Learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Month: January 2016

Round and Round I go, light and fast… ish

Today I embarked on my first solo practice.  It was pattern practice but it was special because this was the first time that my instructor had other plans.  Well, she was instructing other students and since I am signed off for solo practice… it was all good. So up and up and round and round i go.

I figured for my first solo practice start to finish that I would keep it simple and just practice my take offs and landings.  I scheduled the plane for 2 hours which should be plenty of time.

I nervously watch the winds as my solo limits are 15 kt total w/ gusts and 6 kt crosswind component.  Winds seem to be swinging around 9kts in the area so I watched the crosswind component like a hawk.

All seemed to be good when approaching my flight time and the winds were tracking nearly right down runway 21 at 6 kts.  So I went ahead an preflighted this beauty.


It was a weird feeling seeing my instructor busy with someone else and just a quick exchange of hello’s.  I went about my business and got my chariot pre-flighted and ready to go.

As I went through the start up procedure I was sure that I would have trouble getting it started.  It really hit me that this was the first time that I have been all alone at this stage.  It was cool but a little eerie.  I was taken aback when it started right up.

After a brief puzzlement of seeing two airplanes landing in the wrong direction, I make the call that I am taxiing down to runway 21 and was prepared to defend my choice to any other aircraft trying to land with a 6 kt tailwind.  All seemed to be right with the world and I was on my way.


I made the radio call that I was departing runway 21 left close traffic and made my way onto the runway.

Lined up with six thousand five hundred feet of pavement, I put the pedal to the …err knob to the firewall and away we went.  As we picked up speed, my steed yearned to fly.  As the air slowly cradled the wings we began to ascend into the blue.  This is where an airplane wants to be. Gracefully we ascend to pattern altitude.

Even the rough air of thermal turbulence wouldn’t ruin our time together.  It may have only been 7 trips around the pattern,  7 Take offs and 7 Landings, but it was much more to me and my journey.  The only thing out of the ordinary was a navaho on a gps approach that made some odd distance calls but I handled it well.  My instructor was also in the pattern with one of her other students.  I made sure to stay sharp with my radio calls and precision flying.

I talked briefly with my instructor before I left and she said that I did well with the radio and overall seemed please. Before I left she said, “Make sure next solo practice that I see you in person.  I am sending you to Siler City and I need to endorse your logbook”.  Well, I guess I know what I’ll do next solo.

All in all it was a success.  I got to fly today…. All By Myself!

It’s Dark and a Snow Storm is Coming… Let’s Go Flying!

The title doesn’t quite describe how the conversation went but I need 6 more night landings and the plan is to do 4 in the pattern and then 2 more during my night cross country.  You know the old saying…. “The Calm before the Snow Storm”.  That is how the conditions played out.  Perfect weather with very light winds, clear skies and bright moon.

I performed the pre-flight, then we got strapped in and performed the run up and taxi to runway 3.  First trip around the pattern, I blew the pattern altitude by about 800 feet.  The air was dense so it doesn’t take much power to climb.  On the second time around I adjusted and nailed 1200 ft, pattern altitude.  As I was getting ready to descend, my instructor pulled the throttle and said “Engine failed, what do you do?”.  I went through the ABCDE checklist and prepared the aircraft for a full flap, engine out landing on the runway.  Pretty uneventful but my first night time engine out so that was cool.  As we taxi’d back to Runway 3 for our 3rd takeoff, it was now late enough to start logging night landings.

Four more very pleasant trips around the pattern, culminating in one of my worst approaches and landings so as they say…”Good to end on a bad one”  No… that isn’t what they say but… hey at least I was flying.

Now that the blizzard is upon us… no flying for the next few days.  Still looking to schedule my first solo practice.

Final Supervised Solo!

