Learning to Fly

March 10, 2012 - It's all good
November 14, 2010 - Instrument Checkride passed!
February 15, 2010 - Jen's first solo!
October 25, 2009 - Broadening my horizons
October 4, 2009 - And then there were two...
September 15, 2009 - On instruments...
March 28, 2009 - Leave the plane behind...
March 21, 2009 - Finally! A new Private Pilot
March 20, 2009 - The anticipation is killing me
November 3, 2008 - The Cross-Country Flights
July 17, 2008 - First Solo!
June 17, 2008 - Making progress
May 14, 2008 - First 3 lessons
April 25, 2008 - Getting Started

March 10, 2012 - It's all good

Sorry it's been a while since this has been updated, but there's been a lot of activity in the household.  So where does this fine spring day have your intrepid flight students?  What've we been up to in the last year?

Out flying with some friends:

Formation Flying
        with 32N  Formation flying with 600DK (RIP)

Watching the regatta:
A little regatta
        off Charles Island

Flying over the state capitol:

Traffic pattern
        at KHFD  Downtown Hartford

Getting above the weather:

Above the cloud
        deck at sunset, somewhere west of Worcester  Between the layers

Getting checked out in some complex and high-performance aircraft:

Piper Arrow at
        KBID  Cessna Skylane C182RG at KBDR

Going to The City:

Above JFK  Above JFK
Manhattan skyline

And when all is done, making sure everything looks good and safe inside:

Looking aft in a Piper Warrior

Since 2010:
- Jen got her Private Pilot and is making headway on the Instrument rating, and is looking forward to some aerobatic time in an Extra 300.  She's also gotten her complex and high performance endorsements, and logged some multi-engine turbine time.
- I'm finishing up the hours needed for the Commercial license (250 minimum), and looking forward to getting my CFI rating soon after.  I've also gotten my Ground Instructor license (Advanced and Instrument) and am doing some teaching.

Some notes on the above photos:
- Formation flying is fun, just pay attention.  The red Cherokee Six at the top (600DK) was destroyed in an accident at BDR last year (someone else was flying).  That plane's been replaced in the flying club by a twin-engine Piper Seneca III, which we hope to start flying soon.
- IFR flying is fun, but it does take effort for the casual pilot to stay current.
- Flying over JFK was really fun and the controllers made it very easy and comfortable.  Great view!

November 14, 2010 - Instrument Checkride passed, and Jen's almost done too!

Today was another huge day - I passed the checkride for the "Instrument-Airplane" rating.  Now I'm legal to go fly in the clouds, and in the airspace above 18,000'.  It was another long, tiring day, but I felt really proud when the examiner said, "You did good."  And it was a great flying weekend overall, because Jen aced her private pilot written, so her checkride can't be far away.  Here's the story of my checkride day:

If you read the story of my Private checkride, you'll see it took me some effort to get to Danbury.  This time, since I was going to the same place, to meet the same examiner, I decided to get up earlier and plan more time to get there so I wouldn't be late.  Glad I did, because as I was getting all the paperwork ready, I went into the plane to find the Airworthiness Certificate and Registration, but I couldn't find them anywhere.  Every plane is different, but in this Piper Archer, there were no places in the cockpit, rear seats, or cargo area that held a plastic holder for such important documents.  I asked the line crew guys, and they had no idea, but they gave me the number for the chief mechanic.  After banging my head a few more times we figured out that in the rear seating area, if you sit back there and lean over and to the left, you'll find them in a plastic holder that's not visible because of the location and angle.  <Whew!> At least now I had all the logbooks and paperwork to be legal to demonstrate airworthiness.  I double-checked the weather forecast again, not because we had any chance of bad weather (it was a beautiful 60 degree day in November!) but to show I had my flight plan current. 

Getting to Danbury (DXR)
All in all, I still took off 20 minutes later than I had hoped to, but I got to DXR 5 minutes early, and didn't even have to go around.  I used the Bendix/King KLN90B GPS in the plane to make it easier to locate the airport.  When I went in to Executive Air, Chauncey was looking out at the yellow plane, and said he'd done checkrides in that plane many times.  That's promising.  We took care of our IACRA duties, poured a few cups of the same black coffee as last time, and settled in for the oral exam.

The Oral Exam
He used the ASA Oral exam guide to choose some questions to help guide our conversation.  We went over important topics, like what you have to do to stay legal and current, what instruments you really need to be legal for a flight (you don't need an outside air temperature gauge!), what system checks have to be done at what intervals, which instruments are pitot-static and which are gyroscopic, some failure scenarios, icing, departure procedure types, VFR-on-top, cruise clearance, communication failure, what a VFR GPS can be used for in IFR flight, the particular details of 91.175 regarding descent below the MDA, circle to land and the protected area for circling.  All in all, a good review of the IFR system, and I must've done okay because after an hour we went over the flight I had planned from DXR to PVD, discussed the approaches we would do, told me to file the cross-country, and he'd meet me out at the plane.

