Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

This mug is probably the best Christmas gift ever. 

It's Christmas Day... there's a cold wind blowing in the clear blue skies, stirring the tree tops above and pushing popcorn clouds past the window. It's a great day to stay indoors and enjoy. As I write this I'm watching, for the bazillionth time, A Christmas Story. My husband is taking a nap and my daughter is visiting her boyfriend's family. My brothers and sisters are in 5 different states and my parents are at their homes. I desperately miss my family on days like today. But I can smile too... I was able to see my brothers and sisters and their families and my Dad and step Mom for a fantastic week in St. George Utah this year. And, I completed my CFI this year. To top it off and bring a tear to my eye, my brother sent me this mug. That's a photo of me flying the Arrow I trained in for so long. The name of this blog, my nickname and CFI 2015. I am so blessed.

I'm writing this to share this wonderful gift with you because it makes me smile and we should always share what makes us smile. I'm also writing to wish all who have read this blog over the years the very Merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Year. I wish you all the opportunity to reflect on the people who have made your lives richer by their presence. If you are very lucky you will be with some of them. Reflect on the memories of people who have flown west but are always in your heart. Reflect on the challenges and accomplishments of the year and the joy of just being alive.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Planets Align and a CFI is Born

We Have a Date

Tuesday, December 1 - I drive to work extra early to avoid traffic. I'm sitting at my desk working and my cell phone rings - "No Caller ID" it says. Normally I don't answer "No Caller ID" calls, but this time I did. The caller asked for me by name and identified himself as the Aviation Safety Inspector for the San Jose FSDO. He was calling to schedule my CFI check ride!

Private & Commercial Lesson Plans
I was thrilled to hear from him and I think he could tell. We agreed to schedule the ride for Wednesday, December 9 at 7:30 AM at the flying club. He picked the date. I was willing to move any meeting I had to in order to do this ride but I had no meetings scheduled that day. We had a very pleasant chat as he told me what to expect and asked if I was endorsed and ready to go. He started to explain how it's OK for people to download lesson plans from the internet but if I did that he'd make me write one out in front of him. I told him not to worry, I had lesson plans I'd written from scratch. He seemed pleasantly surprised about that.

I texted my CFI, Scott, with the exciting news. Then I told my husband, Jeff, what was coming. I made him swear not to tell anyone else. I'd had the unfortunate experience of going up for a check ride with the whole world knowing and failing the ride. I didn't want to have that happen again when I was going up for the most difficult check ride of all. Lastly I checked the forecast for the my check ride date. The weather looked clear for most of the mid week.

Preparing for the Ride

I had a week to do any final preparation for my CFI check ride. Looking back I think I spent it exactly the right way. I had already planned to fly on the 1st so I did that. I practiced performance maneuvers, soft field take offs and landings, emergency descents and emergency approach to landing. Later that evening I flew again to get night current. Three trips around the pattern with a full stop landing for each. That was all the flying I did.

My work remained extremely busy. So I didn't have much spare time to worry about my ride during the week. The weekend before the ride I volunteered as Race Control for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. As a result I got to spend time with my racing family and I had something to do aside from pace and worry all weekend. During my downtime at the race I reviewed my lesson plans and studied the finer details of how magnetos work.

I met with Scott twice... once on the 1st to just calm down my spinning brain and discuss what we'd have to do next (complete the IACRA form online and some final paperwork). The second time was because, as usual, I came up with a couple more questions. The second day we met was the morning of the 7th. I had a small window I could step away from the office and he had a small window in the middle of his corporate flying day. The weather was not cooperating but Scott was his usual professional self and flew the instrument approach back into RHV to meet up with me. I think we talked for about an hour and that was it. The weather forecast for the rest of the week did not bode well. Low ceilings were forecast for the entire week.

Monday night I gathered everything I needed for my check ride. My private and commercial syllabi and lesson plans and all of the materials I needed for all of my private and commercial lessons (I didn't know which ones I'd be asked to teach). My reference materials: the 2016 FAR/AIM, Airplane Flying Handbook, Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Aviation Instructors Handbook, sample POH for both C172 and Piper Arrow II. My iPad with useful videos and even more reference material. My pilot certificates, medical and knowledge test results. Both of my log books (so I could prove I was properly endorsed). In the end I had three bags of books plus my laptop bag and my flight bag. I looked at the mass of materials and reflected on the time I'd spent with them all to get where I was. Somehow the mass seemed appropriate.

I was ready. I didn't need to do extra preparation that week between scheduling and the actual date. I had spent the previous year and a half preparing for this ride. There was no last minute thing I could do. So I didn't. Tuesday, the 8th, I left work early and reviewed my notes one more time. Then I went out to dinner with my husband and relaxed for the rest of the evening. I checked the forecast before going to bed and it was getting worse. The ceilings were going to be below 2000' most of the day it seemed. That was one thing I couldn't control so I didn't worry about it. I figured at the very least I could get the oral portion out of the way.

The Big Day

I got up at 5 AM and checked the TAF nearest to my airport. The forecast hadn't improved. It looked like I would be doing the oral only. I was disappointed but I looked forward to getting that out of the way. I knew the oral portion of the CFI ride could be 4 hours or more and that, in itself, would be a long day. When I left the house at 6 AM I told my husband my intent was to pass the oral today at the very least. He wished me a sleepy good luck.

I drove the mountain roads towards the valley and airport. My route takes me past a view of the Monterey Bay. When I reached the highest point of my drive I looked out towards the bay in the pre-dawn light. I thought I saw stars above the bay. I tried not to get my hopes up. It was very normal for clouds to hover low over the Silicon Valley when it would be clear above. I mentally rehearsed my "we won't be flying today but let's do the oral anyway" speech for the ASI. It wouldn't be the first time I'd have to split a check ride that way.

I proceeded down the mountains and could see the valley lights. That surprised me... I could see the lights, and as the pre-dawn light increased in the sky I could see the outlines of high cirrus clouds but nothing low. It was still quite early though and it was common for clouds and fog to engulf the valley later in the morning.

I stopped at a nearby Starbucks for coffee and something to eat for breakfast. It wouldn't be good for me to attempt this on an empty stomach. As I pulled into the parking lot I realized I forgot the Private Pilot textbook I intended to use with my syllabus. It was an hour drive back home so that wouldn't work. I texted my CFI who lived about 10 minutes away and asked him if he could bring his. He could. Crisis averted.

I had 45 minutes before the ASI would arrive and I needed to get the aircraft log books and prepare them for review. I was told to expect the ASI to bring the maintenance safety inspector with him to inspect the aircraft so I was ready for a major focus in this area. The club's owner (and A&P AI), Mike, let me in to the office to get the log books and reviewed them with me briefly.

It was 7AM and the inspector, Jeff, walks in the door alone. No maintenance inspector in tow. 30 minutes early. I shook his hand and told him I was getting ready and asked him to make himself comfortable as he chatted with Mike. I continued to prepare the log books and lay out my materials. It was about this time I realized I left my CFI PTS at home with all of my notes in it. I had a copy of the PTS on my laptop but that would hurt. Oh well, if that was the worse that happened I'd be thrilled.

About 7:15 Scott walks in the door with the Private Pilot text in his hand. He was surprised to see the ASI and told him that he arrived early deliberately to get here before the safety inspector did, but it didn't work out that way. They knew each other rather well so they started talking and I told them both I'd use the next 10 minutes to eat my breakfast.

Proving Eligibility

It was 7:30 and time to start. Scott and Jeff (the ASI) and I closed the door to the office and we began. The first thing we had to do before the ride could officially start was verify my eligibility. First, a little background about my situation... My CFI, Scott, is also a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) performing check rides in this FSDO for the last year. He's also been instructing and flying full time for the last 14 years. As an understatement, Scott knows his stuff. The ASI, Jeff, knew it. I knew it too. And between Scott's expertise and my "detail oriented approach" I was fully confident I had everything required. The best way I could describe this portion of the experience was a dance. We all knew the moves we had to make and the next move that would happen.

The ASI took my log books and asked me to prove I was eligible, which I did. Then he started flipping back through my log books to look at my Commercial, Instrument and Private training and endorsements. Normally this is an area where the ASI or DPE can identify problems with previously issued endorsements - not to invalidate the candidate but as a scenario to test the candidate's application of the rules around endorsements. What happened next was funny.

