Thursday, June 28, 2007

Check Ride Prep

Is preparing for a checkride always this crazy? I got the signoff last weekend, and scheduled my exam. I ended up scheduling with an examiner that my instructor doesn't know (I know, that's risky-- but we had our reasons for why that made sense). The morning after I scheduled the exam, I got a voicemail from the examiner saying that he wanted to send me some stuff, and that I should email my address. So I did. Then he also emailed some instructions on using the online system to register for the checkride.

At this point, I decided to ask M about all of this as it was starting to seem a little intense. Unfortunately, M was out of town on an interview... so I had to wait. While waiting to get in touch with M, I got the packet in the mail from the examiner. Oh my. Very thorough. The packet contained an 11 page document of how the examiner expected the check ride to proceed. On the one hand, it gave very specific information on the examiner's expectations and questions to expect (that could be good-- to know exactly what to expect), on the other hand, it was so specific that it came across as... very unforgiving. So now, even more of a dilema. I finally talked to M this morning, and sent him a scan of the document. After he made it through 3 out of the 11 pages, he called me. He thinks I definitely should not go with this examiner. That I should go with one of the others (M's usual examiner, who is a very nice guy, just lost his medical). M was definitely not impressed with the examiner's document. Not only was it overly specific, but it also, in at least one case, was based on the wrong PTS standards (he used the old standards for a short-field landing instead of the new ones).

So now, I'm waiting to see if I can get in with the examiner who is known to be LONG (but so is the one I'm currently scheduled with), but nice. M thinks this guy just sounds like trouble. Hopefully, I can get an appointment with the new guy, and then manage to get myself unbooked with the other guy. (And I hate making phone calls!)

The good news is, I've been studying every night this week. And I think I'm pretty ready for this. There are a few things I want to go over still... but most of the stuff is falling into place. And-- on the up side-- I felt like I knew most of the stuff in the document that the examiner sent me!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Update! The Dog is Fixed!

I just got off the phone with someone from the flight school. The stall horn is fixed. They had to replace it as part of it got broken. Apparently, these things just break sometimes (more than you might think). Hopefully, it'll be covered under warranty. And hopefully, all those students with flights that got cancelled will reschedule their flights! :)

Checkrides, and Maintenance, and Goodbyes, Oh My!

7:45 am: I have tons of time to do my cross-country planning for my Stage 3 Check. I'll get started now, though, so I have plenty of time to get to the airport and get the plane looking good for the checkride!
8:30 am: Man, it's taking a lot longer than I thought just to figure out which charts to use for this flight! Why on earth did I say Hickory, NC when the Asst. Chief Flight Instructor (ACFI) asked where I wanted to go when I finished?!
9:30 am: Ok, course finally plotted, time to get the winds entered.
10:30 am: Whew, done! Just in time to get my shower.
10:30 am: Uh-oh! I forgot to do the weight and balance and performance stuff! Aagh!
11:05 am: Finally finished-- but I haven't showered or eaten!

This is how much checkride started. Fortunately, I did make it to the airport ok-- and I was clean and managed to grab a sandwich on the way out the door (thankfully, Husband bought sandwich makings the night before!). Besides somewhat confusing myself on the oral (why is it so hard to think during an exam?!), the oral went pretty well. Although, it pointed out that I have a little more review to do before I'm ready for the real thing.

Then came the flying portion. We got settled, did the run up, went through the checklists and briefings. I did a shortfield takeoff (in the middle of which I realized I hadn't started the timer/written down my time so I could time my checkpoints). As soon as we were no longer in danger of stalling, I quickly punched the timer and scribbled down the time. Thankfully, the day was so clear, we could literally see for miles and miles. This makes it much easier to find the checkpoints. After I found 2 of them, ACFI called an engine problem and had me divert to another airport. I didn't understand what he was doing at first, but asked a few questions, and then understood. I did hoodwork, steep turns, and a power on stall.

All went well (except that I forgot to announce the stall). Then he had me do slow flight. I got set up and started into the maneuver (power back to 1500 RPM, 10 degrees of flaps; hit the white arc, dump in 20 and 30 flaps; wait for 68, then add about 200 RPM and wait for the third level of stall warning horn). I'm waiting, and waiting. The airspeed is going down, and down, and down. We hit 23kts. Something's strange, but I almost have trouble putting my finger on it. Finally, I start to say-- "why isn't the horn"... and then the airplane stalls. As I recover, I continue my thought, "going off? am I doing something wrong?" ACFI responds, no-- you're fine. Your stall horn is not working. I shoot him a quick glance. What?! Not working? But how am I going to... ? Then he asks, what's bottom of your white arc? 40? Just hold it there. That's good. So I finish slow flight holding the airspeed at 40kts. Then he has me go into a power-off stall. Now that I know, I notice that there's no horn as I finally hit the stall. We do an engine out and ground reference.