The Flight Test
I preflighted the plane, and when he got in I offered to explain how the seatbelts work and what we would do in an emergency landing, but he assured me he knew how they worked.  I called clearance delivery for our clearance, but since they didn't answer (and hadn't last time I tried to fly IFR out of DXR) I called on ground and they gave us the clearance we expected: cleared to PVD via CMK V3 HFD V167 PVD Direct, 3000' expect 7000' 5 after departure, departure frequency on 126.4 and our squawk code.  I then setup all the frequencies, radials and other things needed for the departure so that I wouldn't forget about them later.  Then we taxied to runway 17, checking to make sure the instruments turned as they should, and after runup called for takeoff. We had to wait a couple of minutes for them to activate our clearance, and then we tookoff through the valley that surrounds the departure end of 17. 

Got up to about 1200' and I put my foggles on, and with a slight bit of prompting, turned direct CMK.  Tower failed to contact us to change to Departure and I told the examiner I'd ask for the change, he said to wait until we got to about 3000' and if they hadn't told us by then then we'd ask.  They didn't, so I did, and when I changed over found Departure asking if we were on the air.  We were, and they gave us a vector away from CMK and toward our airway, and told to climb to 7000'.  I continued the climb and set up for our next likely frequency change, to Bradley Approach, and the examiner took my low-altitude IFR chart and pointed to it and said when we get to SORRY intersection, if they haven't had us change over to Bradley, tell them we want vectors to the ILS at Bridgeport (BDR).  Just then they contacted us to change frequency (to the one I predicted), and I called them back and said we had a change of plans and would like to cancel IFR and get vectors to the BDR ILS 6 approach. They asked if everything was all right, and I said it was fine, just had a change of plans.  They acknowledged cancel of IFR and gave us a southerly vector to place us outside the final approach course on the BDR ILS 6.

Here's the area on the low-altitude chart, courtesy of SkyVector. 
Airport Information at SkyVector.com

Here's our route as seen on Flightaware:
IFR checkride route

They vectored us out about 3 miles before STANE, the final approach fix for the ILS 06 approach (the approach plate can be found here).  I intercepted the localizer and glideslope just like I'd practiced, and tracked it down.  Because the wind was favoring runway 11, instead of 06, the tower asked if we could circle to 11 to accommodate the other traffic in the pattern.  Since a circling approach is a requirement for the checkride we decided to get it done here so just before reaching the shore, the examiner told me to take off the foggles and go visual, and I found myself just left of runway 06, and I broke off to the left at just over 400' and made a quick turn, staying within 1.3 miles of the runway as required, and placed it neatly on runway 11.  As I did, I heard in my headset the voice of my CFI, who was flying in the pattern with Jen at the same time.  It was nice hearing friendly voices.

We taxied back to 11 to takeoff again, and we headed northwest direct to CMK. Along the way we took care of the other flight maneuvers like steep turns and unusual attitudes, which were really no different than for the private exam. 

So off we went to CMK, to do the full VOR-A approach at DXR (plate here), including the outbound procedure turn, where as you are about to cross the VOR, you make a left turn to intercept radial 231 outbound, follow that for a couple minutes to get far enough away to be able to turn around and get lined up on your inbound heading.  2 minutes outbound, then a 45° left turn to 186° for 1 minute, then a 180° right turn to 006°, all the time staying within 10 miles.  My DME showed I was 4.5 away on my inbound turn which was just fine.  How do you get to your heading if you're partial panel?  By timing your turn. You get established on a magnetic heading using your compass in straight-and-level unaccelerated flight, then if you need to change heading 45°, you make a standard-rate turn of 3°/second.  So you use your clock (a required piece of equipment) to count out 15 seconds and then turn back level.  There was not much wind affecting us so it all worked out pretty closely.  Heading north I re-intercepted the 051° radial inbound, and followed the instructions to descend to 2000', cross the VOR, then continue down to 1380', after resetting my clock at the VOR.  We weren't planning on landing, but going missed, which worked out okay since once I levelled off, the tower called us for a traffic conflict so we went missed, climbed, and headed for the missed approach at ANDLE.

On the climbout the examiner told me I needed more vertical climb, and he mentioned that again in the post-exam debrief.  Something to keep in mind.  I intercepted the 043° radial in time to reach ANDLE, and did a teardrop entry and turned around in what was probably one of my best holding pattern entries ever.  As I crossed ANDLE and began my turn to go around the hold he said that was enough, gave me back my "broken" instruments and a vector of 270° to begin an intercept course for the Localizer (LOC) 08 approach at DXR, plate here.  That was relatively uneventful, he simulated being ATC and gave me headings and altitudes to descend to, which placed me outside AMORE at 2300'.  I followed the plan to cross AMORE at 2000', then started my clock and descended relatively fast to the minimum altitude of 1100'.  At 1100' I held it because my clock hadn't reached 3:16, and he asked when I can descend below that MDA, and I said when some part of the runway is clearly visible.  But since I was still foggled I had to imagine being in the soup and nothing was visible, but he said go ahead and go visual and land, which I did.  It was over!