“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”

— Wilbur Wright

My instructor had told me that for the next few flights, plan A would be my third and final supervised Solo and Plan B would be hood work.  Can you guess which one I would rather do?  The weather seemed perfect except for the airplanes arch nemesis. Frost on the wings in a below freezing situation.  It was supposed to be cloudy all day with little chance that the frost would melt off without the temperature increasing or sun shining.  However, about 30 minutes before my scheduled flight the sun came out and made the evil frost go away.  Plan A it is!!

Not a whole lot of new stuff here.  I went up with my instructor and we performed 3 touch and go landings.  The wind was either calm or gusting about 6 kts with about a 3-4 kt crosswind component.  Not a big deal but it was quite turbulent all the way around the pattern.

After the third landing my instructor asked “Do you want to go by yourself or is the air too bumpy?”  I replied, “I am comfortable with it if you are”  So off I went.  Nothing exciting to note other than a big bump that caused my wing to dip and I made the comment to myself that “No one is here to save me now”.  It was a moment of hesitation but then took care of business.

After my final landing, I picked up my instructor and she said that I am now signed off to fly the airplane by myself in the pattern or to the practice area and gave me my limitations.  I am super excited and it is a milestone on the road to my license. I still have a lot to learn and luckily I am a member of a fantastic club full of experienced pilots.  I know that even though I am safe enough to fly by myself, that I still have a ton to learn about the art of aviation.  I will continue to absorb as much as I can and sharpen my skills.  In the mean time… going to schedule my first solo session!  Yay!

What makes a good Flight Instructor?

Every once and a while I get asked “What should I look for in a good flight instructor?”  This is a pretty complicated question because each student is different and each student is looking to get something different out of the experience.  I can sit here and tell you with flying, like anything else in life, you get out of it what you put into it.  There is truth in this statement but there are also efficiencies involved.  You can put a ton of effort into learning to fly but if your instructor is not a good match, it is going to be a harder road that could end in quitting or other more tragic consequences.

When I was looking for a flight instructor I contacted our club CFI and told him that I want to be the best and safest pilot ever and I want an instructor who would be tough on me to fly safely and with precision.  There is also a schedule and body size component that is taken into account when matching students with instructors so I was hopeful but understood the parameters may not give me exactly what I wanted.  I was introduced to my current instructor and was told that if it doesn’t work, we can try to match to another, no hurt feelings.

I, personally, think I have the best instructor out there.  She is extremely organized, firm in her teachings and a joy to learn from.  She has a ton of experience in flying and teaching, so I try to absorb as much as possible.  Another thing that sets her apart is that she is willing to do whatever needed to help her students.  She didn’t have to fly with me the other night.  The rules say I have to give 24 hours notice in scheduling, I think I gave her three.  She goes the extra mile in communication even days before a flight.  Constantly evaluating conditions to help me learn what is acceptable and what is a bit too much to handle.  Above all, there is no need to take unneeded risks.

She works very well for me but maybe not for others.  Our personalities work well together and I think we are making great progress because we are on the same page.  I ask questions no matter how stupid I think they might be.  Even if I am pretty sure of the answer, I find that in the response I glean a bit of new insight.  I can see how her school teacher style and firmness may not work well with others but it works for me.

I think that you need to figure out what you are trying to get out of learning to fly.  Do you want to be a career pilot?  Do you want to become a CFI?  or like me do you just want to fly family and friends around the local area and maybe take some short trips about.  That will determine a starting point for the type of instructor that you want.  Next is all about teaching style.  Ask the instructor questions about how he would deal with certain situations.  IE.

How do you deal with:

Student struggling to figure out stabilizing approaches,  Pitch for Speed, Throttle for altitude

Struggles with flair height

Struggles with Stalling

Struggles with steep turns

Struggles with coordination

These are some of the things that you can ask to get a sense of how they deal with issues that are common to learning to fly.  Also ask what their passing rate is for check rides as well as what is the average hours for students to reach check ride.  If an instructor says most of his/her students get to check ride around 40 hours…. They are either the greatest instructor ever or there are going to be some fundamentals that are just good enough.  If you’re like me, you don’t want to be just good enough.  On the other hand, if it takes most of the students over 100 hours, there may be some issues in translating fundamentals to the students.

