Learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Month: December 2015

Twas the Night Before Christmas

**Full disclosure, I completely ripped this off the source is unknown. I thought it was cool none the less**

Merry Christmas everyone!

Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp,
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.
The aircraft were fastened to tiedowns with care,
In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.
The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two-forty at 39 knots.
I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.
When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.
A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.
He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I’d have sworn that the call sign he used was “St. Nick”.
I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.
He called his position, no room for denial,
“St. Nicholas One, turnin’ left onto final.”
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Rutan-built sleigh, with eight Rotax Reindeer!
With vectors to final, down the glideslope he came,
As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:
“Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!” What pills was he takin’?
While controllers were sittin’, and scratchin’ their head,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:
“When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower.”
He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard “Left at Charlie,” and “Taxi to parking.”
He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh
And stopped on the ramp with a “Ho, ho-ho-ho…”
He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.
His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost
And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.
His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn’t inhale.
His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a cropduster’s belly.
He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to “fill it, with hundred low-lead.”
He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was anxious for drainin’ the sump.
I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.
He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.
And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.
He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, “Clear!”
And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.
“Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot’s discretion”
He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
“Your traffic’s a Grumman, inbound from the west.”
Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed through the night,
“Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight.”



“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air… .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Today was the day and it couldn’t have been better.  Calm winds and clear skies for the entire state.  I knew going in that if I performed well that I would be soloing today.  In the lead up I have watched many youtube videos and read countless accounts of others solo experience.  The accounts spanned the spectrum from terrified to casual.  I have to say that for me it was on the casual end of the spectrum.

Last night as I was falling asleep, my thoughts turned to what it would be like with no one in the right seat to save my from some unexpected brain fart.  It was then that I noticed that I don’t have the butterflies or nervousness that I was expecting.  Surely this was going to happen, the weather projections were calling for perfect weather.  I drifted into bliss and woke up refreshed and ready to go.

During the drive I revisited the idea of being alone but my thoughts wandered more to the procedures and radio calls.  I did have some butterflies but now more than usual.  These butterflies are normally reserved for the excitement of getting to fly a plane.

As I arrived, the airplane was attached to an engine block heater and wings tilted toward the sun.  It was just below freezing and we had some frost.  It seems my instructor wanted to take no chances and made sure that we had the best opportunity to fly today.

Everything was normal 0n run up.  We took off on runway 21 and started our journey around the pattern.  The first two trips, I came in too high and performed go arounds.  We discussed the different site picture in this particular airplane and I commented on the plane really wanting to fly today.  I adjusted my settings and site picture for the low density altitude, and made a nice landing.  The next time around the pattern, was the same and made a nice landing.  As we go up again we discuss certain things about what I am doing and then…. “You lost your engine”.  I go through my mnemonic for failed engine and get us safely to the runway.

“You think you’re ready?”  I replied, “Yeah, I do”

“Then drop me off at the next taxiway.”

She signs my logbook and instructs me to to full stop landings with a run up before each take off.  Each time I land she will ask me if I am good for another.  I am finally doing it!

As I taxi to runway 21, I still didn’t have butterflies.  I was excited but it really seemed routine.  I perform a run up and wait for landing traffic and traffic on Base.

Here we go!.  I make my radio call and lineup on Rwy 21, do my heading checks, heels to the floor, throttle in.  Green, green, green, airspeed alive… woah, I am off the ground.  I was at crosswind altitude before the end of the runway.  This thing climbs crazy fast when alone.  I go around the pattern making my radio calls and hitting my numbers.  First landing was decent… floated a little but I was expecting that.

I stop next to my instructor as I leave the runway.  “You want to go again?”  I replied, “Oh yeah, that was fun!”.  Off I go.

I take off again, noticing how fast I am climbing… like a rocket ship.  This time  as I approach crosswind turn, I hear a call, “Cessna 69012 is going to cross midfield for downwind runway 21, I have the departing traffic in site.”  hmm.

As I call my crosswind I let the traffic know that I do not have them in site.  At this point, I hear my instructor on the radio.  He is right over my head. I see the traffic and respond.  I really thought as I was taking off he would have followed me in on downwind.  I extended my down wind a bit for separation and made a good landing.  Though I was right on my airspeeds, I floated more this time. hmm.

