Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A bit better - short field take offs and landings

No bruised egos, battered expectations, hugely and unexpectedly botched landings today.

Learned about short field take offs and landings. Needless to say, with my recent experiences I listened VERY carefully and took many notes as my CFI described the process, things to be careful about and things to focus on. Then we went out to try.

Started off with one round with normal take off and landing with me flying, just to see how well I was holding my pitch ... actually did a good circuit of the pattern with my CFI in the plane! I was beginning to wonder if I could do that with him in the plane anymore. That certainly helped with my confidence for the session.

Then he did a round demonstrating, then my turn a couple times through. Did each one with a varying level of success. Actually managed one or two relatively "soft" landings.. soft as far as shortfield landings go. Two go-arounds too... but the best part was. I didn't fall apart, I didn't beat myself up, and I got to learn something new.

I also got a prescription for how to address something that's happened to me recently, I've started to distrust myself and what certain pitches look like for certain airspeeds, started chasing that damned airspeed indicator. So, next flight, time to go high and re-set in my mind what airspeeds look like (yes, strange to say airspeeds "look", but they do) and see how long it takes for the airspeed indicator to tell the truth.

Looking forward to it :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Been a Rough Couple of Weeks

Well folks, I've had a rough couple weeks. Flying and running honestly.

It started with three weeks ago when I thought I would have a great flight, get signed off for solo cross country and continue on my merry way to pilot-hood. Massive FAIL there (see many of my recent posts). The next day I sprain my ankle on a trail run badly. But I go to see my brother and his cool wife and their awesome little girl for a week. So I had "free time" with which to study for my FAA Pilot Pilot Airplane written test and keep my feet up and relax.

I got back from the break and tried and tried and tried to get in for a flight and every time I was there it was too windy for me to fly (beyond what I was signed off for on Solo flights), not to mention I was rather freaked out about my prior experiences so the one time I COULD have jumped in the plane and flown I delayed and ended up not flying because the winds got worse. But, in better news, I passed my Private Pilot Airplane test by missing only 1 question. So that was nice.

My next flight lesson (it was 2 weeks since my last flight) I suggested instead of doing the short cross country we should just go somewhere and practice pattern entry. I screwed up all over the place, but I didn't beat myself up too much and was able to laugh about it that night with my racing buddies.

I few solo once after that and it went OK. Just did four take offs and landings, not great, but better than I had been doing recently.

This this Saturday we went out and tried the short "cross country training" with three short hops to three different airports. Oh boy. Every time I think I've done my worst flight ever.. I seem to find a new low. For the first time, instead of a relatively quick debrief on the taxi back after landing my CFI just said, "I have a list of notes of things we need to talk about and I need your full attention." In the end I'm glad he did.

Lets see, the take off went well. It went downhill after that. I chose a cruising altitude that worked for a portion of the flight but not the whole thing... second guessing myself doesn't help anyone. Made it to the first checkpoint OK. But didn't turn over the checkpoint or keep on the heading I planned because what I was seeing just didn't "look right". So I went off on some other heading and ended up 30 degrees of course. Got us completely lost (or me lost anyway). On the good side, I got to do real-life lost procedures, triangulated using VORs and then calculated distance and time to get back to where I should be.

The list of problems was long, didn't maintain altitude, kept going up and down and up and down... wrong altitude. Not to mention relatively low clouds so couldn't fly the planned altitude and that hurt visibility. The biggest thing I did wrong was I just didn't have a big picture of the flight.. and I couldn't figure it out "on the fly". I spent weeks planning this flight and starting at google satellite images of the airports I was going to land at. So much so I knew I had no good image of my flight in my head.

I think I did good maneuvering when we finally got back into the valley.. had to go north a bit while waiting to get a word in edgewise with the ATC tower at RHV to get permission to go into their airspace. But had my worst landing ever. Or maybe it was just my worst landing that I managed all on my own... CFI didn't QUITE take the controls. But ugh.

In the end I'm glad he had a list to review and I'm glad his next student had to cancel so he had the time to review. I learned (or maybe it was re-learned) some valuable lessons. I just hope they stay learned. It seems on this flight I made all of the mistakes I should have made my first or second cross countries. Maybe I had to do these mistakes to make sure I don't make them on my solo cross countries. He said I need a breakthrough... he doesn't know the half of it.

It seems like my flying is getting worse and worse instead of better. All of it. Stuff I used to do well is falling apart. For the first time I am thinking maybe I need to walk away for a while. I don't know. Trying harder doesn't seem to be working. Tomorrow I'm going to learn short field take offs and landings. Thankfully, I think this will just be showing me how it works, I won't have to do it well necessarily. It's just important to do this before I'm signed off for cross country solo.

I know it will be 3 weeks to a month before that happens - minimum. It will be three weeks before the next opportunity to try another dual cross country. In a little more than 2 weeks the 90 day solo sign off expires. So maybe the combo of the both will give the a break.

