Sunday, November 09, 2008


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of volunteering at this year's AOPA Expo in San Jose, CA. The Expo ran from Thursday through Saturday, and as a volunteer, I was granted free admittance to the exhibition hall floor. My post, however, was at the Aircraft Display, which was at San Jose Mineta International Airport (the FAA wouldn't expand the current airport codes to give them KSJMIA, so they stuck with KSJC).

I arrived at 8:30am, and for four hours, handed out flyers to, well, flyers, and directed people to the port-a-potties and shuttle buses (hopefully I didn't mix that up at any point). At the end of my shift, I took off and wandered around the Aircraft Display for a little while.

My first stop was at Lafferty Aircraft Sales, because they had a bowl of candy, and I was starving. I picked up an inventory list, and am actually just looking at it now for the first time. The actual conversation was mostly about candy. Looking at their list, it seems they have quite a few Beechcraft singles and twins. No pictures = no drool.

My next stop was at the Civil Air Patrol table, where a woman sat with an unruly rescue dog. By "unruly" I mean that his guardian could not get him to stop going up to people and leaning his head against them to get petted. Away, foul beast!! I mean..aww, cute!! In any case, I want to learn more about CAP and think this'd be an ideal way for me to stay involved in aviation. Step 1 is apparently to learn how to fly a 182, which I want to do ASAP anyway.

Next was the Cessna tent. Kind of boring, actually, but I was also really hungry by now, so I went and got some fries.

I then came upon TJ Neff's refurbished 1995 Socata TB-20 Trinidad. Whew. His pitch: For $150K, you get 90% of what you get if you pay much, much more for a Cirrus. Hmm. Well, the plane was really nice, I'll grant you; in fact I've been dreaming of sitting in the cockpit again ever since then. I felt like I was sitting in a race car. It's beautiful; everything's amazingly within reach. The plane does about 155 knots at 12.5 GPH, which seems a bit high to me given other options -- heck, the Diamond DA40 does the same speed on 8-10 GPH and it's not even a retractable OR a constant speed prop (the CS model adds about 12 knots to that on the same fuel burn). Still....very nice airplane. West Valley Flying Club has a Trinidad; I'm going to request a training ride in it.

Then, on to the Diamond display. I've been admiring Diamonds from afar for so long that I had to go sit in one. So I had a seat in the DA40, and...well, it was comfortable...the company rep described it best when he said it's like "flying a La-Z-Boy." Yeah, that's kind of what it felt like. I suppose I actually have to fly it to judge, so maybe I'll try to arrange a test flight if I can find a club around here that has one (I know there's a place in San Carlos, so I could just go there).

So I drove downtown from there and hit the Exhibit Floor. I went from one corner to the other; I saw sunglasses (neat, but ugly), all kinds of avionics -- there's one, I forget what it's called, that replaces the attitude indicator and heading indicator with a tall, thin digital display akin to the attitude/heading displays on a Garmin G1000. Pretty nice engineering, if you ask me, since it can be fit onto an existing six-pack and replace just those two instruments pretty easily. [EDIT: Thanks to reader Colin for informing me that this was a unit made by Aspen Avionics] I talked to an AIG guy about insurance for a while; he looked bored. I talked to someone from a flight academy about whether it was possible to get a job with an airline as a 35 year old with my experience level (of course her answer was "of course!"). I got talked into buying a VFR FlightGuide; it's like the Pilot's Guide that I'd been subscribed to, but (a) covers something like 13 states instead of just CA, (b) is less expensive, and (c) most importantly, is small enough that I could actually carry it in my flight bag. They have a nice looking website service I could subscribe to, but didn't yesterday. Then I stopped by the West Valley display and chatted with the chief pilot Lucy for a bit, and then on my way out, I met and talked with John and Martha King of the infamous King Schools! That was actually really cool; they were really nice.

I feel like I got some interesting data on the "what to do next with this" front. Join an airline? A possibility, though letting go of my nice job (in every way) at this juncture is not on my list of favorable decisions. Buy my own aircraft? Maybe; it sure would be nice, and free me up to make more trips without worrying about reserving and all the other hassles of club aircraft. Let's face it -- I'd love to own an airplane. But it's expensive, and it's a big commitment. I'd also like a dog, which is also a big commitment, but at least a little bit less expensive. CAP seems like a great option no matter what; I will look into that as soon as practical.

I looked around the expo for only about three hours after my volunteer session, but I ended up having a great time! I can only take so much of those settings anyway, and I feel like I got everything I want to out of it.

Now, let's see when that West Valley Trinidad is available...

Monday, November 03, 2008

300 Hours!

I was just updating my logbook, and realized that on my way to Santa Barbara, I crossed the 300 hour mark! I'm also coming up on 100 hours of cross country (I'm at 96.5 right now). Still inside "The Killing Zone" but a nice milestone nonetheless.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

First Real IFR Flight: Santa Barbara

I've written before that some experiences just make you feel "like a pilot." This weekend was one of those experiences, I think in part because of the large number of "firsts" and how well I handled them. This was the first time I:

  • was pilot in command of a flight in real IMC, and real it was -- an hour in the clouds on the way down!
  • used my new Lightspeed Mach 1 headset -- the fitted earpieces had just come in on Friday!
  • spent two nights away
  • flew somewhere I had a reason to be
  • was cleared for and flew a "visual approach" (you'd think this was easy, but at an unfamiliar airport...)
  • dealt with a rapidly changing weather forecast for the return trip, which at times included thunderstorms, and ended up having somewhat lower-than-expected freezing levels

And the heartening thing is that this might have been the best I've ever flown -- of course that involves some luck as well as all the preparation, but without the preparation you don't even give yourself a chance.

I took off on Friday a little after 1:00pm, after a rigorous preflight and obsessing about the weather all morning -- not that there was much to obsess about; it was cloudy, but unthreateningly so. Ceilings were around 5000 in the Bay Area, and supposedly around 7000 further south. I filed a flight plan via Salinas, Paso Robles and Morro Bay at 7000, and got set to go. Preflight was fine, I loaded up the plane with all my luggage (which was considerable, since I had to bring all my stuff not only for a half-marathon, but also for the Halloween party that night), and I got ATIS and contacted ground. Runway 12 was in use -- yesss! Whereas the departure procedure for Runway 30 is a bit intense (see my last entry), the departure procedure for Runway 12 is "fly runway heading." Perfect.

I was cleared for takeoff. I lined up, and took off. After switching to Norcal, I was instructed to make a left turn direct to Woodside (Woodside is on the right at that point, so I had to make a 270 degree turn). He kept me on my filed route, and I ended up in the clouds pretty quickly. And I stayed there for a while. My groundspeed was about 87 knots, and things were bumpy. I was in there for nearly a half hour, when the controller asked if my routing was for training, or if I'd like to go direct Gaviota, and whether I could handle 9000 feet as an altitude. Given that the plane was actually leaking water into the cabin, I eagerly told the controller that direct Gaviota would be great and I could do 9000. He cleared me direct Gaviota, and minutes later cleared me to 9000. I climbed, and broke out of the clouds at 8500.

The rest of the ride was much more pleasant. I was in and out of the clouds a little bit, once even for about 15 minutes, but it wasn't as thick or bumpy. My groundspeed was still achingly slow; I had a headwind of about 40 knots, putting me in the low 80s relative to the ground. I plugged my iPhone into my headset and started playing some music. At some point I missed a handoff to a new frequency, but that was really my only error.

As I got into the Santa Barbara area and began descending, things were decidedly VMC outside. It was a beautiful day! Eventually I got the call: "N35583, Santa Barbara Airport is at your 10 o'clock." I saw it, and told him so. "N35583, cleared visual approach runway 7." do I fly this? Since I couldn't see a visual glideslope aid (there may have been one, but I couldn't see it), I tuned the ILS and simply followed it down, executing a greaser of a landing at the end of a completely stable approach. Good stuff. I taxied to Signature, and parked!

Friday night was awesome, Saturday was fantastic, and today, it was time to fly home. I'd been a little concerned about the weather because at one point yesterday, they were forecasting thunderstorms in the bay area -- and if there was really going to be a lot of thunderstorm activity, I think that'd most likely mean an extra night in Santa Barbara for me. But that forecast went away, and in its place was a forecast that made it very difficult to predict how cloudy the journey would be, and freezing levels around 8000'. I fretted about the situation for a while, then decided I'd just file a route the same way back as I'd come, where the MEAs were such that I could file 6000' as my enroute altitude.

This worked for a little while...I called clearance delivery (first time!) and was given my clearance, called ground for taxi instructions, did my run-up, called the tower, and was given a takeoff clearance. My routing was ... tada! Runway Heading! I was sure that I'd get a departure procedure, but Runway Heading, vectors to Gaviota was all I got. Awesome! Things were fine until near Paso Robles, where the controller boosted me to 8000'. I complied without complaining, and a little while later the controller asked if I wanted my filed routing, or direct AMEBY (a GPS fix on the San Carlos GPS 30 approach). So...I thought I was supposed to file on airways, but am I not supposed to do that? Should I just file direct and see what happens? Of course, earlier in the week when we went to Salinas, I filed SNS direct, and they gave me OSI V25 SNS direct. So...who knows. Anyway, I accepted direct AMEBY, and told the controller I was concerned about ice at 8000 when approaching the bay area, and didn't know what the clouds looked like. He basically said I had no choice, because radar is sketchy at 6000 through the valley. Interesting. So I told him "let's give it a shot" and it ended up being immaterial when I was lowered to 6000 (and eventually 5000) before getting into the bay area anyway.

I got vectored around a little bit on my way back into San Carlos: Fly heading 270! Direct AMEBY! Fly heading 270! Fly heading 310! Direct AMEBY! Okay, okay! I eventually made it into the approach structure (way too high -- they really dropped me in rather suddenly; I was at 5000, and next thing it was "2 miles from AMEBY; cross AMEBY at or above 3200, cleared GPS 30." But I landed without incident, pulled the plane into its spot, and I was done!

I will update this entry with a photoset at some point, but it was an awesome flying experience. A lot of firsts, a lot of learning, not a lot of out-and-out slip-ups. I want to do this more, and I want a faster and more powerful plane!

