Tuesday, December 28, 2010

RHV to TVL and Back

Two days after Christmas we (my pilot husband, daughter and I) flew to South Lake Tahoe Airport for a quick bite to eat. The typical "hundred dollar hamburger" flight. This is probably one of the most common uses of non commercial general aviation, traveling to beautiful places because just because you can then grabbing a bite to eat. A friend of mine says I have an amazing life. When I have days like this... I believe he is right. I really am fortunate to be able to fly to Tahoe, to be able to learn how to fly myself. So many things I'm grateful for this year.

Anyway.... it was a great trip. I was prepared to spend the day pouting because I wasn't flying (not soloing limits your flying to when the weather gods and you CFI and your schedule all agree, which isn't that often in the winter). Jeff suggested we go to Lake Tahoe, he checked the weather there and it looked clear and cool without any winds. And our friend 88HQ was available for rent!

Clear is good because Jeff isn't instrument rated, limiting us to VFR conditions, not to mention, clear air in the mountains is just beautiful. Cool is good because that means density altitude is actually lower than field elevation which helps with performance in the mountains. No winds is good because that means a smoother ride and less hazardous conditions for the trip (mountain flying is typically turbulent with plenty of opportunities for problems). The 182 being available was also good. More power, more performance and that's the plane he got his mountain flying training in... not to mention, it had been a while since Jeff flew her so, it was good to get back in practice with this type of plane.

There was a broken to overcast cloud layer in our valley and in the Sacramento valley but the sierras were 100% clear. All we had to worry about was getting out of our home airport while maintaining minimums. We had a 50/50 chance of clear air on the return, good enough... if we couldn't land at our home airport we'd find somewhere else to go for a night.

Here is one picture of the mountains on the way in to Tahoe.

Of course, no flight in 88HQ is completely without problems. Jeff did the pre-flight, the club mechanic asked us to keep an eye on the GPS unit in the plane because they just replaced it to troubleshoot an intermittent problem of the GPS loosing signal (like a ground based GPS does sometimes when you go under a lot of trees). We had our own GPS so we weren't worried about what the on board one would do so we said we'd watch it. Taxi, run up, everything looks good, oil pressure and temp up, etc. Take off...

I smell oil... the smell sticks in the back of my throat. It doesn't go away. "I smell oil." I tell Jeff. He starts checking gauges and sees something hitting the front windscreen. Oil. He knows exactly what happened. Its easy on this particular plane to not close the oil cap all the way when checking the oil. It happens all the time. A quick call to the tower and we're cleared for landing back at home for a quick stop to fix the oil cap. We learned that transient parking isn't where we thought it was... then called the tower on the ground frequency... oh well. The rest of the trip there was a whiff of oil in the cabin but it wasn't horrible. Just in case you were wondering... the problem with the GPS seems to be in the wiring or antenna.

It was a beautiful trip... we ate at a restaurant right at the South Lake Tahoe airport. Tahoe reflected the mountains all around. The food was good, the football game on TV was fun to watch too. My daughter just loved it there. I did too. Maybe I can retire there in 20 or 30 years :) While we were there we got to watch a helicopter go through its checklist and then "taxi" down the taxiway to a helicopter parking garage. It was fun watching a helicopter fly about 10 ft off the ground along a taxiway carved out of 4 ft of snow. We took off close to sunset, it was a great time to fly. The air over the South Bay was clear when we returned. We could see the bay and the lights around it from 30 miles away it seemed.

This shot is of the sunset on the return trip. We are high above the sierras headed west back to the Bay Area.

This shot looks north of our position headed west. There are cool low clouds forming in the mountain valleys.

Many more pictures here. Including pictures of Dandy Lion.. my niece's little stuffed animal that is on a voyage around the country.

In the end, rambling and pictures aside... this trip was a perfect demonstration of the adventure and amazing things you get to see and do as a GA pilot (or family / friend of said pilot). It is worth the effort to get that license... absolutely worth it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Its time...

I have to put a stake in the ground; with myself. Do I believe I am PIC material? Do I have the capability to learn what I need to learn? Can I learn how to fly the airplane safely? Do I have the discipline to do it safely? Am I willing to do what it takes? No sloppiness, no sitting back and letting stuff happen, no half measures. Do it "whole assed" not "half assed". Do I deserve the joy of flight?

It is odd that I would be asking these questions now... 24+ hours and $4000 into my flight training. If I really doubted I belonged in the air (safely in an airplane and as PIC), I wouldn't have started. So why am I asking? I think its because I'm scared.

I guess it starts a month ago (only two lessons ago). I was making dangerous mistakes. And I learned a bit about my personality too... surprising and scary too. Dangerous mistakes and a habit of letting things happen, instead of taking charge of them and fixing them immediately. Those two combined can be a deadly combination. Most recent lesson 3 weeks later. More dangerous mistakes.

