Monday, December 15, 2008

Friends, Food, & Flight...what more do you need?

During our training, we'd always hear about the immortalized 100$ Cheeseburger. This, of course, is referring to flying to some remote airport, and enjoying a tasty treat. The burger is a few bucks, but getting there...priceless! I'd been dying to do this very thing with my work mates since beginning my training. Last week we finally got the chance to do just that!

Our plan was fly to Beaufort, a nice little coastal town near Moorehead City. We heard the "Sandbar" was a good pick and close by. Originally set for Friday lunch, the weather simply didn't clear out in time. Sooo we postponed to Saturday and the weather was clear and perfect!

Up for the short hop & promising seafood were Emil & Ty.

Profile: Emil "I don't do crazy" Sanchez
-Emil's always up for a fun trip, as long as it doesn't envolve a gas station!
Duties - Eat food, have fun, take pictures, nuff said...

Favorite Manuever - The "rollercoaster"!

Profile: Ty "No touchscreen" Riser
-Ty's recently been biten by the flight bug!
- I have a funny feeling he wants a touchscreen phone from Santa (T-mobile letting him down).
Duties - Eat Food, have fun, help fly dis hear airplane, and test PIC's skills with (or rather without) flaps.
Favorite Manuever - No flaps landings

Weather was cool & fantastic, and we'd have a tailwind going down. It would be a quick 28min flight once airborne. The route (PGV-MRH) promised a nice view going over the huge Nuese River, along with overflying New Bern, Cherry point, and of course the NC coast at Beaufort. We soon found it didn't dissappoint!

Our vehicle of choice would be the Diamond DA-40 today. Ty flew in the DA-20 with friend Bob, and now he'd get to experience the big brother with a glass cockpit. The usual preflight succesfully completed, and the fuel was plentifull but not past the 35g for weight & balance limits. I headed back inside to find Emil & Ty ready to go. Inside, the engine roared to life of the things the DA-40 does far better than the 20 on a cold day. (They spent 10 min trying to get the 20 started during my preflight). Moments later we were departing RWY 02.

I've noticed this plane really wants to get off the ground...which is usually normal in the colder months, but for the 40 it's occuring too soon airspeed wise! I have to force her to stay on the ground, else if I let her come right up, the stall horn immediatly goes off, and I have to perform the 'ol soft field method of holding her in ground effect. (So now that's just what I do each time).Other than that she's flying just fine.

We have a bit of low level chop, that hangs around even at 3500'. I get flight following, and the sightseeing begins. The landscape is the typical shades of winter, but you won't find any white stuff here. We might see a white Christmas once in a 12 year span. Soon we find ourselves nearing the river, and close to New Bern. Ah, a much nicer view than the dreary landscape before. We can see plenty of people tooling around on their boats, enjoying the non-typical 53°F warmth.

We soon see a huge highway clover and bridge system. I don't even wanna think how much that cost the taxpayers. Still it looks quite nice from up here. By now most of the light turbulence subsided, and cherry point was kindly pointing out the occasional traffic.

10 NM from Beaufort, Cherry Point gave us clearance to decend through their airspace. Though we didn't get a pic going in, we have a nice one of Cherry Point going out. MRH airport reminds me allot of Manteo, in that it looms on the edge of land stretching out to the sea (or sound). It's never really intimidated me to see the edge of the runway so close to the water. (A good pic comes later).

An Aztec is on long final for 08, which wouldn't have been my first pick (winds varied from 340 to 020). Still winds are light, so I don't mind a slight crosswind. I'm blown closer to the runway in the downwind than I'd like, so I abandon the square base to final, and circle it around. I don't compensate enough for the wind, and I'm a bit right on final. No problem, as I get her back on track (I remeber not to correct to much and too quickly.) I had flaps to T/O and give Ty the word to "give me full flaps". Normally I'd handle that duty directly, but uh, Ty has long legs and it's between then on the panel! I feel the plane settle, which was strange...I didn't know if the wind had changed or what. I increased power to stabilize the decent. I notice my airspeed...100k! WHOA, WTH! At this bank, with those flaps, I shouldn't be PICKING UP SPEED! Yet I was. "Crud I'm way to fast" I announce over the comm. Near the threshold throtlle cut, I was still at 90k...15k too fast. I simply hold her off...slowly bleeding airspeed, and at half the runway I touchdown. Somewhat firm, but not bad. It's then I go to retract flaps, and notice the problem during approach...they were fully up! I had failed to visually check the flap position...normally I look right after I set them. In this case, my flow didn't happen, because I asked for it to be done. I cannot fault Ty for my lack of proper flap instructions, but he indeed cleaned up the flaps instead of switching to full. OMG I couldn't believe I just did a no flaps landing! Even with crosswind I at least have the first stage of flaps (T/O - 15°). It certainly explained the excessive speed!

Whilst I was getting over that, the FBO was ready for me and guided us to the parking. We'd pick up 10gal of fuel to avoid the 15$ landing fee. We get instructions on how to walk to the Sandbar Restaurant, and we quickly realize...this isn't the short walk he mentioned over the phone. It takes us 25min to walk there, most of which involves walking around the airport. A few stray dogs tagged along, hoping for a treat. After passing a lot of huge sailing vessels, the sign for the Sandbar looms.

They obviously have an artist in the family, as the sign, ceiling, bathroom doors, etc...were all painted in vivid colors. Almost with an aggressive brush, paintings of everything from the sea life, to tiki images loomed. This place certainly had character, but was the food as good as our buddy Dave said it would be? Ah indeed it was. Ty ordered a couple rounds of oysters as appetizers. I had to refrain, as my stomach & head remembered the last time I chugged down oysters. Ty & Emil were lovin' 'em though!

We had a very nice view of the harbour as sat. We all ordered some form of seafood platter, and the waiter, whom also looked like the owner, was very quick and friendly. The winds had changed and now the planes approach took them right over and beside the restaurant. Apart from the roar of planes to and fro, it was a very quiet scene. Our dishes arrived quickly, and the food...awesome! Dave didn't let us down! I could barely eat all my shrimp and scallops! Thumbs up from all the guys! Ty ended up being sneaky, and grabbin' the tab inside! Someone get this guy a touchscreen phone! He deserves it!

Alas, time to head out. After dismissing the long wait for a taxi, we walked back. On our way around the airport taxiways, one guy in a mooney was zooming around! He must have been in a major hurry...any faster, and he could have lifted off the taxiway!

I grabbed the fuel receipt, checked the fuel (which didn't seem like they added the 5gal to the right wing). I dismissed it, as we still had 28gal total. Soon after we were up in the wild blue again. Before turning home, I decided to climb and go out over the coast and check out the view. It was really a nice site. Emil, as always, snapped some nice pics!

<--(Up the Nuese River) (A nice view of Beaufort & the Airport)-->

Flying back at 4500' was far smoother. Ty has some helo flight experience, so after a quick breafing on the G1000, controls, and the trim was set, I handed over the controls. After a few minutes of getting the feel for her, he was flying pretty well. Altitude was maintained well, and if he was getting off the GPS track, he'd intercept nicely.

Soon we were near PGV and a few other Diamonds were buzzing around. I came in nicely, ensuring that the flaps were correct this time around. I was after a nice greaser, and ended up being about a foot off the runway when she began to stall. Dang, not what I was hoping for...a minor hop. Ah well. I put it out of my mind as I still make the first turn-off back to the FBO. I always mourn pulling up to the parking...the time was short 1.4 hour on the tach, 1.7 on the hobbs. As always, it's not a question of when do I WANT to fly again, but when do I have the FUNDS to fly again. In this case, much thanks go to Emil & Ty for helping pay their share of flight costs!!

Everyone seems to leave happy, as Ty talks of flyin' to Fayetteville. It's always nice to leave with smiles, and talks of them beginning their journey to become pilots themselves!

(Photos courtesy of Emil Sanchez! Thanks man!)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sometimes the wind doesn't play nice.

This trip would be no exception, in fact it was nearly scrubbed altogether. Winds at PGV were 31015G24 (310° 15knots, gusts to 24k). Winds aloft were 320 @ 30k! The most notable runways are 02/20 and 08/26, and thus promised a crosswind of 50° to 70°. Even with the gusts, they are well within the DA20s limits, but I don't like to get anywhere near those. So I was about to scrub it, when one of the instructors reminded me that 33 was open! At 2700', it would be a nice short field T/O! I looked again at the winds at our Wilmington destination (ILM), and they were high but steady. So off we go!

I was quickly reminded of how much it sucks to pre-flight a plane in 4°C wheather, with the wind laughing in your face! I kept Maggie in the lounge so she'd stay warm. After a grueling 10 minutes, she was ready to go.

Inside, it was marvelous to put the top down...ahhhh a shield from the bitter windchill. Aparently, the DA20 had it's own reservations, as she refused to start! It must have taken 5 minutes of coaxing, and figuring out how long to prime & how much throttle to get her to spring to life. The battery was now in the red with no success. I gave it a minute, and tried again, 6 sec of priming, and closed throttle, and she FINALLY roared to life. I always feel like an idiot when it takes so many tries to start! When the heck are planes gonna get TRUE fuel injection, dang it!

Taxing was certainly an interesting event, as I recalled the elevator & aileron positions for the wind. I kept hard rudder most of the time, just to stay straight! The gusts were enough to shake anyone's resolve! Still, she was running good, and I pushed on. As I did my short field take-off, I realized I completely forgot to activate the flight plan! DOH! Ah well...