We taxied back and went in and took care of more IACRA paperwork, invalidated my old license with a hole punch, and debriefed me on a few things that I could improve on, but which never caused any safety issue.  With a handshake and congratulations, I was now an Instrument-rated private pilot

The Triumphant Return home
After a little break I headed home, and after takeoff heard my CFI on the tower frequency say my name and a frequency, which I changed to after asking for a frequency change.  I told him I passed and got many congratulations from him and Jen, who just happened to be flying in the vicinity. What a coincidence!  They formed up on me and as a flight of two, we returned to BDR for landing.  I landed while they did a victory pass over the tower.  It was a long day, 6 hours from arrival at BDR to my return, with 2.6 hours of flying, including 1.7 on the checkride itself.  But I still felt fantastic.

What now?!
One great thing about general aviation is there's always another rating, aircraft type, or facet of flying that you haven't tried and can explore.  Another 50 hours of flight, along with some more training and I'll meet the requirements for the Commercial license, which would let me carry people for hire and is the stepping stone to the flight instructor certificate.  Along the way I'll also get checked out in some higher-capacity and high-performance planes: the club's Cessna 182 and the Cherokee Six.  More cross-countries, night flying, and some fancy maneuvers await.  And once I get the Commercial rating, it's not a lot more time to add multi-engine and seaplane ratings to that.  Jen's not far behind me with her license, so I'd better get a move-on.  See you soon!

February 15, 2010 - Jen's first solo!

Today was a huge day - Jen had her first solo flight!  She had been ready for almost 2 months, but the FAA and winter weather put delays into the process.  Still, she soloed in less time, and fewer landings, than I did, and I think her first touch-and-go's were smoother than mine.  Congratulations Jen!  Here's some action photos:

Jen's first takeoff

First landing

On the go!

Back on the ground
      after first solo. Whew!

A status update for me: Still flying a few times a month, building up the 50 hours of cross-country time necessary for the instrument rating.  Only about 5 more hours to go!  We did a flight this past weekend to Alton Bay, NH (B18) to land on the seaplane's base winter ice runway but were turned away due to weather.  We'll try again soon.

October 25, 2009 - Broadening my horizons

Last week I had a business trip to Boulder, Colorado, and on some previous visits to the area I noted some companies which offer flight training in some other kinds of aircraft, so I decided to try something new and take a couple of demo flights while I was there: glider and helicopter!

I started the day at Boulder Municipal Airport (BDU), at Mile High Gliding, where I got there early and watched some others being towed up and returning unpowered.  After a while I met Brian and he gave me an introduction to the glider I'd fly, the Schweizer SGS 2-33A.  It's a two-seater with one set of instruments, but two sets of controls.  Hanging off the pitot tube in front of you is a length of string, which you watch to adjust the rudder controls to stay coordinated.  Low tech, but highly effective. 

Here's some pictures of the plane, being set up on a small parallel runway that's just used for gliders (it's only 20 feet wide). On the bottom in front of the wheel is a steel plate which you nose over on as you slow down. There's a wheel brake too, but I think the plate does most of the work.

Being towed by a Piper PA-25. See the string?

Landing - you only get one chance.

Here's the tow plane coming in for a landing, with the tow line trailing behind.  He usually landed on the grass between the main runway and the little glider runway.

The glider was a lot of fun.  I got towed up to 9500', or about 4000' above the runway, and then just got the feel for it, did some stalls (it's really hard to stall), steep turns, and just got the feel of trying to stay up as long as possible. It wasn't a day with great thermals so it was hard to gain altitude.  But we'd land and get towed back up to do it some more.  It's not enormously practical, but it is real flying, and precision counts, especially during the landing.  It's relatively inexpensive, and you don't need a medical certificate to do it.  I can see getting a rating in that someday.

After that I drove down to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (BJC), also known as "Jeffco", and met up with Nathan at Colorado Heli-Ops, to fly a Robinson R44 helicopter.

The R44 was luxurious and felt like a BMW.  We got settled in and started the preflight. I was surprised when he started the engine that it sounded like a big snowblower, and that the blades didn't start turning at first.  After the engine warmed up, we then adjusted the throttle, which is at the end of a stick on your left on the floor, to get the RPM's synchronized and up to a certain rated percentage.  After that the engine governor took control and the big blade (and I assume the rear blade) started to slowly turn.  As it spun slowly you could feel the aircraft swaying in response to that big force in motion, but as it got faster that became less notable.

We then

The cockpit - looks a little different than an airplane.  The flight controls are different - the collective pitch control is the stick on the floor on your left, with the throttle on the end.  That adjusts the pitch of the blades collectively, or all together, and makes you climb or descend.  The cyclic adjusts the angle of the rotor disk, which can be forward/back, or left/right.  In this picture you can see the cyclic stick in front of you, which is really sensitive.  It took very little pressure to make the helicopter move in the desired direction.  On the floor are the anti-torque pedals which serve a similar purpose to rudder pedals in an airplane.

We took a short flight where we got off the ground, taxied to the runway and were given clearance to takeoff, then headed north for about 10 minutes, and then turned around and were cleared over all the buildings around the airport to do a steep descent to the company's landing pad.  It was weird being only about 20 feet above the buildings without a runway in front of you.

Opinion?  It was also a lot of fun, but a lot more expensive to fly than a glider or even a regular fixed-wing airplane.  I can see doing this someday too.

