Flight School – Recap – Week 18

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I passed my private pilot check ride!

I’m officially a certificated private pilot, and its only just beginning to sink in. This past Monday was the day, and what a day it turned out to be. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know that I was first supposed to take my check ride back about a week or two ago, but after the oral portion, the flight test was discontinued due to weather (wind).  It was then rescheduled for last Friday, March 31st, but that day ended up being a complete IFR day, no chance at a check ride. After last Friday’s wash out, we (my instructor and I), were completely unsure of when we would be able to reschedule for, as the examiners availability was sparse for the remainder of the month. Over this past weekend, while at my friends wedding, I got a call from my instructor, “Great news! We can get the check ride done on Monday”. Right away I said yes, grab the spot. I was feeling completely ready to go and confident and was bummed out that the weather didn’t cooperate last time around. So, we scheduled the check ride for Monday at 1130 AM, which was also nice because it meant I didn’t have to wake up at 4 or 5am.

On Monday morning I got to the airport at 8am, preflighted the plane, and went up with my instructor to do a few laps in the pattern. I wanted to just do some last minute practice nailing my touchdown point for short field landings, and also slip to landing. The weather was great, winds calm, smooth smooth air. After about 4 touch and go’s, I landed and headed back to the ramp. It was now about 9:30 AM and I had just over an hour until we had to depart to the airport at which I would be doing my check ride. I topped off the plane with fuel, got an updated weather briefing, and finished up my calculations in my navigation log. Around 10:15 AM, Savannah, who is another student at my school, arrived. She scheduled to come with my instructor and I as she too had to finish up her check ride.

At 10:45AM, as we loaded ourselves and our flight bags into the plane, my instructor’s phone went off — it was the examiner. His message read “Sorry to do this, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it today. In a test, and they are saying it won’t be starting until 2pm.” Here we all were, sitting in the plane, about to fire up the engine, a beautiful day, ambitions running wild, and just like that, it seemed as though it wasn’t going to happen. I’ll fast forward here, but for the next 5 hours we sat around the school waiting to hear from the examiner. We told him that we didn’t care what time we had to stay until, we wanted to get it done today. Civil twilight didn’t end until 7:50pm, so as long as he was able meet us at the airport at a somewhat reasonable time, we would be able to get the check rides done.

Around 4:30 PM, we got a message from the examiner that he was on his way home, had to drop his wife off, and then could head to the airport. Still not knowing the exact time frame for his arrival, we simply replied “see you there”, and headed for our 35 minute flight to his airport. The plan was for Savannah to fly the three of us (me, my instructor, and Savannah) to the airport. She wanted to get some last minute VOR tracking practice in. I would then go first for the check ride, she would go second, and I would be at the controls for the flight back. I climbed into the back seat of the Cessna 172, a place I last sat in October 2005 in Daytona Beach Florida, during a discovery flight at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I worked on relaxing my mind, controlling my nerves, and overcoming the fatigue setting in from an already long day. The winds were picking up, but sitting back there on our way to one of the most important days in my new career journey I realized something. I realized that things just aren’t going to work out perfectly. There had been several attempts to get this check ride done, and none of them went perfectly as planned. I realized that instead of getting upset about the changes, to embrace them. In aviation, the real tests us pilots will have come not when things are going as planned, but rather the complete opposite.

We landed, taxied to the terminal, and met the examiner. I told him that I would be going first and he ran through short speech of what to expect, etc. We had all had a long day already, and the examiner made it clear that he would request maneuvers and demonstrations at as fast a pace I was comfortable performing them. I was pumped up. Ready to go. Zero nervous. Seriously though, absolutely no nerves. I had been flying very well up until this and when it came time to show my knowledge and proficiency, there was nothing that was going to hold me back.