I contacted Washington Ctr, and got flight following. I'd been nervous about this trip, as it's to a class D area, that really operates like a class C. A regular class D is super easy to me, but not class C or B. Allot more communication to keep up with, including monitoring the comm and picking up the ATIS Info. With flight following, at least I knew I would be handed off exactly when needed, and thus one less thing to worry about.

I was informed an Tango Airmet was announced, to which I muttered "no duh!." This had been one of the shakiest rides I've ever had. Seeing the altimeter go immediatly 100' above, then 100' below, then back to 4500' was even testing MY stomach. Poor maggie was trying to read a book, combined with the turbulence, was starting to affect her tummy! I had her focus on outside, gave her some direct air, and she felt better. For me, the trim was darn near useless, and had to go with the punches for the most part, and correct when things settled. I was skidding 15 degrees to stay on my desired ground track! I was starting to fear the upcoming landing at ILM!

Fortunately the comm was smooth, as Wash Ctr handed me off to Seymour Johnson...from there, a huge 40 miles out from ILM, Seymour transferred me to ILM Approach. oooooh boy, here we go. I wasn't expecting to be transferred so soon, and hadn't had the ATIS info yet. I think they understood, as they said "223DC, maintain hdg to ILM VOR, right base rwy 35, advise when you have information Echo." I radio back the instructions, and then grab the ATIS on comm 2. Winds are 320° 15k Gusting to 22k, rwy 35 in use. *smirk* ooh boy, a slight xwind and gusts, this will be interesting!

About 9 miles away, I'm long since wondering when they're gonna give me my clearance to decend. "3DC turn hdg 160" Ok now they're at least vectoring me around. A few minutes later, I get an instruction I hadn't heard before "3DC cancel hdg 160, setup right base for 35, contact tower on 119.9" I repeat it all, unsure of why it was worded as such. Now I'm further away from ILM and beside 35, yet still at 4500'! I start to turn to give me a 45 right entry into the downwind, and begin decending. The tower gives me my clearance to which my mind says "sure, be there in 10 minutes lol"

I want to really get down, but I can't. I don't want to cold shock the engine, and she's already borderline on the cold side. I slow her way down, while keeping the decent limited to 1000' per minute, and I leave the mixture at a leaner setting. It seems to work, and I enter the downwind, still high at 1500'. I feel the wind pushing me SE, and have to keep around 10° of right bank to stay straight. It's always a weird feeling when skidding or slidding, to see the plane pointed one way, yet going another.

Since I'm worried about the crosswind, I keep my speed up. Unfortunetly on final, with so much wind, I couldn't get her slowed down to pull full flaps. They say you shouldn't use full flaps anyway in high crosswind. I cross the threshold and I'm doing 75k...way faster than the 60-65 I'm used to. The wind is gusting me, causing me to balloon. I get her pointed down, and the gust dissappears...this goes on for a bit as I bleed the airspeed. I'm workin' the rudders like crazy to maintain the centerline. I was getting real worried about the alignment at touchdown. Either skill or luck (most likely the latter), I had the plane nice and straight, with the left wing a bit low, and the left wheel chirped, shortly followed by the others. Whew! I was more than glad that was over. I used up 3000' of a 7400' runway when it was over...a rediculously huge number when being used to a typical 1200-1600' Still I turn off on taxiway Hotel, and pick up ground. A left on Alpha, followed by a right on Charlie, and I spot the desired Air Wilmington FBO. The nice fellow leads me to my space and I shut her down.

I sat and thought...that was the most challenging flight of my life! Still we arrived safely, with our tummies a little less happy. We had run late, and so had my folks coming to pick us up.

After visiting for a few hours, it was time to head home. I had no desire to practice xwind landings at night. Winds were back to normal, and the Tango Airmet was gone. Tim snapped a few shots of us getting ready to go at ILM.

The trip back was slow, now against the NNW winds, giving us a 95-105k Ground speed. Still I was happy that the turbulence, for the most part, was gone. I was able to snap some pics and videos of our journey home that I'll post later.

It was dusk when we arrived at PGV, much darker than I hoped it would be. With only 02/20 being lighted, I would have to do my biggest xwind landing yet. I setup for what was dominant for current traffic (02).
As I pulled the throttle at the numbers, the wind literally drug me suddenly toward the runway. I added power and got into a 20° right bank...watching as the hospital slide off my right... Crud, I'm gonna be way to close. I threwout the square pattern and made and direct 180 to final. It worked in that I didn't overshoot, which I would've if I'd tried to stay square and fight the wind. Unfortunetly, it meant I didn't go through my step down in speed, and I was on final at 90k. WAY to fast, to the point I was ready to go around if I couldn't get it to slow down. Throttle was cut, and I pitch back to slow down, but the best I could do was 80k. Over the threshold, again fighting the x-wind, and I'm much faster than I like. I get it to 75k and throwin full landing flaps. Almost immediatly she begins to behave nicely...I just hold her off a little longer... A firm landing, but no bounce.

In all the main thing I realized today, is I was often behind the airplane when doing the x-wind landings. I hadn't done them for a while, and while I did keep my speed higher, it was likely TOO high. I wasn't used to burning up so much runway either, and having to be moving so quickly on the rudder! At least I remembered the basics, and kept the wind side wing down, and landed on the correct wheel first. I'm gonna dedicate some time to work on x-wind landings solo, so I'm not so behind next time!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back in the Saddle!

There are many ways one can do in light of a bad experience. Some choose to avoid anything remotely related to it. Others choose to learn from it and get right back in the saddle. I'm usually the later, at least once I've analyzed it enough. (See previous blog as to what happened that flight).

I've since taken a detailed course on the G1000 systems, beyond the "how to use" that I was given in training. Even more strange, was this information was available on a CD-course at the FBO! Why didn't the CFI mention it? Armed with that knowledge, I would have realized the G1000 errors all spewed from the ACD section, and the AHRS (pitoh systems) where fine. At that point I probably would have been less stressed and simply performed the re-set of the system, which may have brought it all back on line. Lessoned learned.
Still, my confidence in my abilities were still shaken. I was anxious to regain that and my spirits. So instead of jumping back in a DA-40, I opted for my 'ol friend 223DC. As I appreciate CRM more and more, I asked Emil if he cared to come along! He looked and smiled, and I didn't even need to hear his reply.

We arrived at the airport 15 min early, as I often do. The plane was gone...uh oh..what now! Ah but no worries, the instructor took it up for a brief demo flight. As I waited, checked the weather again, and little had changed. Still light winds and clear skies. We went out to the DA40, and I explained in more detail how the control surfaces control the airplane. The 20 arrived shortly thereafter.

We preflighted and waited for fuel. I was still a little aprehensive about how my landing performance would be. Last time it was nothing close to smooth in the 40 with all my nerves on end. Had I lost my landing art? Today I found my worries unfounded. It was pretty busy, for PGV anyway, with two other planes coming in. We kept a good eye on them as we left terra firma. I went through all the pattern steps with Emil, which actually helped calm me greatly. I was nailing my airspeeds and altitudes with little thought. My first landing ended up being right on and smooth. Yes, I hadn't lost it after all! Relieved, I did two more landings, with only one with a bit more float than I like, but still smooth.

We took off to take in the Greenville sights. We headed west, drivin' the 264 beltline at 2000'. As we neared the exit, I prepped for nice and quick steep turn! With a smooth and quick command she banked through and I began to smile. I was finding my love again. It had left me for a week, but with open wings it took me back in. We flew all over the city, laughing at those stuck in traffic below. We were free. Our last fly over would be the ECU stadium. I kept my airspeed a little higher and preceeded to give Emil his first 60° bank experience. "Whoa, your pullin' it!" Yes, 2G's in fact. As we entered it Emil took the pic above. Ah classic.

With a grin on my face we headed back to kiss terra firma. As I did, I had one more manuever to put Emil through. I turned base sooner to be high, so I could perform a slip. I know the first time a CFI did this to me, It was freaky! Instead of looking through the nose to the ground, your looking out the side and pointed to the ground. He freaked for a second, and grabbed the panel cover as we slipped on down. "OMG" as we neared the runway and I pulled out of the slip..."don't do that again!" heh heh no problem.

Today would be a mere 0.7 hour flight, but I was in glee. It was a fun flight that brought back my confidence and love for flight...and I didn't even leave the area. Flight around Greenville $86, Smile & pride on my face, Priceless.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Trouble happens in Threes!

In my life, the number 3 has been rather mystical, because everytime something goes wrong, two other things always follow. This sunday was certainly no exception. All pilots seem to experience glitches or other problems eventually in their flights, and I'd already had my share. This one, though, got my nerves frayed.

The DA-20 was still out of service, so we'd go up in the good 'ol DA-40. Although, as the day went on, I had a few "new" names I gave her, non of which should be repeated. I get out to preflight her, and the first thing I usually check is the fuel level. I saw the left wing at 30%, and the right near FULL.... urgh. I love it when people forget to alternate the tanks to keep the plane evenly balanced. Still I had 25gal of fuel, so I didn't worry about getting the left wing capped off. The pre-flight went well otherwise, and with Maggie situated in the front seat, she roared to life.

