Monday, May 14, 2001

D-Day: Check Ride!

Today's the big day, my check ride down at North Central Airport in Lincoln, RI (SFZ). I got up around 0520 after a very restless night. I got to the Worcester airport (ORH) a little after 7 and waited for Mario (stopped for coffee). Checked the fuel in N4669L – it had flown 0.6 hours after me so Mario called for a top-off which took a long time. Preflight was good. Mario also checked my flight planning and scared the crap out of me when he told me that I had screwed up in planning a VOR-to-VOR flight, it was supposed to be direct, and he had told me this based on his talk with Ray! Oops. I figured I would fess up with Ray and offer to re-do it on the spot. This stuff delayed my takeoff, and by the time I landed on 33 at SFZ (OK, bit low in pattern), it was just about 0900 – no time for more practice landings.

I secured the plane (including chocks), grabbed all the stuff, and went in the FBO to meet Ray Collins. He’s a 50-something guy, gray hair, very airline-pilot-like (he flies MD-80’s for Continental). Serious but not stern or scary, nice guy. He had some standard “jokes” which were not all that funny (not jokes as much as “patter” I guess – putting me at ease?). He described the plan for the test, looked over my paperwork (no comment on my 98% written), and began the oral drill. He said he gives a very straightforward private exam, no silly stuff like leaving his seatbelt off and busting you if you don't notice. He had a few regulation things, what can you do as a private pilot (pro rata share, not for hire, etc.), and how high must you fly over congested areas (1000 feet above any obstacle within 2000 feet). He asked a bunch of chart questions (what’s this symbol, tell me what this symbol tells you about Keene airport, etc.). Some right-of-way diagrams, along with runway/taxiway diagrams for some incursion questions – landing here, departing here, ATIS says this, ground says “taxi to 24,” can you cross 15? Tricky, it is active despite ground instructions, so you can’t cross it – I was concerned but not perfect on the response (he said it would be a bad clearance but could happen if controller were rushed). He liked the questions to teach lessons, not just test you. Some airplane system questions. Overall, pretty easy, and he said I had no really weak areas – “OK, let’s fly.”

Oh yeah, somewhere in there he reviewed my cross-country planning and weight and balance calcs. He said he did NOT prohibit VOR/airway navigation – even GPS would be legal if it were in the panel. But he reserves the right to say that the VOR or GPS has failed in flight, so navigate without it. So my stuff was fine – VOR-based but with plenty of visual checkpoints.

He watched the preflight, more or less, then asked me a couple of questions like “what’s this?” (fuel vent) and “show me the static port.” There was one thing he asked that I didn’t know – “me either” (ha ha), but he did, it was an air vent for the avionics (behind the panel). We squeezed into the plane and I followed checklists to start the engine, get ASOS info, and taxi out to runway 05 (telling North Central traffic each major move – winds were shifting so it could have been 05 or 33). I was careful to stop short of 33 and look for traffic before crossing, and after my run-up, I spun the airplane around to visually check all parts of any patterns for the two (really four) legal runways.

Ray said “short field takeoff, pattern, soft field landing.” My wind correction was poor on both of these things – I did not hold the centerline very well, plus there were those damn sky divers floating down on the airport. Second climb-out was better but I was not accurate on holding 1440 MSL in the pattern – I was high and low by at least 100 feet. “Regular landing. Good cross wind procedure” was better, not mint, but OK (I blame it on the shifting, gusty winds – he later said I was tense on landings and advised me to “walk the rudder” back and forth on my next few landings to loosen up my feet). Then I was off to Lebanon, NH – I started my timer for the first leg (only 4 minutes away by my plan, plus 6 minutes allowed to depart the pattern, climb, and get on course). I think I made that one within one minute. I had also tuned and ID’d GDM (Gardner VOR) and intercepted the 341 degree radial I had planned. I spotted and pointed out #2 ahead (Whitinsville), and he broke it off. “Take me to Boston VOR,” and he gave me the frequency. I centered the needle with “TO” and turned to the indicated course. OK, he says "my airplane, put on foggles!" (actually it took me a few minutes to get stabilized at the altitude and heading he wanted before this, due to the bumpy air and perhaps some PIO since I was no doubt pretty tense). It looked like Ray was in a hurry to get back.

