I could never understand how he would leave for a 2 hour lesson and not be back home for 5 hours. I understood that the airport was 1/2 an hour away, each way... so 3 hours, I could understand. I could even understand that the instructor might be a few minutes late... but what happened to the other 1.75 hours?

Now, I fly too, and have both experienced aviation time and probably have been the cause of it at some point. All GA pilots probably know what I'm talking about. You show up for your cross country flight, all prepared and ready to go. Only to find that your plane is late coming back in from a previous lesson, or there's no fuel, or the door is stuck, or some other issue. And, if the plane is all set to go, then your instructor is late. Or if both the plane and the instructor are present and accounted for, unexpected weather hits.

Well, I've been hit hard by aviation time lately. And it's a bummer. All of it is understandable, but at this stage in my training (I'm hoping to finish up within the next month or so), I'm anxious to keep things moving. But part of learning to fly seems to include a hefty bit of learning to be patient. I guess it's good practice for waiting out the weather!

An example of the last few weeks:

Last Saturday: I got to solo, but before Husband could go out for his turn, the winds kicked in.

Last Sunday: I was able to do my stage check due to Husband's good nature, but winds were too strong for him to get his softfield landings in.

Last Monday: I was supposed to fly with my dad and M for a special birthday flight to the Bay... but not such luck. The attendant put too much fuel in the plane so we were too heavy to fly with all three of us!

Last Tuesday: My night cross country was canceled due to winds.

Satruday: M canceled my night cross country so he could study/rest for his ATP.

Sunday: Husband and I both snuck in about 1/2 hour of landings each before the winds got really crazy... oh- and M canceled our dual flight for a personal engagement (albeit a cool one).

Monday: Husband's softfield landings-- and my night landings-- canceled because the transponder on the plane stopped working.

Tuesday: My night landings again canceled because M forgot and told another student he could fly.

So... I guess my night stuff will have to wait till M returns from his vacation (lucky him!). Oh well. But it sure is hard to be patient! I guess the trick is to remember that I'm pretty lucky to get to experience such a cool hobby!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Woo Hoo! Stage Two Completed!

I passed my Stage 2 Check yesterday! I'm really glad it's over and done... though I know there are probably a few things I'll have to work on.

Why is it that you make mistakes you've never even come close to making when you take a check ride-- even just a stage check like this? I guess it's just human nature... but it sure is frustrating to know that you can totally nail something on a very consistent basis, and then, bam- miss it completely on the check ride.

In any case-- I think I did *okay*, though there were definitely better moments than others. I have realized over the past week or so that it is easy to get caught up in trying to do each maneuver and each process perfectly... when in real life, we are often far from perfect. On the one hand, we need to constantly strive for perfection-- the perfect shortfield landing, the perfect VOR fix, or the perfect time enroute calculation. On the other, if we are constantly caught up in not being perfect, then we will also be continually disappointed (and not satisfied) in our own performance. So-- I'm going to try and strive for perfection, yet accept and be happy with the best I can do (and hope it's enough to get my private ticket!).

BTW-- for those who are curious what my stage 2 consisted of:

Oral: Airspace, Light Signals, Flight Planning, Flight Watch, and Flight Following, Radios, and a bunch of other stuff that I don't remember because it got a little overwhelming!

Soft-field takeoff
Hitting a few cross-country checkpoints by pilotage (and checking the time, etc.)
Calculating groundspeed based on time and mileage
Diverting to an airport (calculating direction, distance, time, and remaining fuel)
Hoodwork- VOR tuning and tracking
Turns, climbs, and descents under the hood
Attaining a certain altitude/airspeed under the hood
Recovering from unusual attitudes (under the hood)
Using the GPS and waypoints
Radio Calls
Shortfield Landing (which also turned out to be a crosswind landing!)
(And I was supposed to do a short field takeoff and a softwind landing... but winds were not cooperating)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Beautiful Cumberland

We flew to Cumberland on Tuesday night. We didn't really intend to fly to Cumberland-- it was supposed to be a Stage 2 Review to make sure I'm ready for my stage check (scheduled for tomorrow, if the weather holds)... but we decided at the last minute to continue on to Cumberland instead of breaking off of the flight plan after I successfully completed a few of the checkpoints (for Stage 2, you plan a cross-country, start through the first few checkpoints, then break off to do VOR tracking and unusual attitudes, etc.). I'm really glad we decided to fly on to CBE. First of all- I love seeing new airports. And secondly-- it was beautiful!