UPDATE: Here's a photo set from the weekend -- mostly pix from the flight, but a few of my Halloween costume (that's supposed to be Michael Jackson) and of my Team In Training team with whom I ran the Santa Barbara Half Marathon. I have also linked the current flying blog from my pilot friend Russ (who I flew with last weekend) on the left.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Getting Ready For IMC

California, the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, is an interesting place to be an instrument pilot, in that there really isn't a whole lot of IMC for most of the year. Not that I'm complaining; the sunshine is beautiful, and zillions of people move here every 20 minutes. It's awesome, and all the more reason to be able to fly over the traffic jams and laugh!

So, I'm running a half-marathon this weekend with Team In Training, the fundraising and athletic training arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. That's two great causes: curing cancer, and making yet another futile attempt to increase my muscle mass. The race itself is in Santa Barbara, which is the perfect distance to fly instead of drive -- about a 2 hour flight instead of a 5 hour car ride. And, guess what the forecast is? That's right, rain in the Bay Area, and partly cloudy (whatever that means) in Santa Barbara. But that's OK, I'm an instrument pilot, right?

Well, not so fast. We still have to consider three things: Currency, Logistics and Readiness. My currency was on the edge of running out last weekend, as I'd only done four approaches in the last six months. There's just not a lot of IMC! And recruiting safety pilots who I'm compatible with has been slow going (Roland, you're awesome, but you were out of town!). So a reader of this blog, Russ (who has a blog of his own here though he really should write in it more!!), and I got together for a flight last weekend. It was great; we went down to Salinas and did the VOR and GPS 13 approaches, with a holding pattern (above actual clouds) at MARNA. Now, I've never been in real IMC without an instructor, and we were about a 1/2 mile from this being my first time! In any case, it all went well, except I attempted a circle-to-land off the GPS 13 to runway 26, and the sunfield and haze were so bad that we couldn't see the runway. An actual missed approach!

Currency: Done. Now, for Logistics. I managed to book a nice IFR plane for the weekend, a small miracle in itself. I won't go into that, but the plane is based at San Carlos, not Palo Alto, where I usually fly out of.

This brings us to Readiness -- since I've only flown IFR out of San Carlos once (that with my instructor), and I'd never flown this plane IFR, I decided to take a test flight today, again with my instructor John so I could get under the hood and do some more approaches.

I decided to replay the weekend's flight, but just do the VOR 13 at Salinas, not bother with a published missed approach but just head back to San Carlos. And obviously the start/end point are different, because we're starting in San Carlos instead of Palo Alto. So we talked it over, got in, started up, and it came time to copy my clearance.

"Skyhawk 35583 is cleared to the Salinas Airport via runway heading until past the diamond shaped waterway, right turn heading 120 within 2 miles of the airport, radar vectors Woodside, Victor 25, Salinas, Direct; climb and maintain 1100 until past the 165 radial of the Oakland VOR, climb maintain 2000, expect 5000 in 5 minutes. Frequency 131.25, squawk 4526."

Holy crap. And this came pretty rapid-fire. I struggled, John helped me. The standard clearance for Palo Alto is "right turn heading 060, radar vectors Salinas direct, climb maintain 3000, expect 5000 in 5 minutes, frequency 121.3, squawk 4526." This was much more complicated. So, score one for me going on this flight. Score two for me actually flying the clearance well enough that John complimented me on it.

Overall, the flight went pretty well. There were a few things that I slipped up on, the biggest of them being that after doing a touch and go at Salinas, I was supposed to execute a missed approach, but I forgot about that and started flying right back to San Carlos. Can't do that when you're on an IFR clearance. To my credit, I flew an unexpected circle-to-land perfectly, but it does no good if you fly into a mountain right afterwards. I didn't. Also, I did not correctly interpret an approach plate, which bugs me a little. Need to pay more attention. And, I needed to study the San Carlos approach plate prior to asking for a clearance to San Carlos...they sent me direct to one of the waypoints on the GPS approach, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Hate that.

But, those things aside, it was a good flight. I'm glad I did the bad missed approach on a training flight, and the other mistakes were recoverable. So, I'm now prepared for Friday. My biggest fear is now copying (and flying) the clearance when leaving Santa Barbara on Sunday! Let's hope for something easy!

Monday, September 08, 2008

IFR Currency

It's been four and a half months since I got my instrument rating, and I've not been flying nearly as much as I would've hoped. That means it's time to start worrying about currency, as the FARs require six instrument approaches within the last six months, with holding procedures. Right now, I easily meet that requirement, but only because of all the approaches I did in March and April. Since my checkride, I'd done only one instrument approach in simulated IMC, the ILS into Merced a couple of months ago. I'd done three practice approaches a bit before that, but by myself in VMC, and therefore no foggles.

So I enlisted my good friend Roland to come with me and act as my safety pilot, to go do three approaches yesterday. "The Milk Run," he calls it, of Stockton, Tracy and Livermore, which gives me a VOR, GPS and ILS approach. Now, there were several confounding variables on this trip; for one thing, it was my first time renting out of Advantage Aviation. I'm still a member of West Valley, but Advantage has just as many of the planes I want to fly, and they're a good $10-$15 cheaper per hour. And they're nicer (sorry, but it matters to me).

We picked up the plane's keys, and went out to preflight. The plane, N784SP, was in very nice condition, and the preflight went well, except that fuel was just a bit below the tabs. I decided that was enough for our 2-hour flight (the tabs would give us 3.5 hours conservatively, and it was just below), so we got in, and ... I realized the plane had no MFD. The MFD is the big moving-map GPS display that I'd used all through my training as quite the crutch for situational awareness. OK, this would be a bit of a challenge, but no worries; through my training I'd worried about becoming too dependent on the MFD anyway, so this would be a good drill.

Off we went, VFR with a right Dumbarton departure, and over Sunol I gave Norcal a call. Now, after some down time, the radio calls are the first thing to suffer, and this was no exception. I got the message across (flight following Stockton, practice VOR 29R) but forgot to tell him I had the ATIS, and neglected to tell him how I wanted to start the approach (pilot nav) or how the approach would terminate (published missed). Not pro, but the controller was really nice and just prompted me for the information. Also, the autopilot veered me hard to the right when I tried to engage it, so apparently it was even more useless than all the other K(r)AP 140s I've experienced. MFD, no AP. This will be a challenge indeed!

About 10 miles from ECA (the IAF), I was still at 5500' and worried about getting down -- obviously on an instrument flight plan, they tell you when to descend, but VFR, everything's a lot more variable. But for some reason, these days I'm a lot less afraid to sound like an idiot (which is a good thing) so I queried ATC: "4SP...can I begin a descent?" Immediately he said, "4SP, cross ECA at or above 2000, cleared approach." I slowed and immediately began a 1000 FPM descent, and got to 2000 about 45 seconds prior to reaching ECA.

Reaching ECA is a drill, because it means the following: OBS mode, Time, Turn to the outbound leg for a parallel entry into the holding pattern in lieu of procedure turn, twist the inbound course, check in the GPS that the course reads correctly, switch nav source, throttle to descend to 1600'. Whew. Amazingly, I did it -- it wasn't smooth, but luckily Roland was a good sport about it. A minute out, I turned inbound, got established and descended to 1300'. I'd overshot a little, but got back on course quickly. Suddenly I looked down and my CDI was fully deflected..what the...oh, I'm right over the station. I started my time, and used the GPS to verify that I was on course until the CDI kicked in. I descended to 460', the MDA, and flew right over the missed approach point.

In flying the missed approach I had a little confusion about the navigation; I got on VOR navigation pretty quickly, but I wanted GPS guidance for more accuracy. I'm not sure why, but it took me a couple of tries to get it right -- Direct to ORANG, OBS mode, 317 in the OBS. Anyway, I did it and climbed to 3000', called ATC, and entered the hold.

Here's where things got a little messy..I didn't start the time passing ORANG, so I had to take a guess as to when to turn back inbound (turns out it was an amazing guess; my inbound leg was exactly 1:00!). My calls to ATC were sounding more and more amateur as I set up for Tracy, stayed in the holding pattern with no AP, and generally struggled to get everything done. But I got it, and eventually asked for the approach and was directed to ECA. The GPS-A at Tracy went really well, and entering the hold at TRACY also went well -- a lot easier with the GPS than with VORs! I set up for LVK ILS 25R, and asked for it. Here I veered a bit off course on my inbound leg, which made things more confusing than they should've been (if I were on course, I'd just have to pass straight ahead over TRACY to be on the next leg of the ILS, once cleared), but I handled it, it just wasn't particularly pretty.

The ILS went beautifully. I was right on it pretty much the whole time, with only a few corrections. I was on the slow side (I had been on all the approaches; my standard power settings weren't working and I hadn't found ones that did work), but only by about 5 knots now (as opposed to about 10 knots earlier in the flight). I did a touch and go (best one in a while!), and made for Palo Alto. The flight back to Palo Alto was easy, and after a bit of instability as I got over the runway, recovered and made a nice landing.

It was a great refresher flight! I was not nearly as far ahead of the airplane as I'm accustomed to being, but I can attribute that to three factors: 1. Rust, obviously. 2. No autopilot. 3. No MFD. So, in addition to being rusty, my brain also had to handle constantly flying the plane, and constantly being aware of my situation. The latter was remarkably easy, but the former was a challenge at times.

Roland is a great safety pilot, by the way. He's really calm about everything, and he asks questions, almost like an instructor's kind of uncanny, given he doesn't have an instrument rating, but he just has great judgment and is very aware of the situation. He forces me to tell him my plan, which is great -- he wanted to know, for example, when I would de-foggle myself on the ILS, so I told him "Pretty much at the DA." He asks, "What's the DA on this approach?" And I didn't have it at the forefront of my thoughts; I had to think about it for a sec and verify with the plate before answering, "650'." But it was great to have thought about it then, nice and early, before it got late. Plus, he took pictures, so I can see what I'd been missing!

Now, back to plan A: I want to take at least one trip a month with Roland (or another pilot) and do an approach on at least one end. If I do that, currency won't be an issue.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Hurried Trip Around The Clouds

Yesterday I took a friend on a trip to Petaluma, from Palo Alto. As with many of my friends, it was her first time in a small plane, so I wanted the introduction to be a kind one. I'd reserved 669TW at PAO, but since it was recently back from maintenance and no one had booked it since (even though it was "free" all day Saturday), I was suspicious, and rightly so -- when we arrived at PAO, the plane was nowhere to be found. Luckily, 222MF had opened up from 10 to 1, so I jumped on it.