And then as we go back to the airport, he tells me he wants a softfield landing. Really? Softfield? In these winds (it's 11 gusting to 15-- and usually softfield is done on good wind days). He says, just do your best. So, I set up for it... only I'm not sure how many flaps to use. Normally, with softs, you do 30 degrees. But with wind like this, I usually only do 20 degrees of flaps. I decide that I don't want to get thrown around by the wind, so we go in with 20 degrees. I line up nicely on the runway, keeping the airspeed a little on the high side. I pull the power when we're nicely over it, and then we float, and we float, and we float. I feel ridiculous, like we're going to keep floating forever. So I'm trying to wait on it. I don't want to add power-- because we'll just shoot up in the air. So I keep waiting. Then, all of a sudden, our wheels touch. What the...? With the 20 degrees of flaps, I forgot that our pitch angle would be lower... so I wasn't expecting to land so soon. Luckily, the landing was nice and soft anyway. I should have finished it off more by keeping the nosewheel up. But at least it was soft (he said that thanks to all the extra airspeed, I didn't need to add any more power). So it was a good learning experience, and not a bad landing. Just not a good softfield!

I passed! He says I'm ready for the real checkride! Yay!

After wrapping up with ACFI and going over the stuff I need to review (not too much), I headed for home. Halfway there, I realize I had forgotten all about the stall horn. So I start calling around as I know that Husband is trying to get in one last solo cross country in the morning. To my dismay, I learn that it is required for flight. To make a long story short, the horn is busted. And it's now too late to get anything done about it till Monday. Not only will Husband and I not get to fly Sunday (and we had a fun flight planned for after his solo), but now the 4 revenue flights that were scheduled won't be able to go, either. Argh.

Sunday, after verifying (in person) that it really was broken (to do this, you have to get up on a ladder and put your lips on the wing and suck air through the opening to try and get it to make a noise-- kind of like a giant kazoo), Husband and I decided to take a field trip-- by car. We went out to the College Park Airport. There's a restaurant there that overlooks the runway, sort of, and a neat aviation museum. We've been thinking of going for a while... but wanted a nice day that we weren't planning to fly (you can't easily fly there any more because it's inside the prohibited area around Washington). The Sunday brunch buffet was surprisingly good. Not great, but very good for the money. And we really enjoyed the museum. Apparently, College Park was the site of some of the first US military aviation training. We even got to "fly" a Wright Brothers plane in a simulator.

After all this fun (and a nap!), I headed out to the airport to... drumroll please... go through all the paperwork for my checkride! M had big news for me, too. I knew he had taken Saturday off-- but I didn't know that he was on an interview with an airline-- and he got the job! He leaves for training on July 9! Very exciting for him... a very cool sounding-job. But, selfishly, a little sad for me. I'll miss flying with him-- he has a great temperament for flight instruction. I just hope he'll stay in touch so I can hear about all of his adventures! I know he'll make a great airline pilot.

So-- I'm all set. My paperwork is filled out. I have all the requirements met. M gave me the phone numbers for a few examiners... and... the date is now set! I called a few, and my checkride is all scheduled for Sunday, July 1 at 9am! Now, I just have to keep my nerves in check while I keep studying! Luckily, Husband is pretty busy this week on a proposal, so hopefully, I won't him drive him crazy with my nervousness!

Speaking of Husband, while looking through the paperwork, we discovered an uh-oh. Not for me... but for Husband. It looks like his written exam expires at the end of June (Saturday!). So he either has to pass his checkride by then, or retake the written. Given his crazy schedule this week, and the fact that he still has the Stage Check and another solo to go, I don't know what he's going to choose to do. Of course, knowing him, it won't surprise me if he eeks it out and gets his license on Saturday!

Whew. That was a lot of news! Thanks for sticking with it. I'll keep you posted on the studying!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sudden Summer Storms

Well, no flying so far this week. It was looking great for last night... until this crazy line of thunderstorms popped up. As I drove out to the airport, I started noticing the dark clouds. Then I started feeling the car get pushed around by the wind. If wind can do that to a car (even a lightweight one like a Prius), think what it would do to a light airplane with nice long wings to act as sails. I was surprised to see planes in the pattern-- but figured I'd go on to the airport since I was almost there anyway.

