Tuesday, June 24, 1997

Introductory Flight at El Monte (EMT) Airport

This was more or less an impulse thing – when I do take lessons, it might be cool to take a few in Los Angeles when I'm out here for business. So I called up Bartlett Aviation at El Monte Airport (just south of Arcadia) and made a 7 pm appointment with Kelly. She turns out to be a 500-hour CFII from Chicago who appears to be about 17 years old but is probably 20-something (thin, reddish hair, freckles, wire rim glasses). This was another $35 intro flight, and I did better in some ways, worse in others (or maybe she just commented or corrected more, and ended up taking the controls a bit more than Kris at Hopedale – when she said "get north of the 210 Freeway," she meant quickly – steeper turn , though I had kicked into an earlier turn quite fast and too steep, so I was "hedging" and gradually shallowing out my bank, probably slipping in the process, even as I tried to step on the ball). Airplane was a 1975 Cherokee 140. This is LA, and although we only saw 2 or 3 other airplanes, this is not the place to mess around!

Preflight was much like #1, though Kelly had a typed checklist, which was good. We checked oil but not fuel (checked level, didn't drain a sample as the plane had just been flown). The novel thing was setting 118.75 on the radio to get ATIS (Clear, Wind 230 at 9 kts, vis 8 nm, altimeter, active is 19 information QUEBEC). Then I got to call the tower for permission to taxi, "El Monte Ground, Cherokee 2120 X-ray, at Bartlett, request taxi to active," usually forgetting to confirm with "20 X-ray, roger" or whatever. Pretty awkward, but better than at Hopedale, and that was just Unicom! This is an LA-area controller, and Kelly said they expect crisp, quick calls, though they understand that students can be slow on this stuff.

Taxi was a little better than at Hopedale, though I gunned the throttle a lot at first and used the brakes too much (taxi at 900-1000 RPM is good). Runup was OK (don't fixate on instrument looking for that 2000 RPM, continue to look outside the airplane – fixating is not so good), and more radio calls were needed (I forget the wording already, but we got a clear to takeoff with a left departure). Kelly actually held the centerline on takeoff and I followed her cue on rotation and climbout. Heading south, we followed a "wash" (flood control?) because you are right over roads and the I-10, no good place to set down if your engine fails on takeoff. Had to hold substantial right rudder (a "boot full," as they say?) on climbout due to the high engine power and relatively low speed (90 on the instrument, but I think she said this was mph, not knots). I made a left turn to follow the I-10, then left again to follow the I-605 north. The freeways are great landmarks, easy to follow. We then flew above Arcadia for a while, toward and then parallel the foothills (pretty close at one point). We stayed below 3000' (airport elev is 296' but the San Gabriels rise up pretty fast N of Arcadia). It's best to stay N of the I-210 to stay out of El Monte's airspace. I recall the freeways clearly, as well as the big houses above Foothill Blvd and Vons. I saw the Santa Anita Mall, and I did a 30+ degree left bank directly over the race track and got a nice view. I overcorrected on my turns but got better – I certainly did not feel especially skillful or precise. I had trouble keeping the nose level until near the end (level was VERY low vs the horizon – the mountains and haze made it hard to judge the horizon, and I forgot to cross-check vs. the attitude indictor until Kelly reminded me). Kelly was very relaxed and flew very smoothly when she took over toward the end.

Haze was moderately annoying, and the low sun at 7:30 pm gave a lot of glare and NO visibility over the nose when flying W (scratches on windshield gave a LOT of scattering glare). Runway was not that easy to spot when we headed back south (I made the radio call to request a straight-in approach). We did not get a clear to land but rather an instruction to call when 2 miles NE of the airport (Kelly made that call I think – but how do you know that distance?). They called traffic on final, and we spotted a twin down low, so Kelly made several S-turns to slow our close rate. She finally radioed for permission for a 360 to give the landing plane time to clear the runway. I tried to follow the speed, flaps, attitude, control feel, etc on the short final, but it happened too fast for me. There was a crosswind from the right (from 230° on 190 degree runway heading, so maybe a 4 kt crosswind component?). It was enough that Kelly held noticeable right stick and compensating left rudder. Her landing was quite smooth, and she quickly taxied off the runway (I called for permission to taxi to the "fuel pit," where the student pays to top off the tanks, $7.75 for 3.8 gallons, my first AVGAS purchase – this gets subtracted from the $35 intro flight fee, but on normal flights, you pay three things, gas, instructor, and rental fee).

On the whole, Kelly was OK. I think I would prefer a slightly older CFI – she communicated and taught OK, but I couldn't quite "relate" to her somehow. Not likely I will fly much with her (if ever again). I may also check out Bracket Airport in Pomona next time I'm out here. The flight seemed more "routine", somehow, pretty much fun, but I still had some of that frustration of not doing everything at least a little better, like coming out of banks and observing my altitude and other instruments – short answer is that my time in CAP years ago is useless, and sim experience is at least partly negated by bad habits from yank-n-bank combat sims. Real airplanes have a "feel" (especially the rudder in the Piper – nose up/down yoke forces seem mild even without trimming them out). Still some feeling of "is this really happening," especially in banks where I can see the ground better.

A few firsts on this – first in LA, controlled air space, radio comms, real use of trim, fueling the plane – well, some of these are small thrills! I'm not actually taking lesssons, of course, so no log book for this or the last Intro flight! Meanwhile I broke down and bought FS95 on sale at CompUSA for $38 – Flight 2 and Pro Pilot are due later in summer, and 688I Hunter/Killer (sub sim) shipped today but probably won't make stores until this Friday (I planned to be sub-simming tonight if it was out). Bought a VFR Terminal Area Chart for San Francisco (they were out of sectionals and these charts for LA) – this is for "Flight 2" (it may come with one, but it's only $4.33, vs. $7.50 for the sectionals).

