Thursday, February 24, 2011

RHV Goes Both Ways :)

Today [Monday, 2/21] the winds were from the south, this is unusual for the Bay Area.. it usually only happens before storms or in the winter. In this case its winter and a storm just went by, and another one is coming. Why is this important? Because you always take off and land "into" the wind. So, if the winds are from the south you take off and land towards the south as much as possible. So what? you ask. Well, my dear IR, I have never, in over 160 take offs and landings, had to take off or land towards the south at RHV. I've done so at South County (another airport slightly to the south) but not at Reid-Hillview.

Today, I had two focuses for my solo flight. 1. To be very careful to control airspeed on final, and, 2. "just fly the plane". "Just fly the plane" simply means there is no particular formula or procedure, you just have to take things as they come and fly the plane. Because the runway I was using today was the opposite of what I've been practicing on over and over, I wouldn't have a previous formula to rely on, I'd just have to fly the plane. Maintain Vy on take off, turn crosswind at 500' AGL, turn downwind approx 1/2 mile from the runway, level off at pattern altitude, start the slowdown process abeam the numbers, turn base when the numbers are approx 45 degrees behind the plane, 10 degrees of flaps and trim for 65kts, turn final and line up with the runway, stare a the numbers, maintain 65, add flaps as needed, round out and focus on the end of the runway and don't stop flying the plane until it lands.

The real "just fly the plane" part was the fact that Class C airspace is right next to RHV. Not a big deal normally, going the normal direction. However, flying the pattern on 13R (that's one three right) there is limited room to maneuver without flying into San Jose's Class C (that's Class Charlie to us aviators) airspace. That's important because you are not allowed to enter Class C airspace without getting clearance from the controllers in that airspace. I was flying in Class D (Delta) airspace, under control of the controllers in the RHV tower. They don't control Class C airspace.

This picture shows RHV and the pattern you fly.. the areas in Yellow on the top and right of the picture depict Class C airspace.

Well.. the story of what happened is only interesting if you happen to be a pilot or an aspiring pilot who knows the I won't go into it. Let it suffice to say, I did good :) and I got to fly the same old airport in a totally new way and that was good too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2nd Solo .. on my own

I flew my second solo today... completely solo.. I have been waiting since Saturday for a chance to fly, but we've had one very rainy week. Today was the first day with no heavy rain and the clouds and winds where I could fly. Today was a complete solo instead of a supervised solo because I sorta kicked my CFI out of the cockpit earlier this week.

Typically a student does two (or more) supervised solos where the CFI flies with you for 3 trips around the pattern and then he/she gets out and the student pilot flies solo for however many times around the pattern he/she wants to do. Well, last Saturday was supposed to be my 2nd supervised solo, but I didn't let my CFI out. I kept going round and round trying to get better at what I was doing. And I didn't let him out when he offered. I was really upset after that. (See FISH! Fly On! for details.)

So earlier this week I asked if he absolutely HAD to fly with me next time... he said no, but he typically does to make sure "all is well" and "all wasn't well" Saturday. Well... thanks to talking to Chris, I knew what wasn't well! What wasn't well was me holding myself to impossible standards. So I told my CFI that and that unless he thought it wouldn't be safe, I wanted to just fly solo, without him. So, he said "go for it" :)

Then I had to wait and wait and wait for good weather. Finally the weather turned and today I woke up to a blue sky. YaY! I checked the weather, NOTAMS and TFRs, all clear. Then I drove down to the airport and got my plane ready to go. Its pretty cool, I've been flying from there long enough now that people there know me. So one of the other CFIs was getting a plane ready with his student and they said hi.. and the fuel truck guy (who refuels the plan) came over and topped off the tanks on my plane with a big smile. He asked if I had ground school today and I told him nope ... this time I'm totally solo. I said it was sorta weird. He gave me a high five and said, "hey, this is the way its supposed to be!"

I finished preflight, put the stool I have to use to reach the stall warning horn back by the building and went back into the club to use the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom I heard voices in the simulator room... no one should be in the simulator room. There are very few people who have keys to that room and one of them is my CFI, who never works Sundays. I look out the door as I went back to the plane and saw my CFI's car was out in the parking lot. He's here! It sounded like he was doing a ground school with a student.

