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!