"Scott did your Commercial?" "Yessir" "Don't call me sir, that's my dad." 
"He did your Instrument?" "Yes" I see the beginning of a grin on Scott's face.
"And your Private?" "Yes" Scott's grin gets bigger.
"That's no fun then!" Jeff said with a sigh and a laugh and he hands my log books back to me. Scott and I laughed.

Jeff knew my endorsements would be correct because he knew the caliber of the CFI that did them. I hope to someday be just as frustrating for anyone trying to find errors in endorsements in the future!

Next was IACRA and ensuring what was in the computerized system matched (roughly) what was in my logbook. The numbers in IACRA didn't look right to Jeff and he questioned how/why I had so many more hours in IACRA than the "amount forwarded" total in my log book. I opened my laptop and pulled up a quick calculation of the hours which proved the correctness in IACRA. Scott pointed out I was using an application he wrote, on a Mac, for this.

Soon the verification was over, IACRA was electronically signed and the ride began. Scott shook my hand and patted my shoulder as he left the room. It was up to me now.

Normally I go into great detail about the my check rides in my blog. This time I won't. For one thing the ride was close to 8 hours long and I'm sure people are getting tired of reading at this point. For another I wrote up 5 pages of notes about the ride for Scott's benefit and the benefit of anyone else going to take a CFI Initial Check Ride. The notes are posted here. Feel free to review if you'd like to see what a CFI candidate has to do on a CFI Check Ride. In the mean time I'll share more the internal experience of what it was like. 

Oral

Going into the oral I was confident I would do well. As Scott told me once, he knew I know my stuff and he'd never seen knowledge fall out of my head. My confidence went down rather quickly though. I was asked about the CFI privileges and limitations and I knew what they were but I couldn't recall which regulation, specifically, set those privileges and limitations. Part 61 of the FARs was not good enough. Jeff pressed me for the specific regulation and, at the same time, offered up more questions that confused me further as I tried to look it up. I was flustered but I finally found the regulation and proved myself correct.

I let that go and continued to answer questions. The next set of questions were all about learning and teaching theory. This is where my PTS with notes would have been very helpful but I didn't have it. I knew the concepts and a couple of the key terms for each topic but I didn't have them all memorized. The good thing was, the ones I did have memorized where the most important and most relevant to aviation training so we were able to move past them. Maybe my very high score on the FOI written test helped with this. I felt I did very well when talking about the CFI's responsibility in the training process. Endorsements (again) and limitations, how to teach and why.

We moved on to technical subject areas, aerodynamics and the like. Sometimes I struggled with the intent of the questions and the way the ASI jumped around in his questioning but I kept going and did well. I felt particularly strong on stalls and spins, which he touched on many different ways during the questioning. It took me forever to recall what makes an aircraft turn - it's the horizontal component of lift. I'll never forget that again!

Then we talked about systems. Explain the fuel system. That stopped me cold. I knew the fuel system, I had a lesson with fuel systems embedded in it but I wasn't ready for that answer. I started to explain the fuel system but I went into too much detail and was very awkward. That wasn't going well. So we paused for a break. I came back and said I'd try to explain it like I'd explain it to my daughter. He was pleased when I said that... so I tried again and it was better. Then explain the electrical system and a couple more. I was definitely weak there compared to everything else but not so weak that I had to stop.

Topics switched again for National Airspace and VFR weather minimums. That I could teach! It was something I'd taught many times before for student (and even commercial pilot) candidates I've worked with to prepare for their check rides. As I went through the lesson Jeff said I was the only person he tested that didn't have a problem on one of the loopholes for class G night VFR weather minimums. I felt better after that one.

We covered many, many more areas between 8AM and 11:45 when we broke for lunch. Finally I knew I had passed the oral portion of the check ride. Jeff and I looked out the window and the skies were, by some miracle, clear. He said we didn't have to complete the ride today if I didn't want to. It was a long day after all. I told him I'd check the weather and let him know after lunch. Then we agreed to meet at 12:30 to start back up.

Lunch

I was definitely feeling the early start and the previous four hours of questioning and teaching. I put away some of my materials and the aircraft's log books. Then I wandered around the club a bit in a daze. Finally I took my iPad with me to Jamba Juice to get something to eat. I couldn't imagine eating anything more solid than a fruit smoothy at that point. The skies were clear and the wind was calm as I drove to get my food. I looked at the skies in disbelief, watching for signs that the air would be turbulent above. Part of me wanted to have a good reason to delay the flight. I was tired. Maybe I needed more practice.

At the restaurant I checked the weather - sure there would be an AIRMET for turbulence if nothing else. No AIRMETs, no PIREPS indicating the weather would make the flight difficult. The Santa Clara Valley was clear and calm and ready for my flight. This was probably the best weather I'd get all month and I knew I didn't actually need more practice flying. I decided to go for it and texted Scott to let him know. His response was, "The planets are aligned. Go for it!" I didn't know that Scott and Jeff had already talked and Scott assured him I was going to fly.

I headed back to the club to make sure the extra fuel I requested for the aircraft was onboard. Jeff told me our flight would take 2 to 2.5 hours. The last thing I wanted was to run out of fuel on a check ride so I added to my reserve.

Preflight

We walked out to the plane to start the flight at about 12:30PM. As we walked towards the plane I started to describe how I would teach pre-flight. After a minute or two he stopped me and told me to go ahead and preflight the aircraft and he would ask me question as we went. The first things I did was hand him the airworthiness certificate and registration to inspect. I also showed him the weight and balance data. (Which, of course, led to questions about the max gross weight of the aircraft).

As I went about my preflight he observed and asked questions. I enjoyed this part. I'd spent a lot of time getting to know this plane and while I didn't recall off the top of my head the 3rd component of the structure of a wing (that would be the rib) I knew everything I needed to. After a while it seemed like a game of question and answer where I felt in my element. At one point he asked me, "Why is the sky blue?" Huh? I felt like I was in a Robin Williams routine so I quipped, "Because of the atmosphere". He actually said the answer was because the atmosphere reflected blue wavelength or something like that. At that point I laughed and told him he was worse than my CFI, Scott. Scott would never ask a question so far from left field like that. Not unless he was giving me a hard time anyway.

Once again I'm not going to go into major details about the flight portion. You can read about it here.


Flight

Before we boarded the plane I gave Jeff my standard briefing including briefing what we would do in the case of fire, failure or loss of control on take off roll, take off or climb out. Then I briefed him on the route we were likely to get on taxi.

We pulled the plane out and started up. We started to taxi with me on the controls. As I taxied I was asked about how I would teach radio com. I found I fell very easily into teaching mode in the plane. Splitting my awareness between taxiing safely, monitoring the aircraft and answering his questions and making sure my "student" didn't cause any issues.

I did have one surprise. I had not done any flying from the right seat under the hood before and I had to do it on the ride. I found it much easier to do than expected. Which was good because that was the start of the ride. I was happy that I got to do soft field take offs and landings because I had spent so much time working on that skill. I got to do a Lazy 8, another favorite maneuver and hard won skill. I even had to do a Power Off 180. The Power Off 180 was my commercial check ride nemesis but nemesis no more due to the hard work, expert instruction and learning I'd done since that first check ride failure. I was very comfortable doing the stalls and teaching them.

As always there was one maneuver that wasn't stellar - this time it was the commercial steep turn. I performed that maneuver worse than I had done in months. However, I heeded Scott's advice and taught my way through it as I kept the plane in spec (barely). I nailed the maneuver immediately after that. As I did each maneuver I didn't let anything before color what I did next.

Even better, I felt completely comfortable playing the role of CFI in this plane. I found myself naturally monitoring what my "student" was doing and correcting him when he was off. I was able to observe and critique the nuances of my "student's" performance and I always started with the positive. My main problem was figuring out when he was being a student vs an examiner but eventually I decided I'm supposed to be PIC so if I saw something wrong, even when I was being debriefed on my own check ride as he flew, I called it out and got it corrected. I didn't figure out that he was asking me to do a self critique when he asked me how I was doing. But that was OK.

