Monday, October 19, 2009

It's Been a While!!!

But I have a good reason!

I'll post soon about the awesome trip Husband and I had to Europe-- we got to do some really fun aviation things. In the meantime-- thought I'd let you in on why I haven't been posting lately. I haven't been flying too much-- mainly because Husband and I are going to welcome not one, but TWO new little pilots into our family this Spring!

Yup... we're having twins!

I'm not sure which discussion started first-- whether we'd need a bigger car or a bigger airplane! We are hoping to be able to fit two carseats in the back of our 172... supposedly, it can be done! Unfortunately, we won't have much room or weight left over for Flyer, so I imagine he'll be left home a little more... But Husband is already scouring the web in search of the "perfect" next plane (I think he's eyeing the C-206 and a Piper Matrix, but I've tried to stay out of it!).

But we'll have time to figure all of that out in the next few months. In the meantime, I'm hoping to get in a few more flights before I'm too big to fit behind the yoke and also reach the rudder pedals. Leaning down to pull the lever to adjust the seat has already become a problem! Usually- that would be bad... but in this case, it's a wonderful problem to have!

Of course-- I'll welcome any suggestions you flying parents out there have for how to fly ourselves and our new little ones around safely and comfortably!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

O Is for Oshkosh!

I'll try to get more detailed accounts of the best parts... but Husband and I put together a list of our favorite (and not so favorite) things about Oshkosh! Husband is in blue, my comments are in red.

  • Canine oxygen mask
  • Fan-powered bicycles

Oddest looking plane:

  • In-line twin sea plane by Dornier
  • Stits Sky Baby (world’s smallest plane)

Best innovation:

  • electric light sport airplane (UNEEQ)
  • KindleDX Plates

Favorite memory:

  • P-51 ride
  • Flying formation into Oshkosh

Favorite airshow act:

  • Aeroshell Team
  • Matt Younkin in his twin Beech

Liked least:

  • old naked men in shower (thankfully, only Husband had this problem!)
  • More than an hour of Ford and EAA ads before fly-in movie

Favorite presenter:

  • Captain Sully and Jeff Skyles (a.k.a. "& Crew")
  • Lane Wallace of Flying Magazine

Favorite airplane:

  • Pitts S2C
  • Cessna 195

Best part of Oshkosh:

  • Ice Cream at VIP Tent (yes, we had VIP credentials!)
  • People-watching and the people you meet

Favorite places:

  • Performer’s tent during airshow (this was cool!)
  • Seaplane base (best kept secret)

Best investment:

  • Tent that doesn’t leak
  • Rented bicycles (and learning the shortcuts across the grounds!)

Favorite new gadget:

I promise more details to follow. For now... here's some very BAD poetry.

"O is for Oshkosh"

Oh Oshkosh, your runways are so beautiful- a stage on which the country’s pilots play.
How exciting to crawl each morning from my tent and behold the rows of airplanes glistening in the sun.
How thrilling to see the latest in aviation innovation loop and swirl and dive above our heads each day.
How stirring the roaring, soaring warbirds that remind of sacrifices made by so many.
I thrive in the community of fellow aviators, joined together one week each year—and count the days until I come again.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Weather Dance

It's that time before a trip... the time where my stomach starts to do little flip flops and I am easily distracted from everyday tasks. I start watching the clock till when the next weather update comes out on, and trying to compute enroute times, mapping possible routes in my head against the weather map.

I always think I'm not going to do this dance this time... but somehow always seem to do it anyway. One reason-- the weather's always moving, always changing. So- even if it's nice in one area, if you're flying anywhere distant, you're likely to hit weather issues somewhere else. This time-- it looks like there's currently a low front across my route of flight... and at some point between now and when I reach that front, it may turn into a cold front. And that multiplies the worry, because I have a general idea of how cold fronts behave... and a general idea about warm fronts. But how does a warm front changing into a cold front behave? These are things that will keep me awake tonight when I should be sleeping.

The good news is: we are about 85% packed up. I just need to do the final little bits tonight-- in addition to my real flight planning. Our new plan is that I am going to fly most of the way myself, and meet up with Husband tomorrow evening after he flies out on a commercial flight. Then we'll go together to the formation flight training required to participate in the Cessnas 2 Oshkosh.

For those that didn't click the link to see what Cessnas 2 Oshkosh is... we will be flying into AirVenture in formation with 60 other Cessnas! I've never done any formation flying (and neither has Husband), so we'll spend Friday learning how to do it safely for the arrival. Pretty exciting! Last year, it took the group 11 minutes to get all 60 planes down once the first one had landed. That's crazy fast! I have to admit, I'm a little nervous-- so we've agreed that if we don't feel confident about our-- or the group's-- ability to do the arrival safely, we'll just drop out and go on our own. But I'm hoping it works out-- can you just imagine?!

And the countdown begins...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oshkosh Dreaming... Again!

It's that time of year again. Time to dream about Oshkosh! Husband and I are again making the trek west in our airplane. I think I understand more the annual journeys that some pilgrims go on... I really do feel the call of AirVenture!

