Sunday, August 24, 1997

First Official Lesson (Hopedale)

This was also a good flight, and my first official (non-demo) lesson with Jason. Jason is not exactly Mr. Congeniality – he seemed a bit irritable at first, but I guess he's never one to be too chatty. It's a job, right? In flight is where it counts, of course, and he's very patient and appropriately educational. Today we again focused on the four fundamentals, and I think my over-controlling was a little better (different airplane too, C172 – I wanted to try the C150 but it was out later than expected, and I didn't want to wait again – it's a critical path when they only have one of the aircraft you are learning in, but it's a small, convenient flight school, so c'est la vie – C172 seemed HUGE after flying the 152). I have a couple of new problems (well, let's say more obvious): instrument fixation, and getting flustered on new stuff.

· Preflight seemed to take me a long time – Jason watched and helped when asked, but it was my job to run the checklist (I need to write out and memorize the pre-flight checklists so I can go more smoothly through them). Taxi was still awkward, but less so than before (need smaller inputs on the rudders). Weather looked suspicious but was fine except for a very dramatic looking rainstorm over Worcester (visibility must have been 15+ miles)

· Takeoff was runway 18, to the south, with a right turn (west) departure. I did OK on takeoff except I rotated a bit late (I need to write down and memorize the V-speeds for the C172 and C152, or better yet, get the POH for both). I wish all the planes had either knots or mph and not un peu de tout.

· Problem one: instrument fixation. After a couple of turns, Jason zapped this by plastering black rubber suction-cup disks over all but the tach! No airspeed, attitude, altimeter, or turn and slip! This forces you to look outside the airplane for your flight cues, which is a great idea. I think sims have made me an instrument junky (but everybody probably does this to some degree).

· Steep turns, 45 degree bank, 360 degree turns -- cool

· Stalls - procedure - got flustered, problem two ("don't go bonkers on me now") – stalled once in a turn – Jason thought I was nervous on the stalls (I don't think so, but maybe my switch from light touch to death grip on the yoke says more than I know!). I have to start memorizing some stuff – procedures, RPM's, V-speeds, etc.

· Fluster example: letting nose go down a lot in a turn after stall recovery, then adding lots of power and yanking back on the yoke – nice G-force, but bad form!

· MCA – mushing along indeed – swing the yoke all over for nil effect – cool.

· Altitude control in turns, often good, but inconsistent (inconsistency is probably my problem 3, but it takes practice – I'm only a 3 hour student pilot – Jason even gained 100' in his "blind" 360 degree demonstration turn)

· Fly back home (no joy on 1B6! see satellite pic above, needle in a haystack!) – 120 mph on downwind seemed fast, but Jason said no – 65 mph landing speed (seems fast in a Taurus but slow in an airplane you are riding onto the ground – maybe this is why I like knots, a different unit for the airplane)

· Landing – Jason's plane, but really following through on controls, and talking it down – "Flare-flare-flare-flare-flare-flare-flare-flare-flare!"

· The bottom line: $92.25 (I didn't get a receipt, oddly enough – paid cash)

· Next: more turns, MCA, stalls, starting pattern work, rectangular course (ground reference) – scheduled for September 4 before Germany trip.

Time: Dual 1.0 hrs, TT 3.1 hrs (C172 at 1B6)

Saturday, August 23, 1997

Thumbs Up (Intro Flight at EMT)

As Hades says in Disney's Hercules, "Two thumbs WAY, way up!" This was a great flight (it was with Valley Flight Center, 818/444-7739). I even did maybe 80% of the landing! The CFI was supposed to be "Brian," and maybe that's his nickname, but he's actually Sergio Guevara, Jr., and he has 1700+ hours, CFI/CFII, working on multi-engine with hopes for ATP and airline flying. Nice guy, and very instructional (kept quizzing me on various stuff on the preflight checks, e.g., FAA no longer requires that a radio license be in the aircraft with the air worthiness and registration, but the POH must still be there – I didn't know some things like "dorsal fin," the forward extension of the vertical stabilizer – gotta study harder I guess).

