Monday, September 25, 2006

Practice again

Short post. I went out and did 0.9 hours of practice last Friday. It was a beautiful day, and I went up in the early morning so it was quiet and incredibly peaceful. I just did a few steep turns out between SLAC and Crystal Springs, then I went out by the ocean because it was clear. While I was out there I decided to try landing at Half Moon Bay, which is usually too fogged in. I was very clumsy about getting in the pattern, in large part becaus there are all kinds of hills to the east, which is where a right pattern for 30 would put me. So it was awkward. Then as I was descending on my downwind, I encountered so much turbulence that I bailed on the whole thing. "Half Moon Bay traffic, Cessna 54JA departing the area." Good thing nobody was listening.

That's about it. Landing back at SQL was uneventful. Hoping to go out and practice again sometime in the next few days.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Angwin Trip

Yesterday was the first time in about six months that I'd flown to an airport to which I'd never been. It marked a number of other milestones: my second Class B transition, my first night landing with a passenger, only the fourth passenger I'd taken up, my first time at an airport with no taxiways, my first time landing as high as 1850 feet (2000 and higher requires the mountain checkout), and the crossing of the 100 hour mark. What a day!

My friend Katherine wanted to go flying, and she came prepared with a plan: We'd fly to Angwin airport above the Napa Valley, get a cab over to Bothe State Park, go hiking, and come back. My first reaction was, holy cow, can I handle this? So I did some research, and basically could think of no reason I could not do this flight, despite the number of firsts and seconds involved. The previous two days had been pretty excessively windy, but yesterday was beautiful and calm. So we went!

Takeoff was uneventful. I had a lot of trouble understanding the SFO controllers for some reason, and on the way out I completely missed the fact that I had been given clearance into Class B airspace. They asked me why I'd turned away, and I had to sheepishly admit my mistake and thank them for their assistance. The rest of the journey up was great! We tracked the SAU VOR, then the SGD VOR. From there, my plan was to fly direct to Angwin, but the turbulence off the hills was pretty bad, so I decided instead to get over Napa Valley and follow it up. That was a good decision; things were much smoother. Kat actually found the airport first, which is impressive -- most non-pilots have a lot of trouble seeing tiny airports.

And tiny it was -- a single, narrow strip, no taxiways, and an upslope at the end, surrounded by trees on the top of a hill. What a totally different experience for me! We came in at about 4200 MSL, with the airport sitting at 1850 MSL and TPA at 2700 MSL, and me being nervous about the surrounding hills and trees. I chose runway 34 based on the windsock, and clumsily came into the pattern. My final approach was high, but I got it down in what turned into a pretty bad landing -- off center (on a narrow strip -- not the best idea!), and a little fast. There was a crosswind, and I came down on the upwind wheel correctly. I think the speed really was the biggest problem. But in any case, we got down, turned around and taxied back to the parking area at the approach end of 34.

We had lunch while waiting for the cab, and then went for a hike at the Bothe Napa Valley State Park. It wasn't the hike that we'd planned on, as we walked right past the entrance to the correct trail and got on the wrong trail. But it was great anyway! The cab picked us up at 6:30 as I got more and more nervous at the prospect of having to take off at night, on a runway whose lighting I was completely unsure of. But we got back to the airport and lifted off about 15 minutes before sunset, and headed south. I started to worry as I saw fog in the valleys toward the coast, so I called up Oakland Center and got the current weather for San Carlos: Sky clear. Whew! But I was having the hardest time seeing anything. Why can't I see anything? sunglasses are still on. Very clever!

On the way back, again I had a lot of trouble understanding the SFO controllers, so much that I think I had to say "Say again, please" four times. But whatever; we made it through. I contacted San Carlos, entered the pattern, and executed one of my best landings, especially fortunate considering that it was my first night landing with a passenger ever!

Overall it was a great trip! I highly recommend it. I clearly need practice with my Class B transitions, so that might be the next order of business. And I really want to fly more!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Comfort zone?

It's been a month since I last flew. A MONTH! And a summer month at that. It's been a terrible waste of daylight, a waste of a summer that should have been spent in the air. Now, it's not been without its causes. For one thing, I've been happier recently with the rest of my life (job, home) and therefore less eager to run away and go flying. For another thing, I was without a car for all of August, which was problematic at best.

I love flying. It's such a tremendous feeling to be up in the air. But as it is such a new skill for me, it requires a LOT of maintenance. I've read The Killing Zone, and I'm doing exactly what The Killing Zone says not to do: Stop training, fly occasionally. From now on, that ends. I fly once a week at least, and make sure I have at least one "good" landing per week. If I fly a cross country, and both landings are merely "OK" then I've got to go out and do pattern work.

Anyway, so it's been a MONTH. And today almost didn't happen, except that I was determined to go -- not a good state of mind in general, but necessary today. First, I came to Palo Alto and found out the plane I'd reserved was actually in San Carlos. My goof. No other 172SPs were available at Palo Alto, and I didn't want to fly out of San Carlos because while it was windy in Palo Alto (9 KT direct crosswind), it was even windier in San Carlos (by a lot). Plus, I hadn't flown in a MONTH, and PAO is definitely my comfort zone. So to extend my comfort zone, I ended up in 6521J, the plane I did almost all of my training in; the plane that led me to my license in the first place. Good plane.

So: Preflight was totally smooth. Radio work, taxi and runup were all great. Takeoff was...acceptable. I correctly went controls into the wind, but I kept feeling like it wanted to take off too early. I think the trim is not properly marked for takeoff. So I took off. First time around the pattern, I came in on a relatively short approach and ... whoops, I'm way too high, I can't align myself with the runway, screw it, I'm going around. I went around; it was a good go-around (and dealing with carb-heat again at that, a "feature" that the 172SP neither has nor needs thanks to its electronic fuel injection). OK. Second pass...not too high this time, but man, that wind is a pain! Actually I came in too low. Added a bit of power, and 6521J does this thing where the engine hesitates when adding power from idle in flight. I'd forgotten about that, and it was freaky, so I added more power. THEN I was high. Go around again.

Third pass. This time I took a nice long approach. I got positioned early. I kept the crab angle all the way in, and this time the same thing happened as last time, but I panicked less, so I didn't end up way too high -- just a little. I landed long, halfway down the runway, and ugly, with a little bounce, but safely. OK, one landing. Taxi back.

Fourth pass. An even longer approach thanks to the controller wanting to let a few planes out. Fine with me. This time I kept the approach under control and didn't panic when I felt low. This is a recurring theme with me, I feel low when I'm not. I didn't land as long, and this time I landed on the upwind wheel, as I should. My nose came down early and I had trouble controlling the plane to a standstill, though I did it. Yes, getting better!

Fifth pass. Another nice long approach, not as long as the last. This time I maintained my TPA better, and planned my descent much better. I cut power right over the numbers. I did everything almost right, touching down on the upwind wheel. I think the nose wheel hit a little harder than it should have after that, but not a big deal. All in all, a decent landing! Still a little controlling issue after all three wheels were down. I think this gets to what they say about "continuing to fly the plane even when it's down."

So, hopefully I can try again in the next couple of days, and maybe in an SP!