Sunday, April 8, 2018

Friends don't Let Friends Drive

A friend of mine, Steve, was taking his commercial check ride today. I was thinking about him. Wondering how it was going. Around 2PM I got a phone call. It was Steve.

Steve asking 1455X, "Why!?!?!"
His voice had a smile in it when he said hello. I was hoping it would be good news. Then he said, "Guess what I did on my check ride?" I said I hope he passed. He said, no.. he didn't pass. He was taxiing out to start the flight portion of the check ride with the examiner and the plane was backfiring. At first he tried to believe it didn't happen. But the backfiring continued. He reluctantly discontinued his ride. Which was good because he would have failed if he took off with the plane in that condition!

Steve was calling me to see if maybe I could come pick him up from Salinas Airport, only 40 NM away from Reid-Hillview. I was happy for an excuse to do something on a weekend day. Luckily a plane was available so I flew down to get him in a Cessna 172. It's been a long time since I flew left seat in a 172 but it was fun.

We returned from Salinas and shared a drink, chatting about his day and other random stuff. While chatting I sent this picture to our mutual CFI. The CFI replied that his wife said I was really nice to fly down and get Steve. Then he, the CFI, told his wife, "Friends don't let friends drive!".

Ain't that the truth?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reflections on a Picnic Table at 1500 Hours

The picnic table in front of Magnum Aviation, E16 Airport
This rather unremarkable picnic table is tightly associated with the most challenging moment in my aviation life so far, honestly one of the most challenging in my life. While I’ve been to/from that airport countless times since, I’ve not seen this table since that fateful day. 

When I last saw this table I had roughly 480 hours in my log book and was working on my commercial certificate. I was sitting at this table as the sun went down, ego shattered, devastated, embarrassed and shaken to the core. Working to pull myself together to fly myself home from what I saw then as a huge defeat. 

Fast forward to today. 4 years and 5 weeks after that date. I have 1501.8 hours in my log book and that Commercial Single Engine Land certificate. I’m Certified by the FAA as a Flight Instructor, Instrument Flight Instructor, Advanced and Instrument Ground Instructor. I’ve successfully taught people how to fly planes from scratch, commercial pilot candidates and now pilots working on their instrument ratings. I found out today one of my early students who I taught through first solo passed his check ride (woohoo!).  

I’m giving back to my aviation community and working on my multi engine commercial certificate now. Hours, certificates and ratings are all cool but what’s more important is this: I believe I am a competent and safe pilot, the pilots I sign off will also be competent and safe, and, maybe, in 20 years I’ll still have a little airport to fly in and out of that’s local to me. 

Something inspired me to snap a picture of this table today and in doing so I recalled how devastated I was that day. That made me appreciate where and who I am today. I’ve come a long, long, way from this picnic table. Am I where I want to be? Who knows…. it’s the journey that’s important.. not the destination. I don’t think I’ll ever be where I want to be. But I can be pleased with the progress I’ve made and what I hope is a positive impact on the world around me. 

Enjoy the journey folks... you never know when it will end. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Best Job So Far - CFI

It's been a while since my last post. Its been a busy time since June. Busy instructing, busy dealing with life... but I wanted to share a little bit of life as a CFI.

New Commercial Pilot

New Commercial Pilot Haoyuan Wen (right)
DPE Scott Rohlfing (left)
The first person I presented for a commercial certificate passed his check ride at the end of September. Hao is a great story. He came to me for his complex endorsement and then commercial certificate. I hadn't trained him before but I knew him from around the club.

He did his private training with another CFI that was trained by the same CFI that trained me. He comes from the same aviation "lineage" as I. As a result I found him very easy to fly with and train. On top of that he has a great personality and was just fun to be around. That's always a bonus when you're going to have to spend many, many hours in a close, hot, noisy environment like the cockpit of a small aircraft.