Everything came up fine, and I made my radio comm check. No one responded. Hmm ok, well it's a sunday and I don't see anyone around. Volume was set ok, and I could hear ATIS and Maggie just fine. So I continued and made my way to the runway. I had completed my runup and everything continued to appear ok. I checked for traffic and announced my departure. I began past the hold line upon which has another 100y until it turns left to the rwy. Just then my eyes spot a jet just turning final! OMG! I put on the brakes, and radio "Pitt-Greenville Traffic, Diamond 537MA has final traffic in sight, state your intentions..." Now I realize what a stupid thing to ask, as they obviously intend to land. I'm out of the way, and just hold as I wait for a response...nada, nothing at all comes through the headphones. Strike ONE, I KNEW they must be making announcments on the comm, and the fault must be on my end. I turn around and head back to the FBO. I was in shock that I came close to causing a runway incursion, and mad that I hadn't been more diligent testing the comms. On the way back, I was checking fuses, volume/squelch knobs, etc... still I heard no one.

As I parked and shut her down, I decided to check comm2, which I used to get ATIS earlier. I called out and Hallelujah, someone answered! I thanked her much, and mentioned I must have a Comm1 failure. With that Comm verified, I started her back up and taxied back to the runway. I should have ended the flight right there, KNOWING inside, problems come in threes!

We'd just turned to my calculated heading, when I activated the GPS to Tarboro. Strike 2 -Nothing happened...the lovely pink line that usually appears, with heading and distance information failed to come up. Again I had to remind myself "fly the airplane first" instead of spending too much time inside trying to troubleshoot. I hit the alerts button which told me "GPS receiver not detecting GPS signal" Ok, ok fine, I'll just use pilotage, and followed my way points, and constantly verified my position on the sectional. It ended up being more fun that way, that is, if my nerves werent already getting fried.

We reach Tarboro (ECT) and I'm high on final, no problem as I slip on down. I found the narrow runway affected my visual height perception a little, and the landing was hard but didn't bounce. Dang...Looks like nothing is going right today.

As we back taxi and take off, suddenly the PFD is flashing a big red "X" in place of the attitude indicator. Strike 3! Again, I noticed I was paying to much attention to it, trying to figure out what was going on. I forced my head back outside and continued to fly the airplane. As I did, the attitude indicator came back up. THAT's it! I'm ignoring the PFD, using my back ups, and heading back immediatly to PGV. In reality, I should've not flown at all, knowing my luck. Still, the aircraft still flew fine, flaps worked ok, etc... It's just the G1000 that was going nuts today. It was almost like being in a sim, where these things were programmed to fail on you.

Back near PGV, the CRJ that landed when I had comm problems, was now taxxing out. In attempt to ease what happened earlier, I told them I'd extend downwind etc, so they could clear the area before I land. They crossed the runway, and I was then clear to set up for final. My last landing of the day, I flared to soon to high off the ground... I'll chock it up to my nerves and landing at narrower fields all day in which I flared to late. Still a hard but no bounce landing. I quickly taxi back to the FBO, and shut her down.

For the first time in a while, I was happy to be out of the airplane. I was furious at the airplane, and myself for continuing on. Though the actual flight was never in jeopardy, my nerves and therefor ability as a pilot, were critical. I was frazzled and should've just sat this one out. I'm gonna head back over there today (Monday) and see what the heck was wrong...was it something I did wrong, or was the equipment just going haywire!?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Coastal NC Tour!

The point of going somewhere, is not the destination, but the journey itself. I'm not sure who first coined that phrase, but it certainly holds true in my book! You certainly don't have to twist my arm to fly either!

This go round, I wanted to fly along the beautifull NC coast, and take in sights. As I rarely like going it alone, I had my amigo Emil, and daughter Maggie along with me! Emil had mentioned he really hadn't been to any museums, so First Flight (Kill Devil Hills) would certainly be the first stop! After that we'd take off down the coast, as pass over several light houses, including the most infamous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse! So there are some GREAT pics in this blog! (BTW you can click for the big versions!)

Initially I planned to take the two seater DA-20, but they called and said there had been a "prop" incident. Before my mind could imagine possible horrors, they immediatly said it involved digging into a soft field! Oh my, don't they know an airplane is a horrible lawnmower?
They said the DA-40 was available, and would let me rent it at the DA-20 prices! REALLY! Awesome! That meant more people could join in the fun! Unfortunetly, they filled up both tanks (40 gallons! OMG!) and that meant 3 adults and one child would be 50lbs over gross! Dang. When I called them back to try and get the tanks drained, they said they were heading out to repair the DA-20 and wouldn't be around. Well, looks like someone was staying behind, and that ended up being Meg. Shoot...I really wanted everyone to go, but Meg was still feeling sick anyhow.

At a cool 65° I headed out to the airport. It was 2:45 when Emil arrived, and witnessed the last of the pre-flight. "Nice plane" he chipped. I couldn't agree more! I pointed out the control surfaces, and gave him a quick overview of their function. He'd never been in a small GA plane before, yet he didn't look nervous at all! Hmmm we'll see :P.

The preflight was done, and right as I said "All we have to wait for now is Mag..." there they were at the gate. Right on time! I helped Maggie get situated. They really don't make visibility good for the little ones. I had to have her sit on her backpack. Putting on her headset, I was happy to see she was exited. I was worried that after doing this once, that she'd not be as interested. Emil hoped in, and I was reminded how the few inches of side-to-side space really make a difference. Meg watches on as I bring down the rear side canopy and hop in myself. Winds were favoring 26, so I knew she wouldn't get to see us take-off.

What sometimes takes a while, ok seems forever, is the rest of the stuff between starting her up, and actually flying. The DA-40 has more things to check out than it's little brother. Still we're through the run-up, called and activated the flight plan, and we're set for flight!

We're about 300' up when Emil gives his characteristic "Woah!" followed by "this is nice!" Flaps up, prop to 2400RPM, and we're off on the first leg of our journey to FFA (First Flight). By the time we get to 5500', we're behind by a mere 2 minutes. No problem, this puppy can cruise around 130k (though I recal 135-140?). Not allot to see untill we reach the edge of of Albemarle Sound. No autopilot in this one, so Emil handles taking the shots.

The next leg hangs out on the right land side of the sound, and offers up a great view. I snap a picture of the glass cockpit right before I change headings. The winds gave a light tailwind and virtually free of turbulence! YAY High Pressure! With things all trimed up I take a few shots of my fellow crew!

Crew : Maggie Crowell aka "Trooper"

Responsibilities: Identify and relay all ground visuals to the PIC. Also reads stories after the sun goes down. Reminds the PIC that he could be making better time, as we're hardly ever "there yet."

Favorite Manuever: The "rollercoaster", a steep climb pullin a few G's, followed by an immediate -G dive. She can't get enough of 'em!

Crew: Emil Sanchez

Responsibilities: Enjoy the view, not get sick, remind the PIC he needs a G1000 refresher as it's apparent I don't know but 1/4 of it's features! (Still don't know how to get XM radio working!) Finally learn how to fly this here airplane!

Favorite Manuever: The "rollercoaster" of course!

Now back to the trip commentary. We were around 30 NM away from the coastline, and we could see it quite clearly. A mere 15 minutes and we'll be there. Flying, IMHO, is hugely enjoyable...then adding to the fact that you don't have snake and wind through roads to get to your destination. A drive that took 2hrs 15min, will take us 40min tops. I begin throttling down, and setting the prop back to decend back down to 1500'.

We arrive at FFA and while I'm used to seeing a decent amount of traffic, there was none. Winds were again calm, so go with the historical wind data, and setup for RWY 20. As we turn into the downwind leg, Emil takes a GREAT shot of the monument.

I'm still getting used to operating a constant speed prop, versus the fixed pitch I'm used to. Transitioning back to full prop (rpm) takes a little more time, and I'm not quite "ahead" of the airplane. Once I slow her down, and do all that, I'm usually back on track. Landings usually make first time passengers a little nervous, as their not used to pearing down at the runway. Still, Emil showed no concern, and I give my lovely crew a nice squeky landing! Always a good thing, especially when in a plane I don't fly as much.

We taxi up to the parking area, and find two powered gliders prepping their gliders for flight. While I certainly think their neat, I just wouldn't want to go up in one. Not enough, um, frame around me I guess. Though I'm sure that's the whole point. We were half-way up the monument walk when one took off. From my point of view they were pitching pretty darn high for a while, I was quite impressed actually.

We took in the sites, and ended up diverting to the museum, as it was closing at 5PM. We had 15 minutes, but it gave me enough time to buy some trinkets for Maggie and the Misses. WOOT! Refrigerator magnets, she'll love those! LOL Hmm maybe I should get a T-Shirt too! Maggie picked out a book and a magnet, and we went to catch up with Emil.

We check out the Wright Flyer replica, which never gets old. Emil mentioned they had some serious cahones (sp?), to do what they did. Indeed, as what goes up, must come one comes down can mean another day, or sadly meeting one's maker. Thankfully neither of them met any demise that December day, and gave us all wings. To this day, I always remember, Take-offs are optional, landings are mandatory. (Rule #2 on the W.A.R. list :)

Sadly the park begins to close, but that doesn't stop Maggie from running down the first three landing points. It'd be nice to have her energy. It's a long walk back, and one of the park rangers try and tell us we need to go the other way. "We flew in Sir!" "Oh, ok...nevermind" You'd think they'd be more used to that.