So M and I verified the crappy conditions by looking at the radar. Another instructor had just come in from flying and had tales of extreme winds and 90 degree inadvertent banks (not a good thing in an airplane). So we decided to do a little bit of ground review instead. We went over a bunch of different things-- basically he just asked me stuff as it popped into his head. I think I did pretty well-- I knew most of the things he asked, though I didn't always understand his questions at first. All in all, I'm not too worried about the oral portion (though, as soon as I say that, I'll completely blow it!).

It's funny... I knew I was really hooked into flying when I started using flying analogies to describe everyday things (my boss is a pilot-- though not current, so we make a lot of jokes like, "we're coming in high and fast on this project-- better throw in some flaps", etc.). But I've just had my mother explain something to me using a flying analogy.

My dad, who had a triple bypass 4 months ago, had to go in for an unexpected procedure today. Apparently one of the graphs didn't take, and another one needed a stent to open it back up a little. So she used the analogy of a twin engine losing an engine. He's fine, and can still fly-- but he's lost some of his backup. She got the analogy a little wrong (because she doesn't know that much)... but it made me think about how much a part of my life flying has become if even my mother is using it as an analogy with me! (For the record, I didn't stop and tell her that it depends on what kind of twin and some other stuff as to whether the pilot of that plane would think it fine to be flying along on one engine. I guess a better analogy would be us losing the standby steam guages in our plane-- the G1000 should do just great, but we better not have an electrical problem or we could be in trouble.)

Maybe I could write a book, All I ever needed to know, I learned in flight training... hmmm.... :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cleared for Stage 3!

I'm now officially cleared for my Stage 3 Check! Which basically means that I can now schedule my stage 3 checkride... which is the last thing that I need to do before the real checkride (well, besides a mountain of paperwork!).

The funny thing is that I'm suddenly hesitant to schedule this! It's a crazy busy week at work... so I know I don't want to put the Stage 3 Check in the middle of all this. I think I'm going to see if I can schedule it for Friday afternoon. I have a lesson scheduled for Thursday night, too. I don't really need it, but I think I'll still use it.

The review went pretty well. I had no problems with stalls or slow flight. I did my steep turns within PTS, but they weren't my best ever, so repeated them just to get them perfect. Then came engine outs. I hate engine outs. For those not familar with flight training, in a simulated engine out, the instructor pulls the throttle to idle and tells you your engine died. You start through a memorized set of procedures-- (A-Airspeed) pitch for the best glide airspeed, (B-Best Field) look for the best place to land, (C-CheckList) go through the memorized checklist items to try and restart the engine and back it up with the actual checklis, (D-Declare Emergency) make your mayday call, (E- Emergency Squawk) set your transponder code to the emergency squawk, and (F-Forced Landing) execute the steps for a forced landing- fuel away from the engine, power off, doors unlatched, seatbelts, etc.

I don't mind the checklist--and I know how to do all of it just fine... I just can never decide on the best field to target for landing. So we did about 5 or 6 of them. I finally got a little better picking a field. I also managed to finally get myself to fly a big enough circle over the field that I was in the right place to do my "pattern" approach to the landing. Whew. Lots of work.

My shorts and softs were sort of ok. Right before we left the flight school to fly, another instructor came up and asked who had been flying our plane before us. We told him Husband was. He said, "Oh, well he really scared the snot out of me. I was sitting waiting to take off, and he came in so close to the end of the runway, I thought he was going to touch down no just before the runway, but before the little concrete pad at the end of the runway." M and I just looked at each other and smiled. What he didn't know is that M was in the plane at the time, and had been working on Husband trying to get him comfortable with coming in so short over the grass! I guess they succeeded! So, of course, this came back to me right as I came in for my first shortfield landing. I was lined up perfectly... and on a good glideslope and everything... and then, right at the last minute, I thought of that story and it was just enough to fluster me. It all fell apart. I could have still landed, but I knew it wouldn't at all be where I wanted it, and it wouldn't be at all pretty... so I decided to just go around. I hope I don't do that on the checkride!

Husband was also cleared for his Stage 3 Check at the same time! But he's just figured out that he may be short on his solo x-c time... so we have to figure out if he needs to do another to finish out his time. He's pretty bummed. So am I. I wanted him to go first so I could learn from his experience!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Shorts... and Softs!

Yay! I finally got both shorts and softs right in the same lesson!

Husband was supposed to go flying yesterday, but declined because of the low hanging clouds (he wanted to do maneuvers). So I ended up taking his spot with M. I'm really glad I did. The huge gray clouds hovered all around the airport the whole lesson-- but we only got rained on a tiny bit... and I think I may have made it past my plateau. So rewarding!