His training was relatively quick. Not as quick as we wanted it to be, it never is, but we met his main goal which was to finish his commercial before his father came home from China. When I put him up for his ride I knew he had the knowledge he needed and could apply it. In spite of the fact that he'd occasionally come up with a new word that didn't exist - words like "decompressurization" passed through his lips the day before his check ride. I knew he could fly very well and do all of the required maneuvers. However, as always, you never know how its going to go.

He finished the oral portion of the ride quickly... in a little over two hours. That was a good sign. Then I was waiting for him to finish the flight portion. That seemed to be taking longer. So I logged into FlightAware to see where the plane was. They were still flying at 3:30 and it looked like they hadn't done any take offs or landings. I went to the terminal building to stay cool and wait. Then I heard them call in to land. That got me worried. They were coming back before doing the take offs and landings! Oh no! I watched Hao land the plane in what looked like a perfect soft field landing. I willed them to taxi back to take off again but instead they taxied back to the flying club. I walked slowly back to the flight club, trying to guess where the flight went wrong and preparing myself to hear the debrief of my candidate and find out what happened. Maybe I'd be able to do a quick "retraining" and sign him off for a retest that day?

I walked into the club and the examiner came in to the building, talking to another pilot he'd trained. I let them finish their conversation and followed him into his office. Then he smiled and shook his head. "Hao did good. He did really good!" I waited for the "but...." There was no "but". Hao passed on his first attempt! I told him how I was watching on FlightAware and was sure something went wrong. He told me to never do that. It wouldn't show you everything that happened so it just makes the waiting worse. I wish I knew that one before hand!

So my first Commercial Pilot Candidate passed on his first attempt. He said when he did his power off 180 the whole time he was just trying to make sure he wouldn't disappoint me and once he landed that maneuver he knew he was good. He made me very proud!

New Mistakes

I was flying with one of my favorite students today. He owns a very nice Cherokee 180C. He'd been through a host of flight instructors and we'd been working together on and off for almost a year between aircraft maintenance spells. He's on the verge of soloing in his plane and today he told me he wanted to prove that his excellent performance the last time we flew together wasn't a fluke. The last time we flew together he did some great landings unassisted with word or deed from me.

Sadly, as often happens, when we want to prove something, we try too hard and have a bad day instead. Today was not his day. In his focus on being great, he came up with a new mistake. One one of his landings I noticed we were barely on the ground when his feet jumped up to the brakes. That was unusual but the plane was safe. On the next time around his feet jumped up to the brakes before we touched down! That was bad. Fortunately he landed straight and he didn't put a ton of pressure on the brakes (which would have blown his tires quickly). I explained to him that wasn't a good idea. And I'm sure he'll not do that again.

His patterns and checklist usage were getting worse, not better. I offered him the decision to continue or stop. He chose to stop. When we were done flying I shared with him how I spent 20 hours trying to be perfect when my CFI told me I was almost ready to solo and I suggested he don't make the same mistake. I think he "gets it". But I also know how hard it can be to accomplish that. In any case, I am sure he will solo soon. He has the ability.

Beautiful Landings

Looking out the window of my apartment
at the smoke from the fires up north.
Northern California is having the worse fires in history with the worst air quality ever recorded in the Bay Area from the smoke. Visibility has been very poor. So poor that I couldn't send my student pilot on his first solo cross country.

Instead we flew together and I had him practice lost procedures and VOR triangulation while under the hood. Then I introduced him to an old method to estimate time and distance to a VOR.

We headed back in to land. I got to observe as he flew a beautiful straight in approach. He did all of his checklists, radio work, and managed the approach perfectly. He added flaps one notch at a time in response to his glide slope, then he put in a forward slip to get down. He took out the slip at just the right time and touched down, light on the mains, on the centerline in plenty of time to get off on Charlie. It was wonderful to behold. Wow! I asked him after we cleared the runway if he always landed like that. His grin was huge and priceless.

These moments, a successful check ride, a beautiful landing, or even a tough day when I can offer some advice. These are the moments that make being a CFI the best "job" I've had so far!