Make a little mistake driving, be a little sloppy, usually no one dies. Make a little mistake in the pattern, it could immediately kill you, or, if you let that mistake go w/o fixing and make more mistakes later on, that could kill you too. The range for mistakes in aviation seems to go from embarrassment to death with various levels of damage to ego, property, limb and life in between.

I'm not pretending I have any hope of being perfect but I need to make many less mistakes to be able to fly safely and when I do make them, fix them quickly and correctly. I'm rambling. *sigh*

Back to the decision at hand. Do I give up? or do I go forward? Learn from the mistakes, stop repeating them (maybe by consciously recognizing the seriousness of the consequences if certain mistakes are made?) and eventually learn and consistently demonstrate the skills and attitudes needed to be a safe pilot. Do what it takes to be a safe pilot. Earn the right to fly myself to where I want to go and eventually take other people up above to show them how incredible the world can be?

Yeah.... I go forward. It won't be easy. It will be harder until I instill in myself the right habits and processes and procedures and methods to be a safe pilot. But I have everything going for me. A supportive husband who has been through this process, a supportive daughter who thinks flying is "OK", friends that are excited for me... the finances available for me to afford however long it takes, and, I think most important, a CFI that will make me do it right and won't sign me off for anything I'm not safe to do.

I suppose the fact that "going forward" right now means flying the traffic pattern over and over and over and over, lesson after lesson, until I get it right is what I have to do. And the other thing I have to do is not just let things happen and be totally conscious of what I'm doing.

Let's go!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This could be the most important day....

So ... tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow I submit my person and my paperwork to the FAA in the person of an Airman Medical Examiner in order for him to determine if I am medically fit enough to fly the friendly skies. If he don't like what I have to say this bird may be grounded for life. If he isn't sure my paperwork goes to Oklahoma for the FAA there to decide what to do with me. If he does, I have my 3rd Class Medical which means I have a ticket to fly solo when my CFI says I am safe to do so. I can then proceed through the training to get my PPL and even IFR certification. Long term my goal is commercial pilot (2nd class medical) but I won't need that for a long time.

This could be the most important day of my flying career, especially if its the day that ends my flying career. I have a good likelihood of not having any issues I think. I desperately hope. I can't think of any activity that brings me more joy than flying. I absolutely love running, but I've been a runner for 5 years now and only after I started flying have I started thinking and feeling the concept of Joy.

So, dear Imaginary Readers, wish me luck. Please.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Which hand do you drive with?

or do you use both as you should? one hand at 10 o'clock and one at 2 o'clock, keeping your hands carefully in those positions as you turn or go straight.

I'm finding my driving changing the more I fly. For one thing I've noticed I drive one handed more often. I don't know if my CFI would call this a Negative Transference of Skills (as he says those words I can hear him saying the capital letters) or a Positive Transference of Skills (also with capital letters).

In a 172 (and probably other planes too) you use one hand on the yolk and the other on other stuff (throttle, flaps, trim wheel, carb heat, etc.) or as he likes to say "Left hand air speed, right hand altitude". But I've flown from both seats. In the Pinch Hitter training, I sat in the right seat because that's where the non-pilot sits. When in the right seat, right hand is air speed and left hand is altitude.

This is where it got weird this weekend. I was driving down to my run Saturday morning nice and slow. It was wet so I wasn't in a hurry at all. I was thinking about flying as I drove. I realized after a while I was steering with my left hand, my right hand was resting calmly on my thigh. Later that same day, I was thinking about flying with my husband (which means me in the right seat), I realized I was driving with my right hand, left resting calmly on my thigh.

I've noticed my husband drives left handed almost all the time. His right hand is rarely on the wheel, its usually on the e-brake. The other thing he does, which I thought was amusing, is he parks his car when waiting to pick up or drop off someone like he's pulled up in the run-up area and waiting for clearance to depart.


Better than Google Earth

Did you see Google Earth now has 3D trees? Its pretty cool... and, as the author points out in this article, we expect to see 3D dirt highlighted in a future release.

Gotta tell ya though, flying beats Google Earth for an awesome way to see the world in real 3D. Flying gives you 3D trees, plants, terrain, buildings and clouds. Plus smell-o-vision (one plane I fly gives you the lovely smell of avgas every time you turn right when taxiing), and the feeling of the air. Glass smooth air like yesterday, mostly smooth air like Thanksgiving, or bouncy as all heck like my last flight lesson.

If you want to see the world in real live 3D, with living color and variable lighting and the feel of the air beneath your wings, and watch the kids on the dirt track riding their bikes on the track, hop in a small plane. Preferably a high wing one so you have a good view... and take in a whole new way to see the world in your back yard that you never saw before. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You know you're a pilot when...

You worry more if your medicine is FAA approved than FDA approved.

