Learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Category: PPL Training Page 1 of 6

Check ride day has arrived, I can fly, I’m a pilot!

Today, only 48 hours after my surprise check ride scheduled, I am officially a certificated pilot!

The Stats

It has been a long road, 9 Months, here are the stats:

  • 53 flights
  • 66.9 hrs Flight Hours
  • 66.7 hrs Total Instruction Hours
  • 47.7 hrs Dual Instruction
  • 19.2 hrs Pilot in Command
  • 18.2 hrs Solo
  • 12.7 hrs cross country
  • 3.5 hrs simulated instrument
  • 154 landings

I hope that if anything, my journey to flight inspires others to embrace their dreams.  We only have one life to live, so we should all try our hardest to live our dreams.

For me, my new dream is when the Aliens attack, I can be this guy! 😀

check ride scheduled

2nd Check Ride Prep Session and a Surprise

Today (Sunday June 19th 2016, Fathers day no doubt) my instructor and I went over what we have left on the check ride prep.  As we were talking she said, let’s go ahead and get you scheduled for your check ride.  I told her that I would be on vacation the first week of July so she asked, the flight examiner, that we schedule it the second week of July.

The call was on speaker phone and I hear, “Do you think he is ready to do it sooner?”  My instructor asked when she had in mind.  The examiner replied “How about Tuesday afternoon, I will be there for another check ride. Do you think he will be ready?”  My instructor looked at me and I said that I am fine with the flying portion, I am concerned about the oral prep.  The examiner responded, “Well, do you think you can get him ready?”  My instructor said to go ahead and book it and we will do what we can.

The examiner seemed to be thrilled that she would be able to knock out two at the same airport that day.  I spoke with her a bit, getting some information about what I need to be prepared.


Suddenly, plans have changed.  My instructor looked at me and says, “For the next 48 hours, your butt is mine.  lol”  She then scheduled an afternoon flight with her, so now I would have two on this day.  Also she scheduled time on Monday evening (the next day) for oral prep and 2 hours of solo before the oral prep.   I would then take my check ride the next day, Tuesday June 21, 2016 at high noon.

We start our check ride prep the same as last time.  I perform a short field takeoff, and turned on course for my planned cross country to CLT.  After the first 3 checkpoints, we go through a couple of diversion scenarios.  Next she asked for clean slow flight at 50.  I pull carb heat, “You just failed your check ride”  Damn it!  Clearing turn!  I’ve not done that in a while.  Next, perform the clearing turn, and demonstrated slow flight clean. I performed a few turns in slow flight then another clearing turn and slow flight dirty. I perform a few turns in the dirty configuration.  Back to cruise.

“You’ve lost your engine”  This is where I become a moron for some reason.  I find a field and turn towards it.  For some unknown I decide in my brilliance to perform a right hand spiral.  You know, because, I have never done it before.

As you suspect, I totally blow the descent and would have died in a fire filled ball of aluminum.   We head back to 3000 ft, and I perform some climbing turns.  She ends up giving me another shot at it.

This time, I nailed it perfectly.  Instead of a right hand spiral down, I perform a nice well organized and familiar left hand pattern, drop flaps to 30 on final and eureka.  I got it right.

“What did you do differently this time?”  I replied that instead of being an idiot trying to do something that I have never done before, I did what was familiar and what I have practiced 100’s of times when landing.

Back to TTA for the ending of the first flight of the day.  I performed a soft field landing that was a little harder than it should have been.  She said to use the time Monday night to practice softs and shorts. As many as I can get in during the two hours.

While she was out for her next lesson, I sat in the club classroom and studied.

For the second, flight of the day, I performed a soft field take off.  It was ok, but not perfect.  We headed out on a course of west, just like we have done each ride except I wasn’t checking off waypoints.  Once I hit cruise, she pulled the throttle.  “You’ve lost your engine.”  As it happens we were over the same spot as last time.  This time, I nailed.  I flew to my touchdown point entered a downwind, base, final, full flaps.  Everything was perfect.

We headed back to TTA and I performed a sort of soft field landing, followed by a short field takeoff (it was good), and a really crappy short field landing.

I’m Ready?

