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!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Two Niner Diner

We flew from SQL up to Petaluma to have brunch at the Two Niner Diner this morning. The weather was absolutely beautiful; the winds over the last couple of days have pushed all the pollution off probably into the central valley or someplace. Yesterday the visibility was amazing; I could see Mt. Diablo from Palo Alto as if it was right next to me. Today was not quite as amazing, but still very good.

I booked N35583, a Cessna 172SP out of San Carlos. We got to the airport around 10:00, and went out to preflight. Nice looking plane; great interior and very nice GPS. Things were going fine, until...why is no fuel coming out of the front bottom fuel drain? Hmm. I tried again, and again. All the other drains were fine, but this one refused to budge. I saw that if I held the collecting jar in, liquid started coming out, one drop at a time. I held it there for a while, and looked at it. It was hard to tell, but it didn't really look blue. I threw out the sample and tried again. Same result. So my best theory is that there was ice in the lines, or at least water (though I don't know why water wouldn't have just flowed out).

So we got N236SP instead. Other than the oil being really low (I refilled), it looked fine, so I contacted ground and asked for a Bravo transition to Petaluma. After I taxied to runway 30 and did my runup, I was still waiting for a squawk code. Eventually I pinged SQL ground and asked if I should stay with them and wait, or go to tower. They came back with a code right away; I guess they'd just forgotten about me.

We took a straight out departure, and for once the voyage through Class B was totally uneventful. The eventfulness happened just above the Golden Gate, when Norcal Approach gave me a traffic alert, and then advised a 500' descent and 40 degree left turn ASAP -- naturally I complied. Score another one for flight following!

The rest of the trip out to Petaluma was smooth and scenic, other than not being able to see any of the traffic to which Norcal was alerting me. My pattern entry was good, but by the time I was turning base (early, at that), there were two other planes on downwind, so I was feeling a tad rushed. The early base turn led to a high approach, but full flaps and idle power got me down in time. I leveled off slightly high, but no big deal, just not the smoothest landing ever.

The food at Two Niner Diner was quite good! We shared a veggie omelette, which came with potatoes and coffee cake. The omelette was excellent; the eggs were really thin and properly cooked (i.e. not overcooked), and the vegetables were properly done and really flavorful. The rest of the food was pretty good (not amazing, but definitely not disappointing) as well.

A few clouds had started to develop by the time we headed back. One of them forced us to go around it, but nothing too traumatic. I contacted Oakland Center as soon as my ascent was complete (hooray for me!), and they routed me back through SFO's airspace. This time I got sent over midfield of SFO, which was a new view for my travel-mate Nirmala. Back at San Carlos, there was a mild crosswind, so I took the opportunity to practice all the crosswind technique I'd learned last summer. And, voila, probably my nicest crosswind landing ever! Smooth touchdown on the upwind wheel, nose pointed straight down the runway, right on the center line. It helped that the crosswind was really mild, but it was enough that my approach was crabbing in.

The only downside to the journey is that since I took off from San Carlos instead of Palo Alto, the distance to Petaluma does not quite qualify for cross country time. But that's alright; today was about having an enjoyable experience, not necessarily being goal oriented.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tracy and back again

We went out for a simple, short flight to Tracy and back in Cherokee 4319D. But no flight is without its share of adventure, and this was no exception. We left San Carlos at about 4:15, and when we got to Tracy, the pattern was busy. A C150 in front of me decided to do a 360 to get out of the way of myself and the Cirrus behind me. I thought about getting out of the way too, as the Cirrus was pretty close behind me, but then just decided that as long as I don't dilly dally my way through the pattern, it would be fine. It was, and it was my nicest touchdown ever in a Cherokee. And I got off at the first taxiway, which was a good thing -- as I cleared the runway, I looked back and the Cirrus was about 2 seconds from touching down.

Getting out of the airport was another challenge. Everything was locked up! It seemed like there was no way out, but then we found a gate where there was a button to open it for pedestrians to exit. OK, great, but how would we get back in? We figured out that Nirmala, my travel companion, was actually small enough to squeeze through the closed gate. So after a nice time at our friends' place, we broke back into the airport and went back to the plane.

We took off into the beautiful night sky, and just admired the lights from above. Traffic was so light that even I wasn't worried. We touched 4500' and immediately began our descent to get under SFO's Class B airspace above us -- it seemed like as soon as we got to cruise altitude we could actually see San Carlos off in the distance. Then, of course, there was a complication: The panel lights decided they were going to flicker on and off in the most annoying possible fashion. Now, I had two flashlights with me. One was decidedly too bright, and the other was on its last legs (I have a cool LED white/red flashlight coming that I ordered a couple of weeks ago, but for some reason it's not here yet). So I ended up having to perform the landing without having a clear read on my airspeed indicator. It wasn't that hard, it was just an additional challenge. But, it was probably my second best touchdown in a Cherokee! Finally Nirmala is convinced that I can land!

Also, I'm making significant headway in the King Instrument DVD course. I am through the section about instrument approaches, which was probably the biggest and most foreign section to me. Martha King does a great job explaining all the concepts -- I haven't taken the test yet, but so far I highly recommend this course!

My next step in flight training will hopefully be to go land and take off from a Class C airport, so I get familiar with takeoff clearances and all that. Minor thing, I could probably figure it out, but it's also a good way for me to audition instructors for further training.