Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Airman Knowledge Test - 97%!

I've been talking allot about my flights in this blog, but haven't mentioned ground school much. I actually started ground school before I began flying. I think it's better this way. I quickly discovered, however, many classmates had already begun flying, some had even soloed! Whoa!

In any case, flight school was going to last about 26 weeks, meeting twice a week for 2.5 hours. At the beginning I didn't think it was going to be a big deal for me...after all compared to electronics engineering, how hard can flight school be. Ah yet another humbling experience for me.

Flight school didn't just go over the theory of flight & airplane systems, it got heavy into wheather, communications, pilotage, equipment, medical, and FAA requirements. It was ALLOT of information to assimulate. I never knew I'd have to learn so much about the wheather... By the time your done, I wouldn't be surprised if you could replace the local news wheatherman!

Bottom line, flight school was intense, and certainly not easy. Especially if your like me, and insist on understanding everything (and not just knowing what the answers are). For every hour I spent in class, I spent 2-3 hours studying on my own. The Jeppessen book was at my side most nights.

Why are you considered a "Brain" when you know stuff?
I'd like to think I'm of normal intelligence, with a decent understanding of physics and engineering. Certainly not a brainiac though. For me, I always had to work hard learning stuff, because it never came easy for me. Thus I poor myself into the subject, especially when I'm super motivated! Due to this, I was actually a chapter ahead in class, and the students noticed I seemed to "know" the material well. They immediately labeling me the "brain" of the class, and from then on out, I couldn't shake it.

I can't stand being labeled like that. If they'd just study, they'd know it too. Now, I'd seem to be "expected" to have all the right answers....additional pressure I didn't need. At least it had one benefit, the instructors relied on me to help the class during exercises, flight planning, etc.. They didn't drill or pick on me much. I still had difficulty in areas, especially wheather, medical stuff, etc....but it didn't change my label.

By the time the class reached time to review, I had already been taking practice tests online. Is a GREAT place to begin btw. Also I checked out and purchased the software from, and found it helpfull as well. If you can make consistent 90% or better, chances are you'll pass the FAA Airman Knowledge Test.

Time for the BIG TEST!
About the time I had my 9th flight, I brought in two test prep exam scores and Rob kindly signed me off to take the exam. I called up the CATS center to schedule it. They could fit me in on that Friday, and I paid my 80$ (BTW, it's NORMALLY 90$, but if you join AOPA, you get a 10$ discount! Check them out ). I studied and reviewed my butt off for the next few days. The last night of ground school was thursday, and I let them know I'd be taking the test the next day.

Friday came and I drove the 35mile trek to Kinston. (It took me 11 min by air, and a ever so slow feeling to drive it in 30min!) It was a wet and miserable day...perfect for taking a test! lol The auditor shows me to a room with a few PCs and cameras in the wall. I grab my flight computer (the paper version), and my protractor, and sit down. She explains the test system for me, and gives me a figure book, paper, pencils, marker and a clear sheet. "Don't write in the figure book, use the overlay sheet". Oh now I have to worry about a little overlay moving on me while making trip calculations!

The test began smoothly, but my hope for a minimum of lengthy trip planning quickly dissappeared. I had to do three in all, with 1-2 questions on each. It wasn't hard, just time consuming.

About 55min later, I finished my first pass-through of the test. There were a few I wasn't at all sure on, so I went back... One was an moveable card ADF question, and I so dislike those. In the end I went with my first answer (after all your first intuition is usually correct). I hovered the mouse over the "COMPLETE" confirmation button. My goal was to be in the 90% range, but I didn't feel I succeded at doing so. The screen completed, and it told me I.... PASSED! Woot! It tell me HOW WELL I did though.

For that she came in, and said congratulations, you got a 97% and missed two questions! OMG, my jaw dropped... I would've swore I got an 80 something! YES, one major hurdle up, time to work toward soloing!!!!!

Flights 7-9: Pattern & More Pattern

Over the last few weeks, I've only been able to schedule smidgens of time. When you can only schedule 1 hour, preflight takes 15, and your left with 45minutes of TACH time, and about 40 minutes of ACTUAL flight time. It's even worse when your instructor gets back late.

Why are they so often late?
Tardiness is a personal pet peeve of mine. To me, it's hugely unfair to others to be late. It affects everyone, and often ripples through the day. Thus, I make sure I'm always on-time, and duely early often because of it. So why does a professional flight school think they don't need to be critical of this? I'm a customer first, and a student second. Especially now as I'm taking time off work to fit in. Even when I'm robbed of some of my time, I still make sure I make it back in relative good time before the next guy/gal. (To date, I've only been late once, and that was on a which I offered to make it up to my classmate in any way possible).

FBO Advice: Don't let people schedule planes & CFIs back to back!
Sounds simple right? Every flight has a pre-flight, and a post-flight briefing. This usually takes 20-30 minutes. Thus if the system forced a 30 gap between all reservations, IMHO this issue of tardiness would be less of an issue. Now, not only are you delayed when they arrive late, but further delayed because they still have to A)Process payment, B)Enter Hobbs & Tach into the system, C)Give a post-flight debriefing. What does YOUR FBO do?

Pattern, Pattern, and more Pattern:
Since the change of my instructors, and thus change of my pattern speeds/alt/etc. I haven't been spot on like I used to be. With the limited time we have, the next few lessons centered around the pattern and getting my landings down.

