Friday, June 30, 2006


It took me a while, but I finally came to the conclusion that even though I now have my private pilot's license, I still need to keep doing what I was doing before and go out and practice. Prior to today's flight, I hadn't flown in two weeks. And guess what? The same thing happens now after a long layoff as before I got the license. The piece of paper does not keep me from getting rusty and losing my feel for the plane and for landing.

So I went out and practiced today. I want to fly to Sacramento on July 4 (my band has a show), but I would not have been comfortable just getting in a plane after 2.5 weeks off. My goal today was to do 5 landings in a 172SP, at Palo Alto. Pretty much my standard pre-license drill.

So I went out in 751MF, a 2000 172SP. When I got to PAO, it was a beautiful day, but much windier than I'd thought. The METAR report said the wind was from 340 at 12 knots but the windsock said that it was gusty and shifting a little, but mostly right down the runway. Good practice day!

Starting up the plane went totally smoothly! That was gratifying, since the last time I had some trouble. I paused for a long time prior to giving my radio call; when I haven't done it in a while I feel the need to make sure I know exactly what I'll be saying. Of course, someone wound up stepping on my transmission so I had to say it 3 times anyway.

The first couple of laps were a little frustrating in that everyone and their brother was leaving Palo Alto for the long weekend. There were eight planes in line to take off at one point! I was #4. Another time I was #5 to land. So I was not able to make normal patterns; everything was getting extended out, and that combined with my lack of practice and the wind conditions pretty much made my first two landings sub-ideal. They were not bad; I touched down gently, and both times rather extremely on the upwind wheel. I'm not sure if that was really necessary, because the sock was saying the wind was almost directly down the runway, but on the other hand I was just reacting to what the plane was doing, so maybe it was OK.

The third landing attempt was bad, and I wound up pushing the power full and going around. I executed the go-around OK, except that I lost pitch control of the plane for a few seconds upon adding power. Pretty scary so close to the ground. Now this might sound a little overconfident or cocky, but it's not and I'll explain why in a sec: I'm very glad that my reflexes tend to compensate for my lack of experience. In this case, I put myself in a little bit of a scary situation and was pitching up and down very close to the ground, but my instincts said "Level the plane!" and that's what I did, which was the right thing. The reason I say it's not cocky is that even though this has happened a few times, I still cannot and do not ever expect it to happen, and use that as an excuse to either stop learning or stop doing everything I can in the planning phase.

Anyway, so I went around, and my third landing was pretty decent. By this time I was thinking about just terminating, but the amount of traffic dropped off dramatically, so I stayed and did landings #4 and #5, both of which were quite good.

So, all in all, I'm very glad I went. It was exhausting, and I made a few small mistakes (I forgot to turn on my beacon on the first lap, and I couldn't understand what I assume was a "position and hold" call at one point), but all in all it was really good, and I handled the wind pretty well. I think I'll be ready for Tuesday, but just in case, I have time scheduled on Sunday and Monday too. I need to do at least one of those, because they're both in San Carlos, which is where I'll be flying from on Tuesday.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bay Tour

Today Nirmala and I went up for a little trip up over SFO, the City, and the north coast. It was a beautiful sunny day, which was part of the motivation, but the other part of the story is that we have to go to a wedding in Lodi tomorrow, and before we can do that I need to get my night currency up, which means I need three takeoffs and landings at least one hour after sunset, before I can fly with a passenger at night (and we'll be coming back at night tomorrow). Also, I hadn't flown in nearly two weeks, so I didn't want my first flight to be at night. So, we went for a daytime flight. Originally I was just going to do pattern work, but Nirmala wanted to come with me, and I was pretty sure she'd be bored of the pattern pretty quickly!

So we went to SQL -- as we drove up, I saw N236SP (the plane I'd reserved) in its parking spot, with the flaps extended! Very strange, I thought, but we went into the club and checked out the book. It turns out that the battery has a draining problem, and the plane would not start for a renter last night -- and nothing had been done since the squawk (I guess nobody even went out and looked at it to put the flaps back in!). The only other 172 (SP or otherwise) available was 4849D, an older 172N, old enough to have the 40 degrees of flaps.

We had to sit for a while as I convinced myself that I was indeed ready to try a Class B transition. After a while, I figured, what's the worst that can happen? What I'm nervous about is not a piloting issue, nor a weather issue, nor anything that is really all that hazardous; what I was worried about was just the workload and whether I could handle it. And the workload was pretty much making sure I could hear my clearances, altitudes and routing, and frequencies. So we went for it.

Things didn't start out so well; I actually had to ask my passenger what SQL ground said! Turned out it was "squawk code on request." That was mildly embarrassing, and I'm sure it didn't inspire confidence. But whatever. We went out to the 12 runup, ran up, and took off on a left downwind. I wasn't sure what altitude to go to, so I went to 1200'. SQL Tower handed me off to SFO Tower, and I stated my request. I had to circle over Bay Meadows once before entering Class B, but no big deal -- Nirmala said she saw Whole Foods.

So up north we went! It was totally smooth, I got handed off to Norcal Approach, who eventually asked me if I was going to stay in the north bay for a while. After an affirmative response, he let me go and we flew up the coast up to Point Reyes, where we'd been hiking the previous weekend. The weather was beautiful! Only a little turbulence going over the hills, but otherwise it was totally smooth.

We took an inland route back, over 101 and the Golden Gate. I used the wrong frequency first to contact approach, but no big deal. I called the right frequency and they cleared me into Class B, so we went back down over the City, and followed 101 down. I had not gotten the SQL ATIS weather, so approach gave me the numbers -- by this time, the winds had shifted and SQL was using runway 30 instead of 12 that we took off on. So I crossed over at 1200', entered a right pattern a little high, entered final right on target, and....what a crappy landing. Flat, too fast, a little bounce, and a nearly skidding halt.

So tonight I might go out and take care of my night currency requirements, but we'll see how I feel. Otherwise we'll just drive to Lodi tomorrow!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

$100 Sandwiches in Salinas!

I'm writing this nearly two weeks after the fact, but I wanted to document that it had happened. This was my first cross country flight post-license, and first with a passenger! Nirmala and I flew down to Salinas for lunch. I had landed at Salinas twice before during my training, so I was pretty comfortable with the airport.

We went to SQL to pick up N54JA, but when we got there, I overheard the receptionist (that's not the right word, but I'm going with it) on the phone with someone, saying that they were stuck in Half Moon Bay after the fog had rolled in. Which airplane? 54JA. She was saying, "Well, someone else has the plane, and I can't really cancel..." Meanwhile, I was outside thinking, hopefully these crosswinds don't get worse! So upon hearing this, I went in, and cancelled it.

It turned out that 222MF was available at Palo Alto, so we drove down to PAO, got 222MF, and after a little trouble starting her up, we took off toward Salinas!

This flight reminded me of my long solo cross country, in that there were patchy clouds out there that I had to avoid. But this time my comfort level was much higher, given that I'd done it before. We flew down at 5500', and everything went great. I remembered everything, including the leaning on the way down. My landing was a little bit hard due to a high flare, but not so bad.

The lunch was quite good! The sandwiches were big, and the curly fries were delicious. And the price (not counting the flight itself, of course) was very reasonable. Recommended!

So we headed back for Palo Alto, this time at 4500'. Some more cloud avoidance on the way back, but again, nothing too bad. We reported over SLAC, entered a left pattern for runway 31 at PAO, landed, and went home!

Hopefully the first of many!