Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Passengers!

Today was just gorgeous out! Calm winds (~5 kts), just barely a crosswind, blue skies, unlimited visibility, and a comfortable 75 degrees. What a great late afternoon for flying, and perfect conditions to take Laura on her first flight ever in a small airplane! After getting out of work a bit later than I wanted to, got to the airport around 5:20. I called ahead of time and the lineman Eric had the plane out, fueled, and ready to go! We had some coordination ahead of time, Evie hurt her finger so we were distracted for a bit getting her bandaged up. After a thorough preflight, got Laura in the plane, I did the passenger briefing (hehe, now I know what a stewardess feels like showing people how to buckle their safety belt), taxi to runway 32, and off we went around 6:15 pm. I have to say, Laura took the whole flight in stride, she really seemed to enjoy it and wasn't phased at all by the occasional bump. We headed for Tainter Lake, circled the lake a bit and saw our house. Then onto Menomonie, Laura wanted to see the UW Stout campus and town. Finally, back to Eau Claire. We were gone about 45 minutes, and touched down again on 32 for what I thought was a pretty smooth landing. We taxied back to the Heartland ramp, it was now about 7:00 pm. The evening was still pretty early and Evie was still in good spirits, so Carol came up with me for a couple trips around the pattern. This is the first time she has been in a small airplane for many years, and she did great too! Mother like daughter! We came around for a touch and go, and then just a full stop landing on 32. Carol also seemed to really enjoy the flight, she was another great passenger, maybe we can go for a longer one in the future!

The first 1.2 hours in the logbook carrying passengers and a private pilot, what a great time!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Private Pilot Checkride Passed!!

Woo Hoo! Holy Crap, I am a Pilot.

After over a 2 year journey, I did it! I passed my checkride for Private Pilot (Single Engine Land). I am certified by the FAA as safe to carry passengers.