Time: 0.6 hours dual (unlogged).

Wednesday, June 11, 1997

Introductory Flight at Hopedale Airport

It was very clear and warming fast when I drove over to Hopedale for an intro flight with Hopedale Air Service (HAS). I watched a C150 do some practice landings from 8-9 am while I waited for Kristian to return from his lesson (Jason was the CFI for the C150 - the first landing was VERY rough, fast and with 2 big bounces, too fast, or he flared too early, perhaps). I spoke with Jeff (the owner), but he said he was too busy to take on new students now. He seemed like a nice enough guy.

After Kris arrived and debriefed his last lesson, we went out to the Cherokee 140 for the pre-flight inspection (he first found me a headset to borrow). We checked power off and keys on dash, then flaps, control surfaces, fuel (visual check on quantity, drain some for contamination check), landing gear, oil (he actually could not get the cap off, and we taxied out with the access door open!). Inside the plane we checked RROW (registration, radio license, operational limits [POH], weight/balance), making sure the paperwork was in the aircraft (we actually didn't check W&B per se with just the two front seats occupied and no baggage). We also double checked that tie-downs were removed (he told me of one C150 lesson he gave where the student forgot the rear tire-down and flew once around the pattern with a cement block dragging – this caused it to handle very strangely – I'll bet! -- way out of W&B limits so a wind gust could have been real bad news).

Next he showed me the startup procedure, which I don't remember in detail (cautionary note: there was no written checklist for any of this, other than the POH). He basically showed me the controls and let me do everything from this point until I entered the downwind for final approach, when he took the controls for landing and taxi back to ramp. There should be a checklist (for students or renters) because the order of operations for lights, amp check, fuel pump, carb heat, etc. was not obvious to me. We also checked all controls for free movement (with visual, except for rudder, which won't move anyway due to nosewheel steering linkage). Yell "Clear!" and start the engine (full rich mixture, throttle 1/8" or so, turn key full right and push).

Then I (or Kris?) removed the parking brake and I taxied to the edge of the ramp. It was hard to not try to steer with the "wheel", only with the feet, and the toe brakes were kinda weird too. We stopped and did the runup check (set brake, 2000 RPM, Magnetos both, right, both, left, both and watch for slight RPM drop, ditto with carb heat on/off). This is when Kris noticed the oil check door was open, so I stopped the engine and he opened the door and closed the hatch. All OK, so now I have to make a very newbie-sounding radio call, "Hopedale, Cherokee 3569 Foxtrot, blah-blah-blah for runway 36." This was very awkward (hope nobody was listening!) – gotta read those radio procedure web pages now! I had to do the departure call as well, and one or two others I forget (mostly for "traffic," warning any planes on approach that we are on the runway – typical uncontrolled airport stuff).

Checking again for traffic, I taxied very awkwardly to the south end of the single 3200' runway 36, experimenting a little with the toe brakes en route. Not very smooth! A little better when I finally put my hands in my lap. I did a U-turn near the end and found myself well left of center, but OK. Release brakes, full throttle, steer with feet to stay roughly lined up (a bit wobbly), and the end of the runway seemed to be getting close when Kris said "start to pull back," so I did, and we lifted off and began to climb.

At about 1000' (I think – Hopedale is 269' so this would be only 730' AGL), I began a turn to the left. Coordination was OK, a little slip when I peeked at the ball. I wasn't sure where he wanted me to turn, so I made several "partial" turns before I started asking him what headings he wanted to roll out on. The view was – not much! Rather hazy and all trees and quarries and a lake or two. My outside SA was minimal! We leveled off at about 2500' and set throttle for cruise (1800 rpm?). I never noted the I-495, which I assumed would be a major landmark. I held altitude fairly well in turns (climbing with too much back pressure on one, gained 100' to 2600), but I held airspeed (angle of attack!) less reliably, I think.

We made some more turns, and Kris pointed out that we were over Mendon, with Uxbridge off to the left. We turned back and he showed me a couple of landmarks for finding the Hopedale runway (one was an industrial building or tower, the other a water tower) – not an easy thing! It's just a 3200' strip of asphalt among a lot of trees. We turned to a heading of about 140° (S.E.) and got within about a mile of the runway before I spotted it at an angle to our flight path. He had me turn (right I guess!) to line up with the runway on the downwind leg (180°, south), then he took over the controls for the rest of the approach. He said to begin a turn to base when abeam of the numbers, but we overshot this (he had to extend further south because we were too close to the runway, a very narrow pattern).

Final went very fast and seemed steep to me. I was not very aware of the "sight picture" (though I had this TERM in mind) – looking for our aim point, the point that was not moving on the windscreen. The S end of the runway is very close to the road, and we seemed very low over a passing car. He touched down long (I think), not on the numbers, and I recall some last minute bank correction (there was a small but noticeable crosswind as the day was heating up – going to 95+ today, it was 86 at the start of the flight). He said "that was not such a good example of a landing!"

Kris is amiable enough, and his accent is not TOO hard to understand. He was very laid-back in the cockpit, didn't seem rushed or nervous, and he let me fly the plane the whole time, with barely any correction or criticism. This was an introductory flight, and I had taken pains to try to show I was somewhat savvy about all this flying stuff, so maybe he was holding back. I think I could train with him, but I wonder if I should "audition" Jason as well, just to compare them?

(That's a lot of writing for a 30 minute intro flight – no wonder people generate web pages on this stuff!).

Time: 0.5 hours (unlogged).