Back in the plane! "da plane, da plane!" This time, after a quick review with Emil, we plan for his first Take off! Always a cool moment! I man the rudder and throttle, and do a short field launch. I give him the word and he begins lightly pulling back! WOOT! We're smoothly off the ground, and as he notices, he pulls back more quickly. I quickly tell him to push forward, get the nose down, and make sure he doesn't pull back more. After he lets it down, I remind him I did the same thing my first time. Ahhh it seems so long ago. As my instructor did, I tell him to keep the nose at the horizon, and we continue to climb. (NOTE to those picky pilots out there: It's understood Vy is such that requires a higher pitch, and keeping it at horizon creates airspeed > than Vy, but it's a good first training method). I ask him to give me a turn to the right...oh ok my other right is fine too! It was all good. I'll have to ask him to put his 2c on the whole thing for us!

Next we fly over coastal shores, at a mere 2000' feet. I'd love to fly lower, but much of the area is protected national seashore parks. (FAA requires overflying of parks to be 2000' above ground level.) The view was fantastic, as I skate back and forth of each side of the islands. We come up on our first lighthouse on Bodie Island. Smartley enough, it carries the same name of the island. Even from 5 miles away we can see it's distinctive and straight black & white stripes.

On our way to Cape Hatteras, I asked Maggie if she was ready for a "roller coaster!" She squelled with a prompt "Yes daddie, I want roller coaster ride!" I turn to Emil, and you could tell he was a little concerned about this manuever! I turn to him and tell him to pucker up and get ready. I get the plane set up for manuevers, and woosh, full throttle as I pitch up. You feel the G-forces plant you in the seat, and then I pitch over, and pull the feel your stomach move up as your dair'iar becomes light. "Weee, that was fun daddie! Do it again!" I look at Emil "That was wild man!" I do another one, pitching up a little harder, and down a little more. Maggie's just squeling with joy! I give everyone's body a chance to recover, and the plane as well. I must be getting more consistent with it, as she was back to cruise airspeed and altitue quickly. I ask everyone if they're ready for a real good one. Emil laughs and says "uh, sure". "Ok, now this one's really gonna get yur butt off the seat. I smoothly pull up to high pitch, and push over harder and faster, keeping the throttle in a little longer. Wooosh, up our butts go feeling some good negative Gs. Even the keys float up! Emil's eyes were wider than I've ever seen as he grabs the dash! The last one for the night, leaves everyone happy!

Finally, the cou'de gra, Cape Hatteras! Still at 2000' I did a slow 360° manuever around it. Smartly using the zoom, Emil grabbed a fantastic shot of it's new home. The last time I saw it, it was still on the beach front! I think that was back in '97! I think they began moving it, amazingly so, back in '99 and took them just a few weeks to do it!

It was getting late, and the sun began to set. While initialy we wanted to get back earlier so we could have a nice view of the land, it gave us the most beautiful view of all. As it softly set, you could really see it reflect off the ocean. It was a really cool unique way to see the day end.

After the sun set, it was relatively quiet, and the air was really cool. I had to turn on the heat for the first time! Within 20 minutes we're overflying washington, and decending down for Greenville. I click on the lights, and enter downwind for 20. I notice the lights seem "dimmer" than I'm used to. I usually turn them down to medium on final, but they were still dim. The runway seemed much less visible, as I flare late and WEE a bounce...AIEEEE DANG! I get the nose level, then reset the flare, and land firmly. (After shutdown, I realized what my problem was, I had left my sunglasses on! DOH! Hmm, must add that to landing checklist..take off stupid sunglasses!)

We taxi back, and perform the sad duty of shutting down the plane. 2.6 hours of x-c flight time added to the log, and a buckefull of memories to go along with it. The journey never fails to do that! We took some video too, so hopefully I'll have something put together early next week! Thanks again to my awesome and willing crew; Emil & Maggie! I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Monday, October 27, 2008

My little Co-Pilot Maggie!

During my flight training, my daughter Maggie & wife Meg would come by. They'd watch me pre-flight, and Maggie loved looking inside the airplane. "Can I go with daddie?" she'd inquire with a smile. Each time I had to sadly deny her. "Sorry sweetie, daddie can't take you with him yet." She'd look down, a six year old not comprehending why she couldn't go.

The time had finally come, and I made plans to take her up on Monday. She had it off due to teacher workday (which for K-3rd grade, I'll never understand why they need such a day). Winds were expected to be higher, so I opted to go on Sunday instead. Maggie was very excited to finally be going with me! "We're going up with the birds daddie?"

Today was finally the day. Calm winds prevailed as we pulled into the airport. I noticed my classmate Mike's car was there. As far as I know, the only other remaining active student from my class. Sad that 8 students started, only 2 of us remained. I strolled in, greeted Mike and he reached down and gave my daughter a hug. I told him I'd been waiting to see his name on the board, and he informed me he took a break for two months. I can certainly understand that! As I grabbed the headsets and the "can" (has the keys, hobbs, and inspection info to the plane), I began walking out with Maggie. Mike looked back puzzled... "You two going out together?" I quickly nodded, and explained I got my PPL two weeks ago. I could tell Mike was shocked! We both always figured he'd finish before me! "Congrats" he chipped as the door swung closed.

It was about 60°F at the plane, and Maggie being in shorts and t-shirt was cold. "Don't worry sweetie, it'll be warm in the plane!" After I checked the outside, I boosted her up inside. Hmmm, my concern for her visibility was warranted, as the seat sunk so low, she couldn't see out the canopy. I grabbed the aircraft cover, folded it, and placed it under her. "I can see now daddie!" I grabbed the headset and found, amazingly, that it fit just fine. She wasn't surprised at all to hear herself in the headphones!

Starting the noisy engine didn't bother her a smidge. We taxied out, waving to Mike pre-flighting the DA-40, as we did. So far Maggie was handling it all very well. The real test would be to come though. After a full run up, I look over at Maggie, and ask her "So you ready to fly sweetie." She smiled and without words let me know she was ready! I move out onto the runway and begin the take-off roll. I wanted to make it as smooth as possible, as I didn't know how her tummy would feel. I find I let the plane "tell me" when it's ready to rotate, contrary to looking at airspeed. You'd be amazed how quickly you learn to feel the airplane just so. Right around 55knots she smoothly lifted off. A few seconds after, Maggie asks me "When are we going to be flying." To which I respond, "look out the window there..." I could hear the excitment in her voice "Wow, cool....look daddie, there's a river!"

I stuck to the pattern, so I could judge how she'd handle decents and turbulence. So far there was a little bit of bumping, but not too much. Meg certainly had it easier when she flew with me. While downwind Maggie was chattering away, asking questions on where our house was, making general statements about what she saw... I was very pleased that she was enjoying the ride!

The first landing wasn't perfect. My airspeed was a bit higher than it should be. I touched briefly, and then up again then a soft landing. I have to adjust for this colder air, she reacts more quickly to every command, and is less forgiving with excess airspeed. In any case, my little copilot was oblivious to anything being wrong, and just stared out the window. "We on the ground again Daddie, I can see the airplanes."

As any would, Maggie wanted to go see our house. Once we got overhead, I did a steep ground reference turn over it. "Our house is right there," pointing out to my left. "Can you see it?" Maggie shook her head. She could see all the buildings, but I could tell she didn't know how to recognize it. I turned around and did a steep turn to the right, hoping that would give her a better view. Still, no luck.

I headed out towards Washington-Warren field. I figured the practice area would be a good place to give my co-pilot some flying time. "You want to fly the airplane Maggie?" "Uh-huh" I gestered her to grab the flight stick. "Ok, if you want to turn left, move the stick left, fly right, move it to the right. So which way you want to go?" She wanted to go left, manning the rudder, I followed her left ward movement. "Alright! Your flying the airplane sweetie!" She did it nice and smoothly. "Ok now to fly straight again you have to move the stick the other way until we're flat again..." She moved the stick back to nuetral, but didn't quite move it right enough to turn us back. I got us level, and let her turn right. Of she went, and this time she got us in a nice 15° bank, and return the stick to center! "Good job!" I decreed, a natural!

Next up, climbs and decents... To keep it simple, though I dislike phrasing it this way, I told her to push forward to go down, pull up to go up. Still reaching out, she pulled the stick back, "We going up daddie!" Next she moved forward and down we went. I had the throttle pulled back to keep our airspeed stable, and we slowly decended to 1500'. I took over and climbed back up to 2000' and let her have the controls, this time letting her do any movement she wanted. "I like going down!" I chuckled and watched her pitch down and descend.

I took over and continued to Washington, where the scenery was better, and to get in a few landings at another airport. By this time I could see Maggie was getting either tired, or her tummy was bothering her. She said she was just tired, but I figured her tummy had enough for the first flight. So we headed back over to Greenville. Came in, negotiated pattern traffic (Mike was finally taking off. Wonder why he took so long to get off the'd been an hour since he'd begun his preflight. In any case, we come in and I give the smoothest landing all day. We park and after shutting down, breath the fresh air as the canopy opens. I could see Maggie was glad to get out and move around.

So overall, a good flight, and what I hope is a good experience for Maggie! How many six year olds can claim to have stick time in an airplane! She did really well, never getting sick, and handling the steep turns and turbulence like a pro! I look to the future and see a solid copilot, and one day a pilot in her own right...if she chooses!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Lovely Evening for Flight!