As we taxied back, we talked about how I could make them better.  She remarked, “I know that you can do them, just use your time tomorrow night and do as many as you can.  I think you’re nervous because the ride has been scheduled.”  I nodded.  Just two weeks ago, I was nailing these things.  I will get the kinks worked out.

Now off to study.  I only have 44 hours left before my check ride.  I am still not convinced that I am ready and that it will actually happen but until it doesn’t, I will treat it like a certainty.



Sharpening my skills, I’m a bit too dull

Today, I was able to get back in the air with my primary instructor.  For this lesson and the next couple of lessons, it is all about the check ride.  So each flight will be a mock check ride with the goal of sharpening my skills.

The bird that we were flying in today just returned from an engine overhaul and new prop.  The prop seems to be slightly out of balance and around 1500 rpm, there was a weird vibration on the front end.  Not a safety hazard but enough that my instructor did not want to do the slow flight maneuvers today.

I started out with a Short Field takeoff, in which I did not get perfectly lined up with the runway. Evidently this is one of the examiners pet peeves, so I will make sure I do a better job of lining up in the future.

After liftoff, we turned on course for a mock flight plan to CLT.  I checked off the first 3 checkpoints on the route.  After she was satisfied, it was time to start some maneuvers.  This is how the actual check ride will go as well.  Once the examiner is pleased that you know what you are doing, they will cancel the cross country and you will begin your maneuvers.

First, She asked me for a diversion to IGX, approximate course, approximate distance, approximate time and approximate Fuel.  I turned on course and started tracking.  Next she asked me for another diversion to Harnett county.  Again, approximate course, distance, time and fuel burn.  This is the first time that I have done this but it wasn’t too bad.

Next I performed steep turns, first to the left and then to the right.  I nailed the turn to the left but dropped about 80 ft on the turn to the right.  This was within PTS standards          (+- 100 ft) but my instructor would like me to stay within 50 ft.

Next I went under the hood for some simulated instrument.  First maneuver was perform some standard rate turns.  Next we dialed in a VOR and I determined which radial we were currently on, then tracked a specific TO radial.

After the hood work, we did some constant speed descents and ascents, followed up by turns around a point.

Finishing up, we climbed to 2500 msl and performed a spiraling simulated engine out over the runway.  Which I ended up short of because I did not managed the wind properly. Ugh.

Overall, I did well.  She said that I would have passed my ride today but she wants to see me tighten up a few areas.  Probably two more flight sessions and some oral work and I will be ready for my check ride.  Getting close!


Polishing up for the CheckRide

Checkride is coming

I was able to get one flight in this week to finish up my simulated instrument requirements.  We were going to take advantage and polishing up on some ground reference maneuvers as well.

It was fairly windy which helped to build confidence in the ground reference, VOR tracking and soft field take offs and landings.

Everything seems to be coming together inside the airplane.  I am doing quite well with simulated instruments.  I was able to track a VOR 20 miles to crossing right over top and dealing with a pretty stiff wind that forced me to compensate for my track.  As we reached the VOR, My surrogate instructor said, “Well, you can’t do much better than that….. we are going to pass right over top”.  That made me feel good.

When we were finished with ground reference maneuvers we headed back to TTA.  The first landing was simulated engine out.  I landed halfway down the runway which was not optimal but we would have survived.  I also had a direct 8 kt crosswind that made it weird.

We lined up for one trip around the pattern and I elected to perform a soft field take off and landing.  If you have kept up with my training, you know that I thought we were going to crash on my first soft field takeoff in a stiff crosswind.  This time, I had it under control.

As I pushed the throttle in, I had the yoke full back.  The front wheel came off the ground and I released some back pressure but held the nose off the ground. (this was my mistake the first time, I held full back the whole time)  As the mains became light, I felt that crosswind as we danced a little on the left main then we ballooned a bit. I corrected and held us in the ground effect as we gained speed.

The landing went much the same way as the take off. As we entered ground effect, I applied a little power (~1200 rpm).  I had a lot of right rudder and the left wing dipped into the wind to counteract the crosswind.

We softly touched on the left main, then back up a little, softly touched the left main again, and up a little.  The third soft touch stuck and we settled down nicely. Of course I felt like I blew it but my surrogate instructor said that I did a nice job with the winds.