We taxied for takeoff, winds gusting to 20 knots. Not a word from me about the winds. I did my checks, said my briefings, and made my radio calls. I taxied out onto the runway, and demonstrated a short field takeoff to start. As I climbed out toward my first point on my navigation log, the examiner said, “Why don’t you go into a power on stall right here, lets knock that one out”. Oh——K. I replied back “do you want me to set it up as I normally would, flaps, power out, then increase power?”. “Just pull some power out and pitch up, then recover. As you wish, sir. We then continued our climb, and I arrived at my first checkpoint. I then turned to my new course heading, continuing my climb. My top of climb came next, followed by my next two visual reference points. All the while, I was tracking a VOR inbound, and my timing and calculations were right on. This was enough for him to be satisfied with my pilotage and dead reckoning, and the scenario based testing started. He said “you’ve flown into a cloud, why don’t you put on your foggles”. I put on the view limiting glasses and we were now in the part of the test. I started a 180 degree, standard rate turn back in the direction from which I had come, hoping to “get back to clear air”. I then started a descent, plugged a nearby airport into the GPS, and started flying toward it. He then said, “what else could you do in this situation”, and I replied, contact ATC for help. After some maneuvers while under the hood, that part was done, and he told me to take off the foggles. We were heading to the diversion airport which I had put in the GPS, and completed our remaining takeoff / landing requirements, and departed back toward the airport from which we took off. Next up were steep turns, slow flight, and unusual attitude recovery. All went well, and I was already heading back toward the airport. Around 2500 feet with the airport in sight, he gave me the following: “You’ve had a electrical fire, you need to get the plane down as fast as possible, you can’t extend your electrically operated flaps”. With the runway just off my nose, 2500 feet, I started slipping the plane. I slipped the plane the ENTIRE way down and came over the threshold at 120 knots! Power was at idle and it took all but about 600 feet of the 6000 foot runway to get me stopped. I was touching the main wheels down around 85 knots trying to slow down. I finally got it down and stopped. I guess that was the point right? If I had a smaller runway I would have done things differently (or so I hope). At this point he reviewed the standards we had a few more things we had to do. We took off, flew the pattern, and did a go around. We flew the pattern again, he had me land, and I was a newly minted private pilot in just over 1 hour on the Hobbs.

I’m planning to do a more extensive write up on my thoughts and advice about the entire private pilot check ride, but what I’ll say for now is; it wasn’t as ‘difficult’ as I expected. I feel that demonstrating understanding and proficiency is the most important thing you can do. My philosophy on the check ride was that I didn’t feel I was ready until I didn’t feel like I needed to study any further. Basically I knew how to fly the plane and do the maneuvers to standard. So my advice to others is: Be comfortable and don’t rush it.

Happy Flying!

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Flight School – Recap – Week 13

I’ve officially completed all the flight requirements needed for my private pilot certificate! Just today, after previously having to reschedule, I completed my ‘long’ cross country flight. This was the final flight requirement for the private pilot certificate and the parameters are as follow:

  • Flight with at least three stops (including departure/return airport)
  • Over 150NM total distance
  • One leg (between stops) of at least 50NM.

This was by far the longest flight I have done up to this point, not to mention I flew it solo. I planned the flight from my home airport due west to Reading, PA (KRDG) where I landed, taxied back, took off heading back East to Morristown, NJ (KMMU), landed, then back to home base, Trenton-Mercer (KTTN). The weather for my flight was clear, but I had a pretty strong wind from the North, so my entire route (in both directions) required pretty significant wind correction, keeping me crabbed into the wind basically at all times.

The first leg of my flight, from Trenton-Mercer to Reading Airport, a familiar route, went great. The approach to Reading, PA from the east brings you over some high terrain just east of the airport, which means you have to keep your altitude and begin your final descent after clearing the ridges (and the towers on top of the ridges). There is a 405 foot lighted tower on top of one of these ridges, the top of which extends to 1309MSL (above sea level). As I passed over the ridge at about 2500 feet, with the town of Reading, PA sprawled out below me, I descended hastily for a straight in landing on runway 31. Conditions were calm at Reading and I had a great landing. I taxied off the runway and parked outside the terminal at Reading for a few minutes to update my flight log and get ready for the next leg.

My next leg, the longest of the three, had me departing Reading PA, climbing out to the north east, and flying direct to Morristown Municipal, KMMU. This leg of about 75NM, at 3500 feet, had me passing through Allentown PA’s Class Charlie airspace, and then having to descend under 3000 feet to remain clear of New York’s Class Bravo airspace as I approached Morristown. Morristown Municipal, a Class Delta, sits under the outermost ring of New York’s Bravo airspace. I had flight following for my entire cross country today, so I was always in contact with ATC, and I had to be in order to enter the Class Charlie around Allentown. I experienced some moderate turbulence as I was passing west to east back over the Pennsylvania / New Jersey border. This was to be expected, as the weather briefer had indicated reports of turbulence below 8000 feet right in the area I was flying. As I approached New York’s Bravo airspace, Allentown approach handed me off to New York approach. I contacted New York approach and told them I wanted to descend to 2500 feet to remain clear of their Bravo airspace. As a student pilot, I am not allowed to fly in Bravo airspace without a Class Bravo endorsement from my flight instructor. We had discussed this before I flew out today, and I explained my plan to descend and remain clear of the Bravo airspace. He was going to sign the Class Bravo endorsement into my log book but I believe we simply forgot before I headed out for the flight. Anyway, it didn’t make a difference as I simply descended and remained under the outer shelf of their airspace, and shortly there after was asked to contact Morristown Tower. I called Morristown and gave them my position southwest of the airport, inbound for full stop taxi back. I had never flown into Morristown, and was relatively unfamiliar with the layout of the field, although I had looked at it before starting my trip, and I had the airport diagram on hand. Tower indicated that runway 5 was the active runway, with winds 320 at 15 knots gusting 22 knots. I asked tower if I could land runway 31 as I felt more comfortable landing directly into the wind rather than on runway 5 with a crosswind. Tower had no problem giving me runway 31 and asked me to report a left downwind for runway 31. As I descended to pattern altitude from the southwest, with a visual on the airport directly in front of me, I had a moment of confusion on my position relative to the downwind for 31. A more direct approach from where I was would have been a left base for runway 31, and the set up for a left downwind had me flying a bit out of my way to enter the pattern as requested. This had me questioning if I was setting it up correctly, or if I had mixed up the runways. As I approached the left downwind for 31, I called tower and said, “Morristown Tower, Skyhawk 745, unfamiliar with your field, can you please confirm my position relative to a left downwind for runway 31”. They came back, “you are just about to enter the downwind for runway 31”. So, I had gotten it right, and I think it is important to make it clear that if at any time you have any doubt, it is OK to contact tower and talk to them. ATC is there to help you. I turned base, then final, and had my second great landing of the day in Morristown. I taxied back to runway 31, and got myself ready for my final leg back to Trenton Mercer.

