Wednesday, June 18, 2008


It's been a long time since my last posting, and I have still been flying about 2 hrs/month. Usually with family. I flew the family to Brenham for the Easter weekend to see family there. That was an experience. We had 5 people in the plane (two 7 year olds and a 12 year old fit in a decent sized seat for 2 adults). From now on though, I will have to factor another thing in when taking passengers. With passengers, I usually try to fly higher to get away from the turbulence. On the way back from Brenham, I flew at 9000ft to get a nice view of the sunset. Well my younger kids had sinus problems, and coming down from 9000 ft caused them some pain. So I'll have to watch out for that next time.

A funny thing happened on the way to Memphis...
A couple of months ago, a friend was wanting to go to Memphis, TN to look at a Long EZ he was thinking about buying. My friend had also just got his pilot's license a few months before, and wanted to have me along because of the long cross country planning experience I had in going to Orlando, FL. It was only a day notice though, and although I helped put together a good route to Memphis, it was rushed, and as not as polished as I would like. I would also be flying a new plane but it was a Cessna 172, which I was comfortable with.

We met at the airport, and prepared for our flight. We wanted to be thorough in our planning since this was a new plane, and a long trip, so we had a bit of a late start. We planned a fuel stop which was halfway between Houston and Memphis in Monroe LA.

We stopped in Monroe and found a place to have lunch, where we reviewed the rest of the route, and he called the person we were to meet in Memphis. It turns out the plane is being worked on and isn't flyable! Yes, we actually find out this important piece of information halfway to Memphis. So there really wasn't any point in continuing on and we headed back. It was ok with me because the flight was turning out to be a rather long one with the head winds we were getting, and I was just enjoying the flying experience I was getting out of the flight.

After the flight we debriefed and talked about our different approaches to flying. He is not as experienced with long cross country flights, but was very used to the radio work (because of doing a lot of flying in the Dallas-Ft Worth area) and did most of it. I enjoy cross country planning and have the trip to Florida under my belt. I can do the radio work, but am not at ease with it yet because I haven't had frequent need for it. I see that I need more experience in this area, so I will plan on using flight following whenever I can in the future. Overall it was a good flight, and I think a lot can be learned both ways when flying with another pilot.

$100 Hamburger
There was a week last month when weather was fantastic, so I was going to fly my wife to lunch at Brazoria County airport. There was a nice diner there. My son was having a bad day at school and came home with a stomach ache. I think it was more nerves about something going on at school though. After he got home he was feeling better. My wife probably should have stayed home and kept him in bed, but we had this nice $100 hamburger planned, the weather was great, and my son was doing better. So we all went. It was a very fun trip. And yes, we did tell him there would be no more of that and that he needs to stay in school. ;)

RV Grin
Also last month, there was an EAA meeting at the airport. I wanted to go because, thanks to a post I read on the flysomewhere blog, I have been reading about the RV kits from Van's Aircraft. These are some great planes! They can go about 200 mph, have aerobatic capabilities, are still good on cross countries with ranges of around 900 miles, and they can also fly over 22,000 ft. They leave the Cessnas I've been flying in the dust in every way. And yet it costs about as much as a 10 year old 172 to build. I was going to have to give this some serious thought!

As I thought about it, I also looked into the costs of buying a used plane. This is expensive, and you would have to fly a LOT to make even the cost of ownership worth it. Then I came around to the RVs again. I looked at those performance numbers, and the sleek looking planes. With the relatively low cost of building and lower cost of ownership (since you are qualified to be the mechanic for a plane you build), and the "sweetness" of these planes, I made the decision to build one.

I have a couple of projects at home to get done first, and I need to clean out the garage for room to build. And I need to choose a plane. I started off looking at the RV-7. The RV-10 was a 4 seater, but it wasn't as aerobatic as the others, and was very expensive. By the time I built one, my oldest child would be just a few years away from college, so a 4 seater would work. But there was no getting around that price. For most of the life of the plane, I would be flying one other passenger, and I figure if I need to fly more people, I can rent a larger plane.

The RV-7 is a good cross country, aerobatic, fast plane that could carry two people side by side. I thought this might be better than tandem because you would be able to actually see who you're flying with. But then I heard about the Rocket variants of the RV-4 (a tandem). There's the Harmon Rocket II, and also the F1 Rocket. These planes are even faster... 230-265 mph depending on variants and throttle setting. And they also have a larger fuel capacity so they retain their good cross country performance. I really liked the look of the F1 Rocket, and the tandem seating started to grow on me. The F1 Rocket is a pretty expensive kit though, but there is an F4 Rocket kit coming out which will look like the F1, but fly more like the "slower" RV-8, and cost as much. I found out that the F4 could later be upgraded to an F1. So for now... I am waiting to see more details on the F4 Rocket kit plane.