Of course, we're going through our usual cycles of trying to decide what our plan is for getting there. Originally- we were going to depart home on Saturday-- spending the night along the way so that we could arrive at Osh on Sunday morning. Then, we thought about flying straight there on Saturday. Our latest thinking is that we may try to do the Cessnas 2 Oshkosh arrival on Saturday. To do that, we need to get away from work earlier than planned... so I'm not sure if it will happen or not.

We're also debating the best method for getting us, our stuff, and a mode of transportation to Oshkosh. We haven't decided whether it's better to ship our camping gear and take our bikes, or to rent bikes and take our camping gear with us in the plane. Dilemmas!

In any case-- for those also planning their own trips, here's my detailed list of camping gear we're taking. Hopefully, I've gotten it all down. We have a lot for cooking as we tend to enjoy camp cooking. If you see something missing, drop me a line in the comment area!

Bungee cords (for strapping stuff into the plane and for strapping things to a bike)
Solar charger with tips for phones, etc.
Tent (lightweight one)
Self-inflating sleeping mats
Sleeping bags
Queen-size sheet*
Electric lantern with remote control
Camping chairs (folding)
Roll-up table
Single burner stove
Lightweight grill
Mat for under grill?
Ceiling fan/light
3 plastic boxes- food, cookware, purchases
2 backpacks
Sunscreen, bug-spray, chap-stick
Pack light on t-shirts (will buy lots!)
Tie Downs & chocks
Forks, spoons, knives
3 sizes of cutting knives
cutting mat
mess kit
extra pot
bowls (4)
measuring cups
spatula (rubber and metal)
wooden spoon
sponge, steel wool
extra rope
can opener, bottle opener
playing cards
sugar, salt, pepper
Notebook with full procedures (impt info highlighted and tabbed) and schedule, etc.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day at the Beach

Husband and I decided after the recent trip to the Outer Banks that another trip to the beach was in order. We'd heard good things about Tangier Island- and at about 1 hour flying time it was perfect for a day trip. The island is tiny- maybe a mile long and 1/2 mile wide. It sits in the middle of the Chesapeake. You can get by boat or by plane only. Most residents (about 700 total) there use bikes or golf carts for transportation. We chose to eat at a family style place that had okay food. After lunch, we rented bikes and explored before chilling on the beach for an hour. The only downside were the mosquitoes! The whole island was soggy and marshlike so they were everywhere. Husband had some many biting his legs that his legs were blood streaked. I got off easier- which is unusual. Usually I'm the magnet. We think it's because Husband buried his legs in sand while we sat in the beach. After escaping the bugs, we flew on across to Accomack, VA. Two stamps in one day!

On the flight home (my first as PIC from the right seat!) Husband took a nap. He woke up as ATC gave us vectors and told to expect new routing. Expecting a diversion or delay, we were thrilled to learn that the change in plans was to send us to the EAST of Dulles! Pull out a Washington sectional. You can see how rare that is just from looking at all the airspace we deal with here. We were routed right over Reston and could clearly see Vienna, Tysons Corner, Wolf Trap, and our neighborhood. I think I actually squealed with delight before forcing voice to a calm and professional level to tell ATC that yes we did see the Southwest jet passing 1500 feet above us. Good times. We ended following that jet and then turning to go right across the final approach for Dulles so we were on a perfect 45 for JYO. I don't know who was working that Sunday afternoon, but I sure wish that controller could know how much he made our day!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Flying to the Beach

Husband and I made a quick trip down to the Outer Banks this weekend. Some friends of ours had a beach in Corolla for the weekend and invited us to join them. We had hoped to get out Friday-- but a combination of factors (me needing more sleep to recover from a cold, Husband having some additional meetings to get through, and then several lines of severe thunderstorms on our route) kept us from getting airborne until Sat morning. We took off (after a few last minute delays) at 6:40am, and touched down in Manteo right at 8:40am. Husband had the leg (I was still feeling the effects of the cold) and did a great job. The FBO there (great folks!) supplied us with a rental car and we were on our way up to Corolla. Expecting a 1.5 hour drive (GoogleMaps), we were pleasantly surprised to be at our friends' place by a little past 10-- even with the obligatory stop for doughnuts and coffee!

The beach was great. Flyer (yes, we took him with us) had a fantastic time. Our friends also have a dog and the two get along great. Plus, we took Flyer out to the beach with us and he lay on the sand with us-- and also chased balls through the waves. By the end of the weekend, he was jumping over the waves and paddling out to get the ball, then riding the waves back in like a true surfer dog. Maybe we should change his name to "Dude".

We had a hard time leaving paradise, but managed to pull ourselves away in time to have a leisurely drive back to the airport, stopping on the way for awesome seafood at Sugar Creek. Yummy. Then we did a little flight-seeing up and down the coast before pointing toward home and calling up ATC for our IFR clearance. Husband had fun poking through the wisps of clouds that floated along our route (I still couldn't kick that cold!).

