Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Eagle

My dear IRs, I'd like to introduce you to my eagle. I got this tattoo yesterday in celebration of finally earning my pilots license and my place among those that fly with eagles. I promised myself long ago that I would get an eagle tattoo after I got my license. To me the eagle is the perfect symbol of a pilot, proud (yes I am proud of my accomplishment so far and the greater things I will be able to accomplish), soaring and powerful and free.

Free from those surly bounds of Earth, free to touch the face of God, free to play among the clouds, winds, stars and sunbeams, free to view the wrinkles and bends of the earth, rivers and oceans as only the birds do, free to enable friends and families to get to places they would never consider accessible in a couple short hours, free to continue to challenge myself to be a better, safer, more skilled, more knowledgeable pilot, free to learn.

Yep, I love this eagle and all it represents. As its shape and colors took form on my leg, I knew it was right. Just as me flying is right. This eagle belongs on me just as I belong in the sky :) It is good.

Watch for Falling People

Well, so far we are zero for many on getting up to Willows for a cross country. Today, the last day of the Thanksgiving holiday before we go back to work, my hubby and I planned to fly cross country to Willows, not to buy pie, but to return the pie tins from the last pie purchases there. No joy. Thick fog predicted for the central valley for most of the day. Time for plan B.

Plan B was a trip to Oceano Dunes. If the central valley is totally fogged in, that usually means the coast is clear (literally) ... sure enough all current and forecast weather sources indicated clear on the coastlines. Oceano has a really good BBQ joint about 3 miles from the airport so that was enough for the other half to approve the trip. The only possible damper to the trip is we'd have to be on the way back by 3PM or no later than 3:15PM in order to be on the ground before night fall back at RHV. Neither of us is night current.

RHV weather was fogged in most of the morning and finally got up to MVFR with haze by noon. We got down there and I called for a weather briefing to ensure my interpretation of the weather matched the experts. The briefer mentioned the AIRMET for fog in the San Francisco Bay Area, and how the satellite showed it burning off. Then he said there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence just south of our destination. Finally he mentioned there was a NOTAM for parachute jumping right over Oceano airport so make sure to monitor CTAF so I wouldn't have to dodge falling people. Aside from the that the weather along the route was predicted clear.  As usual they asked if I had any questions and I just said, "OK, to summarize, watch for falling people, don't fly into fog and hope the turbulence stays south of my destination." The briefer laughed, agreed that was a good synopsis and wished me a good flight.

Jeff and I took off around 12:45PM a little later than desired. Before we took off I told Jeff that he was not allowed to touch the controls unless we discussed it first. He asked me if I thought he would do that. I said no, but just in case, we should be clear on that. He agreed, of course. Nothing really exciting happened on the flight there. We had flight following, Jeff managed switching the radios when we needed and programming waypoints into the GPS but aside from that he just relaxed in the right seat, pushed all the way back and played with his electronics.

I found out the plane feels sluggish with 285 lbs in the right seat rather than the 170 or nothing I was used to sitting there. It doesn't fly as fast on the same power setting with the extra weight either. I found if I just let go of the controls the plane would roll right, towards the heavier weight, so I had to correct for that the whole flight. I learned I should verify I have the right charts for the entire flight.. I only had the San Francisco sectional with me and Oceano is on the Las Angeles sectional. Fortunately we had an up-to-date GPS to leverage and a flight plan to follow.

We got to Oceano 1.9 hours after I turned the key. I pulled off a descent landing considering the unfamiliar weight and the narrow and short runway. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time for us to get BBQ, but we had enough time to get out of the plane, wander around the airport and chat with some locals who came out to watch planes take off and land. There were about 10 planes parked on the ramp in transient and it turned out all of the pilots had the same idea to leave at 3. All of the sudden planes were firing up and taxiing down to the run up to take off. We waited a couple minutes to let some of the planes clear the ramp and then we took off too.

