Sunday, July 03, 2016

About This Blog

(This post is future dated to appear near the top of my posts - today's actual date is 12/15/14.)

This blog is a journal (of sorts) about learning to fly. It started as a retro-journal (writing years after the fact of my original 1997-2001 lessons, from notes I had kept for myself, which are not yet completely converted to this blog - there are gaps). I did a little flying in 2004 (only one post here so far). Then in summer 2011, I started flying again (tail wheel lessons), and it became a current flight lesson journal for a while.

Flying seems to be such a sporadic thing for me (except as an airline passenger, which is pretty regular). I flew a lot in July and August 2011, flying with Ed Urbanowski in his wonderful Citabria, finally learning to land a tail dragger. Then I stopped. Why? Business travel, general work-load at work, family stuff. The usual suspects. I really wanted to get the tail wheel endorsement this year but I just didn't make it, and here it is winter already.

As of this writing, my recent non-airline flights have been "warbird" flights with the Collings Foundation. One was on September 26, 2011. It was in a B-24 Liberator bomber, and I was not at the controls (but it was a VERY cool flight). I was briefly at the Norden bombsite (shown above). No stick time in this beast! The other was in an AT-6 Texan aerobatics flight at the Collings Headquarters in Stow, MA, during one of their historic airshows in August 2012. It was short, but lots of fun (see below). I got some stick time, and Rob Collings showed me some simple aerobatics, loops and barrel rolls. I would love to do more of that! That was the original reason I was interested in tailwheel training, since most common aerobatic planes are tail draggers.

I hope to get back to real flying one of these days.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Posting has resumed (somewhat)...

(This post is future dated to appear near the top of my blog entries - actual date 12/15/14.)

After an initial burst of enthusiasm , I've slowed down in moving my notes from Word to this blog. I have notes on many lessons and solo flights between first solo in late July 2000 and passing the check ride in May 2001. To be continued...

UPDATE IN 2007: Apparently to be very slowly continued. My apologies to the handful of people who noticed this blog and commented or asked questions back in November or December 2006. I've been busy with other things and haven't even looked at this blog for ages! If you still have a question or anything, please email me (bruceirvingmusic at

One general comment: If you're thinking about taking flying lessons, DO IT.

In the meantime, it's a snowy Saint Patrick's Day, and I was thinking about flying for some reason. I do miss flying and I hope I'll be able to get back to it this summer. Today I've added a few of my post-solo flight notes, from August to early September 2000, including my first (dual) cross country flight.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Now it's a rather nice day in May 2008 in Brussels where I am teaching a class this week. I added a post on my May 2001 check ride and may try to fill in a few more lesson notes in the weeks to come. The more regular writing is all in Music of the Spheres. Although even those are not especially regular.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Now it's a rainy night in Tokyo in November 2009 and for some reason I decided to add a couple of posts to this sadly neglected historical blog. I added posts on a couple of interesting lessons in fall 2000 (and one non-lesson that would have been cool if it had happened, a P-51 flight).  It's also sad that I'm not flying any more these days (except for many hours on international commercial flights), but that's life. Maybe someday.

UPDATED UPDATE (July 5, 2011): I've finally started to fly again, so there are actually NEW entries in this blog - check for posts from June 2011 and forward. Since I'm actually trying to get current again, this is also motivating me to review some of my old flight lesson notes, and as I do so, I will add them here. I already added a few entries from winter-spring 2001, the final months before my May 2001 check ride. So this is now a RETRO and CURRENT flying blog.

STILL GROUNDED (December 15, 2014); Winter again. Thinking about flying again, but not flying, except in big airliners over big oceans, far from any flight controls. Sigh. But I found a fabulous blog by someone who really does fly, regularly, and writes very well about his adventures. His photographs are great too. Check out Photographic Logbook.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More Consistent Landings

This morning was beautiful with clear skies and nearly calm winds. I did five landings, the first four of which were good landings (according to Ed), though of course there were things that could have been a little better on each one. A couple of times I got down to 60 mph before I was over the runway. We like to have 65-70 coming over the trees because when the Citabria gets down to 60, you start to sink faster and if there's some wind shear, you are closer to a stall than you would like to be at 60 or 80 feet up. I used a slip on a couple of final approaches where I felt I was high and/or fast, noticing this myself before Ed said anything (except on the first landing where he said "we're pretty high" right after I turned final).