It has taken allot of practice but I'm finally comfortable, setting myself up well. The last flight we had a good 12k wind, nearly perfectly aligned with the runway. I kept forcing myself to wait on the flare, and with careful reference to the trees, hold it off. Suddenly there it was, like the golden goose, I finally greased it!! WOOT! Was it ability, was it luck? Time to go around and see for sure. Next go around, coming down with a slight crosswind, wing low into the wind...left tire smoothly contacted then right...YES! It felt weird, but it was still smooth! Next go around Rob kills the throttle, sim eng failure time. I pull back to set my 70k glide speed, shorten up my downwind, turn crosswind and I'm still high. This puppy has a 14:1 glide ratio, and it glides increadibly well. I'm on final, still high, so I put the flaps in as I know I can make the runway. My decent is picture perfect...the number is staying were it should be in my view, VSI stable at 400'/m...I come down, flare out, and another smooth (but not greased) landing ensues. "Excellent. Good Job" Rob declares.

Finally, I've got my site & groove back on landings, and feeling much more confident! At 11 Hours of flight time, with landings being nailed, soloing doesn't look to far away!

6th Flight - Slow Flight & Ground Ref. Manuevers

This would be my 2nd flight with my new instructor Rob. As obvious by my last flight, and blog, I had a huge concerns. I needed Rob's help to rebuild my confidence, and help me enjoy the whole process again. No simple task, as I could tell Rob was certainly more of a by-the-book category. Still I was prepared to forge on...after all... I'm no quiter. The task today was to work on some slow flight, and ground reference manuevers.

Slow Flight:
I could tell Rob was in a fairly decent mood, and flight began rather pleasently. We headed out to the practice area, and did our clearing turns (always done before any major manuever). I wasn't really nervous, as I new the method and principles of slow flight. I'd done some in FSX and didn't seem that hard...boy would reality prove different. I begin slowing down, stage in the flaps at the appropriate airspeed points. I gaining altitude though, instead of holding, so I ease up on the stick. Soon I'm at 50k, and add in power to arrest the dropping airspeed. The AoA(Angle of Attack) seems so dramatic, just like stalls. In reality I know it's far less than perceived, but it's still an uncomfortable angle for me. The controls are super mushy, and the right rudder is already in a good bit. I couldn't seem to get the plane stabilized, as the buzzer goes off/on/off inconsistently. I'm loosing altitude, but a little more power and we're good. Barely stable now, Rob says to gently bank and give a turn to the N. It seems the plane barely turns at first, and then really starts moving...almost delayed. Maintaining coordination is still difficult for me, and the mushy feeling doesn't help. I miss my turn-out by 15 (overshot).

This, to this day, is one of THE hardest manuevers for me. More importantly though, while Rob rememded me of the PTS during the manuever, he didn't give me a hard time about it. He gave me a few worthwhile tips that really helped: As soon as your loosing altitude, give her more throttle, and use it to climb back. Also, use your side peripheral to keep the wings level. Don't focus too much on the turn&slip, but try and maintain heading by focusing on some distant object. (At the time I hadn't been taught nor allowed to use Trim, so I think that had to do with my stability issues too).

Ground Reference Manuevers:
"Ok, let's start some ground reference work." Rob called out. "Head to that water tower and decend to 900' ". I recalled all these manuevers were done between 600-1000'. The day had a good strong consistent 10k wind from the S, thus an excellent day for such things. (A Calm day wouldn't teach you much). We enter downwind into a square pattern above a farm road. This is much like being in a pattern/circuit. The difference was I could easily see how the wind was blowing me oblong. I was a little confused in my head when to use a more aggresive turn and when not to. A couple times around and I was keeping properly aligned. This was really cool, especially being crabbed into the wind, and yet moving straight on the ground track. There is so much more to think about when flying than driving a car on solid ashphalt...very overwhelming at first.

Next up we were going to do some S-Turns on a road reference. We found I-264 to be perfect given the winds of the day. This manuever, is now my favorite! Again you have to be carefull when, in reference to the wind, to be aggressive in your turn, and when to not be. Even more so as it's more of a gradual increase in bank, back to a more shallow bank, and switching directions. The switchback part, when going from hard right 45° bank to hard left 45°, is just plain fun. I was doing fairly well here, having my wings level right when crossing the road. I had a smile on face, and Rob wasn't saying much, just letting me fly. I was amazed at the effect of just 10k of wind was a good lesson.

Finally we did some turns around a point. I found this to be the most difficult. My beginner mistake was trying to use the wing tip as reference to the water tower. As your bank changes as your going around, using the wing is wrong. Rob corrected me and indicated to just pay attention to the ground track and the distance from the tower. I had trouble maintaining my altitude however, as my focus was outside far too much, and I didn't realize I was descending. At 700ft, Rob took over and demonstrated it again. The second time I tried I did much better holding altitude, but a little worse on holding the circle as I encroached upon the tower too much. This was fairly tough, but I'm sure with practice, I'll get better.

We headed back, and I was feeling renewed in my quest, and my love for flying. My landings weren't the greatest, still flaring to high, to soon. It wasn't enough to discourage me, as the flight was fun and enlightening. It looks like Rob may be one of those "in between" instructors after all.

Loosy Goosy Vs. Strict Instructors.

It'd been two weeks since my last "review" flight with Rob. To say I was very discouraged is an understatement. I'd lost my personal confidence, and faith in what my last instructor taught me. In many areas, I was essentially being rebuilt.

As a student, one looks to your CFI for reassurance, knowledge, and feedback. On top of that I think it should be fun too! Call me crazy! When things are difficult, it's easy to forge on for the love & fun of it! For me, I was hoping Rob could rebuild my confidence, and help me find the love again.

Now, I've read other's blogs who've noticed the same differences between instructors. Some are serious, and by-the-book, others are loosy-goosy and let you "feel-out" the plane. With Rob being the former, and Jeff being the later, I can say there are + and - to both. In my opinion the best instructor would be somewhere between.

