Saturday, December 20, 2008

Actual, Icing, and Diversions... Oh My!

What a day! First of all- thanks for all the well-wishes on the instrument ratings. Husband and I really tried to put them to good use today. Of course, 9 hours after leaving home, we had only made it 220 nautical miles from home!

We started by trying to depart JYO on an IFR plan. Our intended destination for the day was Nashville. Because of the weather, we had opted to try for the "southern route" as opposed to the "western route". Unfortunately, about 3000 feet up off of JYO, we entered a cloud (not the bad part) at -1 degree C (the bad part). We pretty quickly started to pick up ice. We asked to descend-- but we still had the ice, and were still in and out of the clouds. So, before we even reached Upperville, we turned back for Leesburg. I could tell there was a tiny amount of performance degradation-- it seemed to take a little more power to maintain airspeed, particularly in turns. However, we were able to maintain altitude and airspeed without any problems. Once safely on the ground, it was interesting to see the ice caked on the leading edges. We couldn't have been in the clouds more than about 5 minutes total, and yet we picked up a pretty significant amount. Enough that it didn't come off on its own. We ended up having to put it in a warm hangar to get the ice off.

For our second try, we decided to try flying under the cloud layer. We knew the clouds were pretty low, but we also knew that if we could make it down just a little farther south, the freezing level was significantly higher and we'd be able to go IFR. So we started out (with a warm, dry airplane) VFR, heading south, generally toward Richmond. Around Warrenton, the clouds lowered a bit more, and we made a cautionary landing at Warrenton. We didn't even get out of the plane at this stop-- we just wanted to be able to fully focus on the weather maps on the G1000. We took off again soon, and made it down to Mecklenburg, VA. We had been headed toward Chapel Hill... but saw that we were headed into some pretty heavy precip and wanted to reassess, and get on an IFR plan before going further.

After refueling and some serious map reading, we headed out again- on an IFR plan-- this time, for Greenville, SC. We didn't make it that far though, this time, we got up to 6,000 feet. Initially, we were flying nicely between the layers. Just before GSO, though, the layers closed in, and it became very turbulent. I was flying-- or rather-- the autopilot was flying. The turbulence was enough that I had my fingers posed over the off switch on the AP and the kill switch on the yoke. We were getting bounced around like crazy. It was also raining, we were in and out of clouds-- mostly in... and it was getting dark. This was officially no longer fun. In fact, I was afraid of the turbulence for the first time in a while. We talked to ATC to see if it would get better at 8000... but it didn't seem like it would. We also saw on Nexrad that we'd be in and out of this same stuff all the way to Greenville. So we called uncle and asked ATC to divert to Greensboro. The controller was great. She immediately descended us, gave us vectors right to the ILS, and even read us the weather. Husband gave me a rolling briefing, and I managed to fly the ILS pretty well, all things considered. When we broke out at about 1800-1900 feet AGL, I was dead centered on glide slope and the localizer. Instructor would have been proud! The guys at Landmark were great. I think 4 of them met our plane. They got us unloaded, refueled, and brought a van right to the planeside for the short ride to a hotel. After a good dinner at Ruby Tuesdays (gotta love that it was right in the parking lot), we (all three of us-- including the dog!) are snuggled in bed for the night safe and sound. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but we'll figure that out in the morning.

Some interesting things for today: Our (my) first actual IMC after getting my ticket. My first icing encounter.

Some cool things from today: Breaking out between layers-- and even getting a glimpse of sunshine for the first time. Wow. Words can't even describe-- although I did cry out "with glee" and giggle hysterically. Also- the woman at Landmark called over to the hotel to make sure Flyer (our dog) would be welcome. Her question to the hotel staff: "Do y'all house animals over there?" I also laughed long and hysterically at this. It was the perfect antidote for a long and stressful day!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Husband is Instrument Rated!

After a discontinuance due to weather two weeks back, Husband is finally instrument rated! Congratulations, Husband!

We had a great (non-flying) Thanksgiving trip to New York. The insane traffic (7 hours from DC to NYC) reminded us that we bought an airplane, learned to fly, and got our instrument ratings so that we wouldn't have to do these drives. Somehow, given the weak economy, and our seemingly flexible schedules, we (okay, I) decided that we should drive instead of fly. Lesson learned, though. Flying far beats the agony of driving.

I'll get around to posting something substantive again soon. I haven't been flying since before Thanksgiving due to a cold that just won't go away. I'm hoping to be back in flying form by the end of the week, though.

Flap hard...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time Marches On

The pace of my flying has slowed a bit, mostly because of the approaching winter weather... which is something of a good thing. Our checking account can't keep up with the rate of flying I did in October! I have still managed to fly around twice a week lately- and I've been studying like mad to get through the knowledge stuff for my commercial. I took the written yesterday-- and did reasonably well (89)-- that's good for me as I never manage to do as well on a test as I can in real life. It means I have to really prepare well to do as well as Husband-- he always does better on a test.

Speaking of Husband, I'm pleased that he commented on our last flight that I seem far more confident and comfortable in the plane that in the past. I don't think it was a dig on past performance-- but I have become a lot more in command. It's a little strange to be more confident than Husband, though. I'm not really used to that role (except maybe in the kitchen!). I'm having to adjust a bit to that idea-- but it makes sense given how much more time and energy (and studying) I've done lately. Husband is out right now finishing his stage 3 check for his instrument. I'm very excited for him-- and am glad he was able to find time. His schedule is always nuts.

This past weekend I ended up flying a few times. Husband and I went out to do a practice flight (and to help him knock the rust off) before his final instrument lesson. I acted as safety pilot and he flew all three approaches into OKV, and then one back into JYO. Even though I wasn't flying, it was nice just to be up... and I practiced asking him questions as opposed to just telling him when he was missing something). It went pretty well- and he had a beautiful landing back at JYO-- even with a pretty gusty crosswind. I think he's ready.

Sunday, a friend (R) and I flew up to meet up with a bunch of other 99s (the International Association of Women Pilots) for lunch in Lancaster. It was a lot of fun. I hadn't flown with R before-- I only just got involved with the 99s. She couldn't find an open plane to rent- so I offered for her to fly along with me. She's a great copilot-- very meticulous and conscientious. I was a little nervous at first (I haven't flown with many pilots that aren't instructors-- though I've flown with a bunch of passengers). She has around 400 hours-- in all kinds of different airplanes, which is cool. I thought we flew together pretty well, and am looking forward to more flying with her. In fact, she may join me when I fly down for the Women in Aviation conference in February. It would be great to have company- both for the flight, and for the conference. The lunch was fun, as well. It's fun to meet so many women with so much aviation experience! I'm a bit awed by it.

After flying back to JYO, Husband went up with our instrument instructor while I flew with my commercial instructor. I'm getting close to finishing up my requirements... just a couple more hours in the Arrow, one more night flight, and my medical. I'm hoping to finish within the next two weeks or so. Though, the thought of finishing makes me a little sad, too. This one has been really fun to work on. My instructor is great-- he's very curious about things, so has encouraged me to share articles, etc. He's been working a bunch lately with one of our asst. chiefs, and has picked up a lot of new information. Some of it makes my eyes glaze over a little-- I'm not a very mechanical person. But some of it has been really helpful. This time, we were both a little tired, so we decided to just fly over to OKV for a few landings in the Arrow, and then return to JYO. It had been 10-12 days since I last flew the Arrow, and I've had 4 or 5 flights in our plane since then, so I was a little wary on how well I'd remember things. I actually did pretty well, though I was more tentative than I'd like. I like that he will point that out to me at the end of the flight.