It was so funny... my heart started racing and I quickly went outside. Oh shit, he's here. He wasn't supposed to be here. What if he sees me screw up? (Like he hadn't spent the last 6 months watching me screw up *laugh*). I told myself to chill but it was very very hard. Well, I figured if I screwed up he's hear about it anyway (one time Jeff screwed up after he got his PPL and our CFI heard about it through the control tower.. word gets around the airport that way). So, be calm, just do what I'm trained to do.

Check and make sure no one is coming in or out of the row my plane is in. Pull the plane out of its parking spot (a lot harder to pull a 1600 plus pound plane without help). Get in, go through the checklists. Still all kinds of nervous because my CFI was in the building behind me. Prestart, start... Prime, Master, "Clear!", Mags, the engine turns over but doesn't catch. Hmmm.. Mags again, engine turns over, almost catches but not quite. Mags and master off. I had left the plane's "bag" (which holds the POH, Pilot's Operating Handbook) on the right seat, figuring I would want that within easy reach if I needed it. Sure enough, I needed it. Take out the POH, flip to Normal Operations section, Engine Start. Says here no prime is required if the engine is warm. Someone flew the same plane just two hours ago. So I figured all I had to do was wait a bit and try again. Gave it another 30 seconds, Master On, Mags On... engine started up! Then I realized I didn't close my door all the way *sigh*. Fix that and continue on the checklist. Then I realized my nervousness about having my CFI there had completely gone away. I had a small challenge and handled it. And there's something very soothing and focusing that comes from going through those checklists.

Made it out to the run up without incident :) Heard on the ground channel we had another student pilot going out for his first solo today. That made me smile... that was me 10 days ago.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the flying itself. My plan was to work on the timing of my base turns and "squaring off" my turns from base to final. I did improve on both of those. In the end I did 0.8 hours on the Hobbs and did four circuits of the pattern. The first time around was a go-around. Then I did three take offs and landings. On my second circuit I caught myself not watching my airspeed carefully and let the plane get too slow on final. Much slower and it would have been dangerous. I immediately corrected and landed just fine, but that woke me up to remember the most important lesson my CFI has been trying to get into my thick skull. Airspeed is absolutely the most important thing when flying the pattern. A timely reminder and I was very very careful about airspeed after that. I should ALWAYS be very careful about airspeed.

By my fourth landing I was getting tired, I am learning how to trim the plane for the weight of just me in it... it is different from what I've become accustomed to after so many flights with my CFI in the right seat. Because I didn't trim right my left arm especially was tired. As I came in on final I was lined up OK, airspeed good, then as I did the round out and the plane was settling a "quartering tailwind" gust came up. The plane floated up again... I did what I was taught.. stared at the end of the runway and never stopped flying the plane, I landed. The tower cleared me to return to the runway on Yankee. I told them I was terminating - done for the day.

I taxied back to parking, shut down and put the plane away, checked in the plane and put away the keys and the bag. I stuck my head in the door as I went by where my CFI was holding court (I couldn't tell if he was teaching or chatting *grin*). What are you doing here? I asked... One of those rare Sundays he said. He asked me if all of the parts are still on the plane. I said, of course. Call me he says. (That's the debrief... after every solo flight I'm supposed to call and leave a voice mail with what I learned and did.)

So there you go... my 2nd solo, my first totally on my own. I'm pleased that the little (and potentially big) problems I had didn't throw me off too much. I feel like I really have soloed now. I've earned the right to have that shirt in the place of honor on the wall at the flight club. Now I feel like a Pilot In Command (said with capital letters in my CFI's voice).

I'm hoping to fly tomorrow, solo again. Tomorrow's focus, cultivating a fanatical obsession with airspeed. :) And if I can't fly tomorrow... that's OK. I'll schedule another day. Sometimes flying is just as much about not flying as it is about flying.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

FISH! Fly On!

How many times do I have to repeat a lesson before I learn it? No, I'm not really talking about learning how to fly a pattern. I know how to fly a fucking pattern. Not perfect. But I know how. I've flown 163 take offs and landings now. Lets say the first 30 or 40 were all assisted. That's still over 100 take offs and landings. Not perfect like I said, but I know it.