In the mean time I have a couple things to look forward to... I'll be flying with my husband a couple times over the next two weeks. That will give me an opportunity to practice some of the things I need to re-learn and not have to fly the plane at the same time. I'm also looking forward to giving someone a copy of the Pilots Guide to California.. its a really good and useful book, equivalent to an AF/D with much more useful info. I got one as a gift from the 99s when I soloed. I got it the day before the one I ordered more than a month ago was delivered. I'm going to give it to my CFI to give to a student of his who wants to fly as much as I do. For some reason, just the thought of doing that makes me feel more hopeful that I will be able to fly too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Here's yer sign

You know you aren't where you think you are when.... your instructor tells you not to make any more radio calls.

Oh well. I hope I'll get it some day. Soon.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Flying seems to have a way of resetting expectations... Or at least mine...and Jeff's too. Jeff is, of course, my pilot husband who has been through this training as me.

I mentioned in my previous post about my expectations for my last fight. Good navigation, good landings, good in the pattern once I got into the pattern, poor pattern entry and poor non-towered airport communications. Any guesses as to how that went?

Navigation... To first airport of three OK. After that downhill quick because I didn't correct for strong winds.

Landing... Didn't even think of the winds.. I scared myself good enough I hope I'll never do that again.

Pattern... Lousy.. The wind thing again.

Getting into the pattern... Ugh.

Radio communications... Ok. Not great but ok. Probably because I approached that portion very much in a learning frame of mind.

Jeff say any time he approached a lesson thinking he had something figured out, he had a similar experience. Humbling he called it. Yes, very humbling.

I think the bottom line is, I am in no position to think I have this all figured out. Not now, not ever. Even my CFI who has literally thousands of hours of flying for most of his life says whenever he gets cocky, something bites him. A little humility in this situation will go a long way I think... I should treat every flight and every aspect of flight with a learning focus, aware and trying to figure out what the experience, be it the plane, the sky, the CFI, ATC or other pilots are trying to tell me.

Then, I can have fun and not worry about expectations. For one thing, I'll do a lot better at meeting expectations when I know I have to work at it. And working at flying can be a ton of fun when I fly with an open mind.

Invisible force meets oblivious subject

Mother Nature is a harsh mistress when you take her for granted... Especially when you forget the fact that flying, as joyful as it is, is a wholly unnatural act for a human. We have no right to be up there...the only reason we are there is because of lift and wind...without wind, there is no lift. Wind is the most capricious and invisible of Mother Nature's tools. You can't see it.. You may be able to smell or taste it...the main way you know what the wind is doing is by what the wind does to the plane. IF you pay attention. If you ignore the signals the plane gives you, you do so at your own risk.

Some examples of signals from mom:
  • Do your standard base turn and end up facing the runway on final
  • Fly parallel the runway and end up closer to it at the end than the beginning
  • Fly your planned heading and end up visibly off course and correct to get to waypoint
  • Fly next planned heading and end up 5 miles north of planned position pointed at the wrong airport
  • Plane really doesn't want to stay on the centerline no matter how much rudder(?!) you apply
  • Turn base using normal timing and find yourself too high or too low

If any of the above apply to you, especially if more than one happens in the same flight, you are ignoring the signs from mom telling you the winds are not what you think they are and you had better start adjusting. Keep ignoring those signals and you might find yourself in for a rough landing or maybe even landing at the wrong airport entirely!

Maybe I need a new mnemonic?

I love the way that word is spelled... mnemonic.

I had a rough flight Saturday, one of my worst actually. We were going to do three short hops RHV to LSN to CVH to E16 back to RHV. It was supposed to be an exercise in entering the traffic pattern at different types of airports with different pattern rules and from different directions. All things I have very little experience with. All things I need to gain experience with before doing solo cross countries.

I expected to struggle on the pattern entries, do not so well on the radio calls at uncontrolled airports, do really well on cross country navigation and show my CFI that I got my landing mojo back. Oh how wrong I was.

I did OK on cross country navigation to the first airport, LSN. Struggled a bit on the radio calls as expected. Then I turned base and found myself rolling out of the base turn pointed down the runway on final somehow, proceeded to land with no clue as to why the plane wasn't behaving as I thought it should. Or I should say, attempted to proceed to land. Scott took the controls at the end of the landing, it was bad.

Turns out I was landing into a 10 knot cross wind and I wasn't even THINKING about winds at all after I got ATIS and figured out which runway I'd use. The actual direction and speed of the winds didn't enter my mind. So of course my landing was bad. Scott pointed out the cross wind and reminded me of what I'm supposed to do in a cross wind. (I used to be pretty good at crosswind take offs and landings). So, we went back up and tried again. I managed an actual base and final turn but the landing was still bad.. better, but bad.

That got me flustered and things just went downhill from there for the rest of the flight. I'll make note of the other things later.

The reason why I want a new mnemonic is I want an easy way to make sure I remember key things like Winds Direction Airspeed.. maybe it should be WAD? as in the plane will be in a tangled wad of metal at the end of the runway if I screw this up often enought? Dunno... more thoughts on this later.

-AB out.