And a status update on the instrument rating?  Still need about 10 hours of instrument, and about 16 hours of cross-country pilot-in-command (PIC) time.  Just need to bore some holes in the sky and burn some avgas to build the time.  Leaf peeping?

October 4, 2009 - And then there were two...

Jen and I have been enjoying the flexibility flying gives us, as long as the weather cooperates.  A long slog to Lake George was made easy by flying to Glens Falls airport - it cut 3 hours off the trip each way.  We even got to fly past a flight of balloons on the way back! 

On these longer flights, it's nice to have a second person be able to help hold the plane straight and level, follow a heading, change altitude, or change frequencies, leaving me to set up the navigation equipment to stay on course.  We thought it would be good for Jen to get a few hours of flight training herself to feel confident in those basic skills.

So today she took her first flying lesson with Dennis, my CFII.  She went way beyond what I did on my first lesson, moving rapidly from the initial fright of this unusual activity, and showing amazing innate skillz, going on to steep turns, stalls, and a little formation flying...  I got to enjoy it from the back seat and take some pictures.

What's this foretell?  Another pilot in the making?  Stay tuned.

Jen before takeoff

Jen Flying!

A little formation

September 15, 2009 - On instruments...

It's been a while since I updated the blog, but it's not for lack of activity.  Since I was licensed I've been working toward the instrument rating, and have about another 10 hours of required time toward it (need a minimum of 40).  It's lots of fun, and I'm seemingly pretty good at it.  I guess those years of playing Flight Simulator (RIP) weren't a waste. 

Since I didn't take a lot of time flying friends and family around before continuing on with instrument training, I am a ways away from the 50 hours of required cross-country time.  Because of that, a lot of the training time has been spent traveling to other locations in the IFR system to double-up on the hours - getting instrument and cross-country time in the same trip.  So we've been to a variety of area airports, including Meriden (MMK), Bradley (BDL), Barnes (BAF), Westerly RI (WST), Orange County (MGJ), Block Island (BID), Willimantic (IJD), Chester (SNC), Groton (GON), and Glens Falls (GFL)

During much of this time, I've been flying a Piper Arrow, which is a complex aircraft, meaning it has flaps, variable pitch propeller and retractable gear.  There's an extra lever on the instrument panel for the propeller pitch.  I've flown it enough to earn my complex endorsement, one of hopefully many additional future endorsements and ratings.

Here's a pic of the panel of the Arrow, and me with my foggles, on approach to Block Island:

There's been other fun in the Instrument curriculum, like flying "partial panel", without your two main instruments- in this picture they've been covered up with sticky notes. You have to fly a non-precision approach without your two main instruments as one of the tasks of the checkride.  This went pretty well.

And last week I had a new experience - flying solo through the New York City airspace at night.  An opportunity came up to fly down to Wildwood, NJ (WWD), with my instructor, so he could pick up an airplane and fly it back.  I'd end up flying back solo in a club plane.  So we went simulated-IFR down, with me under the hood, and asked to go via JFK, then direct to WWD.  While we had skirted through NY's airspace on my night cross-country (with their permission), flying down to the Tappan Zee Bridge, we didn't really go far into the airspace.  But this time it would be right into the maw of the beast- some of the most busy airspace in the world.  But to go around it meant heading out to sea, or going 100 miles around the area, or flying over it at 8500'.

It turned out to be no big deal - as we were getting up to altitude, we requested transition through their airspace at 6500 feet (their airspace goes up to 7,000).  They worked on it and about 5 minutes later gave us the clearance to enter Class Bravo Direct JFK, then on a 220 radial direct WWD.  Cool! 

The flight down was pretty uneventful, and took about 80 minutes.  We used the autopilot most of the time, for familiarity as well as accuracy.  After dropping Dennis off I turned around and headed back.  With a 25 knot headwind it was slow going, but flight following gave me someone to talk to, or at least listen to, and helped me keep an eye on the planes landing at Philadelphia and McGuire AFB.  As I headed north it was getting dark, which was something anticipated but not looked forward to - I hadn't landed at night in 9 months.  Good thing I never took the flashlights out of my bag, and kept batteries in there.  McGuire handed me off to NY Approach and they cleared me into the Bravo at 5500 and were vectoring me as I got near JFK, to keep departures and me separated.  Seeing the 747's taking off below me and heading in my area certainly kept me on the ball.  Passing JFK the sun went down and I rigged for night.  There was a ceiling at about 5500 east of NY that seemed to be getting lower, and as I headed toward Bridgeport I could see the clouds getting closer, even in the dark.  I asked for descent and they gave me liberty to maneuver as I wanted since there was no conflict and I was getting near the edge of their airspace.  I kept clear of the clouds and ducked below, and then headed home.  I'm pleased to report my night landing went fine - stayed on the VASI the whole way down and touched down nicely.  Dennis had reminded me to keep my speed up and I did. 

An awesome flight with new experiences - solo night flight, the Class Bravo, and a two hour leg, my longest so far.  This is so great!

March 28, 2009 - Leave the plane behind...

I've now been licensed a week and am starting to take up friends.  Wednesday I took Mike for a half-hour fly around the area, just enough to get a feel for the experience. 