So I went to the EAA meeting, hoping to find some RV planes there to look at. There were 2 RV-8s there. There was Paul Dye's extremely impressive RV-8, and another one which was purchased from a builder. They were smaller than I pictured them, but still very sweet looking. I talked to the other EAA members and to the owner of the RV-8, gathering information. Then towards the end of the gathering, I was offered a ride in the RV-8!

He took his wife up first for a spin. The plane seemed to be off the ground after only 100' of runway. He stayed over the runway, building speed, and then suddenly shot up into the sky at a 45 degree angle. Wow! One of the other members asked me if I could handle that kind of flying. Absolutely, I told him. That looked fun. They came back later to do a 180-200 mph flyby over the airfield, went around again, and then landed.

It was a bit cramped to get into, but once in, it felt good. He taxi'd to the runway, and soon we were off. The surrounding landmarks wizzed past much quicker than from a 172. This plane felt fast. He did a couple of banks, and I could feel the Gs. Then I started getting this big grin on my face. This is the "RV Grin" I've heard about when reading about other peoples' RVs. This is so freakin awesome! Not being able to see me in the tandem seating arrangement, he asked me how I was doing. Was my stomach handling it ok? I told him I was doing great. He asked if I was up for some aerobatics. I told him aerobatics was one of the reasons I wanted to build one of these planes, so "Please do!!"

He did a barrel roll. It was so smooth, and I was amazed at how I was pinned to my seat the whole time. Then he did another roll, where I was not pinned to my seat. It all felt good. Then he let me take the stick. It was really touchy, and I liked flying with a stick. I did a few steep turns to get the feel of it. Then I asked if I could do a roll. He said go ahead. Usually in a flight simulator, with a slower plane, the nose will start to drop after your inverted, so you'll have to push forward. I tried this after turning over, and things were not going well, so I asked him to take it back. He said I was doing -2 Gs inverted. It's very touchy. So then he told me to lightly hold the stick while he did the maneuver, and watch the speed and artificial horizon instruments while he did one. Keep the nose just above the horizon, and no need to push forward while rolling. I tried again, and it was much better that time.

Fuel was running low, so he had me fly back to the airport. From the back seat I found I could maintain the heading and altitude he gave me. The plane was definitely moving with a purpose, in contrast with the 172. While in straight and level flight, I tried to imagine how a cross country flight would be. It was easy and fun to fly. It still had the bumps from turbulence you feel in other small planes, but they are lighter and come and go much quicker. I wonder how some of my less enthusiastic passengers might feel in a plane like this. He took the controls as we entered the pattern and landed the plane. If I wasn't convinced before I needed to build one of these planes, I certainly am now.

Over the summer, I plan on going over to TeamRocket (which happens to be in TX) to learn all about the F1 Rocket. I should be ready to order by the fall if the F4 kit is ready.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Around the Gulf and Back

Chapter 1 - The Take Off
As I had mentioned in the previous entry, I am going to Orlando for a business trip, and decided to fly the Cessna 172 there not only for the fun of it, but to rake up cross country hours for my instrument rating.

I had been looking at the weather all week from DUATS, and the weather for Saturday, Nov 24th looked iffy. By Thursday I had my doubts for good weather, and Friday morning confirmed it. Saturday would be a mess. So I decided to get everything together and take off Friday before sunset. I planned for a fuel stop at Trent Lott International airport in Mississippi, so I decided to fly there and then see how the weather looked for flying Saturday. The trip to Trent Lott would be 4 hrs.

So I got to the airport, and packed up the plane. My kids all wanted to go with me, and I wish I could take them. I took off, and soon it got dark. Looks like I would be updating my night currency. I learned to use the fuel flow instrument, which I had never really had to learn to use before. I quickly found out what a great instrument it is. It would measure your fuel flow inflight, and tell you how much flying time you had left - a valuable piece of information! And I could all so fiddle with leaning the engine, and backing off the throttle to ensure I would have enough fuel.

I was trying to get up to 9500', but the clouds were overhead and I wasn't sure at what altitude they were. Then at about 7500' I lost sight of all the city lights. So I slowly descended back down and the lights returned. Later I had a problem... My flight plan was to go over the Lafayette airspace at 7000'. I tried to see if the clouds would cooperate and allow me to go above 7000' but they would not. In hindsight I should have just requested clearance to go through it, but instead I went around it.

