Learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Category: IFR Training Page 1 of 3

Got it done! Checkride continued…

The title says it all, I got it done.  In order to complete my instrument rating I needed to go back up and cleanup a couple of things. Unusual Attitude Recovery, shoot a non-precision approach and a precision approach.

I think a lot of this came down to checkride jitters.  I always try to look on the bright side and I believe that shining a light on a few of these deficiencies will make me a better, safer pilot.  I definitely feel more confident in each phase of flight.  Now don’t get me wrong, there were still things on this ride that I can improve upon.  I think the important part here is that as pilots we are always learning and striving for improvement.

So today, I arrived at the club ready to go up to clean up a few things with a prep ride.  The weather was really wonky and didn’t line up with the TAF’s very well.  We could see things to the west going IFR and that weather was coming our way.  My instructor and I decided to review the approach plates and talk over some things before committing to the skies.

My examiner showed up by chance as he was working with another student.  He asked if we wanted to do the checkride after our flight and added there was no pressure if we don’t feel ready.  I responded that if the prep ride goes well, I would be game to give it a shot.

After a bit, my instructor and I decided that the ceilings were holding so we went up to practice UAR (Unusual Attitude Recoveries) and shoot the full ILS Y 03 approach with the procedure turn.  I was expecting this one on the ride from previous history.

Everything with the prep flight went well and I gained a lot of confidence in the procedures and felt ready.  Once the examiner showed back up after his current lesson, we did the final paperwork and briefed.

In this ride, I would takeoff and get vectors and altitude to the practice area where we would perform the Unusual attitude recoveries.  The examiner did a really good job yanking and banking to make sure I was nice and disoriented before saying “You have the flight controls, recover”.  The first time we were in a climbing left turn.  I performed the necessary corrections that I practiced.  Easy peasy.  Next after more banking back and forth, up and down.  “You have the flight controls, recover”.  This time we were in a descending right turn.  I applied the necessary corrections once again.

After these two maneuvers, I was told “Climb and maintain 2500, cleared direct OZOPE for the RNAV 21 approach”.  I dialed up the RNAV 21 approach and configured direct OZOPE in the GPS. As we neared OZOPE, I got the weather, briefed the approach and made sure the CDI, approach and radios were squared away.  The examiner failed the WAAS on the GPS so this would be an LNAV approach instead of an LPV approach.  Also, since the winds favored runway 03, we would make this a circling approach, so a little higher minimums.

The approach went pretty smooth, I made all of the stepdowns and made reports on the CTAF.  I messed up a radio call where I said I would go missed instead of circling to land runway 3.  A little prompt by the examiner and I cleaned up this call.  There was incoming traffic that I was coordinating with and the examiner keyed the mic to make them aware that I was on a checkride.  The traffic was gracious enough to give me a wide berth in honor of the checkride.  Much appreciated nameless radio traffic.

Once to circling minimums, I took the foggles off and set up on the downwind making sure to not bust my circling minimums.  “At what point can you descend below minimums?”  I answered that when you were in position to make a normal landing.  “What else do you need”.  I fumbled through this by saying when the runway was in sight.  Ultimately he coaxed the correct answer which is when the runway environment is in sight.  Language means everything in this business and I need to make sure that I am more accurate in my language.

Once abeam the runway touchdown point on downwind I was give vectors and altitude. “Fly heading 300, climb and maintain 2200.  Once ready, fly direct IKTOW for the ILS Y 03 approach.”  I took my time climbing and cleaning up the heading.  I changed the approach in the GPS to the ILS Y 03 approach.  Once I was stable and took a breath, I configured direct IKTOW and made the turn.  I next informed approach, my examiner, that I was now direct IKTOW for the ILS Y 03 approach.

Next I got the weather again to confirm the winds still favored Runway 03.  I set the radios including the ILS frequency.  I briefed the approach and went through my flow.  I had everything dialed in and briefed a teardrop entry for the procedure turn for the approach.  As I got closer, the examiner cleared me for the approach, “Cross IKTOW at 22oo cleared for the ILS Y 03 approach.”.  Ok, now cleared and as I crossed I made a slight course correction to catch the teardrop entry.  Now I knew that I needed to ID the ILS Nav frequency and as I turned back toward the approach course I verified NAV 2, Verified NAV 1 on the GPS had ID lit up on the GPS and verified NAV1 audibly.

I had descended down to 2100 in the procedure turn and cleaned up a little before I reached IKTOW.  After crossing IKTOW, next HEDYY would be my FAF and glideslope intercept point.  I made the radio calls that I was on final and appropriate distances.  As I intercepted the glideslope, I started down.  Throttle 1800, 5oo fpm descent like I have done so many times before.  I started getting butterflies because it’s almost over.  I was hyper focused on the needles making small adjustments to remain on the glideslope.  As I reached the DA of 460, I took off the foggles and configured to land.

Taxi’d back to the ramp making a little small talk but I was pretty sure that I passed.  After I shutdown, the examiner said, “Well, Are you going to shake my hand?”  I passed.  It was a great feeling.  A lot of hard work culminated in this outcome.  My instructors and the examiner all contributed to making me a better pilot.  I am now an instrument rated pilot.

As I type, I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet.  Ultimately, this is just another step on the journey to be a better pilot.  I try my best to learn from the lessons of others and never take things for granted.

A big thank you to all of the club members and instructors who have helped me out along the way.  You know who you are and I am forever grateful.

What’s next?  Well, I am going to exercise my new privileges and build some time.  Next up is commercial but I need another 100 hours to make that happen.  I see a lot of flying in my future. I will still try to post here from time to time as I complete currency flights and some lessons here and there.

I hope the outcome of these blog posts inspire others to embrace their passion for flight and either get that PPL or add on rating.

My final totals for this rating:

Total PIC Cross-Country: 53.3 Hrs

Actual or Simulated Instrument: 42.6 Hrs

Actual or simulated instrument flight training: 22.0 Hrs

# of approaches completed: 34


Checkride day!!

I know it has been a while since I have posted but checkride day is upon me.  Mainly studying and getting ready for my checkride.  I enlisted the help of a second instructor to get a different perspective on my abilities. I felt confident and ready to go.

