Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hey Guys... St. George has a New Airport!

This morning my other half and I took off from RHV headed to DXZ. That is St. George Muni Airport in St. George, Utah. St. George Muni is a new airport, just opened in the beginning of 2011. Nice precision instrument runway, 150 ft wide over 9000 feet long, nice FBO too. But you'd never know it talking to ATC in Northern and Southern California.

We requested flight following from RHV ground so we were in radio and radar contact with ATC for our entire route. As we were passed from controller to controller, we kept getting weird questions. Got to the point we were wondering if we did something wrong.

"Bonanza niner seven seven seven yankee, what is your destination?" or "Bonanza niner seven seven seven yankee, what is the designation of your destination?" or "Bonanza niner seven seven seven yankee, what is your route?"

So every time we were asked, we kept repeating, "St. George, Delta Xray Zulu". Finally, Jeff explained to one of them. "This is the new St. George Muni airport, Delta Xray Zulu. It replaced the old airport Sierra Golf Uniform. It has a new runway and buildings and stuff." To which the controller responded. "oooooohhhhh" That explained it. There's very little reason for ATC in California to know that a small airport in Utah got replaced by a larger airport in Utah. We were the first to expose them to this knowledge. As we got closer and closer to St. George the controllers knew what was up and we got fewer questions.

We flew close to Las Vegas and got to share frequencies with some of the jets flying into Vegas airspace. Talk about a busy airspace. As we approached St. George proper we heard a 172 in the pattern, a Skylane on straight in, us and then a as we came in on the 45 a SkyWest Jet (commuter flight) joined us on 20 mile final.

Another little known fact.. St. George Muni has a new FBO with a courtesy car. They are happy to loan you the courtesy car to drive to the terminal building to pick up your rental car. Transient parking is on the left if you come in on runway 19.

We got out of RHV late because I had a meeting first thing in the morning. I even had to skip my quick planned solo flight. *sigh* Oh well, I got more experience flying cross country and practiced doing the estimations needed for diversions.. another skill I'll have to demonstrate during my check ride. It was a good flight. I love flying to other places :) This weekend is the St. George Marathon, which is why we are doing this trip ... wish me luck!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Landing never felt so good!

My first ever soft field landing! This day I went to the airport knowing exactly what I had to do to improve and I did it and it WORKED!! YES!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Embarrassing Secret

I write this, not only to get out what I've been feeling and thinking.. but also to hopefully let other aspiring pilots know... Its OK to be above average. There are other people who have setbacks in flight training and who take longer than they think they should to solo or to get their licenses. But no matter what, as long as you never give up, you have a chance at the prize. The only way to fail completely is to quit completely. As Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon runner said, "Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up."

My dear IRs, I will let you in on an embarrassing secret. I've been actively pursuing flight training since July 2010. I have (as of this moment - to be increased tomorrow hopefully) 108.5 hours of total flight time, 74.4 hours of dual instruction time and 34.1 hours of solo time. I've got 13.3 hours of cross country time (thanks to the extra long-long cross country my CFI allowed me to do). 3.3 hours of night flying time (including 10 take offs and landings to a complete stop at night) and 2.6 hours of simulated instrument time. I have logged 369 take offs and 369 landings and only 153 of them happened before I soloed at 40.7 hours of flight time.  I have remaining to complete another 0.4 hours of simulated instrument and 3 hours of checkride preparation with my CFI and god knows now many more hours of re-learning how to land between me and my Private Pilot's License.

For those that are not familiar, the FAA requires 40 hours of aeronautical experience before someone can get a PPL. Average is 70 hours. Average at the airport I fly from is 90 hours (so I hear). My husband took 88 hours. So I'm a bit above average *smile*

I have good friends, both pilots and non-pilots who keep asking me...  When I will get my license? Don't know. When is my practical scheduled? Not yet. How many hours do I have? More than average and more to come.  My husband teases me... if you ever get your license... or this is why you'll never get your license... he means well, teasing and humor is his way to show he cares. I have blown off a summer of running to focus on getting my license (that and recover from a sprained ankle, but the sprained ankle only counts for two months). So much so that I'll be traveling to a marathon in two weeks and won't run it because for the first time in years I don't think I can run the race without injuring myself.