5 mile final for 31R - ATIS says 10SM visibility
We picked up flight following on the way back and enjoyed clear and smooth air all the way up to the Bay Area. Jeff and I noticed the plane running a bit rougher and we lost about 5 knots IAS as we passed over King City airport on the way back. That wasn't normal, but it didn't get any worse. I made sure to squawk that information when we got back. On the return you could see the haze over the Bay Area. ATIS at RHV said visibility was 10 miles, but it sure didn't look like that from 2500 feet and 10 miles away! I wished I already had that Instrument Rating I'm planning on getting. It seemed like there were 5 planes all calling inbound for landing from over UTC right after I called in. The sunset was coming fast and I'm sure many of these planes had pilots that were not night current.. just like us. We were cleared for landing following a Bonanza. I couldn't see the airport, but I could see the Bonanza's anti-collision lights so I happily followed that until I actually could see the airport. Finally about 4 miles out we could see the VASIs and that helped me line up for the runway. Jeff reminded me not to descend too much and I was grateful for his help.

I landed the plane gently and rolled off the runway very happy. Jeff and I flew very well together with me in the left seat. I did good on the flying, navigating and landing and we had no major mechanical issues. Next time we go to Oceano dunes we'll have to make it an overnight trip. I forgot I have a friend down there, in addition to good BBQ to eat! It was a good flight. I hope to have many, many more of those!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for. Two weeks ago I passed my checkride and became a certificated private pilot. Today, I flew with my first passenger, my 13 year old daughter, Katie. I had been waiting so long to be able to just fly, to go beyond my 25 NM radius pen, to be able to go flying with my daughter, just me and her. Flying is so special to me and she is my daughter, the most special person in the world. What could be more perfect than that?

The original plan was for Katie and I to fly up to Willows, CA (KWLW) to get pies for Thanksgiving desert from Nancy's Airport Cafe. Nancy's is famous for some of the best pies in Northern California. Willows is about 135NM north of my home airport, normally I would consider that far away for a first cross country after getting a license, but flying (and driving) to and from Willows is very familiar to me. I had my favorite plane reserved and knew the route, but the weather was looking iffy. True to typical Northern California winter, a series of low pressure systems, with rain, were working their way from north to south. I knew the latest system would be working its way south today and was expected to reach our area late afternoon or evening. When I checked the weather Willows looked clear, outlooks were VFR, the winds aloft were strong but not horrible. I felt uneasy though. I kept checking different weather data, prog charts, SIGMETS and AIRMETS, etc, etc. I realized I was trying to find data to convince myself it was OK to do this particular flight. But the "little voice" was insisting it wasn't a good idea. I didn't want to do my first post checkride cross country flight with the most precious cargo I could carry (my own daughter) into a potential storm, even if the storm wasn't supposed to be in the area for many hours to come, and the expected weather could hardly be categorized as a "storm". Finally, I decided not to go on that mission. The "little voice" calmed immediately.

Katie and I discussed alternate plans, I had been wanting to fly towards Monterey Bay and go along the coastline (all summer I'd looked at small planes flying the same coastline with some jealousy) and she mentioned that she would like to see the cement ship sunk off the coast at Seabright Beach. We checked the weather at the small airports along the Monterey Bay coastline and all looked good, in spite of the heavy clouds over the coastal range. When we got to the flight club there were clouds in all directions but south. Perfect. We would take off south, continue that way until we got around the clouds over the mountains, then head west to the coast to see what we could see there. We'd fly along the coastline and view the cement ship and whatever else caught our fancy, then come back. A simple flight, not a cross country, but it felt right.

And it was, the flight went very well. I flew well, I flew the plane with the confidence of my long training. Katie is a fantastic co-pilot. She helped me spot traffic and didn't talk when I needed quiet. She quietly enjoyed the flight and pointed out spots on beaches where she's camped and surfed. She also quickly figured out we had a strong headwind as we flew south... she noticed the cars on the highway were keeping up with us :)  She told me we would have a tailwind coming home. I made sure to do easy climbs and descents so they wouldn't bother her ears and she didn't mind the small turbulence we got, as normal, coming back into the RHV area. Of course, she's been flying even longer than I have. She used to ride along on my husband's primary training flights! As I was flying she was texting her friends... "oh, just flying around Santa Cruz for fun" she says.

There's so much more I could share... the various shapes of the high and low clouds. The fun of flying around them. Being the person flying the plane along the shoreline instead of the earthbound person watching the plane. Deciding the altitude and direction I'd fly... on the fly. Looking at the shapes of the hills, knowing the direction of the winds and predicting the interaction of the two.. correctly. Being able to put the plane exactly where I want it to be. Holding the altitude I wanted... figuring out 95 knots is 2300 RPM between 3000 and 5000 ft MSL. Controlling my airspeed coming back into RHV airspace (something I've struggled with in the past) and even landing a good landing in windy conditions. I felt little pieces of my training clicking into place on that flight. 