I was thankful for the 0.7 hours of IR practice with Mario the day before. It was bumpy and I used up most of my 200 feet on the maneuvers, but I kept it in pretty good control overall (didn’t lose it like I had done with Mario). He gave me one unusual attitude recovery, a nose-low left turn, pretty mild – I saw black and pulled power, leveled the wings, and recovered quickly with little altitude loss. Then he had me do some slow flight (50 knots) including a mild turn – I was not accurate on the altitude holding. Then it was a power-off stall and I forget what else – maybe nothing. Back to SFZ (inbound checklist). I think he HAD gotten a radio call (Unicomm) about meeting someone, so I think he really was in a hurry to get back.

So what did I miss? A lot – no ground reference maneuvers, no steep turn, no simulated engine-out emergency, no power-on stall. I could have done all these things though my recent steep turns have not been things of beauty, and my ground reference session with Mario was only fair. Ray talked me through the 45 degree entry for runway 33 (not needed, but OK), and he reminded me that I was getting low in the pattern before final – not holding TPA, a bad thing. I did an OK landing on 33, catching some drift at the last minute (he even said “you just caught that one”). I used the first turnoff and reported “clear of active” to North Central traffic. Ray said, well, I’ll tell you now, you passed, you’re a private pilot (very matter-of-fact), but I do want to discuss a few things with you. HUH? IS THAT IT? Yup, I guess so! After 26 years of doing this, I guess he knows that you're anxious for the verdict!

The things he wanted to discuss were holding altitude in the pattern (a problem I have seen only at SFZ – not at ORH or the quite tiny Southbridge – “a likely story”) and my landings. He said I seemed very tense on landings and didn’t use the rudder aggressively enough to stop drift (true). He suggested walking the rudders my next few landings. He said you can certainly fly the airplane, but pay attention to these things. He also said “it WAS bumpy up there, but if you wait for perfectly smooth days you won’t fly much” – I was OK with the bumps except for the worry that they would bust me on limits (but he cut me slack on this apparently).

Then in the FBO, I was shocked to see my brother Glen! He had been there the whole time (not in Pittsburgh as I thought) with digital camera in-hand. Cool to have those check-ride-day pictures. Ray completed the paperwork, I wrote him a $200 check, and he wrote me a temporary airmen’s certificate. He also gave me the customary congrats and hand shake. Glen says Ray rushed out while I was in the men’s room after the paperwork.

I hung out with Glen and busted his chops over his weight – not to be cruel, but for W&B for a possible “first victim” ride. But at 240 pounds, I still had too much fuel on board to be under max gross with Glen – sorry Bro, sometime soon in the Piper Warrior! Gotta call up Bernie and schedule a couple of lessons and really focus on getting the procedures and landings down cold for that plane so I can solo it soon. That's the next phase – after that, who knows? Maybe the instrument rating in a year or so?

Final numbers for the private include 88.1 total hours, of which 63.5 were dual, 24.6 solo (does not include 2.2 PIC hours for the check ride and ORH-SFZ flights). If I estimate the cost as $80/hour dual and $55/hour solo, this adds up to about $6500 for the private training (not including supplies, books, etc. which probably added another $1000 or so, not counting Betty's contribution for my transceiver and vitally important leather flight jacket!). I think I heard that the average for total hours for private is something like 70, so if you consider that my first three years were basically false starts (18 hours total time before June 2000), I'm right on the average (about 70 hours total June 2000 to May 2001).

Monday, March 05, 2001

FAA "Written" Exam (98%)

Supplemental entry (non-flying): This past weekend I was home and and able to focus on flying stuff.  Mainly I studied for the FAA written exam so I could finally get that thing out of the way.  I used the Gleim book and my preparation notes to brush up on general rough spots (light gun, magnetic compass errors, category vs. class, takeoff distance charts).  I also read a few chapters in the Jepp Practical Test Study Guide (a great book, BTW, even though it's from 1997 – I need to do more with this before my check ride).  This was mainly to review airspace topics, FAR's, and weather reporting formats.  Finally I re-took the final exam in the FliteSchool software and got 94% (6 wrong on that 100 question test).  I reviewed the missed questions and called it a night at 9 pm, drinking a couple of beers and watching a documentary on test pilots (Aviation Week video I bought some time ago at Buck-a-Book, very good stuff) and then the video of "Independence Day" (a live-action alien invasion cartoon, but it has some cool SFX). 