ANYWAY, we did a real thorough pre-flight (but no paper checklist for the outside walkaround – I would have to buy a handbook for that, and he knew it, as did I from this morning – we could have used the POH itself, but I would have gotten oil and gas on it like this morning at CCB). He even put water in a fuel sample to show me what that looks like (sinks to bottom, color is different, beads up on ground). We had to tighten screw on the right wing. Switch to bullets (as opposed to AMRAAMs?):

· I really like that little C152, and I may try to switch to C150 back home and save some money.

· I made the radio calls and did pretty well thanks to some recent practice with sound files I got from the web (ATIS and other radio samples in VOX format). Got ATIS, requested taxi clearance and takeoff, and even called the tower when we were at the West Covina Mall heading west for landing.

· I did the takeoff myself (wind was 190° at 14 kts, essentially straight down the runway, no crosswind), swerving a bit on the rudders, but not too bad (I made sure the door was securely latched this time!). Got fast on climbout (80 kts -- you want to gain altitude fast over the I-10 and other dense ground features, so cruise climb has to wait – 65 kts for best rate I believe – if I knew which plane I was flying back home now, I would have bought a handbook and checklists, because both Valley and F.A.S.T. down the street had these for C150, 152, 172, etc.).

· We had asked for a left downwind (north) departure to the Santa Fe Dam practice area, just a few minutes away. I tried to scan for traffic and I did not particularly notice any ground features other than the I-10 and I-605 freeways.

· We started with climbing to 3500' and then did some turns at various bank angles – as usual, I was overcorrecting. One problem I have is overcontrolling for the overbanking tendency in steep turns (30 and 45° today) – it only requires a slight touch of opposite aileron, and if you add too much, it shallows out the bank. I did this a lot but improved a little, and I did one really nice 45 degree bank (feels steeper than that – you can feel the 1.4G's)

· Speaking of G's, I couple of times I pulled a few more (maybe 2?) when I started to let the nose go down too much then added power and pulled up too abruptly. CFI didn't say anything. My altitude control in turns was so-so.

· There was one close airplane that I spotted at my 9 o'clock, turning away (west) from us on the way to the practice area. I think he was maybe 2000 feet away and only 300 feet below us when I saw him – some sort of Piper. I spotted and called clock positions on other traffic a few times, 5+ miles away, except for an escaped helium balloon that passed us at 2500 feet near the mall!

· We did both power-off and power-on stalls, with flaps (landing and takeoff configs) – cool, though I didn't really feel the pre-stall buffet (I heard the horn loud & clear though). The nose seems WAY, way high, but I know it's not. I lost over 200' on the second stall.

· After the stalls when I was straight and level again (at 3000 feet I think), he cut the throttle to idle and said "What if you lose your engine right now, what do you do?" I said, OK, establish best glide speed (he said good, 60 kts, do it), then I proceeded to put the nose DOWN and speed up to 90+ knots! DUH! So then I'm saying, look for an airport (nope, we don't have one), or a flat, open field to land on – there's a sports field just to the left, there's another one. He said "what about that big dirt field there to the right?" It looked like one of the quarries near Duarte to me! But on closer inspection there was one that looked like a huge parking lot under construction. I made a shallow bank that would have made the field, then he said add power and make for EMT. It was cool that he pulled this on the demo flight – he was really testing my knowledge and maybe even "coolness under pressure" (I know this was low key – any "coolness" I may have WILL be tested more in the future I'm sure). One funny thing is that I don't feel any sense of fear with this stuff – stalls, simulated engine failure, steep turns, etc. all seem OK to me. My nervousness is performance pressure – I want to show the CFI that I can do all this stuff.

· The CFI basically told me where to start my turns for most maneuvers, calling out headings (I got better at rolling out on heading, still a little sloppy, but close – I only forgot to lift my wing to check for traffic once or twice). This was true especially when we entered the pattern – I tried to note my position and altitude, but I missed a lot (I was pretty jazzed by the end of the hour and started overcontrolling more again after improving in mid-flight – thinking about tuning and getting ATIS and calling the tower for landing got me flustered as I was trying to follow the I-10 back to the airport – BTW, need to keep such ground reference features a bit further to my left so I can keep the freeway in sight – those freeways are great nav aids, though!).