As I pulled off, my instructor asked me if I wanted another, of course my response was yes!  The then voice her opinion on the radio about me being cut off in the pattern.  As I started my taxi, I got the AWOS and notice the wind had picked up in the other direction.  That is why I floated so much.  I called my instructor on the radio and told her the winds had shifted.  She had me do a 180 and come pick her up.  At this point we had a lot of traffic lining up and I decided that I was good and we headed back to the south ramp to start the ritual.

It feels good. Not nearly as scary as I imagined when I first started.  It was very serene. I think this is because of the excellent training that I have received and the confidence that I have gained over time.  I now have .5 hours of PIC in my log book and it feels great.  Not only did I get to fly a plane, but they let me fly it by myself!


Pre-Solo Checkout

So after many days of reschedule due to personal issues or weather, today I finally got airborne with the chief flight instructor for the pre-solo checkout.  Basically this is a ride to make sure that I have fundamentals down and am safe.  There were quite a few things about this ride. I would be quizzed on aircraft systems, club rules, aerodynamics… a wide range of things.  I was a bit nervous but once we got started everything went fine.

Adding to my trepidation was the fact that the aircraft that I would be flying was the only 152 in the fleet that I have not flown before.  Not a huge deal but definitely weighed on my mind.  I pre-flighted as normal and everything checked out.  Once finished, I headed in to grab our Chief.

As we walked out he said we would walk around the aircraft and go over a few things.  I knew that this meant the quiz.  I am pretty mechanically inclined and I geek out on these sort of things so I figured I would be fine but I studied none the less.  Sure enough, he asked me about parts of my pre-flight, more specifically the engine compartment.  “So, what is it that you are looking for?”  I go through each step, alternator belt, general inspection of the engine for rodent nests, check the flywheel, prop, spinner.  “What are you looking at the engine for?”  I explain that I generally look at the push rod covers, around the head gaskets looking for anything shiny that could be a leak.  He seemed pleased with the answers.  He then put me through the paces on the alternator.  “What would be the symptoms of an alternator failure and what would you do to try and remedy?”  I’m boring you aren’t I?  I’ll skip it and just say, my answers were satisfactory and we got in the plane to go fly.

I go through the startup process… this particular plane was hard to start but after 4 tries, I got it rolling.  Went through the motions… taxi’d to run-up, then to Runway 3.  “Go ahead and let’s do a couple of landings then we’ll head out to the practice area”.  Righto!  I make the pertinent radio call, position on the runway then showtime.

I had about a 6kt wind 30 degrees off to my right which translated into a slight crosswind.  Not a big deal but I fought the airplane on center line.  As I lifted off I had to do a bit of a crab, more so than I expected.  I think I had a strong wind than I anticipated.  Some bumps around the pattern made me nervous about my landing.  I focused on hitting my numbers around the pattern, talking all the way through it and the landing turned out fine.  I bit of a bump but not too bad.  “You can either full stop or touch and go… your choice.”  My choice was full stop since my normal instructor normally helps me clean up the plane for the touch and go and I have never done it myself. So I erred on the side of what I know.

As we taxi’d back, I asked for feedback and it was really good, no real constructive criticism.  “You did really well, let’s just head out to the practice area”.

I make the calls, lineup, throttle up and away we go.

“Once you get all settled, let’s do some steep turns”.  I get us to 3000 ft, enter cruise flight.  I perform a clearing turn to the right and line up on the best visual marker in the area, the Sharon Harris Nuclear power plant.  I get set stable, garbage in garbage out and then set out to tackle my nemesis maneuver.  I flight the right hand steep turn with very minimal loss of altitude.  I then setup for the left hand steep turn and perform it with about 20 ft of lost altitude.  Not bad, maybe I am getting them figured out.

“Go ahead and give me some slow flight”.  I inquire to clean or dirty and airspeed and he responds… your choice.  So I inform him that I am going to do 60kts clean.  He nods and I begin my setup.  Carb heat on, reduce power to slow down, pitch for 60 kts.  As I reach 60 kts I start to apply throttle to maintain speed and altitude.  I pretty much nailed it. YAY.

“Give me a turn in slow flight”.  I have the aircraft trimmed out nicely and begin a slow right hand turn 360 degrees.  “Nicely done”

“Ok, go ahead and give me slow flight dirty”.  I go ahead and add full flaps and prepare to push in the throttle to maintain altitude with all of the drag that I just added.  The Chief inquires as to why I gave it throttle and we talk through angle of attack and the relation of speed to pitch and throttle for altitude.  He seems pleased with my answers.