The By-the-Book / Strict Instructor:

The Plus Side:
A by-the-bookCFI is good, because they are teaching exactly what the FAA expects, PTS and all. In the end, the goal is to pass your "checkride" with the FAA person, so this is good. The strictness get's you to maintain a high standard early on...thus making the PTS standards laughable. It also instills enough motivation to ensure your always doing the right thing.

The Minus Side:
Unfortunetly, I'm a "feel-out" the machine type of guy, and I NEED to experiment with the aircraft to get the right FEEL down. Just teaching a "method" of doing something isn't enough. Being stressed to consistently perform, can make the whole experience less than enjoyable. If you've soloed and you say "I'm always more comfortable without the instructor sitting beside me." Then you know what I'm talking about. If I perform a manuever, and my altitude falls outside of 100', then ask me what I think I'm doing wrong...If I answer correctly, then an instructor knows I understand WHAT to do, I just failed to succeed. If I answer wrong, then tell me what exactly I'm doing wrong and correct me. DON'T give me some snide remark, "Well, you just broke PTS, and would've wasted 430$ on a failed checkride" (In fairness to Rob, he never said this, but another instructor at the school did.) Stating the obvious, even to a student, isn't helpfull. In all, I think of a strict instructor like military school, with a "Yes Sir" and having no fun whatsoever.

The loosy-goosy / non-strict Instructor:

The Plus Side:
This person is the type of guy/gal that will make you feel at ease quickly. They aren't quick to jump down your throat, and are rather patient. They tend to give lessons in a simple demonstrative way, and then let you experiement. These are the folks you'll have allot of fun flying with.

The Minus Side:
They are often not "by the book" enough, and do not instill the mental state of mastering the manuevers to PTS early on. They are usually far less structured, so sometimes progress is difficult to sense or track. You would be far less prepared for the Checkride, after training with someone in this category.

Again, these are just MY observations and opinions. With that, I would love to find an instructor somewhere in between. One that will be strict, yet exploritory and patient. Be instructive, and not "See I can do it, why can't you?" One who realizes it's important to have fun, while your learning.

I'd love to hear other's experiences in this area, and your opinions!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

5th Flight - Instructors aren't always right.

It had been a total of 3 weeks since I flew last. After loosing my instructor, getting on the schedule was tough. After a briefing with my new instructor Rob, we prepared to go up and review. I would quickly find out, not all instructors are the same, nor are the methods they use. In my case many things I was taught, was incorrect, according on.

It was like starting over. I had to instill confidence, in what little areas I could, all over again. Fortunetly I gave a good pre-flight check, so hopefully next time I'll be back to covering that on my own.

The rest of the pre-flight is uneventful. She starts up fine, I make my call and head to runway 8. I hadn't been there before, so Rob gives me taxi directions. A fellow classmate is in the 152 ahead of me, so I keep my distance. So far so good. I call "Pitt-Greenville Traffic, 6-3-6-Delta Charlie crossing runway 2-0." "Actually," Rob says "you should call out runway 2 - 20, so they know which direction your crossing from". Cool, duely noted.

We reach the runway hold line, and I stop to begin the run-up check. Immediatly Rob reacts..."OK, you should be turned perfectly into the wind during your run-up check". Wha? I mentioned I'd always be straight with the hold line. (Strike I on my last instructor) I make the call and we're off and running...maintaining the centerline, rotate and we're off! Well it wasn't 3 seconds later when Rob crooned something else. "What's Vy on this airplane?" To which I reply 68 with T/O flaps. "OK, so why are you doing 80?" Then I explain how Jeff always told me to keep the nose visually 1" below the horizon. "Well, PTS says you should fly Vy, so adjust for it." (Strike II on my last instructor, AND on ME for blindly obeying when original intuition disagreed with his method). I pitched up, and it felt really wierd. I couldn't "see" my heading reference, and the horizon was 4" below the nose. I went from a nice stabilized climb I had before, to a somewhat variable (65-70) airspeed. God I felt like an idiot.

Fortunetly the manuevers portion of my check out was decent. My 45 banks were fairly decent but a little rusty, kept within 75'. We did some stalls, which I did passibly. I told him I hadn't done slow flight or ground reference yet, so he choose to do so at a later time.

Rob gave me the indication to head back to airport. I immediately reach for the GPS, Hit the nearest, and click KPGV lickity split. I look up, proud I have my new heading so quickly, and I see Rob put his hand on his face. "No no, I didn't mean that!" I apologized, and he said it's late now. I enquired further and he said he wanted me to do it visually. To which, I had never done before. I'm sure I could have with my sectional and looking around. (Strike III-Relying on GPS too much).

Back at the airport I enter into the downwind and make my call. "What's pattern altitude here?" to which I replay 1100. "Negative, 1000' " (Ah crud Strike IV, thanks Jeff) I begin the decent, so far so good. I turn base and I see I'm a little high, I'll just put in flaps in the base. "I'd keep flaps out until final" says Rob. Noted, but I explained my reasoning and noded. I kept my decent around 70k as I'd always been taught, and again Rob chimes in "Your airspeed is a bit high, aim for 60-65." To which I mentioned again, Jeff told me to always maintain 70 until I've made the runway. (ARGGH Strike V). I've long since struck out... My flare was way to soon too, and landed with a minor bounce. Adding insult to injury. Now I was upset and flustered.

We made a few additional pattern touch and goes. With the new altitude, a new airspeed, I just couldn't get my groove. My decents were not stabilized, and it felt all wrong. My performance was horrible. I felt horrible, and embarrassed.