All of this weekend fun leaves us wanting to do another flying beach trip this summer. Any suggestions out there for a good place to go from the DC area? We loved the atmosphere in Corolla, but could do without the 1-1.5 hour drive after a 2+ hour flight. Write in if you have suggestions of where to fly next.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gone Flat

(Note: this is from a few months back. I just forgot to finish and publish the post!)

The flat tire was a startling surprise. We were landing at a little airport just west of RIC-- and in fact, had only been in the air for about 10 minutes after departing RIC. As Husband started to land, he could tell something was wrong. Sure enough, as he let the power out and the weight settled a bit more on the wheels, I could hear the thump-thump of a flat tire. He called out at that point, "Flat nose wheel tire!". Somehow, I came up with the response "Soft-field landing technique!" He didn't understand at first, but then quickly realized that I wanted him to hold the nose wheel off as in a soft-field landing. Doing that, he was able to minimize the damage as we rolled off the runway and came to a stop. After calling the FBO on the phone (they didn't answer on the radio), we learned that there was a mechanic on field-- but that he was out of town for the next 2-3 weeks! Uh-oh!

They were friendly folks, though (most airports are) and came out to give us a hand. We tried just adding air using an air compressor, but the seal just wouldn't hold. To do anything else would require moving the airplane from the far end of the runway back to the ramp in front of the terminal building. Hoping to find some sort of tug, the airport manager took us around to the various hangars. If we hadn't been feeling the stress of being stranded, this would have been tons of fun. We found all sorts of people working on airplanes in various conditions. They all stopped and tried to help us solve the problem. Eventually, we were able to rig up a makeshift tug from a cart, a pair of chocks, and a rope attached to a pickup truck tow hitch. See the picture below. Using this contraption, we slowly towed the plane to the ramp.
Once back on the ramp, we resumed the process of finding a way to fix the flat. We had asked all the hangar inhabitants whether they had the type of tire/tube we needed... but no dice. We also started calling mechanics. Luckily, the airport manager knew the mechanic from a nearby airport enough to have a cell number. After leaving a message, we heard back from him a short while later. We were also lucky to have caught him before he started a drive to WV. He agreed to stop by on his way out and fix the tire for us. Phew!
It took about an hour for him to get there, and then we watched while he took apart the plane to change the tire. Because of the way the strut is fashioned, he had to take off the cowling and depressurize (I'm probably using the wrong term) the hydraullic fluid in the strut. Then, he could take off the wheel and change the tire. He had to replace both the tube and the tire-- which first had to be fitted together. Then he had to put it all back together again and readjust the strut.
While he was working, I started talking to the daughters of the friend he had with him. The youngest (maybe 7 or 8) had never been this close to a small plane before. She was fascinated. I had her climb up in the cockpit and showed her the various controls and screens and let her move the yoke back and forth and up and down. When the mechanic was almost done, I got an idea. I discreetly asked the girls father if he would like me to take the two of them up for a quick turn around the pattern. He said yes-- if she wanted. When I asked her, her eyes lit up and she started bouncing up and down (I think she had just consumed an entire box of candy). We found a blanket to use as a seat cushion and borrowed an extra headset from the FBO. I showed her what I was doing as I preflighted and started the engine. As we performed our final runup tasks, I looked over and saw the skydiving team that had been practicing all afternoon was just landing next to us on the grass. Very cool!
Around this time, I asked if she was okay. She admitted she was a tiny bit scared. So we agreed that if she was still scared once we were in the air, I would immediately come back around in land. But if she gave me the thumbs-up, then we would go fly out over the river and see the sights a bit. Of course, she gave me a huge thumbs-up and a big smile as soon as we were in the air. So I positioned us out over the river and did a few turns so she could see out the window. I then showed her how to take the yoke and move it side to side. She giggled as she realized that the plane moved side to side when she did that. Of course, I keept my fingertips on the controls and my feet on the rudders. But for a few minutes that day, she had wings.
As the sun began to set, we turned back toward the airport and I announced that we would be entering the pattern. I managed a smooth landing, and when I opened the door for her to get out, she was beaming. I think she bounced all the way back to the terminal building. Oh- and her dad seemed to enjoy the flight as well. As we said goodbye, she made the observation that it was very cool they had done something nice for us (delaying their trip so the mechanic could fix our plane) and then we had done something nice for them... Isn't it nice when things go right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Long Hiatus

It's been a very long time since I posted. Lots has happened since then- though flying has been a bit scarce this Spring.
I have managed to do a little, though. Highlights (or in some cases low lights!) include:

  • A few forays into the clouds to gain actual instrument time an experience.
  • A (VA Aviation Ambassadors) passport stamping round robin that had to be aborted because of a Flat tire on landing.
  • A mountain flying lesson in the Rockies.
  • Volunteering (for Women in Aviation) at the Joint Services Open House at Andrews AFB
  • Developing and studying lesson plans for slow flight, eights on pylons, stalls, aerodynamics, weight and balance, and ground reference maneuvers
  • Flying my first real "right-seat" lesson in prep for my Instructor Rating
  • Giving Husband a lesson on eights on pylons
  • Discovery of a newly reopened restaurant at MRB that is awesome!
The mountain flying lesson was incredible. We tacked it onto a ski trip out to Telluride, meeting up with an instructor in Montrose on our way home. Husband let me fly while he sat in the back. The instructor kept telling me to "get closer to that mountain over there". My response was typically, "Are you sure?!" We flew the entire flight at max power in an old 172 that had had an engine upgrade (to a 180HP). On takeoff, he cautioned me that though the ground looked relatively flat, there was actually a gradual incline (and we were already at something like 7,000' MSL), and that if I did not hoof it up-- and turn at the right place, I'd get caught with not enough altitude or power. And I could tell that he was right, though I'm not sure I'd have been able to see it without him telling me! I'll try to remember to upload the pics sometime soon-- it was beautiful.

I'll post more about the flat tire in another post-- but just wanted to get myself back on a blogging trend. It's good to be back!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Women, Women, Everywhere!

Last month I celebrated getting my commercial rating by attending my first Women in Aviation International (WAI) conference in Atlanta. (Since then, I've also gone skiing, taken on a new job at a new company, and begun work on my CFI... so more will be coming!) The conference was amazing-- and the people I met there were even more amazing!

I flew down to Peachtree DeKalb on a Wednesday in my C-172. I had hoped I might find someone to go with me, but unfortunately, the few women who expressed an interest weren’t able to come. So I was very thankful for both the XM Weather and the XM Radio in our plane! I had no idea what to expect, but figured that minimally, I’d build a little time by flying myself (and who can resist air time!). My trip down was relatively uneventful. I picked up a few more minutes actual IMC... and landed just after dark at Peachtree. I definitely have to give a shoutout to Epps Aviation at PDK. They were great-- and because I was attending the conference, they gave me a discount on the fuel, half price on the overnights, a ride to and from the MARTA station, and even a round trip ticket for the train. Oh- and they also gave me a goody bag of snacks (much appreciated during the long days of the conference!).

Unfortunately, I got there much later than anticipated (tough headwind and too much to do at home)-- and too late to go to the Chapter social that I had signed up for. So my first event was on Thursday morning-- a tour of the Delta Technical Operations (Tech Ops) Center at ATL. Walking into the conference registration area at the hotel on Thursday morning, I realized that I had badly underestimated what a big event the conference would be! Though things had not yet kicked off officially, there were already several hundred women (and a few men) milling around.

Delta Tech Ops, located at the Atlanta airport, was huge! I think they said it was almost a mile from one end to the other. About 150 of us listened to the head of Tech Ops tell us about the business. In the last few years, Delta Tech Ops has completely changed their business model, and now does light maintenance and modifications for a wide range of outside customers. We then split into smaller groups for a tour of the facility. We saw a variety of shops—from avionics to tires to engines, and we also walked through the huge maintenance bays where aircraft come in to have the modifications and maintenance performed. What a way to start the conference! We saw all kinds of airplanes, engines in every state of repair, and even an engine test cell -- they had been testing an engine right before we went in, and it was still spinning when they let us in the bay. Crazy stuff.

When I was a kid, Delta was "the" airline. I can remember flying them all over the place-- and I loved the playing cards and wings they'd give out to all the kids on board. I flew what seemed like a fair amount (of course, it was nothing compared to the amount of travel that Husband did when we were first married)-- and made several trips sans parents. Those were the best because they'd introduce you to the pilots and all of the crew and let you come up the cockpit. Hmmm. Maybe this flying thing has been in my blood longer than I thought! In any case, I haven't been that crazy about Delta in recent years (Delta fans out there, forgive me!). We flew USAirways when we lived in Pittsburgh... and recently, I've been flying United (mostly because they have a lot of flights in and out of the Washington area AND you can do Economy Plus-- which makes a huge difference on long haul flights. But-- I was really impressed by the Delta folks I met at the conference. And judging from the amount of sponsorship they gave to the conference, I'm guessing they are doing a little better than a lot of other airlines.

I won’t go through all of the events I attended in detail, but I learned more about FAA and airport operations, listened to the WASP talk about their experiences, and learned about different aviation career options. Between sessions, I explored the exhibit hall which was still pretty lively, even if the airlines aren’t doing much recruiting. I also prowled the silent auction items and came away with two VIP tickets to Oshkosh (my husband is so excited!). The social/networking events were amazing. The first night was a cocktail reception complete with door prizes. The next night was an incredible reception (hosted by Air Tran) at the Georgia Aquarium, and the last was a formal gala where five women were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I met amazing women from all different aviation-related disciplines (I was surprised to learn that not everyone there was a pilot!). A few examples: a group of students looking to find their aviation path, a finance executive from Pratt & Whitney, two military pilots who fly the big refueling tankers for the Air Force, a staff photographer from the EAA, and many, many more. My favorites were probably the military pilots. They were fascinated with learning about my flying—and thought I was “incredibly brave” to fly in so “unstructured” an environment. That made me laugh—to me, they define bravery! But we found common ground in that we all wanted to learn whatever we could about aviation.