All the while my daughter took it in stride. Of course I was PIC of the plane she was in... as she explains to her friends, "my parents are pilots". Both mother and father are pilots. I love the fact that my daughter is uncaring of the old prejudices that used to keep women from even thinking they could fly, and if a woman was bold enough to think she could... others would tell her no. My parents, my mother, never gave me the impression I should be any more or less capable than anyone else because of my gender. My own grandmother was a WASP in World War II and later a math teacher. Not surprising that I'm a pilot now. I hope to give my own daughter the same sense that what she will become is not limited by her gender, her only limits are the ones she creates. Those limits can be challenged and changed.

After landing I made sure to wish the tower and ground control Happy Thanksgiving.  I taxied back and Katie helped me secure the plane. Then we went inside the club to relax. I saw my CFI there and told him that flight made all of the hours of training worth it. He looked surprised at that. I suppose I didn't say it well.... the hours of training gave me that flight with my daughter before she outgrows her mom and dad and leaves us behind. The hours of training gives me the capability and privilege to fly. There will be many more flights like this one to come. Many more people for me to fly with and share the wonder with... and times when I'll fly by myself.  I am now one of the few people in the world who can climb into a machine and fly! That is worth every minute of training, study, joy and frustration.

This Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for.... and I am. I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My PPL Checkride - Part III - Flight

A newly minted private pilot and her (rental) plane - N5093K
I finished re-checking the fuel in the plane and looked back at the door of the flight club for the DPE. She had disappeared. Hmph. Here I was, ready to go and no flight examiner go to with me. So I went back into the club and got her :) she had just finished catching up on the news of the morning.

We went out to the plane and she asked me some questions about the plane as we walked around it… what is that? comm antenna. what are those? VOR antenna, etc.  Then she went to get into the plane. I reached in the door opposite her and told her I will be doing my passenger briefings before we pull out. I asked her if she wanted one and she did. So I went through my very first passenger briefing. It was thorough (of course). When I was done we pulled the plane out and climbed in. Time to prove not only could I talk the talk, I could walk the walk of a real pilot. I went through the checklists, started the engine, tested the brakes, gave her the controls so she could test them as well. Everything was good.

I got ATIS and requested a Calaveras (NE bound) departure from ground control. This is the departure we would fly in order to start the hypothetical cross country flight. After getting clearance, I started the taxi to the run up area at the other end of the runway. As we taxied she suggested we could stay in the pattern first and then do the departure. I agreed and told her I would request the change in clearance after we got to the run up area and stopped. Got to the run up area, requested the amended clearance and went through the run up and pre-take off checklists. Then I asked what type of takeoff she wanted. Short field. OK, 10 degrees of flaps for that. Reviewed the take off and climb checklists and we were ready to go.

The initial pattern portion was uneventful. Short field take off, flew a clean pattern, landed a good short field landing. Then we were switched to the other runway. Soft field take off next. The tower asked me to line up and wait, she said it would be OK if I had to stop, she knew I knew that isn't part of the soft field procedure. Soft field take off was fine, fly another clean pattern. Then she said she wanted a forward slip to landing. I asked if she wanted a soft field landing, she said no.. just a normal landing. OK then. Set up a bit high on final and did the forward slip to landing. After we landed she flipped up the flaps and had me take off and then request a Calaveras departure. We were done in the pattern.

I did the correct noise abatement turn and then lined up for the heading I calculated for the first cross country leg. Flew the leg but ascended to only 3500 feet because we weren't actually going to fly the cross country. She monitored my heading and altitudes to verify I did that portion of the test right. No problem there. Then came the diversion, the scenario was a medical emergency where she had to get to the Concord airport quickly. I knew in general where Concord was, so I pointed the plane in that general direction, then looked up on the chart the designation for Concord, plugged that into the GPS, gave her the time, distance and fuel required to get there. Then I had to demonstrate the radio calls I would do. I was slow in this process, mostly from messing with the chart, but I did it.

