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.