Today the plan was for us to fly to Hartford-Brainard and pick up another friend then fly around the area for a while, maybe down to the casinos.  A storm came through last night, and the forecast was not great, but by early afternoon the weather cleared and the storm appeared to be well south of us.  So we decided to go for a bit and see how it goes.

The flight up was nice, only 20 minutes, and Jen kept her cool.  We met Jon and then took off to the southeast.  We could see the clouds over Long Island, but the CT shore was clear.  It was about a half hour to Mohegan Sun at a nice leisurely pace, and then made a nice easy turn past Foxwoods and back toward Hartford.  By now we could see the clouds starting to roll in over the Sound and begin to cover the shoreline towns, including our original departure point.  We had a nice tailwind so there was no problem getting back to Hartford, but once we landed a weather briefing was in order.

WSI showed no significant clouds or precipitation, but obviously that wasn't quite true.  I called the line crew at Bridgeport and asked how the weather was down there, and they said they couldn't see the runway due to the fog.  Oh no!  My instructor happened to still be there and he said it was below IFR minimums and no way I was getting back there, and it was going to be like that for a couple of days.

So I arranged to leave the plane at Atlantic Aviation for a few days ($15 a day, not bad) and we'd pick it up next week.  Oh well.  It's better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than the other way around!

March 21, 2009 - Finally!  A new Private Pilot

It's over, and I did it!  I now hold a temporary Private Pilot certificate.  The checkride actually went much better than I expected, and ended up being fun. I even learned some things, which I hear is not unusual.  Here's how it went:

Got up early and got to the airport around 8, with the checkride being at another airport at 10.  Got the maintenance records for the plane and went through them again, because something had been gnawing at me.  The plane I'm flying doesn't have its original engine, it got a 180 hp upgrade years ago.  But all the performance charts seemed to have not been changed, and I was assigned to do some takeoff performance calculations based on real values.  I wanted this to be right, so I went through the actual manuals again and found there were no updated performance charts.  Hopefully that won't be a problem.

Got all the required paperwork in a folder for organization, then went and did a very solid preflight.  It was cold this morning so I needed to give some extra time to warm the engine up.  Some people came in and knew it was the big day and all had very encouraging words.  I also called Flight Service for a weather, NOTAM and TFR briefing.  All was well

Getting to Danbury
I packed everything up, double checked everything was in place and then started up a little before 9:30.  Everything was normal, and takeoff was at 9:30, and I headed on my route to Danbury.  It's only 20 miles, but the airport is behind some hills and I had not been there before, so I was kind of nervous. 

I used the VOR as a backup to my planned route, and got to the vicinity and called Tower. As I got closer I could see the approach end of  runway 26 (roughly West) between two hills so  as I turned base I started to descend.  But I had a 1000' of altitude to lose and needed to descend steeply over the highway.  As I got to the runway I knew I was fast and not going to bleed off enough airspeed to land safely, so I went around.  Tower wasn't too pleased, "I don't know, I'll figure out what to do with you", and directed me around the airport to land on runway 35 (roughly North), which was a little more into the light wind, but was shorter, and you have to descend through a valley.  Great....

This time I watched my speed a lot more and had watched someone else descend through the valley so I had an idea how to do it.  I landed right where I wanted to and slowed down in plenty of time before the end of the runway.  I taxied to the ramp, was parked by an attendant, then shutdown, gathered my things and went into Executive Air.  It had already been a long morning....

I met the examiner, who thankfully was making coffee.  We took care of the details in the FAA IACRA system, then got settled in for the oral exam.  With coffee.  Black.

The Oral Exam
He started by going through the maintenance records and asking questions about the kinds of inspections that are needed for different kinds of flying.  Check.

Then he got out the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) for the plane and paged through, asking many questions I expected and all of which were worthwhile to know: Amount of fuel, oil, max takeoff weight, the various critical airspeeds, whether the plane is spin approved, the spin recovery procedure, and how the flap control works.  Check.

Then he went through the ASA Private Pilot Oral Exam review guide and asked about 50 questions out of there.  Good thing I read through that many times over the last few weeks.  Only a couple of minor memory lapses.  Check.

Next we discussed weight & balance and my proposed flight plan. That was really brief.  I had a few checkpoints but my first major course change was at Bradley Airport. He said we'd start out on the route and he'd probably divert me before then to some other airport.  He showed me an easy way of determining your diversion heading using a pen and the VOR compass roses on the chart, which made sense and which I hadn't seen before.  Nice.  He then went over the plan and the order we'd most likely do everything.  Check.  Then it was off to do my preflight while he made a few calls.  So far, so good!

The Flight Test
We got settled in, and he noticed the GPS unit and asked if I knew how to use it.  It's not something I'm expert in, but I knew the basics.  Each of the planes I fly has a very different system.  He said not to worry, once you know one you can figure them all out.  He said he'd play with it while we flew, because he was interested in getting one of that model for his own plane. 