After landing at OKV, he told me to do a full-stop and pull off on the run-up area. Turns out, I had missed that the oil pressure was now showing in the yellow. I think I'd seen it, but it hadn't registered. We knew why-- we had elected not to add oil before the flight, though it was a bit borderline. The pressure was fine when we were prop full forward, but when we pulled it back for cruise, it went a little into the yellow. Given that it was still pretty stable, and only a little in the yellow, we decided it was okay to return to JYO-- but that we would go straight back without any more landings. I think we're going to do a mini cross country next time. I'd like to try doing some approaches in the Arrow to round out my hours. It will be interesting to do them in another plane-- we'll really see how well I do without the G1000! We're also working our way through the systems, so I should get some good ground time next week. I just hope I can make sense of it all. My dad would be impressed, though... looking at things like electrical systems! It brings back memories of him trying to teach me college-level science when I asked questions about my middle school homework.

Husband just called, sounds like he passed his stage check and can do his checkride next Sunday! Woo-hoo! I guess I know which books to pack for our Thanksgiving trip to New York!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

B-17 Pics

I posted a few months back that Husband and I took a flight on the B-17 that came to Leesburg. I never got around to posting those pics... so here they are.

The crowd was pretty big (at least bigger than we expected!). The next shot is Husband strapped in and ready for take off.

Looking out the rear gunner's window. And then looking down the main part of the fuselage.

I think the next is a picture of the radio operator's station... though it may have been the navigator's station. And then the place where they stored the bombs.

The other station- either radio or navigator... this one was on the right side of the plane.

There was a place in the middle of the plane-- where the clear hatch would be-- that you could stand with your head sticking out of the cockpit and look all around. This was one of my favorite parts. Cool to see straight up to the sky with nothing over top of you while flying along.

The gunner's hatch at the front of the airplane-- underneath the cockpit... surrounded by plexiglass.

This is the view from the seat. You feel pretty exposed here. We also noticed how close to the ground these guys were flying. Surprising since the B-17 was used for high-altitude bombing runs.

The engines and props seem very close from the gunner's seat.

View from the cockpit-- notice the different perspective.

And a view from further back in the plane.

The pilots-- and the panel, of course.

And-- a picture of the B-17 taken from our plane as we taxied past!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Catching Up on Good Times

I've just realized that I never did post about our long IFR cross country-- and I never posted about the B17 (that will be the next post, I think). We had to cancel our IFR trip once because of weather, but then did finally make the trip in early October. We had great weather for it-- plenty of nice sunshiny, blue skies-- AND to make things more interesting, a portion of actual IMC conditions in both directions.

We decided to fly to Montauk, NY-- to a little airport just north of the Hamptons. We figured it would be an interesting flight up, cool to see all the beach mansions, and a good place to get some seafood for lunch. And it pretty much delivered on all accounts-- though a combination of aviation time and strong winds took its toll on our schedule. I'm not sure if our instructor's wife has forgiven us (or him!) yet for how late he was getting home that evening.

On the way up, we had a spectacular view of New York-- and JFK. Wow. What fun to see all the different aircraft flying in and out of there! I'm not sure of all of the locations of these pictures- but I know most are of NYC and JFK... Those from the area may be able to help my deficient memory...

Then we headed up Long Island to the Hamptons. It was beautiful! Check out the houses (and pools!) in the picture on the right.

After we landed, the woman at the FBO gave us a ride to the other end of the runway so we could walk along the beach. (Then the van wouldn't start, so she ended up having to leave it there and walk back to the FBO!)
We walked about 2 miles to a restaurant where we had lunch looking out at the water. The pic on the left is of Husband and Instructor- deep in conversation. They didn't seem to want to put their feet in the water (it was COLD). The one on the right is of Husband-- with the ocean in the background, of course!
I flew on the way home-- Husband took this shot of the harbor as we left. The pic on the right is of me landing at ISLIP. Look at that perfect glide slope-- red over white, I'm alright!

Slightly different view of JFK this time-- the overcast started just on the south side of the field. I took the foggles off and had about 45 minutes of actual instrument conditions. Then- it suddenly cleared and we had a beautiful sunset.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


With my instrument checkride complete, now I can focus on my commercial training. Last week, weather, a broken plane, and our plane unexpectedly going for a wash kept me from flying. But this week, I've done two more flights Three-Six-Charlie. I think I'm learning how spoiled I've been! Three-Six-Charlie is a 1981 PA-28R-201-- the airplane I'm using for my 10 hours of complex time required for my commercial.

It's very interesting, getting to know another airplane. I feel so sheltered-- having only flown one airplane all this time! It's sometimes a little hard to tell if I'm learning things that are new because it's a complex aircraft... or if it's just different from our plane. Flying Three-Six-Charlie is a bit like flying my dad's old suburban... which is not just any suburban, but a 20 year old, very well traveled suburban!

The first few flights in the airplane, I felt like a student pilot all over again. I wasn't sure which instincts to trust-- and which to resist. In the air, the plane felt like "an airplane"- i.e. I know how to level the wings, climb, descend, do stalls, etc. without too many issues. But I found myself worrying a lot about if I needed to adjust the prop, or if the throttle alone would give me the performance.

My second lesson in the plane, we did a little airwork (stalls, steep turns, etc.), and then headed over to OKV for pattern work. The first few patterns were pretty bad- I was definitely getting behind the airplane. I usually caught up in time for landing, but I really didn't like feeling behind. After a few circuits (thanks, Aviatrix, for that term! It's a lot more descriptive in this case!), I started to catch up a bit. The flow was getting easier to manage, and I wasn't needing to be prompted much by my instructor. Then, we tried a few emergency simulations-- power off 180s... Everything fell apart. I found us in a position where I was not sure if we were going to make the runway (without power), and we were still turning, and getting perilously close to the ground. In my head-- I knew to add power, but for some reason, I didn't add it-- or at least didn't add enough. We ended up landing hard-- and not in a way that I liked. After thinking about the situation and my actions, I have a few conclusions. One- be very clear about who is PIC. Don't fall into the trap that if there's someone more experienced in the seat next to you that they will take over or tell you what to do. Two- if you don't know how the airplane glides (at idle), be very ready to power up. And Three-Keep communicating either way!

My next lesson in the arrow went a lot better. I finally felt in control of the airplane. I was consistently flying the pattern without assistance from my instructor-- and had the rhythm down.

With my private instructor, I was given a relatively black and white set of procedures to follow... 90, 80, 70 with accompanying flaps 10, 20, and 30 degrees on each leg of the approach. But-- in that case, I didn't know what it was supposed to be like to land an airplane, so those rules were necessary to help me develop a routine so I could learn what it looked and felt like. Now, I know how to fly, and my instructor hasn't given me set rules-- but has rather been helping me figure them out. Over the lessons, we have been refining our approach profile-- in other words, what power, prop, and flap settings work best-- and when. I'm not sure if this is a deliberate teaching technique or if he just doesn't use those rules... But it's an interesting process to go through-- and I feel like I'm learning more than just how to fly the arrow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Instrument Checkride- Flight

Part Two of my checkride... Be forewarned-- this is lengthy!