I just have to keep reminding myself: the airplane will keep descending at a nice, even rate, even if it is nose-high. I keep subconsciously thinking that if I get the nose too high, I'll either climb or fall out of the sky with no in between. Once I realized what was going on, my landings miraculously improved. And once I figured out that I was accidentally giving a little kick to the rudder with my left foot as I flared, they got even better!

Hopefully, the work will pay off and when M and I go over the last of the maneuvers tomorrow, my landings will stay nice!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Head in the Clouds... Truly!

Big white, puffy, cumulous clouds. Towering in front of us and then whizzing past the window. I'm worried that we might feel sometime as the one in front gets bigger and bigger in the windscreen, and M warns me to start my scan early so I don't get disoriented as we go in. But it's fine. In and out, sometimes we see bright blue sky, now just the bright white of the clouds, and sometimes it feels like a scene from a movie like in Harry Potter where he rides his broomstick in and out and between the clouds. Except these are happy clouds. The air is pretty smooth-- sometimes a little tiny ripple, not even a bump. Then, just white for a while. It's much easier to do my instrument scan without the hood on, with just the bright white out the window. It's so bright that I'm glad I have my sunglasses on.

All these puffy clouds are because we made a last minute decision on Sunday to stop fighting the uncooperative weather and do an IFR flight to Bay Bridge Airport (W29) in Maryland and go for lunch at a place by the bridge. After filing (no long planning involved!), we piled into the plane and took off. Since Husband had just done a landing lesson with M, I got to fly on the way out-- and experience the very cool cloud-flying. This was my first experience flying into clouds... we've talked about doing an IFR flight for a while-- since we're planning to start our instrument rating right after we finish our private.

Bay Bridge was pretty cool. We walked over to Hemmingway's on the bay (about a mile or so) and had lunch. Pretty good! Husband sat in the left seat with M on the way back, and I entertained myself taking pictures with my cell phone. (see below). There weren't as many clouds-- Husband was disappointed that he didn't get to experience them as much-- but the view of stuff on the ground was a lot better. We flew right over BWI and downtown Baltimore. The bay was also pretty cool as we flew across.

When we got back to JYO, M and I headed back out for a little shortfield practice. I'm a little rusty, and I was also pretty tired... but hopefully am almost there. I figured out that I left for the airport at 11:20 that morning and didn't get home till after 9pm! Long, fun day of flying!

Stage 3 Review... Onward!

This past weekend was definitely a weekend of flying! After I finished my night flight on Thursday night (well, really Friday morning), Husband completed his long x-country on Friday afternoon, marking the completion of all of his requirements, too!

Saturday was my first dual lesson (not counting the night flight-- which was an unusual flight) in a while. We started the review process for my Stage 3 check. We reviewed engine outs, ground reference, and stalls. I knew I'd have trouble with engine outs... and I was right. Though, I could tell that practicing had helped. I wasn't as bad as I predicted. Mostly, I was too high to make the field that I had picked out-- and the field was a little short.

Ground reference surprised me. Last time we practiced it (right before M went away on vacation), I nailed it. No problem. This time, I got my picture confused and was trying to do my turns about a point (circles) way to close to the point. I didn't believe M's estimate of how far away 1/2 mile was... He could tell I wasn't buying it, so he used the pointer to measure a specific distance. It was a little hard to tell as we kept getting different distances, but I think we were more like 3/4 or 1 mile away. In any case, he finally looked up the PTS for the maneuver, and determined that the distance isn't specified. So, I finally managed to get it the distance he wanted, and he was right, it was a lot easier! After that, I had no problems.

Stalls were fun. M added a new twist-- literally-- this time by having me do stalls with a bank. I found them pretty easy to deal with, though definitely more challenging than a normal stall. On one stall, we turned so sharply when the stall happened that M reached for the controls, but he stopped when he realized that I was already doing the right recovery. That made me feel good!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Requirements... Done!

I finished the last of my requirements last night... well, actually this morning!

To get your private, you must have done:
40 Hours Total Time
20 Hours Dual
3 hrs Dual Cross Country Training
10 Required Night Landings
A Night Cross Country of 100 NM
10 hours SOLO Time, including
150 nm SOLO Cross Country
5 hours total solo cross country
3 SOLO Landings at Controlled Airports
3 hours Simulated Instrument (Hood Time)
3 Dual hours Received 60 Days Prior to Checkride

M and I took advantage of no thunderstorms and knocked out all of the night stuff last night! We went to 3 airports- From JYO to THV to DMW to FDK and back to JYO. I got 3.8 hours of night flying-- and 10 take offs and landings! We also got in a little simulated instrument time, so I cleared that last hurdle too.