· When he had me start the turn to final (he was making the radio calls after I called the downwind), I couldn't believe he wasn't taking the airplane! He was guiding me on adding flaps, reducing throttle, carb heat, adjusting lineup, but I did all of that myself! (He may have tweaked the controls a time or two.) When we got over the threshold, he had me pulling the yoke back, and I actually flared to a very slight bump and landing (he added a skosh of power at the flare I believe to slow the descent a bit). This was shocking, but actually quite cool! At Hopedale, the landings seem to go too fast, but in this case I was involved in it, and it seemed OK, or at least possible!

· One slight worry on the turn to final – I hesitated (checked traffic maybe?) and started the turn a tad late, so I had to steepen it to get aligned with the runway. I remember reading that this is a spot where accidents happen, when the pilot misjudges the timing or the wind, and you are fairly close to stall speed (not to mention the ground). This can be a problem especially because of the increased stall speed you have in a bank, though it probably was not more than 30° (you should not do more than 30°of bank in the pattern).

· I held back pressure to slow us then applied brakes and turned left at the center to go to the fuel pit – tower ignored my call for this, so we switched to ground anyway and got permission. My taxiing was still not smooth, but the best effort so far, even using differential braking. One thing is for sure – with all the visual and physical information, landing the real airplane is WAY easier than landing in FS95! I never mentioned flight sims to either CFI today – it just didn't seem especially relevent.

I guess the bottom line is that it is starting to feel a bit familiar and if not easy, at least "doable." Brian/Sergio said I did well on everything except that over-control thing – I really need to work on that part. It was really a fun flight – in a way he really threw me into the deep end of the pool and covered a lot of topics for a demo flight. In my log book, he noted "Demo flight, preflight, taxi, runup, takeoff, stalls power on/off" – an excellent lesson for my 60 bucks. And today I more than tripled my logged flight time (TT from 0.6 hours to 2.1 hours). I think I can solo this fall if I can just get those weekly flights in with Jason! Note: FLY WITH THE LEFT HAND! Have to keep the right free for throttle and radios and all, so get used to it. Also, TRIM and USE A LIGHT TOUCH ON THE CONTROLS.

Time: Dual 1.0 hrs, TT 2.1 hrs (C152 at EMT)

Door is ajar! (Intro Flight at Cable Airport )

This was another impulse thing, as I still have my 4 pm intro scheduled at EMT. The weather looked good (light smog but blue skies and reasonable visibility), so I drove out the I210 to Claremont, just like I used to drive home when we lived there. Just past Claremont is Upland, and they have an uncontrolled airport there with a single 3800' runway running SW (24/6). My CFI was Alan Runyen, a nice young guy with some 850 hours (working on CFII). I felt bad making him fly a C152 since he's about 6'5" and really has to squeeze in – hard to see how he can work the pedals with his knees so far up! But that's his job. Our combined weights and full fuel load put us at maximum gross weight, but it seemed to handle OK to me (we climbed at about 500 fpm, and he said the C172 would do 1100 with our weight, but no 172's were on the ramp, all on rentals). I signed for the ½ hour intro flight for $25 – not bad.

Alan handled the radio (Unicomm) and we had no headsets (the cabin noise was bearable once I got the door closed). GOT THE DOOR CLOSED?!? Yes, this was my first in-flight "emergency" of sorts. After takeoff I noticed that the door was vibrating, then I saw that it was open 2 inches! I guess I had not really checked that it was latched tight when we did the pre-takeoff checklist. I was handling the takeoff (mostly – I think he helped me a bit on the rudders), and we had just gotten to maybe 50' AGL when I noticed the door. I said "your airplane" and managed to get it closed. There was no actual danger, but it was a bit distracting. I immediately thought of my reading "if the door opens in flight – FLY THE AIRPLANE!"). Other points:

· He watched me do the preflight checks and pre-takeoff checks from the POH checklists.

· We took off to the SW then turned left a couple of times to head out east to a practice area close to the foothills.

· I did a few fairly steep turns - kinda fun, though of course I overcontrolled a lot and lost or gained altitude whenever I paid attention to something else besides the turn itself. I remembered to lift my wing and clear traffic before each turn.