I filed for OKV as we had discussed, then met the Designated Examiner (DE) out at the plane. The plane had been fueled since I last preflighted, so I did a quick fuel sump and checked the amount in each tank. I also did a brief walk around since I’d been inside for over an hour. Then we strapped in to go flying. Luckily, he was more talkative than the Chief in the plane (it doesn’t take much), which helped with some of my nerves. I got our clearance and departed without issue, though Clearance did ask us to make an immediate right turn on course—and stay within 1 mile of the airport until on course. It was kind of fun to make a 30 degree turn as soon as I was about 400 feet off the ground.

Once on course, I contacted Approach and put on the foggles, though I suspected that we might actually brush a few clouds. Approach told us to expect vectors, but then sent us direct to Cladd. I followed their instructions and started to brief the ILS-32 approach. (I use the A-MICE-ATM acronym.) When I got to E for entry, though, I had a quandary. Did I need a procedure turn or not? I didn’t want to screw this up—and risk failing on the very first task! I studied the plate, hoping to find the answer. Ah-hah! NoPT (no procedure turn) required if on the XXX heading from JASEN. We were on that heading… so I surmised no procedure turn required. Later, an instructor at the flight school reminded me that anytime a controller tells you to go direct to a point on the approach, if it’s not the initial approach fix (IAF), then that counts as vectors, and no PT is required. Okay, right answer, wrong thought process. All that thinking was for naught, however, as ATC turned us away from CLADD before we arrived.

We were then vectored around a few times. I think we were in and out of the clouds at this point as I asked the DE about some traffic I saw on the TIS and he responded he couldn’t see them because of the clouds. ATC finally vectored us onto the approach—1 mile outside of the final approach fix, at 3300 feet (I should have been at around 2200 feet). Adding to the confusion—a traffic target showed up without altitude information, so though I thought we were going to cross paths, I didn’t know if they were anywhere close to our altitude). Hmmm. Let’s think about this. I’m 1100 feet higher than I should be, finally intercepting the localizer, but way above glide slope. Not a good thing. In fact, it felt so out of whack that I double checked the approach plate to make sure I was reading it correctly. Yup. I told ATC we’d cancel IFR with them and slowly pulled the power to idle, and trimmed the plane for 90 kts. I thought about dumping in a second notch of flaps and slowing to 85 kts, but I didn’t want to risk busting PTS, so I held 90. Of course, that close in, I never did intercept the glide slope. Oh- and because of the vectoring, I didn’t get the GPS to recognize where I was once I intercepted the localizer. So I used the moving map on the MFD to estimate where the MAP was, and went missed, still well above the glide slope. DE made a comment something like, “Well, ATC really screwed you up on that one.” Then he gave me vectors to follow, so I figured I hadn’t failed!

After going missed, we climbed pretty much straight out and DE gave me a few vectors to follow. Then he asked me to load the VOR-A approach back into OKV. After that, he had me dim my screen all the way down and asked me to hold my altitude and airspeed and do a compass turn. Goodness, I haven’t done one of those since the beginning of my IFR training- a year ago! Ack! But I figured that I could just give it a go. I got myself oriented and stable with my standby instruments, and then began my turn. I used a combination of my compass, the moving map on the MFD, and my standby instruments
(airspeed, attitude, and altimeter) to gauge how my turn was coming. During the oral, we had talked about compass errors, so I tried to use everything together to guide me. When I had gone most of the way around, he told me to roll out and hold a given heading. Then he asked me to enter the hold and fly the VOR-A approach. I wasn’t sure what to say—how can you fly a VOR approach without a VOR (I only have VOR on my PFD—there’s no backup for that). I asked how I could fly a VOR approach on partial panel? He just repeated that I could fly “this” approach. Finally, I looked down at the plate, and realized that it was the VOR-A/GPS-A approach! Suddenly it became more clear. So, I quickly briefed the approach and began to fly it. On going missed, he gave me back my screens, and after vectoring me around a bit asked me to fly another hold, this time with all my tools. I did, and then he told me to set up for the GPS-17 approach into JYO.

Determined to make the last approach go well, I began to get the weather and set up for the approach. I told him I was going to go ahead and enter the JYO transponder code so that I wouldn’t accidentally forget to do it at the last minute, and that I would still do a double-check as we got closer. He really liked that. At the same time, I wondered if we were going to do unusual attitudes and steep turns. On the one hand, I didn’t want to remind him, on the other, I didn’t want him to suddenly remember later on and make the approach more difficult. So I asked if we were going to do unusual attitudes. He looked at me, a little startled, and said, “Oh, yeah. We should do those! I have the controls and put your head down.” So we did two quick and relatively easy unusual attitudes. Then, it was back to the approach. I quickly programmed it in, briefed it, and then started flying it.

At this point, I realized that he was sitting up a little straighter, so I started trying to figure out why. I checked all my instruments—and everything seemed ok. Then he asked me to go ahead and descend down a few hundred feet, even though we weren’t supposed to descend again till after the next fix. I realized that we were likely skimming along just under the cloud layer. He gave me a few deviations right and left by 10 degrees or so. I could see on the moving map that we were still west of the ridge. I could now see little bits of white in the reaches of my peripheral vision (I wasn’t trying to cheat—but my head is small, so I can usually see a little more than I should be able to!) so I offered that we could descend more after the first ridge as the second one is a little lower. He liked that, and told me to descend down another 200 feet. I responded with the altitude I’d descend to and told him that I would then hold that altitude until we caught up with the altitudes on the approach plate. He seemed to like that.

After that last drop, things seemed to clear out and he relaxed a bit more (and so did I!). I then just focused on my descents, keeping track of our progress, and making position reports on CTAF. The winds had shifted such that it clearly made sense to land straight in on 17. Well out from the runway, he called field in sight, and I pushed my foggles up on top of my head and began final preparations for landing. I managed a pretty decent landing, and we taxied off. He then basically told me that unless I did something really stupid on the taxi-back, I had passed! Woo-hoo!

As we parked the airplane and got our stuff together, he told me that I had flown very well—not perfectly, but that no one flies perfectly. Whew. What a relief! He helped me push back, and then left me to finish caring for the plane. I then met him again in the office to complete the final paperwork. I could tell the instructors in the office were dying to know the outcome. Finally, one of them came over and whispered, “Can I put your picture on the wall?!” –we have a wall of pictures of new student pilots, new pilots, etc. The Chief had taken my picture the night before in preparation for this. So I said with a big smile, “Yup! You sure can!” Then I started getting congratulations from all around! I was an instrument pilot!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Instrument Checkride Oral

Given that I want to capture as much detail about the checkride as possible, I'll post it in two parts. First up-- the oral, of course!

After an anxious night spent dreaming about flying, I woke up to find that the predicted low ceilings had not materialized as predicted, and it looked like I might get to do my checkride after all! I arrived at the airport about 30 minutes before my checkride on Friday morning—later than I wanted, but still enough time to pre-flight and finish my last minute calculations. Right at 9am, I walked over to meet the examiner (DE)—I had heard him talking to one of our Asst. Chiefs, so I knew he was around. After the initial intros, we got down to paperwork. Thankfully, everything worked the way it was supposed to on IACRA (what a painful system!). Then we moved to the conference room and settled in for the oral.