The plan had been to get brunch at the 29er Diner in Petaluma, my favorite $100 (well..$300) meal location so far, but with the restricted time options, I figured that this would just be a bay tour. But San Francisco was still covered with low overcast, according to the weather, so my choices were limitied. I figured the clouds might burn off sometime during the flight, so I decided to head over the east bay. We followed Highway 680 up the east bay, past Mt. Diablo and over Danville and Walnut Creek and Concord's airport, and headed out over San Pablo Bay. There I let her steer around a little bit, and after climbing a little and seeing that the coast was totally covered with clouds, decided that it'd be cool to touch down in Petaluma and just step out for a minute, even though we didn't have time for brunch.

Traffic pattern and landing at Petaluma went well; there was one other plane that was entering the pattern at the same time. I was more or less exactly over the airfield, and didn't even see it (it was off my right side)...luckily my passenger did! I was about 1500' over TPA anyway, so nothing too worrisome. We slotted in behind the other plane, and since I was high I came in pretty hot, which led to a nicely greased landing. We parked and went in for a quick cup of tea.

As we sat, I called West Valley to check that the 1:00 reservation on 222MF was still in the books. Unfortunately it was, so I had to rush things and leave immediately. It was 12:25 when we got in the plane; we taxied back and took off pretty quickly. Unfortunately, SF was still covered with clouds, and here I was uncertain of what to do. I could of course ask for IFR to PAO, but as I was in a hurry, I didn't want some crazy routing. I could always cancel, but I didn't want to waste time getting a clearance only to cancel it and have to go back around the east bay anyway. I thought about asking for a high VFR clearance over SF, over the clouds (they were at about 1000' and only a few hundred feet thick at most), but I know they usually rely on ground reference for transitions, and...well, frankly I didn't want to sound like an idiot. So I went back around the east bay route, this time skirting as close to the Class B shelf as I could without busting it (at one point I thought I had busted it..the rings are shown on the GPS, but without the altitudes, so I had to cross reference it with the chart, and I misread it at one point, resulting in a rapid 500' descent).

We cruised back in; I announced myself over Coyote Hills, made right traffic, and was cleared to land before I even made the downwind leg -- things were very not-busy for some reason. I touched down, another greaser in a crosswind, and this time not even going too fast! We tied down and got back to the club about 20 minutes late.

This flight was an interesting one, in terms of decision making. I had oppositely confounding variables in time pressure and a passenger. I think my one poor decision was to get out of the plane in Petaluma; we should've landed, taxied back and left again. I wanted to show my friend around a little, but that resulted in a rush situation coming back. Everything else I think was reasonable, from the standpoint of risk mitigation (in not wanting to try something new with a passenger on board) and comfort. So, overall, a good flight -- it's always great to go up, and my friend will have to go again if she wants to see the Golden Gate!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Castle Air Museum

I have no idea how long my flying buddy Roland and I have been talking about going to Castle Airport, but it's been a really long time, since well before my instrument checkride. Through my training, I hardly ever flew for pleasure, since I spent all my time flying approaches and stressing myself out. Hey, it was important. Anyway, so I had a plane booked for today with the thought that I'd go somewhere, and as it turned out, Roland was free, so off we went to Castle!

Castle Airport used to be Castle Air Force Base until 1995 when they shut down military operations and it became what might have been the longest runway on a non-towered airport ever, with its 11,800 foot runway. Within the last two years (not sure exactly when) they put in a control tower. Apparently, Boeing is now going to use the airport as a 737 training facility.

Anyway, I took a guess at an IFR routing and filed a flight plan from home, and then drove off to the airport. I got there at 11:00, and by the time we got fuel, preflighted and chatted a bit in catching up, it was 11:30. We taxied to the run-up area, and I got my clearance: SJC V334 SUNOL V195 ECA Direct. That's precisely the same routing I get for my numerous trips to Stockton, which surprised me -- in my filed plan I followed another airway south to get at least near the El Nido VOR (HYP). But oh well. So we took off IFR, did all the familiar stuff, and before we got to ECA we were given a heading and told to go direct HYP when possible. Great!

We were still about 20 miles out when we got a vector for the ILS (which I'd requested earlier). They kept me high for a while, presumably to avoid any conflict with the neighboring Merced airport, but the descent was still pretty easy. I fought the ILS most of the way down, but kept pretty well on it before floating high right around the DA. I went visual, and landed relatively well on the gigantic runway. I taxied off, contacted ground, and with their help, parked at transient.

We tied down, and at the end of the parking area were a number of GIGANTIC military jets. These things were huge. One of them was being loaded with something; we didn't want to get too close or stare too hard (I had my sinister unshaven look going today). We walked into the terminal, where a number of military personnel were sitting around. I guess we looked confused (I think we were just dazed by the heat -- the ATIS had said the temperature was 32C), because a woman from the onsite FBO, Anabel (or Anna Belle or some variant thereof) asked if we were lost. I asked her if there was a good way to get to the air museum other than walking, and she offered to drive us there herself! How sweet!

Anabel (that is now officially the correct spelling, at least as far as this blog is concerned) dropped us off at the entrance to the museum, which (I hadn't realized) was all outdoors. Of course -- when dealing with HUGE planes, it'd have to be. The first thing we saw was an SR71 Blackbird. After we ate (ugh...I don't want to talk about it), we went out and saw so many planes I can't even begin to convey what any of them were or in what way they were significant, though they all were. I'm well aware of the rich history that aviation has within the military, but I'm not a plane geek -- I don't know the production history behind certain models of aircraft, I have no idea about war stories (literally!) associated with certain planes, I can't identify a plane by looking at it, even if it's really obvious. I'm still thoroughly impressed by these planes and those who flew them, it's just...anyway, here's my attempt; if you want accurate info I suggest the museum's website.

There was the SR71, which was very sleek. We saw a B-17, and I was impressed by the number and locations of the gun turrets. The B-52 was overwhelming. The C-123 made me laugh -- it looked vaguely like the plane in Chicken Run. The F-14 still looks like something out of the future.

It was getting hotter, and what breeze was once there had died down. After a brief stop in the "inside" portion of the museum, we went back to the entrance and the gift shop, and had the staff there give Anabel a call for us. She picked us up and took us back to the terminal. As we got there, we watched two of the GIGANTIC jets taking off (though one of them had to hold for a Lear jet to land -- we were feeling quite inadequate in our little Cessna). We walked out to our 172, opened the doors and...sat outside for a little while. It was really hot outside, but it was REALLY hot in that cockpit. Whew. We got in and were eager to get in the air ASAP, so we got the ATIS, got some taxi instructions, got a takeoff clearance and used it. We climbed to 6500 in an effort to find some cooler air (our OAT gauge still said 72 degrees F at that altitude). We were VFR, but it was really hazy -- we got flight following, which at least helped our peace of mind. The flight back was totally uneventful and utterly enjoyable.

I like this idea of taking trips, flying out IFR and coming back VFR. They're totally different skills, and I enjoy the opportunity to work on both.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Know Kung Fu!

Three months. Three months since I took N222MF up with Sherry Diamond, donned the foggles, flew for far too long around the Salinas area, shot three approaches, did some holds, and came back with a temporary airman's certificate. That was April 25.

In the intervening time, I've flown three times: Two bay tours, and a practice VFR flight. Long story short, I did not feel like an instrument pilot at all. I had no confidence that my IFR skills would come back without a lot of work. I'd never even been on an IFR flight plan by myself. I'd tried to schedule myself for an IFR practice flight, to shoot approaches and try to remember how it all went, but when you think something is going to be unpleasant, you find excuses to not do it.

So on Monday, after canceling another flight, I scheduled one for Thursday (yesterday). And yesterday, I took a lesson from the baseball field: after you make a fielding error, tell yourself "I want the ball" till you believe it. So, that was me all day: I want the controls. I told my friends I was going, so I could not get out of it (obviously barring some good reason to not go).

I got to the airport and picked up the keys and went out to preflight....and forgot my headset in the car AGAIN (this has been a trend). Then I needed to use the restroom, which, thanks to the draconian landlords at PAO, entails a trip to the terminal building. So, by the time I boarded and started setting up, it was 6:00pm. No problem, I'm taking my time. I did my basic checks, started up and contacted ground. IFR to Stockton. Here we go.

I got to the run-up area, and got my clearance and copied it and read it back. One thing done. I set my avionics, and told the tower I was ready for release. Hold for release. Great. Now we sit and....ah, crap, I never did my runup checks! So I sped through my runup, and sure enough, one of the mags was rough, so I leaned and cleared it, and went back through the checklist, completing it just in time for "Cessna 222MF, position and hold, and we have an amendment to your clearance." This is new...."position and hold, ready to copy." It was a right turn 040 instead of the standard 060 after takeoff. No big. Cleared for takeoff.

It was a beautiful day -- clear, not too hot, with some clouds up to the north and offshore (in other words, not where I'd be flying). There were TFRs all over the place, thanks to (a) fires and (b) the president of the US getting an aerial tour of the fires. I probably would not have even gone anywhere VFR today, but this is the beauty of IFR: YOU keep me out of the TFRs (I mean, I was aware of where they were, etc, but it's just less thinking to have ATC as a first line of navigation).

As I followed their vectors and altitude assignments, I found myself way ahead of the airplane. I got SCK's ATIS way ahead of time, and when switching to the final controller had my approach request ready to go: VOR 29R, pilot nav, published missed hold at ORANG. There was some confusion later when the controller asked me if I wanted multiple rounds in the hold at ECA (meaning the hold in lieu of procedure turn on the approach) whereas I heard ORANG, so gave a nonsensical answer, but we straightened it out. As I approached ECA, she told me she'd call my inbound turn, so I slowed, did my T's and headed outbound on an extended parallel entry. I did everything right in this approach, including the GPS management, pressing the OBS button at the right time, getting OUT of OBS mode when back inbound, starting my time at the FAF...everything. Even the missed was great, except that I forgot to exit NAV mode on the autopilot on the teardrop entry (I needed HDG mode) so my holding pattern was a bit messed up.

I set up for and requested the ILS 29R, and was vectored over. I flew it very well, completely by hand, dealing pretty well with gusty winds. I stabilized the heading pretty well; I had more trouble with the glide slope but corrected rapidly and the biggest deviation was one dot high (but it was pretty close to the DA). I went missed, flew it even better than last time, and went back to ORANG and requested clearance to PAO. Again, I was ready to copy, I got and read back a clearance, and climbed to 6000 on the assigned heading.