We did a turn back towards San Antonio lake to do maneuvers. I did a couple clearing turns and then she had me do steep turns left and right. I turned left, then turned right. Then when I was back on the original heading again I looked at her. OK, slow flight, some turns while in slow flight. Power off stall and recovery. Then power on stall, for the power on stall she wanted a turning power on stall. The idea was the increased bank in the turn should help the plane reach the stall quicker. Maybe it was quicker but it still took a long time. I was glad my CFI had me do a turning power off stall a couple flights earlier. I *hated* doing it, but I knew I could so I just did. It seemed to take forever to get the plane to the buffet, then I took it out of that configuration and recovered. She had me dial in to the San Jose VOR and determine the radial we were on, the radial we would be on if we flew right to the San Jose VOR and how I would know we were over the VOR.

Around this time we were nearing Calaveras again. I was wondering when we would be turning towards Tracy or at least some flatter land than the hills near the reservoir for the simulated emergency. She wanted to do simulated instrument next. I told her I wasn't comfortable doing maneuvers here near Calaveras as it was a main corridor for approaches to RHV. She said it was OK, we just did a clearing turn and we wouldn't really be maneuvering. I said OK. (Now I think I should have pushed back on this. I still don't think its a good idea to do maneuvers in a common approach corridor - nothing bad happened, but it was unnecessarily risky.) Gave her the controls, put on the foggles and we did a descent and a turn. Then she took the controls, I ducked my head and we did unusual attitude recovery.

The flying was going well. I didn't think I had screwed up yet! We were over Calaveras and it was time to call in for inbound if we were going to come back to RHV this time. This was when the simulated engine failure occurred. I wasn't expecting that at that location. OK then. Pitch for best glide, use checklist, troubleshoot, communicate, then come in for the landing. There was a large flat area at the north end of the reservoir where the water was evaporated away. I said that was my field. It was a good field. But I had problems getting to it right, I was concerned about the terrain all around me and the water at the end of the field. For some reason I didn't want to go over the water, and I didn't want to impact the terrain. So I set up poorly for the approach to the field. I initiated a go around at the right time but it was obvious if that was a real emergency it would not have had a good result. I was sure I failed at that point. She asked what I could have done differently there and I told her. And I kept calm, tried hard not to give a *&#R(*& and kept flying the plane.

She said it was time to return to RHV, I quickly got ATIS and contacted the tower for clearance back into RHV airspace. I knew if I hadn't failed yet, I had better be perfect on this approach and landing if I wanted to pass this checkride. I kept the approach airspeed under control, didn't go an inch below pattern altitude and flew a good pattern. We were cleared to land. She had said she wanted a soft field landing. When we were abeam the numbers she pulled the power again. OK, redeem yourself she said. Make the field without adding power. This should be easy, I thought. All of my landings for months and months were power off landings (I forgot the last 5 months of power ON landings practice I had been doing!). So I set up normally and came in on approach, I flew a square pattern too. She didn't like that too much, she wanted to see me set up high on the approach and I didn't do that. We glided in towards the runway and I saw that without power we would make the runway, but not make the threshold. In a real emergency that would be totally OK, but this wasn't a real emergency, so I prepared to add power. At that point she said to go ahead and add power. I added a little bit and then took it out. We made the threshold and I did an acceptable soft field landing.

We got off on Delta and she said we were done. I could taxi back to Squadron 2. I didn't know what to think. But I knew what to do… keep flying the plane. I cleared the runway, did the after landing checklist, switched to ground as instructed, and taxied back to parking. I almost forgot to breathe, I was so nervous. I had done some of my best flying in a very long time and nailed almost every maneuver but I wasn't sure I passed. Then again, I wasn't sure I failed. She hadn't closed the book and told me I failed. So, I just kept my head and took care of the number 1 job which was getting the plane parked safely. As far as I was concerned, this test wasn't over till the plane was chocked and secured.

We got back to parking and I shut off the avionics and shut down the engine. She said, congratulations, you passed, but you really needed to work on judging distances and power off approaches. She asked if I was surprised that I passed. I was. She also talked a bit more about different aspects of the flight. Then she shook my hand, said it was a pleasure and started to go to the club to do the non-paperwork. I asked if she needed my log book.. nope. It was my PIC time to log. Off she went to the club.

