Friday, November 23, 2007

Practicing Approaches

After several weeks of thinking about it, I finally decided to go out on my own and practice approaches by myself. I wanted to make it a cross country, especially after just missing the minimum cross country distance on my last flight, so in addition to the Stockton and Livermore approaches I wanted to practice, I decided to start with an approach at Modesto and conclude that approach with a touch and go.

So I called up Norcal near Sunol and picked up flight following to Modesto. I got ATIS at Modesto, and configured my radios for the approach. My first thought was to go via the MOD VOR, and then up to WOWAR and do the hold/procedure turn to get back inbound. But then I thought I'd save the time, and about 20 miles out, turned direct WOWAR and began my descent. ATC then began giving me vectors; I carefully stayed above KMOD's Class D and descended below 2400' only after I was clear. ATC then cleared me for the approach, at which point I clarified with him that I'm VFR and this is practice. He apparently knew that; I guess they say "cleared for the approach" even for VFR practice approaches.

Problem #1: I never actually switched my nav source to NAV instead of GPS. So luckily I was VFR, otherwise the approach would've been illegal. At WOWAR, I reported as requested, descended and started my stopwatch. About halfway to the MAP, for some reason I was showing a full scale deflection on the CDI, which made no sense because I was exactly on course. Oh well, at that point I could see the runway so I went ahead and landed (nice one), powered back up and raised my flaps, and took off again. As had been instructed, I turned to heading 360 and climbed to 2000'. I called back to Norcal, and they gave me heading 290 toward Stockton.

At this point I realized I was still using GPS as a nav source, so I tuned ECA VOR and the inbound course, and changed my nav source to NAV1. At some point I found myself depending more than I wanted to on the moving map display, so I dimmed it to black. I intercepted the inbound course, and had my clearance, so made my way inbound. This approach went totally smoothly, and since I had a better idea of what to expect on the radio, I was much more efficient with my calls. I did just a low pass at MDA and made the left turn that had been requested by Norcal before I switched the radio back to them.

And when I did, I went ahead and requested Livermore ILS 25R. Again, the whole thing went pretty smoothly, except there was one point where I lost my situational awareness and had to undim the moving map display. In fairness I'd gotten some odd vectors, and had been given a "maintain until intercept" clearance (request, really, since I was VFR) while being vectored through my course. Still, I should've been more aware of my situation. The ILS was interesting; I decided to try to keep my airspeed at full for as long as possible. Right around REIGA, the FAF, the tower requested that I slow to "slowest possible" approach speed, so I slowed to 90 knots, and then just to try it I put in 20 degrees of flaps and dropped to 75 knots. However, in all that chaos, I neglected to start my timer at REIGA. Considering all that, I kept on the ILS very well. I got to the DA and again did a low pass, with a left turnout, and flew back to Palo Alto. Upon reaching PAO, I did a short approach just for practice, and nailed it, easily leaving the runway on the first taxiway off.

All in all, it was a good flight to do. I did fall behind a few times, and lost situational awareness at least once. But I think if I do this a couple of times, I'll be way ahead of where I was, in terms of ability and confidence. It was also nice to be fully responsible for ATC communication through the whole flight. I did very well, I thought, nobody got annoyed with me and I was pretty efficient. I am planning to visit a friend in Tracy on Sunday, so I figure I can do something similar to today -- Modesto, Stockton, and then just do an approach to full stop to Tracy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happiness Is Being Committed

Commitment, rooted in belief both in oneself and in some intangible entity such as love or God, is a very odd phenomenon. Commitment to another person requires an undying belief in that person, as well as a deep belief in oneself. Commitment to a hobby, pastime or career path also requires a strong belief in oneself, combined with a guiding belief: If I achieve X, I will get/feel Y. Commitment to a psych ward requires such an extreme belief in oneself that even in the face of logic, sanity and all that is good in the world, that belief is unshaken. But I digress. Thank you all for your comments on last week's post. I'm still flying, I still have questions, but I feel like I have options. That's a great step.

I took my cousin's sons up to Petaluma for lunch today, and it was the kind of magical flight that causes one's perhaps shaky beliefs to be propped up, stabilized, held aloft proudly like Excalibur, allowing one to be the ruler of the fickle kingdom of his emotions for a fleeting moment. Pardon me while I wax poetic -- basically, I had a great time, and found that upon landing, I was in a completely different state of mind than I was when I'd started. What had happened?

I'd done something relatively difficult really well. I'd been able to relay a totally different view of the world to two people I love very much. I also flew very well, and handled the radio much better than I would've expected after a 10-day layoff. We took off from San Carlos in 610SP, a plane that I'd remembered as being very solid but hadn't flown in a long while. Luckily, my memory served correctly. We got our code for SFO's Bravo transition, took off on 12 for a left downwind, and went north. Talking to SFO, I was smooth and professional, and got my clearance. I maintained 1500' pretty much exactly through the transition, then flew out over the city and gave my passengers a nice view of the Golden Gate. We continued up to Petaluma, entered the busy pattern perfectly, and glided to a nice landing on runway 29.

Lunch was good; the weekday staff at the 29er Diner seemed a bit overwhelmed by the pre-Thanksgiving crowd, but the food was good. We took off on a right downwind, and as we neared Sausalito, I'd still been unable to get a word in edgewise to Norcal. Finally there was a gap and I fired my request through. I got my clearance, and followed the freeway back to San Carlos. I crossed overhead at 1200', made right traffic for 30 and landed smoothly. Totally uneventful flight EXCEPT when departing Petaluma I had my comm on the wrong radio. Luckily I discovered this before ending up in a disruptive situation.

And now I'm happy. I flew, I flew well with passengers, I handled my responsibilities with aplomb. I think much of my consternation from before is that I've spent WAY more time than usual lately looking at balance sheets, and if that won't get one committed, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Crisis of Faith

Lately I've been having a crisis of faith regarding my fanatical devotion to aviation. I'm a smart guy -- I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm quite smart, certainly smart enough to be able to justify just about anything. This gets me into a lot of trouble, and frequently, by allowing me to get into situations that end up making me miserable. But I'd gotten into these situations through a series of rationalizations that even now make so much sense that I fear I'd make the same bad decisions again. I've spent a lot of time rationalizing my love of aviation -- straight lines are more efficient paths, you don't burn fuel in traffic, it's worth the money for the same reason that college is, etc, etc.

But really, here's the straight scoop about flying, aviation, piloting, whatever you want to call it: I love doing it, and I'm reasonably good at it. Actually, there are aspects of it that I'm very good at. GPS operations are not among those aspects. But I digress. I love to fly, I love being in the air and I love being the pilot in command. I love the communication with ATC and towers, I love taking passengers up in the air, and I love being able to land on a runway I've never seen before. I love when something unexpected happens and I have the right reaction. I love it when a flight plan comes together. I love nailing an instrument approach and sticking a landing. I love all takeoffs and landings, I love busting through a cloud, I love tooling around when there are no clouds. I love emerging from a plane all sweaty and exhausted, and thinking how much cooler it was than driving. I love showing up at work and telling my friends that just an hour ago I was in Stockton, or Tracy, or Sacramento or Ukiah or Salinas or someplace. And I love the thought that there's SO much more to learn that this will never get old. Bored? Faster plane, mountain checkout, new airport, some new piece of avionics, multi-engine training, tailwheel....the list goes on, long enough to be a challenging pursuit for a lifetime.

So what's the crisis? This is a crisis in two parts, both practical, one much more immediate than the other. The first, most immediate part of this crisis is that flying is really expensive. It's REALLY expensive. I make a very good salary as a software engineer in the bay area, and I really can't afford all this flying I've been doing. My last flight, including instructor costs, cost me over $1000. One thousand dollars!! To go to Ukiah, screw up a missed approach, land briefly in Sacramento, and go home. $1000, over six hours!! If I'd spent six hours in Vegas and lost $1000 in the slots, I'd be really upset! In two weeks, I will be responsible for a mortgage payment, and my savings will have been decimated by a down payment. I absolutely cannot go dropping $1000 on a random Sunday to fly to Ukiah and Sacramento, touch down in one of the two cities, and come home.

I estimate that my 220 hours of airplane time have cost about $30,000, taking into account that much of my initial time was in older 172Ns, which are cheaper than the newer 172SPs. That does not include instructor time, which totals about another $10K. So, I've spent $40,000 on flying over the last two and a half years. That is mind boggling. I spent less on grad school!

Now, say I want to get my commercial license and my CFI rating so that I can start getting paid for some of my hours. How long will THAT take? Won't I need to use a more advanced aircraft for my commercial rating (I don't actually know the answer to this; it's just what I've heard)? This is such a financial sink hole, with no promise of ever returning on the investment, especially because fuel costs are only going up, which will put the aviation industry in a bind, potentially taking away the only monetary motivation, however far-fetched it may have been, for me to continue this route.

And speaking of fuel, that brings me to Crisis Part 2: Flying is TERRIBLE for the environment. Yeah, I know, I've tried to justify this six ways to Sunday, but there is no way around it. If I take a Cessna 172 up to Petaluma, aside from it costing about $250 round trip (see Crisis Part 1), it burns about 15 gallons of fuel. LEADED fuel. The exhaust from this LEADED fuel falls on the happy people below me who are none the wiser but become infinitesimally less healthy as I glide overhead on my joy ride. Say I did the same trip in my car. Well..MY car might be tough to beat; it gets 45 MPG on the highway running biodiesel. Round trip from Palo Alto to Petaluma is about 150 miles, so I could do it on about 3.3 gallons (of veggie oil). Say I drove a Honda Civic that got 30 MPG: That's 5 gallons. How about an SUV, say a Hummer H3 with a V8 and an automatic transmission? Beast still gets 16 MPG, using a little over 9 gallons for this round trip.