The fifth landing was good right down to the runway, but I didn't hold it off quite long enough and was late adding power, so it was a pretty hard landing with a slight bounce, but OK.

I've made a lot of progress in the last few flights with Ed. Takeoffs are good, though we refined those a bit this morning. When I work the tail up on the takeoff roll, I've been holding a level flight attitude. It's better to keep it slightly nose up (slightly tail down, video here) so when you reach flying speed (about 60 mph), it practically flies itself off without a distinct "rotate" back-stick motion (maybe slight back pressure). Less chance to get slow this way. Patterns are good, and I'm doing better holding the best climb sight picture (around 75 mph) and keeping the ball centered. I'm noticing problems sooner - keeping up with the airplane if not "ahead of the airplane" as Ed always urges me to always stay. All of this contributes to better landings - consistency avoids problems, and when problems occur, fixing them sooner (like line-up with the runway center line) means you can focus more on the landing itself.

One of my biggest problems still seems to be getting the stick ALL the way back as I touch down. I've got to get that under control so Ed never has to mention it again. 

Here's a video of Ed landing the Citabria this morning (HD, not hat cam VGA). Doesn't LOOK that hard, does it?

0.9 hours dual in Citabria (8/31/11, 3B3)

Monday, August 29, 2011

See How It Flies

See How It Flies is an excellent on-line book by John Denker. The subtitle is “a new spin on the perceptions, procedures, and principles of flight,” and I think it is quite unique in the way that it integrates practical flying techniques with the physics of flight. Denker is both a physicist and a flight instructor, so I guess such integration makes a certain amount of sense. It’s really a book on how to fly airplanes, with a lot of background material on why things work the way they do. It’s been around since 1996, and since it’s an on-line book (and free, by the way), Denker has updated it over the years based on reader feedback. Copyright date indicates 1996-2008.
Denker seems to be the kind of guy who knows a lot about everything. He wanted simulated wind tunnel graphics for the book, so he wrote a wind tunnel simulator program. He’s done extensive flight instruction, so he knows the kinds of questions and confusions inexperienced pilots are apt to have (though I'm sure most experienced pilots could also learn a lot from this book). He’s a physicist, so he’s not afraid to put a few mathematical expressions in his book (though not a lot – there are many more diagrams and charts than equations). But he’s also a pilot, so he’s not afraid to provide simple, intuitive rules of thumb when they can help (some of them quite literally rules of thumb, like “a thumb at arm’s length subtends 4 degrees,” which is a nice glide slope angle, see figure).
If you want to print the book or have it available off-line, it’s a bit tricky because it is spread across many separate web pages. Saving it correctly with all its graphics and links intact is not easy (at least for me). I was able to find a couple of PDF links to the complete book, but none of the most recent version (this one is from 2001).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ups and Downs on Landings

Still staying in the pattern at Sterling, trying to get my tail wheel landings under better control. On Tuesday Ed suggested I land on the paved runway rather than the grass, which I tend to prefer because the line-up isn’t quite so critical on the wide grass runway, giving me a chance to concentrate on other things (like getting the stick all the way back – at just the right time, of course). At first the runway seemed just a bit narrow (though it's 40 feet wide), and I added “poor line-up” to my usual woes (high and fast on final). Various combinations of these issues resulted in 3 go-arounds before I made a successful landing. And that one wasn’t the greatest. So much for Tuesday.