I stood there for a second, the plane was still in the middle of the ramp. Well, better secure the plane and get my stuff together. I pushed the plane back into its spot and started to tie it down. As I walked around the plane it started to hit me. I passed. I actually, really, passed. I did it. Woah. Well, I didn't want my first act as a new pilot to be secure the plane wrong, so I made sure to take my time and do it right. I got my stuff out of the plane, patted the nose and headed in. Still just a bit stunned.

I walked in the door and my husband says he's glad he gets to come home from Europe (he figured if I failed he may as well stay in Europe on his upcoming trip because I'd be miserable to live with). I hear the DPE and my CFI, Scott, talking in the office. So I go in there. She hands over the printed out temporary airman certificate for me to sign and shakes my hand again. Scott congratulates me. We all chat some more about kids and schools (all of us are parents of youngish kids) and then she was headed out the door. She shook my hand again and I told her I hope I would meet her again for more check rides in the future. After she left I gave my CFI a big hug. I was still stunned but the glow was starting to hit. I was now a certificated private pilot!  I don't remember what else we talked about right then… He said, when I come down, he wanted a debrief of the ride so he could better prepare future students.

Then he had another student to teach and my hubby and I had to eat something. I started taking my stuff out to the car and Scott stopped me as I went by the office. He says, "Here." and hands me a penny. "I saw this penny out on the ramp, I thought of you and remembered hearing its good luck to step on a penny and pick it up. So that's what I did. You have it."  That earned him another hug. Then he said, "Go fly! Those skies will teach you more than I ever could."

Now in my flight bag, instead of the log book I no longer have to carry I have a little pouch with these things: my government issued photo ID, my temporary airman's certificate, my medical, a picture of a cat bounding over a green field with a smiley faced sun, and a penny. The artifacts of the end of this phase of my training.

The next day it was with some sadness that I removed the weekly flight lessons from my schedule. Time for me to learn on my own for a bit. I've been pushed out of the nest now. I have a license to fly and learn on my own. No worries, I'll be back for much more formal training. I have an IFR rating and CPL to earn after all, but for now, I am going to stretch my wings a bit and see what there is to see out there.

Thank you Jeff, my other half, for patiently waiting for me to see you were right, I really DO love this flying thing. Thank you to my siblings for your magical support and thank you to my family and friends for putting up with aviation on my brain for the last 18 months. Not that aviation will ever stop being on my brain, but I'll have more time for other things for a while at least :) Thank you to all of the people that blog and email and write about aviation for providing additional inspiration when I needed it. Finally, I can never thank you enough, Scott Rohlfing, my CFI, for the gift of flight.

My PPL Checkride - Part II - Oral

I emerged from the bathroom, not refreshed, but determined. I went back to the room my materials were set up in and saw another headset there. The DPE must have found my stuff and knew what was going to happen there :). Time to face the music. I went out to the main room of the club. As I turn the corner I see my CFI, my husband and the DPE chatting. I almost forgot my husband was coming down to the club to support/heckle me. It was good to see the two familiar faces. I introduced myself to the DPE and we all chatted a bit. My husband and I thought this same DPE had done his checkride several years ago, it turns out she did not. His checkride was with another female DPE who doesn't work in the Bay Area anymore.

Preliminary chatting done my CFI and I went to prepare the maintenance logs for the plane I would fly today. By "prepare" I simply mean flag the pages I would need to prove the airworthiness of the aircraft according to FAA requirements (Annual, 100 hour, 50 hour, ADs, ELT, Pitot/Static, Transponder inspections and maintenance). Then it was time to start. The first step was for the DPE to log in to the online application system, IACRA, and put in my ID information and then validate I meet the aeronautical experience and ground and flight requirements for this application by reviewing my log book and endorsements. My husband heckled/helped from the background :) It was very nice to have him there.