The rest of the first leg went well, and I eventually made it to Trent Lott International airport. I thought the "International" part of the name was funny with its 1 modest runway. It was well after hours and their control tower was closed for the night. I clicked the mic and the runway lights came on. As I descended I could smell all the refineries in the area. There was no one at the airport. I parked and looked around. I thought maybe I would unpack my tent and find a place to pitch it, but first I went over to the FBO to find a plug for my laptop so I could get updated weather info. The lights were out. I knew for sure it would be locked up, but it wasn't. I went on in, and there was a pilot's lounge where I could plug the laptop in and get weather updates.

The weather for Saturday looked fine, so I planned to spend the night there somewhere. I went out to my plane, and there was a guard outside writing down the tail number. He said I was welcome to spend the night on one of the couches in the pilot's lounge. Sweet! That's all I need.

Chapter 2 - On to Florida
I woke up a little before 6am when someone came into the FBO. I got up and got ready to get going. He looked a little surprised to see me, but not too surprised. I asked him if there was a restaurant nearby. He offered the courtesy car so I could drive into town. This is going to take some getting used to. I'm not used to anyone loaning their car for free. While I was gone, he filled up my plane. $5.24/gallon... ugh! (I'm sure someone reading this a year from now will chuckle and wish gas was "only" $5.24/gallon). didn't show any better deals within a reasonable distance from my route.

I then took off. Today's trip would be another 4 hrs. I climbed over 4200' so I could clear KMOB's airspace, and continued to climb up to 11,500', which is by far the highest I've piloted so far. The 172 climbed pretty slowly at that altitude. It was nice flying in daylight again, and the view was awesome. Just cruising along from one great scene to the next. I wondered if I would have any altitude problems, but there didn't seem to be any effects (I've had hypoxia training).

Today I would be flying through MOAs (Military Operations Area), and restricted airspaces around the coast of Alabama and the Florida panhandle. The MOAs were only active during weekdays though, and I could fly through the restricted areas as long as I stuck to the airways. So I paid extra attention to my route.

When I got to Florida the waypoints were spaced apart about 40 minutes each. As I passed each one it seemed like I was making more and more progress. I saw contrails overhead which still seemed just as high up as ever. After passing X35 (Dunnellon airport), I started descending down just over the clouds at 5500'. When I was closer to X04 (Orlando Apopka airport), I found an opening through the clouds and descended.

X04 was a little tricky. They have buildings and trees on the west side of the landing strip which obscured my view of the runway. I had to use my GPS to judge my position relative to it, and to find a place to enter the pattern. Then I was finally down! It was a great feeling to have made it this far in a 172. The people at Apopka were very nice & accomodating, and they gave me a great deal on a Ford Explorer rental.

Chapter 3 - Orlando & KSC
I spent the week at an I/ITSEC conference, and for someone like me who is into flight simulations and computer graphics, it is a very worthwhile conference. The bad part is Orlando is a city full of vultures who charge premium rates for every thing they can think of. Parking is $10, hamburgers that a McDonald's fry cook would scoff at were also $10. Drinks were an extra $3. To withdraw money from an ATM was a $5 fee. For an exhibitor to rent a vacuum cleaner was over $300. You can buy one for less than that. When looking for a wireless internet service to use at the convention center, I found one called "Free Public Internet" for $48/day! I AM NOT JOKING! The people I met there said they came there last year and went to a restaurant called "Salt Island". They said the service was terrible and every little service (like extra sauce) was charged. Bottled water was $7. They paid $90 each for their meals. I did a quick google search and found reviews titled "Rude", "Shady Island Tourist Trap!!!", "Don't Bother...", "Expensive Restaurant". Plus most of the major freeways around Orlando are toll roads. Sure it was all reimbursed (except for Salt Island) as a business expense, but charging the people who give Orlando their livelyhood that kind of money for crappy service and products feels like an insult.

On another subject, being a Nasa contractor, I wanted to go flying and take pictures of KSC and the Space Shuttle on the launch pad from the air. Obviously there would be restrictions about where I could fly, so I looked at the Orlando TAC to see what the airspace looked like over KSC. There were restricted airspaces all over the area. But when I read their operating times, it says they are active during launches with 24 hrs notice. That left 3 class D airports in the area that I didn't even have to fly through to be close enough to be happy. But still I wanted to make sure, so I asked the forum on what their experiences were. There were many replies of "Don't Do It!!!" including one from a guy who was vectored into KSC airspace from Daytona International and got into all kinds of trouble. I also talked to people I knew from KSC. They all said "Don't Do It!!!".

If KSC doesn't want me to fly there, fine. But please put active restricted airspace regions on the map so we know where we can and cannot go. From what I hear, if I abide by the restrictions shown on aeronautical charts I can still wind up in jail. Needless to say I didn't fly over there.