I passed the written FAA Single Engine Land PPL test with 98%. I am convinced I will ace the oral exam. I am convinced I will ace the practical flight, when I get to it. I know I can do it. And yet I fret. I am sad sometimes. I compare myself to younger people or more experienced people or people who aren't me with my unique blend of strengths and weaknesses and find myself wanting. I see the finish line so close and want the end of this journey to be a quick sprint... not the end of the marathon that it really is.

I have fallen absolutely in love with flying, and I am limited to circles around the same airport and non stop flights within a 25 nm radius until / unless I get signed off for further by my CFI. I don't know what he's waiting for... maybe for me to master the last PTS maneuver, soft field landings. I don't know.

I had a set back in my flying but I am back on track again. I think that I am going to be able to finally become consistent on normal landings again and from there do soft field landings - the final PTS maneuver I need to master. My next flight I will focus on rounding out just a little bit later and increasing the pitch angle a little bit more right before landing. I think if I do those two more things I will have landings consistent again and be able to continue on my journey. At least this time I know what I will do.

And, as I go forward, I will remember the wise words of my brother. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And if I run a marathon focusing on what everyone else is doing and telling myself I won't make it, I'll have a miserable experience. I'm a middle of the pack marathon runner.. I've never felt ashamed once for my marathon times, from 4:39 all the way to 6:40. I am proud of every marathon I've run, each 26.2 mile race was a unique challenge and accomplishment. I will be proud of myself when I complete this flying marathon and get my PPL.

Come to think of it, I can be proud of myself right now. Not many people have flown a light aircraft for 100 hours. Not many people have felt their spirits soar on metal wings over and around cottonball clouds, bounced on turbulence and carried aloft by updrafts. Not many have seen the sunset from on wing or the city at night from 2000 ft. or the bright green pillows and black dots that are the Northern California hills in the spring. Not many have talked to ATC over 5 different states just as well as the pros or flew with DC-10s over an air force base. Not many indeed. And, when I do get my license, I'll go from a 100+ hour student pilot to a 100+ hour pilot.

Yes, I can be proud of myself now and I will be proud of myself when I get that PPL. I've earned every line in my log book and I'm looking forward to every additional line I'll add. I am a pilot and some day I'll be able to take you with me and share the joy of flight with you. Until then, wish me luck, blue skies and low cross winds on my check ride day! And, if you are like me and feeling so close and yet so far from your goal... lets make each other a promise... let's keep flying, no matter what. We will get there eventually, we've got plenty of fuel and VFR weather ahead. We'll make it - just keep flying the airplane.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nine Eleven

Nine Eleven... Before September 11, 2001 those numbers met the phone number you call in case of emergency, but then it was "nine one one" not "nine eleven". In September 2001 my family and I lived about 3 miles from the airport I fly from now, directly under the straight in approach for runways three one. My daughter was two. My husband and I were trying to figure out how we were going to pay the money we owed to the IRS for our stock gains the previous year. The biggest TV news was who was getting voted off the island and a scandal about an intern and a California state senator. George Bush was president and seemed to be on vacation more often than he was working. The nation's economy was faltering in the wake of the "dot com bubble burst". Our problems, personal and national, seemed significant, but in reality they were petty and small.

That morning I had to wake up earlier than usual to go to work and join a conference call about a global hardware retrofit program I was kicking off that day. When my husband and I turned on the news we saw the first reports of a plane flying into the world trade center. We were shocked and headed into work with our little girl in her car seat. Our Jeep at the time had a TV tuner in its video system (the fruits of those same stock sales that got us into trouble with the IRS) As I drove to work my husband watched on the TV in the Jeep as the second plane hit the tower. We knew it was not an accident. We got to the office and other co-workers were watching the news on steaming video as the towers fell one by one. At this point I canceled the conference call. I don't remember much more about that day beyond the numb horror as each new event unfolded, the plane flying into the Pentagon, the two missing planes, the FAA grounding all flights. I think we both worked our full day, going through the motions of normalcy as well as we could. We picked up our daughter from her daycare and headed home, listening to the news... the outpouring of compassion and sympathy from the nations around the world. From our colleagues around the world. More TV and news that night. Falling asleep.. numb, wishing it was all just a bad dream and knowing it wasn't.

