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.