Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We're Going Commercial!

As is obvious from the sparsity of entries in this blog over the past year or so, I have not done much flying in 2009. In November 2008, I parlayed my recently-earned instrument rating into a really fun trip down to Santa Barbara, which yielded some sweet pictures and a great story. Since then, my memorable flights consist of an IFR currency flight in May, a trip to Petaluma somewhere in the middle there, a couple of bay tours in August, and a trip to Burbank in September to audition for the reality TV show "Wipe Out!" That's it.

Why the groundedness? Finances had certainly become an issue. I had other things going on, including an incredibly busy job, a marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and a new (and thankfully very understanding) girlfriend. It's an equation that I imagine most pilots learn pretty early on in their careers: No Time + No Money = No Flying.

Well, while my earthboundedness may have made me a rusty and potentially dangerous pilot, it also allowed my bank account to recover, so I no longer feel so bad about assaulting it once more. I'm going for my commercial license.

A few weeks ago I had a training flight in a 172RG, where we did some slow flight, stalls, steep spirals and chandelles. I still need to learn eights-on-pylons and lazy eights, and then it's just practice, practice, practice. Oh, and I really need to learn how to do a short field landing. At the moment, I kind of suck at it.

Last week, I got a second training flight in the RG, where we combined the long daytime cross country requirement with a mountain checkout, and added the time to my total complex training time (now up to 7 hours!). That was awesome; we flew from PAO to BLU (that's Blue Canyon, a tiny single strip airport without even a bathroom) to TRK to TVL and back to PAO. Just to add to the fun, PAO was IMC when we left!

Now, I just need one more training flight for maneuvers in the RG, and a night cross country (plus the long solo cross country...where should I go that's 250NM from here?) and then it's just practice, and studying! Nothing to it.

After that, it's CFI time. Who wants to be my first student? :-D

Monday, March 30, 2009

Currency: That's what it's all about

Two goals of most pilots are to keep their currency, and to keep their currency. As pilots, we have to fly enough to stay current -- there's general currency, club currency, type currency, night currency, and IFR currency to worry about on a fairly regular basis. It's not really that many flights, and if a pilot is just barely staying current, as I had been, I'd expect his personal minima to adjust accordingly, as mine have.

Staying current is a piece of cake, though, if you fly frequently, and that, of course is where the other currency comes in. The more you fly, the more you spend! We've covered this before, so there's no point in going on about it again, but over the last few days, I took significant steps toward keeping both types of currency.

Saturday was a beautiful day, and as I'd just turned 35 two days prior, I really wanted to treat myself and go flying, preferably with a beautiful and sweet woman by my side. As it turned out, I found the woman to go with, so I had no choice! I had to take her flying! After a series of frustrating and tragic events (I'd booked the plane on the wrong day, we had to wait for it to come back, while we were waiting we heard that a plane had crashed at San Carlos, the fuel truck didn't show up until we taxied to the fuel island to fill up ourselves...), we took off, had a beautiful and uneventful flight to Petaluma, landed, got a cab downtown, bought some cheese, caught a cab outside the Taco Bell, and flew home in time to host the wine and cheese party we'd planned on. What a day! We took N9849L out of Palo Alto, a 1986 172P that is about 2/3 the cost of the newer 172SPs I've been flying, and with a very nice set of avionics. So, I found a plane I like to fly that costs much less than what I've been flying. Currency saved!

Then, tonight, my friend Tim came along as my safety pilot as I did six approaches in rapid succession: SCK VOR 29R, SCK GPS 29R, SCK ILS 29R, TCY GPS-A, LVK ILS 25R, and HWD LOC DME 28L. 2.7 hours, and almost all of it under the hood. I am tired! But I am also current.

I think I'm going to go eat some currants...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How To Keep Flying?

I've been struggling with my aviation "career" as it were for some time now. Not counting my excursion with Tim a couple of weeks ago, I've been taking about one flight every two months since my awesome trip to Santa Barbara. Those flights have been (a) a bay tour, (b) a VFR practice ride, and (c) last night, a VFR set of practice approaches, which was awesome and I will write about eventually (I meant to write about it today, but I guess that's not what was on my mind).