Next the DPE, my CFI and I went to the back room to get started on the actual checkride. The checkride encompasses both oral and flight portions and the whole thing is a practical test. My CFI stayed in the room for the "preamble" where the DPE explained the process, her "plan of action" which described the things she would be testing me on, the fact that she cannot test me on anything that is NOT in the published PPL PTS,  the three potential outcomes (pass/fail/continuance), what would constitute a fail, what she would cover in the oral and flight portions, etc.  She said very simply, if we are walking out to the plane, I passed the oral test and if we were taxiing back to the ramp and she had not said I was not within standards, I passed the flight portion of the test. So don't ask her about it if we are walking out to the plane. :)

She mentioned that she had just gone to a DPE meeting where the FAA highlighted specific areas they want focused on in the checkrides. She also said that an FAA person would be coming to observe *her* checkrides at some point soon, but there was no examiner here today. She asked if I believed we would be able to do the flight portion of the test and I said yes. At that point I handed over her fee, $500. Yeah, that is steep… but its worth it.  I believe it was at this point that my CFI left the room after patting me on the back and wishing me luck.

With that the core of the test begins. I get asked standard questions, what privileges can you exercise as a private pilot? what privileges can't you exercise? how long is your pilots license good for? how do you remain current? what are there requirements to carry passengers? what class medical is required? how long does it last? What do you have to carry with you when you fly? What do you time do you have to log?  Have you brought an airworthy aircraft? show me how you know it is airworthy (take out the maintenance logs and walk her through the sticky notes placed in the logbook earlier).  The test seemed to jump around a bit. As I answered a question, something I would say would trigger the next question. The flow of the test made sense and I forgot that I was being tested and just answered questions as I would if any person interested in aviation was asking me questions. Good thing my answers were correct!

We discussed a couple scenarios around required equipment and what you do if it was not functional and what to do if non-required equipment was non-functional. What is required to fly with non-functional equipment? With that the discussion turned to the hypothetical cross country flight plan. Show me your take off and landing calculations, weight and balance calculations. Why does the plane perform less well at higher altitudes? what is density altitude? What route would you take to get to the destination? Walk her through the route and the visual and navigational aide checkpoints. What cruise altitudes would be used? why? How long would it take to get there? how much fuel would be required? how much fuel must you have in reserve? how many minutes of flight are required on reserve fuel? All of this seems daunting if you aren't familiar with the concepts and practice.. but by now, this was relatively easy for me to answer. I had not only my own cross country flights but over 30 hours of cross country flying with my husband in the last  12 months with most of our cross countries recently having me handle nav/comm and fuel calcs.

Tell me about the weather for the flight. Would this flight be a go or no-go? In this case I am very happy with the way my CFI taught me how to go through this. I am not an amateur meteorologist, but I had to demonstrate my knowledge of the weather. The way we did it was relatively easy. I walked the DPE through the weather situation following the same process a weather briefer would (and did!) walk me through it. Hazardous conditions, big picture, current conditions at home base, destination and en route, forecast conditions at home base, destination and en route. I told her my conclusion that I would start the flight and explain to my passenger that we would turn back if there actually were IFR conditions in the central valley.

More scenarios: you are flying to Blue Canyon and the mountains and there's a fire with a lot of smoke. You don't know where you are, what do you do? you realize you will have to offload fuel in order to take off from where you are but you won't have enough fuel to get to your destination, what do you do? a plane is approaching you on a head on collision course, what do you do? What special precautions/equipment do you carry for night flight? You are on approach to a large airport and are cleared for LAHSO, do you have to accept the clearance? how do you find out what runway length is available for LAHSO?

More knowledge questions:  what lighting is required for night flight? when? What color are the lights on the edge of a runway, the approach end, the departure end, the taxi way? What beacon is used for civilian airports? military? explain the requirements to enter and operate within Class A, B, C, D, E and G airspace, what are the VFR weather minimums for each. Point to the chart, what airspace is that location in? what are the rules for that airspace? how do you get information on special use airspace?

Some other questions happened but all of the sudden we were done. She suggested a brief break for her to eat some food, I could go out and verify the fuel truck did fuel the plane and we could go on with the flight portion. I had passed the oral test! Happily, I packed away the extra reference material I had and put it away in my car. Then I picked up the airplane's maintenance log and I was taking that back to the club's owner when I ran into the CFI and student who was Soloing today. My husband and that CFI's other student were there as well.  I greeted all of them cheerfully, after all, I had just passed the oral portion of my PPL checkride.