“Let’s do a power off stall”.  I inquire to configuration and again he responds that it is my choice.  Since I am already dirty, I tell him that I will do it dirty.  I pull the throttle back and slowly add back pressure and as my special stall instructor taught me, once close to the stall, I pull back to make it break.  As it breaks, I push in the throttle and recover.  “Nicely Done”  Yay!.

“Now give me a departure stall”.  I clean up the airplane and get us configured for takeoff speed of 65 kts and climbing.  I pull back to bleed off speed and again near the stall, pull back to the stop to get the break.  As before, I add throttle and recover.

“Let’s do a departure turning stall”  Same thing as before except I am in a shallow left turn.  I go through the same steps and recover.

At this point he is pleased with what he is seeing and we talk about spirals and secondary stalls.  He shows me some pretty gnarly secondary stalls and recovery techniques.  A lot of these my regular instructor tries to avoid.  It was good to go through the motions so I know what they feel like and how to recover.

“OK, let’s go ahead and head back to the airfield at around 4000 ft and we will do an engine out and we will be done” Spiral down engine out!!!! I like these.

I setup and when I got to downwind, he made the radio call and I pulled my own throttle…. that was weird but whatever.  I talked through the ABCDE for engine out and set out on my spiral down over runway 3.  Once I hit about 2000 ft.  I decided not to circle one last time fearing that I may get too low.  I sort of felt him out on the subject and he said “Do whatever you think”  I erred on the side of altitude and  started my down wind.  As I turned base I was high so I dropped full flaps and made my turn to final.  It was kind of beautiful, I was on a perfect glide ride down to the numbers, flared, floated and dropped down on the runway flat as a pancake.  “Crap, I didn’t have the nose nearly as high as I needed.”  He responded, “Yeah it was a little flat but you recognized your fault”

As we taxi’d back we talked over some of the maneuvers and I got a lot of positive feedback.  Not a whole lot of negative, he seemed quite pleased with my ability to handle the aircraft.  He even commented that if I was on my check ride today, My performance would have easily passed.  Double Yay!  I am not going to get a big head because I know I have a lot to learn but it was a real confidence boost today.  I also got to know someone with a ton of experience and hopefully started a friendship.

I saw my normal flight instructor in passing and she didn’t even ask how it went.  Just said “Make sure he signs your training card and your log book”  I responded, “What if I failed?”  “Oh please, get him to sign it.”  I am starting to think that she knew I would do well.  As she heads out to take a student for their first flight she says “I wouldn’t have sent you if I didn’t already know the outcome.  Stick with me kid, and I will take you places.”  I smiled and she bounded away with her new student.  I really do have a good flight instructor and so far, this has been a great experience.

I just got a text from her, it reads “Time to start wearing white shirts. :)”  I feel completely ready because of the great instructors that I have.  Can’t wait!

Not So Cross Country Trip

My flight was supposed to be with the Chief Flight Instructor for my pre-solo check but as life tends to happen, we had to postpone until early next week.

Since I had the plane anyway, my instructor and I moved up a planned short cross country from TTA to SOP.  It doesn’t qualify as a true cross country so I don’t get credit for it but it had all of the planning that goes into a real cross country.  Baby steps so to speak.  A lot of new things on this flight so as usual when new things are introduced… I am behind the airplane.

We started out by filling out a navigation logs starting with my abysmal attempt that I rushed together before the flight.  I had a few waypoints picked out and my instructor supplemented those with a few more obvious  checkpoints.  I tended to pick things that were not that easy to see from the air.  I am told it gets better with experience.

After calculating the wind drift, groundspeed, Magnetic variation, magnetic deviation and fuel burn we were ready.  As you may or may not be aware, magnetic north isn’t exactly located where true north is located.  So following a compass wont get you to the North Pole, that is why Santa must use other means just like we do to calculate it.  In our area it is around 8ºW.  Which means there is 8º between the true north direction and the magnetic north direction, this is called Magnetic Variation.  We account for this when we point our compass in a direction that we determine on a chart.  Okay, I am sure that you are bored… back to the flight.

We take off and climb to 2500 feet and I start following the checkpoints along with the SDZ VOR.  Then I make my first radio call ever to ATC.