Waking up the next day to more news, some pieces of what happened to Flight 93 and how the passengers fought back. I remember telling my husband, whoever did this woke the sleeping giant. Just as the Emperor of Japan knew after attacking Pearl Harbor.... the sleeping giant has awakened and would not rest unavenged. The nation was united now, our petty problems, taxes, scandals, who was being voted off the island, how much we liked or didn't like the president, all were wiped away with our grief, unity and new sense of purpose. We would not allow whoever did this to destroy what makes America what it is. I printed a little flag and placed it in our window. The world was ready to help us avenge our dead and ensure this would never happen again. For a few, precious, incredible moments in history... the whole world was united in grief and sense of purpose.

I write this 10 years later on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The person who masterminded the plot against us died at American hands a couple months ago. We've lost twice as many soldiers in the wars we've started (and still fight) since that day than perished in the original attacks. Countries have toppled, dictatorships are dead, other countries are in the midst of revolution... people's revolution. My country is back to being America again... fighting and squabbling amongst ourselves. Idiots on all sides of the aisle wrapping themselves in the flag and declaring their ideologies even more inflexibly than ever. The country is teetering on the brink of yet another financial disaster. The political vitriol and spite is worse than I can remember. But I guess that's America for you... there's good and bad in all things, even in the country that I love.

We've regained the freedom of the skies. GA is allowed to fly. I just learned recently how close I was to losing a chance to ever even discover my dream of flight. I was talking with a young CFI today and we both agreed that no terrorists will be able to use a plane as a guided missile again. Before September 11 Americans assumed even terrorists loved life like we do.. that terrorists wouldn't want to die. That all we had to do was cooperate. We know better now. No terrorist will be able to take the controls of a plane again, small or large, without the pilots and passengers and crew fighting them with every ounce of their being. Rest assured, no pilot will allow his or her plane to be used to harm others... never again. We know better.

We will thwart the terrorists in two ways.
One - if they try to use us and our planes to harm others, they will die, and we may die too... but it will be in a field or on a mountainside, not by flying into a tower or building of their choice. No, never again.
Two - we will fly, we will live, we will run and drive and bike and travel and fight and squabble amongst ourselves and be impure and just and holy and wrong and right. We will have unity and strife and red states and blue states and loved and hated presidents and political parties and scandals and churches and mosques and synagogues and theaters and stadiums and racing and football AND soccer and television and music and food and drink and children and wedding and funerals... but we will remain US - the USofA.

Terrorists.. you have failed in all but one thing.. you have made us aware there are people who do not value life, and those of us who do value life will now sacrifice our own lives to keep you from taking others.

Tomorrow I fly, and the day after and the day after that. I am so grateful you did not take that away from me. I pray no one does. I pray the skies will remain free for all Americans and our visiting friends. This is a wonderful country... and you get to appreciate it even more from the air. As someone said, "I fly to escape the tyranny of petty things." Including terrorism.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

PTS Manuevers - Steep Turns

Another PTS Maneuver, steep turns. Steep turns are done at a 45 degree bank angle and you have to keep the plane + or - 100 ft of the altitude you start at, which is harder than it seems when you're a newbie like me. However, keep on practicing and I am getting the hang of it.

Here is a steep turn to the right.

In this turn I ran into my own wake and the plane did a little "bump" at the end.. that made me happy.

Steep turns to the left was something I was struggling with .. but when I finally found something to sight along (a line of rivets on the cowling of the plane) to use as a reference to keep the nose in the right spot. I am able to do them to the left too. Not perfect, but well within PTS spec. Check steep turns off the list. Next and last thing to get consistent on... soft field landings!

PTS Maneuvers - Soft Field Take Off

I've got a new toy, an Nflightcam+ (which is really just a contour HD camera that is marketed to us pilot types because it has a frame rate that prevents prop blur.. its nice). I've been using the camera to record my practice sessions so I can see what I did right and wrong at different points.

This is a Soft Field take off I did this weekend.

This is one of my favorite maneuvers.. it makes me almost feel like a helicopter pilot skimming low over the ground like that. Its fun.

The point of the soft field takeoff is to get the plane off the ground as quick as possible while keeping as much of the plane's weight as possible off the nose gear (if you are flying a tricycle gear plane like me) and on the mains. Once in the air at a very low speed, you stay low to the ground and accelerate in ground effect up to a Vx or Vy and then climb out normally. This procedure, if you happened to be on an actual soft field, attempts to prevent the plane from nosing over and flipping over if the nose gear gets literally caught in a rut, or gopher hole, or deep mud, etc. I don't have access to an actual soft field, so I practice on the regular runway and pretend like its a soft field.