I think that this was the most satisfying take off and landing that I have had.  Mainly because I slayed a demon.  The first time I ever tried was an eye opening experience.  I felt like I as in control the entire time.

My primary instructor returns next week, so we will get down to some serious check ride prep, both oral and practical.  I am looking forward to it.  I’m ready!

Actual Short and Soft Field Landings, Yay!

Two days in a row with good enough weather to fly!  What is the world coming to?

Today, I got a treat.  My surrogate flight instructor and I took a little trip south of TTA to visit a couple of new airfields for actual short and soft field landings.  Well, the airfields are new to me.

As we departed TTA, I donned the dog cone, (AKA Hood) and we flew south as I followed the Sand Hills VOR. Bumpier today, and there were some clouds around 2500, so I flew at 2000 msl.  It was pretty bumpy and kept me on my toes but hey, smooth air doesn’t help you get better.

My instructor said to me, “Go ahead and take that off.  There is a little airport over here that we’ll do a short field landing.”  The airport he was referring to was Carthage, BQ1.  Which has a BBQ place on the field that I hear is pretty good.  We didn’t have time to stop but I look forward to coming back at some point.  We pretty much turned around and took off again.  The trees came up pretty quickly to which I was a little nervous but we cleared them with no issues. It was a good experience to actually get to do it at a place where you have to do a short field.

I was instructed to turn south and we headed past SOP and landed at a small grass strip.  It was so cool… actual soft field experience as well.  Another treat was to checkout out a couple of airplanes, one of which my surrogate flight instructor flies for fun.

As we took off, we headed toward SOP which was not too far north.  Here I practices a soft field landing and soft field takeoff.  Those are my week points.  The landing was awesome. The takeoff, I lifted a bit out of the ground effect and settled it back in but it was not very smooth.  I can do better.

I put the dog cone back on and followed some vectors, holding altitude and airspeed.  It was really bumpy now, so it was a challenge.

The ride back was uneventful other than a couple of unusual attitude scenarios which I handled pretty well.

I landed back at TTA with another soft field.  It was ok, a little harder than should be but not too bad.

Today I felt like I was a part of the pilot community.  When we landed at the grass strip, there were quite a few guys hanging around the hangar swapping stories and what not.  I was welcomed into the group without hesitation.  It felt good…. and I got to fly.  How cool is that.

My little 152 amongst the bush planes

My little 152 amongst the bush planes

The home stretch, checkride in sight!

After my long solo cross country, I am now in check ride prep mode and the home stretch is in site.  I still have some simulated instrument time to take care of but we are handling that while sharpening my skills for the practical test.

I had a weeks worth of flights canceled due to some weather issues. Today, however, turned out to be a great day.  My primary instructor is away for a much needed vacation overseas, so I am utilizing some of our other amazing instructors to help me get ready.  Today I rode with one of my favorites, he helped me get the hang of stalls before my solo.  He has a ton of experience and I love just talking to the guy.

Since I need 2.2 hours of simulated instrument, today was all about the simulated instrument work. As soon as I took off from runway 21 at TTA and turned on course for the practice area, I put on the hood.  A hood is a little different from the foggles that I have used in the past, this thing looks like you strapped a dog cone to your forehead.  It is a little unwieldy but it did the job.

We started off with some simple turns as I ascended to 3000 ft msl.  Then I did some radial tracking off of the LIB VOR.  Next we moved on to a couple of stalls.  I have never done stalls under the hood.  Weird sensation.

Each time that I was asked to make a turn or perform a maneuver, I asked if I was cleared.  Tried to get in the habit of clearing turns or asking for clearance before each maneuver.  You can fail a check ride quickly by failing to do this.

After a few more turns, I hear “I have the flight controls, why  don’t you go ahead and close your eyes for a bit.”  I figured this was unusual attitudes.  I haven’t done these yet so it was a good experience.  I did a couple attempts where my instructor took the controls and had me close my eyes.  Next, I was asked to close my eyes and make some blind turns.

Next, my instructor asked me to perform some steep turns.  That was wild.  I am so used to site picture when performing a steep turn, so with just instruments, I could really feel the G forces in the turn.  Especially when I started to lose a little altitude and pulled back to regain. It was a really cool experience and I nailed it!  If you have been following my progress, you know that steep turns have been my Achilles heal.