Taxied to the runway, and set up for a short-field takeoff.  I talked through it while I did it and he seemed satisfied.  Started my clock and off we went to Laconia!  I pointed out my first checkpoint, the confluence of two rivers, and said I also had a VOR as a backup if he wanted me to use that. He said to go ahead, use what you have, so I set up to track that, then hit my second visual checkpoint, a local highway.  About 3 minutes later he asked where we were, I pointed out some visual clues and showed them on my chart, and then he said that was fine, then pointed to Sky Acres airport (44N) on my chart and said he wanted to go there, and to give him an estimate.  I used his pen technique to point from my estimated location to Sky Acres, then moved it to a VOR, keeping it parallel to the angle it was at.  Said I thought a heading of 310° and about 25 NM.  He played with the GPS and said it said 313° and 26 NM - good estimate.  Now put that stuff away and let's do some air work. I'm feeling good!

He said to do a steep turn, which is a 45° banked turn.  I did one to the left first, and did all right, since I was looking outside like I had been practicing recently.  In recent weeks these had started to not be as good, but I did okay today.  Next to the right, and I lost a little more altitude than before but he said it was fine.  Now on to stalls...

The long-dreaded stall maneuvers, which had given me years of apprehension, went okay.  I first did clearing turns to look for traffic in the area, and slowed down at the same time, then put on full flaps and got set up in a 20° bank.  My recovery was okay and I was slowly gaining altitude, but it took me a little bit before I remembered to take off the first notch of flaps. Doh!  At least I was doing everything else right and not losing altitude....  Was that going to bust the checkride?  He then said to set up for a departure stall, I got to 60 knots, no flaps, and set full power and nose up and a slight bank, but I kept climbing and really had to work to raise the nose high to stall the plane.  Finally there was the buffeting, I identified the buffet and recovered by lowering the nose.  He was okay with it.  I guess perfection isn't a requirement.  Whew!  Now instrument work.

I put on my foggles (plastic glasses that allow you to only look at the instrument panel, not outside), and then did turns to two different headings, a climb with a turn, then descend and track a VOR radial.  Next he put the plane into two "unusual attitudes", in which he controls the plane to disorient you then leaves the plane either climbing in a turn and slowing rapidly, or descending in a turn and gaining speed.  We did both, and I thought my performance was fine.  I guess he did too, because he said to take the foggles off.  Almost there!

He identified where we were, since I had not been looking outside it wasn't obvious, but we were north of the Waterbury-Oxford airport (OXC) and Danbury was behind us.  He then took the throttle control and closed it and said I just lost my engine and not to spend much time trying to restart it, they never seemed to restart on a checkride.... Time to do an emergency landing.  I was too far from Oxford to make it there, but we were in farm country with lots of nice fields.  Earlier we had been talking about how long you can glide without your engine running, and he now said we can use this opportunity to experiment and see how long we can make it last.  First I slowed down and trimmed for 73 knots, the best glide speed for my plane, which will keep us up the longest.  I picked out a nice long field that we could easily make, since we were at least 4000' above the ground, and I looked around for any other good options.  I then started heading for the field.  There was another field around that had a worn pattern which looked like it could have been a disused runway, but I felt the other field was a better option.  I started circling over it, and he noted our altitude and said let's see how  much altitude we lose on a single circle.  I kept the bank shallow, and in one rotation we only lost about 1000', and it took what felt like a long time, probably two minutes or more.  Another two circles and I thought I could make the field.  He said he didn't think so, do one more circle, so I did, and then I was more at an altitude I could make. He said everyone makes that mistake at first.  A good learning experience, I never really thought we could stay up for more than 5 minutes doing circles, but we did.  A good confidence booster. 

Next he said let's find something to do a turn around a point over, and he said let's use a pond which was located at a schoolground, which was closed since it was Saturday.  Winds were light so I needed a little wind correction, but not a lot.  As I was coming around to finish one turn he said okay, let's head back to Danbury for landings.  It's almost over!

I headed toward the airport and he showed me the area since I wasn't too familiar.  Tower said to report over the prison, and the examiner said that was fine, which I told tower.  He asked me how I would know where the prison is if I wasn't familiar?  I said, ask?  He laughed and guided me to it and pointed out how to align myself with it and the bank of Candlewood Lake which would be on a perfect approach to the airport. Good knowledge for future flights.  I went through the before-landing checklist as had been drilled into me over and over and over...

We needed to do three landings, and I thought to do soft-field first, which I had least experience with.  The goal is to come in and land as softly as possible and hold the nose off, because if you landed on soft grass or mud, it might grab the nosewheel and you could nose over.  I came in a little harder than I liked, but he said I had the general idea. 
Next time around I tried a short field landing, I got a little slow and cut power a little early so we landed a little hard but it was definitely short.  We taxied back for a soft field takeoff and that was okay.

We got into the pattern and during the circuit talked about some ways to improve those landings, which he said were all right but I should continue to practice them.  On landing he said to taxi to Executive Air.  He hadn't said anything had gone wrong, so I must have passed.  YES!!!  Total flight test time, 1.7 hours.

After filling out the paperwork and a little debrief we were done, and I had temporary certificate in hand.  It felt incredible, and an amazing relief.  I made a few calls and then took off for the 20 minute flight home.  In the pattern, Tower asked if I could make a short approach.  Of course I can, I'm a pilot!