So, what lesson am I learning over and over? well, there are many, but the one I'm talking about right now is the lesson of futility that comes from holding myself to impossible standards. It took until the first half of January for me to finally figure out (learn? listen to my CFI?) flying the patten wasn't about being perfect. It was about fixing what's wrong. The most important part was knowing that I didn't have to be perfect. It was OK to make a mistake. Hell, what 40 year old student pilot can expect to be perfect? None. So what made me think that, after one solo, I would be perfect? That dang habit I have of holding myself to impossible standards.

Saturday was supposed to be three circuits of the pattern with my CFI. Then he gets out and I fly a number on my own, how ever many I want. It didn't quite turn out like that. Saturday was a great weather day and every pilot in the Bay Area knew it would be our last good weather day for a while with rain starting up Monday and running for a week or more on or off. In Scott's words.. the place was jamming. We delayed a bit, talking about running shoes of all things, then a couple questions I had about my prior lesson. Then we headed out.

It was very busy and the controller in the tower was not the best. He could focus on one thing at a time... he could manage the planes in the pattern... OR ... the planes in run up ... OR ... the planes on approach. So he would focus on one group for a bit and leave the rest to rot for a while, then switch and switch. He also tried to alleviate the pressures on his workload by calling turns for the planes in the pattern (in my mind this only increased the guy's workload as he tried to "fly the pattern" for the pilots). As a result, I didn't get to fly a "normal" pattern at all, but I didn't do bad. Scott didn't have to say anything aside from explaining some of the weirder requests the tower made. But I did make mistakes, and, being a good CFI, Scott pointed them out when we taxied back, but he also pointed out I did the right corrections.

We did three in the pattern, with weird situations of extended down winds and bases called by the tower, etc. I made mistakes and fixed them. After the third time Scott asked if he should get out.. and I told him I wanted to do one more for some reason.

We did one more, landed, he asked why I put in flaps that time. I said, because I was high. Yes I was high, but I was on a perfect glide slope. I had no idea how I was supposed to know the glide slope was perfect when I was high. I told him so. Look at the numbers! If the numbers are going up - descent rate is too high ... if they are going down - descent rate is too slow. I had totally forgotten to look at the numbers (or my desired touchdown point). I hadn't consciously looked at the numbers in a long time, I honestly don't remember the last time before yesterday. That got me flustered...

We did two more circuits. I watched the numbers and managed my descent rate extremely well. Even handled the bad controller and the "extended upwind" that practically put me in Fremont! The number of planes in the airspace wasn't going down. I was getting tired. We brought the plane in and parked. I also learned that, when ground says you can take the inside ramp to taxi to your parking spot "at your digression" that means basically, if someone runs into you, its not Ground Control's fault.

The other thing that was supposed to happen is after my second supervised solo I would be flying on my own this Thursday if weather permitted. So, I finish tying down the plane and Scott goes in to finish up paperwork and we talk ... he says the original plan was I would fly alone Thursday... now he wasn't sure. But he had already scheduled a check ride on top of my usual slot, and it is likely to be raining. So he didn't know what would happen. We'll check in on Wednesday.

I can't stand not having a plan for things I care about. All of the sudden, the plan, such that it was, was in question and it was because of what? my performance Saturday? my decisions? I don't know. I don't think it was my performance. He didn't have to take the controls once, didn't have to tell me what to do to get safely on the ground. My decision? well, when I didn't kick him out of the plane that certainly threw off his normal "plan". But does this mean I shouldn't fly alone? I don't think that's what it means.. he wouldn't have signed me off for solo if he didn't think I can fly alone - safely. I think it means he's not sure I will want to fly alone and since he's got a check ride on schedule.... ... ... what? ...

I left the lesson almost shattered. I was embarrassed, ashamed even. I didn't want to see or talk to anyone. Time to drive up to the race track for the race event... I cried on the way to the track. I felt like a complete and utter failure. I didn't do my second supervised solo. I didn't know what would happen the next time I was scheduled to fly. I made mistakes and forgot a key thing about flying the pattern. I didn't know if my CFI had lost confidence in me or if he didn't know if I lost confidence in myself. I dreaded seeing my friends at the track, many many of them knew I soloed. I new they would want to congratulate me and I felt like such a failure for not soloing again that I didn't want to face them. I got to the track and hid. But I tried to call my brother who I hadn't talked to in forever. He wasn't home, but he called me back.