He first went through my logbook. Momentary panic when he said he couldn’t find all the instrument hours… but I quickly realized he was only counting the totals at the bottom of the page, and had neglected to add I the 2 hours I had gotten the night before-- I had a total of 40.9 hours. Whew! The one thing he seemed surprised at was my lack of solo hours (only about 30 out of around 275). I explained that it was because my husband and I usually fly together—so I have a ton of PIC hours (around 165 or so), but I can’t count them as solo for that reason. I think he was okay with that, but I do need to get some more solo time.

Next he asked me to get out the flight planning he had asked me to do. The trip was from JYO to Cleveland—any airport. I chose BKL—mostly because we’ve talked about flying there for real. He asked how the weather was—I told him the highlights (pretty good VFR weather, except maybe in the local area). Then we looked at my route on the low en route chart. He asked questions about the MEA and MOCA, about various symbols on the chart and what they mean, and what we would do in the event of lost communications. Mostly pretty easy stuff. Then we switched over to an approach plate, and he asked me some questions about the approach. Things like: what it is I do at decision height, what I need to land, what fuel reserve I need—and when, what the standard minimums are for an alternate, etc.

The only answer I gave that he didn’t like was in response to a question about what I would do if on an approach, I saw the runway before reaching the MAP/DH, but tower was reporting only a ¼ mile visibility (1/2 mile required). I responded that if tower was reporting ¼ mile, but I could tell I had more (i.e. was more than 1 mile from end of the runway, but could see it), then I could land because tower’s visibility may not be accurate for what the actual was for that runway. But, I also said that if I could see the runway, but didn’t actually have the ½ mile visibility required, that I could not land. He said no—that if I could see the runway and was able to land normally, then visibility didn’t matter. I’ll have to check on this as I don’t understand 1) why there are visibility requirements, and 2) why required visibility is included as one of the three things you have to have to land if this is the case.

After this, he told me to go file and get ready to fly. Wow. Really? The oral is over?! I was shocked—it was only 10am… including all of the paperwork, we had only been talking for 60 minutes. We couldn’t have spent more than 45 minutes talking about real questions! After my 2.5 hour oral on my private, I was really surprised. So I went and filed according to what he told me—we’d launch IFR to OKV, then cancel on the first approach (the ILS), and fly the rest (the VOR-A for OKV and the LOC 17 for JYO) VFR.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stage 3, Part 2

After getting “winded” out for the flying portion of my instrument stage 3 check, I was anxious to finish up the check. I met with the head of our flight school (“Chief”) on Thursday afternoon in hopes that I could still do my checkride on Friday. Since we had completed the oral, we headed straight out for the plane. I had already pre-flighted, so was already settled in the plane when Chief came out. He did a fairly careful walk around, checking to make sure there were no obvious problems, checked the oil, and then got settled in the plane. After the delay of a few days, my nerves had gotten a bit worse, but I jumped right into the checklists, hoping that action would calm me down.

We taxied out to the runup area and after going through the necessary checklist items, I called for our clearance. This was to be a JYO-JYO flight—staying with ATC the whole time. I managed to get the clearance copied without any trouble (I was worried about this as some controllers talk like auctioneers—and it’s tough to copy down the clearance correctly!). Our first stop was the VOR-A for OKV. After takeoff, I delayed donning the foggles for a moment to make sure we cleared the airspace without tangling with any of the several planes in the pattern. Then it was straight to the instruments. We were cleared direct to MRB, and I began to set us up for the approach (I had made the mistake of forgetting to set all this up on the ground, but I think I did okay getting it together in the air.). Just before we were to turn inbound on the approach, Chief reached over and punched the reversionary knob on the dash, making my multi-function display (MFD) and therefore my moving map be replaced with a second set of the PFD instruments. Hmmm. Okay. This is new. But- no worries. I can just fly the needles. My situational awareness is impacted slightly, but I’m still fine.

At the MAP, Chief tells me that we’re still in the clouds, so I begin to initiate a missed approach over top the runway. Around this time, Chief tells me he wants me to use the autopilot to fly the missed. This should be easy, but I struggled to get it set up correctly. For some reason, I couldn’t get the climb rate and altitude correctly set. I eventually told Chief that I would get back to that, but needed first to FLY THE PLANE. I killed the autopilot and focused on making sure I was on the missed approach and called ATC back and let them know, and ask for the ILS 32 into OKV. They say okay, but give us vectors that take us well to the west of OKV (I’m proud of myself here for maintaining enough situational awareness to know this! Remember—I’m used to ALWAYS having the moving map in front of me. It’s great practice for it to go away). I finally got us set up on the autopilot using the heading function. After 5-10 minutes ATC finally gave us vectors back to the ILS. At this point, Chief asked me to fly the ILS without autopilot and without GPS. I obviously knew how to kill the autopilot (and was relieved to do so! I prefer to hand fly!)… but my brain couldn’t work out what he meant by without GPS, other than that I should switch to the LOC needles on the CDI softkey (I needed to do this anyway). Of course, about halfway down, I realized that he probably meant that I should remove the approach from the flight plan and use the VOR fixes combined with the LOC information. By that point, I was well into the approach, and decided to just continue and not try to clear the approach and load the VORs at that point. He busted me on this during the debrief, but didn’t say anything about it then.

After going missed from the approach (early because of landing traffic on the opposite end of the runway), we again were vectored way to the west by ATC. This time, we were sent a good 30 miles to the west of OKV. I was allowed at this point to get my MFD back, and I also redeemed my earlier lapse by going ahead and getting JYO weather and setting up for and briefing the last approach. When ATC finally got back to us, I was able to secure approval for maneuvering over the MRB VOR—4500’ plus or minus 500’ in a 5 mile radius for 5 minutes. Chief took the controls and put me in a couple of pretty stiff unusual attitude, and then asked me to recover for each. No sweat, though the red arrows on the G1000 screen tend to distract me rather than help! Then I did steep turns in each direction. Once we were finished, I told ATC we were done with our maneuvers and asked for the GPS 17 back into JYO. They told us to start the MRB transition for it, and eventually cleared us for the approach. Of course—I had to do this one partial panel. I did okay on this—my altitude and position were fine, though my airspeed fluctuated a lot. Coming into JYO, there were a lot of planes in the pattern, so I was grateful that a couple of instructors who were on downwind offered to extend and let me land straight in. I think they knew I was flying with the Chief. I pulled off a pretty decent landing (not my best, but good enough that the Chief commented that it was good). Then I proceeded to taxi way too fast to our parking spot (Chief busted me on this as well—I didn’t even notice at the time, though I know I often taxi too fast.). We pushed the plane back, tied it down, and Chief took my picture for the wall in the office (they post pictures of new pilots, ratings, first solos, etc.)

All in all, it went pretty well. I knew I had made a few mistakes—worst was the failure to recognize what I need to do to fly the approach without GPS, and my inability to properly program the autopilot… both of which I attribute to nerves. A few things I thought were funny… Chief commented on my calmness (hah!) and my niceness to ATC. He said he bet that I never got yelled at by ATC because I was so nice in the way I asked everything. It made me pretty self conscious about my radio calls for the next few flights! I do try to say ‘good day’ when I transition away from each controller—and I try to say things clearly and concisely—but not too concisely. It should still be English that we’re speaking! In any case, it was great to have this flight over with! I had never flown before with Chief, so I think I was more nervous about this flight than the checkride!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Checkride... Complete

Only time for a quick update-- my cousin will be here in less than an hour. But I passed my checkride! I'm an instrument rated pilot! The checkride wasn't too bad- only about 3.5 hours total for the oral, flight, and paperwork afterward.