I’ll save you the suspense.  I failed.

I make no excuses, they were things that I should have done.  My instructors were top notch in getting me prepared, I just messed up on a couple of things.  The examiner was fair and gave me a few little nudges along the way, I just blew it.

I showed up early to get things ready for the oral portion. Also to study a few last things before the examiner arrived.  Once the examiner arrived, we did some paperwork, IACRA, signed off on acknowledging that I am PIC, pilot’s bill of rights, etc.

Once this was completed, we headed to the club classroom for the oral portion.  This part went pretty well.  There were a couple of things that I wasn’t 100% on but you don’t have to be perfect.  We completed the oral portion pretty fast, I felt pretty good about it.

For the flight portion, we filed IFR because of a few low clouds in the area.  I filed via foreflight and then called to pick up my clearance with the understanding that I would call back for my release.

I was cleared to TTA via Direct Liberty, KSCR, TTA as per my filed plan.  This would have us perform the VOR-A approach. Next, I briefed and prepped and after a nudge I tuned in the VOR to verify the vor.  Almost blew the ride here because I was nearly at LIB and almost performed a teardrop entry instead of the parallel entry that the gps sequenced.  I got a little flustered with this because I was slightly behind the aircraft.  ok, back on I performed the procedure turn and headed back in towards Liberty VOR.

This is where I screwed up.  I was told I could use the GPS for this approach but the problem is, I don’t think I have ever done a VOR-A approach with the GPS.  Not an excuse just trying to layout the chain of events.

Once I crossed the Liberty VOR I Started the clock as normal for a timed approach.  However since I was using GPS I could follow it instead.  The Examiner even said, “Are you doing a timed approach or GPS”?  Hint… ugh.  So, for the VOR-A at KSCR there is waypoint VAYRU that if you’re using the GPS you can step down from 1380 to 1240.  However with the timed approach, you can’t.  I have always performed the timed approach and even though I saw VAYRU Sequence, part of me said if I stepped down I would fail.  So I didn’t step down…. I failed.

This is where I let it get to my head.  I performed the missed approach back to LIB when the examiner said I failed.  I elected to continue, might as well right?  Well after back with ATC, they put me on a vector (Which I sucked at today) and asked which approach I would like.  I told them the RNAV 21.  At this point the examiner asked ATC if we could have a block altitude.  This meant we were going to perform an unusual attitude recoveries.  Well, the only thing I thought about during the unusual attitude recovery was the failure, so guess what…. I messed that up as well.

Shake it off.  The examiner requested we ask ATC for the full approach instead of vectors, so we were given OZOPE.  I flew to OZOPE and began the approach.  My clearance was descend 2000 to YUXI cleared for the RNAV 21 approach.  I thought this was weird because the route segment said 2000.  When I got down to 2200 I asked ATC to re-confirm my clearance to 2000 and she affirmed.  So I descended to 2000.  After about a minute, ATC apologized and asked me to climb to 2200.  I didn’t get dinged here because I asked for verification. After YUXI, I descended, albeit late, down to 2000 for the glidepath intercept.  At this point I was partial panel with no attitude or directional gyro.  It was ok, I had the GPS.

I flew the rest of this approach with no issues and as we descended, the examiner said to go ahead and cancel IFR because we could do the rest of the ride in VFR weather.  I flew the missed and then was vectored to the west with intention of intercepting the ILS Y 03.  At this point I screwed up again.  I started to setup my flows and when I got to verifying the ILS We were still too far away so I said out loud, “I need to verify the ILS”  Guess what I forgot to do once established?  Yep, didn’t verify ILS.  I looked at the ID on the GPS but didn’t say anything about it being ID’d that way.

Flew the rest of the ILS just fine and landed.  Ride over. Confidence in the gutter. I never thought it would happen. I feel lousy not because of me but because I feel that I let my instructors down and one of them got a ding on there record for a failed checkride.

What next?  Let’s look at the bright side.  This was the real deal.  IFR weather on the checkride.  Not a lot of people get that opportunity.  And the best part was, that wasn’t my issue.  I handled being in the system just fine.  Made the radio calls.  Only real radio call issue, I had to ask them to repeat one call because I was briefing out loud to the examiner.  I feel good about catching the route altitude problem.  I let the first issue (Stepdown) cause the second issue (Unusual Attitude Recovery) and the third issue (Verifying the ILS) was just me forgetting.  If it wasn’t for those things, it was a pretty fun ride.  I was able to function well, for the most part, through the 2nd and 3rd approaches even though I was pretty distraught.

The silver lining in this whole process is that my original goal was to be a safer pilot.  Even though I worked hard and thought I was ready, this experienced shined a light on some deficiencies. Maybe it isn’t what I wanted but what I needed to get to the next level, to be a safer pilot.

It won’t get me down. In the next post, I will be posting about my success.  Stay Tuned!


A little more time building with a slight hitch

Today was another time building flight.  I still need a little more hood time and some more cross country before I can start my final checkride prep lessons.  Also a whole lot of studying but that is another story.

Todays flight will take us from TTA -> OCW (Washington-Warren) -> CRE (Grand strand) -> TTA.  Today’s weather was to be severe clear for most of eastern North Carolina with some scattered clouds starting around noon.  On our first leg from TTA to OCW the predictions were correct.  Severe clear weather, though I was under the hood to get my hood time in.  I didn’t get to enjoy the clear hazy skies.

Once we were on the ground at Washington Warren, we got some fuel, used the restroom and then back in the airplane to head south towards North Myrtle beach.  Pretty uninteresting for the most part.  I played with the VOR tracking along the Wilmington VOR as we would pass to the west of the terminal area.  My safety pilot alerted me to some clouds ahead around 4000′.  We were currently at 4500′ but decided to climb to 6500′ to make sure that we would clear them with ease.

A few minutes after we leveled off at 6500′ something interesting occured.  The engine ran rough for just a second.  Then about 20 seconds later, again a short rough spot.  Then again and again.  Ok at this point, I have Wilmington international to the left and a small airfield to the right.  We have altitude, 6500′, and options.  At first I thought, duh, mixture.  So I adjusted the mixture but the problem persisted.  Next, I thought, ok carb ice?  I have never experienced carb ice before and the conditions seem to be right for this phenomena.  I turn on the carb heat and saw the expected drop in RPM.  The engine roughness disappeared.  Ok, weird.  I thought that carb ice manifested in a slow rpm decrease over time.