All good things must end—but my conference experience lasted a bit longer than I thought it would! With a big snow storm (and accompanying high winds) hitting the East Coast, I ended up spending an extra two nights in Atlanta. This allowed me, however, to volunteer with the group packing up after the conference—and to catch a glimpse into how the event is run. You can bet that I’ll be attending (and volunteering!) the conference in Orlando next year!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Efficiency at Work

Un-freaking-believable. That's the phrase rolling through my mind right now!

A few weeks ago, I got a call from the DPE that did my instrument checkride. I'd been wondering why I had not ever received my new certificate in the mail. I thought maybe things were just backed up. Well, it turns out that the FAA had sent him a letter saying that my application was being rejected? 


He explained that apparently, I had entered all four of my names (I couldn't decide whether to drop my middle name or maiden name when I got married, so I kept both as middle names and just added on a new last name) into IACRA when I submitted the application for my instrument rating. I later learned that this interfered with the system in two ways:
1)It didn't match the three name version that I used when I got my original  private certificate. 
2) The system won't allow someone to have two middle names (but apparently is not designed to give you an error if you don't know this)! 

I later found the tiny print that states this fact if you print out the instructions sheet that go with the old form you could use to fill out by hand. The only way to know this in the new online system is if you click the help file next to the name blank. And honestly... how many people *think* they need help to fill in their name! I guess my original instructor knew this fact-- I got my original certificate when they were transitioning in the new system-- so we filled out both the manual form and the online form, and he had read that little instruction sheet for the manual form. Given how few women get their pilots license (only 6% of pilots are women), it probably doesn't come up that often.

So after some discussion-- he had no idea how to fix this particular problem, he decided he'd get copies of my passport, drivers license, and pilot certificate and see what he could do. I was already meeting him for my commercial checkride, so I just brought everything then. 

No dice. So then we decided that we should try just submitting a new application all together-- which required meeting again, this time with my instrument instructor. We met yesterday and went through the tedious process of entering my information (carefully using only three of my names), and all of my flight time, etc. It's not an intuitive system and there are several awkward handoffs you have to make in creating an application (apologies to anyone out there who designed it... but then, I imagine you KNOW that it's not an intuitive system). We get to the very last step-- where the DPE has to sign the form... and ERROR. The system tells us that the practical (i.e. the checkride) is out of date. Yikes! Now what?! We tried calling the help desk, but it's Sunday afternoon and we don't get anyone. So we gave up and went home. 

Today I get a call from the DPE who has spent much of the morning trying to unravel this mystery. He has an answer. I must now go to the local FSDO (locally it's close by-- at Dulles) and have an appointment with a FAA inspector. If the inspector agrees that I am who I say I am, and understands what has transpired, then hopefully he/she will sign off on the paperwork and send a letter to Oklahoma City to explain to the FAA HQ what has happened.

Oh- and it gets more fun. I DID pass the commercial checkride (yay-more on that to come!)-- which we submitted as an "unrestricted commercial rating". However, to qualify for an unrestricted commercial rating, I must have an instrument rating. And while I am valid to fly with my temporary instrument rating for another two months, I don't know what the system will do if my correct commercial paperwork makes it through prior to my revised instrument paperwork. We may have to go through all of this again! Argh! Maybe I should have listened when my husband said that having four names would make life confusing!

Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Slow an Arrow

After working with R on Saturday, I decided to do a little Arrow practice in the pattern on Sunday. Husband came with me and sat right seat for the flight(s). He had with M and I on a previous pattern flight-- but only in the backseat where there are no headset jacks. So this was still pretty new to him. It was also my first time to fly the Arrow without an instructor.

We were focusing on soft field operations. I felt good about short field, but wanted to make sure I had the softs down. The first two take offs and landings went pretty well. I felt reasonably good about my control of the airplane-- and then takeoffs and landings were both within tolerances. Given that I had a volleyball game and needed to leave the airport soon, we decided to do one last circuit-- and this time I'd do a power off 180 just to make sure I was polished on those.

As we came abeam the first stripe, things looked good. No one was in front of me though it had previously been busy in the pattern, so I could do the landing as planned. Unfortunately, with the stiff headwind, I didn't turn quickly enough toward the runway, and put in flaps too early. We weren't going to make it. I did the "smart" thing and applied full power for a go around. No problems. I'm good with go arounds, though it does get my blood pumping. Little did I know just how good I'd become with go arounds before we were finished!