My husband made a cryptic remark that I'm lucky I'd still be able to fly today. That stopped me in my tracks! "What? What happened to my plane!?" I asked. "Nothing,"  they said. It turns out the student who was going to solo this morning did, but with less than happy results. His CFI had him to do touch n' go landings on his solo instead of full stop landings. On one of his landings, he lost directional control on the touch or the go (I don't know which) and ended up crossing the field, crossing another runway and ended up in a corner of the airport property. Somehow he managed to do all of this without damaging the plane, the airport lights and signs, innocent bystanders or himself. He was one very lucky student pilot in that regard. As a result, while where was some excitement that could have prevented my flight, everything was fine, for me anyway. I felt very bad for that student pilot though. I hoped he wouldn't let that experience stop him from pursuing his dream.

As I went out to the plane to check on the fuel, the DPE wanted to catch up on the happenings of the morning. So my CFI chatted with her and my husband told me our friend, Paul, said good luck. The way he said it made me wonder if they were up to something.. but he said no. Hmmm.. I've known my hubby too long to completely trust him when he talks like that, but I went on out to the plane.

When I got out to the plane there was a note on the pilot's seat (my seat!) on the paper it said simply "Good Luck! Jeff and Paul :) " on the other side of the paper was an idyllic scene in charcoal color, a happy kitty bounding over a green field with flowers, blue sky, a couple puff ball clouds and a smiley face sun. Inscribed in happy script was this quote, "And not a single fuck was given that day."  I laughed. I knew what this was about. This was Jeff and Paul's way of reminding me not to let mistakes fluster me as I do the flight test…. if I mess up, I should not give a *&$(*#. I should just keep on flying the plane. I carefully folded the note and put it in my flight bag.I resolved to make sure not to give a ($*#&$ if stuff happened, as I knew it would. It was a good thing I did.

Part III - Flight

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My PPL Checkride - Part I - Ready as I'm Gonna Be

My checkride was scheduled for 0900 PST, 1700Z on Wednesday, November 9, 2011. Early in the week the weather was looking iffy with a chance of rain or at least an approaching low pressure system with south winds. I didn't worry too much though. I had learned after months of watching forecasts like a hawk no matter what the forecast says, it will change. Sure enough, as the week progressed, the high pressure system over Northern California dug in its heels and stayed put long enough to provide me with very good checkride weather.

The three and two nights before my checkride I started having anxiety dreams... but I felt confident. The day before my checkride, I felt less confident. I met with my CFI one last time. We didn't fly. I asked the A&P to fix the soft right brake pedal of the plane I was going to fly on my checkride instead. We reviewed the route and altitudes I planned to Blue Canyon per the DPEs request. We went over my weight and balance and take off and landing distance calculations. All of that looked OK. We went over a few last minute questions and I talked through the procedure and specs for each of the PTS maneuvers. That was a good move, talking through the maneuvers exposed some holes in my thinking that my CFI was able to fill very quickly.

He asked me if I had any concerns about the oral portion.. I was a little worried if the DPE would ask me in depth questions on the airplane systems. He said that would be easy to handle, unless it is something you have to know off the top of your head while you fly, you can look it up in the POH as the DPE waits. He asked if I had any concerns about the flight portion. I said I was concerned about being able to do a soft field landing as I hadn't done many of those right. This is interesting, he said, "Great!" as he rubbed his hands together. "All you have to do is fly the rest of the flight well, you could bounce down the runway on the soft field landing and still pass. To fail you have to show consistent not meeting of the PTS standards." He emphasized again, the DPE wants to see immediate corrective action and no matter what, don't let her see me sweat. If I screw up, just keep going. As a parting instruction he told me not to bother studying or trying to "cram for the exam" that night. It was time to relax, take care of myself and get some rest and above all... no flying stuff!

Bottom line, he was totally confident that I would pass the oral portion of the test *knock on wood*. So was I. We knew I had the ability to pass the flight portion (he wouldn't have signed me off if I didn't) but neither of us was 100% sure I would. I had performed each PTS maneuver to spec, but was not consistent. Would I be to spec on the big day? We didn't know. I had told him I would step up and "just do it" when the time came. I knew I typically step up and make things happen when the time comes, but, I was a bit nervous.. would this be the one time I didn't step up? The one time that met the most to me?