We taxied back to the FBO, and shutdown. If everything hadn't been enough, Rob indicates I'm using the wrong knot for securing the plane (Good Grief Charlie Brown!). He was overall nice about everything, but I could tell he wasn't happy with my performance. I was the first student from Jeff to move over to Rob. When he talked to the other instructor, who took too of Jeff's former students, I was somewhat off the hook. He indicated the same incorrect methods I had, they also had. Still, it did little to restore my confidence.

So the lesson any fellow student pilot should take away from this is: Don't ALWAYS take your instructors WORD for things. Read up on the POH, the PTS, etc... Anytime an instructor differs, inquire immediatly, and have them clearly explain any deviations.

(Side Note: After almost 14 hours, I'd love to say this was the last time this happens...but, it isn't.)

Start Over, or Change to Part 61

Loosing my CFII was tough, but it seemed the rabbit hole continued. I was already failing to get on the schedule, and it was two weeks since I flew last. I finally managed to set up an appointment with Robert, one of two remaining part-time instructors.

We calmly sat down, and he said "OK, lets have a look at your file". He peared into the computer screen. "SO, you've just had the one flight?" WHA? No, I've had four and I've got 8 hours logged...showing him my log book. "Strange, he didn't make progress reports in the computer." Well let's look at the folder. He goes to the file cabinet, and opens up my file. Opens the vanilla folder and only the waiver is in there. "Well, this isn't good!" Ah man...

My instructor failed to do his paperwork on me before he left. Apparently it's one of the things he hated to do, and I wasn't the only one who got screwed here.

When we talk about what I've done, and compare it to Part 141 lesson requirements, we find it's all OUT OF ORDER. He hasn't followed curriculum.

"Well, at this point, you can either A)Start over with 141, or B)Change to part 61 and take it from there". Well heck, 8 hours ran me over 1400$, starting over is NO cheap "do-over." I hang my head and say...fine let's do Part 61.

We schedule a flight for the next week... "We'll review where you are and go from there." I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What? Your leaving me?

It was a regular Thursday night, time for another groundschool session. As I walk down the hall with my overly bulky flightbag, my instructor (also for flightschool) walks up to me. "Well, it's been good flying with ya, but I'm outta here dog!" Wha? I was stunned and in disbelief. "Your kidding right?" "Nah" Jeff said, "I'm heading back to the private sector". I flash-backed to my initial interview of Jeff, and after my inquirey into his stability, he said "I'm not going anywhere. I've got 3500hrs of regional experience, and I'm not going back to that hell."

Here I was sprung back to the present. Shocked I simply let my jaw drop at sudden and harsh truth of it all.

Jeff was the last full time CFII at the FBO. Two other CFI's were still there, but were only part time, and couldn't fly at night. I realized I was in serious schedule hardship when I looked at it online. Apart from fighting for Saturdays, I'd have to take time off work, or long lunches to fit on the books.

Even so, this paled in comparison knowing I'd have to get used to a new CFI. Half our class had already soloed, but I'm not even close yet. Everyone was bummed, but at least those who've soloed didn't have the schedule issues. I'd read other blogs, and heard nightmares of their instructors leaving...I swore It wouldn't happen to me... yet again another humbling experience.

4th Flight - Hello Kinston Tower!

Tonight, I really felt like we were flying! Not just going around in circles, or to the designated practice area, but flying TO somewhere. I was surprised when my instructor Jeff mentions, "Let's fly to Kinston and get some ATC practice in". So with that we were off to Kinston International (KISO), normally a 30min drive, but we'll be on it in 11min. After a paultry 6 hours of training, most aspects of the flight I'm on my own as Jeff doesn't have to say much. It's 4:45 and the sun is setting. Seeing it from the sky is always special, and I've grown to look forward to it. Night is setting in, and I become a flashing dot in the skyline.

Using the VOR for the first time:
Today we're training on VOR navigation and controlled airspace proceedures. After we've exited the pattern, he has me climbing to 4500'. I set the NAV1 to 109.6, the VOR near Kinston. I turn the position indicator to the "TO" setting and continue until the indicator line was straight. Jeff said "Ok now keep that line centered and make course corrections to keep it so". We're a mere 10miles away already and it's time to request entrance to Kinston airspace. Jeff tells me to make the call, and as you can imagine, I'm nervous about getting it wrong, and sounding stupid. "Kinston Tower, Diamond 6-3-6-Delta Charlie, um.. 10miles from the NE inbound for landing." Whew, ok got that out ok. Lickity split the tower calls back "636DC report Left Base for Runway 23". To which Jeff cues me to respond "Diamond 636DC roger, left base for runway 23". Soon after I enter controlled airspace for the first time.

You see, as I've mentioned, Greenville is non-controlled, with no pilots just confirm positions with each other. Here it felt calming to hear a tower voice in control, making sure everyone is clear & seperated. What feels like a few brief heartbeats later, Jeff points out the beacon. Wow, we got her quick! It was easy than I thought to maintain and follow the course set out on the VOR! I call in again when I'm closer to the airport "636DC on base for runway 23"..."6DC cleared for landing with option"..."Roger, 6DC clear for landing with option".

Moments later I add another successful night landings aren't as smooth, as distance detection is tuff, but no problem. We then take off again staying in the pattern, watching other airplanes, like the small jets come in and land after you. I can't even imagine Charlotte! We spend a good deal of time doing patterns. Boring? NAH, not with Jeff as a CFI. The next pattern we do an engine failure, and bring it immediatly in for landing. Next go around (it's full night now), he kills my instrument lights. Ok, this is a new one...but not to difficult as I just keep focused looking outside, and concentrate on landing the airplane. The next time around he kills the landing light...WOAH...ok THAT was the humbling experience of the day. I flared too soon, and came down...bounce...ARGH...hold it off, hold it off!!!! Whew! I pray that never happens again!