Wow, well this was a VERY long day. My checkride was scheduled for 9 am on Wednesday morning. I previously had it scheduled the day before, but of course had it postponed. So I have been on pins and needles for a couple days. Wednesday looked like the best opportunity the entire week, and let's not forget I needed to pass before the end of the month otherwise I'd have to retake my written exam. With all the anticipation, I got ok sleep, but not great. Of course, I wake up Wednesday morning, and the entire area is blanketed with IFR conditions (low, low clouds). The forecasts looked promising, but as the morning progressed, the forecasts were a little optimistic. I got to the airport around 6:45, Paul my usual instructor had a commitment, so I talked with another instructor Dan. I wasn't go anywhere this morning, so I called the DE (designated examiner - I'd print his name, but I didn't ask permission), and explained the situation, that a morning checkride was out and if he'd be flexible for an afternoon ride. He said he was clear, so we bumped it to noon.
As the morning progressed, the clouds were very slow to rise. I went back to work in the morning, as 10:00 came around, I knew an 11 am departure wasn't going to happen either so called the DE again. He said he was still fine to push back some more, and to just call before I left. So, I excused myself from work around 11:15, got to the airport around 11:30 where Paul was back. Paul wasn't too optimistic. So we waited around for a bit, checked the weather a few more times. Paul wasn't going to sign me off to fly to Marshfield until the ceilings were at least 2000' AGL. Finally, we got reports of 2300', I did another review of the route to make sure there were no surprise obstructions on the way since I would be flying lower than usual. We hurried up and I got myself out of there by 12:30 pm.
Wow, that flight over was not fun. I really don't like operating with such a slim ceiling, on the way over, there were parts that ceiling was no where near 2300'. I could tell I was getting too close to the bases to be legal when I started getting tossed around from the turbulence typical just under cloud bases. So, for the most part I flew between 1000-1500 feet above the ground all the way to Marshfield. However, as I got closer to Marshfield, things did look a little better.
Ok, made a nice landing into Marshfield, taxied over to the FBO, chocked up the plane. Walked inside, I was greeted very promptly by my DE followed with an apology. Apparently another checkride was scheduled this afternoon without his knowledge, so he had two students there at the same time. He assured me I would be taken care of, but just have a little patience.
No sweat! Nothing like a lot of idle time to calm those nerves. :)
So, he had me setup in the lunch room. After he about an hour of working with the other student, the oral exam began for me, roughly at 2:30 pm. I think with the other student, my oral exam was VERY abbreviated. It was 45 minutes, tops. Admittedly, he got me on a couple questions, I thought I knew my sectionals and airspaces very well. From the last student that took his checkride, he mentioned focusing on airspaces, controlled flight into terrain, airport signage. But this time, he really grilled me on special vfr clearances, something I was very weak on, but I managed to muddle my way through with his guidance. It was clear he definitely wanted me to pass and was going to help me through any questions I didn't know 100%. I think we also had a point of disagreement in the exam, but I backed off when he was quite adamant. He was certain I needed a clearance just to enter class D airspace, I was contending you just needed to establish two-way communications. According to FAR 91.129, I think I was right, both C and D airspace just require two-way communications. However, after reflection, perhaps we were talking about the same thing, with different terminology. His term "clearance" I understood to be a formal ATC clearance like what they issue in Class B airspace. He might have meant "clearance" to be a positive acknowledgement by the controlling authority.
Anyway, I got most questions right, he caught me on a few others, but they were minor and I was able to figure out the answer he was looking for. So, after just a brief 45 minutes (it is now about 3:15 pm), he had me finish my flight plan with current winds and preflight the plane, while he flew with the other student. So, I did all that, so I figured about an hour flight test, so I filed a flight plan with a planned departure at 4:30 pm. And then I waited, and waited....
Finally, around 5:00 pm, they arrived back. We then continued with some more oral examination on my flight plan. He didn't like my plan, and asked me why I wanted to fly over Hwy 29. I explained first I wanted to avoid the MOA (Military Operations Area) since there were reported activity today and I would be busy enough with him and didn't want another distraction. I also explained that Hwy 29 had some really easy pilotage checkpoints (cities) and as we got into Eau Claire, we could follow the VOR. He mentioned there was an established victor 26 airway off the 271 radial on the Wausau VOR, so instead, once I got north enough, we'd intersect that instead.
When I realized we were close to over an hour past my planned departure on my flight plan, I updated it with a new time. As we climbed in, he joked, "Well I have good news and bad news, the good news is that every other pilot with me passes." I smiled, and then started the laugh. He continued, "I see you figured out the bad news, the earlier pilot passed." Good levity to start, I really do like the DE, he is friendly, loves teaching, and goes out of his way to help you feel relaxed. Did all the usual pre-start checklist stuff. What I think I was most proud of was before we got started, as pilot-in-command, I laid down some ground rules. Of course, I did the standard passenger briefing, but I added this... "I understand you will be testing my ability to recover from an engine failure, but I have one rule on this... You will not cut the gas, you will not turn off the ignition, and you will not pull the mixture (any of these will actually turn OFF the engine, instead of just reducing to idle). If you want to pull the throttle that is perfectly acceptable. In my judgment, even for a checkride, there is absolutely no reason to turn a simulated emergency into a real emergency." He said not to worry, he wouldn't be doing anything like that. Alright! We finally got airborne around 5:45 pm.
So, we taxied to the runway, I was diligent in all my checklist work. The DE said we'd stay in the pattern for a bit, I announced our intentions on the radio, and off we went! First was a standard crosswind takeoff and landing, the winds were light, so no problem. Next, he threw his first curve, "Ok, time for a short field landing, but you've lost your flaps." Oh boy, short field landings I had a troubles with during my bout of checkride-itis a week ago, this was one of the two parts of the exam I could easily bust. Now I have to do it with no flaps?? I calmly said, ok, I am going to need to come down steeper than a standard no flap landing to clear the obstacle and stop in time, so I asked if I could use a forward slip to landing. He said, of course. So, I did that, the slip wasn't very pretty, but I maintained my approach speed, I cleared my obstacle and got it touched down where I wanted. Whew! Ok, onto a soft field takeoff, no problem. Although, I held the nose up higher than he liked, but we were still ok.
Next we left the pattern and continued on course for our flight plan. Hit the first checkride, which was a race strip, and then north towards Spencer and to intercept the VOR. Once the VOR came in, turned west and followed for a bit. Then he had me turn south for some slow flight, no problem, then immediately into an approach to landing stall. No problem, but he said I reacted too fast, and it was ok to slow down, he said I looked a bit hurried. Next power on stalls, the second task I wasn't looking forward to, just because of the high angle of attack and high RPM requires a lot of right rudder, and these power on stalls for this airplane almost inevitable turn into the start of a spin, which I am not fond of. So, I did the modified procedure for the power on stall Paul and I worked on, to the break, recovered no problem, of course I had that bid of spin. The DE laughed a bit, "well that is one way to do it," lemme show you how I wanted to see it. So, we slowed to about 50 kts, and slow started pitching up and adding power at the same time, but pitch up slight faster than power, got to where we were at full power and just a hair away from stall, pull just a little more on the yoke, and the break came. Very nicely done, I got some good intel to bring back to Paul. Then we did some steep turns, he didn't like my posture when doing so, and again show me exactly what he wanted, it was good advice. He asked me to lean forward and stick my head in the diagonal of the direction of the turn, and watch outside. I usually don't like leaning forward because it inhibits my yoke control, but it worked. Easily able to maintain speed, bank angle, and altitude.
Ok, time to put on the foggles (view limiting device), did some standard rate turns, climbs, descents, no problems. Next, he took controls, told me to close my eyes, time for recovery from unusual attitudes. He was easy here, my instructors made my stomach turn more. Just two easy recoveries and that was done. Onto S-turns and turns around the point. Here I think I was the closest to busting, my turn on the upwind was too steep and I messed up the entire maneuver. So, we tried again, and I got it. Turns around a point were fine after that. Finally he said, take me back to Marshfield, I won't say anything else. I was pretty sure this was a test of my ability to recover from being lost. That was convenient, since doing all the maneuvers, I honestly didn't know exactly here I was. I looked outside and saw a sizable lake/river chain. I tuned the VOR to see what radial I was on. Looked at my sectional and figured out where I was, turned toward Marshfield, and I cross check the GPS (I still had Marshfield tuned in). As we approached the pattern, he said, give me a good soft field landing, and I want you touching down at the intersection of the two runways, no obstructions. Okdokey, normal approach, 70 kts, slowing to 65. As we came down, added just a touch of power touch down gently, and keep the nose up as long as possible, touchdown at the intersection where he wanted. Nice! Ok, he said let's taxi back. I was surprised we were done since we didn't do go arounds, so I was slightly concerned I might have failed.
So, we ran the after landing checklist and the shutdown checklist all good. Then the DE said, "Well I will have to break my rule, you definitely passed! You did some great flying and I think you are a very safe pilot, congratulations and have fun!" Woo hoo!!!!! So, according to the hobbs meter, we flew 1.4 hours for the checkride. Honestly, it felt like 30 minutes it went so fast. The paperwork was a breeze, as I closed up the plane, I walked into the FBO, he had my temporary license already printed, along with copies of my application for both myself and Paul, and my logbook signed. So, now its about 7:15 pm, and the FBO attendant says, "You better call Paul, he's only called about half dozen times wondering what is going on." Remember, Paul sent me on my way at 12:30, I should have been back 2 hours ago already. I called him and let him know I passed along with Laura. Hopped into the plane, and enjoyed a serene trip back to Eau Claire. I actually followed that victor airway from Wausau all the way home, meanwhile enjoying the calm air and higher ceilings while constantly looking out and planning for emergency landing spots. Called Eau Claire tower, for the first time as a Private Pilot, some earlier traffic west of the airport were not an issue, calm winds, cleared for a landing on 22. Setup for a perfect approach, and then I manage to botch the landing. Hah! Goes to show, I will constantly be learning, and I will never be immune from a mistake. I just need to trust in my ability to recover and learn. And that I did, I got directional control on the runway, still in time to make the first taxi exit.
So what is next? I plan to enjoy the VFR rating for a little bit, perhaps up to the 100 hr mark, and then onto studying for my IR rating, but that can wait, I owe my family and self some rest and relaxation.
I look at the path behind me, and I am still in disbelief, I went from over two years ago to a severe fear of flying to a pilot. I have had so many roadblocks in the way, and fought through them all. I have so many to thank ....
To Laura, thank you so much for your loving support and encouragement. Especially the swift kick in the pants this spring to get me to finish up. Without you I would be nothing.
To Evie, thoughts of you keep me ever vigilant when flying and extra conservative in my planning and decision making. My desire to provide for you a role model you can look up to is my motivation, but you are my inspiration.
To my family, especially my brother Bryan for planting in me the seeds to attempt this adventure in the first place, I can't wait to go flying with you.
Finally, To our Lord, Jesus Christ. Thank you bearing my anxiety and doubt. Thank you for your continued grace and blessings. Oh yeah, thanks for all that whole forgiveness and salvation thing too. :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Work, Weather... Final Lesson delayed... Ack!