It seems perfectly reasonable to drive an hour to an airport to fly 40 minutes to a restaurant to have a "quick bite to eat", and then fly back to the airport and drive back home for a total cost of 3.5 hours of total travel time and $200 in airplane rental fees. When it would have taken only 1.5 hours total travel time and no airplane rental fees to drive to the same restaurant directly from your house.

You are very careful to not drive drunk because a DUI arrest will make renewing your medical problematic.

.. more to come ..

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Perfect Flight

The joy of life consists in the exercise of one's energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal.
My CFI and I had an interesting conversation yesterday. I said I was trying to master the traffic pattern. He said no one masters flying.

"What about 'No such thing as good enough'?", I asked.

He said, "That's right, but perfect flight doesn't happen. I've tried. You have to strive for perfect, but you won't get there."

I'm pretty sure most happy student pilots think their CFI must be the best pilot ever, or close to it. I'm guilty of that failing. Knowing my CFI and his fanatical focus on perfect, I tend to believe him, both that he's tried and that its not possible to be 100% perfect.

However, that doesn't mean it isn't important to try my best to be perfect. My hubby recounted another conversation with this CFI. In this conversation he pointed out how, in some jobs, being right 9 times out of 10 is OK. When flying you have to land 10 times out of 10. That doesn't mean don't go around, but it does mean when you DO land, you'd better do it right.

I am reminded of a picture my parents had on the wall when I was growing up. It was a photo of a hand reaching for the sun. The quote was:

A man's reach should exceed his grasp.

Indeed it should.

Lust of Result

Students will understand how in meditation the mind which attaches itself to hope of success is just as bound as if it were to attach itself to some base material idea. It is a bond and the aim is freedom.
Friday's flight was frustrating. The breakthrough I had Wednesday did manifest itself... as far as not chasing the air speed indicator was concerned. So the next problem was trim. Again. *$#&(&@! Nothing I did seemed right. And I did something very dangerous too. It was instinctive and my CFI corrected it before it was very bad. But that was scary. I botched a landing, bounced actually. I did the typical student thing, unconsciously pushed the nose forward to "get back to the ground". He grabbed the controls, brought the plane safely to the ground and spent the taxi back explaining how dangerous that was. Ultimately, Friday was the most frustrating flight I've flown. Coming in on short final, 20 degrees of flaps, "trim" he said. I trimmed, the wrong way. *grrrrr* At one point my CFI pointed out "this should be fun" as we went around AGAIN in the pattern, 9 times in 1.1 hours. I wanted to smack him.

After the flight, debrief. My CFI is very good, he makes sure to point out the good as well as the bad. I asked what I should think about or study while I'm out of town for my next trip. He said, "nothing". He said I should take a vacation from focusing on this stuff. And, of course, he's right.
For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.
I think I got myself into a mental trap this week. Before I left for my long trip, my CFI said I could possibly solo in 5 hours or so, based on my progress so far. I think I let that go to my head. All of the sudden I wanted to "master" the pattern, I got focused on a goal. Target fixation. Getthereitis. Whatever you want to call it. Before then I was simply really enjoying learning and flying. Add to that my "breakthrough" Wednesday and I was doomed.

A similar thing happened to me in my running a year ago. I had been training for 3 years, then had some set backs, life, medical issues, family matters and work made it impossible for me to maintain a regular running schedule. I was watching my friends who were much slower than me the year before disappear in the distance ahead of me on our runs. I got more and more frustrated. I wanted to get faster and all I did was get slower. Finally, I gave up the "get faster" goal and focused on having fun. I left my watch at home and only looked at my Garmin when I wanted to know how far I ran (not how fast). I started a diet with a long term goal. I also started flying lessons (which I never would have done before because it does take away from my running time). I lost 30 lbs and went to run my first marathon of the year and ended up running my fastest time ever. My running now has much less pressure and much more fun. Looks like this is what I need to do for my flying.

Friday, after the flight, my husband and I were able to laugh about my struggles (my hubby has about 150 hours flying and learned under the same CFI). Even with the difficulties, I wanted nothing more than to get back up in the air ASAP.. just to fly.

Today I feel freer. I still have the intense desire to fly, but I know my next flight will be more fun. I will forget about soloing, that will come. (Though I better get my medical soon.) I will make a conscious effort to truly be present in the joy of flight. Focus on joy won't be too hard when I'm not worrying about a goal. The goal will come, I just have to let it. Not force it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whack! A break through?

More pattern work. I was gone for three weeks, didn't fly (or drive) a day. I'm back for a week.. flew Monday, flew today... scheduled to fly Friday. And the task of the week is pattern work and more pattern work. I wasn't horribly rusty. But I've had my challenges this week so far.

Monday's problem the way I kept "looking ahead in the turns". This is a great thing to do when racing cars. This is NOT a good thing to do when flying an airplane. Yes, you want to look before you turn to know what you are turning to. Yes, you must look before you turn to make sure you don't turn into the path another aircraft. But look ahead as you go THROUGH the turn? No no no! If you are looking ahead in a turn, you aren't looking at your pitch and then your airspeed goes to hell. Its all about airspeed (and therefore its all about pitch). But I felt like I had the trim worked out better and trim was a problem for me before I went out of town.