The struggle is based on time and money. I've posted about this before (with an environmental angle that basically ends up being implicit in the "money" part of my current struggle), and got some excellent suggestions: Get done with instruction. Find a cheaper way to fly (someone suggested an RV-3, and I've actually looked into it, but (a) don't want to build, (b) don't trust other builders, (c) want a real IFR capable airplane). Well, I've finished with my instrument rating (nearly a year ago!), and while I miss my instructor, it does make things financially easier. I also bought a house, and between the depreciation on the house and the collapse of all my investments (I know, me and the rest of the country), I'm even more worried about money (I know, me and the rest of the country).

So, I've started a budget. Turns out I can afford to fly a little bit. I need to be targeted in how I do it, because with the way I'm doing it now (renting 172SPs to do practice approaches), I feel simultaneously stagnant and rusty -- both bad things for a pilot. I want to get my commercial license, and continue the path toward becoming a CFI. But I need to do it in a way that's cost efficient, and that requires research and planning, and that requires time, which is at a premium right now.

I also think that if I do it right, owning my own airplane might actually hold down costs to some degree. Here's my thought: Get two-three other pilots (that might be the hardest part of this), buy an efficient airplane (current thought is a Mooney M20J). Over the time that I have it, the airplane itself is not likely to depreciate much. The hourly costs (fuel, engine/maint fund...) would be quite low, and while the ongoing (periodic/monthly/annual) costs, like tie-down, inspections, etc would be split between the owners. Insurance is a bigger question, but would be somewhat offset by not having to be a club member (currently costing me $100/mo for two clubs...gotta quit one or the other!).

Anyway, enough mulling for this morning, there's work to be done...at least last night I discovered I'm still not SO rusty, and the "holding pattern" I'm in can continue for a little longer (though I do need to make the practice more frequent), as long as I set my personal minimums appropriately.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Flying? Do we do that?

It's been a long time. I've been in the air only twice since my awesome trip to Santa Barbara last November, in large part because of financial constraints and worries about my job and the economy. I'm sure you've never heard that before; it may not be original, but it's true.

So I could not resist when my friend Tim asked me to be his safety pilot for a few approaches. I was especially thrilled when he asked me to take care of all the radio work!

Tim picked me up from PAO in N7UB, his Cessna Turbo Centurion. This is a nice airplane; I won't go into details because I'm tired, but it's about 10 steps up from the 172SPs that I generally fly. I hopped in, and we went over the plan: OAK ILS 27R, then a few at CCR, then LVK ILS 25R, then the VOR DME 31 at PAO. We took off on a right Dumbarton, and as we headed for Sunol, called Norcal to request the ILS at Oakland. We got it, and from that point forward, were basically too slow for everyone around us (good thing we weren't in a 172!). We were still full speed ahead, but I guess even a T210 is slow compared to commercial jets.

My radio work was awful. I was so rusty, lots of ums and uhs, not asking for everything at once, and missing some of the controller's instructions. But I hadn't flown in nearly two months, so, there you have it. We went over toward CCR and called up Travis Approach. This went more smoothly, and after the third approach, we headed over to Livermore.

The ILS 25R is a great approach, taking the pilot just over a ridge of hills on the approach. Tim flew it partially coupled, then we did a low pass and took off toward Palo Alto. As we made our way toward PAO, we noticed that a low cloud layer was forming. We called up Norcal and requested a VOR DME into PAO. It's an unusual request, so we weren't sure what to expect, but we got it.

Shortly thereafter, a different controller came on the air and asked us if we wanted to go all the way out to SAPID, or if we could take it just outside DOCAL. I responded that DOCAL was fine, and we got a favorable turn. But then we realized that these were GPS waypoints, which were not helpful in the VOR approach structure, so I informed Norcal that we were actually requesting the VOR DME. He seemed slightly miffed, and sent us out toward San Jose (I could see my house). But a couple of turns later, we were pointed back in, and Tim landed and dropped me off.

It was a great workout for me, and a good flight to get me motivated to get back into things!