I reviewed my hat cam video and realized that my turn to base is not very consistent – so I usually end up high, or very rarely low, on final approach. I resolved to really try to make this better on the next flight, which was Friday morning. I told Ed about my theories and asked if he would fly one pattern as a demo, which he did (for some reason seeing a demo always helps me to do better). I don’t like to use ground landmarks in the pattern (since these only work for one runway), but Ed mentioned that he starts his turn just after a small pond that I had also noticed when flying runway 34. Fair enough, and that landmark helped me to be more consistent. I did four pretty decent landings, one go-around, and one bouncer (saved with power), unfortunately on the last one. I did slips without prompting on two of the landings (pilot in command!), which is good. Still seeking the elusive goal of "consistency," but I still felt pretty good about this session. I posted one hat cam landing video on Flickr.
Typical pattern for 34 at Sterling
Monday morning at 8 am is doubtful due to possible after-effects of Hurricane Irene (no damage at my house, and I hope the airport and Ed’s planes are OK). But I have a Wednesday morning flight booked, and weather is supposed to be good all week.

0.8 hours dual Citabria (3B3, 8/23/11)
1.2 hours dual Citabria (3B3, 8/26/11)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Online Flight Simulators!?!

This is something really cool that I will have to return to when I have some spare time and brain cells. is a Florida based company whose mission is "To provide quality online aviation education products accessible to anyone with Internet access." They have a number of online aviation calculators, but more impressively, a set of Flash-based online flight simulators to support instrument flight training. There are no out-the-window visuals here, just the instruments and simple horizontal and vertical navigation views (a simple map and a side view of your path in altitude). There is simplified aircraft control from the keyboard (pitch, bank, and airspeed), and many controls for the instruments, panel layout, etc. Did I mention that the online versions are all free? Yes, free!

What this has showed me so far is that I have forgotten pretty much everything about VOR navigation! I used to know that stuff pretty well, but it's been years since I've used it. I'm sure this will be a useful and fun tool for reviewing VOR and other aspects of basic instrument flight and navigation that I hope to have use for in  coming months and years. Meanwhile I'm still going in circles trying to get my landings up to par so I can do some of this other stuff! Patience, Grasshopper, patience!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Crabby Crosswind Blues

Although conditions were pretty good at Sterling this morning, the weather at Spencer was bad and Ed couldn't fly out in time for our 8 am flight. So we rescheduled for 1 pm. When I got to the airport, a storm was on the way, winds were a bit gusty and variable, and Ed said "it's not going to be an easy day up there." He was right. We also had the less familiar (for me) runway 16 in use rather than the typical 34. Plus there were a few gliders around, so the gliders and the Piper Pawnee tow plane would be in the pattern with me. None of this should be a big deal, but I especially wasn't ready for the crosswind aspect, and I was a bit apprehensive. In retrospect I should have asked Ed to review and brief me on the situation, talk through what we would be seeing, and maybe even fly the first pattern and landing as a demo. I hadn't seen gusty crosswinds in a long time (maybe 2004!), but the weather was coming in, and if we waited, we wouldn't have much time to fly. So we flew.

I tried to use proper stick technique when taxiing out (no taxiway for 16 so you have to back taxi on the runway), stick forward when taxiing with a tailwind, plus some left or right stick into the wind as needed. Crosswind seemed to mostly be coming from the right on the approaches (maybe from due south) but the runway windsocks were variable and mostly down the runway. Takeoffs were mostly normal and mostly OK, though I was never really quite sure what I should be doing with the stick since the crosswind wasn't steady. The correct answer is "make corrections based on what you see and feel," so on the initial climb, I established a crab to the right, but I don't think I held the runway heading too well, and I didn't consciously adjust for it again until final. I should have been thinking about this both for the timing and the angles of my turns (e.g., when you turn left "crosswind leg" with a right crosswind with respect to runway heading, you have a tailwind on that leg and need to start your turn to downwind sooner). So without proper wind correction, my patterns ended up very wide and not very square.