The national average is around 70 hours to finish PPL training.  There are a lot of flight schools that claim they can get you through in the minimum 40 hours but that is very suspect and I’m willing to bet, most take around 70 hours.

The FAA says that you can solo in as little as 10 hours.  I solo’d at 27 hours with extreme confidence in my abilities as a pilot. I was given high marks from several instructors including the chief flight instructor for my flying abilities.  This is due to spending the needed time in the four fundamentals of flight and putting them all together with precision and safety.  To put it in perspective.  When you solo an aircraft, this means that the instructor and flight school has complete confidence that you can fly an aircraft in reasonable weather with competence and safety.  After you solo, you are working with your instructor on pilotage/planning, ATC communications and night flight as well as oral prep for your checkride.  You will solo to the practice area to work on the precision of your maneuvers.  All by yourself, no instructor…. just you, an airplane in the great big, sometimes, crowded sky.  Do you think that with as little as 5-8 lessons, you would be ready for that?

My ground school instructor introduced me to the concept of primacy of Learning.  I had heard of this before but dismissed it because of associations with things like Soccer or Football.  Basically the deal is, in any situation where you are stressed or scared, you revert to what you learned in the primacy of your training.  This is a very important concept in flight training because if you are trained incorrectly, then when a situation arises, even though you have learned better later, you will revert to your original primary training.  You want to make sure that when your engine goes out, that you revert to the correct primary training.

If you want to fly, it is more than likely because you have a natural passion or curiosity.  You want to be as safe as possible, so it is very important that you find an instructor who will train you the right way.  If you ever feel like they are short cutting, find another instructor. Above all, ask questions about everything.  Never make assumptions because some things in flying are counter intuitive.  It is an amazing experience with big challenges and satisfying rewards.  At the end of a hard flight I always think, “I got to fly an airplane today!”, and that is pretty cool.

Impromptu Night Flight

According to FAA requirements, in order to obtain a Private Pilots License you need:

3 hours of night flight training in a single engine airplane, that includes at least:
a) 1 cross country flight of over 100 nm total distance; and
b) 10 T/O’s and 10 landings to a full stop with each involving a flight in the traffic pattern at an airport.

Today was a gorgeous day today and my next two flights are looking sketchy due to some incoming rain and maybe snow and ice.  So I texted my instructor to see if she had any openings in the afternoon after I got off of work.  She texted back, “Not unless you want to do some night flying”  I pondered this for a few minutes and get another text, “Do you have the night flying packet?”  I responded yes.  A few minutes later my phone buzzed, “What do you think?”  I thought about it for a minute or two and said  “I’m game, let’s do it!” A Night Flight, yay!

I think normally night flight is more organically scheduled.  Meaning, we are getting close to the end of training and we need to get it in.  I got the impression that this was kind of unexpected but why not.  From what I have read and heard from others, night flight is either cool or spooky.  There are some students who really don’t like flying at night and after their requirements are satisfied, never fly at night again.  Ever.  That had me a little concerned, excited…. maybe a little hungry.  It was dinner time after all.

When I get to the airfield, there is still plenty of light to pre-flight with ease.  I’m back in my favorite N4640B which I know all of the tendencies.  I go into the office and we discuss what is going to happen.  Sunset is at 5:25 and twilight ends at 5:55 which means that we can start logging night flight time. The goal was to complete two day takeoff and landings, and 4 night takeoff and full stop landings.  The overall plan is to do this sort of thing twice, which would get me to 8 takeoff and full stop landings.  Then we need to complete a night cross country which would give me the last 2 night takeoff and landings needed to satisfy the requirements for my check-ride.