We get clearance to leave back to greenville, and we ascend to 3500'. Greenville looks so peacefull at night. I really need to take some video for everyone. I pass over the new movie theater and follow up back to the airport. The lights are out, and pulse the mic 7 times and the ground lights up. It's nothing short of cool to see a row of lights ahead of you with chasing "rabbit" lights giving you line guide to the airport. We're in the pattern and a fast lear jet enters the pattern. We break out to let him ahead in the landing cue, dang it's fast...coming in at 170knots...boy to fly that one day... I kick in behind them, and return to my descent...and to the earth. Landings, never quite relax with them, but they get allot easier over time, and this one was fairly smooth. They are far more challenging at night as height perception is much harder. Jeff in his fashion said "Heck yeah man, how 'bout I hop out and you solo right now!" I chuckle, and take the compliment. I'm sure that will come soon enough.

Jeff always had a way to make me feel at ease. He'd always keep you pumped up. Even when you did something wrong, he'd correct you, but none to harshly. I was very lucky to have an instructor I connected with, and felt relaxed. Unfortunetly, I would find out HOW lucky I was all too soon. (See next post).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Close Call - Fuel Management

During my 3rd flight, I experienced a lesson, that NO ONE, should have to ACTUALLY go through. It's enough that it deserves it's own seperate blog.

Fuel Management:

That title already has any pilot's eyes opening widely. My unexpected lesson in this area hit the point I almost changed my call-sign to ever remind me.

It started out innocently enough, we were going to be doing spins in the DA-20 and thus weight had to be in the "utility" category. By my calculations we had to be right at half a tank (10gal) of fuel. The DA-20 burns around 5.8gal/hr, so that left enough VFR day reserve fuel as well.

We do our preflight, and find the fuel is JUST past 1/4 tank! At this point I break out the stick, and measure the fuel by hand...right at 6gal. That's JUST enough to last an hour (a little less with T/O and landings). My immediate instinct is to get the fuel truck to add another 4 gallons. "Shall we call the fuel truck?" My instructor said, no, we'll just have to make this a shorter flight than we planned. "Charlie Mike" was his expression. I didn't feel comfortable with it, but I had faith my instructor would NOT put me in harms way.

As you may have read in my "3rd Flight" blog, I had an excellent time. In fact I was enjoying myself so much, that I wasn't really keeping track of time. "Ok, we better head back now." My watch shows we've been out 45minutes...15 minutes past the time we should've begun heading back. Still, I was hiped up, and wasn't worried. I didn't notice the fuel needle damn near "E."

On our way back, he has me climb higher than we normally do heading back. Then he teaches me all about mixture, and asks me to put it back to 75% and maintain altitude. His dimeaner had changed and was suddenly very serious looking.

We reach the airport and cross mid-field...which isn't unusual, but doing so at 2500' IS. WHY does he have me so high? Then instead of tear-droping around to enter downwind, he has me begin a left bank descent. Ah ok, cool, another new thing to learn...the circle to loose altitude manuever! All the while the end of runway 26 is very close and in site. He literally has me continue the descent until 500' and we go in on final.

Moments later we're on terra firma, and NOT 1s after, *SHHHHHWUKK* the prop immediately stops! What the? I look over to see if it's my instructor doing an eng failure on me, but he's not. As I'm immediatly shocked, trying to hold the centerline, "Did you do that?". A quick "No, we're schochie on gas!" WHAT! We actively reset and restart the cranks up at first...YAY...seconds later *SHHHHHWUKK*... NO! Now we're really slow, still on the runway, and my rudder is barely effective. I manage to clear the runway, while the instructor works on getting the engine going again. We manage to make it to the FBO.

I sit back, and the harsh reality of what JUST happened sinks in. I was scared, I was furious...more so at myself than my instructor. WHY didn't I INSIST on adding more FUEL! The whole reason he had my work the mixture, and maintain a higher altitude because he KNEW we were near the edge. After exiting I measured .5gal usable left. Much to close to comfort for me... "Fumes" we were on mere fumes.

The lesson for the day...ALWAYS maintain the VFR fuel reserve minimums, watch your time carefully. We experienced an actual engine failure, thankfully right after we landed. A minute sooner, and we could've been doing a real FORCED LANDING!

3rd Flight - Look Ma, I'm Spinning!

While I'm only at 3 hours of logged flight time, I'm feeling better and a little more smooth. Still I thought I might be more improved, after all a plane darn near flies itself! I'm still feeling "behind" the airplane, that is more reactionary. That was especially true today, as the winds were very gusty. Still I'm letting myself enjoy the view more as I'm far more relaxed. The flying experience is increadible when your the one doing the flying. The view out of the Diamond's canopy is awesome. If the weather is good, you can peer down on one's town in awe.

I told Jeff I thought I was ready to handle my own preflight check. I went around, explaining what I was doing and why. I had made up my own checklist, built from the POH, but with a better (IMHO) flow. My buddy Mike forgot his front chalks too the other day (very embarrassing) so It's on my list twice! After the lengthy go around, Jeff congratulated me, and said I did a good inspection and didn't miss anything "whew". From then on out, preflight was all me :) Ahhh progress...

Taxiing is far easier now, and it's a thrill to happily wave to USAir aircraft pilots as I pass by! There is a certain feeling of victory, knowing your in control, and not stuck having to go through the paranoid security screening. I still think it's strange to steer with one's feet though!! These things are began to feel like simple basics, with take-off's almost *gasp* becoming routine! I'm sticking to the centerline, and have become stable in my climb. Even the minor adjustment to compensate for flap retraction. Still, even when you THINK your doing better, murphey loves to throw ya curves to quickly kill any ego, and send you back into humility.