As I neared the approach structure for PAO GPS 31, I was being absolutely blinded by the sun, which was well on its way to setting. As I was vectored gradually onto the final approach course, I couldn't see anything. Technically VMC, and I could see the ground, but I could not look out the front window at all. Good thing I was IFR! There was an unexpected frequency along the way (Moffett Tower, for about 30 seconds before switching to PAO Tower), and I just followed the GPS in. I saw the REIL first, then the threshold lights, then the runway itself. The sun was just starting to drop below the horizon on my final approach, and I followed the VASI down and slowed to landing speed. I touched down with a squeak.

What a flight!! I'm absolutely stunned by how much I enjoyed it, as well as how good I was at it! Not that I think it'd be a good idea to take three months off with any regularity, but it's shocking to me that all that I'd learned was right there, at my fingertips, even after so much time. I knew exactly what to do and when, I acted and sounded like a pro (except for that whole hold at ECA issue, but we worked it out), I maintained my airspeeds very well, my scan was actually good, my preparation was excellent, I used the autopilot and the GPS to maximum effect, and I even flew smoothly -- a passenger could've been with me on that flight.

I'm impressed by, in some sense, how much easier it is to fly IFR than it is to fly VFR. An IFR flight is the same, no matter what. I'm taking a trip to Huntsville, AL, in August, and am planning to fly to the Atlanta area. I will be flying IFR, because there's so much less "creative" thinking to do, so many fewer variables. Many more procedures, yes, but those are just procedures, which I can do anywhere.

After a long and difficult training cycle, and a necessary detox period, I'm excited to be a pilot again and am psyched for my next trip.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Practice Flight

Wow. June was an incredibly busy month, and between that and still being pretty burned out from the instrument training, AND not giving the club a copy of my new temporary airman's certificate, which indicated that I'd passed a test and therefore didn't need a BFR, thereby causing them to disallow me from renting a plane at's been a while since I've flown. After the bay tour for my mom, I took my friends Alex and Lisa from Alabama on a tour; that was May 29. It was a choppy ride, and while the tour went well, my approach and landing back at PAO coming in from left traffic left something to be desired.

So, having not flown in five weeks, I thought today would be a great day to head out and get some practice. I hadn't really decided whether to just go and fly, or to go out and practice approaches (without view limiting), but as visibility was pretty bad at most nearby practice destinations and I was really not feeling up to such a huge challenge, I decided to fly to Livermore, do a little pattern work, and come back. Should be a nice short flight, and maybe I could work on those landings.

So I got 739TW ready to go, and after I preflighted (and went back to my car to get my headset, which I'd forgotten), I started her up perfectly, got ATIS, taxied out, did my runup, and prepared for takeoff. Everything went very smoothly; I got an early crosswind so I arrested my climb until I had the GPS where I wanted it to make sure I was avoiding SJC's airspace. I came through the Sunol pass, got LVK's ATIS and gave their tower a call and entered left traffic for 25L.

My first approach and landing were quite good. I landed just past the numbers, and made it a touch and go, which is not something I've done a whole lot of on short runways, for good reason. But in this case I'd decided that if my landing was close enough to the numbers, I'd go for it. So I went back up, second time around, and made left traffic for 25L. This time my approach ended up high -- 25L at LVK has no vertical guidance lights, so that made things harder. I floated long, and landed pretty cleanly but about 1/3 of the way down the runway so I made it a full stop and taxied back.

One more lap; this time my landing was good again, and I terminated and took a left crosswind departure to head back to PAO. It was hazy and hard to see, though visibility was supposedly 10SM. I made right traffic at PAO, lined up the approach, came in, was about to set down, and....just lost it. Gust of wind and probably an overreaction on my part, but the plane was in no position to be set down, so I added full power and retracted flaps halfway in one smooth motion to go around. I was quite pleased with myself that in that situation, without actively thinking about going around, the instinct was there, and solid enough that I did it correctly.

Because traffic was heavy, they sent me into left traffic, and I eventually found my place in line and approached and landed.

A nice little refresher flight, basically -- later in the week, if I get a chance, I'll try shooting a few approaches!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bay Tour for Mom

This is my 70th post in this blog, surpassing the 69 posts in my original flight training blog, Learning To Fly. And I can think of no better way to commemorate such an event, especially on Mothers' Day, than to write about the flight I took yesterday: A bay tour on a beautiful day, taking my mom up for the first time.

I reserved 739TW at Palo Alto, a nice plane with the avionics suite that I've grown used to through my instrument training (the timer doesn't work and the #2 radio has been flaky in the past; hence my reluctance to use this aircraft on my checkride). My mom got to the airport well before I did and got a coffee at the Abundant Air Cafe while she waited for me. When I got there, we ran into my friend Terry at West Valley, who wished my mom a good flight and gave her a good impression of the club. We also ran into Sergey, my PPL CFI, which was awesome -- I think he impressed my mom with his professionalism and friendliness even in a short conversation.

It was a little hazy out, but still greater than 10SM visibility, so nothing to worry about. So we took off northbound off of 31, and contacted San Carlos tower and requested a bay tour. Bad news: SFO Tower informed SQL tower (just then, apparently) that they weren't authorizing bay tours or B transitions. Perfect. I asked for a higher altitude and SQL told me to circle left and climb to 3000' and contact Norcal up there. So that's what I did, and Norcal cleared me through Class B at 3500 -- a higher view than is customary, but still spectacular.

We ended up being vectored west of San Francisco city on our way up to the Golden Gate, so we didn't get the close up view of downtown like we might've on another day, but again, still not bad. As we crossed Golden Gate Park, Norcal asked if I wanted to stay at 3500' and I asked for "as low as we could go." He gave me "at or above 2500'" so I dropped to 2500 and stayed there. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge from west to east, and circled Angel Island, giving my mom a good view of the City's amazing skyline and the Bay Bridge in the distance. We circled back and crossed back westbound over the Golden Gate, with a couple of traffic alerts along the way. We checked out Stinson Beach, and then back over the Golden Gate once more to head up the north bay toward the Carquinez Bridge.

Norcal asked at this point whether I was going to Napa; I told him negative, we'd head east and follow 680 down. So he discontinued flight following and we were on our way. Once reaching the Carquinez, I climbed back up to 3500 to get more clearance over the hills. On the way down to 680, I quickly showed my mom the GPS and autopilot operations because she was curious. As we followed the freeway down, she was very interested in the distribution of houses around there -- it was a lot less crowded there than in Fremont or San Jose, where she and I live, respectively.

We never did get back on flight following, but we did encounter some traffic to the west of Livermore, at the same altitude. We maneuvered around them and made our way back over Fremont (we think she saw her house) and back to Palo Alto. Interestingly, I got knocked off centerline pretty good as I crossed the numbers, but recovered alright and landed smoothly.

All in all, it was a great flight in that it was totally unremarkable, other than the views, which are always remarkable. It was really nice to just cruise around and be looking out the window.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Glider Ride

Staring at instruments, having one's vision blocked in one of the most beautiful areas to fly in the country, always thinking of what's next and how best to get to the destination -- that's what instrument flight is in the Bay Area. It's frustrating -- rewarding, for sure, to be able to do it and to have learned all that I've learned, but sometimes you just want to go cruisin'.

So I did.

In Hawaii.

With no engine.

I arrived in Honolulu with a hotel reservation and no plan; I figured I could sit there in the hotel all day and it'd still be a great vacation, but I felt pressure to go out and do stuff so that I wouldn't come back and have to tell people that I sat in my hotel all day when I was in Hawaii. So I booked a glider ride out of Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore of Oahu, and paid the extra $20 for their "mini-lesson" which puts me in the front seat, doing the piloting of the aircraft.

I arrived at Dillingham an hour early!! That was cool, of course, because I had plenty of time to walk around, check out the gliders and airplanes, chat with the staff (we had a protracted debate on who exactly WANTS to see a Jimi Hendrix sex take was "nobody"), and just stare at a runway backed by a huge mountain, and bordered on the other side by the warm ocean. Hawaii's an incredible place.

At 10:30, my pilot showed up. Very cool guy, young, maybe mid-20s, named Scott, and so we chatted for a bit as we walked out to the glider. I told him I'm an airplane pilot and just got my instrument rating, and he congratulated me and tailored his lesson to me, which was nice. He gave me an orientation of the panel; there was an airspeed indicator ("Keep the nose just below the horizon, and it'll stay at about 60 mph which is what we want."), something akin to a VSI but far more sensitive and calibrated to the elevator input (so you know when you're in an updraft or downdraft), a compass (no DG)...I think that's it. Oh, there was an inclinometer, but Scott told me it was broken. There was also a string taped to the cowling outside the window -- this is apparently normal -- for a glider, it's very important to be coordinated as much as possible, so there's a lot of rudder use, and you step on the opposite direction of the string (makes sense..).

I'd paid for a one-hour flight, but the winds were pretty severely uncooperative, in that the direction they were coming from gave us no updraft off of the mountains (we spent a lot of time trying, but not finding one). So we took off, pulled by a towplane, and we were towed over the adjacent mountain range -- pretty close to it, actually; much closer than I'd be comfortable getting if I'm flying myself someplace in a Cessna, but probably still a good 7-800 feet off. Seemed really close, probably in part due to my unfamiliarity with the region.

So eventually we released, which entailed a pitch up to slow down and tighten the tow rope, followed by a pitch down to slacken the tow rope and then a release of the rope. Cool stuff -- because of the winds, we ended up doing 2 half-hour flights instead of one one-hour flight, and on the second takeoff, Scott was explaining to me how a glider pilot can actually communicate with the tow plane pilot. We had no radios or headsets or anything, since it's so quiet, but by steering to the left, you can tell the tow plane to go right; etc. Neat stuff.

We tooled around the mountains, and Scott gave me the controls. I was very conservative with the controls, and had to force myself to keep looking out the window, especially not fixating on the airspeed indicator. It was hard! But it was so beautiful outside -- the mountain range, the fields, the towns, the beaches, the Just incredible. I flew around for a while; we'd been towed up to 5000' and we were descending constantly (as gliders do, sans updraft), so at about 1200' we headed back to the field and Scott took the controls for the approach and landing.