Today's problem? Well, I fixed the looking ahead problem, but this time I was struggling with trim. And when I wasn't struggling with trim (pitch, power THEN trim damnit!) I was struggling with pitch. I was struggling with pitch because I was chasing the damn airspeed indicator. I would pitch for what I thought was right, look at the airspeed indicator, it wouldn't show what I needed so I'd make a big adjustment and then over adjust up and down and up again. My CFI finally got so sick of it he put a sticky note over the airspeed indicator and had me fly the pattern without it. All of the sudden I was able to nail the pitch all the way around.

Other problems today, leveling off at pattern altitude .. I kept overshooting by 100 ft, but I dialed that back in eventually. Crosswind leg to long or too short, this is because we were flying a left pattern instead of right pattern and the right pattern I'm used to has a noise abatement turn before the crosswind.. not doing that noise abatement turn really changes the timing. But I dialed that back in. Turning too late onto base, still working on that, it was rather windy I think that was impacting me. Turning too steep from base to final (we do power off approaches, so its really important to preserve airspeed).

But.. a break through. The last loop through the pattern I finally understood. If I put the nose at the pitch I know is right.... I KNOW the right pitch. I've proven it.... The airspeed indicator will eventually read the right thing. It has to chase me, not the other way around. So Friday, I will put that new understanding to practice.

On another note.. it was windy and gusty today. The plane got bounced around more than a little, and it didn't bother me one bit. What a huge change from earlier this year when I was terrified of even small turbulence. Another little tidbit. I flew the whole time with the door unlocked. I didn't realize it until I landed and went to open the door at the end of the flight. That's is a bit scary to me. I also, for the first time, tried to go through a checklist from memory.. not on purpose, but I found I didn't use the checklist 100%, and it showed. I missed a couple different steps on different checklists. I need to make sure to really GO THROUGH THE CHECKLIST. Every checklist.

Today was a really good learning day, as frustrating as it was. Hopefully Friday will show the fruits of that learning.

-AB out

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Aviation, An International Language

I'm sitting in the Heathrow Terminal 1 waiting area. This is where they put everyone to shop and wait for the gate for their international flight to be announced. I purchased my usual batch of music from the HMV store and did a little work, now I'm blogging.

I wanted to record one observation from my multicountry, multicultural travel these last three weeks. I've been in Munich, Germany, London, England (twice), and Athens, Greece. In Munich the language is German, of course, in Athens, Greek. Every sign and every symbol is different from my usual English... even in London the signs and language are slightly different... the Queen's English is different from American English, certain terms are different and the money is different too. One thing, however, is common to all three. That's the language and signage of aviation.

When I got on the plane in Munich, after a week of listening to German and trying to figure out what druken means when I get to a door (that means push - I remember that because druken looks like drunken and a drunken man will fall - or push - forward) I looked out the window of the plane as we taxi to the runway. And there, as plain as day, are the standard runway and taxiway lettering, numbering, colors and words. It felt like coming home. the lighting was the standard lighting, everything made sense to me. I finally knew the language!

In Athens the feeling of familiarity and being "home" when I saw those aviation markings arriving and departing that airport was moving. In Greece, the language is very different and the letters are very different, but almost not different at all. It was more bizarre and it became somewhat disturbing to me to look at regular characters interspersed with deltas, omegas and sigmas than it was to see umlauts and those weird "B" shaped letters in German. I would almost rather be surrounded by characters that have no relation to my own language, Japanese doesn't disturb me that much.

After three weeks out of the country, the comfort of those familiar words, markings and colors give me the grounding I need.. that feeling of being home, even over 5000 miles away from home, put me at an airport where I can see the tarmac and I do feel at home. That's a really nice thing.

Its almost time for them to open the gate for my flight back to San Francisco. I expect I will get extra special security screening this time. I have SSSSS on my boarding pass, when I went through the check-in line my name was highlighted in red. I also just spent a week in Athens, there have been many attempted bombings in Athens the last week, they are still going on now it appears. I would search me giving where I was. I will get to the gate as early as possible so they can search me at their leisure.Such is the cost of travel in the post 9/11 world. I hope this sort of security actually stops attacks.

See you all on the flip side.... Monday morning (assuming good weather) I get to fly! My first flight lesson in over three weeks. I wonder how much I've lost during that time...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do birds fly IMC?

Here in London I've been watching ravens at the Tower of London and seagulls over the Thames. And I wonder as the famous London rain and clouds roll in... Do birds fly IMC? Do they ever run into each other in a cloud? If not, how do the migrate south when the weather turns bad? Do they just wait for the cloud deck to lift?