During my first 10 hours of student flight training, I mostly flew at night. My very first flight was during sunset, and at dusk, my first landing ever. It almost spoiled me, as the air is much smoother and cooler. It's like sailing on perfectly calm seas! When I switched to days, I was in shock! During the day, the sun warms the earth, and a natural convection begins, and translates to a bumbier ride & less performance. Add in all the other aspects of weather, and well, it's just not the same. You can even tell the difference when flying under an overcast, versus a clear day. Then don't forget the visibility at night is usually great, and the glimmering view of the city, beautiful.

After my first instructor left to go back to the majors, I was stuck flying days. I didn't see night again until the required night cross-country trip. Students weren't allowed to fly solo at night, without special permision at least, and it left me yearning.

So it should come at no suprise, after obtaining my PPL, that I quickly scheduled a night flight. Plus, I needed to get my night currency again (3 T/O & Full Stop Landings within 90 days). I was a little leary though...would I be off on the flare? ...too early, too late? I would just have to see. At least I DID know, that it would be far easier for me to spot area aircraft!

I arrived around 7:15 to grab the lock-boxed key, and begin pre-flighting the aircraft. To be official, the T/O & Landings have to be an hour after sunset, which was 6:25PM today. The air was a cool 55°F, very close to standard temperature...which translates to ideal performance. I was real giddy as I checked her from nose to tail. I couldn't wait to get up there!

So far so good, and I hopped inside. It was something special to be my first solo flight at night! She quickly roared to life even being cold, and I lit her up. To me, these flying machines are cool to begin with, but a lit up cockpit, even more so! The winds were calm, so I headed to RWY 20 at PGV. I made sure to keep my strobe off, until ready to take off. Don't want to go around blinding anyone! She felt a bit ruff during run-up, and I figured she was a little cold still. Leaning her out a little helped. Flaps in the take-off position, Transpoder to VFR, and we're ready to go!

"Pitt-Greenville Traffic, Diamond 2-2-3-delta-charlie departing runway 20, Pitt-Greenville." She roars down the runway! Could she be as excited as I? I had almost forgotten how quickly airspeed comes up during a cool night! I looked down and she was already at rotate speed! Up - up- and away we go! Oh wow was the air smooth! Yes yes, this is what I've been missing! I reach pattern altitude so quickly, that I actually overshoot 100'. Slowing her down in the downwind, I setup for my landing transition. Turning base was strange, as it was nothing but a black landmarks to go by this time. I just fly the turn points by the altimeter (800' base, 500' final) and I'm right on the glideslope. WOOT! I begin chasing the rabbit, and correcting for a slight crosswind. The lights off the wings reflect off the runway...a bit later I flare, apparently a bit late (dang it), but smoothly transition the nose higher and land medium but firmly. Lord knows I hate to bounce, which I rarely do nowadays.

I come to a full stop, but another aircraft is shooting an approach into PGV onto RWY 02. If you've been following thus far, you know he's coming toward my departure vector. This sometimes happens during calm winds...each pilot determines which direction they'd prefer to land in. Usually, they alter to existing pattern traffic (ME), but they were flying IFR and doing approaches. They were about 3 miles out, while I could see them, I still had time to get out of their way. I radio back to them, letting them know I'll make an early crosswind turn, and head out of the pattern area. They kindly thanked me, and I'm suddenly off to Washington/Warren Field (OCW).

Now I've flown over there quite a few times, but never at night. As I climb to 2500', I verify they do have pilot controlled lighting. I setup the second comm to their radio frequency, and begin listening in. It's only about 15-17 miles away, a short flight. I take in the beautiful night scenery. I always loved looking out the window of a commercial flight, and pearing at the glittering lights below. Even cooler, that I get to decide where and how high, to go.

Green-White-Green, the OCW beacon appears dead ahead. No one has been on the airwaves, so I can pick which runway... 17? 23? 29? I decide to go with 17. As I begin to turn into a left downwind, I see both 17 & 23 have lighting, and I get a little confused. I quickly realized after calling out pattern position in reference to 17, I was actually in a pattern for 23. I announce the correction, and turn final towards the runway. OCW has trees on the side so I choose a point past the green line (touch down marker). I don't want to flare late this time, and I end up in a better position to smoothly land. I end up being a bit left of the centerline (dang), but a smooth landing non-the-less.

If there was a pattern tonight, it'd be taking off in the direction of inbound traffic. When I'm back taxing on 23, another pilot announces he's coming into the area. He's going to land straight in, which I wish people wouldn't do. I easily see him 3 miles out, and we agree I can get off the ground before he's in the area. I'm about 1300' up when I see him pass underneath me a good 400' below. Did I mention I love being able to spot people easier at night? It was EXTREMELY helpful tonight. He asks if there's an instructor on board. First thought in my head, ok, what did I do wrong? I radio back I'm by myself. He radios back that he recognized the plane number, and thought (my CFI's name) was on board. Ah, releaved that I hadn't made some huge goof, told him no, but he was my instructor, and I just passed my checkride last week. He congratulated me, and told me to tell him he (also named Brian) said hello.

Back to PGV, I didn't have the spare time (ok ok, I mean money), to toodle around the Greenville area. I overflew the ECU stadium, completley dark, but you could still recognize the front of it. No one in the area this time, as I setup for the downwind leg for 20. I had my smoothest landing yet, and taxied back to the FBO.

I park her in the first spot, lined up perfectly (my isn't it the small things that make us happy). I've completed my necessary landings, and sadly shut her down. All good things must end, so that others can begin. As I tie her down, and close her up, a CRJ comes in for a landing. I couldn't help but feel good to know I'm up in the sky with them, except this time....I'm in command. Makes me feel tingly all over.

(Photo courtesy of "EastCoastAirShooter", and is of another DA20 at night at PGV)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Expanding Horizons

Since becoming a pilot, I’ve been itching to take family and friends up with me. It couldn’t happen on the day I was certified, as the planes were rented out. So, later in the week I decided to broaden my aircraft type qualification list, and get checked out in the larger Diamond DA-40. To kill two birds with one stone, I convinced my wife to come along. I figured she’d be more comfortable in the larger aircraft, and with a CFI riding along, more secure too.

My wife, under much hesitation, agreed to go up with us. Now understand, she’d never been up in a little plane before. I know she had allot of trepidations. Still, today came and she didn’t wuss out.

After a brief gound lesson on Constant speed props, Cruise engine management, etc.. we were off to the plane. I helped her into the back passenger seat, which is quite roomy. I went through the checklist, and started her up. After avionics came up I realized my wife’s mic wasn’t working (or she didn’t have it up to her mouth enough). So she gave us a thumbs up that she was good to go.

I was in awe and almost scared of the instrumentation panel. The DA-40 is a “glass” G1000 cockpit, which means all your instruments are on two digital screens. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, with menus and features that seem to go on forever! I’m personally a gauge lover, primarily because I can scan and get their information quicker. With the G1000, I have to look longer and closer…

Upon inquiring on where we should go, my CFI offered up Edenton. Perfect I thought…it would provide a fantastic view, as it’s right off the river closer to the coast. My wife smirked when we mentioned she’d love the view…I could see she was still very nervous.

Moments later we were off the ground… The DA-40 needed higher V-speeds than I’m used to, so I had to compensate. Turning and climbing up to 2500’ I started going through all the G1000 features. Then the CFI showed me, what I now call, the “staples” feature. I quickly understood why the other students wanted to fly the DA-40 mostly…because of the “Auto-pilot.” You punch in your heading or GPS waypoint or even VOR Nav, push a button and away it goes. You are now free to move about and fix a sandwhich! Want to change altitude or heading…punch in the new one, and bingo…off you go. “This is cheating!” I shouted. All those long cross-country flights I flew, keeping the trim and heading dead on manually, and the DA-40 guys had a button. How unfair! Ah well, it’s always like the richer persons to have it easier. I’m sure I’ll cry back in the DA-20 on long trips.

Setting up for the landings was certainly a little more work. Had to set the prop right and the manifold pressure (power). It was harder to gauge how she’d decend and such. Coming into final, my airspeed was lower than it should be, being so used to the 20. Still I made a smooth landing for my passengers. You barely felt it. Another go in the pattern, and I was much smoother, and far more stable on approach. Moments later and another good landing, though a little off the center line.

It was time to head back. Clicking on the GPS to PGV, and engaging the AP was all too easy. That must be really addictive. Mid way through I decided to do a 45 bank to see how Meg felt. I told her what we’d be doing, and gave a thumbs down…I felt she could handle it so I went ahead. Well, the little baggie was still empty! YAY!

Heading back to home base, a quick click on the decend nose down button, and autopilot began the approach into PGV. I might as well re-label it to look like a staples button. My instructor, to my surprise, pulled an engine out scenario. I pitched for best glide, same as the DA-20…and headed down RWY 20. A slight tailwind, and a not so low flare, and I set her down a bit harder than normal but fine. I wish I had made all the landings smooth, but no one’s perfect. The point was solidified though, a perfect example of loosing an engine and gliding back home. My CFI was smart to do so, as I think it gave my wife a realization, that these little aircraft are safer than they appear.

So another great flight, and another airplane under my belt… Hopefully I’ll take her up again next month!
(Pictures are over the Edenton, NC area, taken by my lovely wife Meg!)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm officially a Private Pilot!