At this point, I told my safety pilot that we were going to head back home.  There were no clouds back to the west and we had lots of airfield options.  We discussed dropping down to a lower altitude to see if the problem persisted but I chose to keep the altitude we had unless we were forced to give it up.

After a few minutes on route back to TTA, I tried to turn off the carb heat again and before I got the knob fully pushed in, immediate roughness. Odd?

Another thought that crossed my mind was that maybe the air intake vent was somehow clogged.  Bird, bug, trash?  Carb heat gives you a backup air intake source, that would explain why there was immediate roughness when carb heat was disengaged.

During the next 30 minutes, I would intermittently remove carb heat to see if the roughness persisted and it did.

Assessing the situation:  We are at 6500′, gliding distance to 2 airfields and we have airfields lined up the entire route back.  Airplane is performing fine with carb heat applied.  I made the decision to continue on with the caveat that if anything else seems funny, we make a precautionary landing.

We also made the decision that we would test the carb icing theory by descending down to 4500′ closer to home, within gliding distance of KHRJ. That way if we didn’t like the situation we could be on the ground at Harnett County quickly and safely.

Sure enough, once down to 4500′, I removed the carb heat and everything ran fine the rest of the trip.  I made a point to talk with our chief flight instructor and my IFR instructor to make sure that I was approaching the situation in a sane and safe manner.  This was a learning opportunity and just because things turned out fine, doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton to learn from it, good or bad.  I wanted to debrief and make sure there wasn’t something else that I could have done better.

I had sufficient power, I had altitude and I had options.  In the end, I made safe logical decisions.  The lesson here is that you should rely on your training, work the problem and go through your options.  I’m sure some will look at this and say, “Pfftt, that is nothing, this one time…..”.  When you’re a relatively low time pilot, events like this, no matter how small, test your training.  Hopefully, I added a little bit more to my experience bucket and didn’t lose too much from my luck bucket.

Today’s flight had a tiny bit of nerves for a bit but I got to fly and I learned something valuable.


Long IFR cross country, from time to think to under pressure

Today the weather and schedules lined up for me to complete my long IFR cross country requirement.  With a high pressure dominating much of the area, it was beautiful blue skies today.  I spent nearly the entire time under the hood with the exception of a touch and go.  Oh, and I looked up as I flew through a single cloud on vectors to ILS Y 35 Approach.  Flying through clouds are cool so I took the option of looking up for the occasion.

Ok, so the night before, my instructor said to plan for KTTA -> KILM (ILS) ->  KFLO (VOR ARC) -> KTTA (RNAV) with a 9am departure.

So, here was my first, sort of, mess up.  I performed a intermediate NWKRAFT on the flight plan.  NWKRAFT is a flight planning tool:

Known ATC Delays
Runway lengths
Fuel requirements
Take off and landing distances

Once I got to the fuel requirements, I plugged in 3.5 hrs, which is typical for fuel to the tabs.  I planned like we were going to file multiple times with a fuel stop either at KILM or KFLO.  I Should have asked if we were going to top off which would allow us to fly the complete trip without refuel.  Because of my poor assumptions, this stuck in my head for the initial configuration of our flight plan.  More on that later.

After preflight, I sat down to look at weather briefs for our entire route.  I plugged in 2 flight plans, first KTTA -> KILM and then KILM -> KFLO.  The first reason I did this, as stated previously, I figured that we were landing at KILM. Second is because of the way foreflight briefing gives me the proper notams and FDC Notams.  It also helps me compartmentalize each segment to make sure I don’t gloss over things.  Sometimes with the foreflight briefing, it is easy to miss some notams if you don’t plug in the actual route airport as the destination.

Ex. If you plugin KTTA -> KILM -> KFLO -> KTTA, then you will get a nice break down of notams for your departure and destination.  In this case, both are KTTA.  You have to dig out the others from the enroute data. By creating separate briefings for the legs, I get better Notam breakdowns.  Note to self, look into flightplan.com

Ok, after briefing, I plugged in the entire route into the flight plan so that I could file our IFR Clearance.  Once my instructor looked everything over, I clicked the file button.

On a side note, there is a lot of satisfaction in filing IFR flight plans.  I am not sure why but I think it is really cool.  It is also neat that within a minute or so, I get an email with my expected route. Makes me feel professional…. ish.

Before departure, we would need to top the tanks off in order to be able to complete the entire trip without refueling. It is really annoying that we can’t call for fuel anymore.  It seems that our club is being unjustly punished but that is a story for another blog post. Oh, and the pump refused to give me a receipt so that added insult to injury.

Ok, so once we were fueled up, I performed the preflight runup and checks. So here is where my planning the night before messed me up.  I plugged in KTTA -> KILM and left it as that.  In part of my mind I said, well, I am going to call for my clearance in a few minutes, I will change it then.  However, when I was ready, my instructor said, “It’s a pretty clear day why would we waste time on the ground”  Good point, we can pick it up in the air.

We taxi’d and departed.  I went under the hood and my instructor gave me vectors around the pattern until “Proceed direct”  After a hint, I resequenced the GPS direct.  After gaining some altitude, I called up Fayetteville approach and picked up our clearance.  “N72675 cleared to Sanford as filed, climb and maintain 5000”  At this point, I should have rechecked the flight plan in the GPS and resquenced accordingly. But nay, I did no such thing and this would cause me a moment of strife later in this adventure.

The trip to Wilmington was pretty uneventful.  I configured the autopilot and my instructor and I had a quiz session on IFR Chart symbology. This went pretty well but I could tell (I’m sure he could as well) that I was rusty. Time to hit the books.

Once we were closer, we were given vectors for the ILS Y 35 approach (As we previously requested).   Nothing unusual about the approach and we did a quick touch and go then runway heading back up to 2000.