So the little Cessna's about a time and a half worse than the most egregiously consumptive SUV I could come up with off the top of my head. We are using up the Earth's decidedly finite oil supply, and here I am doing the equivalent of driving not one but TWO Hummers (or, maybe a Hummer and a Honda) just to go have brunch. This is not good, and there's really no justifying it. Planes are terrible for the environment.

On this front, though, there is a little bit of hope. While a 747 burns about a gallon of fuel every second (yes, you may gag), the world's first all-biodiesel jet flight was recently completed. Also, a small plane recently achieved an efficiency of 48MPG at 170MPH! That's five times more efficient PER PERSON than a 747. More immediately, a whole slew of planes are coming out that go about as fast as a 172, that burn about half the fuel. But until I can rent those from a club or somehow afford to buy and maintain one, that remains a crisis.

So what to do? I don't know. I do know that I have to just finish my Instrument Rating at this point; I'm about five or six flights away from being done with it, and it'd be ludicrous to stop now. After that....I don't know. I'd love to find a more efficient and cost effective way to continue flying and training.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Long IFR XC: Done.

After a cold, ugly, rainy day yesterday that would've been perfect IFR weather, I awoke this morning to the most unwelcome sight of sunshine streaming in my bedroom window. What a terrible time to have a beautiful day! I hate the bay area. Just kidding. I woke up at about 8:00 and had a nice relaxing morning, getting ready to be at the club by 10:00. At 9:45, John called and said, "Are we going flying today?" I said, "Well, the weather looks good..." He said, "Yeah, I was wondering more about the student.." Turns out, we were scheduled at 9:00.

OK, so things didn't get off to a great start, but I finally got to the airport, and we reviewed my plan briefly and talked about how we expected to get routed. We were going to fly to Ukiah for the LOC 15 approach, followed by Sacramento Executive for the ILS 2 and then back to Palo Alto. Ukiah is north, which presents the problem of trying to get around San Francisco -- to John's knowledge, it's quite rare to get routed via the SFO VOR, so in filing, I chose a route that took me via Oakland and then cut back over to Santa Rosa on the way to Mendocino. I also filed for Ukiah to Sacramento, and for Sacramento to Palo Alto.

So we got to the plane, which John had already preflighted ("and did a 50-hour inspection while I waited," John joked), and taxied out. Runup was smooth, and the clearance we got was in fact SFO - V443 (I think; I'm going from memory) - ENI (Mendocino) - Direct. The first part of the flight went well, though we were a bit at odds with the controller in that there seemed to be much more wind than any of us were expecting, and she was confused that our heading of 310 seemed to result in a course of 270. I also had some trouble trying to intercept V443 (or whatever) because I'm less familiar with GPS units than I ought to be.

The rest of the flight up to Ukiah was quite smooth, if a bit slow due to what became a strong headwind. A true airspeed of 128 knots had our ground speed at 93 knots, at only 6000 feet! Good thing I wasn't flying a Piper Cub or something. Anyway, the flight was smooth; I'm sure it was beautiful too except I wouldn't know since I was wearing my foggles. Once I got into the approach, things started going south a bit. I made the mistake of flying outbound on the localizer course for only one minute, instead of the recommended two minutes (and totally screwed up the "reverse sensing" -- when flying outbound on a localizer, the indicator needle shows the inverse indication from what you'd expect), which meant that I wasn't prepared to be inbound by the time I was inbound. Plus, the GPS was being a complete mystery to me, and I needed it to get the required DME distances from the localizer. Basically I fell pretty far behind, and got flustered. All that considered, I flew the approach OK, until I was on the missed approach, and for some reason decided it was more important to contact ATC than to put in my course guidance. Stupid.

So, with John's help I made it onto the missed approach and back toward ENI VOR, and requested (John requested) an IFR clearance to SAC. We got the clearance, and as I tried to find the appropriate radial out of ENI, I stayed at 90 knots (85, actually) because I didn't want to go too far without course guidance. John of course questioned this, but at least I had a reason for it when he asked. He did suggest that I use the autopilot as I was clearly overloaded, and my response was that I thought the autopilot would add more work -- a clear indication that I need to be more familiar with autopilot ops as well.

The flight to Sacramento was not bad, except for a moment where all indications were that we were entering an extreme climb, and yet our altitude was constant -- John figured and later told me that it must have been an extreme downdraft off the nearby mountains, combined with the autopilot trying to hold altitude, so my action of adding power and disengaging the autopilot was pretty much correct. The approach at SAC went very well (John even complimented me on it later), except that in the circle-to-land, I circled-to and nearly landed-on the wrong runway. Not good. Just a lapse in attention, the kind of thing that I can't allow to happen.

So we landed on 30 in Sacramento, and taxied back and awaited our clearance back to PAO. When it came, I had some fun trying to copy it. SAC-R157 MOVDD ECA-R215 CEDES SJC Direct. Radials? That's new for me. But I copied it, found it on the charts, and flew it without incident. I was tired, and Palo Alto was a very welcome sight. By the time we taxied back and shut down, it was 4.2 hours of engine-on time. Definitely my longest single flight ever, and most of it under the hood!

So I'll do a couple of flights with John to get more comfortable with the GPS, then do my phase check with Ali, and then on to the FAA check ride. I need to study!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

IFR Long XC: Scratched

What a disappointment. I was all set to go this morning, from Palo Alto to Ukiah to Sacramento and back. I'd planned the flight, gotten the approaches in my head, and was all ready to go.

When I checked out the airplane, 222MF, there was a note in the "observations" section: VOR #1 INOP. Really? So we went out to the airplane to check it. We tuned, identified and twisted Woodside VOR just fine; there was no problem. John guessed that the previous pilot did not know about the switch that changes the CDI from NAV to GPS mode -- we found it in GPS mode.

The fuel was low, so we called the truck, and decided to preflight while waiting for the truck. Control lock out, master on, flaps down, CRUNCH CRUNCH.....FLAPS BACK UP!! What the heck? So we tried it a couple of more times; the flaps did come down but with a LOT of noise and shake. Not good. Certainly not something we wanted to entrust our lives to. So, we scratched the flight.

The bummer is that this is the second consecutive scratched flight. On Friday, we were going to go up in 669TW, but there was no RPM drop when switched to the right magneto, which I learned means that the grounding is not working correctly. Also, we noticed that the compass deviation card was only halfway there. Two problems, no flight.

So now we're going to try to schedule this for November 11. This process is dragging out so much longer than I'd ever imagined. I'm totally shocked that anyone can do this in 10 days in those accelerated programs; it seems ridiculous to think that anyone could get any real proficiency out of that. And for me, especially, since I am not the type to ever have false confidence in myself, I'd probably need to go through the program three or four times before feeling like I could really fly IFR.

The thing is, I feel like I could go now. I feel totally confident in every aspect of IFR flying, except for perhaps the missed approach, except I think I'm getting there with that as well. At this point it's just a matter of scheduling, and always a bit more practice especially when view limited. Perhaps I'll see if I can get a safety pilot and go do some approaches.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Instrument Training Continues

Yes, it's still going. They say this is the hardest rating to get, and I hope they're right because it's extremely difficult. I've been flying twice a week, pretty consistently except for the three-week hiatus when I was in Europe, for most of September. Since then I've gotten back into it, though we've mostly concentrated for the last couple of lessons on autopilot and GPS operations, with the foggles off. It's interesting; I'm so much more relaxed without the foggles on, that I've suggested to John that we slowly phase in the foggle-wearing -- put them on for 0.2 hours next time, 0.4 the following time, etc, so I can acclimate to them slowly.

The last lesson was on Friday; we flew to Stockton, did the VOR 29R approach, and did most of the LOC DME 28R at Hayward on the way back toward Palo Alto. It was a very interesting day in that it seemed to approximate a real-life want-to-fly-IFR-but-should-I experience. The freezing level was below 6000, there were clouds seemingly interspersed along our route, it was windy and bumpy, but with all that, we chose to go because it seemed that it would always be easy to get back to VFR conditions below us, with no mountains to hit. It was a beautiful flight -- there is no feeling like emerging from the clouds and finding yourself in a sunny cloud landscape, zooming just over the tops, so close it feels like you're doing something very unsafe and illegal, which it would be if it were Earth and not clouds.

So, hopefully I'll do my long IFR cross country flight in 2 weeks. In the meantime, I have paperwork to fill out, and books to review....

Monday, August 20, 2007

XC to Paso Robles

For the first time in what seems like forever, I took a flight for fun this weekend. I'd intended to fly down to Oceano and hang out at the beach for a couple of hours, but turns out there was a big fire down in Santa Barbara. I wasn't sure how smoky it would get at Oceano, but by the time I was half way from Paso Robles to Oceano, visibility was very limited and the whole cabin smelled like smoke. Of course what goes through my mind? In the unlikely event of an engine fire right now, I may never know...also it couldn't have been good for the air filters and systems. Plus, honestly the plane I was flying, 54JA, was acting a bit sketchily -- any mixture setting other than "full rich" resulted in an alarming RPM drop.

So, I turned around and headed back to Paso Robles. After I managed to get oriented, I got into the pattern and landed, and taxied to transient parking, having to wait at a cross-runway for a firefighting plane to take off.

I had lunch at the airport restaurant, which was alright -- the flavors were good but the fish was overcooked. Then I took off and flew home. It was actually almost boring -- my IFR training has made it so easy to maintain an altitude that I didn't even have to think about it; I just sat back and coasted along. On the way back down, I made a very smooth 500fpm descent all the way back down into the straight in approach for 30 at San Carlos. That was fun; it was one of those "I'm SO in control" moments.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I've taken two more flights since my last entry, and I'm starting to gain some consistency. Last Friday, we went back to Concord and did the VOR 19R and the LDA 19R, and again, it came easily, except for the fact that I was laughing so hard. For some reason, I had the giggles -- it all started on the ground in PAO when John's cell phone started ringing. His ring tones are all forest animals, and I didn't realize that it was his phone. Hey, this was over engine noise and wearing a headset -- I thought someone had left a screaming baby in the back of the plane and somehow I'd missed it on preflight!