After working toward my Private Pilot certification for almost, a's finally over! As of 1:15PM 10/12/2008 I add my name to large, yet still limited, list of people. Those who've conquered their fears of coming down (let's face it, going up is easy), and lived to tell the tale. To some, it may be nothing particulary special, but if you look back to Dec 17th, 1903, it's been a mere 105 years since the first pilot was born. (Fortunetly, today, we don't have to crash to learn how to fly. )

There have been times of glee, and times of frustration, and of course doubt in my training. Even my support team was split on this endeavor. Some thought it was a huge waste of money with uneccesary risk, while others supported me triumphantly. For those who kept me going, who helped keep the fires kindled for my passion, and gave a friendly shoulder...I deeply thank you. I would not have succeded without you. Though I was the next to last to solo in our class of 8 students, as of today, I'm the only one whose become a private pilot. Most either gave up for various reasons, or lost interest...again without my friends and family, I may have to.

Learning to fly was only part of the journey. The amount of knowledge you must assimulate (IMHO) is huge. From FAA regulations to weather forcasting, to communication systems, and of course the physics & systems of the airplane itself. Had I known this beforehand, I might of reconsidered. It has placed 2nd in my "most difficult commitments" list. The first being succesful in my career (which includes college). The title of this blog is ever important, as it did just that. This took all my senses and my tested my nuerons to their limits. At times, I felt like Al bundy, when one piece of data went in, I know something else leaked out forever. There's a reason why the oral part of the exam is often longer than the flight.

I leave now, still humble at how much there is still left to learn, and with a huge sense of respect for all aspects of flight & nature. I look forward to that learning, of gaining more practical knowledge & expanding my skills. Far too often, we, are the limitation...not the marvelous machines of flight.

So, if your ever in the area, drop me line...and I'll take you up. Be forwarned though, it just might get you hooked!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Checkride date is SET (Oct 12th)!

My instructor called me up a few days ago, letting me know my checkride was set! Looks like it'll be Sunday, high noon. *Cue old western wistle*

I'm hugely excited and, of course, nervous. Not so much about the DPE, but about my own consistency and knowledge capacity. Lord knows my mind feels like Al Bundy, were every fact I try to crame in, something else pops out. It may be that lost fact that gets me. Secondly I'm not always consistent on my flying...though over time I'm far better now than I used to be. I don't even think about landings anymore...gone are the days of fearing them.

Still, one time recently I was practicing my steep turns. Sure enough, I failed to be within PTS. In my mind I was raising cane! Here was a manuever I rarely go beyound +/-50' and I busted it. I'm sure if I recognize it early on the Checkride, I'll correct for it, and may not cause a failure...but I worry none the less.

SO I'm going for a solo practice tommorow...just to gauge how I am on all the manuevers. Gotta makes sure I'm holding heading in stalls & slow-flight, and still nailing short fields. All of these are IMHO, my worst areas. If there are some nice clouds, or a gracious streek of ice trails in the sky, then I should do fine.

If all goes well, my next post or so should be my final blog as a Student Pilot!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Witness of a first students solo, as I prepare for the checkride.

September was a trying month, to say the least. To start, I had my "mock" checkride with the Sr. CFII, and it didn't go nearly as well as I hoped. I was uber nervous! There were a few knowledge gotchas, of which were items I had re-reviewed. Namely I confused MEL's for Required Equipment, and forgot a few weather symbols. Still not too bad. During the flight, I missed my Soft-field point by a mere 20ft, but still beyond PTS. After that it went well for a time, with the only remaining mistake being my manuevers started on the upwind, instead of downwind. It wasn't all that bad, and with a promise to fly one more time with my instructor, I passed.

I was really bummed. Another flight with my instructor before the checkride, was an expenditure that would push the checkride into October. Still I sucked up my pride and flew with him a week later.

Boy were my spirits lifted after that flight! We took off, nailing a beautifull soft-field T/O, and headed to Washington-Warren. I always love flying out to that field, as the nearby lake & river make it a calm & beautiful site. It certainly makes flying by pilotage that much easier! I came in to practice my short fields, as consistency was my issue. The first one I nailed, even with the tree line that made me nervous to come down. After I nailed my second one, I was really on cloud nine! It seemed nothing would break my stride today! As I held the brakes down for another Short-Field T/O, the other plane in the pattern came over the comm.

"Pattern Traffice be advised, N___?? is performing first solo." Suddenly the nostalgia washed over me. Here was someone taking his first big step on his finally become a pilot. I recalled my first was so exciting yet so scary! I was turning downwind when his departure call come over the comm. We watched his first solo take off. Though it wasn't necessary, I announced I had him in sight. I didn't want his mind worrying about us. I nailed my final short landing, and we quickly took off to get out of the way. We couldn't see him come in for his first landing. We do know, however, from his instructor's radio call...that he was forgetting his flaps. I really wanted to witness that landing, but alas he was on the ground before I completed my downwind turn. There wasn't any fiasco or ball of flames (-jk) so I know it went well. If that person ever reads this, I wanted to convey my congrats.

For me it was time to head back, and perform a few manuevers on the way. I got a little off my heading entering into slowflight, but kept it solid during the manuever. I then did the usual step turns, and nailed them. Some days, I'm on, other days I'm off...thank goodness I was on it today! I just kept my eyes outside, and occasionally glanced at the gauges. I only varied by 10'..of which I was proud of.

Of course, as a final, and almost expected test...came the engine failure. I pulled to best glide, headed a bit further downwind, and then turned final. As I was still at 800' I forward slipped to the runway. Just as I rounded out, he told me to go around. The final landing was to be my soft-field, and wouldn't you know, I adjusted to quickly, and ballooned up. I quickly cursed under my lips, and got her leveled and then flared again. The landing was still soft, but certainly not beautifull as they used to be!

Overall a good flight. During our review, my CFI was pretty happy...and asked "So, when can you do the checkride?" I replied "any time...any time at all." The smile on my face said it all.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Training nearly over, stress rises!

As you can see by my updated flight hours on the right of this blog, I've FINALLY completed all of FAA Part 61 requirements. In fact the I only have 1 more hour of "review" training in preparation for my checkride. I should be feeling releaved, but I'm not. If anything I'm more stressed out than ever.

So WHY am I more stressed out? Well, it comes down to three things: A)Knowing the checkride is very near, B)Having some doubt to my abilities under pressure, C)The monies have run out.

I recently sold some of my valuable music gear just to have enough to finish up this effort. So if I goof, freeze, blunder, or make some other folly on the checkride, I'm in serious hurt. I can't afford to "try again." I've never been a pressure mind tends to lock up, and it takes allot of concious effort NOT TO!

In addition, I've never considered myself as a "duck to water," when it comes to flying. Sure, I can handle the immense amount of technical knowledge, but the "art" of flying is just that..."art." Still, I've come a long way, and I find my landings are usually smooth...with a few slight bounces from time to time. I'm pretty comfortable on my cross-country flights, and chatting with ATC. Lately though, I've had hit or miss type of days. You know what I mean...some flights go really well, and I'm flyin' great. Other days, I just can't get it together.

For example, we've been working on landing on a spot & short field. Now my smooth landings are more like "soft-field" in execution, and I've never worried where the wheels actually touch. I tend to come down to hard, and often bounce when trying to "force" the plane to land on specific points. It's taken me allot of practice to know my float distance (which is usually longer than most) well enough to consistently land where I called out. So, now finally to the point where I can do all this, but at a cost. Yup, I'm no longer smooth on regular landings... Gone it seems, are the frequently greased landings... So now when the instructor wants the soft field landing, I've been less than 50% succesfull. Aiee yiee yiee. In fact, I'd have taken my mock checkride already if I could! Everytime I'm not perfect, I get aggrevated, because I don't have the funds to mess around and screw up.

I wish I could do what most do, and fly everyday leading up to the checkride, but I can't. I've got to conserve every dollar I have. If my "mock" checkride goes well, then I might have the extra cash to fly a couple more times...if not...well I might not be able to afford the checkride at all.

Why is it these DPE charge so much anyway? Does anyone have a breakdown of what the 400$ in fees goes to?

If any other pilots, who've been through this...any words of advice would greatly help!

Friday, June 27, 2008

The road to 1st Solo Cross-Country!

Well, it's certainly been a while since I last updated everyone on my flight progress! It's been frustrating at times, yet a few exuberant leaps keep me going! Frustrating from battling other students for instructor time, to dealing with undeniable finance hardships. Exuberant in the progress made and the overall feeling of having improved one's flying ability. I really feel I've made allot of good headway, especially after completing the second milestone in the process...solo cross-country flight!

Sure it's really cool to solo locally, but that's not the end idea is it? After a while, when your more profficient in the flight manuevers, your anxious to actually GO somewhere! The 25 nautical mile limit starts to feel like a cage.

To break free of this invisible pen, one must prove to be capable of navigation by a number of methods (Pilotage, VOR NAV, GPS...). Secondly, you've got to show you can plan the flight down to a tee. Fortunetly, I've been a duck to water on the planning. Calculating all the headings, compensated for wind & magnetic deviation, the fuel required, ground speed, wheather, notices, and how long it's going to take. It actually takes a good amount of time to do right. Being heavily dependent on wind & wheather, it has to be completed close to planned flight. Lastly you need to handle all of the above while communicating to ATC & making live flight corrections due to actual conditions. At times your so busy, you have to the plane stupid!