Just wondering...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Too True

"Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been, and there you long to return." - Leonardo da Vinci

Sunset returning from Shelter Cove, November 2009

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weird Aviaton News... fresh from Munich

I saw this headline on a couple news papers today, the picture of a Cessna on the front page of a German newspaper caught my eye... my co-worker explained a the story was a person chartered a private plane for a tour, then pulled a knife on the pilot and demanded that he crash the plane... the pilot refused :) the person ended up jumping out of the plane and dying of course.

Here's the actual article for those of you that read German. Roughly translated via Google... the strange translated English makes the situation seem even more surreal.

Man Plunges to Fight in Small Plane

A 26-year-old in Munich, has rented a plane and pilot to get it to crash. When this failed, he plunged to his death.

Dramatic fight to the death: A 26-year-old has tried to Bavaria to bring a small plane to crash and then thrown out of the machine to death. As the police in Ingolstadt, the man from the Augsburg area rented the machine, including a pilot for a flight to Munich.

In 500 meters above the village churches in the mountain district of Dachau, he had the 42-year-old pilot then attacked with a knife and injured on the chin - apparently in order to crash the plane. As the pilot, however, successfully fought back, the 26-year-old fell from the flying machine on the roof of a house and died. Police found a suicide note in the apartment of the man.

The injured pilot of the single-engine Cessna landed after the incident in Augsburg.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

SFO to MUC and what really matters

Flew today/yesterday from San Francisco to Munich. The first of my five leg combination business and personal trip to Europe.
  • Leg 1: San Francisco to Munich and spend a week in Munich for work.
  • Leg 2: Munich to London to meet one US friend and spend time with some UK friends for a couple days
  • Leg 3: London to Athens to meet up with more US friends, run the Athens Marathon, then see the sites for a couple days
  • Leg 4: Athens to London - alone, stay the night at an airport hotel
  • Leg 5: London to SFO return home (sort of, won't actually be home until 4 nights later because we have another racing weekend)
So, what does really matter? aside from my habit of making what should be a short story long... I'm tired. Deal.

For some strange reason I do not sleep on commercial flights with the exception of my fantastic ability to doze off in the last 10 minutes of the flight if I don't have a window seat. 10 minutes of sleep doesn't make a 11 hour flight very restful. I wanted to read on the flight to make things less boring so I downloaded a couple books... the Pilot/Controllers Glossary, Highest Duty, Better and a couple other free games (I didn't know Kindle could play games). I keep trying to find good books about flying or about people that fly.. on that note avoid "True Pilot Stories" the stories would be OK if the writing was better... its not. I digress.

So, I watched a movie (Robin Hood - the Russell Crowe remake, it was OK) and after the movie was over, I tried to sleep. Failing sleep I started reading Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Captain "Sully" Sullenberger. He was the PIC on the flight successfully ditched in the Hudson in Jan 2009. Very enjoyable book... I was able to finish it very quickly on the flight. Seems appropriate to read that book while on a long flight :)

To be honest, from the title I was somewhat expecting to see a very self righteous book. Instead, I found a person I could really relate to in many ways. I'm not a pilot yet and most likely will never be an airline pilot, but I could relate to some of his life and his dedication and joy in flying, to understanding the things that went wrong in accident flights, his drive to make a difference somehow. Those things remind me of me. His description of flying at 35000 feet and the way the world looks from up there, the northern lights, etc.... yeah, that makes me wonder if there's a way for me to get all the way up there, in a cockpit! My CFI tells me, the view out of little window is VERY different from the view out the front of the plane. I'd like to see that view some day. But I'm 40.. its most likely too late for me.

There were several really neat quotes from the book the one that made me laugh out loud wasn't even about flying. He was caught feeding small pebbles to his little sister by his mom when he was 5 and his sister was 3...

Maybe I did know better, but at that age, feeding gravel to your kid sister doesn't necessarily seem like a bad way to pass the time.

Some other ones from the book, not all are from Sully himself.

Either you manage the situation, or the situation will manage you. - Captain Haynes

This one is his.. We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we'll be judged on.

Integrity means doing the right thing, even when it's not convenient.

This is my favorite.. I hope to have a job like this some day, yeah.. all of us deserve a job like that. What's the best job in the world? It's the job you would do even if you didn't have to.

Well...not much to report about the flight itself. It was a Lufthansa flight on a newer Airbus A340-600, one of the more unique features was a large number of lavatories in a downstairs area of economy class. That was sorta nice. The service was good

The flight was very smooth with some small bumps here and there but we didn't have to put on our seat belts. At times the plane would seem to sway side to side (left to right) like someone was playing round with the rudder or maybe a strong crosswind kicked up. Nothing else that exiting flight wise. I am way too tired... going to try to sleep.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Another runner / pilot

This time its a Highschool Cross Country Star who just got his pilots license. I seem to have a lot in common with high school running pilots... a lot except speed, youth and they have their licenses already :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Useful / Interesting Reading

Just some interesting reading/resources I don't want to have to look for:

  • Cool article about another runner (yes, 22 years younger than me and MUCH faster) who "just wants to be up there".
  • Guide to establishing Personal Minimums FAA article
  • Let's Go Flying! Blog
  • AOPA Flight Training Blog
  • 35 Airports in One Day - my CFI did this... pretty cool, looks like the ultimate road trip, but in the air. Something I would do!