I talked to him and he could tell I was extremely upset. I talked to him about flying.. about how great and easy it was to solo. The complex and ever changing dance of flying. About how its like performing a complex dance with a different partner, on a different surface, to different music with a different style every time around. How wonderful and beautiful and dynamic it is. Then I talked about how I struggled so much with it until I realized I was trying to be perfect and holding myself to an impossible standard when all I had to do was be able to fix things.

My brother, trained psychologist that he is, stopped me there. "You mean like you are doing right now?" he said. That stopped me cold. "You are acting like a marathoner who just ran a PR and is upset that you didn't run another PR a week later. You just soloed. That's a PR. You know better than to expect a PR every day, that's why they are PRs!!" I laughed... a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. "Damn you're good!" I said. He chuckled and said, "That's why they pay me to do this stuff."

We talked a bit more about flying.. then about running, then shopping for cars, children and life. It was awesome. As we talked I was pacing around the paddock, my friends spotted me and they would come up and give me a big hug and congratulations. And I didn't feel bad. My friends didn't care if I soloed again that day.. they were just very very happy for me to have soloed at all. They knew how big that accomplishment was, even if I had already forgotten. I am so grateful to have my brother and my friends. We had a great evening.

So, what did I learn from Saturday's flight lesson and life lesson?
  1. Look at the desired touch down point on final to gauge glide slope.
  2. I have no right or reason to expect to be perfect
  3. It is OK not to be perfect
  4. I should not hold myself to impossible standards, because I'll never succeed that way. It has never worked for me in life, and it won't work for me in flying.

What do I do about my next "lesson" or scheduled flight time or whatever? Well, assuming the weather is good enough for me to fly. If I am given the option I will fly solo. I'm not going to get any better flying with my CFI over and over and beating myself up for not being perfect. (It is very easy to do that with my CFI, he will always offer constructive criticism along with the compliments on jobs well done, being me, I tend to filter the compliments *sigh*) It is time to stretch my wings and learn on my own a bit. If I'm not given the option, then I'm not. But the next time I am, I will take that option. I should have done that Saturday, that was my biggest mistake. But life goes on.

You may be wondering about the title of this blog entry by now... my friend in race control told me today about this sticker she saw on the dash of a professional race car one day... the dashboard sticker read: "FISH DRIVE ON". That was strange... so she found the driver and asked him what that means. "FISH", he said, "means Fuck It Shit Happens". Thus FISH DRIVE ON. A funny story, and so apropos to my situation. So my note to self.. and to be on a sticky note on the panel next time I fly... FISH! Fly On!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Solo!

Preflight complete, an extra long and careful preflight because this time the plane would be taking me up in the air alone. No Scott (CFI) Security Blanket after three takeoffs and landings. The weather was going to be perfect. No wind, cool but not cold, "CAVU to the Moon" as my dad would say. I'd done over 30 take offs and landings since I started "listening to my CFI" on my birthday, so I knew I know how to do it. All I had to do was do it.

Here's the plan. We go out and do three takeoffs and landings. I do all of the radio work and flying. Scott stays quiet and observes. If all goes well, after the third time, he gets out and I do three on my own. If not, we just keep practicing the pattern.

KRHV 101747Z 00000KT 10SM SKC 11/00 A3023

First time around, too high on base again, turned too early. Then on final didn't put in the flaps when I thought I did "ghost flaps" he calls it. Land, backtaxi on 31L, get the flaps lecture. Damn flaps, ok, next time...actually put the flaps IN. Next time, too high again! Another flaps lecture, hand stays on the throttle, don't THINK about flaps with hand on flaps. Put in flaps, hand back on throttle, verify flaps. Third time to high again! Need to square off my base and final turns. But I did better with the flaps. Need to wait just a bit longer before turning base, that will help keep from being too high. "Ready to do this alone?" "Let's do one more." Last time, better.. still turning just a bit too early onto base, but better.

We get permission to taxi to the Instructor Bench, where he gets out of the plane. I do a radio call I will do only once in my life (OK, twice because ground asked me to repeat it).