Stall Training:

Imagine flying right up into the sky at 5000', and it almost seems like your going straight up (much less in reality). The aircraft is slowing down, the stall horn sounds, giving warning of immenent loss of lift unless corrected. Now imagine, instead of backing of, you keep going into a full stall. When stalled, the plane stops "flying" per say and begins to drop due to loss of lift. Ever been on a free-fall ride...heh heh..this one is the same. Your rear lifts off the seat and the plane's nose drops. The part I had the most difficult time with, is noticing when we were in actual stall. The buffeting would occur, but still not in stall. Sometimes the nose would immediately drop, sometimes it felt like falling backward. I end up going by the VSI, and when you see your loosing altitude, your stalled. Coordination, was also tuff at first, as it required ALLOT of rudder AND more extreme control movements to stay on heading. The controls felt so MUSHY, and was very odd & scary feeling.

Up to this point we'd do the normal full power and pull out slowly, only loosing 100' in the process. Now, those who read the previous e-mail story, knows my instructor Jeff doesn't stop there. We repeat a power-on stall when he orders "OK now full Left Rudder", which was opposite of the right rudder I had in. Woosh there we go diving down into a spin. Nothing but ground below me, and we're turn, two turns...Jeff has control and we immediatly come out of the spin. Speed picks up and he pulls back the airplane to level. OMG that was can't describe it. We only loose 1000' in the process! Spins are one of the worst stalls possible. (Actually the worst is a flat spin, or inverted flat spin...recal Top Gun) Now I don't want this to scare anyone, as these trainers are designed to recover even with no input from the pilot. We review the proceedure, for correcting a spin, and he says "do you want to try?" Oh heck yeah! (NOTE: FAA does not require actual spin training, just be shown and taught the proceedure, only in commercial category must you be able to perform it). So here we go again....stall...and....full left rudder... OMG I really felt it go over that time! PAREP (Power out, Aeilerons nuetralized, Rudder (opposite), Elevator forward to pick up speed, then add power and pull back to arrest decent. ) Wow... Jeff said I pulled back a little too soon, but I get worred when speed gets past Va! I did one more after that, and did much better. Wow, that was fun! Still, It's all part of training and I feel much better knowing how to safely recover from such things.

First Foggled IFR Training:

Not enough you say? Well what do you do when the instructor gives you these weird glasses, which cover up your eyesite enough to keep you from seeing outside the plane? Weee, welcome to IFR (Instrument Flight Rating) training! It's supposed to simulate flying in clouds or poor wheather conditions. After 30 minutes I had found the flying by instruments alone to be a weird sensation. Flying wasn't a problem, as this is the way flight sim is, however, flight sims don't give you weird sensory input! You have to almost ignore your extra-sensory input as it's just going to confuse and lie to you. Just pan and scan the flight instruments and trust them.

After removing the foggles, he said "Ok, now determine where you are" Yay for 21st century GPS technology! On the small hud it says I'm 10 miles SE of KPGV. "Well, I looks like I'm right over the town of Washington..." right on. "Take her down" Jeff called. Awesome, my first landing at a totally new airport for the first time. To think, soon I'll be flying into Kitty Hawk, Elizabeth City, Fayetteville, and of course Wilmington. (Your town may be next muahhahahha).

We head back to the airport...see the next blog for the continuation!!

To this day, this lesson has been the most memorable!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2nd Flight - Avionics & Night Time Fun!

As obvious by my first flight experience, and so many others before me, I am hooked! "So *salesman tone* shall we sign you up for Part 141 flight school?" Jeff inquired. I didn't need to answer, the smile on my face was response enough. ( Info: Part 141 is relatively new, highly structured, & accelerated training program, only needing 35 total hours).

I grabbed the student headset, and we walked out to the plane. It's sitting next to a 1974 Cessna 152, the DA-20 C1 looks quite modern. If it weren't for the fact that the FBO is converting their entire fleet to Diamonds, I'd probably fly the Cessna. The diamond is also ~110$/hr, the 152 is ~60$/hr. Still, I tend to fear the nature of carburated engines, and prefer the fuel injected systems. While not totally immune to icing, it's much less likely. Plus, anything less to do in the pattern, IMHO, is a good thing.

Today's flight was to be another new set of experiences. The sun was already setting when we completed the preflight (still being assisted by Jeff at this point). We hop inside and after the engine is running Jeff starts going over the avionics in more detail with me. As one can see in the picture, it's allot of ominous equipment. Getting one's mind around them was today's humbling experience! There's the; Bendix comm stack, including the VOR equipment, GPS unit, Tranceiver, and internal communication panel.

The Comm Panel:
I learned to enter the CTAF frequency in (122.8 for KPGV area), and AWOS (128.425), and switch back and forth. When it came to entering the AWOS number I was really confused..."where is the 3rd decimal?" Oddly enough at the time, you just have to enter 128.42, and it asumes it's .425. This is likely due to assigned freqs being seperated in .025 increments. AWOS gives you updated wheather info, the altimeter setting, wind direction & intensity etc. Jeff showed me how to set the Altimeter correctly...sure enough, it read ~ 20' elevation. Pretty darn close to the 26' actual elevation.

Setting the GPS:
The GPS unit in the plane is very simple with a monochromatic display. It's good enough for relavent position and speed information. It was fairely easy to get going...simply enter in the altimeter setting, hit enter a couple of times, and your done. He showed me (to my dimise in a later lesson), how to use the "nearest" function. This was very handy, as within one button click, all the nearby airports are listed. The CFI said we'd play with the VOR and GPS at a later time.