“Fayetteville Approach, Cessna 4640 Bravo”

-Cessna Fayetteville, Go ahead

“Fayetteville Approach, 4640 Bravo is Cessna 152 Slant Uniform, off TTA en route to SOP Via SDZ VOR at 2500, request Flight Following”

-Cessna 4640 Bravo squawk 1270 and ident

“Squawking 1270 ident”

-Cessna 4640 Bravo is 8 miles southwest of TTA, report any altitude change

“Roger will report, 4640 Bravo”

I totally had a script that my instructor was holding up but I think I sounded pretty plausible.  I am learning to work my pilot voice.

While I was reading my script, I lost the power lines that I was tracking visually to the VOR.  And after wobbling back and forth trying to get the VOR lined up I realized that my directional gyro had precessed so I kept tracking the wrong heading… it made sense.  I made the comment to my instructor that ATC must know that I am a newb with me wobbling back and forth.  She replied, “You are holding your altitude well and that is what they care about”

The rest of the trip was pretty mundane, she quizzed me on landmarks and where we were on the chart.  I landed at SOP with a thud.  It has a much wider runway so I flared higher than I should have.  Not my most graceful by any stretch.  We perform a touch and go due to time and head back toward the SDZ VOR.  I contact Fayetteville approach again for a flight following back to TTA.  This time I followed the power lines all the way home and it tracked the VOR right down the middle.  Like magic.

We came in on the base leg for runway 3 at TTA and taxi’d back to a beautiful sunset over the clubhouse.  I felt like I was behind the airplane but I think I did ok considering my first time.  Like everything, practice makes perfect, I am sure it will soon become natural.

Next Flight with the Chief Flight Instructor.  I swear.

…. Probably


Quick Round Robin

Today I got a text a couple of hours before my flight from my instructor that said “Plz 0lants round robin screen today”.  After a minute or two of puzzling at this, I got another “Oops.. please plan a round robin to Siler City today (stupid phone)”  This one made more sense.  I broke out my chart and drew a line from KTTA to KSCR and got a heading and calculated the magnetic heading.  I also picked out some nice visual waypoints to use in case we were going by strict pilotage.  There is a sweet power line that runs parallel to 64 west and I can basically sit right between the two all the way to KSCR.

I preflighted one of our aircraft that has more than average squawks and I added another one to the list but we will get to that one later. Squawk for the un-initiated is a term used to describe issues seen with an aircraft so that other pilots and the Mechanics to see.

After I finished the pre flight we sat down to discuss the flight.  My instructor said, “I see you have a nice line connecting Raleigh Exec to Siler City but we are going to use Pilotage today.”  Yes! I planned for that.  After showing her my pilotage plan, she nodded and we headed out to start off on our adventure.  She told me that today, I would navigate and make all of the radio calls.  Which is a good thing because the bird we are flying has a Squawk that the co pilot side push to talk is inoperable.  I figured this flight was more about seeing if I could make it to Siler City and back safely if I were solo.

I took off and made the radio calls to leave the pattern.  I also advised the other training flights in the area that I would be paralleling 64 west to Siler City at 2500.  It was pretty quiet along the way so I looked for landmarks on my chart and pulled up Siler City so I could get the AWOS and CTAF frequencies.  While messing around I noticed I lost about 250 ft of altitude… ugh… sloppy.  I re-trimmed  and kept an eye on it the rest of the flight.  Nothing too exciting other than conflicting radio calls to which runway was in use, I setup and other than being a little high… the landing was ok.  Just ok.  We taxied to the end and decided to take off in the other direction since it seemed the traffic has all left and that was the runway the wind favored.  I perform a before takeoff and position on the runway.

“Runway heading looks good, heels to the floor, throttle up.  Engine is green, green, green.  Airspeed is……… airspeed is…..  airspeed is not alive, aborting takeoff.”  I pulled back the throttle made sure I had control and slowed down to the end of the runway where we pulled off and pondered the issue.  In our club, we have pitot covers that cover the pitot tube but sit on a hinge.  There is a tab on the top that catches the airflow and flips the cover up exposing the pitot tube to the air.  We figured that for some reason, this thing didn’t come up.  We decided on one more takeoff attempt before shutting down to figure it out.

We line up and I go through the calls this time, airspeed is alive so we continue the take off.  I proceed to pilot us back to KTTA using the same landmarks as coming back.  This time the power lines to the right and 64 E on my left.  On the way back I was very cognizant of the altitude and kept us right at 2500 ft.  6 miles out I made a position call, 3 miles out my final position call before entering the pattern.  Entered the pattern, base, final and touchdown.  A little to the right of center, ugh.  Not my best landing day but serviceable.

As we taxi back my only feedback was blowing the altitude by 250 ft while fiddling with my stuff.  And also that in my 10 mile radio call I didn’t ask for traffic advisories.  Not a huge deal but good habit to get situational awareness.

Once we got back, I tied the airplane down and added a few things to the aircraft squawk book.  One about the airspeed inop instance and the other was that the flaps were very slow to move and made a loud humming sound.  It was the first time that I have entered a squawk.

Overall, I felt pretty good about the flight and felt comfortable with the whole process.  My next flight will be with the Chief Flight Instructor to perform my pre-solo check.  Fingers crossed!

Second Opinion…. I’m Stalling

A requirement before I solo at the flying club in which I am learning to fly, is that you must be signed off by the chief flight instructor before you are allowed to solo.  My instructor has been hinting that I was ready and she wanted me to fly with another instructor to put me through the paces before I take my ride with the chief flight instructor. A second opinion of sorts. lol

After preflight I met with my alternate instructor for the day and we got all strapped in.  I went through my checklist for startup and run up.  As we taxi’d to runway 3, he said “Go ahead and take us out to the practice area and when you’re ready, we will go through some maneuvers.  Your Primary instructor said I should work on getting you to hard break a stall.”  Ok, he actually said my instructors actual name but trying to keep it a bit anonymous here to protect the innocent.  Also, a little background.  Every stall that I have ever performed has been some weird mush stall where I just lose altitude but the nose never actually drops.  So today, we are going to take care of that.  Another thing that was weird about this flight is he acted like a passenger.  None of the usual instructor talk or anything as I took off and headed to the practice area.  I am sure he was evaluating how I would handle it alone, but was still a little strange, like I was just taking him for a ride.

Ok back to the deal.  So we get out to the practice area and he asked me to do a clean straight ahead stall.  Clean == No Flaps,  for the uninitiated.  So I do my usual deal and I hear the stall horn and we start to slowly bleed off altitude.  At this point he asked me to recover then try again.  This time as the stall horn started he said to pull it back hard to the stop to get it to break.  And boy did it!  It was a weird feeling and I seem to recover nicely.  We did a couple or more like this as well as some with full flaps.  After getting over the weirdness, I have to admit it was kind of fun.  Then he asked me to do a departure or power on stall.  I haven’t actually practiced this one yet so he demonstrated.  I took what I learned from the others and was able to do that one with no issues.

Next, the curve ball.  “Go ahead and do a turning stall, like you are on a turn to crosswind.”  Uh…… Uh… ok.  I have never even attempted a turning stall… this should be interesting.  I knew this was on the check ride so I have to learn it but I figured there was a reason I haven’t…. I guess the reason was, I wasn’t doing stalls that well.

So turning stalls are interesting as you are actually banked and pitched up while bleeding off speed.  Other than being in a turn, it wasn’t a whole lot different from the other stalls… and after 3 or 4, I was doing them well.

Overall, I felt pretty good as in a lot of cases I was only losing 30-40 feet of altitude which is well within practical test standards needed for my check ride, 100 ft.  My substitute teacher seemed pleased as well.

He then asked, “Anything else you are having trouble with that I can help?”  I responded that my white whale seems to be steep turns.  So I show him and of course, I complete a nearly perfect steep turn to the right.  Then I perform a nearly perfect one to the left.  hmmm?  He gave me some tips and then shows me how to perform a hands off steep turn by adjusting trim and throttle.  My current instructor teaches me to do it by hand with both hands on the yoke at 95 kts to limit variables.  For now I will keep his tip in the tool bag for future use.

We had been at it pretty hard for over an hour so he tells me to take him back to the airfield.  We chat about our past history with aviation, me being an a son of an Air Force mechanic and he being a retired Navy tech.  He told me about how he came into aviation as well as stories about his days in the Navy.  Great conversation for an Av Geek like me.  Once in range, I go through the checklist and make my inbound radio call.  I enter the pattern and run through my normal landing procedures.  I hit base leg a little high and adjusted.  By the time I turned final and stabilized, I was right on the money.  I as pulled back to level off a second or two and the wheels lightly touched and I set the nose on the center line.  Totally greased it!  I hear, “Fantastic job” and I was grinning ear to ear.

As we taxi’d back, my new instructor/friend regaled me of his tales in the Navy and his past life as a crop duster.  I buttoned up the plane and we took the conversation inside for another hour of conversation.  All in all, it was a great day to fly and get to know each other.  Next step, schedule that ride with the chief flight instructor.

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