Now this is where my ineptitude of the flight planning comes into play.  Now remember I just had KTTA -> KILM sequenced in the GPS.  Once I was handed back to approach, I was cleared direct to KFLO.  Ok, at this point I had no idea what the course was and fumbled to input the changes into the GPS.  At about the time I get everything situated I hear, “N72675 are you going to turn direct to KFLO?”  I think at this point my instructor keyed the mic to respond that we are turning now.  I wish I could say that it was a great learning experience that would forever be etched into my brain but sometimes it takes multiple times to really get the point across. More later, lol.

Once on course it was pretty boring to be honest.  I started thinking about what was next and configuring for the ATIS at KFLO and that I needed to use the restroom.  I flushed that from my mind ( pun intended) and began setting up the radios for the VOR.  Even though we were on the GPS for the VOR Arc, it is good to have these things in case something goes wrong.  I pulled up the VOR approach and briefed as much as I could since we didn’t actually have the approach clearance.  The point here is that I was trying to stay ahead of the aircraft where I could.  I felt like I did a fair job on this flight in that regard.

Once cleared direct to JONAP for the VOR Arc, I finished the brief and we discussed the entry and when I could descend down to 1100.  This comes down to when you’re established on final. (And definition of established)

The Arc went fine (The joys of GPS), and I flew down to circling minimums.  I won’t go into detail but we had some issues with tower really really not wanting to let us just break off the approach and continue back to TTA.  They seemed to really want us to fly the full low approach over the runway.  We ended up circling around to runway 9 and then on climb out we were handed back over to approach.

“N72657, radar contact 5nm east of Florence Region, one thousand eight hundred. Climb five thousand and let me know when you can copy an amended clearance”  Okydoky, I cleared my kneeboard and responded “N72675 ready to copy”.  “N72675, cleared to Sanford via Direct Sandhills VOR, Sierra Delta Zulu, then direct Sanford”  I repeated back the clearance and now we need to resequence for Sandhills.  Like before, it took me a minute or so to resequence the GPS and I hear, “N72675, are you turning direct sandhills?”  Again my instructor keyed the mic and said we were turning now, just had to clean up the GPS.  This time the controller said no problem take your time.  However, this was the second time this happened.

I recognize that the second time was really due to an amended clearance and that is justifiable but the first time was completely my error in not being prepared.  We then used this as a teachable moment and discussed ways of handling it.  I could have just put direction Sandhills in the GPS then made the turn on course and after established finished up with the rest of the flight plan.  The other thing that I could have done is asked ATC for an initial vector and that I would let them know when I could resume on navigation after the resequence.

The big takeaway hear is that I need to have my flight plan in order and also I could use some more time practicing with the GPS.  I will spend some time on the Garmin simulator.

Once on with Fayetteville approach, we were cleared direct TTA through a restricted area.  My bladder was extremely pleased as this cut around 10-15 minutes off our flight time.  This was wonderful as the pressure was literally building inside of me.

We were cleared straight in  TTA RNAV 3 approach, my bladder yet again thankful that we didn’t have to perform the procedure turn.

After landing and a quick trip to the potty, my instructor and I debriefed.  Other than my flightplan snafu and one missed radio call, I did pretty well.  I think that he was pleased.  He said that my radio work is good enough for checkride and that I should start the hardcore bookwork as my checkride is on the horizon.

I currently still have 5.1 cross country left and about 6.5 hood time that I need to get done before.  Checkride prep should cut into half of that time so I will have another building flight time post in the near future.

I really like IFR flying and plan to fly in the system a whole lot in the future. But for now, it is crunch time.  Time to take all of what I have learned and finish the rating.  For today however, I got to fly and that is always cool!

Das radio kaputt and zero zero weather?

Disclaimer: Maneuvers discussed in this post are for training purposes only!  Do not attempt without the assistance of an experienced and qualified instrument instructor.

I have been focusing on my cross country time building lately. Time to get back in the cockpit with my instructor. As the title says, Das radio kaputt!!  Today’s lessons were about emergencies.

I had a feeling something was up when my instructor texted me that I need to plan a flight to Siler City (KSCR) and that I needed to plan an alternate because the weather at TTA was zero zero.  The translation here is that the airfield is completely weathered in, ceilings of zero ft and visibility of zero ft.  Think of thick fog.  I am sitting next to a window, staring at the clear blue sky thinking my instructor has cracked.  Not really, I figured it was a *hint* *hint*.

I remember us discussing early in my training, one day I would perform a take-off with foggles on and also do a zero/zero landing with foggles on.

This is not something that you want to ever have to do. The idea is to prove that if you are ever faced with dire circumstances, this is a tool in your bag that could potentially save your life.

It wasn’t all peachy, as I said before, today was about emergencies.  I am also getting to the phase in my training where I should be tightening things up.  Today proved I still have a little ways to go.

During the run-up, I was trying to get back in the groove, setting the radios, testing the autopilot, etc.  During the autopilot disconnect testing, I got two of the disconnect methods:

  • Turn off the autopilot from the autopilot itself
  • Disconnect button on the yoke

I missed the other two methods:

  • Trim switch will disengage
  • AutoPilot circuit breaker

I didn’t take this too hard, I have never really used the autopilot and the last time I fully tested it was my first lesson.  However today we were going to use it, so it must be tested.

Before take-off, I finished setting up the radios, flight plan KTTA-KSCR (More on this), run-up, etc.

I wrote C-R-A-F-T on my kneeboard in anticipation of getting my mock clearance and then I muttered something like, “Well, I guess I can taxi to 21 before getting the clearance in case it is an immediate departure clearance”. Teachable moment coming.

Once I taxi’d to Runway 21, I then confidently announced.  ” ********* approach, 72675 would like to pick up my clearance”.  “uh, 72675, where are you?”  Doh, I needed to say that I was TTA and positioned to take of runway 21.  After this reminder I completed the query. “Ok, 72675, stand-by”  Teachable moment coming!

My instructor then says “Well, they put you on hold for a bit, as they do, and now about 10 airplanes lined up behind us waiting to take off”  I should have gotten my clearance on the ramp and not wait until I was ready to depart.  These are all good nuggets and will become more engrained as I fly in the system more often.