Want to find other more off the beaten path flight stuff.. blah. I want to fly tomorrow morning, can't. Not a pilot yet.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


So... flying is like Wack-a-Mole. You get one thing right and something else pops up. Last nights lesson was a Wack-a-Mole lesson. The mole is pitch, which is about the most important thing. The contributing factor was how I was holding the controls, which was impacted by trim.

In May, when I was doing pinch hitter training, I was holding the controls so tight my hands hurt at the end of the session. (I remeber the CFI telling me that left hand is for airspeed - pitch, right hand for altitude - throttle and flaps - and thinking "Yeah, right you'll get me to use only one hand on this thing.") Slowly I finally got to the point where I was able to relax enough to hold the controls only with my left hand. Apparently my definition of "relaxed" isn't the same as his definition of "relaxed". :)

Last lesson he kept mentioning how strong I am... no, not "you strong like ox" strong... as in he had to really work to correct the bad inputs I was doing. So while I had "relaxed" enough to do things with one hand, I still have a very tight grip on the controls and instead of using trim to set the correct pitch, I was just using strength to do it. Holding the controls so tight does one thing that is not so good (probably several things). It means when I turn my head, and I have this "death grip" on the controls, I change my input on the control unconsciously. Which is a bad thing, it sends the pitch of the plane to hell and then I'm not maintaining airspeed, which is critical in the pattern. I am getting a good (no such thing as good enough) picture of what each critical pitch is, but I'm blowing it by holding on to the controls too tight.

The way I fly the plane, I have to put alot of force into the controls to keep the right pitch because I don't trim well (or at all if I can get away with it). If there's one thing I've just not been able to "get" its trim. *sigh* Flight after flight, he says, "trim?" or "are you going to trim?" and I say "I'm fine." because I have the strength to hold the plane where I want it and I don't want to mess with trim :( Well, its time to mess with trim. But I don't want to.

"Which way should you trim right now?", "I have no f'ing idea!" I say. So we land, taxi and I get the trim lecture. I listen and understand, but I have so much trouble putting it into action. He came up with an interesting way to force it.

First we try a pattern where I'm not allowed to use more than my thumb and two fingers to hold the control, trim has to be used to help reduce the pressure on the yolk. That sorta worked, except I would manage to get my palm on the controls too.. had to, I wasn't trimming correctly.

Next time around the pattern he figured out a way that I couldn't use my strength to hold the pitch. I had to trim. I found out, with the right trim, I didn't have to hold so much pressure on the yolk (duh) and it made it easier to maintain the correct airspeed. So now all I have to do is dial in the trim. All I have to do.. Until the next mole pops up to be wacked.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Commercial Travel

Commercial travel can be fun too... Especially for the overly enthusiastic student pilot. Today I'm flying from SJC to MDW to MSP. [I'm going to Minneapolis to spend time with my little brother and his family and run the Twin Cities Marathon for the 3rd time... It's one of my favorite races in one oaf the best cities to run in. I'll talk more about the race and the destination in my running blog :).] While waiting for my flight at SJC I listened to norcal approach on liveatc. Conditions were IFR and the pilots and ATC were using IFR terminology I am not so familiar with, something new there.

While taxiing I've got my face glued to the window and I'm looking at all the runway markings, directional signs, etc. I'm trying to imagine the clearances the pilot is getting as he taxis and trying to interpret the signs correctly. It seems that the one taxiway has many different designations depending on what section your on? Will need to look up the chart and verify. We taxi up to 30R and hold, then taxi to 30L for takeoff. Too bad they don't let us use electronics during taxi. I want to be listening in.

Takeoff was smooth of course. It was cool to watch a little bit of a contrail ? develop over the edge of the wing for a moment. The air is a bit humid and cool. Shortly after takeoff we do a steep right turn ... I'm on the right side of the plane so I get to see the city below us and the low clouds. When we pop clear of the clouds the air is crystal clear. We continue the turn until headed south.

Still climbing I start to see familiar landmarks from flying at RHV. Approximately over Mt. Hamilton we turn right again (so the "lick" waypoint I was hearing on norcal approach was probably an IFR waypoint over Mt. Hamilton? Lick Observatory is there.) as we continue to turn I see the reservoir and ridge line I use as references when flying to the practice area. We turn more and I see RHV over our right wingtip (or is that winglet tip?) it was a perfect picture, but my camera was under the seat *way* in front of me so I couldn't get the shot :( my nose is still stuck to the window as I watch my airport from 10,000 ft instead of the usual 1,100 ft. We're headed north again now and *ding* the pilot announces we are at 10,000 ft and approved electronics are Ok.