Chapter 4 - On my way home
Friday morning I headed over to the airport. There were low clouds, and as I headed towards the airport the clouds turned into fog. The flight time over here took 2 hrs longer than expected, and I knew on the way home, I would be facing headwinds. I hoped I didn't have to wait too long. While waiting I packed up my plane and pre-flighted. By then, the fog did thin out enough to get 2 miles of visiblity, and I could see the sun through it. So I took off. Once up and away from the airport, the fog became thicker, and I was over a sea of clouds. I couldn't see the ground anymore, but above me were clear blue skies. I thought about the tricky situation I would be in if I had engine trouble.

Eventually, the clouds started to break up and I could see the ground again. Again I navigated the airspaces through the restricted areas of the Florida Panhandle and Alabama. And today was a weekday, so the MOAs were active. But I didn't see any traffic except for another C172 (who was for some reason going faster than me) and commercial jets high above me.

Once out of restricted airspace, I saw Mobile Alabama, and headed towards 5R7 which was supposed to have semi-cheap gas. Looking at the runway from above I wasn't too sure it was long enough. So I went to the next closest one - 2R5. I landed there, took a much needed pitstop, and asked the owner about fuel. He said his pump didn't work - DOH! But recommended Bay Minette who had cheap fuel prices. That was 30 minutes away in the direction I came from, but I went there for the cheap gas.

It turned out to be a pretty nice airport. There were hills around there which was also a new experience. It felt like I was lower than I was as I approached the runway. I landed at my highest altitude yet - a whopping 248'. Upon landing a very nice girl, young woman, whichever the correct term is, came out to fuel the plane. She was very apologetic for getting a little gas on the wing, but it evaporated before she could clean it up anyway. I didn't think it was a big deal, I often spill a little gas too. After paying I was about ready to take off again when I realized I hadn't had lunch yet. I asked her if there was a restaurant nearby. She said there was and that I could borrow the courtesy car - SWEET! (Still not getting used to this).

She looks for the keys but cannot find them. She apologizes profusely again and says all they have is an old van. I'm thinking "it beats walking" and tell her that's fine. She even offers her own car. I tell her that's not necessary and take the old van. Then she says the other car that she couldn't find the keys for was a convertible Miatta. Man!... oh well... I go to town and get some lunch. The drive there and back through the hills on a road lined with fall colored trees is very pretty. When I come back I follow a twin down the runway to take off, and then leave. Alabama is a nice place.

Chapter 5 - Trouble
I'm flying at 6500' today because that's where there are the least amount of headwinds (as predicted by GoldenEagle). Then I come up to Gulfport Biloxi Intl's airspace which is a 10,000' barrier. This time I call approach to get permission to fly through, which I get, and I squawk to the code they give me. About half way through one of my radios starts flashing on & off and then shuts down. Then my 2nd radio does the same thing. Oh crap! Don't do this! I continue flying and after a few minutes electrical comes back on. Whew. The tower seems unphased and a little while later asks my heading. I tell them, but they can't seem to hear me. I start thinking about the power outage and what I should do if it happens again. Before I'm out of the airspace, my radios again start to blink. I call the tower to tell them my power is going out. They probably couldn't hear me, and then it goes out for good. Shit.

I try to remain on my heading so I don't freak out the controller who just saw my transponder disappear, and hope I get out of the airspace quickly. Thank goodness I have my trusty Garmin 96C, which has performed really well throughout the trip. It is now the only way I have to navigate other than pure pilotage. I think it's tons better than navigating by VORs anyway.

So I'm finally clear of the airspace and I'm wondering what to do. I have my cell phone, but it's too noisy in an airplane to talk on it. So I text message my CFI and tell him my situation. I don't even know if he can get text messages on his phone, and I don't hear anything back from him. The engine seems unaffected by the outtage, but I have no lights and no radio and I will not be able to keep track of my fuel flow. I search for the nearest airport with my GPS and realize it's just out my right window. It looks like a large airport, but it's not controlled. Perfect - I should be able to find a mechanic, and I wouldn't want to land at a controlled airport with no radio. I find some nearby smoke (there always seems to be something burning within sight) to determine the wind direction, and pick a runway. I realize I will have to leave the flaps up because there's no power. Then I remember the last thing my DE wanted me to do before she signed me off for my pilot's license. She said "assume you lost power. Let's see you land with flaps up." I remember thinking "I doubt that will ever happen, but ok..." and landed fine, just as I did this time.