I'll post more later...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Case of the Nerves

I have several posts that I need to make... but in the meantime, thought I'd give a quick update. My stage 3 check was scheduled for this past Tuesday. I completed the oral portion with no problem, but then weather, a broken plane, and thoughtless scheduling (on my part) prevented me from doing the flying portion. I knew the winds were going to be gusty, so I asked the Chief if I could fly first and then do oral. He said no problem... but then I realized that the plane was out getting an oil change. So back to the original plan.

While answering the oral questions, I could see the wind getting worse and worse. We finished quickly, and he sent me off to check on the plane. It still wasn't back. After getting myself filed and finishing the last details of preparation, I stood outside to watch for it. I only saw a few planes attempt to land, but it wasn't pretty. They were all getting gusted around, and struggling to keep the plane down and pointed in the right direction. I saw our plane come down, bob up and down and side to side. After a few touches, the pilot got the wheels to connect with the pavement, and I could see the weight settle onto the tires. Then, I saw the plane suddenly veer sharply right, and then (after a heart-stopping second) back to the left. After that, I didn't need to see any more to know that I would not be flying today!

I went back inside and got rescheduled for Thursday (today), and then headed for home. A little later, I noticed on the schedule that the plane was down for maintenance. Turns out, the tach stopped working right after takeoff... Yikes! Luckily, Landmark was able to get it fixed-- turns out there was a loose connection with the magnetos. So... hopefully, I'll still get my stage 3 in today. Then tomorrow morning, the checkride.

I am one big bundle of nerves.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Checkride... Scheduled

I just scheduled my instrument checkride for next Friday. Hopefully I can manage to keep my nerves in check until then! Tuesday's my stage three check, and then I scheduled some time with my instructor in case there are things I need to polish... then it's checkride time. Between now and then, though, I have some studying to do. I want to make sure I'm more than prepared for the oral.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Night Flying

It's not as dark up here as I thought it might be-- I'm glad for the big, bright moon overhead. At around 10 miles out, I call Martinsburg Tower and request inbound for landings. I'm struggling to pick out the airport in the sea of lights in front of me. I see a flash of white... and then a flash of green... the airport beacon. Last time I was here- on my long solo cross country (during the day), I had to remind the tower to turn off the beacon. It had been IFR conditions earlier that day, and I guess they forgot to switch off the beacon after conditions improved. I remember that the beacon was to my left as I departed that day, so that must mean the beacon is between me and the runway right now. But why can't I see the runway? Now only 5 miles out, I can start to pick out the huge C-130s sitting in a row- so I know for sure that's the airport. But where's the runway?

I feel my pulse start to pick up, and a knot starts to form in my stomach. I look again at the MFD and try to match the direction of the runway on the screen up with any of the lights out the windscreen. At a little more than a mile, I start to turn downwind, figuring that I'll pick up the runway once I'm oriented in the same direction. I also ask the controller if the lights are all the way up. He tells me he'll put intensify them. Oh, wait- was that the runway? If so, I'm already abeam the numbers! I better pull it together quick! I start to descend and take out a little power. I'm still too fast to being putting in the flaps. The tower controller has told me to call left base for 26, and as I turn, I look through my side window and try to find the runway. Where'd it go? Now, I'm fast, lost, and a little disoriented-- and I've already descended 300 feet.

This is not where I want to be. I tell the tower that I've gotten disoriented, add power, start to climb and turn back toward where the runway is. Tower is mercifully easy-going and tells me to do what I need to get myself together. I turn back along the runway on an upwind, and then overfly the field. OK. Now I can see the full runway. I tell tower I'd like to fly out, do a right 360, and then reenter the downwind for another approach. I'm cleared for the option on 26, and I start my turn back to downwind.

This time, I keep the runway in sight, and things go more as planned. I'm talking out loud to myself by this point, but that's okay. Whatever it takes to keep myself alert, safe, and flying the plane. I land, clean up the flaps and trim, and then push the power back in for another go. After four more touch-n-go's at MRB, I say goodbye to the easy-going controller and depart back to the south. I decide to head for ADOYI and do the RNAV-17 approach back into Leesburg. Of course-- it's all visual, but it calms my nerves about my upcoming stage check, ensures I maintain obstacle clearance, and ensures I'll have the runway in sight well before landing!

As part of the experience required to get my commercial rating, I need to have 5 hours of night flying and 10 night landings at a towered airport. Since my instrument stage check isn't till next week- and my commercial instructor is tied up with an unexpected full time student this week, I thought I'd take advantage of the time and do a few night landings tonight. 5 towered (and one untowered) landings, and 1.3 hours of hobbes time later, I'm back on the ground in Leesburg.

Showing the Colors

OK-- I have finally dowloaded all the pics off my camera... It'll take me a while to catch up on some old posts-- but I'll go ahead and post pics from our trip to Sporty's this last weekend. Oh- and my Instrument Stage 3 is scheduled for next Tuesday!

'Welcome to Sporty's!' Somehow, they knew where we were headed. :)

As I said... the view was amazing!

The windmills in PA...

Look at those yellows and reds!

Can you say 'CAVU'?! (Clear and Visibility Unlimited)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Colors of Fall

Sunday, Husband and I decided to fly to Sporty's in Batavia, OH. Our route took us over the most magnificent Fall scene-- the foothills and mountains of West Virginia in peak Fall color on a beautiful CAVU day. And I got to experience it all from the sky... behind a hood. Yes, we got 6.6 hobbes time and 6.3 of hood time, while Husband served as safety pilot and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. He did occaisionally tell me to lift my head/eyes for a moment to gawk at some particularly beautiful site.

The good news is: I'm just about done with my instrument requirements! In fact, I'm going for a last minute mock stage/checkride with my instructor to prepare for my stage 3 check. Hopefully, I'll be able to do the stage 3 check later this week, and then get signed off to go for the real checkride. This is all a little bit of a surprise. Last week, we were looking through our logbooks and I discovered a few minor and one major errors in my addition (5+11 does not equal 26!)... Suddenly, instead of needing 5 hours of hood time, I needed 12.5! So-- I started getting agressive about getting it, and managed to whittle that down to under 11 hours... then with Saturday's lesson, and the additional 6.3 on Sunday, I now have what I need (given that I will do a long-ish lesson tonight, the stage check later this week, and possibly a follow-up to clean up any last bad habbits). Though we've been saying all along that we wanted to finish at the end of October, it now seems quick!

My other instructor is tied up all week with an unexpected, full-time student, which is probably a good thing as I really need to focus on reviewing for my oral. While it will be really nice to have this behind me, I have trouble remembering what Husband and I will do with our weekends! Then again, holiday season is almost upon us.

