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.