Coming back around for a second try, we ended up as number 3 on downwind. No worries-- I've been there before. But... this isn't my nice slow Cessna. Before I knew it, I was creeping up on the guy in front of me. So I powered back, and even threw in a notch of flaps to slow myself down. What I didn't count on was that this guy insisted on going to the end of the earth and back before turning base! Seriously-- I'm pretty sure he went close to the edge of the Bravo airspace! I didn't want to keep going and bust the Bravo myself... but it didn't seem like a good idea to do a 360-- there were too many other planes in the pattern, and too much crazy airspace around. So I decided to slow it as much as I could and turn almost immediately after him. All should have still worked out-- he landed at the very beginning of the runway. I saw him miss the first turnoff... but no big deal, he'll get the second. Then he missed the second! And he's going pretty slowly! My forehead is now starting to perspire a bit and I'm biting my lip. He finally started to turn at the third turnoff, but I was way too close. I'd already made the decision to go around a second time.

I thought for sure we'd get down the next time around. I knew to power back to try not to get too fast. But someone had slipped into the pattern just ahead of us, and yet again, I found myself needing to go around. By this time, Husband was trying to give pointers. I was just trying to stay calm and to be disciplined in doing my before landing checks. Definitely the time when it would be easy to make a mistake. After this, I powered way back. From the beginning of downwind. And luckily, though there was again traffic in front of us, I had plenty of room. And so we finally made it on the ground-- after three go arounds. If nothing else, I felt far more familiar with the airplane. Almost like it was an initiation rite or something. Fun times.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stage Check... Part 2-- and Three Airplanes!

In my last post, I mentioned that I needed to finish the complex portion of my stage check prior to taking my commercial checkride on Monday. So I arranged to fly with one of the higher ups from our flight school on Saturday. But first-- I flew two other aircraft!

For me, this is sort of a big deal. I have roughly 315 hours in our Cessna 172... and about 12 hours in the Arrow (to get my commercial) and about 2.5 hours in other Cessnas. So I still get pretty excited to fly other aircraft. Saturday morning, after a particularly draining session with our trainer at the gym, Husband and I went out to the airport. Our plan was for me to demonstrate the commercial maneuvers to Husband (he'd not seen them before), land at MRB to get an oil change, and then I'd fly another plane back to JYO in time for my stage check. After taking a few looks at the weather, we launched into cloudy skies and headed over the ridge.

I started out by demo'ing the "steep" steep turns (i.e. 50 degrees +/-5) required for commercial. It was fun to see Husband's reaction. I've been practicing these since September (lots of delays!), so I've kind of forgotten the thrill that you have the first time you go beyond normal 45-degree steep turns. Next, I did a few chandelles (basically, a climbing turn where you start at cruise airspeed, and end up about 10 knots above a stall). Again-- he was fascinated. Then we did a couple of lazy 8s. This is the maneuver I've struggled the most with-- today was no exception. Not knowing the maneuver, he was also excited by these, though I was pretty disappointed with my performance. I did one set not quite to PTS, and one set that was just inside of standards- but neither were great. Finally, I finished up with a few 8s on pylons. By this time, we needed to boogie on over to MRB to drop off our plane and pick up the other.

The other plane was a 172-R (ours is a 172-S)... and was of course steam gauges. I felt somewhat daring-- this was the first time I flew a steam gauge all by myself (I was almost surprised that this was approved-- but then again, it is almost just like our plane, except for the gauges-- so I wasn't worried about doing a short, very familiar trip in the plane by myself). I preflighted thoroughly-- the plane had just had a 100 hour, I think... and called for permission to depart. As I climbed, I felt my stomach tighten just a little, but as I began to fly my way back to JYO, I relaxed a little. As a private student I had problems with navigation -- but as I've gained flying hours, my navigation skills have significantly improved-- and not just when using the fancy screens. Soon, I was approaching JYO and talking to another plane who was right off my wing. I let him know I'd slow down and let him go in front and sequence myself in behind. I never can understand when people know there's another plane right next to them and yet don't take proactive steps to sort our the sequence prior to entering the tiny little maneuvering area around the Leesburg airport.

On the ground, I had to get help from the line guy to push the plane back in place. At first I wondered if there was something wrong, but then I realized it was just pushing it uphill! Wow- that makes a big difference! I then hurried over to meet R, who was giving me part two of the stage check. I was a little nervous about this as I knew he is big into systems-- and I am not the most mechanical person. But he soon put me at ease and I really enjoyed the time we spent going through the electrical, propeller, landing gear, and other systems of the two planes (our plane and the Arrow). I looked at my watch as we finished the oral portion and was shocked to see we spent over two hours talking-- and this was in addition to the hour I'd spent with the head of the flight school. I then went and preflighted the Arrow for the flight portion of the stage check.

As I finished, R came out and did a walk around with me, pointing out a few more things that I didn't know about the aircraft (and a few things that I did). I'm always worried that I don't know enough about preflighting an airplane-- preflighting is usually something your instructor goes over only at the very beginning-- and then you're on your own. The problem is that as you learn to fly a given aircraft, your understanding of what is important changes as well-- but typically, we don't get an updated lesson on preflighting from an instructor. So I was happy to do this walk around with R to update my knowledge of the plane.