Ack! Well, two days in a row, I've had to either cancel or be cancelled for my "final" lesson with Paul. He needs to sign me off on my ground reference manuervers and start the pile of paperwork together. The coming airshow means the airport is a zoo and airspace above is being closed for practices. So, I will have to wait until early next week to wrap up my training and schedule my checkride.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Checkride is close!

On Memorial Day, I did some more flying with Paul. We were reviewing the PTS standards. The flight went exceptionally well. We did a short field takeoff, another 30 minutes of instrument time including turns, descents, climbs, unusual attitudes, and VOR tracking. We then proceeded onto approach to landing stalls, then power on stalls. Paul just recently sent one of his students to the examiner in the last week, he passed (woo hoo!), but brought back some good feedback. Apparently the examiner didn't like the way Paul was teaching stalls, the PTS standard does say to recover from stall at first indication, and in this plane it is the stall horn (next the buffet, then the break), so we've been taught to break the stall at the horn. However, the examiner wants to be assured the applicant can recover from a fully developed stall. So, we had to redo the procedure for the power on stall, we intentionally slowed the plane down because it's nearly impossible to stall it with full throttle, you can be almost inverted at full throttle and still not stall this plane! Instead, we decided to change the power on stall to this:
- Slow to 50 kts
- Advance the throttle to 2200 rpm (not full throttle)
- Hold heavy right rudder to stay coordinated
- Pitch up, stall!
- Pitch down!
- Use your feet to control rudders to avoid the spin if you lost coordination at the end.