Check Ride Over

As you can guess, especially if you read the detailed notes. I passed this check ride. First try. The hardest check ride there is. After the ASI announced the check ride was complete my mind kept repeating, "Holy Shit! I'm a CFI!" over and over. I was elated and relieved. Me! A CFI! who-da-thunk-it? I was stunned and totally unsurprised at the same time. I helped get access to a printer so I could get my temporary airman's certificate. Jeff, the ASI, was grinning broadly the whole time. He seemed happy for me too. When I talked with Scott on the phone later that day he said something I will treasure forever. He said something like, "You cannot see my face right now but I'm beaming with pride."

One test over a very long day and all of my work was rewarded. In a way it was redemption for my Commercial ride, especially that successful Power Off 180. In a way it was the culmination of over 750 hours of flying and 4.5 years of flying with one of the best damned CFI's around. I feel like I was training for this flight since my first pinch hitter flight in 2010 when I flew, in the right seat - scared to death but in love with the feeling of flight - with the same flight instructor that trained and endorsed me for this certificate.

Me and the ASI, Jeff, after my successful check ride.
A new CFI is born. 
If you know me at all you know my passion for aviation. If you've been reading this blog for a long time or if you know me extremely well you may have some grasp of the demons I had to face and conquer in order to get to and be successful on this particular check ride. Not only did I have to learn how to fly the aircraft from both seats to commercial standards. Not only did I have to learn how to teach and how to prepare lessons and Federal Aviation Regulations and all of the technical subject areas of knowledge it takes to take a brand new pilot to where they need to be. I had to learn how to be PIC of myself; to let go of my fears and the days and moments when I'm not perfect and turn those moments into opportunities to experiment and learn more.

I am incredibly grateful that my husband decided to get his pilots certificate back in 2008 and that he happened to train with the same CFI, Scott. I'm grateful that Scott made such an impression on him that I decided to trust this particular CFI to take me up and teach me just enough to safely crash land a plane if my husband had a heart attack. I am extremely grateful that Scott had the availability at the right time to take me on as a student, multiple times, to train me for all of these certificates and ratings and the wisdom to send me off on my own in between so I could really learn.  I was given the gift of flight and now I am certified to give that gift to others. What gift could be greater than that?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

750 Hours

My 750th hour - San Jose on a beautiful November day
There's a saying that goes something like this.
Pilots log hours flying as if no other hours matter.

I can't say that's entirely true. One year I logged 1000 miles run. I didn't count how long it took to run 1000 miles. Figuring I ran a 10 minute mile on average that year I ran for approximately 167 hours in one year. Coincidently, looking at my logbook, I've flown about 166 hours in the last 365 days, over 150 hours in 2015 so far.  Hmmm... I digress.

I flew my 750th hour yesterday. I thought it was going to be today, but it was yesterday. What did I do yesterday. Ah yes, I did the same thing I do most times I fly now-a-days. I worked on refining some maneuvers, saying fresh or better as I wait for my CFI check ride date to be set.

Yesterday I wanted to improve my emergency approach to landing. After which I was going to practice a bit of slow flight and steep turns. Happy to report that I pulled power around 4500 feet within glide range of South County and not only did a successful approach to landing, I landed it on the centerline, within commercial spec of normal landing distance and made it a soft field landing to top it off. Sweet! Then I flew over towards Lick Observatory to practice slow flight (that's where I took the photo above). Very good. Then I was going to do steep turns. I've been doing great to the right and "bouncing off the bumpers" to the left. I knew what I was doing wrong and I knew why, but I had trouble improving as much as I wanted. I was on a schedule so I didn't waste too much time on that and flew back to RHV. Unusually for me, I did not let the steep turns bother me. As I went about my day I thought about the problem and thought of a couple different ways to address it.

Today I flew again. First I flew to Half Moon Bay for lunch with my friends. Then I flew south to the practice area near South County and worked on the two ideas I had to improve my steep turns. One worked well. It took about half of the error out of my turns. My second idea took the rest of the error out of the turns. I repeated a couple times just to be sure it was repeatable. I was pleased and went back to RHV. I can't describe how good it feels to be able to correctly diagnose and resolve problems with maneuvers. It's especially hard to do for oneself.

I can't say my last year of flying has been my easiest. I've come close to quitting training many times. However, most of my problems have been "between the headsets" as my CFI likes to say. Good news is - I have learned much "between the headsets" as I've struggled and fought with myself to get past them. 750 hours ago I never would have said I'd be where I am today.

As I told a young man last year when he said he wanted to learn how to fly...

Learning to fly is the hardest, most wonderful, and most rewarding thing you will ever do.

With over 750 hours in my logbook, I'm still learning!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Beautiful Weekend Day

Smiles all around as we enjoyed our flight!
Today my friend, Roy, and I flew up to Petaluma airport for breakfast at the 29er Diner. He was very interested in how to fly through Bravo airspace. So I suggested we go up the East Bay route (avoiding Bravo) there, then go south through Bravo over San Francisco Airport on the way back because I knew it would be busier later in the day. I didn't know how much busier it would be!

On the way there we took off on a Calaveras departure and got an un-asked-for Bravo clearance direct to Petaluma within 5 minutes of contacting NorCal. Nice! We flew direct past Oakland airport and directly over the water from Oakland to Petaluma. It was very quiet with almost no traffic on the radios or in the air. Roy had fun taking pictures. Eventually I gave him the controls to fly straight and level and talked him through using the default nav page on a Garmin 430W to maintain a precise ground track. I also practiced staying out of the way in a crowded cockpit. A skill every good CFI has to learn.

Things changed on the way back! We took off from Petaluma and climbed to 5500 feet towards the Sausalito VOR. We listened to NorCal's approach frequency which was very busy with a bunch of planes doing Bay Tours and getting traffic call outs. It took a while to get a word in and request a Bravo transition. I was given a squawk code and told to stay clear of Bravo for now.

We continued towards SFO. I was monitoring the distance to SFO airspace and preparing to circle rather than enter the airspace without a clearance. For the first time I was denied my Bravo clearance. ATC said they weren't accepting any transitions due to traffic at SFO. They asked if I'd like to fly at 2500 feet over Oakland Colosseum instead. Sure! Just a 3000 foot rapid descent required to get below the Bravo shelf before heading towards Oakland and finding the colosseum. At least this time I had an idea of where it was!

We were switched to Oakland tower who sent us to Lake Chabot - we didn't know where that was so we requested vectors. After that we were offered the option to fly along the 880 towards Hayward at 1500 feet. We took that and were switched to Hayward tower and told to remain north of the extended runway centerline. Eventually the tower told us we could fly south of the runway centerline and maintain VFR below 4500. I turned south and started to climb to a more comfortable altitude. The tower asked my altitude shortly thereafter. Told him it was 1600 and he said we were supposed to stay below 1500. I apologized and said I thought it was 4500. He apologized too.

No harm done, we continued to Reid-Hillview at 1500 feet over some very populated areas. The whole time the radios were buzzing with planes talking with ATC and little planes were flying everywhere. Reid-Hillview as crazy busy too.

It was a beautiful fall, weekend, day, right before Thanksgiving and a perfect day to fly. It seemed we weren't the only pilots who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. We are so lucky to be able to live and fly where we do :)


Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Value of Flying Less

It's odd for me to say, but there is some value to flying less it seems. At this point in my training, I'm done with training and now what I'm doing is maintaining my skills. I'm no longer meeting with my CFI on a weekly basis. My lesson plans for private and commercial are complete and ready for the FAA to look them over. The request is in to the FSDO for my check ride. No word yet on a date. So there's not much for me to do now but maintain.

I had been flying 3-4 times a week, trying to perfect my technique. Now I'm flying 1-2 times a week and, what I'm finding is, I seem to do best with about 10 - 14 days between "practice" sessions. A practice session is when I go up and go through all of the maneuvers to keep them fresh in my mind and reflexes.

Today I went up on a gorgeous fall morning and did all of the maneuvers that I may be called upon during the CFI check ride. Takeoffs, landings and go-arounds (9), fundamentals of flight (4), performance maneuvers (4), ground reference maneuvers (4), slow flight & stalls (7), and emergency operations (3). 1.7 hours, 6 takeoffs and landings and everything I did was easily within spec and quite fun.

It's a different type of flying now... not trying. Not thinking, just doing and "teaching" as I do. I ran into my CFI after the flight and told him how happy I was with my performance. He said he wasn't surprised at all. I'm glad it didn't surprise him. It actually didn't surprise me either... I found after a 10 day vacation when I came back I flew extremely well so I was hoping for a similar result with a 2 week break between practice sessions.