Anyway, the hilarity continued when we made contact with Travis Approach. Travis' controllers are frequently students, so we know to cut them some slack, and I feel like it's a nice thing for me since I, being a student, am always being paid favors by real and very busy controllers. With student controllers I get to return the favor. Anyway, the first interaction with this controller was fine; I reported my altitude, that I had the weather, and my approach request. He got it, and told me to maintain 5000 until crossing the Concord VOR, and report established on the approach. Fine -- at this point we don't have to talk for 10-15 minutes, until I get to Concord.

Then he started asking me various questions about what we'd just talked about. What was my approach request? Did I have the weather? That was all fine, but a few minutes later, out of the blue, he says, "Skyhawk 739TW....maintain 5000' until instructed." I panicked for a second, thinking I'd lapsed and busted my altitude, but there was the altimeter, sitting exactly at 5000. I just barely got out a "5000, 9TW" on the radio before busting into hysterical laughter.

It continued on the ground at Concord, when an inbound Cirrus pilot sounded very much like an android. Speaking of being on the ground, we did something new on this lesson -- a departure procedure! The hardest part of this was the terminology. X departure, Y transition is written X.Y on the departure plate. Flying it was quite easy, compared to an approach.

Yesterday we went back to Salinas and Watsonville to review DME arcs. I flew the GPS into Salinas..pretty much perfectly. On the way down, we had the very cool experience of our initial cruise altitude of 3000 being right at the cloud tops. Being fully within the clouds, or fully out of the clouds, is not that hard, because there's nothing distracting out the window, but this was crazy. We were flying in and out of the clouds as their height varied, with bits of cloud flying past the window. It really felt like we were going 500 mph, and it was VERY distracting.

I had one kind of error, which was I hadn't thought through how to get to the DME arc before saying I was ready for it, so John had to jump in and bail me out. I think we'll have to go do that again at some point. But other than that, I'm feeling so comfortable. We're talking about doing a checkride in October, which I guess is contingent upon my getting my phase check and other requirements done. I feel very much like I can do this, reliably, and smoothly.

Next lesson is a week from today; I'm already excited about it!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hey....I CAN Do This!

In my last post, I detailed how I took the easy way out, choosing to go back to Stockton instead of challenging myself with the Concord (CCR) VOR 19R approach. Well, last Friday, we went ahead and did Concord, and, all in all, it went okay -- I certainly reached my overload points, especially when arriving over the Concord VOR, where I must turn to the final approach course, start the time, twist the outbound course from the VOR, descend to the stepdown altitude, and report to the tower. That's all 5 T's: Turn, Time, Throttle, Twist, Talk. It got overwhelming, but John was able to snap me out of it by just prompting me: Turn. Time. Then I was on it. Again, on the missed approach, similar problem -- turning climb, twist the VOR, throttle full, and report -- twice (once to the tower, once to the approach controller).

We then set up and did the LDA 19R approach -- LDA is a localizer that is offset from the runway, or "Localizer Darn Angle" as the King DVD puts it, and as John reminded me. Localizers are easier than VOR or even GPS approaches -- you know there can never be a turn once you're tracking the localizer. That went OK as well; we did a touch and go at Concord and flew home VFR.

I felt alright about that flight; I got overloaded, I fell behind the airplane, John picked up the slack and did almost all the radio work. But it was a new experience, so it didn't bother me -- it was fun, actually.

Today was a different story. We did exactly the same two approaches, but I flew the procedure turn for the VOR 19R beautifully, all by myself, and didn't need a prompt until I was past the VOR as the final approach fix, and needed to turn more aggressively toward the final approach course. Other than that, I flew it pretty much perfectly; John picked up the radio on the missed approach, but I flew it, and did not get overloaded.

We then got vectors to the LDA 19R. I could feel myself getting kind of tired, but I just made myself concentrate. I almost missed the fact that I was supposed to intercept the localizer all on my own, but I picked it up. I chose the wrong altitude to descend to from the approach chart, but I figured out why -- the altitude I chose was for the procedure turn, that we didn't do since we were vectored. Here, John made a suggestion: There are certain things you can do a little before you get to a fix, and certain things that can wait till a little bit after. Reporting when crossing the approach fix does not have to be done directly over the fix, when you're starting your time and turning and twisting a new course; it can be done early. Turning to the new course can and should also be done a little early, since otherwise you'll overfly the new course and increase your workload trying to reintercept it. So, for the VOR 19R, I could have reported and started my turn 0.3 miles or so from the VOR, start time when crossing, twist the new course just afterwards, and throttle back once established. There's a flow to it that I'm starting to get.

On the way back to Palo Alto, John covered up my heading indicator and my attitude indicator, and I flew it partial panel. It was actually not very hard! I'm sure it'd be a lot more stressful in actual clouds, all by myself, but for what it was, it was not bad.

It just felt good to feel like if I'd been by myself in actual instrument conditions, I would not have killed myself; I would have in fact done quite well.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another great flight

I will freely admit, I chose to take the easy way out today, and because of a weird miscommunication between us and air traffic control, it got even easier. My goal was to get some practice doing procedure turns, which for some reason stress me out. Procedure turns are part of an instrument approach to an airport, and generally provide a route to get yourself pointed in the direction of the airport and runway, assuming that you've come at it from a random side. They're not hard, I just need some practice.

So I had the option of going to Concord, but John had warned me that the approach there was a little challenging. So I chose instead to go to Stockton and Hayward, and to do the procedure turn into the ILS 29R at Stockton. As it turned out, there was some sort of NOTAM for some craziness (shooting? stunt flying? who knows) to the southwest, and since we didn't have the NOTAM information, we ended up requesting vectors to final. It was fine, though; I flew the ILS like a champ, executed the missed and the hold at ORANG intersection very skillfully, set up for HWD, and got it all done pretty quickly.

One interesting thing was that we took off from PAO on 13, but it wasn't terribly different -- just a left turn to 060 instead of a right.

At the end of the lesson, John handed me the phase check packet -- I'm getting close!

Friday, July 20, 2007


I think something finally clicked, where I've realized that it's just not that complicated to fly approaches. There's a lot of process, yes, and getting the process right requires a lot of attention, but it's not difficult really. My last two lessons have been really good. I've been very far ahead of the airplane, experienced very little self-doubt (maybe even not enough!) and have I think found the right level of analness, basically.

Last Tuesday, John and I went out to Stockton and flew the GPS 29R approach, followed by the ILS 25R at Livermore. The GPS approach went very well, but about 500 feet above decision altitude we were instructed to discontinue the approach and fly the missed approach. John was annoyed enough with this that he asked for a reason. The answer? One word: "Traffic." Seemed pretty suspect from my POV, but whatever; in any case I flew to the missed approach point. Here there was a bit of a misunderstanding on my part; as I approached ORANG intersection to hold, NorCal asked me what I'd like to do next (Livermore ILS 25R) and told me to expect a clearance at a certain time. So I dutifully went into the holding pattern, set up my approach, and waited for a clearance. And waited. And continued waiting, before John eventually asked me what I was waiting for -- this is when we discovered my error. I had not, in fact, asked for a clearance, so I wasn't going to get one. The earlier communication was so that the controllers would know what to expect in the event of a radio failure.

So I asked for a clearance, got it (actually, IIRC I got only part of it but John got the rest) and flew to Livermore. The ILS approach went pretty well, and I did a nice touch and go before flying back to Palo Alto, skirting a diminishing cloud deck at 2500'.

Today was even better. While my ILS performance on Tuesday was OK, it was not great, and John figured we should do some serious ILS work, so today we flew the Stockton ILS 29R, published missed, hold at ORANG and then back to Livermore for the ILS 25R. Things went very smoothly intercepting the localizer at Stockton, and I flew the ILS very nicely. We got to our DA of 232' and flew the missed approach, which went well (John had to prompt me to not overfly the course I was heading for); in fact, I was set up for Livermore before even completing one full holding pattern. This was in large part because I am now so familiar with that hold that I don't even have to look down at it any more, but also because I'd stopped over thinking the avionics setup. It's an ILS approach; I may very well not need my second navigation radio tuned to anything, especially since the outer marker was an NDB (which I can use my GPS to identify).

So I flew the ILS at Livermore very well, much better than Tuesday, and we executed a missed approach. My initial thought was that John was testing me, knowing that I'd spent less time studying the missed approach procedure, but in fact he was just expediting (I know how to land) and getting us out of there, so we got the left turnout and flew back to Palo Alto.

John was very complimentary, and the one thing I need to do is that when I finally get down time, to double check my avionics setup. Twice it happened that something was not quite right (I really think that the #1 navigation radio has a glitch, because twice, the same frequency ended up in both the primary and backup frequency boxes, and I know I didn't do that), and double checking would've caught the error.

So, I'm encouraged. There isn't anything I feel like I can't do, even now getting clearances in the air is a little easier. Next Tuesday..onward and upward!

A track of the flight is here:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Track, I Guess

I had another lesson yesterday, back with John but this time we went out to Stockton (VOR 29R) and Livermore (ILS 25R). It went..OK. I'm getting the distinct impression that I'm just expecting too much of myself. John's style is to sit back and watch, and jump in if necessary; however, that sometimes makes it hard for me to ask questions because I feel like if he's not saying anything, then I should know the answer. So...

I flew to Stockton and did the approach pretty much fine, except that I'm still not sure what was happening between the VOR and the GPS and which one I ended up using on the approach. On the missed approach, I was not particularly timely with my twisting of the course to the holding point, and John had to remind me. In the hold, I got confused with how to identify which side of the holding intersection I was on. I had trouble setting up for the Livermore approach, and did it very slowly. Once I finally asked for a clearance, I had trouble copying it and understanding what the heck it meant.