I expected people waiting outside the FBO asking if I was nuts landing with no radio calls. But there was hardly any traffic and no one seemed to notice. I called maintenance at my airport to let him know what happened. He said the club will reimburse up to $300 for repairs, and asked where I was. I had to look it up. Hammond Northshore Regional (HDC). I talked to the local mechanic, and he saw that some of the cooling fins on the alternator had broken off... odd. My battery was drained. They were closing for the night and I would have to spend the night. This really sucked because today was my daughter's birthday. I really wanted to be home for her. And what was worse was that tomorrow was her birthday party and I would miss that too.

I talked to the receptionist at the FBO to find out my options for spending the night. There was no pilot's lounge I could stay in. She said car rentals were $50 - a third of the price at X04 for renting an SUV for 6 days. And hotels were $120. Even she thought that was a bit much. "It's just Hammond" she said. "Exactly" I thought as I remembered some hotels in pricey Orlando for $65. After a week of being overcharged for everything (except hotels and car rentals apparently), I had enough of this, and asked for a cab to the Super 8, which was "only" $80. The taxi driver was a sr citizen with a ponytail who told me all about the hookers in Hammond, and then talked fondly about what a nice small town Hammond was, and that there should be more small towns like this. Niiiiice. Price for a cab to take me 6 miles... $17.

It was finally time to go back to the airport. I found a different taxi service that would take me there for $9. The mechanic fixed my electrical problems, and after a few hours, I was finally ready to go.

It was a hazy day, and as I neared Galveston Bay it got hazier until I was concerned I might not have enough visibility to fly VFR. When I finally made it to the Houston area I listened to an ASOS for weather. They said it was 10 miles visibility. I really doubt that. More like 3. After a long trip home I finally put the wheels on the ground. Ahhhhh.

When I tell non-aviation people about losing power their eyes bulge out of their heads and say "What!?" Other pilots nod knowingly. I probably would have said "What?!" too before going through it. But it wasn't that bad. Airplane engines still run fine without electrical power, and with the GPS I knew where I was going. I did have to land, but I kept my eye out for other traffic and landed. People ask me if I would do it again. I still doubt losing power like this is a regular occurrence and even if it does happen it's manageable. The rest of the trip was still very enjoyable and I think the experience was great. This one trip doubled the amount of cross country time I've had so far.

Nautical miles flown: 1604
Cross country hours: 18.1
Night hours: 4.1

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A real trip

A couple of weeks ago I learned that I would be going to Florida on business. The trip would be the last week of November. Naturally, as a newly minted pilot I started wondering how long it would take to make the trip in a 152 - 8 hrs. Then I wondered how long it would take to make the trip in a 172 - 6.5 hrs. Interesting. Because of the faster speed of a 172, it turns out it's actually cheaper to fly the 172 when flying the 700+ miles to Florida. Also, flying over the Gulf from Houston to Florida is something I would rather avoid if I didn't have to, especially at my experience level. So I measured the distance along the coastline. It turns out that increases the distance from 732nm to 785nm. I considered the extra 50 miles well worth the peace of mind. This worked out to a little more than a $1000 trip. Yikes!

Well I kept thinking about it. I would just be responsible for the price of the 172 rental beyond the airfare ticket. This was still going to be pretty expensive, and I thought about it for a while. The advantages of this would be a large step towards the 50 hrs of cross country time required for an instrument rating, which I have my eye on. So I could look at this as a large expense, or since I am aiming for the Instrument rating anyway, I can look at it as a savings. But even more important, the planning required, and the actual flight would be a great experience. A couple of problems though... I had to make this trip. What if there were bad weather? My solution would be plan on flying 24 hrs before I had to go to give myself flexibility. Otherwise I would feel pressured to go when conditions may or may not be safe. And also my Plan B would be to get a refundable airline ticket. That way if there was bad weather, I would just fly the ol boring way. The other problem was, even if I looked at this as a savings for an Instrument rating, it's still expensive. Then I realized with the timing of it, and when payment would actually be due, I would have 3 months to pay for it. That made it doable. As long as I had permission from my company - which I received, thank you very much :)

So I went on to the planning phase, which I really enjoy. I used to sketch out my route in the past. The problem with it was that the distances were not always accurate, and I couldn't save my route. So I wanted to see what else was out there. I found GoldenEagle at This is a very impressive program. The more I used it, the more great features I found - up to a point. Then it turned out it did have even more great features, but only if you paid for them. The free version had plenty to keep me happy though. I did buy digital VFR sectional maps for the route to Florida. With it, I can plot routes, check for TFRs, get wind data, and connect to DUATs and download a slew of weather maps and briefings. GoldenEagle also shows a profile view which graphically shows your altitude with respect to terrain, weather, and air spaces. And then it will also print out a number of charts for you to bring along on your trip, such as maps and your flight plan. And you can file your flight plan through GoldenEagle as well. With the weather information this program displays from DUATs over my route, I felt confident I could predict if I could make the trip or not, and if necessary, fly around the weather or time my departure time to miss any bad weather. Also, if necessary I felt that I could safely divert one of the multitudes of runways along the way. How ever it turns out, I think it will be an adventure and I am looking forward to it.

