Monday, June 25, 2012

This NEVER Happens

My instrument training flight last Friday was full of things that never happen. My CFI chose the route and airports he picked to demonstrate some ways to deal with what usually happens. But that didn't happen :)

We flew to Merced airport (MCE) to fly a back course localizer approach. Then it was time to circle to land. That was freaky, approaching a runway from one direction, then flying around the runway at 500' AGL and landing the other direction. Every VFR flight pattern instinct in my body was screaming at me... too low, too low! But I did it OK and landed.

We cancelled the IFR flight plan on the ground via radio, taxied back to the run up area and radioed NorCal to pick up the flight plan I had pre-filed for the return. I was prepared to copy down whatever ATC cleared me for, knowing it would not be the route I filed. My CFI was going to show me how to negotiate with ATC to get the clearance that would give us the best route for the planned approach back to RHV after getting whatever we got from ATC. I was so used to not getting what I filed I had lost the habit of actually writing down what I filed for the training flights. This time, however, because I had to file a whole route, I kept notes of the route. Good thing too! This time the clearance was very VERY simple. Cleared as filed, even at the altitude I filed. His jaw dropped.

I programmed in the route I filed and we took off. Then it was even stranger, the controller immediately cleared us direct to GILRO (the last fix I had filed for the route before starting the RNAV GPS Zulu 31R approach to RHV). That really never happens.

Even more strange.. on the way in to RHV after the GILRO fix, I hear ATC talking to a guy in a Bonanza. The Bonanza happened to be piloted by my husband. I chuckled a bit.... but I was focused on the flying and I couldn't look for him anyway. I had my foggles on. Then ATC calls out to the Bonanza a Cessna flying opposite direction about 500' below the Bonanza's position. Then ATC calls out to me a Bonanza flying opposite direction about 500' above our position. CFI and I both laugh at that. How often does ATC call out a husband and wife to each other as they fly? Not too often at all.

As we continued on the approach ATC asked me to maintain best forward speed as there was a Boeing 747 following us. (THAT happens all the time on this particular approach.) Fortunately we were descending so I was able to get the little 172 up to 120 knots. Eventually we cancelled IFR and asked for permission to fly the profile VFR. ATC was happy to let us do that because it let them get the Boeing past us.

It was a long flight and a great day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Landing After Instrument Flying

I suppose its a common issue that people doing instrument training will discover their landings suddenly suck. It sure is common for me. This is a loose description of my last landing after 1.8 hours of simulated instrument flying. I did well for the first 1.5 hours of the instrument flight, but then I started to get tired and things started falling apart. I did successfully, if sloppily, shoot the GPS approach for my home airport and it was time to land. 

Take off the foggles and land, he says.

Foggles come off, I see the runway right where it should be. The VASI shows we are right on glide slope. My brain freezes for a second.

Land. Land. How do I land? Airspeed, track. Airspeed, track.

Track was good. Airspeed... I was flying the approach at 90kts, slow it down to 85kts and 10 degrees flaps. Now I was getting high ... why? airspeed, shoot, I'm still at 75 kts. Too fast, slow down. Pitch up.. oh yeah, pull power, that would help. Something still not right.

Oh! Trim! 

Deep breath, slow it down a bit more, 6 quick turns of the trim wheel. Airspeed is where it should be. Still a bit high. Another 10 degrees of flaps and a bit of slip and I'm back on glide slope. Soon I'm crossing the fence at the edge of the airport property. I'm using the rivets on the cowling to line up with the centerline, but for some reason they keep moving. I am struggling to understand why.

Crosswinds! I say out loud.

I put in the ailerons to counteract the drift and align with the runway. Round out. From the corner of my eye I see his hands reach for the controls, but he doesn't touch them. I still have a chance to finish this.

Put your eyes at the end of the runway, he says.

Eyes go to the end of the runway, ailerons into the wind, aligned with centerline. Touch down on the upwind wheel. Slow down and exit at Charlie. I was surprised to be able to get off the runway so quickly. It wasn't pretty, but it was done. I was tired, brain fried, but I got it together in time. This experience showed me how much mental effort instrument flying requires but no matter how tired you are, landings are mandatory. I'm thinking next time I need to be thinking about landing a long time before reaching decision altitude. I'll try that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a Difference Two Years Makes

June 2010 

Two years ago today, June 4, my CFI, then a stranger, got into the left seat of a Cessna 172 and had me sit in the right seat. Then he taxied the plane out and took off, headed for what I was to learn is the practice area. There he demonstrated how the plane really wants to fly, how it won't go crashing to the ground if you let go of the controls. Then he made me take the controls and steer the plane and go up and down a bit and see what the plane does. In that process I discovered the turbulence that terrified me when my husband flew was not so scary when I had my hands on the yolk. For some reason, with my hands on the yolk I could feel the winds pressures against the plane and the little bumps of turbulence no longer seemed like random jolts with no reason.  Two flights later, I completed the Pinch Hitter training. I was "trained" enough that I could successfully crash land a plane near an airport in case my husband became incapacitated and walk away. I was completely and utterly hooked. I had to get my pilot's license!

June 2011

A year after that, June 4 2011. I was between my first and second solo cross country flights. My first solo cross country was scrubbed a couple times due to some late season storms. Bad weather delayed my long solo cross country. I was absolutely thrilled at my accomplishment in my first cross country solo and even more in love with flying. I wrote about that at length here and here. I spent more time writing about my cross country than flying it!

June 2012

Fast forward to this year. Today I was scheduled for an IFR training session. I didn't fly because of another late season storm. We didn't switch to using the simulator because my CFI said I'm too good on the simulator, I need to be in a real airplane to be challenged. If someone had told me on June 1, 2010 that two years from then I would be not only a pilot but working on an instrument rating, I would have laughed in their face. The same way I laughed at my husband when he said I would like this "flying thing".

From There to Here

I got my license almost 7 months ago. It took more work, struggle, challenge and fun than I could have ever expected. I have learned more about myself and my strengths and weaknesses than I ever wanted. It was an experience of ups and downs, but every down has had an up.  I've flown around 65 hours since then.  I'm happy to report, so far, I have kept the take off and landing count equal :)  I've flown 16 hours in simulators as part of my instrument training. I've flown almost 50 hours cross country as PIC, taken friends and family for rides. I've visited friends, had a 800 chicken taco, purchased pie and returned pie tins. I've experienced moderate and severe turbulence as PIC and not panicked. I've forgotten and relearned how [not] to land and developed my own habits for flying. I've talked with ATC over 5 different states. I'm able to fly when and where I want - governed only by my own capabilities, my plane's performance, the weather and some FARs. I've been able to cheer on new friends as they pursued their pilots licenses.


Joy is now a word that has meaning in my vocabulary. I still can't explain it.. but that's the word that best describes what flying is to me. I've been able to share that joy with my friends by flying with them over the Golden Gate Bridge, and touring the reservoirs of Northern California and flying 200 miles to visit over lunch. I have seen and learned many, many things. And I can't wait to see and learn more. My dearest wish is that I continue to fly, to see, experience and learn and share the realm of the birds with those who dare to experience it and inspire those who are afraid like I was.

Thanks to that Pinch Hitter flight two years ago, I have found joy. I have come very far between then and now. The journey is far from over. I am looking forward to my next walk out onto that ramp with flight bag, headset, and cushion in hand. Out to pre-flight the plane and start my next adventure.