After the maneuvers, we moved on to some turns and descents.  I realized pretty quickly that he was vectoring me to runway.  After a few turns and a few altitude step downs, he said “Ok, take off the hood and land”.  I was setup perfectly on Base for runway 22 at Siler City.  He asked me to perform a slip to landing and I nailed it with a sweet touch down.

As soon as we departed runway 22, once again I was asked to put on the hood as we ascended through 500 ft.  Once I turned on course, he said “Vacuum failure” and put a piece of paper over the attitude indicator and directional gyro.  I was now using the wing leveler (which runs on electricity so you have the backup for a vacuum failure), and the compass.  This is the first time I have had to deal with losing instruments but I think I handled it well.

I could tell that we were headed back towards TTA when my instructor went searching through his pockets, “I’ve got this toy here somewhere”.  After a few minutes it was revealed as he slapped a black circle over top of my airspeed indicator.  Now I was running on a compass, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, and wing leveler.  As it turned out, it wasn’t too big of a deal.  I knew the engine rpms for cruise, decent, etc.

While performing a few more turns then I hear, “go ahead and take off the hood and land”.  We were setup about 3 miles west of the airfield (TTA) at 2000 ft MSL.  I proceeded to fly over the airfield and descend turn into downwind for runway 21 at TTA.  I preformed another slip to landing since I was a little high. It was a weird experience flying and landing with no airspeed indicator but was great practice for if/when that situation arrives.

All in all, I think I did quite well considering it has been, literally, months since I have worked on just maneuvers. And oh yeah, I nailed both landings, greasy!  I had a lot of fun and got to fly!  What could be better?


Long Solo Cross Country flight? Yes Please!

Today, the weather worked out and allowed me to complete some of my final requirements, including the long solo cross country flight.

As of this morning I needed:

  • Solo Cross Country total distance greater than 150nm with at least 3 stops and one leg greater than 50nm.
  • 3 solo landings at a towered airport
  • 2.2 hrs of hood time (Instrument training)

Today I was able to knock out two the remaining items.

My flight today took me from Raleigh Executive (TTA) -> Davidson County (EXX) -> Stanley County (VUJ) -> Richmond County (RCZ) -> then back to Raleigh Executive.

I performed my calculations, filed a flight plan and headed to the airfield to have one of the instructors review my numbers and sign me off for the flight.  Today was my normal instructors day off, I was able to get one of our other club instructors to fill in.  We have an amazing group of instructors and members in our club.  It is a very supportive community.

We discussed the possibility of para jumpers around VUJ and what I should do if that happens.  It turns out that this was a very relevant conversation.

I headed out to the airplane, like I was a real pilot and performed preflight and run up.  Made the radio calls and away I go.  I have been to all of these airports before so I was familiar with the routes.  The flight to EXX was uneventful.  Except Raleigh Approach terminated my flight following instead of handing me off to Greensboro approach… which was weird.  No big deal, I just requested a new following from Greensboro.

I made a pretty nice landing, if I do say so myself, at EXX and taxi’d up to the fuel pumps. Again, acting like a total pro, filled the tanks, sent a text to my surrogate instructor then I gave VUJ tower a call to see about those para jumpers.

The tower indicated that there were some jumpers scheduled but she thought I could squeeze in before.  As it turns out… not so much.  As I approached, VUJ, I dialed up the tower and was told that I needed to hold outside of the airspace.  The conversation that I had earlier about this helped me not freak out.  So I circled over a lake, taking in the views.


Once the jumpers completed their jumps, I was routed into VUJ and told to report right base 22L.  I complied and made a nice landing.  I still needed two more solo landings at a towered airport, so I requested to takeoff and remain in the pattern.  Upon the next landing I did the same.

After I had completed my requisite landings, I asked ground to route me to the fuel.  I didn’t originally plan to refuel at VUJ but with the hold and the extra landings, I figured better to be safe than sorry.

The rest of the trip went pretty well.  I flew from VUJ to RCZ, then it was just a hop through the Sandhills VOR (SDZ) back home to Raleigh Executive.

All in all it was a good day.  I am a little tired afterwards but totally worth it.

Today I got to fly and airplane… by myself … long distance.  I felt like a pilot.