· Control forces were rather light. I used trim a little (not enough).

· He let me fly the pattern right up to short final! I was rather sloppy, I'd say, and he had to goose the power a couple of times when I lost altitude. Airport is 1439' MSL, pattern altitude was 2300' MSL. I did pretty bad on the lineup for final, but Alan corrected it with a slip (I now realize!), using opposite rudder and aileron to line us up without banking. I did really notice how the left wing completely hides the runway on the turn to base and (partially) on turn to final.

· He used a number of ground references for the pattern, a flood control channel for the crosswind (crossing fairly close to the SW end of the runway), a school where he starts his base leg. We had to stay N of the 210 to avoid airspace limits (I see now that they cut a circular notch out of Ontario's Class C airspace to give CCB a little uncontrolled area for its pattern).

· I can't really feel the airplane slipping or skidding yet – even when grossly uncoordinated (ball 2/3 from center), it seems OK – gotta learn to sense this better without the instrument!

· There was a substantial fuel leak from the left fuel drain (?), but Alan said this would stop as the fuel level went down (I don't think it did – it's due to expansion from the heat – it must have been 90 F at 11 am).

All in all a short but enjoyable flight. Very much like Hopedale – you would hardly know you are in LA air space. El Monte is better in this respect (different experience), but who knows? It makes me think I should check out the C150 at HAS before I start the real lessons – it could be a big savings. Cableair's rates are especially cheap even without block or club plans (C152 $42, C172 $52-57 depending on equipment, CFI $21). And if the door comes open on takeoff, FLY THE AIRPLANE! It really can happen (and people have crashed by playing with the door when still low and slow). Good reason to have your seatbelt securely fastened!

Time: Dual 0.5 hrs, TT 1.1 hrs (C152 at CCB)

Thursday, August 21, 1997

Flight Log Supplemental (Pasadena)

I visited El Monte Airport the other day and bought a VFR Terminal Area Chart for Los Angeles – pretty cool – amazingly complex airspace! I also set up an intro lesson at Valley Flight Center in a C152 (C172 down for maintenance – a common problem for me back in Hopedale, though I'm not recording all the cancelations etc. here). This is $30 for ½ hour, $60 for 1 hour, so I'll go for the hour, Saturday afternoon, and also see what the C152 is like (smaller cockpit, flying near gross weight depending on CFI's weight and fuel load – I'll be interested to see a weight and balance check and density altitude calculation in this case, especially if it's hot!).

I noted on the web that Pro-Pilot and FU II are both delayed until "fall 97," rather than August. Haven't had much of a mood for sims recently anyway, but those will still be worth checking out when they ship.

Saturday, August 09, 1997

Flight log supplemental: Ground school etc.

I'm working on a plan to get started on lessons sooner rather than later... (financial and marital negotiation notes omitted, though these are certainly part of the process of learning to fly!)

I also sat in on a ground school session with Jason at HAS (Hopedale Air Service) last night. It was on METAR/TAF weather reports (new ICAO coding for weather and formats info). Jason was OK as a lecturer for the short part I sat in on – he then switched us to a King video on this stuff, which was fairly good (I think I can actually read those things now!). So I'm thinking that it will be worth it to do the ground school with them too rather than try to do only self-study – the discipline of weekly classes and readings and the chance to "show off" my knowledge in class will be good for me, I think. HAS also has a new CFI, and I do mean NEW, just out of flight school, and just off the boat from Germany. I forget his name – he's 23 and he's really green, with a strong German accent. I'll stick with Jason, thanks – but I better get going before he signs up too many students and dumps me on someone else!

I also began to read and study my new "Jepp" materials in earnest – chapter one on fundamentals of flight and stability, including the exercises. Pretty much review, though I need to get to the "second nature" point on some things like what the control surfaces do when you move the yoke (i.e., left yoke, left aileron goes UP, right goes DOWN). This was also covered in the demo video that came with the Jepp kit, and it will be lesson one of ground school, next Tuesday 6:30-9:30 pm (when I will be in LA). They will allow you to make up two lessons for free, or sit in on another class if they cover one you missed. I guess this is tied to their having to sign off in your log book for covering the required material before you take the written test.