Taking it to Livermore, I flew the ILS poorly, which really pissed me off because that's something I KNOW I can do well. I was having all kinds of trouble setting a constant descent rate. I'd blame the plane, but it's the same plane I used last week to fly the ILS at Oakland pretty much perfectly. So, that's not it.

I was very discouraged after the flight..not discouraged in a "I want to quit" sort of way, more in a "Why can't I do this when I know I can do this?" sort of way. Afterwards, John informed me that I'm pretty much where I should be with this, average to slightly above average performance, which I was delighted to hear, since it's my expectation that I do everything perfectly.

I'll keep trying, keep plugging away. On the positive side, I have much more book knowledge than I possessed last week thanks to a lot of reading and studying. Maybe one day that'll help me.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Another Week, Another Lesson

I'd been unable to schedule John's time for this week, so I decided to take the opportunity to have a lesson with Sergey, my original CFI with whom I got my PPL. I'm realizing even more now how my lessons with John could be better: For one thing, Sergey has a way of keeping the lessons from getting boring -- he realizes that by flying the same profile over and over, I'm just going to get bored and inattentive, and not really learn anything. We went to Oakland and Hayward, the Hayward approach being a pretty bizarre one involving a circle to land even on the runway that looks like it should be a straight in: This is because the approach is so high. The minimum altitude at the FAF is 2600', and the MDA is 800'. The MAP, which is part way down the runway, is only 3 minutes away, so while getting to 800' is perfectly reasonable (600fpm descent) getting to 0' to land, along with the time to make a decision and all that, is not. So you have to circle.

Landing at Oakland was fun; we did a touch and go and took off to the right, where I got a great view of the Oakland Coliseum. I still want to fly to a ballgame one of these days, and just skip the traffic altogether, but I don't think the AirBART shuttles go to the general aviation area.

Anyway, the point is, it was fun because we went and did something new, and yet I was practicing all the same skills. It's a lot better than just going to Salinas and Watsonville over and over again. In addition, Sergey was very clear about what steps remain for the checkride: Partial panel flying, unusual attitude recovery, long cross country, and an autopilot coupled approach. It's amazing how efficient Sergey is. He also spent an hour grilling me on my book knowledge -- or, more accurately, chastising me on my lack thereof. I need to study; I knew that, but now I know WHAT to study. It's what an instructor should do. It's scary how good he is at it.

Now, I'm not trying to take anything away from John. Part of it is a tradeoff -- what John may lack in focus, Sergey might lack in completeness. John wants me to know everything, and I agree, I should know everything, but it's a matter of prioritization, which Sergey provides very clearly. Part of it is that Sergey discourages me from overthinking, whereas John's approach kind of leads me into overthinking -- perhaps we're too similar. So these are things I'll need to look out for: I need to (a) study, (b) drive my own training forward, and (c) stop thinking so much.

After a lesson with Sergey, I feel not only like I can do it, but like I'm good at it, or at least, I will be good at it. I'd like to feel that way much more often.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Getting Better

Today's lesson was kind of a landmark. I admit it freely: I was apprehensive about the lesson; it's been a really tough road and while I have the deepest respect for my instructor, we've had our issues with each other at times and I've been pretty frustrated, even to the point of thinking about delaying my training.

Well, today ended up being fantastic. We took off out of PAO as usual, I got my IFR clearance, did my runup, etc as usual, and John complimented me on my readback, which served its intent of helping me relax prior to takeoff. We were sent on our normal route, and climbed up into the clouds at 1500', which was a real thrill, but not as much as popping out of the clouds a couple of hundred feet later into a bright, beautiful sky. WOW! What a phenomenal experience -- I just felt so lucky at that moment, to be one of the few people who can do that (well, almost).

I flew really well; totally relaxed, and the flight was totally smooth. My approach at Salinas was very good, and I remembered to start my time at the final approach fix and my procedures during the missed approach were in the right order, though John handled the radio for me, which was helpful. He also later pointed out that I used the wrong minimum altitude: I'd heard the ATIS say that the active runway was 31, and I even wrote it down, but I didn't connect the dots and realize that I'd need to use the "circle-to-land" minimums since the approach was for runway 13. Ah, well, lessons learned -- this is the advantage of not being afraid to fail. I'm actually learning!

I configured for the approach at Watsonville on the way to the holding pattern at MARNA -- mostly. There's usually plenty of time to do this, but because of shifting winds I had to spend more time on aircraft control, so I got to finish the configuration during the hold, which is something I should practice anyway. The hold itself was a bit sloppy, and John later said (correctly) that it was the worst part of my flight today, but that it was still OK. I just need to review the holding pattern procedures so I know what to do when, and not struggle so much with having to think through every step. Not rocket science, at least not in a piston aircraft!

My approach at Watsonville was good as well. John said I was chasing the needle a little, which may be true, but it was only a little. I had trouble with the radio when getting the clearance into Watsonville; I had trouble with that on Wednesday as well. I think it's just a matter of getting a lot of information quickly, something that will come with practice.

Then came Palo Alto, which was also good, and had the added bonus of charging through a giant cloud in the middle of the approach. It was fun, and we were relaxed enough to joke about it as John grabbed the dash with both hands just as we were about to dive into the cloud, but it actually did distract me enough to put me off course and force me to correct. But I did correct, quickly, so no harm, no foul.

All in all, it was a great flight! I made a few mistakes, but they were mistakes that I can learn from. I am starting to think that maybe I can really do this after all. John has taken my request for more positive reinforcement to heart, and has been doing a great job of it -- today, in particular, there was one moment where I did start getting just the slightest bit tense, and he instantly said, "You're doing great." Just like that, I was calm again; in fact, I only realized that had happened a while later. So, kudos to him for adjusting his approach to something that works for me -- that's the mark of a great instructor.

BTW: here's a link to today's flight. I'm not sure how long that link will work, but it's pretty cool; you can see the approach to SNS, the hold at MARNA (a little racetrack after departing SNS), the approach to WVI and the trip back to PAO.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Update on Instrument Training

I suddenly realized that I haven't been writing here, and it's not been for lack of flying, but more for lack of time to write about it. Also, it's not been the most pleasant experience sometimes. I've basically been taking two training flights a week, doing an approach at Salinas and one at Watsonville each week. I've been really struggling getting the procedural stuff in my head (5 T's, 5 A's, etc). In addition, it's been very hard for me to stay calm in the cockpit, and the tension just makes things worse.

There have been so many factors. For one thing, it's really hard. It's hard to think about what to do at any given point on an approach, it's hard to remember those things as you're passing that point, it's hard to not stress out about the whole thing, it's hard to do all -- or even some -- of these things without compromising control of the aircraft.

The thing is, I can do it. I know I can do it, and John knows I can do it, and in a simulator, I CAN do it. But in the plane, it's a different story. Why? John and I had a talk last week about it, after a lesson in which I was tense through all the approaches and eventually just lost track of what I was supposed to be doing, which is what has been happening. John said I didn't have enough confidence in my own flying, that it was clear that my instincts were generally telling me to do the right things, but that I didn't trust it, and I showed that by hesitating and tensing up. This is basically true, so the question is, what can be done about it? It's not so much that I doubt my ability, it's that I don't know if I'm doing something wrong so I overthink it.

When I was getting my PPL, my instructor Sergey would constantly be saying random positive things: "Nice job." "Beautiful approach!" "Good call" for a radio call. Or sometimes just "Good job, good job.." even if things weren't perfect but just to relax me. After thinking about this last week, I told John about this this morning, and he understood -- it's not about ego or not being able to take criticism, it's about reassurance IN the cockpit environment that things are going OK and I'm not about to kill us. I can take criticism, for sure -- Sergey would criticize too, sometimes to the point where I would have trouble taking it, but he was always very positive about the positive things. So today John tried to be more praiseful in the plane. I think it worked -- it was a great lesson! Not that I did everything right, by any stretch; on the contrary I made more and bigger mistakes than I've made in a while, BUT I kept the radio the whole way, I owned the flight and I felt comfortable making those mistakes. I was more relaxed than I've been in a long time (in a plane). So, I think we're on the right track. We're going to try it again on Friday and hopefully it'll be a similar flight (without the potentially death-inducing errors).

On a side note, last weekend I flew for the first time outside of California. I was visiting relatives in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and I went to NS Aviation at North Perry Airport (KHWO). It was a little weird; there was a big problem since I didn't have proof of insurance with me and had to get AOPA to fax it over, but after a couple of hours I got it sorted out. The instructor, Alan, looked like he was about 19, and when I asked how long he'd been instructing, he said, "2 weeks." Um...O-kay! However, Alan was truly excellent. He had many great suggestions for me, and delivered them in such a way that they were very easy to understand and take in. He grilled me on airspaces and aerodynamic stuff, and we went out and did stalls and steep turns, which was great.

My intent was to fly my cousins' kids around on a subsequent day, but that never happened because of the thunderstorm activity in the area -- not anything I want any part of!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cost Splitting And Mentorship

Today was a brand new experience for me. I answered an ad on Craigslist where a former and future flying student wanted to ride along with a private pilot to re-familiarize herself with the cockpit environment prior to jumping back into lessons and paying instructor rates. Great idea, really, so I answered the ad, and we had our flight today.

I won't use real names here, again; you never know how people will feel about their stories being on the internet for anyone to read, not that it's all that interesting, but you never know...Jessie brought a friend of hers from Ireland, Sean. It was his birthday, so we thought we could kill several birds with one stone by flying to Petaluma for lunch, having her do some simple turns and aircraft control along the way, and give him a nice view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate on the way.

We met up at the Caltrain station and drove over to the airport, picked up the keys, created a flight plan and headed out to the plane. The preflight went smoothly, and we got in and listened to ATIS. I called up PAO ground and requested a straight out departure -- at which point the controller informed me that no Class Bravo transitions were being granted at the moment.