March 20, 2009 - The anticipation is killing me

It's been a while since I've posted here, but it's not for lack of activity.  Since my last posting, I completed my long cross-country, my night requirements including a cross-country flight, and hours and hours of practice.  Finally, tomorrow, TOMORROW, is my checkride!  I have it scheduled with an examiner at the airport in Danbury, CT, which so far, I have never flown to. I'll do it for the first time tomorrow morning.  So much to remember, so many things to get organized.  The anticipation is killing me...

On November 3 I had completed 58.1 hours of flight time and 297 landings.  Today, the number stands at 81.8 hours and 368 landings.

At the end of November I did the long cross country flight, which had to be at least 150 NM long with three stops. I flew first to Columbia County, NY (1B1), then to Barnes Muncipal in Massachusetts (BAF), which has a nice 9000' runway, then returning to Bridgeport.  This was delayed a few times due to weather, and the day I did this there was weather forecasted to move in later in the afternoon, so I got an early start.  Everything was going well but on the last leg I could see the clouds rolling in, and I had to duck under them to stay VFR, so I lost NY Approach's flight following because they couldn't see me any more.  It was okay, I could see my destination. 

After that, since it got dark earlier, we got started on the 3 hours of required night flying, which included landings and a cross-country.  My instructor usually takes people to Greenwood Lake Airport in New Jersey (4N1), because it's a nice flight past New York City, and the airport is in a really dark area, so you have to work for it.  Night flying is nice, but you do have to be aware of your instruments and anything which makes you think you're getting into a cloud.  On our return from Greenwood Lake we were at an altitude where we could see snow starting to fly past the wingtip lights, which was a neat effect, but definitely had us paying attention.

With the cross-countries and night work done, and the holidays over with, it was time to just practice, practice, practice the maneuvers required on the checkride.  The stalls used to be a worry but those turned out to be not a real problem, even stalls in a 20° bank.  Steep turns, which had been done well almost all the way through my training started to slip, but have gotten good enough to pass.  The consistent source of trouble was ground reference maneuvers, in particular turns around a point. 

In turns around a point you maintain a constant radius from a point on the ground while adjusting for wind, which affects your groundspeed, and the crab angle you maintain around the point.  For whatever reason, despite understanding it, picturing it, and going around a point until it made me dizzy, it still was tough to do consistently.  I think by today it's good enough, I've been practicing still, but we'll find out tomorrow. 

S-turns across a road is another maneuver that was somewhat difficult to do consistently, though I think it's partly due to the lack of straight roads in this part of the country to do the maneuver over.  I don't think these were ever very poor, but were never my specialty.  The examiner only needs to test you on one of the 3 ground reference maneuvers, but can test you on all of them.  Hopefully he's kind.

This week I've flown several times, re-read the red Gleim books, re-watched a King checkride video, re-read the ASA Private Pilot Oral Exam Guide, gone over the airplane maintenance records a bunch, planned my cross-country to Laconia, NH and have basically agonized over being as prepared as I can be.  At this point I'm as ready as I will ever be.  Wish me luck!

November 3, 2008 - The Cross-Country Flights

Hello vicarious travelers! It's been a busy few months and I'm happy to report solid progress on the pilot's license.

As you may have seen, I was away for about a month, and since I've been back it's been mostly work and flying.

Since I got back, I took a week of vacation and did a lot of flying, and that has really helped. My landings have gotten very reliable, and my handling on crosswind landings have gotten quite good too. I've had 19 flights since I returned, totalling 22.8 hours, and now I'm doing the last major activities of the training - solo cross-country flight.

I had some "dual" cross-countries with a couple of instructors, and went to Westerly RI, Windham CT, Worcester MA, Bradley International north of Hartford, down to Montauk, Fisher's Island, and some other places. This was good training in the main navigation methods - pilotage, dead-reckoning and radio-aid navigation.

"Cross-Country" in this sense is not flying coast-to-coast: it's flying to a different destination from where you started.  For the pilot's license, there are certain requirements, such as being more than 50 nautical miles away from your original location.

On Friday, 10/24 I took the day off, and took my written exam in the morning. Got a 93, thanks. In the afternoon, I did my first solo cross-country, which was to Westerly, Rhode Island (KWST), a nice small airport just past Groton, CT, and easy to find, because you can just follow the shoreline. I used VOR navigation as well, for the practice.

This is looking northeast, in the Madison area.


Here I'm looking over the cowling toward my destination - Long Island Sound is on the right.


Here's the big bridge in New London.


The Foxwoods casino is easily visible from a mile up.


After landing, contacting Flight Services to close my flight plan, calling my instructor to tell him I made it, and filling out my log book, I went inside and had some very nice people sign my logbook to prove I was there. I then flew back along the same route. I called Dad beforehand to tell him I was leaving, and he was at the airport to greet me when I arrived. He took the picture at the top of this posting after I shut down, and this of my touchdown. A very successful day!

First Return from solo cross-country

Next, on Friday, 10/31 I took the afternoon off, and flew to Orange County, NY airport (KMGJ), which was challenging because it was the first time I flew somewhere I had never been before, and where I did not know the area.

Here I'm just reaching the Hudson River. It's definitely autumn. West Point should be over in this area.