As for the route, it turns out there are a bunch of MOAs and restricted areas around Mobile AL. I was starting to think that I would have to go over 100 miles even further out of my way. But after looking at the sectionals, I found that the MOAs were M-F (I'm flying saturday), and the restricted areas allow you to fly through along airways. Thank goodness. Also, if I had to spend the night somewhere, I hoped I could bring my tent, and pitch it wherever necessary. I looked up, which will tell you which airports have campsites, restaurants, or whatever you're looking for nearby. Unfortunately I could not find any airports with a campsite nearby. But I was wondering... if it really became a necessity, could I land at a small airport, and pitch my tent nearby? I hope I will not have to find out. Well I decided to refuel at the halfway point. This would have been at Mobile Regional, but according to airnav their fuel prices are a whopping $5.24. I saw that KPQL nearby had fuel prices of "only" $4.88, but now they are also at $5.24. That's ridiculous! I'll have to keep looking. It looks like they raise prices near the coast to get people like me who are trying to avoid the gulf, because further inland I can find prices below $4.

I pretty much have my trip plotted out. I am just waiting a couple more days so I can see the 72 hour forecast before finalizing my plan. For the last few weeks the weather has been pretty good. Sometimes even great. I have tried not to get too hopeful because of this trend because I might jinx myself. Well it seems to be happening anyway. We've had a lot of fog, rain and low ceilings the last few days. The route to Florida shows lots of rain, and there's a front going through Thursday. Hopefully it will clear out the bad weather.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fun with a Pilot's License

I haven't written in a while, but I have gone flying since I got my license. I have been enjoying taking my kids for a ride. They loved it. It was such a good feeling being able to share that with them. I wondered if my son (who is 6) would like it as much. When he was younger he seemed to be afraid of heights. But he seemed to like it the most.

My wife is a nervous flyer though. She's flown on a commercial jet twice in her life, and never in a small plane. She chickened out the day that I took my kids. Which was a shame because the weather was nice and the air was smooth. But then she built up her nerve later in the week and wanted to go. And on that day the air was really turbulent and the visibility wasn't that great. I have yet to be able to predict how turbulent the air will be. I was worried that she was not going to like it. But she said it was fine. She thinks it's always like that though. I can't wait to take her up again when the weather is better. She'll be pleasantly surprised.

Last weekend I flew again with my parents. That was also pretty cool. My mom's dad was in the air force and practically lived in the plane. He liked to show off though with some aerobatics which she didn't like. I'm a newbie, so I'm fine with keeping it straight and level for her. She was nostalgic about it all. It seemed to bring back a lot of good memories for her. And my dad also liked the experience. We went up to 7000' and the view was great. He had a couple of lessons when he was younger so I let him fly a bit. It was a great day.

This week the weather is fantastic and crystal clear. I had to get up again, so I called my CFI to go flying yesterday. I wanted to get checked out in the Piper PA-28 so I could get some more variety. The PA-28 is a pretty cool plane. It's a bit more beefier than the 172, and I found myself having to trim it a lot as I flew. It climbed better too. By the time I got into the downwind leg, the plane was almost at pattern altitude. Usually it gets there just before I'm abeam of the numbers where I start my descent. The clarity of the air from the ground was nothing compared to being in the air. I wish I had my camera. I had never imagined it could be that clear. It was windy and turbulent though. As I went around the pattern to do my first landing in the PA-28 I turned on final and saw downtown Houston in the distance - clear as a bell. It shocked me. But I was able to concentrate on the task at hand and landed the plane pretty well. We did another landing, and then did some stalls and turns to get the feel of the plane. The plane was pretty responsive, but just required more back pressure, or trimming, to do the maneuvers. On my last landing my CFI complimented me on all my good landings in the plane.

It was fun, and now I can fly all the planes in the club. I am looking forward to getting more experience with the PA-28 Cherokee.

Now that I have my license I have to slow it down though. I need to replenish our savings account after all those lessons. But still I can't wait until I take a real trip. I am keeping my eye out for opportunities.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Checkride

Yesterday I went to take my checkride. I went and picked up the logbooks, prepped the plane, and flew the short trip to Laporte. I was a couple hours early to allow me time to get there, get relaxed and do some more studying. The time finally came, and I met the DE - a very impressive woman who is the current national champion in the U.S. Unlimited aerobatics contest, an airline pilot, and a flight school owner. Talk about immersing yourself into flying!

