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.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Around and Around, Where Will Hanna Land?

We are supposed to fly down to the Outer Banks this weekend for a family event. Of course, we may not be flying anywhere, depending on where Hanna goes! The weather may be ok for getting down there on Friday and getting back on Sunday. But we're realizing that it becomes more of a question than just being able to get down there safely and then get back safely. We also want our airplane (and us) to be safe through the storm, as well.

So, we've done our homework and called Manteo to see if there is hangar space available (there is), and looked at the weather graphics to see where the storm is predicted to hit-- and how hard. Now, I guess it's just the waiting game. I also have two flight lessons scheduled for tomorrow-- one with my commercial instructor, and one with Husband and our instrument instructor. Hopefully I'll get to fly at least a little tomorrow!