The other cool note... A short while later I look up from reading and see out the window a deep river valley though the mountains, i think that must be Yosemite. Sure enough, the pilot announces "on the left side is Lake Tahoe and on the right is Yosemite on a beautiful clear day." How cool is that?! How often does someone get to see two of the nation's most incredible natural features out the window at the same time. And this guy probably sees it every day, but he likes it enough to point it out to all of us. I wish I could be in the cockpit with that crew. That is something you only get when flying.

I suppose your wondering why I think the above is cool enough or interesting enough to write about. The excitement comes from having a bit of a feeling of being a part of that world. Being able to guess why the pilot climbed, the turned south, the climbed and turned north again. Why we leveled off briefly at what looked like 5,000 ft the started climbing again between the 1st and 2nd turn. Recognizing specific aviation landmarks from the air. Even having a home airport. Being a part of the world where people routinely see Lake Tahoe and Yosemite out the same window, or a crystal clear morning sun shining on mountain peaks over a soft grey carpet of fog. Those things that make flying a joy. And the more I learn about that world, the closer I am to being able to be there too... as my own PIC.

Statistics and Infatuation

My CFI says maybe 20% of the women he trains actually make it to their PPL. Not from a lack of skill or ability, just from getting distracted by other things. "Chasing the next shiny object", he calls it. He's never had both a husband and wife get their PPL (though I know they are out there and some have followed very similar paths to mine). He's a Gold Seal CFI so it's not like he doesn't know how to train people. I'm doing my best to buck the trend and be the 2nd half of the first husband and wife team he trains to completion.

For myself I have to admit, I have about a 2 year attention for most things, then I get bored. The boredom usually comes from a lack of challenge as I master whatever it is to the point I want to take my expertise.

There are some exceptions to that so far in my life. One is auto racing... But only as a partial exception. I started with drag racing 1yr, then auto cross 1yr, then road racing 4yr... Got to the point of considering a competition license and then switched to working Tow on the rescue crew 4yr, now I do race control in my 3rd year of that. Still involved in the same world, but different aspects.

The other exception - which really is an exception is running. I've been running for 5 years now and it has become a part of who I am. I'm a runner. I run and train all year long. I pick races to run as an excuse to keep running... I need some outside goal to give me the excuse to take the time for myself when I run. "Honey, I have to get up at 5am to run 20 miles because I have a race in 3 weeks." I would do it anyway, but having the goal helps :) i get into less trouble that way. When I don't run I get depressed and grouchy.

So, what does this mean for this awkward bird? Well, according to his statistics I have a 20% chance of actually hitting my initial goal and earning a PPL. I think if flying was just another thing (cycling for instance) I wouldn't stand a chance. However, I don't remember encountering anything else in my life that has the combination of joy and challenge that flying has for me. The hidden world of aviation, the physics of flight, the aspects of flying an airplane that aren't easily articulated in numbers or words, but have to be seen and felt and internalized before you can become a good pilot. The responsibility and control, the PIC is fully responsible and fully in control of all decisions regarding the safety of the flight. Not to mention the thrill of take off... The beauty of the world from above, the aspects of being part of a brotherhood that knows the air almost like birds do. Conquering fear of turbulence and steep turns (heck turning at all scared me my first lesson). I can go on and I'm sure I will again and again :)

Given my current attitude and interest in flying (you can call it obsession) I think attention span will not be an issue for me. He says I have the skill and focus to be a very good pilot too... I love to do two things... 1 learn and 2 be really good at what I learn. This seems to have good potential.

Bottom line after much rambling... I am planning on being an exception to the statistics. I plan to take things further than PPL too. I plan on getting instrument rated and a commercial license. Then retire from this high tech world and make my livelihood my passion, fly people on sight seeing trips, aerial photography, search and rescue... None of which pays well at all.. But at that point it's not about pay, it's all about love. Yeah, I've got a crush on flying... And I have to admit, I like it :) I hope this gets the chance to develop to love... I can't think of a better way for me to go off into the sunset than on wings.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Pattern - Hopefully to be Repeated

[ taken from my running blog... looks like its time to make a flying blog :) ]

What follows is an imperfect description of an imperfect traffic pattern lesson. I'm on the ground, so its OK. I'll be perfect as soon as possible!

Preflight (initial, interior, exterior)... Move seat forward so I can press the rudders fully and reach the controls. Seat belt, harness, strap on knee board, headset plugged in. Close door, leave window open, its HOT. Start Avionics On, radio check, ATIS, altimeter set. Taxi, Pre-Taxi

Reid-Hillview Ground, Cessna five two four niner two at Squadron2 with Pappa. Ready to taxi for closed traffic.

Cessna five two four niner two, taxi to runway three one right via Zulu.

Three one right via Zulu, five two four niner two.