I'll post more about the Sporty's experience once I download the pics from our camera. I've also got amazing pics from our long IFR cross country a few weeks back-- we flew right over top of JFK!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Middle of the Night Fears

I wake up suddenly. Rain is beating against the window, and lightning is flashing across the sky. I am almost paralyzed with fear. It's storming. The plane... I didn't tie it down! I lie there, trying to shake myself awake. I reach for my glasses and peer out the window, trying to see just how bad the storm is. What did the line guy say as I passed him on my way into the FBO? I was so tired after 3.5 hours of flying- and a day of stress wondering if I'd make it to NC. Did he acknowledge my arrival? I know I told him I'd need to stay overnight, and a place to tie down. But there weren't any tie downs in sight. I had put a funny square-c-shaped set of boards in place as chocks. Would that be enough to keep Good Dog from rolling about on the strange field? All those thoughts flashed through my head in a matter of seconds.

I thought about jumping out of bed and grabbing the car keys from mom and driving to the airport right then. I could hear my mom still up downstairs, working on her lecture for the next day. But what would I do once I got there? Stand out on the wet grass, in the rain, holding onto my plane? I didn't know where any tiedowns were. So instead, I shut my eyes tight and prayed that my plane would be okay. Seems a little silly to pray for that... but it seemed the best option at the time. Then the storm began to die down. I feel asleep with my eyes squeezed shut and a feeling of fear.

In the morning, as I dressed and packed to leave for the airport, I wondered what I would find. Would plane be where I left it? Would it be in some funny orientation? Would it be okay? As we drove up to the field, and I squinted to see the plane, I let out a huge sigh of relief. No tiedowns in sight, but Good Dog was fine. We weathered the storm. And lesson learned. Good Dog gets taken care of first, especially when I'm tired.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Minding the Gap

"A thousand feet to go." Even though I'm alone in the cockpit of Good Dog, I still say this out loud to myself as I pass through 5,500 feet above mean sea level (MSL)... and then smile. My private pilot instructor, M, used to say that every time the autopilot chirped its announcement that we were within 1,000 feet of our desired altitude. I'm in the middle of my commercial, long solo cross country flight. So far, it's going reasonably well, though I never want to think that in the middle of a flight. There's still far too much time for things to fall apart!

I'm not used to flying by myself. Though I now have around 260 hours in our plane, the vast majority of that time is with Husband, one of my instructors, a handful of friends and family, or a combination of the above, also in the plane. It's kind of nice up here by myself. After checking in with ATC and arranging for "flight following" (not only do I get "company" for the flight, Husband can then easily track my progress along the way), I settle in and unmute the XM Radio to enjoy a little Flight 26 music.

Today's flight is sort of a long distance round-robin so that I can meet all the necessary requirements. I departed Leesburg and flew to Martinsburg, WV. After a touch-n-go there, I departed on a southwesterly course for SOP in Pinehurst, NC. I'll land there, and then go back north to land at IGX in Chapel Hill, NC, where I'm to overnight with my mom. Then, I'll return direct to JYO the next morning. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make the flight today. Flying is often all about the timing. You have to time when to pull the nosewheel up on take off, when to start your descent, when to flare in landing, and when to depart. Today, the timing is about finding the gap-- i.e., waiting long enough for weather to clear in Leesburg, but not so long as to get stuck by the convective clouds that are predicted for the afternoon. So far, I'm lucky. I was able to make it off the ground before anything big showed up on my route going south.

As I keep tabs with ATC, I also keep twiddling with the Nexrad, tuning the range way out to see what colors lie ahead. Greens are okay; yellow I keep a close eye on and try to avoid; orange and red make me sit up and make a new plan. There are two clumps of green and yellow on either side of my route near my destination. It looks like I'll be able to thread the needle between them, but I'll have to keep an eye out. On the plus side, watching the weather gives me something to do as I fly along at 115 kts indicated airspeed. With the headwind, my groundspeed is a measly 98 kts or so. But I have plenty of fuel. Since it's just me, I had the line guy top off the tanks. It's my own version of Captain Dave's "uh-oh" fuel.

As I get closer to the two clumps of green and yellow that I see on the screen, I begin to be able to see the clouds that are causing those colors. I'm relieved to see that the clouds are pretty flat. There's one small area-- the farthest away from my path-- that has a little height to it, but it's not a big huge towering cumulonimbus. More of a small cotton ball cloud. Still, to be safe, I switch the autopilot to heading mode and move the heading bug over so I fly a little more away from that part, and a little closer to the flatter cloud that corresponds with the green on my screen. As I get closer still, I can see rain leaking out of the clouds on either side, and even get a little rain on the windscreen-- but I can always see through the rain to sun on the other side. So I continue on through.

Now, I'm approaching SOP and ATC releases me, telling me, "Radar service is terminated and squawk VFR." I acknowledge and switch over to the CTAF (common traffic area frequency). There are a few planes around, so I carefully sequence in among them. One of them seems to be a plane carrying packages that will need to be offloaded (and then new packages loaded on, I assume). Another is someone doing pattern work. There are a few others that I can't identify, so I scoot in for a quick touch and go. I land, then quickly pull the flaps up, adjust the trim, check my instruments and mixture, and push the throttle full forward as I announce that I'm on the go for runway 5. Then, I'm back in the air. I turn left and head north to IGX, hoping that the text message I cued for my mom sent as I rolled down the runway. I would have taken time to pull off the runway and call her-- but I want to make sure those two cells don't close in over the airport.

As I approach Chapel Hill, I see the rain clouds are right where I left them... they haven't moved. That's good, as it means I'll be able to make it through the gap and land without a problem. I call Unicom for an airport advisory-- and learn that 27 is in use, so I set up for a 45 entry to 27. I call that I'm turning left downwind for 27, and Unicom calls that 27 is right traffic. Ack! Somehow I missed that in my briefing! So I climb and turn and head over the airport for a right downwind. I get established, turn base, final, and then land. Not my prettiest landing ever-- but also not bad. I taxi toward the FBO and ask where to park. I'm instructed to a spot in the grass, and then the FBO comes to life to tend to an air ambulance that has landed right after me. Mom has arrived, so I slip away while they get the patient transferred from the ambulance and settled in the plane.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Planning for My Long Cross Country

I'm hoping to do my long commercial solo cross country flight tomorrow... if the weather holds. My plan is to fly down for dinner with Mom, spend the night, and fly back home on Wednesday. Should be pretty fun! For the long solo, I must fly 300 nm, have at least one 250 nm leg, and make three landings. Thank goodness for AOPA Flight Planner as that's a lot of info to keep straight! I'm looking forward to the trip-- it should be really fun to fly, and I always like having time with Mom. I think she's looking forward to it, as well. I think I'll be glad for both Flight Following and for the XM Radio/Weather in the plane. The combination of those three things will make this a much easier flight!

My intended route of flight for tomorrow:


Total distance: 331 nm
Longest leg: 259nm
Total flight time (not including approach/landings): 3 hours
Estimated duration from start to finish: +/-4 hours

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Head in the Clouds-- for Real!

I passed my stage check!

After my flight was canceled on Friday, I wasn't sure if I'd fly on Saturday. Husband and I watched the weather all morning... and it just looked dismal. The ceilings were hovering around 700-800 feet at all the local airports, and visibility was still only around 3 miles at some of the airports. After pretty much deciding there was no way we'd fly- and that we should just enjoy the day doing non-flying things, I decided to check one last time. And all of a sudden, the ceilings had raised 1000-1500 feet!