Quick Night Flight Dream Comes True

If you read the previous post, you understand that this was a long time coming. And even up to the last minute, we were nearly thwarted. This quick night flight has been a long time in the making.

We go through the start up sequence, perform the engine run up, set the radios, and depart runway 3 with a destination of Stanley County Airport, VUJ.

Since this was a night cross country, the typical landmarks would be nearly useless so instead I picked out things like major highways, bigger cities that would have bright lights.  Airports, tracking their green/white alternating flashes.  Also for each one of these, I had two radials one from LIB to the north and one from SDZ to the south which would help me stay on track.

Once on course, I dialed in the first radial and then called up flight services to open my flight plan.

Me: “Raleigh Radio, Raleigh Radio, Cessna 89433 on 122.45.”

FltSvc: “89433, Raleigh Radio, go ahead”

Me: “89433 would like to open flight plan”

FltSvc: “89433, confirming round robin to Stanley county. For in route information……..”

Flight plan now open, I dial up a flight following.

Me: “Raleigh Approach, Cessna 89433”

Ral App: “Cesnna 89433, Raleigh Approach say request”

Me: “Approach, Cessna 89433 is type 152 slant uniform off of Tango Tango Alpha enroute to Victor Uniform Juliet climbing through three thousand five hundred to four thousand five hundred, request flight following”

Ral App: “89433 squawk 0216 and ident”

Me: “0216 and ident, 89433”

Ral App: “89433, we have you 10 miles west of Sanford at four thousand one hundred, once at altitude report any changes, altimeter 29.61”

Me: “Roger, will report”

With the housekeeping out of the way, we are on our way.  It was quite pleasant since the cool air was smooth.  Once trimmed in cruise flight, I just made small corrections depending on how my waypoints were turning out.

Once released from flight following, we got the AWOS from VUJ and I made my first call to a tower at an airport.

Me: “Stanley Tower, 89433”

Tower: “89433, say request”

Me: “89433 is Cessna 152 inbound to land”

Tower: “89433 fly base runway 22L report when entering airspace”

Me: “Wilco, 89433”

Once we enter airspace

Me: “Tower, 89433 has entered airspace”

Tower: “89433, there is no traffic in front of you, report when entering base”

Me: “Will report, 89433”

I slow the aircraft and drop a notch of flaps setting up for the base leg.  Once I am at 1600 feet, pattern altitude, I make the call.

Me: “Tower, 89433 is base runway 22L”

Tower: “89433, you are cleared for the option runway 22L, winds are calm, altimeter 29.65”

Me: “Cleared for the option 22L, 89433”

I won’t bore you with the rest of the communication but once we landed I was instructed to contact ground where I requested immediate taxi for departure.

Once we cleared airspace, Stanley tower wished us a good night and we got back on flight following for the trip back.  It was an uneventful trip back and overall a very pleasant flight.  It was a long time coming, nearly a month and a half of trying.

Now, I am trying to the the long cross country out of the way and start my check ride prep.

I could have done without all of the drama but it was good to get back in the air.

Flight Training Perseverance Finally Pays Off.. or Does it?

I haven’t been neglecting the blog, actually I have not been flying.  I am at a point in my flight training where I need to complete the last few things in a certain order.  The domino that was blocking my path was the night cross country.

I only have a few items to check off before I can start check-ride prep.

  • Night Cross Country
  • 3 Takeoff/landings at towered airport
  • 2 more night takeoff and landings
  • 2 more hours of solo cross country work
  • 2 hours of hood work.
  • Long solo cross country

Other than the hood work, my instructor wanted me to complete these in a specific order.  I’ll explain….

In order to complete my long solo cross country, which fulfills ,the Tower takeoff and landings and rest of my solo cross country time, I needed to first visit a towered airport with my instructor.  In her curriculum, this first towered experience comes during the night cross country.  Also the night cross country would fulfill the final two night take off and landings that I need.  So in short, the night cross country is the first domino to fall.  Then I can complete my long solo cross country and the only thing that I have left are two hours of hood time.  Which most will occur during my check ride prep.

So I know what you’re asking.  Why did it take so long?

Well, the weather has been horrible.  I started booking several nights a week starting mid March.  On the 19th attempt, May 4th, the weather finally cooperated.