We take off and there is a bit more wind then we would normally try to tackle during night flight training.  about 4-6 kts with about 3 of it crosswind.  We checked AWOS frequently and it kept saying calm but as soon as I lifted off the runway, I was in about a 20 degree crab to the right, so I don’t think the AWOS was giving a good representation.  The first two landings I performed a mediocre slip.  At least this time it was useful unlike last time.

The biggest skills we were working on was judgement and depth perception.  At night due to the way our eyes function, we are horrible at judging distances so we err on the side of too high when on our approach.  Better to use more runway than to hit something on approach because you’re too low.

I setup for the first night takeoff and it was pretty much like any other takeoff except I had pretty lights to track to make sure I stayed on runway heading.  The first landing was ok except for landing a little flat.  It is much harder to judge the flair at night.

The next three trips around the pattern were pretty serene and easy.  I even got a couple of “Nice Job” comments on my landings.  YAY!

Overall, I found night flying to be pretty serene and peaceful.  I will certainly fly at night after I get my license.  Usually, the air is pretty calm and not a whole lot of turbulence so I imagine it is really cool for a cross country trip.  I ended my flight with a new confidence in that I can tackle night flying but also I had some pretty decent slips that helped me out in that department. Can’t wait until my next flight.

First Cross Country Flight

Today, we had  a plan A of my 3rd solo which would sign me off to fly by myself.  However, since winds were higher than forecasted, we went with plan B, which was my first cross country solo to Richmond county airport (KRCZ).

The night before, I made a plan and filled out some way points and initial headings.  2 hours before the flight, I got the winds aloft and determined my wind correction and predicted ground speeds.  Having this, I also filled out the time for each leg of my trip and how much fuel that I would burn.

While I pre-flighted, my instructor went over my flight plan numbers.  Once completed, we went over the process for filing a flight plan.  I called up the briefer and filed for TTA-SDZ-RCZ-SDZ-TTA.

We head out to the airplane and go through the startup, runup, set radios.  Normally, I set the radios to CTAF and AWOS for TTA since I stay in the area.  Since we were going cross country, I changed the next frequency to flight services in order to open up my flight plan.

As we climbed to our altitude of 4500, I called flight service and opened up our flight plan.  After a few minutes of trying to get service to realize that it was 89433 not 69433, we were all squared.  Next I called up Fayetteville approach to request a flight following.  This went much better than last time as I have memorized the script.

The rest of the trip to RCZ was pretty boring.  I followed a power-line all the way to the SDZ VOR.  Kept speed and heading, while writing down times at each of my visual checkpoints. My landing at RCZ was pretty poor, and we floated a bit.  Sigh.

As we headed back to TTA, we were at an altitude with quite a bit more turbulence, 3500 ft msl.  Not a big deal but annoying trying to hold altitude.  The flight home was pretty uneventful but my landing at TTA was even worse than RCZ.  I did a half ass slip that did nothing for maintaining center line or glide-slope.  Sigh.  My instructor remarked to me, “After next solo I will sign you off and you can do landings to your hearts content.”

Next Flight, Plan A –  3rd Solo, Plan B – Hood work.  Hopefully the weather gets better than forecasted. Right now it sucks.

I promise I am going to add some more media to my posts.  I’m at a crazy point in training so it is hard to snap pictures in flight.  My instructor might throw my phone out of the window. 😀

Deuxieme Solo, Merci Beaucoup

“There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings.” – Wilbur Wright


As you guessed from the title or maybe not.  Today they let me take an airplane up by myself, again.  Second of three supervised solos!  Today was a little different from my first solo but I’ll get into that as we go through today’s adventure.

I arrived to cold temperatures and a pretty stiff 8 kt wind.  Luckily for me, it was straight down runway 3.  Today I was either going to go up for my second solo or we were going on a cross country trip to KRCZ.  The night before, I thoroughly planned for the cross country trip at the behest of my instructor.  Today, however, would not pose very good weather for travelling.  Ceilings were around 3500 ft and dropping.  Fantastic for pattern work though and with the wind right down the runway, there was minimal crosswind so 2nd solo it is!