This was a trip. He crossed over the runway at 500', went out over the ocean, made a hard left 270 over the water and squared up for the runway, landing on the bicycle-style 2-wheel configuration. Crazy!

The second flight was similar to the first but the tow plane left us in the northwest corner of the island, from where we could get a great view of both the north and west coasts. Amazing. And then we flew right over the mountain range; I tried again for an updraft but was unsuccessful. I got more aggressive on the controls, trying a few steep banks, which gliders can do far more successfully than Cessnas (I assume the much longer wingspan and lighter weight gives much lower wing loading and lower stall speed?), and tried to stay coordinated.

Good stuff. I may want to add a glider rating to my license; it's amazing how in touch with the air you become. I'm looking forward to getting back in an airplane, maybe getting a mountain checkout, maybe learning to fly some other aircraft...should be a fun few months!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Thoughts of a New Instrument Pilot

...on a calm CAVU day.

I've had some interesting reactions after completing my checkride on Friday, in part because I'm about to go on a vacation for a week, which has put me in a very relaxed zone, but in part just from the experience of the checkride itself, and the feeling of being done.

The first is that I spent quite a bit of time dissecting my checkride. It was instructive, and John has put me in the habit of dissecting every flight to make sure I keep learning, going so far as to mentally re-fly the flight. One thing that came up was that as I approached SNS from PAO (my clearance was SNS direct), I had not yet been cleared for any approach or given any further routing. I realized that I didn't know what to do next, and thus slowed down to give ATC more time, but in retrospect I should've queried ATC. "222MF, Salinas VOR." I couldn't go into an approach structure, and I needed to go somewhere...

Second, I got somewhat chewed out by ATC for descending too soon off of the DME arc onto the final approach course on the ILS 31. Except...I didn't descend too soon. I've been through it many times, and I did the right thing, so ATC was just confused.

Third, I thought it odd at the time that Sherry had me treat her like a passenger and give her my passenger briefing prior to start-up. But, what that did was that it established that I am the pilot in command. It put me in that mindset, which ended up being really helpful the rest of the flight. I've used the briefing before with new passengers of course to impart important information, but also to establish my role, almost as if to say, "up here, I'm in command, and if I ask you to do something, please do it." And that helps them, too, feel like they have a competent pilot in the left seat, not just their buddy who just learned to fly planes. Still it was odd telling a DPE that "in case of an emergency, do not panic, and do not touch the controls unless I ask you to." Also I think she enjoyed my headset mic explanation: "The mic will activate when you speak, and only I can hear you, unless you press this button, in which case the whole world can hear you. Please don't press this button."

Fourth...this is the weirdest one: Very suddenly, I'm really excited about flying again, and instrument flying in particular. I'm finding myself studying approaches, reading my textbooks, just for fun. This is interesting -- I seem to have some differentiation in my head between work and fun, and the idea that when I *have* to get something done, it *can't* be fun. This shouldn't be the case -- I'm interested in it; it IS fun, whether or not there are expectations of my performance. An interesting lesson that I'll take with me to my job and to my commercial training.

And yes, I want to get my commercial license. But, I want to do it differently. I went back and re-read my flight blog from my initial PPL training (at, and found that I had a level of excitement and drive that I did not display in my instrument training. When I started PPL training, I was ready, raring to go. I studied frequently, I drove my own process, I made plans for remaining flights, from the very beginning. I was goal oriented, but I was also having fun (until the end, when those expectations crept in). My instrument training, by contrast, started with a lurch. I already had an appointment scheduled with John when my life turned itself upside down. At first I clung to those lessons -- it was the one thing in my life I felt I could be good at; it was an escape from life rather than a part of it, and as such, never really got integrated into it.

As the rest of life got more complicated through the year, I needed the escape less and less, and what I needed more was free time. Thus the training became more of a nuisance than a pleasure, even though I enjoyed the actual training and flying. I know that this frustrated John too; he saw what kind of person I was, and reasoned accurately that I should be excited and passionate about my training, and was concerned when I was not. That I embarked on one of the most difficult journeys of my life at a time when I was not ready for it was not only a disservice to myself, but also to John.

So, what I'm saying is, I'm at the point now where I can get my life in order, get the free time I need, take care of my own needs, and when I'm ready, begin my commercial training. I can drive the process, I can know exactly what's in the PTS before ever going to an instructor, I can probably even teach myself a good portion of what's in there. But step 1 is to wait, until I'm ready, until I am excited and passionate about the process. I have no idea when that will be -- could be next month, could be a year from now, could be never (but I doubt it -- I'm already getting excited about it!).

The other thing is, speaking of being goal-oriented, is re-evaluating what I really want to do with this. Realistically. Right now, the most realistic-sounding option is that I become a part-time CFI, and otherwise pay for my own flying. I don't think the airlines sound all that appealing at the moment. Actually what sounds really appealing are "odd jobs" relating to aviation. Good practice for that might be to join Angel Flight West, which actually does sound very appealing and would allow me to write off some of my flight time, gain interesting experience, and help people all at the same time.

Stepping away from reality somewhat, I'm also really interested in building an IFR-capable RV-7A. I'm sure that sounds ridiculous -- I'm sure once I'd flown one I wouldn't want to fly a lot of hard IFR in one of those, but on the other hand, we don't get that much hard IFR around here anyway; it's mostly marine layers and the like. And the thing is really efficient; it's very possible to net over 30MPG! I'd feel pretty good about that. But again: If I'm going to do something like that, I have to understand the size of the commitment (two years, maybe more, with their quick-build kit), and the repercussions (no way I do that AND go through additional training at the same time), and really commit to the whole thing.

Until then, I am on the verge of getting myself a Lightspeed Mach 1 headset. I use in-ear monitors with my band, and love them. Way back when I bought my first headset, I had pondered the possibility of somehow using my band monitors instead of a headset. Well, now that product essentially exists. I'd told myself a while ago that I'd get myself one when I passed my instrument checkride. That day has come! I'm just still freaked out about money; hence the hesitation. There's a used one on EBay right now, with new ear-foams, which would save me a couple of hundred dollars, seems kind of gross -- this is an in-ear set.

Anyway, so those are my thoughts. No matter what, flying is awesome. Pilots are awesome. Planes are awesome. And the thrill of taking a passenger up in the air for the first time, the joy of taking a friend and showing them their home town from thousands of feet above, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from nailing an approach and greasing the landing at the end of it -- there is no parallel.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Unbelievably, Instrument Checkride Passed!!

Well, it's finally happened. And before you ask, no, I don't know anything about the frogs falling from the sky, and I did not see those four dudes riding down the street on horseback. I most certainly did not see a four legged piece of other-white-meat traveling through the air, snout upraised, without a clearance. And I may be going straight to hell, but if so, I'd better go out and get a nice thick winter jacket.

Yes, it's finally done. I'm not trying to be melodramatic about it, but it's been a really, really long time. It's APRIL!! Of 2008!! I started my instrument lessons in March of 2007. Now, what I've learned from this is the following:

  • You have to take control of your own training. No matter how much of it the CFII handles, it won't progress until you take control. You're pilot in command, not just of the airplane, but also of your life.
  • Don't attempt this rating when there's too much else going on. I started my training in the middle of what was a really rough time personally for me; I wasn't emotionally ready to really focus on anything. In addition, I moved twice and bought a house, I was heavily involved in my sister's wedding festivities, I trained for and ran a race, I went to Europe for three weeks....don't do it this way. Focus on it, get it done in 6-8 months.
  • I'm a much better pilot than I used to be. I fly so much more precisely, I'm so much better on the radio, I know so much more about aircraft systems and ATC. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but still.

I feel like there's so much more I want to do. I want to fly something other than Cessna 172s. I like 172s, don't get me wrong, but man, I'm bored with it. Something bigger, something smaller, something with a tailwheel..whatever!!

Anyway, I'm going to give a short account of my checkride experience. I'm not going to go into great detail, but I would like to thank Sherry Diamond for, first off, being sympathetic to my situation and accommodating my schedule on very short notice, and secondly for being very much a professional and a pleasant person to fly with, as well as a thorough examiner.

To review: Last Thursday, April 17, I had a checkride scheduled with Mike Shiflett, but he had to cancel due to a personal situation. Unfortunately that cancellation happened very close to the time of the checkride, a little over an hour beforehand, so I was pretty disappointed by that. We rescheduled for Tuesday. On Tuesday, Mike and I completed the ground portion of the exam, and it was a good experience -- however, I can't help but think that if we'd started earlier, we probably would've been able to complete the flight. Furthermore, I've since learned that not all examiners insist on conducting their checkrides in VFR conditions, and Tuesday would've been perfectly good IFR weather to fly in. Anyway, what's done is done.

Mike is a very good examiner, and as such, his schedule for the rest of this week was full. I am going to Hawaii next week, so the prospect of just not completing the checkride until afterwards, however unpleasant, was seeming more and more likely. Mike did offer a time on Sunday morning (at 5:00am!), but that wasn't going to work for me (5:00am!!). There was a possibility of Saturday, but...Sherry had talked to John on Thursday and offered that she could complete my checkride today (Friday). So I went that route.

I met Sherry at 1:00, exactly on time (yes!!), and she proceeded to give me a full rundown of the plan and her expectations. I really appreciated this. She'd given me a list of three approaches to prepare the previous night, which was also very helpful. Sherry, unlike Mike, conducts her checkride almost entirely within the IFR system: I file, I get a clearance, we fly three approaches IFR, I talk on the radio. It's almost like....REALITY!! What a concept.

We flew SNS ILS 31, SNS VOR 13 and WVI GPS-A. The plan was to do the ILS 31 pilot nav with procedure turn, but ATC told us they were unable. We ended up on the DME arc, which I flew pretty well, and intercepted the localizer. There was some weirdness with ATC, in that they gave me an altitude alert and chided me for going below 5500 before being established..except, I WAS established. Whatever. I told them so and they didn't argue, so I'm fairly confident it wasn't my mistake (besides, if it were, that would've been a failure!). I flew the LOOONG ILS quite well, and executed the missed. I never did hold at MARNA, though; we were worried about ATC delaying us again so we went straight into vectors for the VOR 13, partial panel. I set up for this quickly. Oh, and I remembered to start my time on both of those approaches. I flew the missed, and once again went straight into vectors for the WVI GPS-A. Here I fell behind; I didn't get the minute weather beforehand, and at some point along the final approach course she prompted me: What's your plan? So I got the weather, and got in a radio call asking if any runway was active. She asked what my circling plan was, I told her, and that was that.