After some snafus with the IACRA system on the FAA website we started the oral and started talking about the cross country flight. That all went well including all the question & answers about airspaces and other map features to which she said "It looks like you know all this", and moved on. We also talked about weather, requirements for the airplane & the pilot, airplane logbooks, FAA regs, and airplane systems. She was nice and if I didn't get something right away, she rephrased the question. The part that stumped me were the specific systems of the C150 I was flying. I wound up getting a lesson in alternators and magnetos. The oral lasted about an hour (though I heard later that her orals usually last at least 2... whew!).

Then came the flying part. I gave her the passenger briefing, and we took off and started the cross country. I was supposed to fly NE for about 3 miles and intercept the Galveston VOR to fly NNW. I should have practiced the start of this cross country... I had the VOR set up for the bearing I was looking for, but I wasn't prepared for how fast I would get there, and as I then remembered, the Galveston VOR often seems to be off. What's up with that!!? So I backtracked and tried to find the VOR again. Looking at the map, I could see that I was over the ground track I was looking for, but the VOR wasn't showing that I was. I played with it, and found that it was about 15 degrees off. Piece of crap. So I used pilotage to continue on my cross country. After about 5-10 mins she said ok, divert to RWJ. I knew where it was on the map, so I pointed the plane to that direction. Then I entered RWJ in my GPS. It couldn't find it. So I tried KRWJ. Still couldn't find it. What the hell? So, again I had to use pilotage to find the airport. Turns out the ID for the is 54T, and the name is actually RWJ. What kind of name for an airport is that? I thought it was the ID.

After that things went much better. We went on to stalls and flight maneuvers. She asked for a 'Power On Stall'. Ahhh it's so nice to have a DE who's familiar with the PTS. Just to make sure, I asked if she wanted me to slow down to departure speed first? "However you want to do it" she said. Sweet! So I slowed down to departure speed (like I had been practicing recently) and did the power on stall and recovery fine. Then did the power off stall in a turn. And... uh oh... lost my engine. Dang thing keeps going out. I set up for glide speed, found a landing spot which was about half dirt, half weeds or something, went through the procedures to restart the engine, and set up for a landing. She said ok before I got below 200', and we were on to ground reference maneuvers, and instrument flying. With her being an aerobatics pilot I was wondering if I would learn a whole new definition of 'unusual attitudes'. I closed my eyes while she screwed around with the plane. It wasn't all that unusual though. About 30 degrees down & banked to the left. I backed off the throttle, righted the wings and raised the nose. Then we went back to Laporte for soft/short field takeoffs & landings. On the way over she asked me how I thought I was doing. "Fine" I hoped. It did seem to be going well except for that initial part of the cross country, but I recovered from that. She smiled & nodded. I did the landings, and before a no-flaps landing she said I could stop after that.

Drum roll....

I passed!!!!

I'm a frickin PILOT!!!!

We talked a little more, and then she handed me my temporary license. The real deal should come within 90 days. I made all my calls to tell my wife, parents and CFI that I passed, and then took a leisurely flight back to my airport which included flyovers of Nasa, my house and Galveston Bay. This weekend I will celebrate by going to the Wings Over Houston airshow.

Perma-grin time :D

Total Flying Time (including 19 year break): 59 hrs
Dual Time: 41 hrs

Monday, October 1, 2007

More flight maneuver practice

Yesterday I met with my CFI to make sure I had my maneuvers down. We talked about the steps one would take to do each of the flight maneuvers, which is pretty much what I had already been doing. Then I pre-flighted and we took off with a simulated soft field take-off.

Ashley Pardue is the DE I flew with, and I will be changing DEs for reasons beyond what I've already discussed in my previous entry. If he has some alternate set of standards in his head that he rates people by, then whatever... I planned on learning all the maneuvers cold and going to him again. Then I had a discussion with a CFI (not mine). He says he would never send anyone to Ashley for their checkride because he's heard Ashley say he would not pass anyone who trained at our airport. WTH? Yeah... he had some student from a CFI who isn't even around anymore, and apparently it went bad. So he's not going to pass anyone from our airport. Now, I know that he did pass at least a couple of our students and they were both using the same CFI. So if you're not with the "right" CFI you've already got a huge strike against you with this guy. I don't need this crap. I'm just trying to get my fricken license. At that point, I didn't care if I already passed my oral with him. He's already robbed me of $400 if he didn't intend on passing me. I don't need to deal with CFI/DE politics. So now I'm trying to get with a DE from either Ellington or La Porte. My CFI and I flew over Ellington to La Porte.