Tomorrow I'm going flying for brunch with some friends, I'll practice general good airmanship then. The same thing I did last weekend when I flew with my daughter to Sacramento so she could tour her future school. At the moment my plan is to touch each maneuver once a week, or once every two weeks depending on work and weather, and not stress it. I'm ready... and I think my job now is to maintain my readiness as simply and economically as possible. I need to start reviewing my lesson plans I think, so they're fresh in my mind whenever the FSDO calls!


Monday, November 9, 2015

8s on Pigs and Other News

8s on Pigs
A herd of pigs is off my wing as I practice
the 8s on Pylons maneuver

8s on Pigs

For commercial pilot (and CFI) training we do a maneuver called 8s on Pylons. It's one of my favorite maneuvers and one I do well. However, for some reason the last few times I went up to practice the maneuver I wasn't doing as well as I knew I could. The last time I went up to practice I had the same problem.

I didn't get upset though. I did a couple things instead. I noticed I'd have problems on the 1st half of the 8 but not the second. I recalled the common errors for the maneuvers. One of the common errors for this maneuver is lack of situational awareness and another is poor pylon selection. I knew my pylon selection was good. I realized my problem was not starting the maneuver correctly on the first pylon I selected. Turning onto the first pylon is difficult when flying from the right seat because you lose sight of the pylon you'll be turning on long before you get to it. Good situational awareness and using other visual cues to identify when you're over the pylon is the key to turning on to the desired point without being able to see it.

I practiced just that piece, picking items on the ground and looking at the things around those items to decide when to turn on to the "pylon". Within 10 minutes I had it nailed. So I restarted doing the full 8s on pylons and everything worked great! For fun I started choosing harder and harder objects to turn on. One of them was a dark grey blob at the end of a field. I set up and used my situational awareness to turn on to the blob and found myself doing 8s on a herd of pigs! It was fun and I was thrilled to figure out and correct an error on my own.

Death Valley or Bust 

Looking south along the mountain range.
Lenticular clouds in the distance mark strong winds aloft.
This weekend my husband, friend and I were going to fly to Death Valley as part of a Fly-In event commemorating the start of Air Mail service into Death Valley. It was going to be fun, and it was. Until the plane's alternator decided to have issue after issue after issue. In the end we flew to Reno, NV without issue. From Reno to Carson City - 18 miles away - where the issue decided to occur. We fixed two alternator issues there within an hour and a half, then took off for Death Valley.

Everything was great until I brought the gear up and the alternator failed again. We turned back to Reno airport and landed there because we had friends in Reno that we could stay with. We quickly found the source of the issue and worked out a fix for that. By that time it was too late to attempt Death Valley and too late to attempt a return to home base over the Sierras. Both routes were blocked due to changing weather. If we had been able to do the flight as planned when we took off everything would have been fine. However, we weren't. The trip was a bust. We spent 4 hours to fly a total of 36NM and travel a total of 0 feet from start to finish.

Other News

This morning my CFI sent the formal request to the San Jose FSDO to schedule my CFI initial check ride. Now we wait. In the meantime I hope to wait out the snows and weather and fly back to San Jose tomorrow in time to catch my flight to Seattle tomorrow night for work. Life sure isn't dull or boring!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's Coming Together

I've been working on soft field landings in a Piper Arrow... Arrows are notoriously difficult to do soft field landings in. Add to that soft field landings have always been a weak area for me. I've been "good enough" for check rides and such but this time I was getting stuck. While most other maneuvers have all been within spec I'd not been sure my soft field landings were soft enough.

I worked on it on my own but still wasn't happy... so turned to my CFI for help and he took us down to a grass strip to give me experience of what a real soft field is like. That was an eye opening experience and a lot of fun. We had a stiff crosswind on the grass field and I got to practice both soft field and crosswind techniques. Then I went out and worked on my own again and got a lot closer. I had a revelation about what I was doing that was keeping that last bit of perfect away from me.

This log book entry confirms..
I'm very close!!
Yesterday I shared my revelation with my CFI and we worked on correcting the behavior. Immediately the landings became very good... some of the best I'd ever done. On the ground I showed my CFI commercial and private pilot syllabus' and lesson plans. All of them hand written/typed by me. He was very positive about them and their presentation. We agreed, I'd fly on my own Sunday and Tuesday and we'd meet up again Saturday, most likely after Saturday he'll be contacting the FSDO to schedule my check ride!

Believe it or not, that's not the most exciting thing. Today I went up to practice as many maneuvers, take offs and landings as I could. I nailed all of the landings, even the soft field ones - which I did a couple times just to be sure. The best landing was the last... I was coming back to the field after doing ground reference maneuvers and I had a 7 knot left crosswind component. I wanted to do a soft field landing too.... so I set up for the landing at the soft field landing airspeed and corrected for the crosswind (upwind wing low, rudder to keep the nose straight). Over the runway I rotated, shifted my eyes to the end of the runway, fought for the centerline and didn't let it land. Right before the plane touched down I pulled back even more on the elevator. The upwind main touched down lightly scrch. I kept the back pressure increasing carefully. The right main touched down lightly scrch. I kept increasing the back pressure and then gently let the nose wheel touch - very lightly scrch. I kept the nose wheel very light in proper soft field landing form and taxied off the runway. It was beautiful!

All the hard work is starting to pay off! It sure feels good.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Doing Better

After yesterday's flight...
some joy and relief
They're right. I can't "fix" me. I will always be, by nature, hyper critical with myself and I will sometimes judge myself too harshly. And then after judging too harshly I'll wallow in my judgements, judge myself for judging, and carry that frustration for hours or days after.

As I practice good self critique I'll do that less and less often but the potential will always be there. It's part of who I am. It's something I've been doing for 45 years and I am REALLY good at it. If they gave out certificates or "Master" titles or whatever for judging oneself harshly I'd be Master, Gold Seal, SuperDuper, Top Dog many times over. Ask anyone who knows me!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.... I can't fix me. How do I move forward? How do I finish my flight instructor certificate when this one personality trait is having a negative and material impact on my progress? Something that my CFI said when we last talked struck a cord... he says this often.... examiners want to see IMMEDIATE CORRECTIVE ACTION when an error occurs in the check ride flight. I also remembered the revelation I had to have in order to solo. The revelation that I didn't have to be perfect, I had to recognize errors or conditions that were not as desired and fix it quickly.

With those words and thoughts floating around in my head I decided to do what worked for me in the past with one modification.

  1. When there is something wrong in my flying - identify whatever it is and fix it. I'm experienced enough now that I can relatively easily identify both errors and fixes. So I'm to do that as I fly. When something is slightly wrong, fix it quickly. If I stay on top of it "major" wrong won't happen. 
  2. Recognize and accept, in spite of my best efforts, I will have days, maneuvers, flights or whatever where I don't fix it. Where I will start judging myself and beating myself up. It's going to happen. There is no prevention for that. So yesterday I resolved I would forgive myself for when I do that. For the last time and the next time and the next time after that. I'll forgive myself as quickly as possible and move on. And when I fail to forgive myself, I'll forgive myself for that too.

The good news is, it seems to work. I forgave myself for Sunday and Monday and Tuesday. And resolved yesterday to fly, and when I make mistakes, take immediate and corrective action. Instead of focusing on being perfect, I focused on catching when the plane started to do what I didn't want it to do and correcting it quickly. I went up and did all of the air work I hadn't done recently, emergency approach to landing and practiced soft field take offs and landings.

What I found was, my flying was significantly better and not at all frustrating. I nailed the emergency approach to landing while talking and teaching as I did it. When my soft field landing wasn't exactly as I wanted I decided to try something different. I did the different thing and got different results. Then I modified what I was doing again and got even better results.

Looking through the list of flying maneuvers that could come up in the CFI ride, I've performed all of them to spec in the last month - first try - with the possible exception of soft field landings. Those are iffy. So I am a lot further along than I thought I was. :) There's a light at the end of the tunnel and I don't think it's a train.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I Miss Joy

This was a bit of joy.. my dad captured
this photo of me flying. 
I miss joy.... I miss just flying for flying's sake. Flying to go somewhere. Flying without worrying about PTS specs, or what to say and how to say it to teach properly. Flying to have fun, being safe and occasionally demonstrating some real skill.