Interesting. Now what? I told him I'd go the coastal route; he offered to hand me to Norcal to see if maybe they'd give me a high transition (instead of the usual low transition where the handoff is handled by San Carlos Tower). I declined and said we'd just take the coastal route; it sounded easier.

But as we were on our takeoff climbout, we saw some puffy clouds out over Half Moon Bay. It was hard to tell whether there were more clouds out there, so as we turned left and climbed, I figured I'd just give Norcal Approach a call and see whether I could get the transition. They did indeed give it to me, and vectored me up to basically the Sausalito VOR. It worked out well, since the Golden Gate ended up on the right side, where Sean was sitting. We got out over San Pablo Bay, and Jessie took the controls for a little bit and did a few turns. After she was satiated (at least temporarily) I took the controls back and headed for Petaluma.

The pattern at Petaluma was quite busy; there was a plane on every leg of the pattern at any given time. I crossed overhead high, about 2000' above TPA, because I already knew that 29 was the active runway. I kicked out very wide of the right pattern to give myself time to come in perfectly and to give everyone else time to adjust to my entry. I called the 45 entry, and just as I was turning to the downwind, another aircraft called downwind as well but they were on a departure climbout. We saw them late, but they were above us. The rest of the pattern was fine, and on final I ended up in a pretty significant crab for the crosswind. The landing was...not great; I had too little airspeed and leveled off high, so I came down a little hard, but it was OK. I definitely should've realized I needed more airspeed; I had only 20 degrees of flaps because of the wind, I had a third person in the plane, and I had a nice long runway. My landing was actually a very good short field landing! Not that it needed to be..

Lunch at the 29er Diner was really good. I had french toast, and it was excellent! Conversation with my flying companions was very nice; we talked about flying but also other stuff. After about an hour or a little more, we headed back to the plane (which was 739TW, by the way), and headed out. We took off and headed out for San Pablo Bay again. This time Jessie took quite a bit more time, setting up standard rate turns, trying to maintain her altitude while turning. She did well, and for me, it was my first experience with kind of doing a very tiny tiny bit of teaching. And I enjoyed it! It gave me the rough idea that I could actually do it -- I was encouraging, I had ideas for things she could do from the right seat that wouldn't exceed my comfort zone.

We then came back toward SFO. I was expecting another high transition, but he gave me 2000' or below. So I descended, and immediately started hitting some mild turbulence. The ride was basically slightly rough the rest of the way; not a huge deal, and my passengers seemed to enjoy it. We got a nice relatively low pass off the Golden Gate, over the city and in a very cool turn of events they sent us over mid-field at SFO as a 777 took off below us! That was awesome.

Coming into Palo Alto, they gave us the numbers: Wind 270 at 10 gusting 22. 10 gusting 22??? Um..OK. So I made left traffic, set up a very good pattern, and came in again with 20 degrees of flaps. My approach was good, and I leveled with a little extra airspeed. I ballooned a little, gave it a bit of power, re-leveled, and squeaked the landing beautifully. Jamie even applauded.

Everyone seemed to have a great time! I definitely did. I guess flying actually can be a way to meet some new folks and go on some new adventures. There's a little bit of added pressure, since I feel responsible and all that, but even that's kind of nice to cultivate. It's kind of like the first baby step toward being a commercial pilot of some sort. Very cool feeling!

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Am Above Such Petty Games.

This entry really isn't about flying, though I will talk about it. No one reads this crap anyway, right? So I can vent all I want.

My new motto is, "I am above such petty games." Let's face it: Most of humanity is not above such petty games. You all know what I'm talking about. We live in a culture where we glorify the failure of others (exhibit A: almost all of pop culture, such as American Idol and most sitcoms), we have so little going on in our own lives that we get overly involved in the drama of other, sometimes fictitious people (pretty much every reality show, and the current stupidity at my office), we obsess about totally insignificant things and completely ignore problems that are real and huge, like global warming, oil and gas depletion, overcrowding, famine, and poor decisions regarding foreign policy (and this isn't a political statement; everyone across the spectrum pretty much agrees at this point that there has been some poor decision making). Currently there are many aspects of my life in which people feel they have some say over how I conduct my affairs, and in some cases have decided to express their opinion via petty games.

So, as of this moment, I am above such petty games. One way to be above things (and I mean literally, here, I have not lost my humility as a pilot -- believe me, instrument training keeps you humble!) is to have a propeller and wings, preferably attached to a hunk of metal (or plastic) with comfy seats. Today I flew N21705, a Cessna 172SP brand new to the fleet -- in fact I believe I was the very first renter! Actually that is kind of scary. I ended up doing an extra long preflight. It needed fuel, so I had to call for fuel. It had one of those really annoying covers, so I had to deal with that. It had the wrong type of fuel collection jar (the one in the plane would've fit a Piper aircraft just fine) so I had to change that out. My 10 minute preflight routine took 25 minutes, which isn't a big deal if you're flying 2 hours away but kind of is if you're on a lunch break.

She flew nicely to Livermore (except for one really scary cough from the engine just over the Sunol hills), I had lunch and came home through a little bumpiness. Very well behaved on landing, and very stable in the air, plus a nice GPS. Probably a keeper!

I've been continuing my IFR training. On Wednesday I decided with help from my Mom that the objective was not to focus more on the attitude indicator, or not chase needles, or leave the plane alone in level flight, but to just have fun. I'm paying for the training, I'm working as hard as I can at it, so instead of obsessing about it, I should just enjoy the process and let it happen. We flew to Salinas and Watsonville; one cool thing about Salinas is that I executed a "circle to land" procedure pretty much flawlessly. Next lesson is Monday; before then I'll be taking some strangers to Petaluma with me on Sunday. That should be interesting...

Anyway. I'm kind of in a grumpy mood (as if you couldn't tell). Only stuck at work for a couple of hours more, and then I can go home and be not only above, but far away from such petty games.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ILS Approaches

Today's lesson was both kind of fulfilling and somewhat frustrating. I showed great improvement in some fronts. I had much better situational awareness, and I even flew a holding pattern all by myself. En route, I did a lot better with maintaining my altitudes and headings.

We started with the VOR 29R approach at Stockton. This is the same one we'd been flying the last two times out, and I think I did..OK. I had better awareness, overall, but I still didn't really know exactly what to do ahead of time -- staying ahead of the airplane, they call it. I'm having the same problem with this as I do with cooking: I read the recipe (or brief the approach), but can't remember it and have to keep referring back to it for every single step. Maybe what I need to do is commit to memorizing recipes before cooking. It might be the same skill.

The same goes for missed approach procedures. There's no time to think about the missed approach procedure and have to look it up when you're a couple of hundred feet off the ground, potentially in a high traffic environment, unable to see the ground. I have to memorize the first couple of steps of the missed approach before I get on the approach.

THEN there's the ILS approach. I did terribly on this; I was all over the place and John had to say something every couple of seconds (not his fault, I was just that far behind -- Airspeed. Altitude. Heading. Airspeed. Relax your grip. Glideslope. Watch the attitude indicator. Heading.) It was so frustrating that after flying the missed (at least I knew the first step this time) I channeled my frustration into that perfect holding pattern. John said nothing; I think he sensed my frustration and helpfully let me get myself through it while safely in my excellent holding pattern.

Basically, the deal is this: 1. I'm far too controlling on the yoke. I need to let the aircraft go, let it do its thing, which in general is to fly stably. This is especially true on the approaches, where not only am I too overcontrolling but 2. I need to fly the attitude indicator and not chase needles. I started doing this toward the end, in en route flight, to great effect. Attitude indicator is my friend. 3. I need to memorize my gaits. I'm making too many power adjustments (related to the overcontrolling) to unknown RPMs.

Friday morning, I'll try doing those three things, and that's all. And we'll see how it goes from there.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nice Refreshing Flight

Sunday seemed like just as nice a day as Saturday seemed like but was not. My friend Kindra wanted to go flying, so I checked the weather; there was definitely some wind but nothing like the gustiness reported for Saturday. Plus, it was the second warm day in a row, so theoretically there would be less turbulence. I was still concerned about taking a passenger up after Saturday's experience; if I'd had a passenger on Saturday I'm pretty sure they would've tossed their cookies -- in fact if I had been a passenger on Saturday, I'm pretty sure I would've lost it.

We didn't have much time, so we just decided to do a real bay tour over San Francisco and the Golden Gate and all that. We got 236SP out of SQL; it wasn't very busy and I got my squawk code for the class B transition almost instantly. 236Sp is a nice plane, very well taken care of and relatively new -- that's the problem with the Cherokees; they're all from the early '80s. So we preflighted, I wavered a little bit on the decision to go because of the wind, then decided we could always turn back if we wanted to.

So we took off, called up SFO tower, got our clearance through their airspace, and after crossing the airport, where I would ordinarily turn and head straight for the bridge, I got vectored directly over downtown SF. I tend to stay away from this area, just because I'm not sure where I can and can't go yet, but I'm learning! It was very cool; we saw the Transamerica building and Coit Tower, and of course the whole marina. We went up toward San Pablo Bay, twisting to get better views of Treasure Island and Alcatraz. I was holding 2000' exactly, in stark contrast to the previous day's sudden deviations of 200' or more. We flew back down, over the Golden Gate, and then took the coastline down to Ano Nuevo. That was new; I had to do some concentrating to not bust SFO's airspace since I was out of it, and there's a small area where it comes down to 1500' but mostly it starts at 2100'.

We turned around and came back over Crystal Springs, and into San Carlos where the controller helped me out by putting me in front of a plane doing pattern work, but of course this also resulted in my having to maneuver a bit more steeply than I would've liked. My landing was my best in a really long time -- winds were 320 at 10, nearly right down the runway and pretty strong, so I went with 20 degrees of flaps. I held it off for a really long time, and touched down very smoothly!