The last leg of my trip was my shortest one, around 35NM. I planned to take off and fly a heading of 230°, southwest, direct to Trenton-Mercer. My altitude for this flight was 2500 which kept me below New York’s Class Bravo airspace as I climbed out of Morristown. As I got closer to Trenton, the terrain was relatively familiar, as this is where we practice quite often. As I had Princeton Airport (39N) off my left side I contacted Trenton Tower, inbound for full stop. Tower asked me to report a right downwind for runway 34. As a approached the downwind, there was a lot of chatter on the radio. Being Sunday, the airport tends to be very busy. I reported downwind and was number 3 to land, there were a few departures waiting on the ground, and a regional jet was also landing straight in runway 6. As I was abeam my touch down point on runway 34, ATC extended the downwind of the aircraft in front of me, and gave me a left 360° turn (for spacing). I rolled into a 30° bank, and flew a 360° degree turn at their request, and reported when I was back on my downwind. They then extended my downwind as well, and I flew out over the city of Trenton, before turning base, and then to a long final. Definitely some fun, unexpected, and out of the norm operations due to all the traffic in the pattern. I landed runway 34, taxied to parking, and just like that, my three hour, three leg, solo cross country was done. I felt very accomplished and proud to have completed this requirement. When I got back in to the school, my instructor was there and showed me that he had been tracking my progress on an app called Flight Radar 24, and he took a screenshot of my route of flight. Very cool app. We discussed the flight and talked about whats next for me. With all the flight requirements completed, I now have to take and pass the private pilot knowledge exam and then book my check ride! I’ll lay out the plan for all that shortly, but hopefully in the next week or two I’ll be a private pilot! Incredible.

Flight School – Recap – Week 12

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Princeton NJ

So the weeks are rather short recently as I have completed most of the flight requirements necessary for my private pilot license. The only thing I have left to do is the long solo; a flight totaling at least 150NM with three stops; and one leg being over 50NM. I had this entire flight planned out and was going to fly it this past weekend. I was out pre-flighting the plane and I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up rather hastily. My instructor and I decided it was wise to hold off for another day, and the next weather report indicated winds had in fact become stronger with gusts over 20kts. I’ll give this another go sometime over the next week.

So its a pretty strange feeling, waking up early and heading to the airport, and taking to the sky on my own. I am at a point where I am both excited and happy to go fly, but I am also extremely restrained, never forgetting that this is very new to me. I have expressed to my flight instructor that I although I feel that I know the why and the how associated with flight, as well as the procedures to perform maneuvers, I am still far from having a through confidence in my overall ability when flying solo. He explained that this is normal, and experience only comes with time. More specifically, at this point in my experience, I am not scared or nervous in the least bit regarding normal flight, rather unsure about my ability and response in case of an inflight emergency. This feeling should fade with time and experience, and I also have to make sure that these feelings do not clutter my mind while I am flying, serving no benefit, rather being a detriment to the flight at hand.

Anyway, this past Tuesday morning I headed out on a solo flight to practice maneuvers. I have to be within certain certification standards when I take the practical exam, so I headed out to practice S-turns across a road, steep turns, and rectangular course. The underlying skill that is being tested and relied on for all these maneuvers is an understanding of the wind and how to compensate for wind in order to keep the airplane on the pilot’s intended flight path. I also took some time to work the radios, looking up and tuning in the frequencies of various airports I was overflying or in the vicinity of. After working on maneuvers, I decided to do a bit of sightseeing before heading back to the airport. One thing that you realize very quickly during flight training, is that you hardly ever have a moment to actually fly for enjoyment and take in the sights, and after all, this is one of the great benefits to being able to pilot your own plane. I decided to fly out over Princeton, NJ, and get an aerial of the town and Princeton University. I did a few laps and headed back to the airport. As I came in on final, the winds seemed to have picked up a bit, and my landing was less than stellar. Time for some more crosswind technique.