I've been working so long at this, at becoming a Certificated Flight Instructor. I don't even want to admit how long it's been. I've received all of the required training. As usual my CFI says I'll be great at the oral portion of the ride. As usual the question is will I put it together on the flight. This time is a bit different though, this time, while I know I can perform all of the maneuvers to spec - while teaching them no less - I'm not sure I will. I haven't seemed to be able to put a solid string of good flying days together, at least that's the way I feel. I do have good days, but then it seems I always have a bad one that sets me back again emotionally. Without a string of good days without the setback that I don't know how I'll be willing / able to face another check ride. I don't know how to create that string... I thought I had conquered my habit of beating myself up. I guess I haven't.

CFI has no suggestions for me. All he said today is he knows I'm not going to magically change the way I handle setbacks between now and whenever. So I'll just have to get over it.  Husband says, "not this again." That's it. To make matters worse, I really do believe, now, that I'll make a pretty good, maybe even great some day, flight instructor. So close and yet so far. I'm alone with no plan.

I don't know how to continue and I don't know how to quit. But I sure miss joy.

----

Update the next day. I slept on it... or I should say, didn't sleep on it... and I've come up with a plan. I'm going to forgive myself when I make mistakes and move on. I'm calling the way I handled my last "bad flight" a mistake. I'm working on forgiving myself and moving on. Hope that works.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

To Hawaii in a 767

Yours truly in the captains seat of
a 767 bound for Hawaii. 
Normally flying commercially doesn't warrant a blog post but this trip did.

Last week my husband, daughter and I were waiting for our flight to Honolulu for a long awaited vacation. We were in line at the airport Starbucks for the obligatory coffee and struck up a conversation with the airline captain behind us in line (after having him go ahead of us in line). We guessed he was going to be piloting our flight to Hawaii and he was. My husband told him we were both pilots and I am working on my flight instructor certificate. Jeff also told him we both have time in American Airlines 737 simulators so we can help if needed! When the captain learned that he perked up and the discussion got more interesting.

I asked him what it was like flying over the Pacific and did they actually get to talk to anyone en-route. He said they talk to Oakland Center most of the way but the HF radios they use traditionally make communications very difficult. He said they were "testing" out a new satellite communications method and he loved it. We shared some pilot jokes and asked his opinion about the American Airlines flight that went out to Hawaii without the required equipment for an oceanic flight. He asked where we'd be sitting in the plane and guessed we'd be in the very back of the plane because pilots make no money... in this case we were flying on "Hawaii miles" so Jeff and I were in first class...  so we told him to look for us in Row 3 in case he needed any help up front. He got his coffee and went on his way and we figured that was it.

We boarded with first class and got comfortable as we watched the beginning of several hundred people file on to the plane. After a while I spotted the captain in the front of the cabin. He seemed to be looking for something. I waved hi. He brightened up and came over to our seats. "Would you two like to come up front? We've got about 20 minutes to wait." Would we? Of course!!

He led us up front with a "It's OK. They're with me", to the flight attendants. And there we were, in the cockpit of a 767. The captain invited me to sit in his seat. Jeff sat in the jump seat and we both chatted with the crew. Jeff talked mostly with the First Officer, a younger pilot who was very enthusiastic. I talked with the captain. We shared stories of training and flying. I told him about how I look forward to turbulence when I fly commercial because it made me feel like I'm actually flying instead of sitting in a noisy box for hours on end. We talked about how the turbulence people think is severe is actually moderate at most. I also learned this jet flies AT Va at their cruise altitudes. (From this discussion I researched Mach numbers and the "coffin corner" on the flight, interesting stuff.)

He told me about how he trained for instrument in a 150 and when he would be bouncing around in the heat with the hood on and almost getting sick. He talked about how he worked his way into the airlines, the sacrifices and joys of his path and how his favorite job was flying King Airs.  He said he didn't go the CFI route but he said that was a great way to build hours. They both said I could have a career in the airlines if I wanted it. That the pilot shortage was happening NOW and my age (45) just meant I would get to retirement sooner than most.

The equipment in the cockpit was a combination of modern and archaic. They had the same glass panel, FCMS, clearance printer, etc of the newer planes (like the 737-8 simulator we've experienced). It also had fully functional ADF and DME. I pointed out the ADF and asked when the last time they'd flown an ADF approach... they just laughed and quickly dialed in their favorite AM frequencies to listen to the radio. They proudly pointed out the satellite receiver - a typical looking aviation avionics "box" with buttons, etc. It looked a little odd in the mass of older buttons, knobs and displays in the lower portion of the console.

Before we knew it 20 minutes was up and it was time to get out of the way so they could finish getting ready to fly. The captain mentioned this was his leg so if the landing was bad it was on him. I winked and said.... "You know how it is with a pilot on board... we shouldn't judge, but.... " and he laughed.

The flight was mostly smooth but there was about an hour where the seatbelt sign was on and we were in constant light chop. The whole plane creaked and rattled and I felt like we were flying. Shortly before landing the captain came back and asked me how I liked the turbulence I ordered. I said it was good! Then he found a napkin and gave me his email address. He said to stay in touch! I said I would and offered to take him on my version of a Bay Tour the next time he's in the area on a longer layover.

When we came in to land, the captain didn't land like your standard airline pilot - pile-driving the plane into the runway. I could feel him trying to keep the plane off the runway and even the little bit of extra float it got right before touch down. When we got off the plane they were both heads down in the cockpit. I was sad we didn't get to say goodbye. However, as we waited for our daughter to get off the plane we saw the captain again. We thanked him again for the experience and I told him I thought his landing was great because he landed like a GA pilot. We shook his hand and he was off.

It was a real treat to meet this aviator and I hope that we do stay in touch. There's nothing so much fun as talking with people who share the same passion for flight!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Blood Moon

Last night I was in the air during a total lunar eclipse / "super" moon combination. This particular event is called a blood moon. It looked about like this picture from 5500 feet and 3500 feet over the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a beautiful night and a smooth flight with appreciative passengers. Even my hyper critical self had to admit I flew well, especially on the return flight and landing at night. I could hardly ask for more!

Oddly enough, when I saw the moon as I flew I was impressed with the color but I forgot the color was due to the eclipse. I thought, as I flew along, the color was due to smoke or thin clouds obscuring the moon. I was a bit disappointed that we weren't seeing the moon unobscured. It was cool, but not what I was expecting. I thought the eclipse would be more "impressive" for some reason. It wasn't until we were over SJC airport approaching Reid-Hillview to land and a sliver of brilliant, almost blinding,  silver started to peak around the edges of the dull red that I realized what I looking at but not seeing and how special it really was.

It occurs to me now my experience of this moon could be an analogy of my experience of myself, my own flight training. Looking but not seeing and appreciating the beauty of what I'm seeing. Not until it is almost done.

My last flight lesson was the first in a very long time that I didn't leave feeling about 2 inches tall. There's a reason for that. I was not because I was perfect in the air. I was good, but not perfect. It was because I was practicing self critique during that lesson with my CFI's help. Critiquing every maneuver I flew - what worked, what didn't work and what I would do different to further improve. Every critique had to start with what worked first. Every single one. 

In truth it was hard to do. Hard for me to pull my mind away from the result and what could be improved to what was done that worked. It's hard to explain and it will take practice but the emotional result was amazing. I left the lesson feeling good, feeling good about myself, about my progress, about my future. What a wonderful change!

I need to practice seeing the good, seeing what works. It's not easy, especially for me. However, it is a skill I need to develop in order to progress in this journey. It's a skill I need to practice when critiquing my future students. Even the FAA says the #1 duty of the flight instructor is to focus on the positive. If the FAA says so I guess I gotta do it!  *grin*

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Insight

This is an incredible story... and I'll tell you why I share it here. When she describes what it is like in the right hemisphere of the brain... that's what its like when I fly... when I am flying and not trying. Just flying. It's hard to describe but she does it very well. This is worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch.




Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Between the Headsets

Sometimes I don't know what is best for me to write. A message of encouragement, hope, desperation, frustration, discomfort, comfort, abject fear, confidence, wanting to quit, being willing to succeed no matter what it takes? the ups or the downs? All of the above?