After rolling out to the runway (R26), I got the chance to feel out maneuvering on the ground more, and got more practice using differential braking. I'm maintaining the yellow taxi line better. I look out and notice the beautifull blue omni-directional taxiway lights. The lights had come up in flash after Jeff key'd the mic several times. Suddenly I remember reading about that. As PGV is a public, non-towered, class E airport...the pilots have control of the lighting and it's intensity.

We do our usual run-up and call in our departure. We roll out, and this time continue the throttle forward and shortly thereafter, my 7th T/O. My instructor starts teaching me the visuals of Angle of Attack vs. the horizon for the climb-out. He indicated that I should keep the horizon just 1" above the nose. For me, even with just FSX experience, seems to be low... We're doing about 80knots on the climb. I find the visual works well, and I don't have to keep my eye on the attitude indicator nearly as much. Jeff noted he prefers this rate as it allows you to see things in front of you better, to avoid traffic issues, etc. (NOTE: As I would find out, this is one of the first things I was taught WRONG!)

Straight & Level Flight:
We climb out and begin our turn left crosswind, and with the wing down I look upon the town with it's lights, and it's breathtaking. "Maintain altitude of 1100' " he notes. While coming up on 1100, I pulled the power back and overshoot, stabilizing around 1200'. "Get me back down to 1100, and remember Pitch + Power = Performance". Ahh the three P's. While I thought I understood this at the time, I realize now I didn't really REALLY understand it. As a beginner student, you want to control airspeed with throttle, and altitude with attitude/pitch. While they are always inter-related, you end up learning the correct method is just the opposite. Use angle of attack to control airspeed, and power to control altitude.

Flaps, an awkward feeling:
The first flight my instructor had us landing with partial flaps, which he controlled. This time, on left downwind, he instructed me to put in T/O (15deg) of flaps after slowing to 100k. You could really feel it when the flaps moved into place. An experienced pilot would expect this and compensate immediatly so you wouldn't even know, but that I am not! I get the decent started, but I'm not good at keeping the rate stable on the VSI (Verticle speed indicator). "You want to be 80k at 800' " Jeff noted. At 800 I turn left base for runway 26. I see I'm just a little high on the glideslope, but should be perfect when I hit final. Next I'm about 550' and I turn onto final. Jeff insists on making all final radio calls to allow me to concentrate on flying the airplane. "Time for full flaps" Jeff smiles. As I do so, the additional 30 Deg of flaps really nose up the plane! I had to really get forward on the stick to keep the decent continuing. It feels SO wrong at first, as your angle to the runway is steeper, yet your not really picking up speed (which is the whole point). The rabbit lights are sequencing through, and for the first time I felt like a real pilot! He gives me the cues to round out, and again, the 'ol "we're not gonna land" trick and moments later with Jeff's help on the rudder, we've successfully met terra firma again.

We continued working in the pattern, maintaining 1100', and being more predictive with corrections while adding flaps. All the while full night had set in, and I realized, I LOVE flying at night!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

1st the air and feeling fine!

Hey everyone,

This will be my blog central for all adventures airborne! I saw many cool blog chronicals of persons journey from flight student to full private pilot. As such, I thought it would be additionally cool, even for my own benefit, to do the same! I'd love to hear comments, questions, etc... for those reading in! Thus far it's been a joyous, and yet sometimes humbling experience! (NOTE: This blog begins after I've already started flying, but does start at the beginning)

My First Flight (Dual):

Well the day finally came for me to take what I've learned so far in ground school, and actually fly a plane! As if the blog would suggest I'm working on my Private Pilot Certification!! As evidence per witting this blog, I survived...actually I did pretty decent considering I had zero experience. Sure I've accumulated 110+ Hours with Microsoft flight simulation, but it's not close to experiencing the real thing (but it certainly helped)! Turns out time in the sim helped me a great deal, epecially when the instructor has a sink or swim policy!!!! I couldn't believe the maneuvers I did on the first flight!! 6 assisted landings, 6 take offs (of course), engine stall simulation, 45° banks, shallow banks, pattern flying...OMG I'm still not believing it!

Mini Story Of That first Lesson
(For those who are interested, otherwise feel free to skip!):

I got there early, just in case, in hopes of calming my jitters. It didn't help. I scoured through the operation manual for the nearly new Diamond DA-20 C1 two seater, low wing, 2-seater aircraft. Jitter's continued. Somehow, knowing a choose a fuel injected, newly engineered aircraft did put me at some ease. The owner was giving a thorough look-through outside while I waited. A truly beautiful aircraft, with green stripes and N636DC registration number. (See Pics) Finally, Jeff finished up with his last student, fellow Classmate Seth, who flys the bigger 4-seater DA-40 with full Garmin electronic screen gauges.

We head out, do a full over pre-flight check on the airplane. I had no idea how comprehensive this is! If we did this sort of thing on our cars, I think breakdowns would be so much less likely! We checked part movements, linkages, fuel, oil...etc. The fuel shown a nice clear blue, indicating the 100LL Octane fuel...oooh yeah. Sooner than lickety split, she's untied and we're in the cockpit running through the pre-engine start check list. I'm going through this checklist quicker than I'm comfortable with, having never done it before, but Jeff reassures me I'm not missing anything. With the sound of fuel pumps roaring I called out the classic "CONTACT" shout, and the engine turns over...VAROOOM, and the torque shakes the plane a little. She's got a continental engine producing a mere 125HP, but it's more than enough in this 1656lb (fully loaded) vehicle! The older Katanas have a rotax 80 or 100 engine!