Since we never did hold at MARNA, she basically had me set up for the hold at OSI (Woodside VOR) on the way back to PAO. And we did unusual attitude recovery, which I did very well.

So that was it! It, I say: 2.3 hours on the Hobbs meter. That's a long ride by anyone's standards. But, it's pass, and it's a pass with compliments from the examiner. So I'm done!!!

I'm getting increasingly incoherent (or, perhaps decreasingly coherent) so I'll stop here, have some fun in Hawaii and go from there!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oral: Done.

And for you gutter-minded folk out there, I'm just talking about the ground portion of my instrument checkride. I met with the examiner today at 2:30, as the weather deteriorated, and after we got done with the paperwork, and checking through my log book to make sure I qualified, and then BSing about alternative energy and various other unrelated topics, we got down to questions.

The first was about maintaining currency, and I immediately stumbled. I eventually had to find a copy of the FAR and figure it out; the examiner complimented me on my ability to interpret the FARs, but also made a point of noting that "most people already know the rule." I knew the basics, just not the intricacies.

We moved on to aircraft systems, what a vacuum failure would look like, what to expect from the airspeed indicator in a pitot ice situation, and what the gyro instruments are. He also asked me about RAIM and what to do in the event of a RAIM failure. I stumbled here, too, but he helped me think about it and I came up with the right answer.

He asked me to explain the difference between a localizer and a VOR, and I was doing alright until at one point I was looking for words, and he said, "A localizer's a totally different technology; it's not a radial" but I heard "not a radio" and was very confused for a while. Eventually we figured out the misunderstanding, and what he wanted to know was how a localizer indicates that one is left or right of the course line, which I knew.

We talked about my planned flight, from Truckee to Palo Alto, and I explained about the obstacle departure and the climb rate. We used this to discuss alternate airports and rules for selecting them, and also weather concerns.

Then we went and checked the now-fully-deteriorated weather -- it was borderline, but ceilings were showing between 2900 and 4000, which would've made it very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct the checkride in VMC. So the flight portion of the ride has to be rescheduled. I'm not sure when that's going to happen, but in any case, at least I'm through the oral.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

...or, not.

Checkride was canceled by the examiner. Still working off the excess adrenaline. I went ahead and took the plane (since I had it reserved) down to Salinas and did a practice AP-coupled VOR 13 approach, held at MARNA, and back to PAO for a practice GPS 31. It was easy. Makes me wonder what my problem has been all this time.

(caution: venting ahead)

In fact, I think that's the biggest problem with all these delays. People get this rating done in 10 days. People with day jobs get this done in 2-3 months. People go only twice a week and get it done in 9 months. It's. Been. Thirteen. Months. I've spent at least twice what most websites put up as their estimated cost for the rating. I'm not rich -- I'm not poor, obviously, but I'm not nearly loaded enough that this doesn't really hurt. So, basically, the question is WTF is my problem?

And how exactly am I supposed to take it, karmically speaking, when I finally do schedule a checkride, and first the plane disappears entirely and somewhat mysteriously, and then the examiner has to bail right before the checkride?

A very large part of me just wants to drop it. I'm a pretty bad investor, but I do know when to cut my losses. Fuck it. What exactly has to happen for me to get the hint and just fucking quit? Right now I'm rescheduled for Tuesday -- between now and then, what's going to happen? Someone accidentally puts battery acid in the plane instead of oil? My log book gains consciousness and goes to the federal government for amnesty, and files a restraining order against me? The FAA decides to instate a maximum name length? Tell me. Maybe during The Relay this weekend I'll develop gangrene in my leg, and have to cancel. Maybe I'll get arrested for being too ugly on a public road.

And why do I seem to get stuck with a high level of unprofessionalism when it comes to anyone I fly with other than my actual instructors? Phase check instructors are hours late, rude, vocally racist, or just plain wrong. Examiners don't show up and drop off the face of the earth, or are really late multiple times in a row, or, as in this case, have something entirely legit come up but that they don't know about till 1.5 hours before my checkride, and can't get out of?

Anyway. I digress, but I think my point was that aviation can go fuck itself. I'm really good at a lot of things, and though aviation is one of them, my passion for it is not so intense that I'll allow myself to be walked all over by the fuckers who have been in it for so long that they forget how to have respect for the time and space of other people.

Well..this post is all over the damn place; I'm obviously just venting and will probably just delete the damn thing at some point.

Pre-Checkride thoughts

My instrument checkride is in three hours, so I thought I'd spend some time writing in my blog. Logical, right? I'm just waiting for my stomach to settle down before I hit the road toward the airport and begin prepping. Yeah, I'm nervous, but only in a way. I know I not only can do this, but have done it consistently for the last month. I am only nervous because I get that way about experiences I don't believe will be pleasant. I have never had a pleasant phase check or checkride, but at least some of that is because of my own attitude about them. Hopefully this one breaks the trend.

I have completed my flight plan from Truckee to Palo Alto, but I still need to get the POH and check my climb rate up to 11,500 to decide whether to use the TRUCK2.TRUCK departure procedure, or the published obstacle DP. I'm undermotivated to do this since I'm not actually going to be flying this plan.

I do need to grab the POH and do a quick review of vacuum, electrical, fuel and pitot-static systems on the 172SP. From there, it's all checklists. If I just remember all my checklists and remember to talk out loud from the start, things will be fine.'s time for my inner badass to head for the airport. More later!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another great flight

Today's flight had all the initial indications of a complete failure. I didn't sleep well last night thanks to my messed up rotator cuff and a head heavy with the possible symptoms of the cold that I've been surrounded by for weeks. By the time I got to the lesson, I felt fine, but just a little light headed, and my stomach had been upset all day. When I arrived, John asks me, "What's the plan?" Now, it turns out I'd anticipated this and actually had something of a plan, but I was not quite in the mindset to completely take charge of the flight. I was not channeling my inner badass.

It was apparent as we started the engine, and I vacillated between wanting to take off IFR or VFR. I'd filed IFR, but it's always such a waste of time, so eventually I decided on VFR (there was an amusing moment when John didn't pick up on that fact and asked ground for our clearance).

We took off, I foggled myself and then the fun started. John had me enter an intersection hold -- I got it all figured out, and with 25 seconds before entering the hold...I realized I had it wrong!! So I quickly figured out the proper entry, turned left instead of right, and then should really have had it...but then turned right instead of left to intercept the course. Duh. OK, more practice on intersection holds.

Then came unusual attitude recovery. I'm generally very good at this, and today I was OK but not great. It's really very simple. Airspeed high/accelerating = power idle, wings level, pull up firmly but gently (aaahh). Airspeed low/decelerating = power full, nose down, wings level. That's it -- nothing to it. I was just being very slow, and came out of the experience feeling very disoriented, discombobulated, and like I was just going to fall apart, as used to happen so often. So John upped the difficulty level and rushed me: He called Stockton and asked for the VOR 29R approach, pilot nav from Manteca, which was only a few minutes away.

Paging Mr. Badass, Mr. Badass to line one! I quickly set up for the approach, including the briefing, and got everything all set to go about a minute before reaching Manteca VOR (ECA). I turned outbound, and was told by the controller that he'd call my turn inbound, and that the published missed approach/hold at ORANG was not an option, so we asked for a left turnout toward Livermore.

We were outbound for about 10 minutes. Thankfully I'd slowed to 90 knots and wasn't going the full 120 -- I feel silly even saying that; thankfully I was in a Skyhawk and not a Cirrus or an Eclipse jet or something. Anyway, eventually we turned back inbound, and I had to ask a question about altitude limits, despite the fact that the answer was right there on the approach plate. OK, stupid, but I got the next stepdown right, tracked the VOR inbound, passed over it, reported and tracked it back out...but forgot to start the time!! Again!! I was so upset. But no matter, the GPS was still working, I had my DME distances, so I got to the MAP and made the left turnout as planned. I told tower "missed approach" and they told me to contact approach control. So I did, and as I did so, I realized that I had to tell them what I wanted. What I really wanted was a holding pattern somewhere, but I decided just to go for the gusto and request the Livermore ILS 25R right then.

So again I had very little time to set up for the approach, but I did it, just went through the lists and got it done. I had the localizer tuned, identified and twisted long before it needed to be; I'd delayed getting the ATIS because of poor reception but even managed to get that done before I really needed it.

This approach was the best I've ever flown. There were gusty winds, so I had to do a lot of pitch/power compensation along the ILS to keep the glide slope centered. It was not hard. At the FAF, the marker beacon sounded, and John said, "What's that noise?" which usually means I've forgotten something, but I'd already started the time and checked my glide slope altitude, and we were flying VFR so I didn't have to report. I thought maybe John had again forgotten that we were not IFR, so I said, "If we were IFR, I'd have to report." He said, "Why?" I responded, "Final approach fix inbound in a non-radar environment." I think my ability to sound like a textbook while successfully flying an ILS shocked both of us.

Several great things from today: 1. I got to that falling apart point, recovered and had one pretty good and one fantastic approach. 2. Setting up for approaches is getting much easier. Lists, lists, lists. 3. I was able to focus on a day when I didn't feel great. Now I absolutely know I can do it when I feel any less crappy! An exciting day, and I'm psyched for the next flight (Saturday, solo!).

Friday, April 04, 2008

The importance of self-confidence

It's been a roller coaster of a couple of weeks, and a real lesson in how important it is to have confidence in one's skills. Frequently, flight (and especially instrument flight) is a microcosm of life, and the lessons learned in one apply equally to the other, and this is no exception.

Last week I had a couple of cancellations, the first because John had an emergency and had to cancel, the second because I was so tired that I was having dizzy spells after climbing a flight of stairs. Nothing a couple of good nights of sleep didn't solve, but definitely good I didn't attempt to go flying that day -- hooded flight is disorienting enough without random dizziness!

So this Monday, I dragged myself to the airport. I say "dragged" because that's exactly how I felt about it. In my last entry, I noted that instrument flight is a whole lot of work, and I've been too tired to work. I work all day, trying to squeeze 10 hours into six, leave early to go to flying, and then it's more work. It's exhausting!!