Sunday I went over to Amity where I checked in with Mario (to get my sign-off for the written) and with Bill Allen (the CFI who gives the tests).  The LaserGrade software is great – very user friendly, with on-screen figures and excellent review/summary features.  The 60 question test was harder than I expected, at first glance.  There were two pressure altitude questions that I forgot how to do (later remembered – it's just the right side table of the density altitude chart).  There were many questions I had not seen for a while on reviews and tests, including what to do if you suspect detonation on climbout (lower the nose a bit for better cooling).  On one of the landing distance graphs, I could not get anywhere near the answers they had, but I took the largest value, and I guess it was right (it was #3690, and I still get only about 1600 feet, while the answer is B, 1925 feet).  I hate those graphs!

Airspace questions gave me some trouble, and there was one I thought I missed but did not (#3622, Lowe Airport on Figure 27).  This is a private airport with no airspace markings (though it's in a MOA which confused me).  I finally said it was Class G, surface to 14,500 MSL, which was right (NB: this is a rule I didn't remember at all, but there are several cases for the lower limit of Class E, such as 1200 feet for Federal Airways, but default if none of these apply is that Class E begins at 14,500 feet, extending to 18,000 feet which is where Class A starts).  There were others that confused me (there was one I can't remember where I wrote "NFI" on my notes, but it wasn't an airspace question, and the one question I missed WAS an airspace/chart question, subject area J37 according to the printed test report – though I read through all the J37 questions in my Gleim book and as far as I recall, I answered all three that were on my test correctly – oh well).  I check-marked the questions I was unsure about and went back and reviewed them, keeping my original answers in all but one or two cases. 

It took me about 90 minutes, but the bottom line is – I did GREAT, missing only one question for 98% on the real thing, better than any practice test (other than a few of the 10 or 20 question no-figures-mini-tests I did on Kip's FAA Practice web site).  Mario says this can really help with the DPE (check ride examiner), since they tend to go easy on the oral stuff if you have a high score on the written.  I sure won't ASSSUME that, so I have a lot of study left to do, but it doesn't hurt.  There is a big difference between multiple choice and spitting out an essay question on the day of the check ride!

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Cross Winds Under Control

I'm having some trouble with weather and schedules again, and all I could find on the schedule was an hour with Mario in 661, but I took it anyway, and it was a good lesson.  When I called ATIS, the wind was 220° at 8 knots, almost a direct crosswind (well, 70° anyway).  This sounded like a good chance for some pattern work with crosswind, something I hadn't done in a while.  One MAJOR thing I need to do all the time…
  • Draw and/or talk through the projected wind situation before the flight, or if it's a return from x-country, after I get wind info from ATIS!
By this I mean, "OK, 220° is from the southwest, 70° from the runway heading, a LEFT crosswind, so I will need to establish a crab to the left on takeoff, and I will have a headwind on the crosswind leg, so I'll be slow there.  Then on left downwind leg, the wind will be from the RIGHT, so I'll have to crab out to the right, away from the runway to keep spacing constant, and I will have to make MORE than a 90° turn onto base leg, where I will have a TAIL wind.  This will make the base leg very fast, so I will have to anticipate this and start my turn to final earlier to avoid the overshoot.  Final approach will require a crab to the LEFT to hold the centerline, and on short final, transition to the slip, HOLDING IN the left bank to counter drift and straightening the airplane's axis with right rudder to stay aligned with the runway.  This will put me in a left-wing-low attitude so left (upwind) wheel will touch down first."  Whew!  That's a lot to think through, but as long as it still isn't automatic for me, I should do that sort of self-talk every time.  Mario says this is good preparation for instrument work when you can't use visual references.

Anyway, once I got in the pattern, I did pretty well with all this, and my pattern was fairly square.  I did overshoot final once or twice (out of 6), but flew back over the centerline OK.  I drifted on short final a couple of times but corrected OK – better to correct sooner and keep it lined up all the way, of course.  On one landing, there was a truck on the runway and I was told to do a 500 foot "low approach" – I didn't know what this meant, and I had some trouble with the read-back (I need to learn to be more brief in general on the radio).  What it means is, DON'T LAND, just pass over the runway at 500 feet or higher (1500 MSL at ORH).  Apparently this is for spacing, to keep the pattern going, more or less a holding action, but it was weird.