“72675, cleared to LIB VOR, Altitude 3000, stay on ***** approach frequency, squawk 1200, current time 1645, Clearance void by 1647, call me back if not off by 1649”

I read back the clearance and then made a mistake because I was a little crunched on time to get lined up on the runway for a foggles on, zero/zero take-off. I imagine my instructor did this on purpose as well.  Previously, I configured the GPS for KTTA-KSCR not KTTA to LIB VOR.  Once I departed runway 21, I then realized, I have no idea what my course is and quickly started fumbling with the gps. In a turn no less.  I overshot the course by about 45 degrees.  I hear my instructor, “Uh 72675, where are you headed?”  What I should have done is turned to a point North westerly then configured the gps course.  Trying to do it in a turn was too much load on my brain.

Once on course, I hear my instructor doing his best garbled transmission play acting.  It took 2 or 3 times before I responded and then we walked through what to do.  I was able to slowly work through possible solutions:

  • Try my other radio, nothing but static
  • Key the mic and see if others can hear me to relay, nothing but static
  • Switch to another approach frequency, nothing but static
  • change to guard channel 121.5, nothing but static

Now this is where we follow lost comms procedures. At this point I feel a little bit like this guy:

We were only cleared to LIB VOR.  So we have to hold there until our expected arrival time.  We take our departure time and then add our enroute time to the destination and that will be the time in which we can leave the hold once we reach LIB VOR.  As we neared, it was apparent that we would arrive to the VOR after this expected time, so we can perform the procedure turn and then begin inbound to land at KSCR.

As I neared the Circle to land minimums, I goofed by trying to fly the missed too early.  Another good lesson, fly the minimums until you reach the airfield, because the clouds could clear up right when you arrive.  Anyway, back on the missed I turned toward the LIB VOR and we discussed the sector minimum altitude since I am not on an airway. I blew this at first as well because I wasn’t paying attention to which side of the airfield I was located.  Another good lesson.

We discussed, well, what next?  We filed alternate at RDU but it looks socked in and TTA is improving, so we load up the RNAV 21 approach with OZOPE IAF and I turn back toward TTA.  At this point, I ask questions about being predictable to ATC.  They already know we are lost comms since we are squawking 7600.  They are busy clearing airspace around us as we move so it is important to be predictable.

Amazingly, the radios come back and I get a lesson on how the autopilot works. We set up for a coupled RNAV 21 approach.  Honestly, I spent the whole time trying to second guess the autopilot, but it was nice to have free hands and a little head room to focus on getting the approach ready.

Once we are pointed at our final approach fix, my instructor says, “Hmmm, no LPV,  LNAV only, that’s odd”.  With no glideslope, I would need to perform the stepdowns using the autopilots altitude control.  No riding down the glideslope for free.  This was good practice on how to get stepped down and still using the autopilot to help out.

At about 2 miles out, I disconnected the autopilot, flew to minimums and then performed a touch and go.

Once back in the air, I was given vectors back to the RNAV 21 final approach fix at WIZNY.  Magically, LPV was now working again.  Without going into detail, my instructor disabled WAAS before I loaded my previous approach and enabled during the middle of said approach.  However, in order to get LPV back, you need to resequence the approach.  Once we added the RNAV 21 back into the gps, LPV was working again.  Another good lesson because you never know what the previous pilot may have done or previous instructor… or your current instructor!

Now the fun begins. The moment of truth.  Am I ready?
I am on the glidepath for a zero/zero landing on Runway 21.  I slow the airplane to 70 and drop 10 degrees of flaps.  This configuration would take me to the promised land.

I was hyper focused on keeping the vertical and horizontal lines on the CDI perfectly on target.  There was some drift left and right but not too bad.  I got a little low on the vertical and compensated by being a little bit high.  That is better than low but need to keep it close

I wasn’t nervous but really sweaty!

We neared the runway, I am holding the vertical and horizontal needles on the CDI in the middle.  We are now nearing the touchdown altitude of 230.  At around 245 on the altimeter, I begin the round out and hold level….. holding …. holding….  holding, then I feel the wheels touch down.  OMG!  We are on the runway. Looking up from my foggles, we are about 10-15 feet left of centerline but safely on the runway!  I did it!  It was a crazy cool feeling that I was able to make this happen fully under the foggles.  I didn’t peek, it was a complete surprise.  Honestly, one of my better landings with my instructor on board, lol.

As we taxi’d back, I was on cloud nine.  I had so much to unpack on this lesson, that I needed to wait a few hours and dump my thoughts into this blog.  To be sure, I missed some details but hit the big lessons for today.

I don’t ever want to be in an emergency situation where I would have to land in zero/zero conditions but it is good to know that I do have the capability and it could potentially be a life saving tool.




Dodging Weather, Flying High, Always Learning

Today was yet another time building flight but it became so much more.  Dodging weather and ADM (Aeronautical Decision Making) became the lesson of the day.  The weather forecasts look pretty good for this flight.  Early morning fog would burn off to few/scattered around 10,000′.  It was also forecast that near the NC/SC border, clouds would start to build around 1pm and a chance of some thunderstorms. It was to remain pretty clear, scattered 6000 along the coast. We made the decision to head south first to avoid these build ups.

We planned a route TTA -> CRE (N. Myrtle Beach SC) -> KEDE (North Eastern NC Coast) -> TTA.  As with anything in aviation, you must always be flexible.

Before taking off, my safety pilot and I briefed the proposed trip and talked about alternates along the route.  We also agreed that we would look at the weather at CRE and revise if needed.

As we departed TTA, the sky was quite clear with some scattered clouds in front of us we climbed up to 7,500′ to remain VFR.  As we neared our destination, we could see that the cloud layer would dissipate over our destination.  I was under the hood for most of the flight and my safety pilot would give me vectors and descent instructions until we were around 10 nm from our destination.  CRE tower gave us a right base entry for Runway 23.  Landing was ok, not my best not my worst.

We taxi’d to the FBO for fuel and to check the weather.

As we looked at our route, there were still quite a few low scattered clouds over our next destination EDE.  I made the determination, proved incorrectly, that it was still some of the lower cloud layers burning off and that they would move out as we traveled.  Everything to the west of this line seemed to be vfr with decent cloud heights.  We decided that we would takeoff with EDE as the destination and along the route we would evaluate the weather and be willing to land at one of the airfields more westerly if needed.  The lesson here is always have an out.