Cumberland is nestled in a valley-- on the edge of a small river. Husband and I have driven through it many times on our way to various places-- and have, in fact, eaten at the Wendy's under the bridge several times. I've always thought of it as a dirty-little town-- much like all the other little steel towns in the West Virginia/Pennsylvania/Maryland countryside. But from the air it was totally different; green, lush, and cute-looking.

Mountain flying is one of those scary-exciting things to me that I want to learn how to do, but am a little hesitant about, too... kind of like peeking through your fingers at an exciting/scary point in a movie. But this was cool. We didn't fly over big mountains-- but we did cross several ridges as we came across from HOAGE. Then, at the end, we started our descent on one side of the ridge, and then, all of a sudden, there was Cumberland, on the other side. It was a little startling to have to get down low enough, find and maneuver to the airport, while keeping track of where the mountains were (on both sides of us). Very cool.

We thought about trying to have dinner there... but alas, the restaurant closed an hour before we got there. Seems to be par for the course for us and finding food while flying! Oh well. I still had a great sunset flight-- and I had fun discovered a little gem of an airport ($100 hamburger, here we come!).

Friday, May 11, 2007

Love Those Night Lights

I love flying at night. The lights are beautiful, and it's so peaceful... and you can see other planes from really far away (always a plus in trying to avoid hitting those other planes!)!

I've had a lot of "sunset" flights-- trying to squeeze in lessons after work. We'll head out about an hour before sunset, do our maneuvers, and then come back in to land as it's getting dusky-- or even as it's getting pretty dark. I always trying to convince M to stay out just a little bit longer-- kind of like a kid who wants to shoot one more basket before coming in for the night. (Puh-lease? Just one more landing?!)

Last night, I raced out to the airport trying to get in one more lesson before my second stage check on Sunday. (My flight school does things pretty formally-- we go through three stages in our training-- and each is followed with an official stage check with one of the Asst. Chief Flight Instructors.) I've gone everything I needed for the stage check-- but we had two things left to review (fixes and short-fields). With threatening weather, we decided to skip the fixes-- I think I'll do okay with those... and stay in the pattern to do short-fields. I generally like landings, so that was cool by me.

We flew until past sunset... my favorite! I think I'm finally starting to get the right picture on the shorts... now if I can just keep it in my head! When we came in, Husband met us at the plane-- we planned to get our official night landings started. Weather was still an issue-- so we sat and ate outside, looking at all the planes. Finally, it was officially "night" and we could get started. Nathan went first as he has less experience after dark (almost none), and has the harder schedule to coordinate. M demoed one landing (imagine a piece of plexiglas stretching across the top of the runway lights as your new runway surface). On their second pattern, the rain started. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted!

The funny thing... I didn't mind spending an hour or so sitting outside at the airport in the dark. I just love seeing all those planes and wondering where they've been! And it was a bonus to watch Husband and M flying around overhead.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

So Back to That X-Country...

I had been pretty freaked out about my first cross-country. Navigating has not ever been one of my strong points... except maybe when on foot in Europe (for some reason, my navigation capabilities seem to kick in when on foreign soil). In any case, I had to really work to get the pilotage thing down. But it finally seemed to be clicking. M & I did one last cross-country together to make sure that I was ready (and we went to the airport where I would be going for my solo cross-country to make it even easier). Even though I knew I had finally gotten the checkpoints and timers and everything, it still was a bit of a surprise when he and Husband suggested I do my solo cross-country the next day. After I got used to the idea, I was pretty excited (especially after he reminded me that I could use the nice, shiny G1000 and just follow the pink line if I was worried about getting lost).

Weather delayed me for a few days-- but as luck would have it, we had a picture-perfect solo day a few days later-- and I just happened to already have a lesson scheduled in the plane. (Luckily, I also have a very understanding boss who was a flight instructor.) So off I went... or so I thought!

Man, there's a lot of stuff to do before you leave! After preflighting, filing over the phone-- and then in-person when the system wouldn't cooperate (pesky ADIZ!), reviewing my route and the weather with M, and having a last minute oral quiz (while I'm thinking: now is NOT the time to confuse me with new stuff!), I was finally ready to go start my run-up. Here's where I encountered the first "uh-oh, am I ready for this" moment! I couldn't get my mike to work. Assuming it was the jack (we've had problems with it before), I fiddled with that awhile. Then I tried adjusting the squelch. When all else failed (and after about 7-8 minutes), I finally shut down, went inside, and got M. Turns out, I had the squelch button set to be the volume knob! So, after he reset the manual squelch, all was good.

