Learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Month: May 2019

Commercial cross country, why not!

In my previous post, I talked about my first commercial lesson.  As part of a commercial certificate, you need to complete a commercial cross country.  You can do this on your own without an instructor but it must be solo.  The regulation states (CFR Commercial Cross Country):


i) One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straightline distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point.

I found a day that was unusually severe clear throughout the southeast so I figured let’s go flying!

I have been planning this flight for several weeks waiting for the right time.  The plan was to depart TTA (Raleigh Executive) and fly down to SSI (Mckinnon St. Simons) and back. Flight plan:

KTTA – KMNI (refuel) – KSSI – KTTA

How we meet the criteria:

One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance

The total distance of the flight from KTTA – KMNI – KSSI and back is 589 nm.

… with landings at a minimum of three points,

I landed at KMNI, KSSI, and of course KTTA. (I actually landed at another point but i’ll get to that later)

… one of which is a straightline distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point.

The straightline distance between KTTA and KSSI is 289 nm.

So as you can see, the flight plan completes all of the criteria for the Solo Commercial Cross country.

Note: I call this solo because you have to either be solo or have a CFI ride along.  The CFI isn’t supposed to help you just there for moral support I suppose.

Let’s get to the flight portion of this trip.  Honestly, it was a pretty easy trip, not a whole lot of excitement.  Mostly just listening to ATC and hearing some horrible radio calls.

I woke up early planning to depart at 7:30 am EST.  The weather was predicted to be sky clear all day but the temperature told me that afternoon clouds/thunderstorms are definitely in play.  I figured this would take me around 6 hrs of flight time and around 7 hours total with the stops.  So this would have me back around 2:30 – 3pm EST.

After thoroughly evaluating the weather and convincing myself that this could actually be true (Severe Clear all day). I decided to go for it.  Because you always need a backup plan, I am an instrument rated pilot so if need to file, I can.  And the backup, backup plan … land and wait out bad weather.

I departed TTA at almost exactly 7:30 am EST.  I navigated to my first landing to refuel at KMNI.  However, nature would have other plans.  Since it was early in the morning, my bladder had decided that it wasn’t completely ready to start a long trip.  As such, I decided to make a quick stop at KUDG which was right in front of me.  I figured I could refuel and de-fuel (if you get my meaning).  I was able to successfully perform one of the tasks.  Unfortunately, they unexpectedly ran out of AvGas so a bathroom break would be the only event.

Back in the air for a short flight to KMNI.  This was a sleepy little airfield with Lake Marion right off the southern end of the runway.  After refueling, I was set for my next leg to KSSI.  The lake being right off the southern end of the runway bothered me and with calm wind, I decided to take off on runway 02 (North facing) and do a wide pattern to gain altitude before blasting across the lake.  My reasoning was that I wanted to gain enough altitude to be able glide to land while I was over the water.

The rest of the flight to KSSI was pretty uneventful.  The flight path took me along the east shoreline of South Carolina and Georgia.  Very pretty and very swampy.  It made for a good exercise of “Where do I land if my engine goes kaput!”  I had a few options including some private airfields and long stretches of empty beach in which the tide was low.  It was actually rare that I wasn’t within gliding distance of an airfield and the chances of a catastrophic engine failure is low.  From my understanding, if you have engine issues, typically partial loss of power, not complete failure, is the typical scenario.  However, it was a good exercise to stay vigilant.

Mckinnon St. Simons airport is pretty nice, with picturesque views and nice FBO.  I had a 6 knot gusty crosswind on landing.  Not a big deal, was able to smoothly land.  I watch a few others land and let’s say they made it more interesting than should have been.  Students perhaps?  I guess we’re all students of flight so I shouldn’t pass judgement… I’ve had my moments even after my certificates.

Some pics from the KSSI FBO (Golden Isles Aviation):


After a short break here to eat a snack and top off the tanks, I departed KSSI for the flight back to TTA.

The flight back was a little more eventful in that clouds started to pop up around the 4500′ level.  About an hour from TTA, I had to descend from 5500′ to 3500′.  To say bumpy as hell would be an understatement.  So much so, I thought about getting a popup IFR so I could climb back up out of the chop.  However, I was already maneuvering a bit to avoid the restricted area and Fayetteville approach seemed to have their hands full with all manner of strangeness.  From pilots not responding due to radio issues to pilots who didn’t seem to know the phonetic alphabet.  D is Delta, not DogF is Foxtrot, not Frank … and so on and so on!

At one point, this pilot just quit with the phonetic alphabet and just said letters.  I have to give Fayetteville approach credit, they were extremely patient.  The request was for a flight following and at one point the controller said, “Can you please repeat your aircraft number and type?”  The wayward pilot responde by telling the controller the letters to the intersection that he was going to. (Not phonetic or faux phonetic, just letters)  The controller then said, “I am asking what the numbers are on the side of your aircraft.”  I have to admit, I giggled a bit.  The struggle is real.

I arrived back at TTA at 2:23 pm which proved my estimate wasn’t too bad.  I logged 6.1 hrs of flight time.  I was pretty efficient in my stops and didn’t lose a whole lot of time on the ground.

It was the longest flight that I have taken without appreciable breaks and once home, I took a nap.  It was really fun and I built some confidence along the way.  I am looking forward to building more hours and starting my commercial training with vigor.

Few more pics from the flight:


Fly it like you stole it, back in the sky for more training

Today, the motto was “Fly it like you stole it”.  This is a pretty apt motto for the introduction to my next challenge.  Though I am not quite ready to begin training full time, today my instructor and I climbed back in the cockpit for an intro to commercial flying.

Now I know what you’re thinking because I always get this question, “So you want to fly airliners?”  True, you need a commercial certificate in order to fly for the airlines, but you also need a lot more.  The commercial certificate is a threshold that starts opening new doors in the aviation world including, but not limited to, becoming a flight instructor, ability to take money in order to fly someone or something, and of course the road to commercial airline pilot.  The first and second of these are what I am more interested in achieving.

Getting paid to fly opens up the world of aviation to bigger airplanes with less hit to the wallet.  Or so I hope! 😉

So back to the matter at hand.  I fired off a text to my instructor asking if he would give me an introduction to commercial training.  I wanted to get an idea of what’s ahead to help motivate me to get some more flight time in the books.

Once I arrived, I pre-flighted the aircraft and then we sat down to discuss some terminology and maneuvers that we would be attempting.

These included:

  • Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing
  • Chandelles
  • Lazy Eights
  • Eights on Pylons
  • Emergency descents
  • Slow flight
  • Steep turns
  • Accelerated stalls

Note: You can find the full ACS here – > ACS Standards for Commercial Pilot

Once we finished briefing, off to the airplane for some fun.  Part of the ACS for commercial, is a repeat of some private pilot maneuvers, Shorts & Softs, steep turns, emergencies, etc.  On the takeoff, I performed a soft field takeoff as a refresher.

We started with a demonstration of the Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing.  This involves pulling your throttle on downwind abeam your touchdown point and then maneuvering the aircraft so that you touch down at the spot on the runway selected.  In my case, (and seems to be most others) I selected the 1000 ft marker.  The key to this to turn base a little early and high, especially with a headwind on final.  Then you can use some tools such as S-Turns and Slips in order to lose altitude if needed to fine tune your landing spot.

The first attempt was more of a demonstration by my instructor with me shadowing the controls.  TBH, at this point I was uncomfortable with the banks at this low altitude.  However, on the next attempt I took the controls and after doing it with some assistance became more comfortable.  It will take further practice in different wind conditions for me to feel really good about it.

Next, we flew out to the practice area and demonstrated right and left steep turns.  I practice these on my own every once and awhile, so I was comfortable with them.

I may go out of order here but next, I think, we performed an accelerated stall.  I banked the aircraft into a steep turn and then pulled back hard until we heard the stall warning horn. It was pretty easy and we moved on quickly after that.

Moving on, we started the chandelle series.  This involves a climbing 180 degree turn that slowly bleeds off airspeed until we are 180 degrees from our starting heading. If performed correctly, the stall warning should just start to sound as we finish.  This is going to take some time and practice but I think I should be able to pick this one up pretty quickly.

After the chandelles, we moved into lazy 8’s. Lazy 8’s start off a lot like a chandelle except at the 45 degree point in your turn, you use the rudder to help the nose sort of just fall in the direction of the turn.  Once you complete the 180, you perform the same maneuver the other direction.  I think these are going to take me the most time to get figured out.

After doing several lazy 8’s we performed an emergency descent in order to lose altitude and then an engine out procedure towards a field that conveniently set up our next exercise, Eights on pylons.

Eights on Pylons were the most fun of the exercises.  In an overly simplified explanation, this involves two points in which you perform a figure 8 between.  This is similar to turns around a point but with other criteria involved.  These maneuvers are also performed pretty low to the ground.

The setup is to enter like you’re on downwind and once the wing is to your first “Pylon”, bank and lock that pivot point in on the end of the wing.  You need to manage throttle for your airspeed but you’re mostly pushing and pulling on the yoke in order to keep your pylon point on the center of the wing tip.  If the pivot point moves to the front of the wing, push forward on the yoke, if it moves to the back of the wing, pull back on the yoke.  Once you roll out you should be on downwind for the right turn around another pivot point.

We actually did this maneuver across 3 separate pairs of pylons.  The second set I helped choose.  I think this was the most fun maneuver out of entire flight.

After this, we flew back to TTA and performed one last Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing.  The last one felt pretty good and my instructor said I would have passed this maneuver if it was a flight test.  I’m not so sure about that but it is definitely a confidence boost.

I felt really good about today’s intro into commercial training.  I have a much better idea of what to expect.  Next, I am going to plan the long commercial cross country (since I can do that on my own), Build some hours and start studying for the written.

Look for some more blog posts in the near future as I ramp up. Until then, Fly it like you stole it!

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