Instead of just a few times around the pattern, R had let me know to plan to fly over to OKV and back for a landing or two. Given that it had been a while since I had flown the plane out of the pattern, this made me a little nervous. But it was actually fine. My biggest problem was that I mixed up in my head which runway was 32 and which was 14. I knew we needed to land 32 given the winds... but for some reason I completely spaced and turned them around in my mind. A little prompting from R, and I realized my mistake, but it meant I ended up flying upwind, crosswind, and then downwind for my approach. 'Doh! You would think after the 30 or so times I did approaches into OKV during my instrument training that I would know which side is which without even thinking... but then, I guess that whole not thinking thing is what got me in trouble (as I do know how to identify the runway direction).

I think we did a shortfield landing-- though maybe it was a power off 1800 (I was so tired by this point that things are a little blury), and then headed back to JYO. Before we returned, though, we did an emergency gear extension and R had me turn the master off completely (yes, we were outside the Mode C ring). I've never flown an airplane without any power before (it always seems too risky to do in our plane because so much is controlled by the G1000). It was very strange... and for some reason, seemed very quiet. I'm not sure if this is because the Arrow's radios tend to hum and squeal when they're on-- or if it was my senses confusing the fact that the screens were all black and colorless (i.e. quiet) with the auditory condition. In any case, I was happy to have the power back on and let my breathing return to normal.

Back at JYO, we did a softfield landing-- apparently the examiner has recently failed a commercial student for not being able to properly do a softfield. That may have been my first time to do a softfield landing in the Arrow. It wasn't horrible, but given how much heavier the Arrow is than our plane, I didn't do a great job in keeping the nose up. So R recommended a little soft/short practice to make sure I could do them well. More on that in another post. Other than that, he signed me off to do the checkride. Woo hoo!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Breaking the Blog-O-Pause

Whew. It's been a really long time since I blogged. I can tell because I'd never accessed my blog from the computer I'm using now! I have flown somewhat regularly since I last blogged... but lots has been going on in my life outside of flying.

In January, I left the company I'd worked with for over 5 years-- which of course brought with it all sorts of emotions. In the end, I'm happy to have left-- and am close to lining up (I hope!) some new work. Hopefully I'm not jinxing myself with that cryptic comment! So over the past few weeks, I've had a little time to do some fun things-- like a quick trip down in the plane to NC to see Mom and attend a UNC/Duke women's basketball game (awesome!). I used that trip to get the last couple of solo night hours that I needed for my commercial rating. I was worried that I might be nervous about the 2 hours by myself in the dark, but it was actually pretty fun. It was a beautiful night, and once I passed over the front line in central VA, the winds became more favorable and I zipped on down to Chapel Hill. Mom, Dad, and I had fun tromping around UNC, and then Mom and I screamed our best for the Tarheels during the game-- which was at the famous Dean Dome. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and had an uneventful trip back-- that included a few minutes of actual instrument before I broke through to a pretty blue sky. The only fly in the ointment is that the XM radio is not working right in the plane. It is definitely getting the signal and the information (I can even see on the screen what song is playing), but no sound. If anyone has any ideas as to what it could be, let me know!

I also took a trip to Texas to see my childhood best friends and my brother and his family. It was pretty cool to just take off during the week for something fun like that! I met up with 3 of my closest friends (see picture below) for some good Mexican food (yummy!). There are advantages to being older-- one of which is that we can enjoy a few margaritas along with our traditional fajitas! I can't even begin to think how many fajitas we've shared together over a lifetime of memories! It was fun to hang out with Brother and his family. They have three kids (#4 is on the way!) who are just too cute. I had a great time coloring, making cookies, watching movies, and generally being "Aunt Head in the Clouds"! Of course, my trip coincided with an ice storm in Texas and one in the northeast, so I also got to experience the joys of delayed commercial flights!

Speaking of commercial flights, I am scheduled to take my commercial checkride on Monday! Hopefully the weather and the airplanes will cooperate with this plan. Oh-- and I still have to finish the stage check needed to take the checkride. I've done the basic oral and the basic commercial maneuvers-- but got winded out before we could do the complex oral and flying (i.e. complex time in the Piper Arrow that I fly). I'm scheduled to do both of those tomorrow, and I'm hoping things go better with those than they did on Wednesday when I did the first half. For whatever reason, I found myself completely unable to think clearly or communicate well during the oral portion of my stage check with the head of my flight school. He asked questions that I definitely know the answer to, and I would either 1) not be able to understand (at all) the question that he was asking, or 2) my mind would go completely blank. It was humiliating-- especially because I know better! After going back over things in my head, I think I just got a bad case of nerves. I screwed up in my flight planning and didn't have the correct charts at home the night before. So I had to scramble that morning to finish out the planning. I never did feel together and prepared, and it showed.

