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!