The Journey towards Solo Cross-Country:

Learning to multi-task on cross-country, for me, has been slow and overwhelming. My first official cross-country (X-C) with my instructor was humbling to say the least. I kept track of where I was pretty good, but my heading and altitude varried wildly. I hate to think of what I looked like to the flight following crew! I had to teach myself to work all the communications equipment (dialing in and changing frequencies, etc), without altering the plane's flight.

My second X-C to Beaufort, NC wasn't much help, as scattered clouds at 6500' didn't allow me to maintain heading track. In VFR flight (Visual Flight Rules), you cannot enter or go to close to clouds. While I was dismayed at a chance to prove myself on navigation, it was FUN! I had never flown around, above, and under clouds this close before... I really felt I was flying. My instructor could 3-D visuallize the clouds much better than I. The clouds ended to a gleaming North Carolina shoreline. I got back on course and headed down to the airport, in which the locals seemed disappointed that we weren't staying.

Thankfully the third time's the charm, when my last dual X-C to Clinton, NC went very well. I was feeling more at ease working with the flight centers, having most of my radio freqs. dialed in long beforehand. My ETAs were spot on, as I flew over Seymour Johnson. My landing in Clinton was right on time, and greased to boot! I was smiling all over...even though I was trenched in sweat! Yes, wet as dog, happy as can be baking in a two person cabin on hot tarmac. I wipe the sweat from my eye, or is it tears?

When we arrive back, my instructor says, do you think you did? I felt it went well, with only minor things to continue to working on. "I think your ready...schedule a stage check ASAP"! WOOT! I was close to freeing myself, and the realization of my dream was near. I went to schedule time with the lead CFII, only to find he was booked for the next two weeks. My heart sank with a thud. Over the next few days I prayed there would be an opening, and it was answered.

The Stage Check:

I'd flown and had some training from the Lead CFII before, and he's a fair but intense instructor. Intense in the fact that he's gonna drill ya, fail equipment on you, and you better not mess up badly. The ground inquisition went really well, and after being happy with my answers and preflight planning, we headed out. A short flight to Kinston, NC (Class D Towered), and back would be the trip. I knew he'd be failing the GPS, so I immediatly tuned into the Kinston VOR...a 1960s technology still used today. Can't complain, as it does it's job! The test continued to go well. At Kinston he asks for a short field landing, and my glide was perfect for I just cross the threshold and land. Whew, never wants to land poorly or bounce while on a stage check!! We stay in the pattern for a while, doing some soft-field T/O and more shortfields. On the last one we do a low approach (flying low over runway but not landing), and get a nice tower light demonstration.

We're heading back to Greenville, and as expected he kills the primary coms and navigation equipment...all of it. Even the 1960s VOR can't be used... No problem I thought, I know where I am. I'll just keep my planned heading and use pilotage (using a sectional map only, and terrain info to guide). I finally slipped coming in to the airport...figured I'd have to screw something up. I forgot to pull out my checklist and double check my pre-landing list. I'd forgotten to turn back on my fuel pump. He calmly said "so are you ready to land?" ... I caught it quickly, but still, not when I should've.

Back inside, we reviewed the flight, and he said I did well. No major things of note, other than checklist usage. I considered this somewhat ironic, as my pre-solo stage check had a comment of "too much concentration on checklist, instead of flying plane." Hmm, seems I went to the opposite extreme. He congratulates me, and says he's signing me off for solo cross-country! WOOTAGE! Again, I wiped my brow... the sleepless nights, and the extreme review of the FAA material had been worth it. My cage was lifted, a free bird to fly wherever I desired (well, for the most part.)

My First Solo Cross Country Flight:

I couldn't wait, sitting in my office chair, giddy as a schoolboy. Pouring over the online scheduler for flight availability & wheather outlook, I was anxious to go flyin! My instructor suggested going somewhere I'd flown X-C before, so I choose the one with the easiest ground reference points. Clinton, NC it would be...though I'm sure no one there would realize their town would be so immortalized in someones mind.

I found the following day (26th of June), looked ideal. I sat up and did my preflight, checked all the NOTAMs, radio freqs, airport goes on and on. The next day I finish by entering all the wheather and wind compensation into my plans. I arrive at the airport nearly shaking with exitement. My instructor ends up being late from his last lesson, and so I'm there to twitch and shake. Just then the winds begin to pick up, with gusts at 16knots. Ah crud...this can't be happening! Just barely over my allowable limits. He said it was my call...winds were right down the runway, so I felt comfortable with it. With a flick of his pen, I was released to join the friendly skies.

With full fuel, and everything checking out on the plane, I was off to the runway. I called up Raleigh Radio to activate the flight plan, and off I went on RWY 26. It's late afternoon & really hot today, and she doesn't want to climb as much, but 700'/min still isn't bad. I turn to my 240° heading and call up Washington Center. They allow my request for flight following, and I squawk 3634 and ident. They indicate radar contact, and I feel more at ease to have ATC watchin' my back.

So far winds were a little more, and my groundspeed was slower, and thus a little off schedule. No biggie, 110k of groundspeed still isn't shabby. That's 143mph to the poor folk down below on I-70. Soon after Washington Ctr calls me up "223DC switch to Seymour Johnson on 123.7" I call back confirming the change and switch comm to 123.7 which was easy, having it ready several minutes ago. "Seymour Johnson Diamond 2-2-3-Delta-Charlie with you." A lady with a pleasent voice replies, and gives me AWOS (automated wheather observation station) freq info. At this point I'm finally relaxing... just flying over at 4500', looking about, and otherwise fighting to maintain proper altitude. It'd be nicer if there wasn't as much turbulence and headwind, but I'm not complaining.

I fly over Mt. Olive, Seymour, Falcon, and cross I-40. All my checkpoints are a little behind (about 4 minutes so), but still right on course. Soon I have Clinton (Sampson Co.) airport insight. Before I get the chance to cancel flight following, the nice lady calls me up and has me switch to VFR. I squawk VFR and begin my decent into the area. It's been hazy, so everything clears up as I get down to 1600', just 500' above the pattern. I've been listening to the comm channel and I've heard no local traffic. Strangely enough, it's the same come for Beufort and Greenville, so while I'm 62nm away, I still hear what's flying back home.

I broadcast the usual positional and intent info to Sampson Co, and cross mid-field. The fresh black tarmac looms below, with the high contrast "24" letting me know I'm in the right place. I teardrop around and enter downwind for RWY 24. This is it, don't screw this up Brian. By the time I turn base I see I'm looking good on the glideslope. What seems as flash later, I've smoothly landed on 24. As I slow down, I'm somewhat comatose and in disbelief. I back taxi, check everything and I'm off again.

Short and sweet and I'm off to my next destination, Kinston. Time to get my 3 T/O and landings at a towered airport out of the way. The wind is on my back, and I'm kickin it at 128k...yes! In less than 20 minutes I'm there and on the radio with the tower. "223DC report right base RWY 23." I call back, and listen as FedEx prepares to take off. Turbelence is gone by the time I'm there, but I still stay high in the glide to avoid it. On final, the RWY looks hugely different, as it's 11500' long, compared to the 4000' one I was just at. I literally land and taxi off within the first 1/6 of the runway. I hold for a citation jet, and then taxi back to the active runway. The next two flights in the pattern go fine. With that done, I get vectors out of the airspace to Greenville.

I've done this portion of the flight four times before, and it's cake. I spend my time enjoying the sights and pointing out Ayden, Winterville, and lastly the outskirts of Greenville. The gusts are still there as I set up for entry into the downwind of RWY 26. Mother nature decides my trip has been too easy, and shakes me good until I've landed. I taxi back with a big sigh of relief, and call up Raleigh to close my flight plan. I've heard nightmares from other students about getting lost, and mistaking one airport for another, etc... I didn't have any problems, and for that I'm thankful. Thus ends my first 1.45hr cross-country flight. Before the airplane is even parked, I'm thinking about my next one... Kitty Hawk (FFA - first flight) looms in my mind. My dream will be fulfilled, and then...then I'll consider myself a worthy pilot. To land where it all began one December long ago...

...until next time.

Monday, March 10, 2008

16th Flight - I'm a pilot!

A prayer for stable wind:

With the last few flights the winds of March have done their worst. A little crosswind, no problem. Variable winds of 8k gusting to 16k, uh...problem. Gusts are a huge problem for me, heck for any pilot, let alone a novice student. It boiled down to creating a non-stable environment for landings, and thus mine weren't turning out great. This posed a big problem, as I was really close to solo, and had in fact passed my stage check. I'd been really down, failing to show readiness to handle it on my own.

Today, however, showed immense promise. Winds calm, and when there was some, it came from the east. 10 Statute miles vis, and a cool 37° F. At last, an ideal outlook!

The plane was in the hanger, so we could wipe off the frost and pre-flight the airplane in warmth. After that was done, opening the doors to the nippy morning air sent chills up my back. Towed her into position, and I began checking the ground. Allot of wind had really kicked up a lot of rocks. I began picking them up and discarding them when Rob asked "What the heck are you doing." At that moment, the owner, disconnecting the tow hook, said "He's pickin up debree like he's 'sposed too." Heh, props from the man himself! After all, we found one nick off the propeller already!

Pre-flight was normal, except I was far more calm and at ease. The previous flights I'd been nervous to perform, hoping to solo. Now, I didn't really expect to, so all that burden was realeased.

