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.