Next instrument lesson is Wednesday; I'm going to try to fly before then, maybe a quick cross country to someplace like Modesto or Salinas or Monterey.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Oh. My. God.

The only thing I can say about today is that it was difficult. It was not fun, I don't even think it was educational, it was just difficult. And annoying -- difficult and annoying. Holy crap.

My plan was to go to Nancy's Diner at Willows (KWLW) Airport. It's a 24 hour diner, and I thought it'd make a great midnight destination, so I wanted to scope it out in daylight hours. Today looked beautiful; no clouds anywhere, and good visibility. It started out a little bit windy, but not a big deal.

I took off straight out from PAO, contacted SQL tower like a pro, got cleared through SFO's class B, and was on my way. During the transition, I hit quite a bit of turbulence passing SFO. Didn't think too much of it, I just figured that once I climbed to my cruise altitude, 6500, everything would be fine. As I got out over the bay, I started my climb and held it at 4500 by the time I got to SGD VOR. It was not any smoother, but it was manageable. At this point I noticed that I was having a lot of trouble with keeping the plane at a constant altitude. I'd set it up, and suddenly the engine sounded like it was racing, the RPMs were 100 higher than before, and I was climbing. So I'd reduce it, re-trim it get it all set up again, and a few minutes later, it would be descending, airspeed decreasing and power down by 50 RPM. I never did figure this out; it could have been an effect of the strong and shifting wind, but I don't know.

I continued climbing to 6500, and it got a little more manageable. I was starting to wonder whether I was still on flight following, because I'd heard nothing at all from the controller in about 40 minutes, but as I passed the Maxwell VOR I got switched to a new frequency. Shortly thereafter I began my descent and made left traffic for runway 34 at Willows. The approach was bumpy, but again, nothing too concerning.

I had lunch at Nancy's, which was really good, and only $7.50 including tip for 2 eggs, excellent hash browns and toast. I'm going back soon!

Then the fun started. I got back into N81034, got all set up, went to start, and...nothing. After a few more attempts I realized that every time I tried to start I lost electrical power entirely. Great. I'm stuck in Willows, and kind of need to be home at some point in the near I called the club. They were pretty much useless; I guess maintenance doesn't work on the weekends? I don't know, but eventually I found someone at the airport who knew how to jump start an airplane. I was so clueless, but luckily the guy knew more than me. "12 or 24 volts?" he asks me, like I'm supposed to know..I probably AM supposed to know, but you any case, the POH had all the answers, and he quickly figured out exactly how to get it done. It's just like jump starting a car, pretty much, and it did work, so after careful examination of the alternator gauge, and making sure it wasn't on 0 (it was close, but not 0), off I went. I was very nervous about whether the alternator was working -- I know I didn't leave the master switch on, even though that's the simplest explanation. I have no other explanation. I started out with the GPS (which I was only using as a comm device; it was pretty old) and the DME off to save electrical power, but as I flew it made its way back so I turned the additional equipment back on.

I took off and headed back south. Everything seemed to be in order as I climbed to 5500 and got flight following from a friendly controller. But then I started really getting knocked around by turbulence. And it just kept getting worse! I climbed to 7500, and it pretty much didn't help at all. I crossed SGD VOR at 7500, getting knocked all over the place, just trying to maintain a wings level attitude, which was actually somewhat challenging at times. When I had the Golden Gate in sight, I started a descent (hesitantly) and got handed off to a new controller. That controller told me to cross the Coliseum at or above 3500. What?? I told her that was inconvenient from my present location north of the Golden Gate. She cleared me through Class B at or below 2000. OK, that's better.

SFO Tower had other ideas, though. Instead of the usual transition at 2000 west of Highway 101, he routed me over Candlestick Park and to mid-span San Mateo bridge, at or below 1500. This was not comfortable -- it's the widest part of the bay, and I was still getting destroyed by turbulence. Losing 100 feet suddenly at 6500 is not a big deal. Losing 100 feet suddenly at 1500 feet IS a big deal, at least to me. About half way to the bridge, SFO Tower must have sensed my consternation, and gave me a new altitude of "at or below 1000." Bloody hell. OK, so now I'm at 1000...UNH! I mean, 850 feet above the water with no hope of any sort of emergency landing should anything go wrong with my engine, which, by the way, was still shifting somewhat erratically by 50-100 knots, not that I had any time to be concerned about that since I kept worrying that I would end up upside-down due to some jolt of turbulence.

Finally I was talking to PAO tower, and got the numbers at Palo Alto: Wind 310 at 20 knots. 20 knots, but right down the runway, thank goodness. My landing was bad, but safe -- level too high, balloon, add power, releveling, balloon again, add a little power, level too high, land flat. But safely. I taxied to my parking row and crawled out of the plane, and sat on all fours on the wing for a minute, breathing deeply, really glad to be on the ground.

And now I'm totally exhausted. I did a few things well; I did a good job maintaining my altitude for the most part, given the circumstances, and I did a very good job tracking VORs and courses. Fuel management was good. I did not keep track of the time elapsed on my trip; that wasn't so good. I did deal with an unexpected situation reasonably well, swallowing my pride and asking questions. My radio work was excellent, with the possible exception of the controller who told me to fly to the Coliseum. And I got 3.1 hours of cross country time. And a good breakfast. All in all, a decent bit of experience. Just no fun.

Update: There were definitely PIREPs of moderate turbulence all around the area, and a few of severe turbulence. Also, a Cessna made an emergency landing on a road in Newark, CA after losing its engine and electrical system, allegedly because of turbulence. I'm not sure how that works; I suppose a bad enough hit could shake something loose, but engine AND electrical? That's some bad luck. Apparently though the pilot showed some incredible airmanship to get the plane down on the street that had high tension electrical wires on either side of it, so I'm sure he'll call it even.

I now know my fears were justified when flying at 900' over the middle of the bay in this stuff.

Real Airplane, Real IMC

I had two lessons last week; I've managed to create enough time in my life (and in my brain) to step up the lessons which really helps me feel like I'm on a path toward a goal. John has been great as an instructor, and as I found out, much more tuned into the touchy feely stuff than Sergey. That's both good and bad; it forces me to deal with it, which is good, but sometimes before I'm ready, which is bad. Anyway, this'll make a lot more sense in a bit..

On Tuesday, we went up for my first actual instrument approaches. I was really nervous. I still don't know why, I think it has to do with feeling like I was being tested. This isn't John's fault, it's purely a creation in my own head -- I'd been on a simulator a lot, and I felt like how I responded in an airplane was a test of how well I'd learned and how much I'd studied. We decided to fly to Stockton (KSCK) and do the VOR 29R approach.

Basically, I did far more poorly than I would've imagined. I couldn't even read back the clearance, I couldn't maintain my altitudes, I got completely lost and by the time we were doing the approach I basically had no idea what was going on. Not a good feeling, and John was doing his best to try and help me out but there was really nothing he could do -- I had psyched myself up so much that I couldn't think clearly, and that's a bad thing especially when flying IFR. The flight did accomplish a few things, though -- for one, I was able to see how the system worked, to learn where I would fall behind the most and what would present the greatest challenge.

After the lesson John basically asked me what was going on -- I think he knew that something was wrong, and I felt bad that I couldn't explain it to him because I didn't really understand yet. So, I tried to convince him that it wasn't going to be an ongoing problem, and that everything would be fine. I was also trying to convince myself, which went less well...

So I thought about it for a while, and realized that I was just putting too much pressure on myself to do something that I've only just started training for. By Friday's lesson, I was feeling very calm about the whole thing. Who cares if I mess up? I have an instructor sitting there. If I sound like an idiot to ATC, so what? I hear a lot of people WITH their ratings sounding questionable to ATC. They're used to it, they get paid to do it, they'll roll their eyes, say "stupid rookie" and move on.

Friday was just amazing, in every way. For one thing, there was weather! There were actual clouds, with PAO at a ceiling of 1500'. I was calm, I read back the clearance (almost) correctly, I took a few chances and learned. Takeoff was uneventful, until the ceiling got closer and closer, and I had to fight all my "avoid the clouds" instincts to force myself to keep climbing! I turned right heading 060 as instructed and just before we penetrated the cloud layer, I said to John, "I'm not sure how I'm going to react to this." He said, "Don't look outside." Ah. Brilliant!! So I didn't, and I flew (in my estimation) extremely well. John had taken over the radio work, except for simple heading or altitude instructions. I held my altitudes, I held my headings, I stayed mostly coordinated.

I did, however, lose my situational awareness. Once ATC starts vectoring me to places, I lose track of where I am. I could not picture how to enter the holding pattern at Stockton, which is the entry to the approach. Once John told me, I kind of figured out where we were, but this is clearly something that will need work. That's OK, though, I just need to work at it -- I know I can do it.

I also could not copy our clearance back to PAO when we were in the missed approach holding pattern near SCK. Holding itself is a ton of work! I managed to do that OK, but just to drill myself I tried copying the clearance too, and did not get very far.

On the way back, we used the GPS and the autopilot for some of the flight, which helped ease the workload considerably. I did lose my location again once we got vectors, but not as bad as the other end of the flight, probably in part because I'm so much more familiar with the area.

Anyway, it's been a great week, and I'm looking forward to the next time!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Instrument Training Continues

I've only actually been in an airplane once in the last three weeks or so, and probably twice in the last six weeks. I went up on Tuesday to just make sure I remembered how to land, which I did, mostly, so I did five landings and called it an evening. In the mean time, I've had 3 or 4 more simulator lessons, working on navigation, en route planning and transition to approach procedures for IFR flight. This stuff is hard -- there is so much to think about, even straight and level flight is a challenge for me, so adding navigation, radio work, getting ATIS in a timely fashion, transitioning to approach, actually flying the approach, and thinking about the missed approach procedure is pretty overwhelming.