So I was sitting on a sofa organizing my charts when John showed up (he was on time, I was early). I'm sure I've mentioned this, but I do not have the ability to hide much from John -- he can read me like a book, and did so in this case. We proceeded to have a long talk about my motivation level, which he knew was approaching zero. We talked about my financial and environmental worries, which lead me to wonder exactly why I'm doing this; we talked about the fact that I'm simply too busy right now, with my job at a startup quickly ramping up into frantic mode, plus having to do my taxes and also training for a race (running), both the same week as my scheduled check ride; and we talked about how I was just sick of the whole process and viewed it as work, not fun.

He asked me why I'd started doing this to begin with, and we reflected on my initial goals. Goal #1 was to become a better pilot. Mission accomplished -- the difference between now and a year ago is night and day. Goal #2 was to not be stopped by minor layers of clouds that come over the bay area. Mission accomplished; I can certainly fly well enough to get through those on an IFR flight plan. Goal #3 was to maximize my capabilities based on how good I think I am. I think I'm really good at flying -- this is the key, and I'll talk more about that in a bit. Goal #4 was to set myself up for potentially pursuing aviation-related career options, either as an instructor or with an airline. I just turned 34, so while I'm still young, it's not like I'm 22 and have a lot of time to sit and consider my options.

So after this long conversation, we decided to go out and fly LVK ILS 25R and OAK ILS 27R. I filed a flight plan and we went to Livermore, and I set up for the ILS. Many things went right -- I'd set up properly, I intercepted the glide slope well, I followed it alright...but I missed starting the time at the FAF, and John had to remind me. He also had to remind me of something else...I can't remember what that was, but something important. The approach terminated with a circle to land runway 7R, which is what I messed up on my phase check last month, so I got a chance to redeem myself.

All in all it went alright, but I was really mad at myself for missing those two things and needing any reminders from John at all. For once I successfully hid this from him, thanked him for the reminders, and he had me fly a box pattern over the hills as I set up for the Oakland ILS. I took my time on this -- this is one thing I'd found on the last solo flight I took, is that I can help myself by actually committing to being slow. Too bad, I'm slow. If I'm too slow, someone will tell me, but until then, I'm just going to be slow. So I took plenty of time, made sure I had the radios all set up, ran through my checklists at least twice, fully briefed the approach (I'm getting the hang of this), and then finally we called up and requested the approach (we were VFR at this point; we had canceled IFR toward the end of the LVK approach).

We got a vector and I twisted the localizer. I intercepted the localizer, and then the switch flipped. I am doing this approach perfectly, I told myself. I found my focus, and stayed on it. I've intercepted the localizer. What's next? I was way ahead of the airplane on the step down fixes, and down to 1500 where I intercepted the glide slope. I started the time at the FAF, and stayed on the glide slope. My scan finally showed up; I was now flying the attitude indicator and using everything else as performance instruments. I made all the small corrections. John tried to joke with me; I ignored him. He asked me if he should shut up, I said "yes, please." We did a touch and go, and a right 270 back toward Palo Alto, and he noted that I'd anticipated this and put Oakland's South Tower in my reserve frequency in COM2. Basically I was a complete badass. What I call badass, John calls "Pilot In Command."

And there's the lesson. The FAA focuses on the following hazardous attitudes:

1. Antiauthority ("Don't tell me!") - Don't like anyone telling him/her what to do. Resentful of rules & regulations.

2. Impulsivity ("Do something - do it now!") - Need to do something, anything, quickly. Don't stop to think about better alternatives.

3. Invulnerability ("It won't happen to me.") - Accidents happen to other people, not to me. Therefore, I can take chances.

4. Macho ("I can do it.") - Always trying to prove themselves better than others. Take risks and try to impress others. Yes, women, too!

5. Resignation ("What's the use?") - I really can't make a difference. It's going to happen anyway, why bother? Leave actions to others.

But, they forgot one: A lack of confidence. I'm the type of person that's simply not going to suffer from these attitudes as listed. I know, some of you are reading this and saying "That's exactly the type of attitude that'll get you killed!" but seriously, if you knew me, you'd agree that I'm just not that kind of person -- it makes me a very antistereotypical guy, but that's very much who I am. However, I occasionally suffer from a lack of confidence, especially when overwhelmed, and that is just as hazardous an attitude as any of the above when it comes to instrument flight. If I'm in a situation where I have to figure out what to do, and I can't trust myself -- I'm a goner. This is where the belief in one's own abilities, the casting of oneself as a badass, comes into play. It may be exactly the wrong thing for some people to do, but it's exactly the right thing for me.

John and the new badass me went up again yesterday, and flew the Tracy GPS-A and the Hayward VOR DME 28L. Right from the start, my radio calls were fluent and easy, which is a good indicator of my confidence level going into a flight. I listened as many other pilots were struggling with their calls and testing the patience of ATC; there were a lot of people out there who were having trouble with their radio calls for some reason. It made me feel even better about mine when I said, "Approach, Skyhawk 21705, level 5000, request Tracy GPS-A, pilot nav, published missed, we have weather" all in one breath. We were cleared direct Manteca VOR, and I slowed and made the 340 degree right turn back on course. The approach was great EXCEPT I forgot to start my time at the FAF!! Argh! But John didn't even catch that; everything else was perfect. The missed approach was perfect, the hold at Tracy was very good.

As we entered the hold, Approach asked us our intentions. I wasn't ready for the question, and what would usually happen is that I'd let John take the call and then I'd lose confidence in myself because I felt like I didn't handle something I should have. But not badass Mayank. I took the call, fumbled it a little but got my point across that we'd want the Hayward LOC DME 28L but would hold for a few rounds to get set up. John's response: "Who are you and what have you done with my student?" which is very much a compliment. After a couple of minutes of holding (I'm slow at setting up!), Approach pinged us: "Let me know when you're ready for Hayward." "Will do." and I said to John: "Don't hold your breath!" Not only have I committed to being slow, I'm proud of it! What a great defense against feeling rushed and making errors.

After I was set up and briefed, and re-briefing myself, John said, OK, you only get one more turn. But I was done anyway, so I called up Approach and asked for Hayward LOC DME 28L. Here there was a bit of a fumble; I'd forgotten that I was still on an IFR flight plan, so really I needed a clearance to Hayward, which is what the controller gave me, and to read it back, which I did badly. But whatever. I got a vector, and twisted the localizer. I nearly overflew it, but did alright getting back on it and began my descents. I made my descents at 800-1000 feet per minute, I had all of my checkpoints lined up, I had my GPS set up for DME distances to the localizer to identify was great. Slight fumble -- the last stepdown is inside the FAF, and I did not add 50 feet to the altitude, so I ran the danger of busting it (but didn't). We terminated early and turned left toward Palo Alto, where I made a nice landing.

I've gone on long enough, but I've definitely noticed the results in various aspects of my life of believing in oneself. Instrument flight is no exception. I'm so ready for my check ride; I wish it were today. In the mean time, I'm no longer dragging myself to the airport; I'm excited to take every approach and completely kick ass on each one.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Studying less, flying more

After a week in which we studied ILS components, runway markings and ATC clearances, and flew together twice with mixed results, I took it upon myself to go out and practice approaches by myself today. I think there's nothing more educational than this; there's no safety net other than the fact that I'm visual the whole way so it's a considerably less disorienting. But still, it's up to me to make it through the system, to say the right words to the right people, which I think is part of what is so difficult about all this. I have another lesson tomorrow; let's see if my effort today helps tomorrow.

Earlier in the week, we flew to Tracy and Byron again, and this time with better results (still not great, but better). And the last flight, on Friday, was to Salinas and Watsonville. It also went OK, and got better as the flight progressed, but going into Salinas I found myself very much behind. I was in a mindset that day of not really wanting to work...but of course IFR flying is a LOT of work, so that wasn't such a happy combination. It bugs me when my friends tell me to have fun when I tell them I'm going out for a flying lesson. It's not fun, it's work and I'm going to be exhausted at the end of it.

Anyway, today I went and did the GPS and ILS at Stockton, which I haven't done much of -- usually we do the more challenging VOR 29R approach there. Luckily I had a very friendly controller who put up with my foibles. All of my foibles were communication related, and none were all that bad, so I'd say it was a pretty good day.

I'm still learning how to brief approaches, but I think taking the approach of simply walking through the approach in order seems to be working the best.

Alright..I'm barely coherent so I better stop now. More soon...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Studying a lot, flying a little

Since my difficult phase check, we've mostly been concentrating on catching me up on ground knowledge. This has been the most difficult area to keep up with in my training; certainly it would have been preferable to learn all this stuff alongside my flight training, but life is busy! And I can't go back in time, so I'm learning it now.

After learning in great detail about how the main flight instruments work (pendulous vanes! calibrated leak! aneroid wafers!) I actually discovered that some of the chart knowledge that my phase check instructor had dinged me for being wrong on..I was actually right. There are differences between Jeppesen and FAA charts, and some of the criticism I received would have been relevant if I were using FAA charts, which I was not. But I wasn't confident on it, where I could say "No, you're full of it" and drag out the book to prove my point. Now I am.

I'm currently studying the structure and components of ILS approaches. Localizer antenna at the far end of the runway, glide slope alongside the approach end, 1000 +/- 250 feet from the threshold, outer marker, middle marker (3500 feet from the threshold at DH), inner marker (not used for Cat I ILS approaches, which are the only ones I'm acquainted with), approach lighting, threshold lighting, runway lighting. Service volumes and course widths as well -- reception is available at 10NM at a width of 35 degrees either side of center line, but 18NM within 10 degrees. Course width is 3 to 6 degrees, depending on the distance from the localizer antenna to the threshold -- the course should be 700' wide at the threshold. This is all from memory and probably helps me more than it helps you, but so be it, right?

Anyway...I actually did go flying with John yesterday. It went OK, but it turns out there's a few things I didn't know about reading approach plates, which showed up on an LPV approach at Byron. So I busted an intermediate altitude, which I think perplexed and upset John, and definitely upset me. Turns out when I'm upset and tired, I don't communicate well, and John reacts to this by assuming I've gotten stupid (which isn't that far from the truth, I guess, I'm certainly acting stupid in those moments).

Let me first say that John and I are friends, which I think makes it somewhat difficult for him to be the instructor when he has to be. I try not to take advantage of that, but it's hard because when I'm doing well, it's fun for both of us, and when I'm not, it's frustrating for both of us. Anyway, John felt so bad for my frustration on today's lesson that he comped it. A very nice gesture, and one that has the side effect of adding guilt to the list of motivating factors to make sure I'm prepared for our next flight!