Luckily, I pulled things together when we got in the plane and was able to fly pretty well. I stumbled a bit on the cross country navigation (it's been a while since I've navigated purely by visual waypoints with the timer, etc.!), though I managed to pull things back together. My weakest maneuver (no surprise here) was the lazy 8s... but I did *ok* on them. Several of my other maneuvers were spot on-- and I felt pretty good about the ride overall.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Holiday Travel- Part Two

When I left off in telling the tale of our holiday travels, we were overnighting in Greensboro, NC. The next day, we did an early morning weather briefing and developed a plan for the day. Our main concern were the pretty high surface winds along our route. We found, though, that we could go a little more south to Athens, GA, and then go west from there and avoid the worst of the winds. After about an hour of flight planning, including a long phone call with a briefer and making sure we had all the necessary-- both IFR and VFR, just in case-- we departed GSO off the same runway on which we had arrived (and in front of a US Airways jet).

On departure, we almost immediately entered the clouds... and then popped up above them. The cool thing was that as we climbed above the clouds, we saw towers poking up through the clouds so that you could just see the tops of them. Cool looking-- but scary to think about those towers lurking just below that you couldn't see!

After about three hours of flying-- with a a fair amount of turbulence and a little actual instrument thrown in for good measure, we landed in Athens to refuel and do another weather check. On landing, the winds were gusting up to 23 knots-- at about 30 degrees to the runway. We checked in with a briefer to get a picture of what was happening with the cold front. After some consultation, we decided we could continue on and filed appropriately.

With Husband flying, we departed Athens, quickly being cleared and climbing to 4000'-- and approaching Atlanta. The turbulence was awful. We were being bounced up and down and sideways. Husband was having difficulty keeping us in a climb-- and at times couldn't even maintain altitude. As we discussed what to do between the bumps, we asked ATC for any pireps on the bumps ahead. The news was not good-- pilots in airplanes bigger than ours were reporting moderate to severe turbulence all along the path in front of us. To make matters worse, our ETE (estimated time en route) to Dallas (we had gone ahead and put in DFW as our destination as we new we'd have to likely make some diversions, etc) on the PFD now read 9:33-- 3 minutes MORE than it had read when we left GSO that morning. Though we knew that number would come down some once we were able to increase to a reasonable cruise speed, it was still a very LONG way to Texas. That, combined with the unrelenting turbulence was enough to make Husband to declare (and me agree) that we needed to land.

Though there was an airport right off the nose, we decided to turn back to Athens as it offered a nice, clean FBO and friendly staff. We also had seen how close the town was to the airport as we departed earlier. So, we asked ATC to return to Athens. The tower controller seemed a little surprised to hear us back on frequency-- and kindly asked if we had any mechanical problem or needed any assistance. We told her no, we just found conditions to be too much for our taste. Husband then battled the same high and gusty surface winds for a fine landing back in Athens.

I have to say-- if you're going to get stuck somewhere, that was a pretty good place. We found a nice little inn right on the edge of downtown. We took a taxi there and a hotel shuttle back the next day. The town itself had awesome restaurants and great little shops-- and was almost empty as the university community was gone for the holiday break. We had fun exploring-- and finished up some last minute shopping for our family.

We also called my family and let them know we would not be seeing them in Texas for Christmas. They were not surprised as they had been watching the weather and figured we'd need to call off our trip. We also called Husband's brother and asked if we could come crash with him the next day. He graciously said yes, so the next day, after Husband finished a few work calls, we set out for Chattanooga.

This leg helped restore our faith in general aviation flying. After all the clouds, icing, bumps, and headwinds of the last few days, this day gave us the gift of beautiful blue skies, low winds, and a calm ride. We had a short 1 hour hop over to Chattanooga and after getting sequenced in behind a few planes practicing instrument approaches, we landed without further issue. We had a great time in Chattanooga with Husband's brother and sister-in-law. I especially enjoyed touring the organic farm that J manages. Unfortunately, the weather got bad again and we were not able to depart for Nashville where we were all spending Christmas. After waiting it out one day, we decided to cry "uncle" and rent a car to drive to Nashville the next. Of course, the weather promptly and unexpectedly cleared up as soon as we arrived in Nashville.

After lots of fun with Husband's mom, brothers, sisters-in-laws, niece, and nephew, we drove back to Chattanooga for the flight home. I got the pleasure of this leg as Husband was not night current. We had a nice flight home and landed just behind a couple of friends (fellow students) from our flight school. Our long adventure was over-- and we had never made it to Texas. But we did both get to practice our actual instrument flying skills-- and I even made an approach in instrument conditions. We had encountered and survived an icing encounter, and probably doubled our experience of flying IFR with ATC. Finally-- we definitely deepened both our knowledge and our questions about flying in winter conditions.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Info for Pilots in the DC/Baltimore Area

Just wanted to post about an upcoming seminar on winter weather flying next Saturday on the Eastern Shore at the Kent Island Library. I think there's a shuttle of some sort from the Bay Bridge Airport over to the library, and then over to Hemingway's afterward for lunch.

Husband and I are planning to attend. If you're interested-- you can sign up through the Wings (FAASTeam) website. I saw Susan Parsons presentation on decision making at a 99s (women pilots) regional conferences-- and it was really good!