RHV Ground, Cessna five zero niner three kilo, Student Pilot, at the Instructor Bench. Ready to taxi for first student solo.

Cessna five zero niner three kilo, taxi runway three one right via zulu

Three one right via zulu, five zero niner three kilo.

Here I go... I feel strangely calm. Just taxi up, not too fast. Line up when cleared and take off. On take off the plane definitely moved quicker and had a stronger left turn tendency. UP! we go, just me and 93K. Upwind, noise abate, 500ft AGL turn crosswind, airspeed and track, turn downwind, already at pattern altitude, flatten out turn (no more climb needed), fly downwind leg, about 1/2 mile away from runway, abeam the numbers I'm cleared to land. Reduce power and airspeed, 85knots, first notch of flaps, trim, 65 knots, turn base (too early), airspeed and track, turn final. Know I'm too high... 20 degrees flaps, seems like engine isn't idling.. it is, 30 degrees of flaps. Keep airspeed at 65... round out... stare at end of runway, keep on flying skrch landed! niner three kilo, runway three one right, taxi via yankee each time in the pattern I repeat back the clearance and exit the runway at Delta.

Taxi back to 31R. Wave at Scott and Jeff as I go by the instructor bench. Do it again... Had to extend the downwind a bit. Too high again, but not as high. Full flaps landing... "greased it". Even got off the runway at Charlie! Cleared to taxi via Yankee back to 31R.

Do it again, this time a ground squirrel and two geese cross the runway before I get started. Take off! This time I was at pattern altitude a lot quicker than usual. Extended upwind a bit to account for the other Cessna in the pattern with me. The tower was busy talking to the big airport lawn mower that wanted to close 31R to do some mowing. Tower asked if he minded if they landed two planes before closing the runway... no problem. We both got cleared to land and informed to expect 31L the next time. "No problem" I think. "I'm terminating." but I'm not telling him that until after I land! Extended downwind a bit, but not far enough.. base too early and too high again. Another full flaps landing and I flared too early (?) floated a bit and bounced a bit on landing. Got off on Delta. Niner three kilo terminating

Taxi out of the way, go to ground. Finish after landing checklist. Get clearance to taxi back to Squadron 2. Taxi back... go through the flight in my mind and smile and smile and smile. I did it! I stop the plane, do the securing checklist. Shutdown the plane. Pause to enjoy the moment. OK, time to see if I can push a Cessna 172 into its parking spot on my own. I can :)

Scott comes up after I finish parking the plane and we share a hug... "Did you see that second landing!?!" That was great!! stop for pictures and finish with tie down.

This doesn't really describe how it felt... but maybe this picture does.

Yes, that's me. I did it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Strong Winds Create Opportunities - and closer still

My husband was sure I should solo today. Scott (our CFI) wouldn't suggest I was ready unless he was sure I was ready. I do 100% believe that... but this isn't about if Scott thinks I can. This is about if I think I can.

Anyway... I get there half an hour early but Scott was running late... so I preflighted 93K (flaps working today), get the fuel topped off and then go out to the "instructor bench" with a hand held radio so I could observe students in the pattern and listen to the interchange between the tower and pilots during the process. I got to witness a guy do his first solo take off and landing. He taxis up to 31R and does his call. "Reid-Hillview Tower, this is Cessna ?????, student pilot, first solo, please watch me carefully." It was cute. I watched his first two circuits of the pattern and then I had to go.

I went back to the club and waited in the sun and did weight and balance calculations. Surprised myself a bit on that... I thought that using all but the 30 minute day VFR reserve would move the CG back a bit on a loaded high wing plane like the C172s I fly. Actually it does the opposite. It moves the CG forward a bit. That's because the arm of the fuel is actually further back than I thought it was. Cool to know.

Ok... about the flight portion of the day. By the time he was done with his prior student the winds had picked up significantly. He said he was glad I had decided not to solo today because today wouldn't be a good solo day. They were out in a Bonanza before and were kicked about pretty much the whole 2.5 hours of flight... So we agreed to go out and just see how it goes. Good practice to fly in strong winds and cross winds. I've had very good (light) winds for the last couple lessons so practicing in winds would be a good test of my learnings.