So anyway, on the way back, John was expecting me to set up for the GPS 31 to Palo Alto (clouds had rolled in; we couldn't go in VFR), but I for some reason was unclear on the plan, but didn't say so...and John didn't understand why I was not setting up and responded by getting impatient with me, and I got impatient with him...anyway, we conducted the rest of the flight in silence, I did a good job refocusing and flying the GPS approach well.

Some things to come out of this lesson:
1. Instrument flying skills go away quickly. I hadn't flown since my phase check two weeks ago. My scan was crap. My ability to hold altitudes...crap. I could still think about and set up approaches, but I was nowhere near as far ahead as I have been in the past.
2. Pay attention to the numbers in bubbles on an approach plate. They matter. If I were flying that Byron approach by myself in low IMC I would've crashed into a power plant.
3. When I don't understand what's going on, even if I feel I should understand, I need to ask.
4. Keep it slow. I think I flustered myself by exceeding the pace at which I can do things without making mistakes.
5. Landings -- though John disagrees on 2 of the 3, I say I found myself high and slow on all three landings. Maybe I need to go out and do pattern work or something.

Hopefully next time will yield better results.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

One more step

I finally completed my Instrument Phase Check about 10 days ago, but it was not without its difficulties. I'm not at all happy with how the phase check went, and as a result, there will be considerable gap in time between then and my check ride as I get myself ready for it.

I was assigned an instructor, Ali, to conduct the phase check, who had been highly recommended to me by my PPL CFI Sergey as a potential instrument instructor, so I was excited to get his take on my flying. I did have to wait, though, as Ali showed up over an hour late to our appointment. He did call ahead to say he'd be late, but I did not anticipate an hour.

We started with the ground exam, where I knew I had many weak areas. Ali quickly found many of them and just started going over what topics I should concentrate on reviewing. This did nothing for my confidence, but on the other hand I knew it was going to go this way, so I didn't worry too much about it.

We then went for the practical section. He did not have me file anything; he told me that we'd take a VFR departure and then see what we could figure out. I had to press him pretty hard to give me some kind of a plan so I could at least have the appropriate plates out. We took off, and as it was not an actual IFR departure (meaning, copying the clearance and all that, though we did simulate it), I fell out of my rhythm a little bit and forgot to start the clock as I started rolling. He dinged me for that later.

We went out and he had me set up a hold at the TRACY intersection, which I did well. We requested the ILS 25R to Livermore, but things were really busy so we changed plans and did the GPS-A at Tracy instead. This went very well, and I got back into the hold at TRACY on the missed approach. Here he tried to rush me into setting up for Livermore, but I insisted on taking my time. We flew the ILS 25R and were told to circle to land 7R. Here's where I made my big error, which I'm really embarrassed by: I lined up for 7L. By the time I realized it, the tower was already on me (they were very nice about it considering what I'd done).

We got out of there and he had me set up for and fly the Hayward VOR-A, which I did OK except I didn't descend as quickly as I should have.

So the write-up basically says that I have to study ground material, and that I'm not as attentive as I should be. I think that's pretty accurate for the performance I gave that afternoon; I don't think it's true in general, but I also think that if I ace the ground section I'll have more energy to be more attentive during the flight portion.

Since then I've been studying ground information and having John ask me about it. So far we've studied the flight instruments; I know now things about turn coordinators that would make a nun blush. Next is weather and chart reading.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Great Flight!!

A couple of weeks ago, my CFII John and I had a little talk. He told me, "This rating isn't going to just happen. You have to make it happen." We then talked a little bit about things I could do to keep my head in the game while I'm not actually flying..basically, thinking about flying, thinking about approaches, visualizing and acting out Time, Turn, Throttle, Twist, Talk; working through radio jargon, etc. So I went home and started doing all of these things. Luckily I live alone.

So, the point is, all this actually worked! My last couple of lessons have been quite good, though I've had trouble tracking VOR courses especially when getting close to the source. Today, I flew probably the best I've ever flown -- my attention was in the right place at the right time, I was using the attitude indicator, I wasn't chasing needles, the plane was trimmed at every step, I was ahead of the airplane almost the whole time.

We flew to Salinas and did the VOR 13 with a published missed -- except that the tower insisted that I start the missed early. I handled that situation with aplomb, starting the missed two miles before the MAP, and immediately dialing SNS R275 and setting up a 45 degree intercept as I climbed. On the way to the hold, I set up for Watsonville LOC 2, went twice around the hold, and requested and got vectors to the localizer and flew it well. On the missed, I tuned SNS, got a radial, and switched over to GPS navigation before requesting IFR back to Palo Alto.

It was a really smooth flight! My lesson for this year is that preparation pays off. Keeping one's head in the game pays off. Not wasting time (or, wasting less time, anyway) pays off. Let's hope the phase check tomorrow goes even half as well!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Contingency Plans

The rain is gone, and with it went the sorrow of instrument training. OK, not entirely true; the rain will be back at some point and the instrument training will one day be less sorrowful.

The bird strike from last week left a few repercussions in its wake. N222MF is still off the line since then as they give it a thorough examination (my apologies to the owner, again), and a few days ago I received an email from my instructor that indicated that I would be liable for any damages incurred, up to the club's deductible.

West Valley Flying Club has a "deductible waiver" program that they introduced last year. It's a good idea, because these deductibles are fairly high -- as I just found out, the deductible in a no-pilot-error scenario such as mine is $3500. The deductible when there is found to be pilot error is $5000. However, I was turned off from the deductible waiver program because of how hard they kept pushing it. When an organization pushes something that hard, I'm always suspicious, so I opted instead to keep my AOPA renter's insurance, which covers me up to $5000 on aircraft damage, and has an additional liability component. The AOPA policy also has the added advantage of being useful on non-WVFC aircraft.

Well, after the recent course of events, I strongly encourage any pilot to have SOME kind of deductible insurance. $3500 is a lot of money, even in aviation, and spending $100-$150 to protect oneself from that is totally worth it.

Today, my pilot-friend Roland and I went up to Napa for breakfast. We got to Palo Alto around 9:00 (actually, I got there at 9; Roland was there I think at 8:30!!), and faced our now-standard dilemma of deciding where to go. We really wanted to go to Petaluma, but it's impossible to get weather reports from anywhere near there, so we decided to try Petaluma but keep Napa as a contingency plan.

We took off straight out from Palo Alto, switched to San Carlos tower, requested a Bravo transition and were denied.

Denied? Turns out San Carlos had had a power failure and had no ability to grant a squawk code for a transition or handle the handoff. Nice. "Climb above our airspace and talk to Norcal," they said. Um...the airspace immediately above yours is Class B, we implored, but we were ignored. Fine. So we made a hard left and weaved a path in between San Carlos' airspace and the Palo Alto Class D we'd just departed. This would've been much less likely to succeed without GPS. We went out west, and gave Norcal Approach a call to request the transition. Once they figured out who we were, where we were and what we wanted (I don't know why it took so long; I told them all that on the first call), we were vectored for a coastal route at 3500' until we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, at which point we were allowed to navigate on our own.

The route to Petaluma was looking unpassable due to a solid cloud layer at about 1500'. So, we turned toward Napa. Norcal turned us back toward Petaluma for traffic, and then handed us off, which gave us a perfect opportunity to get ATIS at Napa, and tell the next controller at Oakland Center that our destination was Napa. As was the case all day, about 30 seconds after we got really impatient waiting for the controller, they gave us what we needed, which in this case was the handoff to Napa Tower. The landing was smooth, and we taxied in and had a nice brunch at Jonesy's Restaurant.

On the way back out, Roland took the left seat, and we took a right downwind departure off Runway 6 at APC. Once we left APC's class D, we tried to raise Norcal -- we agreed that I'd handle the Norcal communications for this, because it's a busy frequency and that way Roland could concentrate on flying. So I called Norcal. No response. Three minutes pass, I try again. No response. And again, several minutes later...same result. Ordinarily I wouldn't care, but we needed a Bravo transition, so I tried once more, and got a terse response that contained our callsign and a squawk code. Perfect, it's all we needed. Clearly the controllers at Oakland Center were busy today because traffic alerts were not a high priority -- evidenced most notably by one pretty close call where I was checking a chart and Roland I think had looked down briefly to check something (power setting or whatever), and he looked up and said, "Look at this guy!" So I looked, and there was another Cessna 172 headed right for us, opposite direction, same altitude, about a half mile off. Roland turned us to the right, and immediately afterwards we got handed off to Norcal Approach.

Norcal Approach was much better (despite seemingly being more busy...), gave us several traffic alerts, and cleared us through Class B. We were handed off to SFO Tower, and as they prepared to hand us off to San Carlos Tower, they said, "Descend to pattern altitude at your discretion." What? Whose pattern? You want me to fly from SFO to PAO at 1000'? Uh..OK....but of course our response was just "9TW, descending, own discretion." So we came down to 1200' which was the usual thing and switched to SQL Tower in time to hear him chew someone out pretty good for apparently not being able to follow an instruction. First it was "Make immediate right turn to avoid crossing into Bravo." Then it was a pretty good (but calm) tirade along the lines of "I'm not sure how I can say it any more clear than 'at or above 1200.' You need to follow these instructions." Nice; I thought the controller handled it very well, though the pilot merely acknowledged the transmission with his callsign, which left us looking for him so we could avoid him.

At the appropriate time we gave Palo Alto Tower a call, and .... nothing. I felt like a doctor with a dying heart patient and a defibrillator: AGAIN!! We called; nothing. Roland turned right to attempt to skirt around PAO's airspace until we were acknowledged. A few seconds later, we got a traffic alert: "9TW, traffic 9 o' clock 1700." OK..that counts as acknowledgement, right? So, onward. Still no landing clearance, no pattern instructions, instructions for other planes to look out for the "Cessna over 101 at 1200" meaning us. Finally one more call: "Palo Alto Tower, Skyhawk 739TW over Stanford 1200, we'd like to land, we have Golf." The response: "739TW, number one, cleared to land." Uh....OK, left turn for base! Roland maneuvered through the abbreviated pattern and set it down.

A fun flight, I thought, with lots of randomness on the radios to keep life interesting. And a new destination for me!