As we departed, there was a perfect hole in the clouds to climb up on top.  Our target altitude was 5,500′ but it would seem we would need to go higher.  I informed ATC we would be climbing to 7,500’… then after a bit 9,500′.  In a Cessna 152, I was in rare air.  I think the highest I had ever been, in the mighty 152, before today was 5,500′.

About 30 minutes into our 2 hour flight, it was becoming obvious that the weather was not getting better at EDE and actually getting worse.  We were also starting to see radar echoes and possible cells forming.  After a couple minutes of talking about diverting to a westerly airport we made the call to return back to TTA.  We knew that the more west we flew, the better off we were.

I keyed the mic and informed ATC that we would be returning direct to TTA.  They asked if I wanted to stay at my odd altitude or change to an even altitude.

Note: We were changing from an easterly direction to westerly direction so VFR dictates that we fly even thousands plus 500′.  I imagine, he offered the odd altitude as a courtesy, since the clouds were obviously in our way.

We said we could take an even altitude so he asked us to descend 8,500′.  I requested instead of 8,500′ we could do 10,500′ for cloud clearance.  Once approved, we started the climb from 9,500′ to 10,500′.  In the summer, climb performance is a bit lowered in general and as you climb higher, the performance degrades even more.  So we were only climbing at about 200′ per minute at an airspeed of 70 kts. You also must really work the mixture at this altitude. As the air becomes thinner, the mixture become excessively rich.  You must lean out as you climb.  This isn’t unusual but since I haven’t been this high before, it was interesting. Much easier in a SkyHawk when you have an EGT to help out.

Our path back to TTA would take us over familiar territory, albeit a lot higher.  We would cross over KFAY on our way back to TTA.

At about 20 miles from KFAY, I made the request from approach to start our descent.  I was concerned that we would have fewer holes below us as we approached and we had a nice path down in front of us.  It also looked like clouds were scattered 3500′ the rest of the way to TTA. (We ended up flying 2500′ because clouds were lower than expected)

Approach approved the descent and handed us off to Fayetteville approach. Once on with Fayetteville approach, things started getting interesting.  Lots of chatter on the radio with route deviations due to building convection.  At one point we were given a vector toward restricted airspace while we were over KFAY.  The vector was so that another aircraft would have time to climb over us.  As we neared restricted airspace, my safety pilot suggested we give it another minute and then nudge approach that we were close to restricted.  I agreed and at the same time, approach told us to turn right and resume our course towards TTA.

As we neared TTA, things looked pretty good.  No echoes, there were planes in the patter and one of our club planes flying over top of us to join the RNAV 3.  All of this was carefully choreographed by approach.  In order to cede some room for the aircraft in the pattern and the aircraft on the RNAV, we briefed an approach from the east.  The idea was that we would fly east of the field and cross over mid-field and join the downwind for runway 3.  This would give the RNAV traffic time to get in and allow us to observe the pattern to safely enter.

We entered the downwind, and followed the RNAV traffic for a landing on runway 3.  I was a little fast because I was concerned about a possible tailwind.  This caused me to balloon slightly but I let the aircraft settle in for a soft landing.  Again, not my best, not my worst.

As we tied down, my safety pilot and I debriefed what we did and what we learned.  The biggest takeaway was that you always need an out. I think we did well in this regard. We had backup plans and then backups to those. We are also pretty lucky in that we have ADSB with moving maps and ability to get en-route weather.  Weather that you see on the maps are delayed but it definitely helps you make strategic decisions. By the time we see small echoes, they are probably magnitudes larger in reality.  You can’t rely on the data to pick your way through storms but you can use it to avoid them from a distance.

It was the first time flying with this particular pilot and I think we worked well together. I didn’t get as much flight time as I wanted today but I learned a lot more than I could have imagined.  I think we added to our bag of experience and saved some from our bag of luck.

Above all, I got to fly an airplane today, at 10,500′ no less.  That is always cool!

Big thank you to my awesome safety pilot.  It was a luxury to have another cool head in the cockpit helping make decisions much easier.  Even though we are certificated Private Pilots, we are always learning!

Building simulated instrument time and a broken transponder?

As with the last flight, todays flight was about building simulated instrument and cross country time.  I scheduled a 152 because… well… it’s slower and cheaper.  Slower means that I don’t have to fly as far to get my time in and much cheaper.

In aviation, best laid plans plans always call for a backup. Sometimes a backup to the backup.  We had planned on flying one of the same two routes as last week.

Primary route: TTA -> CRE -> EDE -> TTA

Secondary route: TTA -> CPK -> DAN ->TTA

Well as weather tends to do, it was looking like we would be thwarted on our primary and secondary.  A trough of low pressure settled into the middle of our state and was threatening some nasty weather.  As I do, I watched the weather all week and last night it wasn’t looking too good.  In the morning before the flight, my safety pilot and I got together to assess the situation.  It looked like all of the bad stuff would stay south and east of TTA until around 1-2pm and then we could expect building cumulus and afternoon thunderstorms.  The North and west was looking awesome.

So plan 3:  TTA -> SVH -> DAN -> TTA

It was about an hour and a half shorter of a trip but it kept us in good weather and close to home for the most part.  We figured that it was better than nothing and we were being safe and responsible. One thing our club instructors have drilled into us is that you never play with the weather and we were prepared to cancel our plans all together.

We get to the airfield and if you were just to gauge the sky, you would think it would be an awesome clear sky day.  Luckily, we have great weather tools that tell us otherwise.

Off TTA, we climbed to 3000′, dialed up Raleigh approach, requested flight following and away we went.  The flight to Statesville (KSVH) was pretty uneventful and smooth.  The plan was to work on keeping the heading and the altitude as close as possible.  I kept altitude within 50 feet for most of the trip, a large part of that time I was within 20ft.   In the end, I was pretty pleased with myself since the 152’s are pretty twitchy beasts. ok, done patting myself on the back.