I've been through it all in this CFI journey. Do I share it all and expose myself as human and sometimes lacking even though I am training to be an aviation educator? Will future students respect or want to learn from a CFI that had to work so hard? Will they google my name and find this blog and be drawn towards a CFI who understands, intimately, the joys and the frustrations the student pilot will experience? Does it matter? I just don't know. Today I'm in a particularly sharing mood and I'm feeling positive for my aviation future after some extremely difficult recent struggles. So I'll share for now. If I sound whiny or weak or female or whatever, so be it. I am what I am and I can't change without being honest with myself.

Between the Headsets


I asked my CFI when I started this CFI training what he thought my struggles would be. He'd trained me for all of my other certificates and ratings so he would know pretty well what it would be. I don't recall exactly what he said... I believe it was something about knowledge shouldn't be a problem, he didn't know how well I would teach but he could teach that, I'd fly OK. My problem would be "between the headsets".  In other words. The problem wouldn't be something that could be trained, it would be something mental that I'd have to deal with, if I had a problem at all.

I had found training for the Instrument Rating to be relatively easy, in spite of hearing how hard it was. So I hoped, after hearing how hard CFI typically is, I would find CFI relatively easy too. Unfortunately I've run straight into some of my worst mental, emotional challenges in this journey. Learning the knowledge I need was relatively easy. Flying from the right seat was a challenge initially but now I fly just as well from right or left seat. Actually I'm doing some of the best flying I've done in my life. But I have been so close to quitting many times. Frustration at not making the progress I want. Feeling stuck. That's all normal and expected.

Fear Raises its Ugly Head

One thing I didn't expect was to revisit fear. When I started flying I was very afraid. As a matter of fact this blog started the day I realized I was flying and not scared at the same time. I've had to face many fears, turbulence was huge, stalls, I've even had to spin a plane on purpose. But I thought all of those fears were done. I was wrong.

Two weekends ago I went up to demonstrate all of the stalls I have to know how to do as a CFI. I hadn't practiced them since March so I was nervous, rusty and uncomfortable doing them. After that flight my CFI said I seemed to be afraid as I flew and I need to get over those fears. I took that the wrong way. I convinced myself I really was afraid. So the next time I flew and tried to do the stalls again solo, I actually was afraid. Very much so. It was like I was back in my student pilot days, terrified of doing a stall but this time I didn't have a CFI there to yell at me and make me do it. I gave up, flew back to base and was shattered. Was I too afraid to do my job as CFI? How could I do this?

I talked with my siblings, who know me better than anyone and they pointed out how I didn't say I was afraid when I did those demo stalls the first time. So maybe the CFI was wrong and I really was just rusty and uncomfortable. They said I didn't have to be afraid and if I convinced myself I was afraid I would be. So I resolved to myself that I didn't have to be afraid, that I could fly and do what I needed to do. I decided I needed to believe in me, just like the tiny Foxtato in my previous post. I promised myself to make myself do the stalls until I was comfortable. I would do it by myself and I wouldn't need anyone to yell at me to do it.

The next day I drove down to the airport to fly and my usual plane was down for maintenance. So I took out another Arrow I wasn't so familiar with and took it up at dusk and found myself with no issue doing stalls. Normally I wouldn't want to take up a plane I didn't know very well and do stalls, but I just told myself I know how to recover from a stall so it does't matter what the plane does. I would handle it. In the end I had no issue at all. I wasn't afraid anymore, as a matter of fact I was annoyed with the plane because it was positively boring when it stalled. What a difference!

Next flight with my CFI the usual plane was down again, so we went up in the alternate Arrow. He recommended we do unusual attitude recovery because he noticed I tend to get uncomfortable when a plane is in an unusual attitude. We put the plane into all kinds of unusual attitudes... extreme banked turning power on stalls, nose very high and nose very low maneuvers. Lots of g-forces, little g-forces. We did that because high g-forces make me queasy and uncomfortable. I was able to sit and observe the plane, both when I was flying and when he was, without fear. Just observe and take the appropriate action. These maneuvers that would have left me crying 4 years ago.

Next flight I was solo in the usual plane. I did all of the stalls and it was great. No fear, total comfort. I was even happy and excited to find a way to stall a plane in a nose level attitude! I wasn't sure I was doing a couple of the stalls right (accelerated and cross controlled stalls were the particular ones) so I made sure to ask about them for my next flight. I also practiced Lazy 8s with the hope I could demonstrate those and check another item off the CFI training "list".

Frustration Attacks Too

Last flight we went up and I screwed up Lazy 8s in a way I'd never done before. So we spent an hour working on that, by the end of the hour he said I was doing Lazy 8s better than he'd ever seen me do them. But, this is me, I was frustrated that I didn't nail it the first time so I got very down on myself. Then we did the stalls that I wanted to work on, he showed me the tricks to make them really work well and we were done. We went back and debriefed on the flight and I drove home. Depressed and frustrated again. It did occur to me to email my CFI and ask him about what he observed about my comfort level doing the stalls. He was extremely positive about what he saw. My confidence was still low though. I thought I had those Lazy 8s down and I screwed them up. That's what I focused on, not on the progress I made on that maneuver in one hour (the last time I tried to demonstrate them I flailed around for over an hour and he finally told me to focus on easier maneuvers for a while). Even after learning my CFI saw a huge improvement in my comfort level I didn't focus on the positive.

Yep, the problem is between the headsets.

Another of my CFI's CFI candidates, a young man who started training for his CFI some months after I did, is going up for his CFI check ride tomorrow. Even as I type this I feel envious and bad about myself because I started first and will finish last. I shake my head. This guy is about 20 years younger than me, probably grew up dreaming about aviation... he doesn't have to drive an hour each way to get to the airport. He doesn't balance life as a mom and wife and professional with a 50-60 hour a week job (1.5 hour commute each way for that one) and business travel at least once a month. Yet I compare myself to him and find myself wanting. Oh yes, I compare myself with all of the unnamed hundreds or thousands of CFIs out there that must have trained quicker than me and I feel bad.

It's All About Ego

My CFI says this ... Private Pilot is about safety. Instrument is about procedures. Commercial is about finesse. CFI is about ego. Well, I have been feeling like my ego is getting the beating of a lifetime. I've never felt so small as I have going through this training process. The thing is, I am starting to realize, no one is making me feel small but me. No one is saying I suck or I can't do this. No one but me. I've been beating up my own ego to the point of almost giving up. Ignoring all of the good things I've been doing and clinging to all of the problems.

Fact is, I have the knowledge down. I can teach. I can teach and fly at the same time. I am actually good at preparing people for the knowledge portion of their check rides. There are a couple more things I need to check off on the "CFI list" but I am very close to done with that list. I am consistently doing some of the best flying of my life. I have, with a single conscious decision, turned my mental/emotional experience of stalls from at best nervous, at worst fear to total comfort. There are people that are waiting for me to finish my CFI because they want to learn from me. Me!

I'm beginning to think it is time for me to let go of all of the problems and set backs and unmet self expectations. It is time for me to rebuild my own ego the same way I reset my experience of stalls. If I can change that, something that's bothered me for over 700 hours of flying. I can do anything! I just have to let it happen and believe in myself. I can do this just as well or even better than a young man 20 years my junior. I just have to do it and believe in myself instead of beating myself up. Since I'm the one that's been tearing my ego down. I'll just have to build it back up.

If I don't believe in me, no student will.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I Believe in You

Powerful words. I believe in you. I don't think those words are spoken often enough. The simple expression of the belief that someone can, indeed, do the thing.

This weekend I've had two opportunities to work with (hopefully) future Private Pilots. They both came to me asking for an evaluation of their readiness for the knowledge portion of the Private Pilot practical test. We refer to this portion as the "oral".

Since I am an Advanced Ground Instructor (AGI) I can provide ground instruction for most certificates & ratings. I am particularly interested in teaching the knowledge, planning and judgement skills needed to fly safely because I believe firmly those skills are what will keep a pilot safe and flying a long time. I've also learned from my friendship with a senior CFI and DPE that many candidates for Private Pilot are woefully unprepared for the oral portion of their check rides. It as if the CFIs that trained them are so focused on being flight instructors, getting air time and teaching stick and rudder skills that they forget they need to teach the knowledge, planning and judgement skills too. This weekend I worked with both extremes.