After take-off, I checked in with Potomac Departure... who promptly handed me off to Potomac Approach. Hmmm... haven't had this happen before! What to do? So, I just forged ahead, hoping that this wouldn't turn into one of those "I learned about flying from that" articles. After another strange handoff (usually, we don't encounter any handoffs at that point), I finally discovered the problem. I called and requested flight following to CHO, my destination. A confused response from Potomac... uh... aren't you going to JYO? Inside, I started shaking (no one wants to screw up with ADIZ procedures!), but responded with my best big-pilot voice that my destination was to CHO-- and that they must be looking at my return flight plan. A moment of silence. Then-- we'll look into it and get back to you. Okaaaaay. Now what. Luckily, after about 5 minutes (felt like 30!) and several dozen calls to other aircraft, the controller returned to me and told me to expect a handoff to the CHO tower-- and landing runway 21.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful (though my first right-pattern was *interesting*... I strayed a little too close to the runway-- enough for Tower to ask me to clarify which runway I was landing on!). I landed at CHO and decided to park the plane and walk around for a few minutes. It felt so strange to be on the ramp of another airport by myself (But awesome, too!).

The journey back to JYO was MUCH more comfortable. Why is it so much easier to return home than to leave it? I even treated myself to a little XM radio-- and still managed to get my checkpoints. I love flight following on the way back home-- it makes it so easy to transition the ADIZ and the Bravo airspace (though thank goodness for the G1000-- I almost didn't lose enough altitude for the second shelf)! The only hiccup was the actual arrival at JYO. I still am not used to coming back in from the south. I couldn't see the airport-- I knew it was there. My heading, my chart, my gut, and my G1000 were all telling me it was right there. I finally found it when it was right off my wingtip! Since I had never flown in from that direction to runway 17, I wasn't quite sure how to approach. I know you typically would cut across and join downwind-- but there's the pesky airspace right next to you if you do that. Add to that my late sighting of the airport... and I decided to take the long way around and do it the normal way. This gave me time to do my before landing check-- a very good thing since apparently I forgot to switch fuel to both when I started back up at CHO! Fortunately, no harm done, and I switched back. Husband says that I would have gotten a very noticable warning had the fuel gotten close to empty... but still makes me nervous! Everything smoothed out from there and I made a nice soft-field landing (another instructor even complimented me on it later!).

It was nice to be back safely. It was nice to put it behind me... and thinking back-- I think it went pretty well. I made a few mistakes-- but it is a relief to know that I dealt with them successfully and was still able to refocus and not let things spiral out of control. I think that's been one of my biggest fears.

I can't wait to explore some more new airports! :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Solo Cross-Country #1!


I did it! I flew my first solo cross-country today.

I should probably back up a bit. I'm a 31- (almost 32-) year old consultant who's learning to fly. I never thought that I would learn to fly. Growing up, my brother loved airplanes and dreamed of being a pilot. I just liked traveling. I loved the exitement of going new places... but never thought I would learn to fly myself! Then I met my husband... and he also dreamed of flying. He was obsessed! For years, he talked about getting his license... but with his already busy schedule as a management consultant, flying back and forth across the country, he settled for dreaming. But after we moved to the DC area, and he stopped the constant travel for work, he decided to go for his license.

To make a long story short, we ended up buying a new Cessna 172 with a glass cockpit! But I still wasn't into the flying thing (though to be fair, I *did* give him ground school as a birthday present!). So, after we bought this crazy-expensive plane (which we have enrolled in a flight school to make it a little less crazy-expensive), I decided I needed to go up for a ride. My dear husband obligingly arranged some time with his new instructor, M, (another long story) for me to see what we had gotten ourselves into. As it happened, hubbie was out of town the night I went up for my first flight. (And as he later confessed, he was worried that I would either love it or hate it... but was more worried that I would hate it-- I tend to get car-sick and scared on roller coasters...) I was also a little worried that I might hate it.

The session started out great. M took time to show me the basics of pre-flighting. And the plane was very new and shiny... and the new-plane smell (leather seats!) was awesome! I found myself clenching my fists on takeoff... but then, when M let me fly, I was hooked! I remember feeling disappointed when we had to land. Then, when I realized I didn't have any reason to go back up, I was really disappointed. So after talking it over, and a little prodding from Husband, I decided to go for it and get my private.

That was almost 9 months ago! And boy am I glad M took me up for that intro flight. Flying definitely is addictive!

I guess I'll have to come back to that solo cross country trip a little later... as you can see, I get a little carried away when it comes to flying.