Husband had a cold, so I went out to the airport by myself. Our plane was still over at MRB, so the Asst. Chief, D, and I were to fly over 8373Y (a PA-28-181) and pick up my plane to do the rest of the stage check in. So yes-- I flew the first approach of my stage check in a (type of) plane I'd never before flown! It was pretty cool to get to fly a different kind of plane. To add to the excitement, we were in and out of the clouds all the way over to MRB.

As we began the takeoff roll, D called out the speeds for rotation and climb out, and we were off. We started our climb up to 3,000 and were vectored around a bit by ATC, and then were cleared direct to MRB (the VOR). I looked around to figure out how to set up for a course to MRB (the VOR) to enter the VOR-A approach into KMRB (the airport). And that's when I realized that there wasn't an HSI-- but rather a heading indicator and a separate VOR instrument. Uh oh! I'm staring at this thing, trying to figure it out, while also trying to listen for a strange call sign, fly this plane that feels slow and weird and is all steam gauges. I took a deep breath and told myself just to fly to the needle. Luckily, D did help me out by putting in a rough course of 330 to get me started.

By the time we got to the VOR, I kind of had things figured out, and we set up for a descent. Because we were in and out of the clouds, I didn't have to put on the foggles for that approach. D jumped in to ask Tower if we could just do a right base for 8 (they had assigned us left base), and we circled in for a landing. We were abeam the end of runway 08 when I thought to ask D the speeds for the pattern. He told me 85, 75, 65, and got the flaps (I never did see where they were), and I brought us in for the landing. Because we were going to the other end of the airport, he had me fly about halfway down the runway before actually putting the plane down. Strangely, I think that helped me get comfortable with the landing. It was a little flat (the sight picture is pretty different!), but not my worst landing ever, either.

We switched the planes out, leaving 8373Y tied down in the grass, and taxiing Good Dog out to the hold line to call tower. Just as we were preparing to make the call, Tower came on to say they were closed and we were on our own. Great. They did give us a frequency to call, though, and we picked up our clearance from Potomac after just a couple of minutes. Once in the air, we checked back in with Potomac, who queried if we had onboard radar. I had a temporary lapse and said no (I should have said that we yes, have Nexrad), so ATC gave us a heads up to some weather nearby, and asked if we wanted to continue on to OKV, our next intended approach. We said yes, that we'd like the ILS-32 for OKV. We received vectors to JASEN, and then were cleared onto the approach from there. Though I felt more comfortable being back in my plane, things were a little busy by this point. I was trying to get the approach loaded (still a little tricky for me), get the approach briefed, keep an eye on Nexrad, and keep the airplane on the right heading/altitude. Oh- and communicate with ATC. I think I did okay, though it certainly wasn't my best flying ever! I was under the hood at this point, so I had to rely on D to keep us clear of any convective weather.

As we flew closer to the approach, ATC again told us of weather nearby-- which we also saw on the screen. D indicated we should carry on, but that we would be cutting the approach short to miss a big area of yellow just off the runway. Around this time, I ditched the foggles as we were mostly in the clouds. I figured it would be better training to get the experience of being in and out. Turning inbound on the ILS course, ATC queried us a third time about our intentions and told us there was a Level 2 cell sitting right over the airport, and a Level 3 just to the north, right on the missed approach path. This time, we told them we'd be cutting it off just past the final approach fix. I was able to pick up the glide slope early, and fly that for just a bit. Immediately after we passed I-TZX (Cogan), we followed ATC's instructions for a climbing right turn.

Soon after, they vectored us over and cleared us for the LOC-17 approach into JYO. Again, I had a little problem programming the GPS with the approach and the initial approach fix. I ended up having to load STILL directly into the flight plan, and then reload and reactivate the approach. I don't know if that was right, but couldn't keep messing with the G1000-- and needed to focus on setting up for our approach. By this point, I was pretty tired-- the intensity of the stage check, the constant ATC chatter, and the focus required to fly in these conditions was starting to catch up to me. I lost my altitude a few times, and then was way off course on the localizer. I managed to pull things back together, though, and we landed uneventfully on 17. Whew. Stage check done!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Getting Ready for a Stage Check

Husband and I have now scheduled for our IFR stage 2 check. We both need to fly with the same assistant chief from our flight school. We thought about scheduling a back-to-back stage check just as we've been doing for our training, but opted instead to schedule two separate appointments. I'm scheduled for tomorrow (Friday) afternoon, and Husband is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. However, given the weather predicted for the next few days, we may still have to double up (and we may not be able to do the check.

Our CFI tells us that the stage 2 check is typically done as a VFR flight with a few different approaches into OKV, a nearby airport, and a few steep turns and unusual attitudes thrown in for good measure. Given how the weather is predicted to be, it's possible we may not be able to fly VFR, but may be able to do the approaches IFR. While I'm not generally a fan of doing new things in the aircraft on a checkride of any kind (even just a stage check), it would be cool to get in a little actual instrument time-- and do an approach without having to use the foggles.

On the down side, this weather is screwing with my plans to get in my night flight tonight. I just hope it clears out before my scheduled long commercial cross country on Tuesday. I've worked out with my mom that I'll come down and see her for the night. I can fly down, do the required 250 nm leg (300nm total) and three landings, then spend the night with her and fly home the next morning. I get my flight in-- and get to have some fun, as well (I mean, outside of the flying! That's always fun!).

We've still been flying as much as possible-- and I flew a total of 6 times between last Friday and Tuesday. Twice, I did back to back flights-- commercial to instrument. I think I'm getting a little bit of a feel of what it's like to be an instructor-- it's fun, but I am exhausted afterward. Tuesday afternoon, I flew with our old instructor, M, to practice my commercial maneuvers. He hasn't been in a 172 in a while-- he's now flying for Wisconsin Air-- so he had fun being in a small plane again. He taught me several useful tricks while we flew-- and then we came back and did landings. I did one pretty decent softfield, and then four shortfields. The last was dead on. M did three landings-- and it was pretty funny watching him try and adjust his flare after flying in a big dog for a while.

After that flight, I got the plane refueled and relaxed a bit. Husband and CFI T met me about 45 minutes later and we went out for our stage check prep-- three approaches each plus unusual attitudes and steep turns. Husband flew first-- he's not as much of a night owl as I am, and I needed a little more time to rest up. By the time I climbed into the front seat for my turn, I was zonked! But I still did reasonably well. My approaches weren't dead on-- but they were definitely well within standards. Makes me confident that I'll do fine when I'm fully awake-- and that I'd do fine after a long cross country flight coming in on a real approach.

I'll be keeping a close eye on the weather, hoping for the best!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Commercial Maneuvers and Baby Elephants

Last night was another great flight. It's so nice to fly again in cooler weather. The plane almost jumps into the air, and it's much easier to concentrate on leaning a new skill when you don't have sweat dripping down your face. I'm enjoying the commercial maneuvers. They're mostly about finesse and control of the airplane. They require the pilot to know the feel of the airplane and be able to work with all the various factors. When I'm successful in completing a manuever within PTS, I feel like I'm almost dancing with the plane-- like the sky is a big dancefloor and we are dipping and turning around it. I've seen Matt Younken (I think that's his name) do an airshow routine in a twin beech a few times-- it's a funny routing to watch as the plane is not one that is used for aerobatics. The music he chose to play along with his routine is a little quirky- I think it might be called "Baby Elephant Walk". As the music plays, he and the plane lumber up and down the runway. For whatever reason, when I do lazy 8s, that music plays in my head (trust me, lazy 8s are a far cry from the magic he is able to do with his twin).