I left that lesson feeling good, as I usually do after a flight lesson. I worked the rest of the day I got more and more nervous. I think I did the best possible thing I could do. I reached out to my 3 brothers and 3 sisters for support. I sent out the formal request for smart vibes and great flying vibes to my siblings.  My brothers and sisters and I are separated by large distances but we are all very close, whenever one of us has need or desire, we request vibes for whatever it is that we are struggling with or would like support for. So I sent out the request. Within 30 minutes I had three emails of support and utmost confidence from my siblings... I immediately felt much more calm. I went to bed early that night and slept like a baby. I woke up the next morning at 5:15 AM and checked my email, three more emails of support had come in over night. I had full 100% support of my siblings. With their support there was no way I could fail. I was so grateful.

It was time to get up... 5:15 in the morning. I was grateful for the time change the weekend before which helped me feel a bit better about the hour. I took my shower and went downstairs to get the latest weather information for my hypothetical flight to Blue Canyon. I needed to print the pertinent weather data so I could review it with the DPE during the oral portion of the flight and describe my process for arriving at my go/no-go decision for the flight (both the hypothetical one and the checkride). There was an AIRMET for IFR conditions (mist and fog) predicted for the central valley along the route of flight but aside from that the weather looked great. I planned on getting a standard weather briefing when I got to the flight club and to use that for my final flight plan calculations. I made sure I had all of the required paperwork and materials and packed up my car for the hour drive to the flight club.

I got to the club at 7:30 and checked out my plane. The squawk for the soft right brake pedal was still open! Oh no! I found the owner of the club and asked him if the plane was worked on.. he said he fixed it immediately after I mentioned it the day before.. he just forgot to close the squawk. *whew* I preflit the plane and everything was fine. I left the plane's checklist on my seat as a reminder to be sure to do the passenger briefing (my first) with the DPE. I called the fuel truck over to top off the tanks. When I went back in to the club someone else was set up in the room I wanted to use for my oral test... I remembered there was another student pilot scheduled to solo that morning. I figured that was this student and his CFI. So I went to the back room and set up my stuff.

I got my weather briefing and finished my flight plan calculations and made my decision regarding the go/no-go decision for both the hypothetical cross country and the actual checkride. The briefer mentioned the AIRMET as well but he also stated the satellite and data from airports along the route all showed at most very patchy fog over a small area in the central valley which was predicted to clear by the proposed time of departure. All other weather data showed good flight conditions for the checkride and even good flight conditions for the cross country. I decided the checkride was a go and I would explain to the DPE that I would take off on the cross country with a plan to turn around if the low clouds and fog were worse than expected in the valley. I knew this decision would be the first test of my abilities as a private pilot.

I took one more look at my flight plan, adjusted my reference material and set up my laptop. Then I was headed to the bathroom when I looked out the window and saw the DPE getting out of her car, 15 minutes early! Oh no! She got there before my CFI did and we had to get the maintenance logs for the plane ready. I ducked into the bathroom, took care of business, washed my face and hands and looked at myself in the mirror. "Am I ready?" and I knew the answer. The answer for this was the same as the answer for the same question before each of the 14 marathons I've run. "I'm as ready as I'm gonna be." It was time to go out there and finish this phase of my flight training.

Part II - Oral Test

Monday, November 7, 2011

35 Hours and Counting

The check ride is scheduled: 9AM Wednesday.
The hypothetical cross country destination is set: Blue Canyon Airport
The DPE's weight is provided: 120 lbs (female, smaller than me)
The application submitted online
The plane is reserved: my "trusty steed" 5093K

Just under 35 hours to the start of my PPL Practical Test.. aka, the check ride. I feel strangely calm. Yes, I am having anxiety dreams now. But they don't bother me... anxiety dreams are normal for me before an event that is the culmination of a long effort. Marathons get some interesting dreams. My first 8 mile run got my worst anxiety dream! So I had a couple of anxiety dreams this morning. And in a way it makes me feel OK. My subconscious is gearing up for the check ride the same way I gear up for a marathon. I do well in marathons.

I learned something new flying with my CFI today. Sometimes my approach is actually set up right, and I don't have to fix it... *laugh* I've had a couple instances recently where I had the plane set up great on approach and then I went and "fixed it" when I didn't have to. I suppose I'll get used to things being right eventually :)

I don't have much to say at this point. The finish line is in sight. All I have to do is do it. It really is easy, if I just do what Scott says! Wish me luck, intelligent answers on the oral test, high ceilings, favorable winds and a good flight.