After many, many, many, many,  yes…. many attempts. (You read 19 above, right?)  I get a text from my instructor, “Based on new tafs, tonight is a go!”

Now I was pretty shocked because it had been cancelled so many times due to cloud heights, wind, dew points, etc., that I wasn’t really even paying attention to the tafs.  At least not sitting here waiting for the updates.

As it gets closer to time, I get another text… “Check clouds wind before drive to tta today”.  I immediately started looking at the surrounding area.  Crap… winds are still high in spots. 10 in some places with 8 crosswind component.  However, the predictions say that the winds will die down.  I go to the airfield anyway even though things are sketchy.  Hell, I just wanted to be around airplanes if nothing else.

So I get to the airfield and talk with my instructor before she goes out for some hood work with another student. She says,”I’m confident tonight will happen, go ahead and cancel the rest of the night flights and reschedule for your long cross country”.  Yay!!!

She heads out with her student and I sit around, consuming a cup o noodle for my dinner and continue to hawk the weather.  Things are starting to look better, winds dying down as predicted, clouds staying above 6000 ft.

Once my instructor returns, I get busy on final calculations for the trip. While she is going over my work, I call for a weather brief.  This is where things go sideways.  As we get to the notams, the briefer says “Looks like there is military lights out training at your destination tonight.  You have to stay above 3,100 ft in the area. Since they are using night vision goggles, there are no lights in and around the airfield.”  I have him repeat this with my instructor listening, hoping I was misinterpreting what he was saying.  Nope, it was exactly what he said it was.  At this point, I am pretty disappointed.  I know the weather for the next week is not good.

My instructor says, “Well, it is what it is I guess”.   After a minute of mulling, she then says “Give the tower a call and see what they say.  Tell them that we are just flying in then quickly turning around and taking off.”  I do as she asks and I hear the best news ever… well maybe not ever but in recent history. “The c-130’s are not operating tonight, so you can come on.”  Yay!!

My instructor grabs her headset and as she walks toward the door to the flight line says, “Let’s get the hell out of dodge before something else happens”.  I couldn’t agree more.  I grab my stuff and then remember that I never actually filed the flight plan because of the news the briefer gave us.  I quickly call up and file our flight plan then sprint to the plane.

I will write another post with the details of the night flight but spoilers… It happened!  Finally.



A Short Break in the Weather

For the month of March and April, the weather has conspired against me.  Gusting winds daily have cancelled most of my flights.  I typically schedule 3-4 times a week and recently, I have been lucky to get in one flight.  So… This has been me lately.


Today, however, there was a break in the wind and I got in a round robin cross country flight to KEXX.

Everything was working out fantastic, TAF’s predicted sky clear, winds variable 3kts.  As I was preflighting, the wind picked up substantially.  I checked the AWOS and it was saying winds were gusting to 10. The saving grace was that they were right down the runway.  My instructor walked out to the plane next to mine with another student and asked “Are you paying attention to the winds?”.  I replied to the affirmative and let her know what I last saw.  She seemed pleased that I was on top of it.

The trip was really uneventful except for a couple of things to note.  As I was fueling up, someone from the FBO came running out.  Evidently, I was trying to fuel from a pump that was reserved for farm equipment.  It was 100LL fuel, so it was the right fuel but for some reason that pump was reserved for farm equipment.  I needed to open up a big silver box to find the pump that I was supposed to use. The problem was, the big silver box looked like one of those things that was reserved for maintenance people or authorized people only.

It was only the second time that I have ever fueled a plane by myself, so I chalked it up to a learning experience.  I had a nice chat with the guys at the FBO and then I was on my way.

The next bit was that Greensboro approach notified me that they were having radar issues and it took them a while to pick me up and give me a squawk code.  15 minutes later, they lost me again and had me squawk VFR.  I listened in to the frequency in case they mentioned to someone else that an unidentified plane was converging with them.

I hit all of my waypoints on both the trip to and from.  Felt good to be back in the air. Next I still need to get in that night cross country, so far 10 scheduled flights have been canceled.  Then I need to do my long cross country, which is a flight of greater than 150nm.

Here is my cloud ahoy track to KEXX. Not the straightest flight that I have made but…https://www.cloudahoy.com/debrief/?key=Oibh37XGpWCahJM2E

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