Hudson River

Here's Stewart International Airport. I didn't have to talk with them because I was flying over their airspace.


After a good landing I taxied to my destination: Rick's Runway Cafe, a nice restaurant right on the field. I had time for lunch, which was a really good meatball sub and fries. And someone signed my logbook here too.

Rick's Runway Cafe

And here's my final picture from the trip - some of the lakes just west of the CT border. It's definitely autumn.


The trip home was uneventful, and fast - there was a big tailwind so I was doing about 150mph over the ground. Cool!

Soon I'll do my long cross-country, do the 3 hours of required night flying, and practice the required maneuvers for the checkride. Hopefully in a month or so I'll have my license. A long time coming.

        from the first solo cross-country!

July 17, 2008 - First Solo!

I'm happy to be able to write that yesterday, 7/16 I had my first solo in Piper Warrior N80964. It took a while, and I'm still not completely confident, but I proved I can takeoff, land, and bring myself and the plane home in one piece, in light to moderate crosswind.

Total time: 35.3 hours (23 in 2008, 10.3 from 2005)
Total Landings: 181 (151 in 2008, 30 from 2005)

Crosswind correction continues to be an issue, and the last few inches of the flare, although they were good enough during my solo for the tower to tell me I did a good job. Stalls are generally okay, I'm able to keep my altitude loss mostly at minimum, and we just did turning stalls for the first time earlier this week. Steep turns have been good right until the last week, for some reason I started losing altitude when I hadn't before. Ground reference maneuvers seem to be my toughest challenge - turns around a point were better last time but I still have a tendency to get closer to the point. Think I need to look at the ground more and less at the point, but maybe not. We've only done S-turns a couple of times, and no one yet has taught the rectangular course except in the actual traffic pattern, which is far from rectangular due to noise abatement necessities. It doesn't help that there are few rectangular ground objects or straight roads here in Connecticut.

So I'm pleased that I've made a lot of progress, and am excited to continue improving and proceeding with more cross-countries. Lots of people will solo in less time than I did, but I'm happy with where I am. I won't be flying for the next month while I'm on a trip to Japan, but I'll be back with more stories in September. Hopefully I can finish the Private Pilot by the end of the year.

June 17, 2008 - Making Progress

I wrote a while back that I've started flying again. This time it looks good: I'm close to an airport, I've got some spare time, I have the money, I have no major trips planned until later this summer that would impede progress, and most importantly, I have the motivation. That and a good instructor.

So in the last 6 weeks I've had 7 lessons, have flown a 1983 Piper Warrior for 6.4 hours of Hobbs time, taken family and friends up in a Cherokee Six once, and landed 57 times. Dad came up for the ride and has enjoyed it, even taking pictures along the way.

I'm doing okay I think, and Dennis is readying me for solo. Still have to get landings down better, I'm improving but not quite there yet. Steep turns are good, stalls are decent, need some more time on ground reference maneuvers, and rote memorization of things like emergency procedures are hard for me to recall. But I'll get there.

I'm on vacation for two weeks and am flying 7 times (weather permitting) so I'm hoping to solo during this time. Wish me luck!

May 14, 2008 - First 3 Lessons

After a 3-year hiatus, I've finally think the planets have aligned properly so I can start flying again.

While I enjoyed my lessons in 2005, I think the combination of the tiny Tomahawk plane, my general jitters about stalls and spins, coupled with all the pressure of planning and anticipating my imminent India trip, made it hard to get far. I also found that if I didn't have a block of time to dedicate to multiple lessons that it was more an expensive roller-coaster ride, and less a progression in skill.

So right now, I have a few months without large trips planned, so I have started flying again, and I'm really enjoying it and am excited!

I've had 3 lessons so far - the first was more a re-introduction and getting used to a new school, which is organized as a flying club, a new instructor who is highly qualified and makes me feel relaxed, and a larger plane, the Warrior series.

We went for a flight in the area, did some stalls, steep turns, and I found I could actually handle it and remember things. My landings were not great but we lived through them.

My second flight two weeks later, built on the foundation but was really fun. We took a cross-country flight from BDR to Groton, over the sound and back to BDR, and took some family and friends in a 300 hp Cherokee Six with variable pitch propeller. This is not normally the training aircraft of choice; in fact I can't rent it without a PPL and special endorsements, but we needed a plane large enough for the 5 of us, plus it was way fun to fly. Read the story.

My third lesson, the following day, was in a 160 hp Warrior II, which is what I'll typically be flying. This was going to be a local flight, but turned into a trip to Waterbury-Oxford airport. Did some navigating, but not a lot of maneuvers because it was pretty bumpy. But I did ok and had 6 landings.

I'll post more here as it goes on. Hope you enjoy following along. Flying Lessons - Resumed!

April 25, 2008 - Getting Started

I've long wanted to learn to fly. I didn't realize until recently how long-term and pervasive that desire was, because I didn't really act on it for long. I took some flying lessons in 2005 and as of May have started them up again with the hope and expectation of completing my Private Pilot. I should have lots of interesting things to post here. Here's some links to some earlier pages about flying:
Flight Training (The Introductory flight)
Dad takes the controls - December 1, 2005
A flight I took in May with my instructor and some family.