M and I have quickly worked our way through all of the commercial maneuvers. To be honest, I thought it would take longer! Last night, we added eights on pylons and power-off 180s to the growing list of: steep turns, steep spirals, chandelles, lazy eights, and short field landings that we've been working on. We also covered oldies like simulated engine outs and power-on and power-off stalls, soft- and short- field take offs. Somehow we have skipped soft field landings, though I imagine we'll pick those up next lesson. After one more lesson, I hope to move on to complex operations: retractable gear and a fixed speed prop!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning a New Tail Number

I finally have another tail number written in my logbook! I've been a complete slacker about posting lately-- though not from lack of flying. I've been flying a lot. In fact, I had back to back lessons scheduled for this past Saturday-- and since our plane was booked for much of the day, I decided to take a different plane up while ours was out flying! (For those who aren't regular readers, I've basically only flown our airplane throughout all of my training, though I once had a few minutes instruction in an ultra light while on a sight-seeing trip.)

I figured I'd make it easier on myself and stick with a Cessna 172 S-model... that way the speeds, engine, and basics would be the same. But since the other 172 with glass was not available either, that meant flying steam gauges. I was pretty excited about this- I've read a lot about transitioning from steam to glass, but not as much about glass to steam. So I was anxious to see how I'd make the switch. The plan was that M and I would go up and practice my commercial maneuvers for a couple of hours, then we'd meet up with Husband and T at MRB. I'd hop over into our plane to do 1.5 hours of instrument training while M flew the other plane back to JYO. But all good plans...

It took me a little longer to preflight than usual since I wasn't familiar with the plane-- so I was a little glad that M was late getting back from his previous lesson. After reviewing a bit, we hopped into 144ME and started the engine startup and runup checklists. My eyes didn't know where to land at first! I had to look at each instrument and think about what it said. Luckily, I'd studied pictures of them recently when Husband I studied for our instrument written exam. M kind of laughed at me a bit... but was very patient as I assured myself that this was in fact an airplane-- and would have very similar capabilities to Good Dog.

Of course I screwed up the radio call before takeoff, and used Good Dog's call sign instead of 144ME. The funny thing was that the student and instructor who had booked Good Dog before us happened to be returning to the airport right at that moment. After I made a new radio call with the correct call sign, they responded that they were happy to hear the correction as Good Dog was just then turning base.

Once in the sky, things were a bit hectic at first as I adjusted to reading the dials instead of getting things in one big picture. I'm not sure what the hardest to adjust to was. Probably the turn coordinator as this looks very different. That was also the only thing that was more sensitive on the steam gauges. M had me turn this way and that, holding specific headings, bank angles, etc. Then he had me do a stall or two- just to show me that it still flew the same as Good Dog. After that, we found a little bit of sky not covered by really tall, almost towering, cumulus clouds and practiced my chandelles and lazy eights. Clearly, my practice earlier in the week had paid off as I was actually hitting (mostly) PTS for each after a few tries. Though I missed having Nexrad to check and make sure those clouds weren't going convective on us, it was actually kind of nice to not know about the 30 IAD arrivals that were probably going right over us. I felt like I was in a little cocoon.

After an hour or so, it was time to head over to MRB to meet Husband. I was surprised we hadn't heard him on the radio yet, but figured that he and T had cooked up some craziness and were off doing approaches somewhere else. So I turned the plane roughly in the direction of MRB, and then started to reach over to find it on the MFD as the clouds were such that we didn't have a lot of visibility. Hmmm. No MFD. How am I going to find it? A slight wave of uncertainty as I realized that my charts were in the back of the plane. I decided to fess up and talk it through with M, hoping that he wouldn't make me go through the process of using pilotage to exactly pinpoint our location on the chart and calculate a route. He took pity and instead showed me how to use the plane's GPS. We clicked through, found MRB, and loaded it in. I didn't even need my kneeboard printout from AOPA that I had brought along-- the frequencies were in the GPS, just like in Good Dog.

After a reasonably uneventful landing, I gave Husband and T a quick call to verify they weren't on the ground back in JYO for some reason. When neither answered, we assumed they were in the air and went inside the terminal to wait. After about 20 minutes, my phone rang. It was Husband-- and he disclosed that they had never made it in the air-- that they were still in JYO. There had been a problem with Good Dog. So M and I headed back to JYO to see what was happening. Turns out, someone (not sure who), had entered a waypoint that caused the G1000 to get corrupted. Through a series of chance events, Husband and T were able to figure out there was a bad waypoint, delete it, and get the systems back up. But now there was no time to fly. So, Husband decided to do a few circuits while he waited. So Good Dog followed me home.

All in all, I'm pleased that there were no huge barriers to overcome. It was still an airplane- and fun to fly!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Addition to the Fleet

I went out for a little commercial maneuver practice yesterday, and when I walked out of the building toward the plane, this greeted me:

Cool! The "new" Decathalon has arrived! Husband is pretty excited about this-- he really wants to get his tailwheel endorsement (as do I)... and this plane just LOOKS fun! It's occupying the spot next to us for now, so I got to spend a lot of time looking at it as I did my preflight.

After pulling myself away from this pleasure, I headed out to the other side of the ridge to do a little practicing. I first did commercial steep turns (steep turns, but to more than 50* and connecting a left and right one together to form a figure eight). These went okay-- which isn't that surprising since 45* steep turns are part of your private checkride. My first one wasn't so great, but I pretty quickly got it together. I practiced them starting from both the left and the right. Surprisingly, the ones from the right were a little better.

Next I practiced Chandelles. I first had to reteach myself about these as my lesson last week felt very long ago. The basic idea is that you're doing a climbing 180* turn at full power. When you finish, you should be going the opposite direction and your airspeed should be 5-10 kts above a stall. These are all about finesse-- and knowing your airplane. I think I managed to pull off at least one decent one in both directions, though I had to take a moment and review the picture I had brought along to remind myself of the mechanics.

Finally, I practiced Lazy 8s. These are where you do two 180* climbing and descending turns back to back-- with the power at a constant setting. I had a really hard time with these. I kept trying to do it like the picture said-- nose up to ~15* pitch, slowly bank to 15* and then to 30*, then slowly remove the pitch and then bank and come back to neutral... then repeat in opposite direction. I couldn't get it at all. I was about to give up and call it a day when I decided to try it again-- but this time by feel. That time, I think I got pretty close. That makes me think I was probably over-thinking the maneuver. By keeping in my mind what the airplane should look like, I could fly it almost by feel, though I still did an occasional check of the instruments to verify my progress.

After a few of these, traffic in the area significantly picked up. I think there were three other Av-Ed planes all doing maneuvers. Without an instructor or safety pilot to help watch for traffic while I concentrated on putting the airplane through its paces, I decided to head back in. What a beautiful evening! As I returned to JYO, I realized the clouds had lifted even more-- and visibility was great. I could see Leesburg, Reston, Tysons Corner, and even DC in the distance. It was awesome-- literally. I did a soft-field landing, just for kicks. Considering I haven't done one in ages, it was pretty good. As I left the airport after tidying up Good Dog, I realized that I had a huge grin on my face. Life was good.