I got a little more comfortable doing the stalls, but I still don't like them, especially the power on stalls. I learned more WHY I didn't like them. When doing the power on stall, you are going slower with high RPM, that requires heavy right rudder. So heavy that when the stall breaks, it's near impossible to get off the right rudder when it occurs, so you are naturally starting a slight spin. Man, I don't like spins. I know how to recover, but you have to keep your wits about you. The natural tendency is to use the ailerons to recover, but they don't do anything if the wings are stalled. I need to remember: yoke forward! opposite rudder if starting a spin!

Anyway, after stalls, we did some more steep turns, all good. The wind wasn't blowing much aloft, so we ended the lesson without brushing up on ground reference manuevers. We landed with a short field landing. At the end of the lesson, Paul said one more lesson to go and he is ready to sign me off for the checkride! Paul said I did a good job and that I am ready to pass the test, he just needs to formally review those last maneurvers.

Yes! That is a great confidence booster. There is some iffy weather in the area this week and the airshow this weekend. So, I might get that last flight this week or early next, either way, depending on availability, I could be going for my checkride next week!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lesson 33 - Long Solo Cross Country

Whew! The last of the official requirements by the book is done. Although I didn't hit my goal of getting my checkride passed in May, I did complete all the requirements, alright!! Got back from 2.9 hours from my long cross country. A while back Paul had me plan out a flight to Merrill, then Wisconsin Rapids, then back to Eau Claire. I was really looking forward to this flight, my sister Amy and her family live in Merrill. So, this morning when it looked likely the weather was going to cooperate, I called Amerz up and she was able to bring Degen and Senna with her to the airport to meet me.

So, got to the airport around noon after a quick stop for a Subway, figured I could munch on that as Paul reviewed my flight plan. Finished flight planning, lunch, got an abbreviated weather briefing, and filed all 3 legs of my flight plan. Did a preflight, and the wheels where off the ground at 1:10 pm. Ride to Merrill was pretty uneventful, after opening the flight plan and clearing Eau Claire's class delta, then picked up flight following from Minneapolis approach which quickly handed me over to Minneapolis Center. Ride was quite bumpy for a bit, we are starting to get into summer and all the convective columns rising from the heated surface of the earth. I had absolutely no problems on this leg, it was almost identical to the Medford cross country, just another 26 miles past. Picked out all my checkpoints, center terminated my radar coverage just as I caught sight of Merrill and began my descent. Nobody else in the area, had a nice touch down that Amy and family got to see. After closing the flight plan, got to show Degen the cockpit, that was really fun (and I am sure Degen was excited too), I got some pictures...

After about 20 minutes of chatting with Amy and Degen, Senna was a bit shy and tired, got to use the restroom, pickup a bottle of water from the FBO, and I was off to Wisconsin Rapids. Again, uneventful trip, it was a short hop so I didn't want to do flight following, instead I got into contact with Mosinee/Central Wisconsin tower controller, and just advised of my position and he indicated there was no other traffic southbound to Wisconsin Rapids. Still a little bumpy, but I was on the ground in KISW before I knew it. Taxi back, couldn't get a hold of FSS to close the flight plan, took off and started heading back to Eau Claire. Finally got a hold of FSS, close/open the flight plan, just about leveling off at 6500 and got flight following again from Minneapolis center. Found my first checkpoints, and then was over Nellsville airport. While enroute I was monitoring 122.0 for any activity in the MOA since I was flying through part of it. Once over Nellsville I could pick out Lake Eau Claire and Lake Wissota, so I knew exactly where Eau Claire was, but no matter, I dialed in the VOR to 112.9 and followed roughly the 115* toward Eau Claire. Cleared for right traffic landing on runway 4, touched down in Eau Claire at 4:20 pm, after mains down, I brought the nose down a little harder than I like, but she held together. It was a nice crabbed landing into the wind. I am better at those landings, still not smooth greasers, but I am landing on the spots I want to and able to land straight without sideload on the mains, despite variable winds.

Overall a great flight, I felt much more in control. Not sure if I am ready for the test yet, but my I was able to maintain my altitudes much better and stay ahead of the plane. Fun time! I am now transitioning to PTS test preparation, I will be flying with Paul a few more times until he thinks I am ready, and it still might be a bit, but I am so close! Stay tuned!