With a (mostly) tailwind on the downwind leg, I should have started the turn for base earlier than usual, so I ended up quite far from the runway when I turned final (which I tried three different ways on the three landings, none of them lined up too well). But I finally got established on a crabbed final approach as shown in the hat cam video frame above (75 mph, 760 feet, 300 feet AGL). Due to the gusts, I probably should have flown the final a bit faster than the normal 65-70 mph, and I probably did since I tend to be fast on final. But the gusts were still a problem (aka "wind shear") and on the first approach, the right wing dropped pretty hard, and I was not quick enough to respond ("behind the airplane") and Ed added power and made the correction.

Once we were over the trees and coming down on the grass, we should have transitioned from the crab to a slip with the right wing low, and I think I did, though the crosswind was not very strong at the surface and it seems like the wings were mostly level on all three touch-downs. On the first landing, Ed said, "that was not bad, but you are still behind the airplane, you have to be quicker with the needed corrections." On the third landing I inexplicably released the back pressure just after touchdown, something you just can't do in a tail wheel airplane. Duh! We quit after three landings.

Overall an anxious but instructive session. Although you can't execute a fixed "crosswind plan" when the winds are changing, you do need to notice the trends, see what the airplane is doing, and proactively correct for it, and at least have in mind things like "hmm, from this drift it seems we have a crosswind from the right," and with this info in mind, make appropriate corrections on the rest of the pattern. On the first pattern, I should have figured out why I was so far from the runway compared to what I usually do - wind effects! Plan for them on the next one! The novelty of runway 16 meant that I didn't have familiar horizon and ground references for my pattern, though of course you shouldn't rely on such things since every runway is different. Crosswinds are always tough and I haven't really worked on this in years, but I really do need to get back to the "pilot in command" attitude and make the airplane do what I need it to do (which means noticing when it's not!).

Ed also commented post-flight that he has seen professional pilots (that ain't me) do more than one go-around on a windy, gusty day, not even attempting the landing until they have figured out what's going on and are satisfied they can make the landing safely. At least one of my three landings should have been a go-around. Aeronautical decision making!

0.7 hours dual in Citabria (8/21/11)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vicarious Helicopterism

Today my wife and I attended a wonderful open house at Marlboro Airport (9B1), sponsored by North Andover Flight Academy, a helicopter flight school based at Lawrence Airport, with a satellite operation at Marlboro. There was an FAA safety seminar on helicopter topics, a free barbecue, various pilots and students to talk with, and $99 helicopter intro rides. All great fun for an aviation geek like me, but this was really not about me - it was actually for my wife! Although she has never had much interest in small airplanes, our recent Grand Canyon helicopter tour awakened a previously unknown passion for rotary wing flight. Who knew?

So she took a 30 minute intro flight in a Robinson R22, and she absolutely loved it. She got to control the helicopter in straight and level flight (hovering and other more tricky maneuvers will all come in due time, but usually not on a 30 minute intro lesson). Her instructor (Anthony) was wonderful. She will definitely be taking more lessons. Since my feet and hands are still trying to master tail wheel landings this summer, I won't be doing any helo flights myself, but I will be encouraging my wife on this new adventure. I'm very proud of her!

NAFA's blog has a more complete report on the open house here. There's also an article by a Metro West Daily News reporter who took an intro flight with Anthony in the R22.

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Presidential Hat Cam

I decided to ban hand-held cameras from my tail wheel flight lessons this summer - too distracting when I need to focus on learning tricky new skills. But I was also thinking it would nice to have a hands-free way to record video of my flights so I could review them and maybe learn more quickly from my mistakes. I know there are various "action cams" available these days, but I figured they would be really expensive.

Then a couple of weeks ago Amazon had a daily deal on a tiny Kodak Zm1 VGA video camera for $30, so I ordered one, along with an 8 GB MicroSDHC memory card (4 hours of video). The Zm1 doesn't have a tripod mount, so I had to improvise with a small bolt, epoxy, a nut, and a couple of large washers. I drilled a hole in the brim of a baseball cap I rarely (never) wore (sorry Caroline), a Washington, DC souvenir with a large presidential seal on the front. Voila! The camera only weighs 2.6 ounces (maybe 4 ounces with the hardware), so it works pretty well on the brim of the hat. I have to be careful to position the hat so the camera points where I'm looking (and not mess it up when I put on my headset or move my head around the cockpit). The camera shoots upside down as mounted but I can fix that easily in the editing software.