Now up to this point, I've had the notion I wouldn't be doing any of the PRIMARY flying (taxing maybe, but certainly not taking off, landing, etc). Next up Jeff says...ok now let's go ahead and taxi out. WHAT! With all the planes close by, certainly he didn't trust me to do so! Sure enough, I throttled up, began moving out...tested the brakes, and hit the right rudder for a right turn towards runway 20. Holy crud were the pedals tuff to get used to...if you push your feet at an angle it applies the brake instead of the rudder...boy oh boy...if I can't stay on the dang line (his phrase "Keep the line on your...&*^"), how am I even gonna fly this thing. Turns out you really need to use differential braking on these, which is accomplished pushing up on your toes.

After getting a hang of it somewhat, we arrived and held short of runway 20. Jeff said "ok, let's do a runup". So I held the brakes and mid-throttled the engine...WOW this puppy has some torque! With T/O flaps, magnetos checked, 1200 squak, and we were ready. He threw me another surprise by saying, ok, call it in! WHA? Me, doing the radio work already too? Ah goes "Pitt Greenville Traffic, 6-3-6-Delta-Charlie, ready to depart runway 20" "Excellent!" Jeff said approvingly. This was it, I throttled up and turned onto runway 20. This was totally wild! Manuevering yourself onto that runway for the first never forget that moment.

I was keeping on the lead line better and stopped at the numbers. I applied the brakes..."Oh you want to do a full power start eh?" Jeff exclaimed. Uh WHA? I was stopping because I thought he was doing the first take-off...ah I guess not! I'm nervous like all hell at this point, thinking I"m way over my head. I gradually apply full throttle, let go of the brake...and we're off heading down the runway. It's harder for me to see in this airplane, so I'm getting off the center line...rudder corrected... Jeff called to me to rotate (Pilot term for pitch the airplane up to begin taking off).

In no time, there I was, if it was a dream. I successfully commanded the plane into the air, at a calm climbout. Looking straight ahead, furiously scanning gauges and checking the real horizon. The sun was beginning to set.. euphoria set in. No time, however, to totally calm myself before more instructions head my way. "Give me a left bank of 20°"...I move the stick left, and give some left rudder to stay coordinated. I found left turns at full power hardly require any left rudder, just let off of the right rudder a little. OMG I'm really flying this thing...another turn to the right... Now I'm looking at the scenery more and I see the ECU Stadium from 1200ft. The lights are up and their practicing. This was blowing my mind.

Soon I'm working on climbing and decending, working the throttle, and I realize quickly...little planes can produce some decent Gs. It was like a roller coaster, pushing me into my seat when I reached to the sky, and causing moments of butt lifting on decents. This was some wild, but smooth, ride. We do a steep 45° left turn, and the glory of Greenville, NC looms calmly below. I recognize the hospital, and then, my neighborhood. As I look down, I wonder if my daughter Maggie & wife Meg have any clue I'm right above them at 2500 feet.

We turn around and head back to the airport. At this point he's stopped giving basic instructions, and just saying "go ____" So I head his commands and head to mid-field. I'm already much more comfortable with the plane now, but the rudder coordination is still tuff. We turn left, heading into a route parallel to the runway, called the "downwind leg". Jeff again asks me to make the announcment... "Pitt Greenville Traffic 636DC on downwind for runway 20" "Not Bad, but always mention if your in a left or right pattern." Now we're in what we call the landing "pattern," but I've also seen the term "circuit". Same thing you've seen on every airline flight.

By now, you'd think I'd noted the pattern of Jeff's sink or swim methodology...but my mind said "There's no way he's gonna make you land this thing". Survey says "EEEEH". I turn left into base, and note I'm right on the proper glide scope, and mention so. Jeff at this point starts inquiring..."Your doing way to well to be your first flight! Are you pullin' my leg?" You sure you've never flown before?". To which I shrug "nope, just in Microsoft Flight Simulator." "Ahh.." he replies.

So here we are, on the final approach, and this time Jeff radio's it in. Then he starts saying, "Ok, we're not gonna land, just glide down close to the runway"...."We're not gonna land"...he keeps repeating that. He helps me setting up the rudder, keeping it aligned with the runway centerline. Power comes out a little... I round out and begin pulling up to glide over...which he tells me to keep doing. In my mind, from sim, I know at this point....we're A)Slowing down, B) In a decent...we're freakin''s inevitable. Seconds later...I've made my first assisted landing ever, and it was fairly smooth. No bouncing...nice and soft. We ramp up the throttle and take off again...I'm late on the rotate, but hey, there's plenty of runway, left.

The third go round, suddenly, *brrrrrr*...the ending goes to idle.... "Welcome to engine cut out simulation" Jeff said. OMFG, your absolutely, got to be, kidding me. First flight, and he throws that at me? I immediately look left at the airport 1/2mile away. Looks like runway 26 is out best shot he says. We make it there with a heavy decent that really lifting my arse up from the seat. Still we make it, i guide it in, and touchdown...We did a few more touch-n-go's and the next one I came in too hot and heavy, and wee...can you say "bounce plane, bounce". Nothing huge, but enough for me to be embarrassed...yet Jeff reassured me it was normal, and surprised I hadn't done it sooner.

An hour had passed, and I taxied back to the aviation tie-down area. Once again the rudders challenged me...I'm really gonna have to work on that. Never the less, Jeff said he still couldn't believe it was my first time flying. He said I did extremly well, and that he pushed me because he could see I could handle it. *GRRRR* We go out, tied it down, locked it up and headed out. 1 hour down 12-14 more to go before I solo. Only two thoughts came to my mind... Holy crud, I actually flew a plane! Shortly followed by "I better pass my 3rd class medical!!"