Left to His Own Devices

The first candidate is a future film-maker and current tech worker. He had the typical history of being handed between 5 different flight instructors to date. He likes his current instructor and really wants to do his check ride soon. He was confident that he's ready for the ride but smart enough to take some advice and get a "second opinion" on his readiness to do the oral portion of the check ride. Talking with him on the phone I was impressed with his very positive attitude and self confidence. I was hopeful that he would sail through the mock oral and walk out ready for his ride. I was wrong.

I met with him for 3 hours and did my best DPE imitation. I asked scenario based questions that covered all of the knowledge and special emphasis areas in the Private Pilot PTS. Very similar to the last person I worked with, he was left to his own devices to study and prepare for the test. That did not work well for him. He is not ready for his check ride. We uncovered many areas that he needs to improve before he'll be ready for the ride. There were some areas I couldn't even evaluate because he didn't have the basics done.

After we were done we chatted a bit about how he may proceed from here. I recommended he study specific areas and then we get back together (or he work with his CFI) to help him really understand what he's studying. We also talked about how he was (not) prepared for the orals. He said when he asked questions of his CFIs they'd briefly talk about it and then "$170 later" he was back where he started. He said it seemed none of the CFIs he worked with took any responsibility for the ground learning he had to do. At one point he laughed and said, "It would have been nice to have some fucking warning about how hard this is!"

I emphasized to him that I was impressed with his attitude and I totally believe he can learn what he needs to learn and he can pass his check ride. I asked him to not give up. I believe in you. He left in a good mood with his positive attitude intact in spite of what he described as a humbling experience. We agreed to get back together today but he later asked to postpone so he could study more. I hope he doesn't give up.

More Prepared, Less Confident

The next candidate is someone I know better. I know him to be very studious and conscientious in everything he does. What I didn't know is some of why he's flying. This is his life long dream, a dream that started with the story of his grandfather. His grandfather flew in World War II in China. He and his unit helped rescue American airmen downed in China, Taiwan and Japan. After the war he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in a labor camp for 20 years for helping the Americans. Here was this man's grandson.  I could feel his passion for flying and nervousness about doing this test.

Once again I did my best DPE impression and walked him through scenarios and questions to evaluate his ability to apply what he'd learned in his training. This candidate was very different. He was less confident, more nervous and more prepared. He would not have passed, he was weak in two areas. However, there were some areas that he did extremely well and in most areas he was obviously competent, if nervous. He was prepared by his CFI. His CFI also sat with me to debrief on the weak areas. I know he will do well ultimately.

The thing that ties this candidate to the story is, I told him when he left that I am totally confident he will pass his check ride.  I believe in you. The look of gratitude and relief on his face was just wonderful.

Another Candidate

These two candidates are not unlike me. I, too, am preparing for my own check ride. I'm preparing for my Flight Instructor check ride. I'm more like the second candidate, than the first. I'm conscientious but not so confident. Trying hard with a CFI who is working to prepare me for both the flight and the knowledge portion. Just like them, I have areas I'm weak on. And just like them, sometimes I need to hear I believe in you.

That is one thing my CFI is not good at. He doesn't do much encouraging. I've known him a long time and know he wouldn't spend time training someone on something he doesn't believe they can do, but he doesn't come out and say it. On the other hand, I'm fortunate that I have good friends and family who do believe in me and do tell me so. When I need those precious words I reach out to them and they re-affirm their belief in me. Which helps me believe in myself.

As I continue on my aviation journey and I work with these private pilot candidates I see the power of a couple words of encouragement. I'll make sure to encourage my students. Not to do it too much, but when the time is right, when confidence is low but ability is high, I'll make sure to say I believe in you.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cubbin' It


Sweet little J-3 Piper Cub
I had a great flying weekend this weekend. One I desperately needed after a long period of too much work, getting sick, slow recovery leaving me exhausted and major frustration with lack of progress in my flying.

First, Saturday morning I was finally able to make some progress on a flying problem I've been having. My CFI helped, of course, and I was able to end my lesson with a smile on my face and some optimism for the future.

Second, another pilot I know offered me a chance to go fly in his Piper J-3 Cub. It's a perfectly maintained cub from the 1930s and it was FUN FUN FUN! I've never flown in a tail wheel before, not to mention something so simple and pure fun as this plane. We kept the big window open... sometimes opened the door. The air was cool but comfortable and it was sooooo neat to be flying with wind in my hair and to go so slowly. I really did feel like a bird.

Me and the cub's owner.
BIG smiles all around!
We took off and flew slowly to the ridge line near RHV and did some maneuvers, coordination exercises, slow flight and stalls. Then we came back in and did some touch n' gos at RHV. Talk about different. I am not used to coming in to land absolutely unable to see straight ahead. That was a totally different type of landing. We did three and then it was time to come in ... the plumb bob fuel gauge indicated we had about 3 gallons left (we took off with 7 gallons and had an hour of fun on 4 gallons of fuel).

Third, after confirming I would be allowed to sleep myself out Sunday morning, I flew myself up to Willows to meet up with my husband and racing friends for dinner Saturday night. Willows is a special place to me for many reasons. For this trip it was just nice to do a solo cross country flight with nothing to do but fly. I've been having on heck of a month(s) and I needed a break. As requested by my hubby I did a little fly by of the race track to wave at the racers before turning to land at WLW.

Then it happened, I was on final for runway 16 at Willows with a 10-15 knot wind on my nose and I found myself flying a perfect final approach. It's hard to describe but the best way I can describe it is this. Nothing moved. I was looking at the runway and it wasn't moving left or right. The numbers weren't moving up or down. They just got subtly.... slowly....  bigger. It was almost disorienting. I've become so used to gusts, downdrafts and updrafts over the mall by RHV, and changing winds on short final. I've been working on not making unnecessary changes on final but I've not seen this particular view in recent memory. There was nothing for me to do but run through my pre-landing checklist until I was over the fence and ready to round out and land. The landing was good too! What a gift!

Small but mighty cub!
This morning I slept in and went by Nancy's for breakfast and to pick up the obligatory pie. I flew back mid day and the air was actually cool at 5500 feet. As I flew back I practiced observing the small visual and physical queues you can get when flying. I used the tips of my toes for very gentle rudder pressure to make 1 and 2 degree course corrections to fly exactly the course I wanted without using my hands. I monitored the oil temp and pressure gauges, EGT, fuel pressure, switched tanks and thought the engine never runs as smooth as I'd like it. The 1 hour flight went smoothly until I got on the leeward side of Mt. Diablo and the invisible winds kicked me around. That was not unexpected.

I requested the option when I came in to RHV so I could practice more of what I was working on with my CFI. The first touch down was close, so I did a touch and go and went around for another landing. I had to fight to keep the plane aligned with the runway on short final with the erratic winds but still did a good, not great but good touch down. I decided to call it a day. I'll come when conditions are better.

I'm tired as I write this... but it's a happy tired. I've got the "gotta fly" itch again - which is a great sign. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to fly in the awesome little cub (can't wait to do it again), make progress in my flying and be able to take a break and enjoy flying with some actual skill. I needed that. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Pilots Worst Nightmare

As pilots we must manage and mitigate risk in order to fly safely. There's no way around it. Even when we do everything "right" sometimes things go wrong and problems happen. People get stuck in unusual places, planes get bent and in the worst case, people get hurt.

I don't know but I assume just about every pilot has, deep in the recesses of their mind, what are the worst possible things that can happen. I have a personal hierarchy of the worst things that can happen as a result of my flying. Here it is:

1) The absolute worst thing that can happen is injury or death of an innocent person on the ground. Someone who is just going about their day and is hurt as a result of my flying.
2) Injury or death of a passenger. Someone who entrusted their lives in my hands.
3) Injury of myself. Violating the trust my family has in me that I won't hurt myself when I fly.
4) Damage to innocent person's property.
5) Damage to airplane.

Some problems are unavoidable.  I've experienced one of those unavoidable problems and I was relieved that only the aircraft suffered minor damage. In spite of it being unavoidable, maybe because of it, it shook me for some time. Unfortunately and fortunately, most of the time accidents are the result of pilot error, which makes it even worse. Fortunately these are preventable, unfortunately, they aren't prevented all the time.