However, in today's lesson, in the last 15 minutes or so I really felt like I got into a rhythm with it a little bit. That was a surprising relief. I think it's all about preparation -- if the radios are set, if you know where you're going and exactly what to do when you get there, then things are OK. The "what to do" section is mostly about the five T's: Turn, Time, Twist, Throttle, Talk. Turn the plane to the appropriate new heading (or, since in many cases you'll be following a course, turn in the general direction of the new course), set the timer, twist the OBS of the nav aid to whatever it needs to be set to, adjust throttle once established on the course, if necessary, and talk to the controller if required. It seems so simple, but it really isn't. At least, not yet.

Transitioning to approach is again all about preparation. Before calling up the approach controller at the destination, you have the five A's (I guess that makes sense, since for you bio geeks out there, A and T are reciprocal): ATIS, Altimeter, Avionics, Approach Briefing, Airspeed. Get the ATIS at the destination, set the altimeter accordingly, [select which approach to use based on the ATIS], set the avionics for the selected approach, brief the approach, and have a plan for when to reduce airspeed. Pretty intense.

Flying the approach is also pretty challenging, at least in the simulator. In VFR flight it doesn't really matter whether you can set up a constant rate of descent to get you to a certain altitude at a certain point. Approaches are exactly that, and since there are almost no references to adjust against, the consistency is important.

So, given my comfort level at the end of today's lesson, John has opted to have us try it out in an actual airplane this coming Tuesday! I'm very excited but I really feel like I need to study, kind of a lot.

By the way, the book we're using is by Peter Dogan; I can't remember the exact title, but so far it is excellent.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Instrument Lesson...In An Airplane!

Today I had an experience bordering on monumental in terms of my flight training. I went with my instructor John on our first instrument flying lesson in an airplane, rather than the simulator. First off, I haven't been in a plane for almost three weeks, and there was a long break before that too so I was not feeling great about my piloting and communication skills. But once I got into the cockpit, once again, it all just came back. I didn't even hesitate on my radio calls -- mostly because I didn't want to, in front of an instructor that had never seen me fly before. I know I'm being evaluated, there's no avoiding that, and in the end it can only help me to be at my best so that the suggestions I get are not things that I already know I should have done.

We took a left Dumbarton departure out toward the coast, and as I was climbing up to altitude, John had me put on the dreaded "view limiting device," also known as the "hood." We then spent the next 1.5 hours doing various maneuvers, including the different patterns that we'd practiced in the simulator. Except for one thing, it was actually much easier in the airplane, but that one thing was rudder control. The turn coordinator was kind of out of whack; the ball was always off to the left no matter what.

It was interesting really experiencing disorientation and vertigo. At least five times through the flight, I would have sworn that the plane was doing one thing, and the instruments disagreed with me (but agreed with each other). Trusting the instruments is truly an effort. Clearly it's worth it. The other really shocking thing was having to land the airplane after taking the hood off at about 400' above the ground on final approach. I felt like I'd been dropped into the cockpit of an airplane on final from some totally unrelated context, like sleeping, or working or something. Just boom: Land this plane, NOW! It's surprising, especially since I knew it was coming; it's not like I couldn't hear the radio calls.

But, my landing was good, as was the rest of my flying. It was really fulfilling; John even complimented me afterwards, saying my flying was excellent, my control of the aircraft on the ground and in the air were excellent. On my landing he even gave me a "nice job" even though I leveled off too high, and my second level-off at the appropriate height was a bit slow -- still, I did land nice and soft, which is the important thing.

It was a great lesson -- exhausting, but a lot of fun, a real workout and the kind of thing I can tell will get at least somewhat easier with time and lots of practice.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bay Tours and Instrument Training

The last few weeks haven't seen much time for the skies, which is unfortunate given how absolutely beautiful the weather has been. Two weeks ago I started my instrument training with John Otte. We began work on the simulator and did some basic maneuvering and pattern following, and getting to understand the different "gaits" of an airplane. Basically, it seems that for a given airplane, there is a specific configuration that will yield a certain result. So, an approach descent will occur at a certain RPM and flap setting, reducing the need for guesswork. Pretty handy tool! We also worked on developing my "scan" of the instruments -- basically the idea is to be able to glance at all six instruments at the right time depending on what you're doing to evoke the right response from the airplane and find and correct any errors. It's much, much harder than it sounds.

It was a great first lesson; John is a very good instructor and has a great, relaxed manner about him that keeps me from getting too tense or too down on myself. I had another lesson with him last Friday, where I was too exhausted to do much of anything but we managed to get some good simulator time in anyway before I crashed it into the ground (that's a big advantage of a simulator!), and another one this morning where I felt like I made some major strides in keeping things under control. I actually felt kind of comfortable for a few moments while stabilized in a turn or in straight and level flight, which is a good feeling. We also did some partial panel out work (meaning, some of the instruments are not working), which was a big challenge -- especially holding altitude with no attitude indicator (the trim on the simulator does not work at all like that on a real airplane). So on Tuesday we will be heading into the skies for a flight in an actual airplane!

Speaking of actual airplanes, the last time I flew in one of those was about two weeks ago. On both Saturday and Sunday I went on a bay tour, with two different co-workers. I did the same route each time; the first time was more kind of random and guessworky. I actually very nearly missed my turn toward the west to return home, but saved it by deciding at the right moment to have the GPS locate Tracy Airport, and seeing that I was just flying past it. The second time involved an initial departure toward the coast only to see that it was totally cloudy, so I turned and transitioned back through PAO's airspace and on the same route as the day before, but tighter, since it was more familiar.

It's kind of funny to note my co-workers' responses when I get my pilot face on. Things are official, and important -- the passenger brief is important, and I think for a moment they're not sure if I'm kidding when I explain how the seat belt functions. Hey, it's in the regs! Then when I start talking on the radio I think there's a moment of "Hey, he actually knows what he's doing!" It's pretty fun for me to see that, for people who know me in one context to get to know me in a totally different context. On a day to day level, I'm not really that much of a "take-charge" type of guy, but in the pilot's seat, I'm in command -- it's one of the many things I really enjoy about flying. And there's probably a life lesson in there somewhere, about recognizing appropriate moments to take command of a situation.

Instrument training will resume next week, and I'm hoping to go flying this weekend in the sunshine!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The last six weeks

Prior to this weekend, I flew only once in the last six weeks, thanks to the weather (days of very low visibility, followed by days of rain, followed by my vacation to Mexico, followed by days of rain) and my schedule ( That flight was February 14, and all I did was take a Cessna out into the pattern and do 3 landings, at Palo Alto. The great thing was, the landings were very good, right out of the gate! This was a first, after three weeks off, having my landings not deteriorate at all. So that was exciting.

The next time I flew after that was yesterday. There was some excitement on my way down to San Carlos; as I left home and got on the freeway, I watched as the usual complement of jets made their way in on final approach to SFO's runways 28. One of them was quite far off to the left (from its perspective) out over Highway 101, and banking rather steeply to the right. A moment later I looked again and it had leveled its wings and begun a climb. I watched as it retracted its landing gear. It's always interesting to watch a commercial jet do a go-around; it's a great reminder that it's a good tool for all of us!

When I got to San Carlos, I ran into my alternate instructor from my PPL, and he was going on about an incident he'd seen happen the previous day. Here is a link to the story. Basically according to my instructor, the pilot, an elderly gentleman who's known at SQL for not really being able to see very well, ended up pretty far out on final approach at 100' and hit some power lines. He somehow maintained control, told the tower he'd hit something, did a low pass so the tower could check out his gear, and proceeded to freak out once all the way around the pattern before landing safely with some relatively minor damage to the plane. Crazy stuff! We ended up talking about my approach toward instrument training, and he had a few suggestions for instructors who might suit my style, so I plan to start pursuing that soon.

For the actual flight, I took Warrior N81020 out of San Carlos and just flew down the coast. I was initially going to do some pattern work, but my instructor recommended I take the plane down the coast and enjoy the weather, so I did, and it turned out to be a great suggestion. Actually before I took off, during preflight I noticed that one of the landing gear struts was inflated way more than the other. When I sat in the plane, I was tilted noticeably to the left. I had read the squawk sheet, and it had said the right strut was low -- I guess whoever pumped it up did not hold back, because it was very high now. I got out the POH and looked to see if there was a range of acceptable inflation, or just a minimum. Turns out it was just a minimum, which both sides met, so finally I decided to just go. It was nice to just fly the plane, concentrate on holding altitude, and look out the window. Pattern work is great, but it's a lot of work. This was a nice "it's good to be a pilot" flight. My landing back at SQL would've been fine if the runway were about 5 feet higher. As it was, I dropped it a touch harder than most would prefer. After that, the landing gear struts were nice and even!

I did want to try to work on my landing technique, which, while it may not have suffered after the initial 3 weeks off, seemed to have gone downhill after the subsequent 3 week break. So I went out again today, in N298CA, a 172SP out of PAO. Things were very busy in the PAO pattern, so I asked for a right Dumbarton and instead was granted a right crosswind. "You can ask for that any time," the controller said. How why would I ever want to take a right Dumbarton? It is easier to stay out of SJC's airspace when following the bridge, but really. I took the right crosswind (with a very nice takeoff) and went out to Livermore. They were using runways 7 instead of the usual 25, which was new for me. It was very busy there too, so I did one landing, taxied back and took off again for Palo Alto.