... stay on the center line. No faster than an old white guy can run. An airport old white guy, not a marathoner old white guy. Stay on center line, adjust throttle to 1000 RPM, go around the waiting Cessna, turn and face the tower, straighten the nose gear. Close window. Run-Up, Pre-Takeoff, Takeoff Abort plan ready! Taxi up to hold line.

Reid-Hillview Tower, Cessna five two four niner two ready on the right.

Cessna five two four niner two, cleared for takeoff runway three one right.

Cleared for takeoff runway three one right, five two four niner two.

That part only happened once the rest is repeated for each time through the pattern. We did a couple times on three one right, then the tower told us to go to three one left and make left traffic. The description below is the sequence for the best and last time through the pattern, left traffic for three one left. I won't mention some of the other ones. *smile*

... taxi onto runway, line up with center line, feet off breaks, onto rudder, power on full, stay on center line, right rudder, more right rudder, stay on center line, 55 mph, pull back slightly, plane off the ground, more right rudder, fly just off the ground, let airspeed build, pitch up to Vy... slowly. Left hand on yolk, right on throttle. Keep Vy pitch, trim if needed. Wings level, fly straight, Vy pitch, right rudder, Vy pitch. 500 ft AGL. Upwind leg done.

Time to do crosswind leg - look left, pick target point, look straight, no right rudder and turn left. Vy pitch, Vy, Vy. Wings level when aimed at target. Check airspeed (Vy) and track.

Time for downwind leg - Look left under wing, pick target point, look straight, no right rudder and turn left. Vy pitch, Vy, Vy. Wings level when aimed at target. Check airspeed and track. Check altitude... 1,100 ft time to level out, pitch for straight and level, pull power slightly, trim. ... he will do radio calls ... I fly ... aviate, navigate, communicate. Stable in level flight, check distance from runway. Runway approx half way up strut is approx 1/2 mile away. We are now free to move about the cabin (ha!) about 30 seconds. Abeam the numbers, time to reduce power, carb heat on, reduce power all the way, engine on idle. Do not let the plane lose altitude. Need some left rudder. Speed below 85kts, 10 degrees flaps, do not let nose rise, need some right rudder. Speed down to 70 knots, nose down a bit to pitch for 65. Trim 1-2-3-4-5-6. Look over left shoulder, runway about 45 degrees behind.

Time for base - look left under wing, pick target point, look straight, left rudder, left aileron, keep pitch for 65, do not stare at air speed gauge. Wings level, check airspeed and track. Glance at runway... draw center line out from the airport, should run through the middle of the instrument pack. Airspeed and track. (PS, if you turn too early for base, you end up too high on final, keep that in mind next time).

Time for final - look left under wing, pick target point (runway center line). Look straight, left rudder, left aileron, keep pitch for 65, do not stare at air speed gauge. Turn. Roll out of turn, right rudder, right aileron... line up with extended center line. Keep pitch for 65. Correct line up makes it look like we're too far right... but don't go too far right. If it ain't right, fix it. Check VASI, can't do power off approach *on* glide slope. White over white is OK. 10 degrees more flaps. Keep pitch for 65. Keep eyes on runway, getting closer... wait and wait. OK, now start round out slowly. Very slowly, eyes move to the end of the runway... stare at the end of the runway. Plane does a bit of a sink, keep the nose up, fly just above the runway, pull back a bit more. scrch! gear on runway, keep nose up and up and up... slowly let nose down. Slide feet up to brakes. Slowly slow the plane, get off runway, turn onto Yankee.

He says that I did it an unassisted landing he didn't touch the controls once. It doesn't hit me right away.

Cessna five two four niner two, terminating.

Five two four niner two cross three one right to parking, continue monitoring this frequency.

Time for after landing checklist. Flaps up, carb heat off, power back to 1000 rpm. He has flight controls, I clean up. I have controls, stay on centerline, debrief on the way. Taxi to parking spot, avionics off, mixture full lean, mags, master. securing checklist Headset off, window open, door open. Out and park the plane, tie down and finish securing plane.

In the end we did 5 takeoffs and landings in an hour, two of them I did unassisted (physically anyway). The last one was best... almost just like I visualized it when "couch flying" for the last two weeks.

Pitch for airspeed. Look straight. Stay on center line, if it ain't right, fix it! Close isn't good enough and I sure was reminded what happens when it isn't right... Absolute heaven! I have spent the last 10 years with people telling me to accept less than perfect, its OK. Now I'm being pushed to strive for perfect. I love it...

and... for those few brief seconds in the pattern I realize... I'm flying the airplane and turning and going up and down and not scared to death. I'm an awkward bird, but getting a bit more graceful all the time. I'm not going to be able to fly much over the next few months, with travel and weather planning to interfere. So I know I'll be doing a lot more pattern work, and each time will fall back a bit then go forward a bit, just like today. Today was a pattern I hope to see repeat.