On the way to Danville (KDAN), was a little more interesting.  We climbed up to 5500′ for smooth air but turns out it was a good idea all around.  As we neared greensboro, traffic started to get pretty heavy and we were given an altitude restriction.  Turns out 5500′ was perfect because all of the traffic was around 3000′.  We also listen to a lot of chatter over a drone spotted in Greensboro’s airspace at 6000′.  PSA for Drone Pilots:  Please don’t do this.  Airspace near airports are largely crowded with aircraft in close proximity.  And more importantly, climbing and descending through a lot of altitudes that drones fly. If a drone hits an aircraft (Especially general aviation aircraft) it’s very likely to be fatal.

The rest of the flight to DAN was pretty smooth, we landed Runway 2 and taxied up for fuel.  We were greeted by a lineman who parked us and fueled us up.

Departing, I was sequenced to takeoff behind a learjet. I’m talking like there was some sort of grand plan here.  It was just that he pulled out of his spot before me, lol.

Honestly, I was a little nervous taking off behind the lear. As a precaution, we gave it several minutes and followed the climb out safety rules.  First, we made sure that we lifted off the runway at a distance before the lears takeoff point. Second, we made a quick turn as soon as were were high enough to avoid any other vortices.

On the way back to TTA, we heard some interesting chatter from a pilot stating that the first number on his transponder seemed only capable of registering a 0 or 1.  Approach asked if he had another transponder. “Negative, this is my only one.  Is it possible for you to give me a squawk that starts with 0 or 1?” Approach: “Probably not”.  That was pretty much the end of it but I thought it was pretty funny.

As we neared TTA, you could see the clouds were now building and starting to come down a bit.  We had plenty of room but our weather research and predictions were becoming reality.

We were able to make it back safely and confident in our ability to plan around the weather.  As a side note, this sort of thing is a trap that we have to be vigilant not to fall into.  This is our second trip in which we were able to plan around weather with successful outcomes.  It is easy to feel too confident in your ability to plan these things. When that happens things can start to get sloppy.  This is exactly how pilots end up in bad situations.  Even though we have had two successes we must always plan carefully and making sure we have alternate options in case things go sideways.

Totals for this flight:
3.6 Cross Country
3.2 Simulated

Overall it was a fun day of flying.  I didn’t really get to look outside much since I was flying with foggles but hey, I got to fly.


Building time and new places

Today and for the next couple of flights, it will be about building time for my IFR.  I am around 20 hrs short for cross country and simulated/actual time.  My instructor has cut me loose to fly with a safety pilot in order to get some of these hours, so I am taking advantage.

I have found a few Safety pilots that are willing to look out for me while I fly VFR with the foggles in order to get credit for simulated.  My original plan was KTTA -> KCRE -> KEDE -> KTTA which is about a 4 hour trip.  However, weather had other ideas.  I noticed that there was a low pressure being pushed across the border of NC and SC that would bring yuck weather south and up the Coast of NC.  Once I accepted this would be more probable than not, I planned an alternate path.

We ended up with plan B, KTTA -> KCPK -> KDAN -> KTTA.  This would take us northerly still within the dominate high pressure area and away from the yuck.

We preflighted and jumped in the skyhawk, me the pilot and a pilot friend of mine as the safety pilot.  We briefed responsibilities, I was PIC, he was PIC as well when I was under the hood.  He was responsible for safety of flight. In an emergency, I would have the controls, he would have the checklist and troubleshoot. Crew resource management was the name of the game.

We departed at 10:00 am and headed for KCPK (Chesapeake Regional Airport) at 5500′.  I picked up flight following from Raleigh Approach and we were on our way.  Pretty uneventful trip, that terminated with an RNAV 5 approach at KCPK.

Once on the ground, we taxied to refuel.  After refueling, we used the facilities and checked the weather… all was good.  After a few minutes troubleshooting why our secondary comms were not turning on, (Turns out was a bad switch that had to be coaxed a little) we prepped for our trip to KDAN (Danville).

Once we were airborne, I picked up following from Norfolk approach.  We stayed at 3000 feet due to clouds.  The ride was more bumpy and I had to work more under the hood, but pleasant and uneventful.  We finished this leg with an RNAV 20 approach at KDAN.

After refueling, we departed on our final short leg back to KTTA.  When we were 5 miles from KTTA, I pulled the hood off and made a normal crosswind landing on runway 3.

Total Trip time: 4.4

Simulated time: 3.8

As you can see, I spent quite a bit of time simulated today. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad.  I remember back during my private, simulated would exhaust me. Today I felt pretty good.  I guess it means that I am starting to get the hang of the scan and workload.

I think the main takeaway from this trip is that I was able to practice all of the things my instructor has trained me to do.  Like setting up navigation and radios, thinking ahead to the next event, briefing the approach, talking with ATC.  Even though I was only on flight following, I made requests for altitude changes, requests for the approaches, etc.  I was vectored or given direct to the approaches just like when we are on an IFR clearance.  It helped me build some confidence and I felt like a real pilot using the tools of the trade.

All in all it was a good day.  I got to fly and airplane… a lot…. under the hood.  And I made some much needed progress towards my instrument rating!

Enjoy some pics from todays flight:


Back in the foggles, first localizer back course

Today’s lesson had me back in the foggles for a quick trip to Fayetteville (KFAY).  With the rise of GPS approaches, localizer back courses will soon be a thing of the past so it is cool to try them while they exist.

I arrived at the airfield and performed the pre-flight like normal.  My instructor asked me to check KFAY to see if the winds favor the Loc 22 BC.  Indeed they were.  We have talked about doing this approach for the last couple of lessons but one thing or another has caused us to change plans.  Mostly my club annual that I have mention about a million times.  Don’t worry, it’s done.  I won’t mention it anymore…. I promise.

Until next year…

So we jumped in the airplane and started our flight preparations.  I was able to setup the radios and our initial navigation mostly on my own.  My instructor had to prompt me a few times with phrases like… “What else can we setup ahead of time?”  I am starting to get better on the preparation but still have to button down a few things.

I set the primary and en-route radios, including the Localizer frequency for the approach.  Loaded up our initial flight plan, a simple direction KTTA->KFAY.