Back at PAO, I ended up doing 3 laps in the pattern. They were long laps as the controller struggled to get many departures out in between each landing. On my final lap, he had me extend my downwind out to Shoreline Amphitheater (which I'd done on the previous lap as well) and proceeded to line up two departures in front of my arrival. I'd slowed down considerably; basically any time my pattern gets extended I slow down as much as I'm comfortable with, usually no more than 80 knots on downwind with 10 degrees of flaps out. As I was on final, the controller decided he would try to get a third plane out. Here's where the new position and hold regulations come into play. He put the plane in position and hold, so I did not have a landing clearance, and here I was on a relatively short final. He said to me, "Cessna 8CA, one more aircraft holding in position for departure." I replied, "8CA, roger," but I must have sounded a bit apprehensive, because his reply was, "It's making me a little uneasy too." By this time I'd already decided that this was a good opportunity to try a short field landing, so my flaps were fully extended and I was at 60 knots. "I'm keeping it real slow," I told him, and he thanked me.

My short field landing was terrible, though I managed to rescue the landing itself for a soft touchdown, but it was time to terminate. Hopefully I'll be getting more practice in more regularly over the next few weeks!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What a weekend!

I'm exhausted. In the last three days, I've logged 5.5 hours of flight time. Hopefully no "real" pilots read this blog, because I just lost all credibility with them, but seriously, the flying was great but it wore me out.

First, Nirmala and I went to visit her parents down in Lompoc. Lompoc is right next to Vandenberg AFB, which makes it a little tricky to maneuver in without breaking military airspace, which is pretty much always a bad idea. We flew down on Friday, and back today, taking 1.9 hours down and 2.2 hours back. The flight down was absolutely great -- the weather was beautiful, and we had a strong tailwind so we got down there in 1:40, which is not only incredible, but also exactly what was predicted by my flight plan. It amazes me how accurate the planning process can be! The one thing I missed was the turn to head for Lompoc, but ATC caught me (yet another advantage of flight following): "4335K, confirm your destination is Lompoc." "Affirmative..." (turning to the right)

The flight back was a little harder. Most of it was fine, and I managed to get the autopilot to work for part of the time, but once we got into the Bay Area, it was really busy, and pretty turbulent. We got knocked around pretty good coming over the hills from Watsonville. My approach to landing at SQL was pretty rough, but the landing itself was quite good (the one at Lompoc was a bit hard due to a high flare).

Then, I took the same plane out to Petaluma tonight -- my band Hookslide was opening for Tower Of Power at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma, so I thought it'd be a great opportunity to fly up. So off I went, and it was a decent enough flight except, again, for the turbulence, especially close to Petaluma. Oh, and I ended up waiting 40 minutes for a cab! The flight was only 40 minutes; I could have driven and gotten there quicker! I was so upset.

The flight back was again turbulent after takeoff, but smoothed out as I approached San Francisco. I did the Class B transition well (the outbound one as well), and came in for landing at San Carlos. The tower was closed, so I decided to head for runway 30 after coming overhead and totally failing to see the windsock. I set up, made for the runway, flared, leveled off, and....OUCH I hit the nosewheel first -- holy cow, I've never done that before. It wasn't too bad, but it was not good. The Cherokee requires more force on the yoke than the Cessnas, and I think I really needed to manhandle the plane into a nose up attitude at that point, and didn't.

Anyway, I logged 5.5 hours total, 4.1 cross country. That gives me 10.6 hours for the month, and the month isn't over yet! Very exciting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Instrument Written Test -- Complete!

Last weekend, I made it through the rest of the King Instrument DVDs. Now, these DVDs are excellent; however, by "excellent" I mean that they present the information needed for test preparation in a very clear, concise and memorable manner. In the end, though, it's still studying for a test, and therefore pretty painful. So I just powered through the rest of the DVDs and called it quits.

Incidentally, these DVDs had a problem on my computer (Windows XP) where any attempt to watch a second video clip would cause the application to crash hard. This is of course problematic, because the course is structured in such a way that you have to watch a video clip, then answer questions, then watch another video clip. I had been quitting the application after answering questions, before the next video clip, and restarting it. What a pain! I tried getting a new DVD drive, but to no avail. Finally I ended up downloading a codec pack from, and somehow installing that fixed whatever the problem was. I guess the biggest reason to put this info in here is just in case someone else has that problem and manages to type the right search words into their favorite search engine.

Anyway, so I finished the DVDs, fixing a technical problem along the way. Monday morning, I was feeling pretty good about myself, so I took a practice exam: 2 wrong, 97%. Pretty good! Later on Monday, I had to go down to the flying club to do some paperwork for a Piper Warrior checkout. I told my instructor about my result, and asked him for an endorsement to take the exam, which he gave me. This saved me a lot of time; my other option was to get the endorsement from King, but to do that, I would have had to take three practice exams, mail or fax the results to them, and have them mail me the endorsement. So, with my endorsement, I reserved the club's CATS testing room, and called up CATS testing: "I'd like to take the instrument airplane exam." "When?" "Tomorrow at 8:30 am." "Sure, no problem."

So Tuesday morning, after scraping ICE off my car window (I know, I know, what am I complaining about...but I live in the San Francisco Bay Area!! This is NOT normal!!!), I got to the club only five minutes late (the 20 minute drive took 55 minutes, thanks to traffic), and started the test in the unheated room. I went through the questions at a pretty deliberate pace, but it still took me about an hour and five minutes. There was one question I kept vacillating on; the rest, I either knew or I had no idea. I submitted the results, and...97%, I missed 2 again! At least I'm consistent...

Based on the codes they gave me, I could guess at the questions I missed. One was, when does the pressure altitude equal the true altitude? I chose "when the atmospheric pressure is 29.92" but the correct answer was "in standard atmospheric conditions." This is the question that I spent a long time deliberating on -- I have the unfortunate ability to justify anything in my head, so I basically justified the wrong one with faulty logic. The bottom line? Temperature DOES matter. The other question had to do with what services were available on a given ILS frequency, and it came down to whether it has TACAN or not. I believe I said it did, whereas it did not. I have not yet looked up how to determine that, but I figure I'll be learning that in my flight lessons.

About flight lessons -- I'm not really sure how to handle this. Sergey is only instructing part time now, as is his first recommendation. And I'm still toying with the idea of doing a 9-day course, though it seems less appealing now than it did before. We shall see; it should be a fun process no matter what!

Meanwhile, weather permitting, we'll be flying out to Lompoc to see Nirmala's parents this weekend, and then back up to Petaluma on Sunday for a show, opening for Tower Of Power. Sweet!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hey, hey, where ya goin'?

Last TuesdayI met up with Sergey to get checked out in the Piper Warrior, mostly to try to save some money. It's the same plane as the Archer, but less powerful and cheaper. The 172SPs are much more expensive than either one; for that reason I'm thinking of doing my IFR training in a Warrior.

At my request we landed at San Jose, which is in Class C airspace. I just wanted to go over the operations and takeoff clearance stuff; it had been a long time since we'd done that in lessons. That lesson was totally great; I made two excellent landings (no winds in a Warrior means about as easy a landing as there could be), and it was great to see Sergey again.

So today, I put my refreshed knowledge to the test, and went on a trip to Monterey. Monterey is a Class C airport, about 60NM from San Carlos. I wanted to build on everything I have been doing: Flight following, cross countries, all that good stuff. I originally wanted to do the transition through Palo Alto, Moffett and San Jose, but the route over the hills seemed much more direct.

I took a Woodside departure out of SQL and after crossing the 280 freeway made a left. Over SLAC, I hesitated: I was not sure about which of my three route options were the best (over the hills, through San Jose, or coastal). So I circled twice and had a look around. There were a few clouds over the hills, so I wanted to avoid the most direct route (despite the fact that it was almost certainly not a problem; I just finished reading about standing lenticular clouds over mountains meaning heavy turbulence and I got paranoid). The San Jose route at this point would've been strange, since I'd have to fly toward Palo Alto, get transition clearance, make a right turn and then continue the flight. Not impossible, just unconventional. Meanwhile, the coast looked absolutely beautiful, so I turned and headed west for the ocean.

Once on the coastline, I called Norcal Approach for flight following, and set my altitude at 5500. I had a really easy time holding my altitude today; I was on the button with it. I was told at some point early on to make right traffic runway 28R, so I kept that in mind as I followed the coast. As I passed abeam Watsonville, I began my descent, and a few minutes later was told to fly heading 150 to intersect the right base for 28L. Cool, I get to land on the BIG runway!

I descended to TPA just as I entered what would've been a normal base leg. Unfortunately the TPA was 1500' AGL (above ground level), which is not something I'd dealt with before -- usually it's 800' to 1000'. So I had to make a pretty rapid descent on final; I even employed a forward slip for the first time. But I wasn't too worried since I had a gigantic runway in front of me and a decent headwind. My landing, after the somewhat abrupt leveling off process, was smooth and centered.

I taxied back and got my takeoff clearance, and flew back up the coast at 4500'. I stayed with Norcal Approach, but I think they lost me at some point. I heard, "Cessna 610SP, Norcal Approach." I answered: "Approach, Cessna 610SP." That happened twice, then a third time with a different controller. After the third time, I called them: "Norcal Approach, Cessna 610SP." They responded: "Cessna 610SP, go ahead." I didn't know what to say. "0SP, Making contact, I think I lost radio contact a few minutes ago." They responded with "Radar service terminated, squawk VFR." Um...OK, apparently I blew it, but I'm not really sure how (if anyone reading this has a clue for me, I'd gladly take it).

I tuned my VOR to Woodside and chose radial 240 after consulting the charts and seeing that crossing that radial put me under the 4000' shelf of SFO's class B airspace. I turned inward and crossed the hills just in time to put me at the south tip of the Crystal Springs Reservoir. I called up SQL tower, came in and landed...decently. There was a bit of a crosswind, which I corrected for well, but leveled off high at first. But I corrected and touched down pretty softly.

All in all, it was a good flight. What I didn't do was plan out checkpoints and time my progress, as I should be doing. It was a short enough flight that it didn't really matter, but I need more practice doing that. I guess it's time to take some longer flights where it does matter!