On another approach, there was an Allegheny Dash-8 turboprop on long final ahead of me, so Brian (tower) said "continue downwind, I'll call your base."  I properly slowed down to avoid going too far out over the city, and I stayed high to be above the airliner's path to avoid wake turbulence.  It was cool to see him pass me counter-parallel at about 1 mile distance (maybe less) as I was downwind and he was on short final.  All in all, it was a good flight.  Mario said I really have the procedure down and just need some more practice to smooth it out.  Other notes:
  • Radio brevity!  Don't read back everything, just the essential stuff (what they want you to actually do). There's an article on this in the new March issue of Flight Training magazine.
  • Remember to flare!  And keep the nose up as I do, ready to add power if I flare a bit too high, which I still often do!
  • Fly the airplane all the way to the runway!  Keep the wind correction in until all three wheels are rolling, and use back pressure to keep weight off the nose wheel and improve braking.
Time: 0.8 hours dual, C152 at ORH.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Solo Practice

After the morning session, I gave Mario a ride home to Leominster (his car was in the shop), figuring I'd work on the written or something at home.  But I called ATIS and was surprised that wind was 310 degrees at 8 knots, pretty nice.  So I headed over and took 661 up for an hour of maneuver practice out near the Quabbin.  This time I wrote down some headings, altitudes, and speeds to give me a plan once I got out there, and I mostly followed it, and did pretty well, even on the steep turns and semi-slow flight (I only took it to 50 knots).  I also played a little bit with controlling the plane with only trim and rudder (and throttle – I watched a Barry Schiff/AOPA video on this the other night).  This was followed by a good touch and go and a fairly hard full-stop landing.  This takes me up to 10 hours of solo time, which is the FAA required minimum, so that's one requirement completed, at least.

Time: 1.0 hours solo, C152 at ORH.

Shear Madness (Short Field Technique)

Tuesday weather held up pretty well, and even though 69L was down with the transponder and vacuum pump problems I discovered Monday, I was able to swap planes and get two flights in 661, one with Mario, one solo.  With Mario, I worked on short field takeoffs and landings, and I didn't do so well, partly because of the headwind (20+ knots mostly down the runway – I think ATIS said 15G22 or something) and strong gusts and wind shear that we experienced.  It was a real bucking bronco in the pattern, with bad downdrafts in a few places (including climb-out a couple of times – dropped suddenly from 700 fpm to zero, though it didn't get negative). 

We did 6 landings (Mario did one as a demo), and my big problem was flaring high.  On one I think I came close to a prop strike when I let the nose drop after flaring too high.  I was also slow in learning to kill the power, RETRACT FLAPS and apply FULL BACK YOKE as soon as I touched down before applying maximum braking (this is SHORT FIELD landing!).  I need another lesson on this, and some practice, ideally NOT on such a gusty day.  At least I got ONE unfinished requirement out of the way (instruction on short field procedures).  It also showed that I could handle the airplane in some ugly winds.  But…
  • I'm still VERY weak on wind awareness and establishing corrections for the wind on my pattern turns.  I need to think about this on paper AND have a review lesson with Mario on ground reference maneuvers.
  • Need to do this short field stuff on an actual short field next time!
  • When there's a strong headwind on landing, TURN BASE EARLIER so you don't get so far from the runway (normal position would not allow a glide to the runway if you lost power at 2000 feet turning final).
  • Read up and CHAIR FLY the short and soft field procedures before next lesson (next lesson will focus on instrument work, unusual attitude recovery which I should have done before x-c solos, oops).  Maybe make up some "flash cards" with the procedures on index cards to carry in my knee board folder.
  • Some days after this flight I was looking at some of the on-screen training material for Flight Unlimited III (FU3 – good training stuff actually) and found a comment about short-field landing techniques and winds.  It basically said that a windy, gusty day is not the time to be practicing short-field approaches where you are on final at maybe 55 knots with full flaps.  You need to carry extra speed and use less flaps, and this means it isn't really short field practice!  This was not a good day for short field work!
Time: 1.1 hours dual, C152 at ORH, local.

Monday, January 01, 2001

Big Gap in the Fossil Record!

By way of explanation for the big gap in retro-posting from September 2000 to May 2001: too busy with other stuff and lost interest in this project. Then I got an email from a Central Massachusetts guy who is thinking about flight lessons. He found this blog and asked me about flight instructors and stuff. I sent him an email and promptly got all nostalgic about flying. Since I'm in Brussels on business and not likely to resume flying any time soon, I dug out my flight notes and decided to skip a lot of steps and post my check ride story.

The picture here is from 1/29/01 when I took a solo flight from ORH over to Westborough to have a look at my office building area and snap a few quick pix. Flying sure is fun. So is music. So is studying Japanese. Why don't I do any of those things these days? I guess I'm doing this instead. And my regular blog, Music of the Spheres.

I should at least fill in a few gaps here, just in case someone else finds it. If you do: ignore this crap and KEEP FLYING.