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.