Last night I got news that a pilot I know, not well, but I know him just the same, was involved in an accident at a nearby airport. The pilot is not a new pilot, he's been flying longer than I've been alive. The accident killed a man on the ground who was going about his day job and injured both pilot and passenger. The cause of the accident is not clear at this time. However, initial reports indicate mechanical failure was not involved.

Accidents and incidents always result in my reflecting on what happened and, more importantly, what, if anything, can I do to prevent those situations in my flying. This one hits particularly hard.

My heart goes out to this innocent man who is gone, to his loved ones who had their father, son, cousin, brother, friend removed from this earth so suddenly, to the passenger and the pilot. They are living (and died) my worst nightmare.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Desert Flight and Thunder

I'm pleased to report the club's Bonanza is flying again with a brand new alternator - thus removing the generator gremlin that was giving the A&P fits for the last few months. I had my husband fly the plane on two separate flights with long stops on each to verify everything would actually stay working before we took the plane across the Mojave desert to St. George, Utah last week.

Desert Flight


Edwards AFB - the compass rose is
in the lower right corner of this shot.
The plane kept working so we decided to go on the trip in the Bonanza. After careful weighing of people and cargo, calculation of weight and balance and fuel required we loaded up Friday before last and headed out to St. George. I flew the first leg. It was an uneventful trip to Bakersfield's Meadows Field airport. The plane (and pilot) performed flawlessly. We stayed overnight and picked up fuel to the tabs for the next morning's leg.

My husband flew the second leg to St. George and I handled the radio work. We were unexpectedly cleared to fly through R-2515, the restricted area over Edwards AFB. We got to fly over the dry lake bed near Edwards AFB and see the incredibly long runways and the largest compass rose I've ever seen marked in the lake bed. The best part was my teenage daughter - she actually enjoyed the trip and was having fun, looking around, asking questions, etc. That was a precious gift. We flew near Las Vegas and my daughter remarked the city seemed to be "missing the pizazz" from a distance. After another smooth trip we were in St. George.

We spent a week with my extended family exploring the stunning natural beauty St. George has to offer. Zion National Park, Snow Canyon, Dixie Rocks, Pioneer Park and, even better, we got to spend time together as a family. All of my brothers and sisters, my dad and I. Even more special, almost everyone had their whole family with them too. Cousins got to play together, grandpa got to take pictures and in-laws had fun. We hung out and swam and chatted and played games and drank and built lego airplanes with working propellers.

Chris and Katya after the flight
Of course, I had to take some family members for a flight! So I took my brother, Chris, and my sister-in-law, Katya out for flight. Chris is one that has been wanting to go flying with me for a long time "dying to go flying" is what he said. I told him not to say "dying!".  I decided to take them on a tour of some nearby amazing geology - the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. My dad was worried, as usual, and asked me to send him my complete route, ETA for each leg, take off and landing times and who to call if we didn't come back!

We had an amazing flight over the Grand Canyon using the established VFR corridors. I flew southbound on the TUCKUP corridor and then north on the DRAGON corridor. The air was hazy in the canyon but the views were still incredible. Then I headed north to visit Bryce Canyon... it was great approaching the canyon from the south and viewing the Vermillion Cliffs and White Cliffs before the canyon itself. I circled over the canyon and headed back towards St. George. I didn't realize how close we were to Zion Park where we went hiking the day before and Chris and Katya caught some fantastic views of that canyon from the air. The flight was mostly smooth with Katya giggling in delight when we hit some turbulence over the canyon transitions. She said she loves roller coasters so I told her to come visit and I'd take her up for some more fun maneuvers - Lazy 8s would be really fun for her!

Desert Thunder


We were sitting in the
crosshairs, just north of the storm.
Saturday, everyone packs up and heads home. I have to get my husband to the Las Vegas airport by 9AM so he can catch a flight to Brazil. My daughter and I wanted to go home too. We figured out a way to fly all 3 of us plus luggage to Las Vegas that morning and pick up fuel there. However we were thwarted by early morning thunderstorms in the Las Vegas valley. So I ended up driving my husband to Las Vegas and then driving back to St. George so we could fly the plane back the following day. I went to the airport and had the plane filled with fuel and did a through pre-flight. It was an exhausting and frustrating day.

Both Katie and I were highly motivated to get back Sunday, with everyone gone, we wanted to return home. I monitored the forecasts closely and figured if we got up at 6AM we could be well out of the area before the storms forecast for 12 that day. I even woke up in the middle of the night to check the updated forecasts, just in case something changed.

I woke up before the alarm went off and checked the radar and found things changed while I slept. Now there was a line of thunderstorms between St. George and Las Vegas and it was moving north. Not good and not a darned thing I could do about it. I tried and failed to go to sleep for a bit longer. I finally gave up and spent more time looking at the weather radar and trying to determine the pattern for the storms. Would they keep building and streaming north or was this a line of storms that would pass? Weather on the other side of the storms was clear, weather further north was getting more active with storms - cutting off my "plan B" route.

Katie in front of the Bonanza - storms in the distance
With nothing to do but wait for the storms to pass we packed up, checked out of our hotel room and got breakfast at a nearby diner. As we ate the thunder and lightning passed overhead and we started to see blue sky in the distance. We waited and waited and I kept mentally pushing out our departure time from 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM. As the blue sky patch got bigger our spirits rose. It appeared we would be able to depart after all.

We headed to the airport and when we arrived we saw dark clouds all around - except our direction of flight. There was an occasional roll of thunder in the distance and mammatus clouds just east of our position. This is the type of weather that's almost never seen in the Bay Area. I remembered storms like this from growing up in the desert and on one hand I was thrilled to see the power, on the other hand I wanted to GO!

Mammatus clouds to the east. 
The winds were past and the ground was damp as we loaded up the plane and did another pre-flight. I was feeling very hopeful as I watched a couple planes take off and a couple more pilots getting their planes ready as well. It seems we all had the same idea, depart to the south.

After getting the plane ready I went back into the FBO to return the rental car and get a full weather briefing from a briefer. I didn't want my own wishful interpretation of the weather briefing I got electronically to color my judgement of the situation. The briefer barely mentioned the rain to the north of the airport. The heavy clouds we could see from the ground were just an "area of light precip" to his equipment. Everything looked great for a 10:00 AM departure and 3.5 hour flight back to RHV.

We used the bathroom one last time to make sure our bladder endurance would match our fuel endurance and headed out to the plane. The plane started up very strong and we taxied onto the runway for take off.

Lined up on the centerline I started the take off roll and the moment the ASI came alive a rear window popped open with a whooshing noise. "What's that?!" said my daughter as I put power to idle and put on the brakes smoothly to abort the take off and taxi clear of the runway to fix the problem. Katie secured the window again and I taxied back to the runway for a 2nd attempt. When I announced I was taking the runway again a Cessna in the pattern said, "Didn't you just take off a minute ago?" I laughed. If this was the worst of our troubles for the day I'd be thrilled.

We did a successful take off the second time and headed towards the clear blue sky to the south. The return trip was uneventful yet again with only some turbulence at the expected points crossing mountain passes. Less than 3.5 hours later we were on short final for 31L at RHV. Then the tower threw in the last bit of fun by switching me to 31R over the mall. I slipped over to 31R and landed well. We taxied back to parking and shut down.

The trip was done and I was extremely glad that I was able to share it with my daughter. She's going to be 17 this month, moving on to her own life in a year. I know these types of trips with her will be fewer and further between - precious moments indeed.

The clear path home. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

CFI Training Update

I've made some great progress in the last two weeks... in spite of doing a ton of business travel and some mega work stress. I've finally started to settle in to teaching while I fly. In just two flights I've been able to demonstrate teaching flying in the pattern, normal take offs and landings, commercial steep turns, chandelles and emergency descents. And I swear to you...  I have... recorded... my CFI saying the word "great" about my teaching! More than once! What a nice change from even a month ago.

I won't be able to report much progress for the next two weeks. I'll keep doing the mental preparation that's worked for me to be able to teach however, I won't do any training flights for two weeks. I have business travel, my CFI is on vacation and then I'm on vacation - a desperately needed vacation! I'll be back in August to train.

If the Bonanza is flying again you can expect some posts from me about flying it to St. George, Utah for our vacation week after next - with a stop in Bryce Canyon too! Wish us a safe trip :)