As we departed, my instructor gave me an initial altitude of 2500 and when I asked if we should turn toward KFAY, “You’re cleared direct to KFAY at 2500” and we were on our way.  I reached over and re-sequenced direct to KFAY and performed the match-set operations.  My instructor helped out by checking the ATIS and we were current with information Zulu.

At this point, I am thinking, how do I get ahead of the airplane.  Looking back, this in itself is progress.  Not too long ago, I was almost saturated and could barely think about what is next.  Anyway, back on point.  In futility, I tried to see if I could recognize the localizer, and since we were still pretty far away, no dice, makes sense.

Next, I called up Fayetteville approach. I did ok with the radio call here.  I was supplied a squawk code and and I asked for the localizer 22 BC practice approach.

After this we were given a vector.  During the next few minutes, I loaded up the localizer 22 BC approach plate and briefed. I started to really just skip over the frequency section.  My instructor made a point to make sure that we go over each of the fields.  This is good because I set these before we departed TTA.  If I skip that part on the brief or gloss over it, I may not catch a potential error.

At this point we get a call that we are cleared for the approach, on the missed, I was instructed to  climb runway heading to 2000 and contact approach on 133.0.  I briefed the rest of the approach and when I got to the missed approach section, my instructor said… “Are you sure?”  Doh, yeah I have the missed approach instructions from ATC and I read back those.

As we approached the localizer intercept, we were given another vector to establish and instructions that we were cleared for the approach.  Once established I made the call that we were established and the controller told us to change to tower frequency.  Once on tower we were cleared for the option.

I didn’t have too much of an issue with the reverse sensing.  I remarked as we got closer that you can really see the sensitivity.  I had read previously that it is really sensitive because the front course localizer antenna is actually broadcasting from the departure end of the runway. Since we were on the back course, that meant that it was near the approach end on our side, thus really sensitive.

I reached my minimums around this time so my instructor said “Hang here for a bit and let’s see how sensitive it gets”  I was splitting degrees to stay on course.  Cool.

Once I looked up, it was pretty neat to see the runway right there but also that a regional jet was holding short waiting on my slow little skyhawk to get on with it.

We went ahead and declared the missed and started the climb back to 2000 on runway heading.  Once back over to Fayettville approach, we were vectored back to TTA and cleared to IKTOW for the ILS LOC 03 Y approach.

As I was loading the approach, the GPS asks the question if we want to perform the procedure turn.  My instructor said “Do we want to?”  At first I said no because we were on the side of the hold entry that we don’t need to.  Really, I thought he was asking me if I wanted to do it.  It was a good lesson on identifying if you have to perform the procedure turn and we discussed more in debrief.

There are 5 times that you don’t have to perform the Procedure turn.

  • Vectors to final
  • Cleared for the straight in approach
  • We find “NoPT” on the plan view of the approach chart                            (And we did for IKTOW in the direction we were heading)
  • You are on a DME Arc
  • Timed approaches from a holding fix

This is where I had my biggest brain fart of the day.  I thought we talked about doing the LOC 03 Y approach and when I briefed, I started briefing the step down by identifying AMIRS.  It turns out, and if I listened, “You are cleared for the ILS 03 Y approach”.  The ILS is easier, though I was probably more off the needles this time than any other.  Slightly high and left.

It did prompt a good discussion in debrief about whether or not we can identify AMIRS. This comes down to the difference in having a DME vs GPS only.  The short of it is that we can’t use AMIRS without a real DME on board and calculating the distances is unacceptable.

All in all it was a good flight.  There were highs and lows, no pun intended. In the end, flying always puts me in a good mood.


Finishing up my club annual and a peek at the future

Today was a really short lesson, all about finishing up my club annual .  I need to finished up before my instructor heads out of town for vacation.  This way, I can get in some cross country flights with a safety pilot. This will help met get some of my last IFR requirements out of the way.

In the previous few lessons, we took care of a lot of the items on the club annual.  After looking over the checklist, we found that I really only needed emergency engine out testing.  With weather coming in, I decided we could just go do those real quick and let my instructors other students start a little earlier.

We were going to stay in the pattern, so I was mentally prepared to have the engine “Fail” at any moment.  There was quite a bit of traffic at the airfield at the time, so I was able to predict, with some accuracy, when the engine failure would come.  That and my instructor giving me some really good hints as to what, when and where.

For the first maneuver, I was instructed to climb to 2000 and we performed a spiral down engine out maneuver over the numbers.  I have done this once in the past during my private pre-solo check with the chief flight instructor.  I did a little better then than I did this time.  My instructor said “pick a spot” and fumbled around a bit but went with the numbers as to what I would aim for.  I am pretty sure he was setting me up for the big lesson on the next attempt.

As I descended down lower and lower, I decided that we couldn’t make another 360 and we would go for it. I should have extended the downwind on that last turn a bit to set up for a more natural approach to the threshold but instead I dropped full flaps and tried to slip down.  Now you have to understand, when I started this, I was already over the landing point that I said I was aiming for.  Do you think I could make that spot?  ha, …. no.  I am not even sure I could have made the end of the 6000′ runway but we decided to go around before trying.

Now the cool part.  This time we went up to pattern altitude and performed a power-off 180 accuracy landing.  A maneuver that you learn during your commercial training (Which is coming up after my IFR).  This maneuver involved pulling the throttle downwind abeam your touchdown aim point, in our case the 1000 ft markers.  When you turn base, you judge your height (too high? too low?) and you can use S turns in order to better lose altitude until you are right on target.

We performed this maneuver two times and hit the 1000 ft marker both times.  Before this, I only had a few tools in my bag, judging distance on the downwind, flaps and slips.  By adding S turns, you can use the bank as a way to lose some lift. This allows you to better control distance between you and the touchdown point.

It was a great lesson in energy management and a really cool peek into my future training.

Next on my list is knocking out about 20 hours or cross country and simulated instrument time. I am planning some long cross country flights with a safety pilot to try and get some significant hours.  Should be a lot of fun.

The check ride is coming soon and honestly, I have had so much fun that am not sure I want it to end, lol.  However, my instructor is awesome and we are already talking about the commercial so there will be more fun to be had!

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