Bottom line: based on one test flight, it works. Samples here and here (and above). The low res VGA video is not very pretty but is adequate for evaluating what went wrong with some of my recent landings. I can get enough of a look at the airspeed indicator and altimeter along with the front and occasional side views. The camera has no image stabilization, but the head motion and airplane vibrations are not a problem.

Unfortunately I saw a sample video that one of Ed's other students shot with a ContourHD mounted with a suction cup on the right door window. Really gorgeous full HD video, and the CountourHD costs less than I thought ($139). I'm sorely tempted but will try to resist and work with the hat cam for at least a few flights.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In the pattern: Consistency and Decision Making

My last Citabria flight with Ed was on August 3, and although he came back from vacation last Saturday, the two flights we had booked earlier this week were both canceled due to weather. I was making decent progress on landings on August 3, but two weeks off usually results in some backsliding, and that was true this morning. First the good news: takeoffs and basic air work in the pattern were still OK, and I did better in lining up with the extended runway centerline on the turn from base to final, so I wasn’t as distracted by the need to zig-zag the airplane back to the correct (lateral) approach path on final.

The bad news fell into two areas, inconsistency and delayed decision making. The inconsistency comes mostly from the downwind leg to final approach. Starting altitude is generally OK (TPA 1500 feet), but my spacing from runway on downwind tends to vary and sometimes is too close, even without a crosswind to confuse matters. I really need to have the runway above the half-way point on the left wing strut or my base leg will be too short. When this happens, I end up high on final. I can correct this to some extent by extending the downwind leg by a few seconds after I’ve brought the power back to idle. This gives more time to descend (although you really don’t want to be heading away from the runway while descending – bad if the engine quits – better to fly a properly spaced downwind and not have this problem).

OK, so I turn base and then final, and usually I’m high (and sometimes fast too, but there should be time to slow down if I notice soon enough). Here’s where delayed decision making comes in. I’m still relying too much on Ed to say things like “you’re high – how about a slip.” I need to notice and act on this myself, perhaps announcing it first in case I am misjudging. But if I don’t say or do anything, Ed can only assume I don’t see the problem. That’s the first decision point. The second one is the go-around. If Ed leaves it to me to fix up the approach and I don’t, I end up fast and high, and if it’s too late for a slip, or if I blow the landing and bounce high, it’s time for a decisive go-around. I need to show him that I can judge and act on these things without his help.

This was the first flight with my new video “hat cam.” I’ll probably write a separate post about that, but I got the entire flight on video from my own perspective. I have edited out the approach/landing phase (about 2.5 minutes) for each time around the pattern, so I can review these clips to see what went right (and wrong). I won’t do that here (maybe I’ll do some in a separate post with some screen grabs if that seems generally instructive). Of the five landings, one was a bounce, saved with power (Ed’s prompting), and one was a TWO bounce monster, for which Ed initiated a full-power go-around because I was not solving the problem and we were running out of runway. One landing was pretty good and mostly me (my best set up and airspeed control), and two required long slips on final, which Ed prompted and I flew. I am doing better on getting the stick back in the final flare for landing and keeping control on the ground roll-out.

All in all not an impressive performance, and I hope to redeem myself on Sunday if the weather cooperates. I plan to "forget" that Ed is back there and make all the calls and actions myself, even if this means I do a few go-arounds. I have the basic skills to land this airplane, but I need to work on making it do what I want it to do, and that involves making some timely decisions about when to apply those basic skills. It's time to integrate everything as I once was able to do the in the C152 way back in 2001 when I passed my check ride.

1.0 hours dual in Citabria (8/18/11)