We were nearly thwarted at the beginning of today’s flight by a cold airplane that did not really want to start.  Even though I had it on the engine heater before our attempts, it just didn’t want to start.  I asked one of the mechanics to come out and give us a hand and he was able to use a few tricks that got us up and running.

We take off and bounce around the pattern… literally, the wind made it pretty bumpy.  I make 3 pretty decent landings and then comes the question.  “Do you want to solo today or do something else?”  Do something else?  Something else?  Of course I want to solo!  Of course, I didn’t say that.  I indicated that I felt good to solo.  I understand why she asked, she didn’t want me to feel pressured into doing it.  So I dropped her off near Taxiway Alpha 1 and performed a run up.  Taxi’d to the hold short line for runway 3 and waited on two incoming aircraft… one on short final and another on base.

Once the runway was clear, I made the call  “Raleigh Exec, N89333 departing runway 3 left closed traffic, Raleigh Exec”  You have to read that in your inner pilot voice because I was totally using my pilot voice.

I lined up on the runway, heels to the floor and throttle in.  Green, green, green, airspeed alive and away we, err, I go.  Again like my first solo, this thing took off really fast and I was at 900 ft before the end of the runway.  The low density altitude caused by the cold air definitely helped but also less weight added up for a rocket of a ride.

First landing was pretty uneventful.  I did notice that the bumps around the pattern kept me on my toes.  No big deal though I did think to myself how during my first flight these kind of bumps did make me nervous.  Now, they are an annoyance.

Second time around the pattern was filled with more interesting events.  As I was climbing off the runway, I heard a garbled message about landing on runway 3.  I only saw the other plane that took off in front of me and was in the pattern.  I thought for a second it might have been them.  Either way, I went ahead and announced that I was on the departure leg of runway 3 staying in the pattern in case it was an unknown entity.  I turned crosswind and heard another call.  “Raleigh Exec, Cherokee is on a 6 mile final on the ILS for runway 3”.  Great, one in front of me, one probably coming in to cut him off and there may be a ghost somewhere in the pattern.  I make my radio call and turn downwind.  Then yet again, I hear “Raleigh Exec, Cessna 69012 is 3 miles for the 45 downwind for runway 3”  Welp, it is getting crowded real fast.  At this point I am being bumped around quite a bit and stabilizing on my downwind.  It was here that I thought to myself.  “Are you really doing this, you are alone with some chaos.  What do you do captain?”  It was then that I focused on what I needed to do.  Before landing checklist and constant scan.  By now the Cherokee declared missed and said would fly the missed approach.  The Cessna in front of me was turning final and then I notice to my right and about 300 ft low… that ghost Cessna.  Never did hear another radio call and put them out of my mind.  Sigh.  ” I made a radio call that I had the crossing Cessna and that I would extend my base.  At the same time I hear N69012 is now entered right behind me.  I extend my base and notice the Cessna in front of me is at a weird angle and way low for landing. They overshot center line on base leg and came back around to finally line up and land.  I turn base then final, going through my procedures.  I touch down nicely and it all turned out uneventful.  It did g

As I taxi’d back, my instructor asked if I wanted to go again or if I have had enough.  I make a quick assessment and it seems like the traffic is settling down so I said I want one more.

Third trip around the pattern was pretty uneventful.  I did notice that the windsock was blowing crosswind for a second so I did perform a crosswind takeoff.  By the time I turned final, the windsock was showing straight down the runway.

I taxi’d back for the last time with quite a feeling of accomplishment.  Later, I would comment to my instructor that this time felt more real because of the roughness of the air/wind and the crowded pattern.  It really felt like I was flying this time.  I was nervous for only a second as I thought how nervous I was on the first flight.  These feelings quickly vanished and I focused on what I needed to do.  After all, I got to fly and airplane today…. all by myself.  Again!