It was pretty hazy out. I did all my maneuvers to my CFI's satisfaction, except for turns about a point. This flight was the first one I've had with significant winds and I didn't flatten out my bank as much as I needed to on the wind side. We also did an engine out at just 800 or 1000 ft. I forget which, but it didn't leave much time. That went ok though. He asked what else, I said short/soft field landings/take-offs. So we went to Bayport airport and practiced on the grass field there.

I was thinking for soft field I had to come it at full flaps & 60 mph. When I did this it was pretty precarious with the 9kt crosswinds. The CFI suggested 30 degree flaps and add more power just before the flare. I tried that on the next go-around and it was one of my smoothest landings yet. "Great job" he said. I was impressed too, but felt it was more luck.

We headed back to the airport, and again flew over Ellington. On the way back the weather started to deteriorate. It looked like we were in 1 big low density cloud. By the time we flew over Ellington I had to descend to 1000'. At Clover I wanted to do a short field landing. That was also tricky with the added crosswind. Then I did a short field takeoff. By the time I went around the pattern again, it was pouring rain as well. The CFI suggested a 700' pattern altitude so I would be in G airspace where I only needed 1 mile visibility to stay legal. I just did a normal landing - no need to make this anymore complicated than it was already becoming.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stepping it up a notch

Over the last few days I have been preparing for the Checkride part II. I've been going through the Practical Test Standards to see exactly which maneuvers I need to know, and also going through my Flight Maneuvers book to see exactly, step by step, how to do them. And you know what? There is no 'Departure Stall' or 'Approach Stall' on the PTS! I had seen 'Power-On-Stalls' and 'Power-Off Stalls' and assumed these to be what Ashley Pardue (the DE) meant when he asked for a 'Departure Stall' or 'Approach Stall'. But I looked them up in my Flight Maneuvers book and they are similar, but different. He asked for a 'Departure Stall' and I gave him a Power-On-Stall, which means I did not start by slowing to departure speed. So then he griped at me. Sorry dude, but if you want it by the book, I've got a book for you: Private Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane!

Then he wanted me to do the 'Approach Stall'. By then my confidence was shaken, and what's worse, I hadn't heard of an 'Approach Stall'. This is the test taker's version of vertigo. Up is down, black is white. Nothing makes sense anymore. So I flubbed the 'Approach Stall'. I was so nervous I didn't even remember to recover with full throttle afterwards. SHIT! I know better!

Well what can you do? I write out the procedures for each maneuver like a checklist, including the ones for 'Departure Stall' and 'Approach Stall' that certain DEs take it upon themselves to add to the practical test standards. Then I attempt to learn to do these by practicing them in MS Flight Sim over and over until I can do it in my sleep. Well I found out some more about MS Flight Sim's limitations. I did a power off stall on the sim in my virtual Cessna 150, and found myself falling like a rock. I dropped 1000' in about 5 seconds with the attitude at about 20 degrees above the horizon. (BTW, for those who are not mathematically inclined, this is works out to a falling acceleration rate of 80 ft/sec^2... way faster than free fall. With the nose above the horizon?! How is this even remotely possible??) Nothing like this ever happens in the real plane. I try a couple of other things, and find it's pointless to use MS Flight Sim for serious practice.

So this morning I went on a solo flight that I had scheduled in the 150. Even though I can practice stalls anywhere, I went to Galveston just to make everything as much like the checkride will be as possible. Especially when practicing emergency engine out procedures, it will help to know the island well. When I get to Galveston, I do my clearing turns, and then start all my stall maneuvers, and do them until there are no errors. They went well. I can fly the plane, I just needed to know the step-by-step procedures a lot better. But of course doing it solo, and doing it with the DE right next to you are two different things. Perhaps I should fly with a homicidal maniac in the right seat while practicing my flight maneuvers. Then the DE won't seem so bad! I practiced an engine out procedure. I still need to read up on that one. Finding a place to land isn't that hard. Again, it's procedures, i.e. trying to restart the engine, making a mayday call, etc. I saw a nice long neighborhood road that wasn't busy. Upon careful inspection I noticed it had telephone poles or something along it. Fields are not big at all on Galveston island. I think the only sure thing is an empty beach, which is what I ended up aiming for. There were a couple of people there who got an interesting show lol. Then I did some ground reference maneuvers on the way back. And when I got back to the airport I practice short field landings & take-offs, and soft field landings and take-offs. Those also went well IMHO. After that I called it a day. It's amazing what a balked checkride and actual clearly specified procedures for flight maneuvers can do for your practice solo flights. It was the most productive yet. This weekend I'll go flying again with my CFI to make sure I'm ready for the checkride.

BTW... I need to get a dog ;)
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