First Flight of the Day:

The first take-off of the day is always a definning one. As simple a manuever as it is, it's often a tale of how things will go. (Not to mention what the winds are really up to.) This one was a nice graceful lift-off. Perfect and smooth was the air, with just a slight Easterly wind. Pattern was nice and easy to keep square, and the cool air gave great climb performance. (Normally I fly later when it's about 20° warmer.)

Time came for the 2nd crucial judge of performance, the first landing of the day. I shrugged away the doubt, and setup for a good 60-65k speed, and was one light above glide. Runway 08 has a fairly close tree line, so it's right where I wanna be. I notice the other instructor & student are at the hold line in the DA-40. YAY, everyone loves a show *smirk*! I round out, worried if I'll nail this landing... I pull back a little, feel her out, a little more... it's all art & skill now...*eeeerrp* Ahh a nice one. In my head, the lando-meter trips over to 80. Wow, 80 landings...have I really done that many?

Slipin' the Ship:

Flaps up a notch and we're on the go again. "Pitt-Greenville Traffic Diamond 636DC is upwind on runway 08, Pitt-Greenville." Inside I'm ecstatic! It had been a couple of lessons since I really nailed a landing. One good one, just a few more and I'll be on cloud 9! I'm downwind when I notice the DA-40 is STILL sitting there at the hold line. Hmmm that's odd, why aren't they going. They've had plenty of time to do a run-up and take-off. Rob replies, "oh they're probably just watching!" Yay, a continued audience, no pressure! This time we hold 500' on final to do a slip. Winds from the right, I bank in, full left rudder and into a forward slip we go. Takes me a few corrections to keep the runway centerline, then I'm holdin' it pretty well. Slips was one of the things the other instructer (who happens to be watching in the DA-40) said I needed to work on during the stage-check. We're about 100' away when the other instructor radios "Beauty" or some similar description. Rob radios back in agreement. WOW, the toughest, most critical instructor just paid my flying a compliment... OK PINCH ME, I'M DREAMING! I relise the slip and come to another nice flare and landing! Oh this day keeps getting better!

Another day, another engine failure:

The third time through the pattern and comes the, almost expected, simulated engine failure. That's not to say I don't take them lightly, quite the contrary. You do, however, become trained to calmly handle them, and not panic. So with my vitals stable, I pitch for 70knots (best glide). Not enough altitude to run through a checklist, just land the plane. I turn in early off the downwind, and we're high. Another slip it is. This one needed a slightly more aggressive slip, as we tried to loose allot of altitude quickly. I felt a little anxious to get down, as we're 50' up at halfway down the runway. So I end up doing a lite, yet barely flared 3-pt landing. Ah well, so much for the perfect landing streak. Still it was smooth, no bouncing at all, just firm.

Is it that time?

We taxy back to the FBO, with our short hour already gone. It was short and sweet, and had my confidence boosted back up. Rob is kinda talkin' to himself, with barely audible references to "time" and "readiness." I park the plane in the first spot and shut down. I lift the clear canopy up and feel the brisk morning air. I'm feeling a bit of relief, taking in the air, when Rob says "Hang here in the plane for a minute." My eyes get real big. OMG, is it that time, but....but we don't have any time! He runs in, and apparently successfully bargains some time from the next student. He comes out, and I have my log-book ready. I hand it over and he walks away again. I'm trying to remain calm... breath in the cool air Brian...just breath. Rob runs out, hands me my logbook, and I check for the necessary sign-offs. "Ok, your good to go. I want you to do three T/O and landings," gleamed Rob. "Full-stop?" I enquire. "Just touch and goes on the first two, full-stop on the last." With that he smiles and says "Keep good care of my headset for me!" I look to awkward empty seat beside me, with just an empty headset.

Off on my own:

Yes, it was that time...the time every student looks forward to, and yet doesn't look forward to. No back up now, your on your own. No visual feedback from the instructor if your getting yourself into trouble. Nada, nothing, no cosa. Even though I'd just flown the plane, I thought it best to follow my checklists to a tee. I calmly check the electrical, fuses, charge, etc.. All good. I begin the engine start routine, clear the area, and yell an enthusiastic "CLEAR!" The engine immediatly ROARS to life. I pull back the revs to idle (1000rpm). I check the engine vitals, and apart from getting cooler, she's set to go. "Good girl," I thought. I click on the avionics, and do my standard weather check. Unsurprisingly, nothing's changed. I key on the mic for the first time alone... "Pitt-Greenville Traffic Diamond 6-3-6-Delta-Charlie taxing to runway 0-8 via taxiway Alpha." I test the brakes and I'm off!!! I kept thinking how far away that runway was, and thankful PGV isn't a busy airport. As I approach the 02-20 runway hold marker, a USAir (Piedmont operated) Dash-8 radio's on base for 02. I see them, in his fairly wide pattern, and know I have plenty of time to cross the runway. I radio to them, letting know I have them in site, and cross the runway. What seems a few moments later I've arrived at 08, performed my runup, double check the list, check the vitals again, scan for traffic, and make the call. "...6DC departing runway 0-8, Pitt-Greenville."

No Turning Back:

As I line up on the centerline, I gradually put in the power...20 knots airspeed is live...30, 40, 45...I begin pulling her back, 50, 55 and I'm off! A minor bank to the right for wind correction, speed up to 70 and I climb. OMG do I climb. Without another passenger the plane just wanted to climb! Not 100' off the ground and I come to the SAME sudden realization that other students have. OMG, Now I'm going to have to land this! No turning back, she's in the air and flying... That phrase I've heard comes to mind "Take-offs are optional, landings are manditory." I quickly try and shake the feeling and nervousness off. "I know what I'm doing, I CAN do this." my mind claims, and becomes my anxiety cure. 500', flaps up... my mouth is dry as I make my radio call and turn crosswind 750'. I realize immediatly that I'm barely at the end of the runway...she really climbed fast! So fast that I even overshoot pattern altitude by 100'. I call downwind (parallel to runway), and get back to 1000'. Don't ask me what the scenery was like, because I don't even remember. All I do recal, is the runway, hitting my visual turn points, and that's it. No site-seeing today, just fly the plane! As 08-26 is a short runway the calm relaxing downwind didn't last long enough. At the numbers I began the usual proceedure. Pull back power, bleed off speed, put in first notch of flaps, and begin ....the decent.

The First Solo Landing:
Everyone has there favorite runways, for whatever the reason. As I turned base, I was glad to be on one of mine. I hit my visual marker, two small ponds below, and turned onto the final stretch. Two red, two white...alright! The PAPI lights don't lie and so far, all is well. With that and ~72k of airspeed, I put in the landing flaps. As there are only two settings on the DA-20 C1, it goes from 15 degrees, to 45! A huge change that is always immediatly felt. With an electric wirr, and lite thunk, I pointed the nose down further. With that I made sure my decent was stabilized, ~450 ft/min on the VSI, good. Winds were dead calm, and I didn't need many adjustments to stay on the centerline. The end is coming near, soon, I'll have to land this appendage strapped to me. I work the throttle ever so slightly to keep the numbers coming at me, and at the same place in the windshield. This focus keeps me calm. The final moments were at hand, and for those who can explain it, good on ya. To this day, the engineer in me can't explain the final steps or process. To me, it's become instinctive art...nothing less. Where I round out, the flare, and how one transitions into a near stall moments before touching down. The moments are blurred together, with the mere memory that the landing was a good one. I did it, holy cow (or some other catch phrase), I did it. Seconds later, flaps to T/O, back on the throttle...and it's time for another go!

As events go, the first time is the hardest, and the next two landings were easier. My 2nd landing was spot on. My third, was actually my only so-so landing, as a gust pushed me off the line, and I floated her a while longer as I got back on center-line. Sadly Rob saw the first and the last...and not my best one. Ah well. I'll take what I can get!

Whew, it's over!
Taxing back to the FBO, I was both excited and relieved. It was over, for better or worse, and fortunetly it had been for the better! I shut her down, and opened up the canopy. The cold air nearly chilled me. I'd had left the heat on, and combined with the pressure, I was a walking wetnap. As I stretched up in victory, I saw the other instructor & student arrive in the DA-40. Both gave me thumbs up and clapped. Very few times, have I really felt proud of something I've done. I'm usually pretty hard on myself, but I couldn't help feeling satisfied! Rob came over with Wayne and said "Look at that, the boy is sweatin' bad!" I know he was teasing, as I climbed out, and shook his hand while Wayne shot a photo. I realize now, thinking back, that I was so relieved that I even forgot to take out the key and write down the tach/hobbs info. DOH! Well at least the next student was already out at the plane, no worries.

Another Name on the Wall-
Shortly thereafter I was guided inside, and thanked the student whose time I borrowed to make this possible. I felt bad, so I asked them to put 100$ of his tab on mine... They proceeded, with some extremely dull scissors, to cut the tail off my grey NACCO shirt. It was really soaked! "We'll let this dry off a bit!" Rob smirked. Everyone congratulated me, and thus started the usual "solo" stories! (Pilots love talking about their experiences, and we never tire hearing them!) As Rob walked out for his next lesson, I did my final act. I walked up the stairs to the conference rooms, where the sky blue walls full of signatures set. Two columns, those who've soloed and those who've attained their Private Pilot Certificate. I grabbed the sharpy marker and added my name to the "SOLO" list. I look over the list and find I'm the fourth in my class to solo! Three others in my class had yet to solo...but I didn't really care about that. My dream & goal of writting my name on that wall before I turned 34 had been achieved. NOW, I thought, I'm a Pilot!