Second solo, All preflighted with no way to go

Got up nice and early and headed to the airfield.  Today would be the day that I will likely perform my supervised second solo.  I need 3 supervised solo’s in order to be released to fly to the practice area and practice in the pattern all by myself.

I arrived to some chilly weather.  It shouldn’t be shocking, it is January after all, but after the string of 60 to 70 degree days over the holidays it was a bit of a change.  I walked out to the aircraft and turned it around to face the sun.  There was quite a bit of frost on the wings and windshield so I needed to get that melted.

I did my normal preflight walk around with the only issue being the starboard green wing tip positioning light was out.  No big deal, not flying at night.  I make a mental note to squawk the issue once my flight is over with.

My instructor meets comes out to the airplane and I give her my weather brief and report on the airworthiness of our machine.

All strapped in, I go through the start checklist.

-Key in the mag switch, set to both

-Master Switch On

– Beacon light On

– Mixture Rich

– Throttle opened for start

– Prime as needed

– Key to start position

The dreaded sound of a weak battery instantly destroys our hopes and dreams of escaping the bonds of earth.  After a couple of more futile attempts, we could only hear the click of the starter without so much wiggle in the prop.

It was a busy Saturday, so no other aircraft was available which meant I would not be flying.  Have to look at the bright side, I got to sit in an airplane. 😀


Back in the air for New Years, Knocking off the rust

Lots of rain and some holiday travel had me grounded for nearly two weeks.  It doesn’t take long for a student pilot to get some rust and it was quite evident today. It was nice to get back in the air for new years day.

We started out with a plan and a backup plan.  Plan A, I was going to solo for my second time.  I need 3 supervised solos before they will allow me to fly solo to the practice area.  Plan B was to do some hood work.

After two laps around the pattern we talked over how I felt and I felt pretty good for soloing but the winds had picked up and the crosswind was now at the upper limit that solo students are allowed to fly so we opted for plan B.  Except, my instructor left the foggles in her office so we came up with plan C… Round Robin KTTA – KSCR – KTTA.  This will be one of the first trips that I go on during my solo adventures so it would be a useful trip.  I would also get fuel for the first time since that will definitely be useful during my solo trips.

We took off and headed toward Siler City.  My first duh moment came when I needed to transition to cruise, I started to pull the throttle before pitching and accelerating.  I caught myself but not before my instructor busted me.  Then I carefully flew over the powerline track that I would follow and made my turn west late and started tracking the wrong road.  Ugh.  I know better than this.  After that, it was pretty smooth the rest of the way.  I made all of the right radio calls at the correct distances.  Entered the pattern and landed on Runway 4 at KSCR.

We taxied up to the 100LL fuel pumps and had an airport employee walk me through the details on filling up.  No real tricks here but since I have never done this before, it was a good lesson.

Back in the Cessna, I back taxi to runway 4, perform a run up and away we go.

The rest of the trip back was pretty uneventful. I followed the correct road and made my calls before entering the pattern.  A little excitement when I was on the 45 degree entry, there was a radio call over the airport from another plane entering the pattern at our altitude.  I quickly performed a left 360 until the other plane  obtained visual, said I was no factor.  Still good for spacing and good practice.

I entered the downwind as second for landing.  The landing was one of the crappiest that I have ever completed.  Landed a little sideways and on the wrong wheel for the wind condition.  This could have been a disaster if a wind gust picked up.  I wasn’t really that bad but I felt like crap.

We went around the pattern for one more.  This time I fought the wind and didn’t really slip correctly and I felt my instructor put us into a slip.  My confidence was in the toilet so we went ahead and called it a day.  It was 1.7 hours and I could really tell the rust was there.  I flew safely today but definitely not very elegant.

I’ll be back in the sky tomorrow, so we will see how I do.  Plan A, try for my second supervised solo.  If not, Plan B, hood work.

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