In the end we only did three circuits of the pattern in 0.9 hours Hobbs. RHV has two parallel runways, on a normal day the amount of traffic would have been handled easy by the two runways. However, for some reason the airport managers decided it was a good idea to mow the grass near the left runway on a beautiful weather Saturday in February. Not a good move. So while there wasn't a very large amount of traffic for RHV, all of it was coming in on one runway. The wait in the run up was abnormally long.

When we finally got in the air, not only did we have strong winds, we had to REALLY extend downwind because there was so much traffic coming in for the one runway. This time I was able to maintain my track better. I got to experience strong winds on base and watch them push the plane away from the runway and adjust for those winds. I got to be reminded about cross wind takeoffs and landings, I did those pretty good in spite of the strong winds. Got to experience the effect of strong winds on Vy pitch (its different). Etc, etc... a really good learning experience.

The main thing I learned (or relearned) is when you have strong winds, you won't know if you are in a gust or a regular wind.. and if it is gusty you should carry some additional airspeed on approach so if a gust suddenly goes away the plane doesn't stall! Its not good to be slow in high winds. Also, a good reminder, when you have strong winds, your airspeed may be 65, but your ground speed is NOT, while your descent rate is the same. So if you just do a typical power off approach in strong winds you won't get to the runway, you have to adjust for the winds, keep power longer, stay higher longer, etc. Some adjustment(s) must be made.

As I said, just three takeoffs and landings. But it was a good learning experience. He said I did well. I felt like I did well. This time I agreed, next lesson I could solo! Next lesson, we'll go up together for three circuits and, if I'm having a good day, he'll get out and I'll do my first solo.

In the mean time, solo or not, I keep wanting to go back up and do it again.. just like a little kid who loves that one amusement park ride and just wants to go ride the ride again and again.

Technical Notes
How much extra speed? 1/2 of the difference between the steady wind speed and the gusting wind speed. E.g. winds of 10 knots, gusting to 20 knots, good idea to do your approach at 70 knots instead of 65. With the strong wind its easy to stop when you get over the runway.

Crosswind component. I think the rule of thumb is when the cross wind is at 30 degrees the cross wind component is half of the wind speed. E.g. if the winds are 30 degrees off the runway and 20 knots, the crosswind component would be 10 knots. I think... will have to check on this one.

Feb 4 - very very close

Went to preflight 93K and turned on the master and the flaps wouldn't go down when I flipped the switch. So I flipped it back up and back down and nothing. Then up and back down again and nothing. So, buttoned up the plane, went back inside... squawked the problem and checked out 31E. Finished preflight on 31E and saw the mechanic working on 93K. I asked him how it was and he said the flaps worked first time. I reached in, flipped on the Master, flap switch, and down come the flaps. *sigh* I decided to look at it as an opportunity to practice in a plane I don't fly very often.

The flying went very well, in spite of the strange handling of 31E. Not that it was bad, it was just different. Either way I did good. Key note: when I use flaps must verify the flaps are actually at the setting I think it is at. The one go-around I did it was because I was too high on base and didn't deploy enough flaps to get down. Every time I thought I was putting down the flaps I wasn't putting them down fully. So the next time around my CFI had me turn base early and start deploying flaps, and *verifying* the flaps each time. Ended up doing a full flaps landing practically on the numbers from the same high altitude I had to go around from immediately before. I now have a new triple word to add to my list FlapsAndVerify. This goes along with PlacardedAndDisabled (for inoperative but non-required instruments) and TuneAndIdentify (for using VORs).

The landings weren't as great as they have been. Not bad, but just not great... I wasn't looking at the end of the runway right. I need to look at the end of the runway like my eyes are laser beams and never stop flying the plane. (Yeah, I know it sounds weird but it makes sense when you do it.)

At the end of the flight this was the discussion:

"Are you confident you can fly the plane and not kill yourself?"


"Are you confident you won't damage the plane?"


"Ready to solo tomorrow"?


I had had too many good lessons followed by bad lessons to think I could just go solo the next day...not to mention my Saturday bug-a-boo. So I told him we'll have to see after Saturday's flight.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Words of Wisdom

There is an art, or rather a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
~ Douglas Adams, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy