Learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Category: CFI

Another Milestone in the books…. Nap time!

It’s been a while since I posted. I really got lax during the fall and mainly just worked on CFI ground materials and studying. Though studying came in fits and starts. After the holidays and in late January, I sat down with my instructor and said, “If I don’t do something and really put an emphasis on this, it is not going to get done.” It was totally on me that I was not progressing. My instructor is great. So, I proposed that I put together a flying schedule of maneuvers that I would be accountable to complete in a reasonable timeframe. He agreed and seemed happy that I was taking charge as a CFI should.

I executed on my 2 lessons per week of training in the airplane and continued to increase my study at home. I did this for the next 2 months and we got through all the air work. At this point, we both agreed that I am getting close. So, we continued to fly once per week but added 1-2 days of oral prep.

I committed to 2 hours each evening (More as we got closer) to studying my flash cards, regulations and PTS. April was going to be the month. On April 10th, I contacted a DPE that I have used in the past and asked if he had anything in April. I was hopeful but didn’t think he would. DPE’s are in pretty high demand all over the country. And a CFI-Initial takes all day so they can’t fit you in before or after another check ride.

As luck would have it, he said, “I have 1 opening that just came free on April 22nd”. I said, “Book it!”. Gave me 12 days to do my final prep. I booked the aircraft that I was planning to use multiple times for the next 12 days. I went up with my instructor 3 more times and I went by myself 5 times.

The third and final flight with my instructor he said, “You’re ready. You’re going to be a great instructor.” I don’t know why, but this landed different then I thought it would.

I thought, “Am I really ready? I feel good, my maneuvers are tight, I’m talking through the entire flight. I feel great on my flash cards and I’m able to answer every bit of oral questions I’m getting right now……. huh.”

For the final 2 days, I studied day and night. I went through the PTS over and over and every time I found something that I needed to add to my collective knowledge. The island that was my brain had accumulated all of the penguins it could fit and now some penguins were resorting to throwing others off the island. Shout out to Opposing Bases fans if you get that reference!

Finally last night, my wife asked if I was ready and I said that it isn’t going to get any better at this point… so yes.

Long story short….. I was.

It was a long oral 4.5 hours and little over an hour of flight time. I felt confident and strong in both oral and the flight portion. My DPE said he threw everything at me, and my preparedness turned it into a quicker than normal oral. Flight portion went well, and I impressed him with a few of my teaching/flying skills.

So now that is out of the way, this is just the beginning of the road. What I really took out of this experience is that I still have a license to learn and there is a lot out there that I don’t know. I may be able to quote regulations, speak intelligently about learning processes and student behavior mechanisms but overall, what I really learned was that there is still so much out there. I will continue my studies so that I can shape future pilots to be safe and competent members of the airspace.

I will rest for a bit but there is still more to do. Next stop, CFI instrument add-on!

Teaching the basics of flight

Today was the first flight of practice teaching that wasn’t really about me being checkout out as a right seat pilot. My instructor said to pick two lessons and i could practice teaching them. Stupid me showed up ready to teach slow flight and steep turns. When I told him he said, “Going right after the hard stuff, eh?” He then suggested level flight and level turns. Basics of flight kind of stuff. This totally makes more sense from the aspect of getting comfortable to teach and the material that I am teaching. And will more analog my first student. I guess the lesson here is, I still have a lot to learn and learn I shall.

We went through the startup checklist and I’m becoming more comfortable speaking through each step. I’m still trying to build my script on autopilot checks and my safety spiel. It’s funny, because you go through all of these things in your head when you’re normally flying but then when you have to verbalize in a competent way, it comes out all backwards and sideways. However, I’m getting better.

I talk through the takeoff, though sucking at my precision. We climb and head out to the practice area. I explain that we will start to level off about 50 feet before reaching our altitude of 3000ft. My instructor then asks why? I muddle through an answer of performance of the aircraft. He adds, 1/10th the climb rate. I write that down. I start to teach straight and level flight, with attention to the outside view. Teaching to keep the gap between the glare shield and the horizon consistent. Reminding that 90% of the time should be focused outside the cockpit.

Next, I introduce level turns. I first launch into an explanation of need to use the rudder to stay coordinated in the turns. I then demonstrate what happens as we turn with no rudder so they can see the nose turn the opposite direction slightly before moving in the direction of the turn. I demonstrate both left and right turns. I then showed the proper rudder control in the turn so they can see how the nose flows smoothly into the turn. My instructor then says “Me me, let me try”. He then proceeds to push the rudder too early and hard when turnings and said, “Whoa that was weird, what happened?” I said talked about how he pushed the rudder too hard and too quickly as he entered the turn and entered a skid. I then said we will brief the concept of skids/slips on the ground. I did say it is important to have proper rudder control in order to keep the aircraft coordinated at all times. After this I coached him on how to do standard rate turns with rudder coordination. We did 360’s to the left and right.

After we finished the level flight concepts, I then began to teach constant speed descents and climbs. First we started out with the constant speed descent. I explained that in order to keep a constant speed, we would slowly pull the power and not change the pitch. The the airplane is trimmed for (pitched) for a particular airspeed and removing power would cause a descent and the airspeed would stay relatively the same. I explained relatively because the power change would cause the pitch/speed wobble up and down of our target airspeed until it settles back and that we can help dampen the oscillations by small pitch corrections. I proved that using solely the throttle would allow us to descend at a constant speed. I next performed the exercise again but with a climb, increasing the throttle. I added the caveat that during a climb, that because of the angle of attach and the high RPMS, we would need to add right rudder, just as on initial takeoff climb, to stay coordinated.

Next I tackled slowing down on a descent. So changing our speed and altitude. I then spoke about how we change reduce speed and remain at the same altitude will be a coordination between the throttle and the pitch. I reiterated that if we just change the throttle, we’ll descend but stay at the same airspeed. So I suggested we change airspeed and stay at the same altitude then once we reach our new target descent airspeed, we would pull more throttle and descend at the new airspeed. So I said to reduce throttle slowly and hold back pressure to keep the altitude the same. Once we reached the target speed I said then trim out the pressure, while holding the pitch to maintain the airspeed. As we did that, we noticed that we were starting to descend. So I said, we are now descending at our new target airspeed and if we want to descend faster, we just pull back on the throttle a bit more. If we want to descend slower, we increase the throttle just as we did in steady airspeed descents and climbs earlier.

As a new teacher this was already a lot. So we headed back to the airfield and I spoke about entry patterns and the need to get the current AWOS to figure out which runway we should land on. As we entered the pattern I talked through each step, altitude, rpm’s. At the abeam point, 1500 rpm, 10 degrees of flaps, pitch for 70kt descent. Turn Base, decision point, are we high/low. If low shallow the descent, add some throttle, if high, add 20 degrees flaps keep airspeed at 70. As we turn final, I try to repeat (still trying to solidify),

“Ailerons for Drift, Rudder for alignment, pitch for airspeed, throttle for altitude”. All while saying, short final we’re looking for 65, round out, eyes down the runway, hold, don’t let it land, hold hold hold. I’m struggling here because in the right seat I can land but still not super comfortable. So part of my brain processing is still there. I’m trying to verbalize everything to look for etc. We went up one more time around the patter and I repeated. Both landings were…. meh. First a little too fast, ballooned, the second a little slow, stall warning as we crossed the threshold. Embarrassing to be honest. However, I did manage to land both straight with no side loading and I didn’t lean to the left as we touched down.. So I am making progress.

Overall, it was a good lesson and if anything, show’s me how much I still have to learn. I imagine that will be true even after this check ride because a good pilot is always learning new things. And the saying, “You really learn how to fly once you begin to teach it” seems like a very true thing.

Check me out, in the right seat that is

It’s been a minute since I last posted. I started flying right seat to get a feel for things then nearly stopped flying and started working on all the ground material for my CFI. I meet with my instructor weekly along with another student and we are taking it slow. We are nearly through all of the ground material so decided to climb back into the right seat and see if I can get checked out.

As a note, the flying club that I am training at requires a special checkout and sign off by the chief flight instructor for any member to be able to fly right seat. The Chief flight instructor gave my instructor the nod to sign off on my checkout, so up we go!

Nothing fancy today, the plan was to go up in the plane and fly all of the required maneuvers needed for the checkout and for me to try and talk/teach my way through each maneuver.

First takeoff was normal and we departed the pattern to the west in order to get to the practice area. I climbed up to 3000 all while talking through What, how and why of each step. From the crosswind altitude to lowering the nose every so often to scan for traffic. My instructor told me to start wherever so I decided on steep turns. Performed a clearing turn and espoused the reasons why we do this then executed a steep left turn. I fumbled my way through the explanation during the turn. After the left turn, back to the right. They went well, all things considered, hit my wake both times.

Next up, slow flight. I decided to start with slow flight clean talking through the how and why. I mumbled around a bit to explain why. Note to self, need to be more prepared on the why for each maneuver. After slow flight clean, went on to slow flight dirty. Performed some standard rate turns, all was good. From here, went into an approach stall. I screwed up the setup and after some advice from the instructor, I reset my throttle an attitude for 65 knot descent, like I was landing then pulled the throttle holding the nose just above the horizon. Better technique than how I started. Cleaned up the airplane and performed a departure stall. Slowed the airplane down to around 75 kts, then gently pulled the nose back to about 25 degrees with full power. Not the greatest break on the stall but passable.

After going through a stall series, performed an engine out maneuver. Airspeed 68 (Best Glide speed), Best place to land (Grass strip about a mile away), Checklist (fuel on both, fuel shutoff valve in, mixture rich, fuel pump on etc.), Declare emergency on frequency or 121.5 transponder 7700.
I’m going to be real, I started this maneuver as a real mess. I tried to go directly in and do a crapy 360 about half a mile from the runway and was still too high. My instructor gave me some advice on the setup (duh, I know this stuff, truly do but my head was in the way), I glided to a nice downwind and ended up 1000 ft above the surface right abeam touchdown. In perfect power off 180 configuration. I performed the turn a little too early, probably antsy about how close we were to the ground already for this simulated emergency. Or my head was in the way again. Either way, would have been close, would have needed to slip.

After that, we did a few commercial maneuvers, lazy 8’s and chandelles. I did ok on the lazy 8’s, Chandelles were messy.

Finally, we headed back for some landings. First landing was a normal one, pretty decent, best from the right seat so far. Taxi’d back for a short field take off and landing for this go around. It was ok, I was short of my landing spot. I was in my head a bit about the site picture and lost the glide path a bit. Next, soft field takeoff and landing. I think the take off was really good, the landing was way too hard but kept the nose off the ground…. mostly.

The last trip around we did a power off 180. I didn’t do too bad, I landed a little left of the center line and slightly side loaded. I realized this time around, I was landing crooked because I was going out of my way to line up the runway centerline with some rivets on the cowling that were too far left of my site picture. This had me crabbing the aircraft slightly right and adjusting by using a little left aileron. At about 30 feet above the runway, it finally hit me and I let go of some right rudder but no the the aileron correction which had me slide a little left of the centerline.

Overall, my instructor said I did well…. better than I was giving myself credit for. And he said he felt comfortable signing me off to now fly solo in the right seat. A bit of a confidence boost and I do feel better about flying from the right side. I just need to clean up my landings and cleanup my maneuvers a bit and i’m golden. I keep telling myself, it will come, if it was easy we wouldn’t need to practice!

Flying right… err seat.

Today was the first day of learning to fly from the right side of the airplane. It wasn’t too bad and horrible at the same time. Odd, huh? I know. Luckily my flight instructor is awesome and wasn’t too hard on me today. Where to start? hmm, the beginning!

Arrived at the club and chatted for a sec with my instructor in which his only advice before the flight today was to say “Make sure you put your stuff on the right side.” Honestly, not sure what else there was to say. This was going to be similar to any other airplane checkout flight, except from the right seat.

I did, indeed, put my things on the right side. And it was weird. As I strapped in, I noticed that my kneeboard was on my right leg and felt odd being up against the door of the mighty 172. Not sure why, I’ve flown on that side during CAP missions and while acting as a safety pilot. For some reason, today, it felt really off.

As I started the checklist my instructor said, teach me, i’m a newbie. **Gulp**. Ok….
I started going through the checklist explaining every action and probably by most accounts, poorly. I’m sure I will get better with repetition but it felt, in a word, weird. Notice the theme here?

After run-up, I got a bit of advice on explaining then doing instead of explaining while doing. Makes total sense but I felt like my first time ever in an airplane. I taxied to the runway, with little issue. I asked about the centerline sight picture as I was guessing a little bit and seemed like that was fine.

Normal takeoff, wasn’t too big of a deal, other than my hands feeling off and having to look across the cockpit for the instrumentation. During the climb out, I ran the checklist and tried to get use to trimming with my left hand.

Once in the practice area, I began with simple turns to the left and right to try to get use to the sight picture. Next, steep turns. Again, our favorite word. Weird. Turn to the left felt like the nose was dropping and I had too much back pressure. Turn to the right, opposite problem. I did a couple each way and started to get the feel for it. So, not bad, just weird.

Next up, slow flight. First clean, then dirty. This wasn’t too bad either and really it was just getting use to looking to the left while using my left hand to fine tune the throttle. I actually felt pretty decent about this. Even though I was trying to rewire my brain to coordinate my hands but backwards in a way. You see slow flight you have to understand that you’re in the region of reverse command. Meaning, throttle controls your climb/descent and pitch controls your airspeed. I’m am normally quite good at flying like this and didn’t do too badly but was interesting since my hands were doing the opposite of what I was use to.

After some turns while slow/clean, I dirtied up (added flaps) and flew slow with full flaps. Still not bad and felt I was actually getting the hang of it.

Next, stalls. First we would perform a power-off (landing configuration) stall. I slowed the aircraft down to landing speed and then pulled back a bit bleeding off speed until the stall. Recovered and retracted flaps. Next, power on (departure) stall. Setup airspeed like we were just departing the runway, 74 kts. Full power and pull to bleed off speed. Stayed coordinated, piece of cake.

Now my explaining these maneuvers, not great. But that will come, right. right?

Next onto the easy part, landings. I say easy but I already knew this was traditionally the hardest part. First landing was a normal landing. Everything went pretty well until right at touchdown. As the wheels sat down, it felt like we shifted to the right. And the plane veered right and I was extremely late on getting enough left rudder to compensate.

Next, soft field takeoff. This wasn’t all that big of a deal. I felt like I did ok except once the wheels left the ground, I didn’t quite get the nose down quick enough. Pesky right hand.

And finally, the soft field landing. The approach felt fine and started to get use to the sight picture coming down. Again, as the wheels touched down, I felt like the airplane just veered right.

Now, my instructor commented that both times on landing, I leaned to my left. And I realized that once he said something. As we taxied back, I think what was happening is that the sight picture was weird and for some unknown reason I was leaning left to fix it in my mind but inadvertently pushing on the right rudder at the same time. I think I was using it as leverage to lean. That folks is weird.

Anyway, alls well and the landings were, just ok. I’m sure more landings will start to make it feel better but i’m not going to lie, it scared me a bit. And I felt like it was the first time landing a plane all over again.

I’m told that this is normal and after about 10 hours, i’ll be fine. We shall see.

CFI Journey begins

I haven’t posted in a while. Life can be crazy but I am back at it and my CFI Journey begins. I have been feverishly studying for the written exams. FOI (Fundamentals of Instruction), FIA (Flight Instructor Aircraft) and because it is nearly identical to FIA, the AGI (Advanced Ground Instructor). The last one is really just to be eligible to be a gold seal CFI. Not sure it really matters at this point but since it is nearly identical to the FIA exam and I’ll be fresh…. why not.

I will try to blog my CFI journey here step by step as I did with my other ratings. Until then… Blue skies and happy holidays!

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