It was great! I love flying at night-- but it was a little strange landing at night at airports I had never been to. I did fairly well, I think. It was my first flight with M since before his vacation-- so it's been almost 3 weeks since we last flew together. In that time, though, I had done 6 solo flights, including my long solo x-c. I think it was probably time for me to fly with him again-- I had gotten a little off on my landings, and though I tried to muddle through it on my own, I had not completely figured out what I was doing wrong. Apparently, I somehow got the wrong "picture" in my head for how it should look-- and was no longer lining up correctly with the runway. Crazy... after almost landings, suddenly I found myself screwing up something that had always been pretty easy for me. Not the situation you want to encounter right before taking your checkride!

The flying was pretty good, though M said it was hazy for night. It didn't seem too hazy to me-- you can see so much further at night than in the day. But I don't have a lot to compare it to! At THV, there's a big hill off to the side of one end of the runway. It's pretty crazy. I'm sort of glad that we didn't have to use that end of the runway... though M was disappointed I didn't get the experience. There are also some powerlines right at that end that go up pretty high on either side. He had us taxi over and look at them in the dark so that I would know what they look like. I was glad I wasn't coming in and out of this strange airport on my own at night. Makes me understand why a lot of pilots won't fly to new airports at night... maybe it's easier when you have instruments... but still is a bit scary. The end of the runway that we were using has a big wall at the end that you drop over before getting to the runway. The fun part is that you can't really see the wall in the dark until you get right over it.

We almost snuck in a landing at Dulles (!), but our fuel was getting pretty low, so we decided we needed to head back to JYO and call it a night. I was excited about going to Dulles-- we've been talking about going over to do a landing there, but the timing has never been quite right. He promised we'd do it soon, though.

All in all, it was really good to get a lesson in-- flying by myself is fun, but it's nice to have someone else in the plane. I had been really looking forward to it-- it's so cool to be up at night. But alas, now there's no more night flying for me until I get my instrument ticket as our flight school doesn't let private pilots fly at night without a instrument rating. I'm really excited to have completed all of my requirements, though! Now I just have to do my stage 3 review with M (which includes all the maneuvers we've done, and is basically a simulated check ride), work on anything we find I'm having trouble with, do my real stage check with the head of the flight school, and then it's FAA checkride time! Husband and I are upping the studying (we've been using flashcards and we're working on completing the King Schools stuff that we have)... but I'm starting to get nervous!

Monday, June 4, 2007


One of the cool things about sharing the flying bug with Husband is that we get to spend time talking and dreaming about flying-- and we're both ok with spending the day doing flying stuff, even if we're not in the airplane!

So Saturday, we went to the AOPA Fly-In at the Frederick Airport. We went to this last year, too-- before we bought the plane. Last year's Fly-In was one of the turning points in what plane "we" (i.e. my Husband) decided to buy. While I had fun last year, this year was great! We talked about trying to talk an instructor into flying over to the fly-in with us, but finally decided to just drive. That was probably a good thing as visibility was pretty poor in the morning hours, and we heard rumblings of thunder as we left in the afternoon.

After our trip to Sun-n-Fun in April, I had a lot more sense in how to prepare for these-- i.e., wear shorts, comfortable jogging shoes, put on sunscreen, and bring lots of water! We walked around and looked at all the planes (both the pretty, shiny ones on display and the ones that merely served as transportation for the event). I was interested to see a Caravan on display-- I read John's posts on Aviation Mentor a lot ( and apparently, he used to fly a Caravan.

We also went to two of the seminars -- we listened to Phil Boyer speak on the current aviation issues of the day, and we saw Rod Machado do his spiel on having fun and flying safe. Both were really interesting. Since we fly out of JYO, all of the news on the ADIZ boundaries is of huge interest to us. And since we live in the DC Area and are pilots, we are naturally interested in what' s happening with the whole user fee debate. We both felt we got a much better understanding of what's happening-- and felt very connected to aviation things after the day.

I even talked to a woman after Rod's session whose husband is learning to fly. Rod had been talking about what pilots' biggest fears are-- and she said her husband was her biggest fear. I told her how I went for a flight to see what it was like-- and that now I have more hours than my husband! She seemed to think that was pretty cool.

All in all, it was a really fun day. After we left the airport, we went to downtown Frederick (a cute little historic district) and had coffee and found a little Mexican cafe for dinner. Pretty fun, considering there was no actual flying involved!