Just yesterday, with the winds pretty strong, I headed up with my instructor to fly the pattern and practice crosswind technique. We had a pretty direct crosswind as we landed runway 24 (170 @ 10kts). I did 9 landings, and really got a great feel for the crosswind technique. Aileron into the wind, opposite rudder to line the plane up on the runway. Touch down with the windward wheel, keep aileron into the wind. I felt the most comfortable yet regarding flight and landing with wind.

Well, until next time!

Flight School – Recap – Week 11

This week I flew my first solo cross country! A cross country flight is defined as a flight with a landing at a destination other than the departure airport and a straight line distance of at least 50 nautical miles. The requirements for the private pilot certificate include 5 hours of solo cross country flying, so this flight was the first of two solo cross country flights I will do in preparation for my private pilot license check ride. I planned this trip from my home airport out directly west to Lancaster Pennsylvania, a total distance of 69 nautical miles (each way).

At this stage of my training, I am using paper charts and visual reference points to navigate. I spent the evening before planning the route on the sectional chart, and choosing reference points along the way which would verify my course. This is how all flying was done before the advent of GPS. While I am happy to learn this way, and I believe it helps one understand the fundamentals behind navigation, I sure am happy that once I begin instrument flying in the G1000 glass cockpit equipped aircraft, most of this type of navigation and planning is obsolete. With that said, it is important to learn how to do it, understand how it works, and be able to revert to ‘manual’ navigation if the need arises.

With my flight path, reference points, altitude (4,500 feet), and distance calculated, all that was left to do was get a weather briefing on the morning of the flight and calculate the estimated time for each leg of the trip (from reference point to reference point). The winds aloft dictate the time it will take to complete the flight, and you can only get the most current wind data just prior to departure. A few hours before my scheduled departure, I called the weather briefer and received a standard weather briefing for my flight. Winds aloft (4500 feet) were 272° at 25 knots, which meant I would have a pretty good headwind the entire way there. My course heading was 277°, which meant I was basically flying due west, and directly into the wind. This meant my ground speed would be quite slow, as the wind would effectively be working to push me back as I powered through toward Lancaster. My calculated ground speed was 85 knots (about 98 mph). The calculated time en route from takeoff to landing was 49 minutes. As you see in the video, it almost looks like I am standing still in the frames which I have not sped up. Conversely, when I departed Lancaster and flew due east on my return, my calculated ground speed was 135 knots (155mph) and the flight home only took about 35 minutes.

Throughout my flight, I was in contact with air traffic control switching between controllers as I moved through the airspace. As I approached Lancaster, I spotted the airport about 10 nautical miles away, and began my descent. I had landed at Lancaster once before, early in my training, but I really did not remember the layout of the airport. As I approached, I was cleared for a direct approach to runway 26. I briefly had some trouble figuring out which runway was 26, but I did some maneuvers a few miles out to line my magnetic compass up on 26 and orient myself with the correct runway. On my approach for runway 26, wind was 260° at 20 knots, a direct headwind! The wind was effectively pushing me, or holding me off, and my regular descent approach brought me in short of the runway. You will see in the video that I have to add a fair bit of power as I am approaching the threshold in order to carry me over the fence and onto the runway. This was caused by not accounting for the headwind during my approach. I could have descended at a shallower rate which would have lengthened my descent path, and counteracted the wind. Nothing to worry about, but a great learning experience for next time. I landed, taxied back for immediate departure, and flew back home.

This week I also worked on knocking out more of the flight requirements needed before taking the private pilot check ride. I went up for a few hours with my instructor and practiced maneuvers, tightening up my skills to make sure I can execute the maneuvers within the exam standards. I completed the remaining instrument time needed, and had a night flight with my instructor to finish up the remaining night time takeoff and landing requirement. I also flew solo and practiced maneuvers on my own for the first time.

Looking forward, all I have left in terms of requirements prior to testing for my private pilot license is one more long cross country flight, and a few more solo hours. I will probably have this complete within the next week or two. Time to hit the books and tighten up all my skills, and hopefully I’ll be a licensed private pilot sometime in March!

 

 

Flight School – Recap – Week 10

This has been a short week, only flew 2 days, Monday and Tuesday. On Monday we spent about two hours revisiting the maneuvers that I have to master for my private pilot check ride. We headed out to the practice area and did ground reference maneuvers, stalls, and simulated engine failure practice. I’m pretty happy with my rectangular course, and my turns around a point, although my S-turns across a road still need some working on. I’ll also need some more work on stall recovery. For whatever reason, the airplane we were in on this particular day had a much more pronounced tendency to “wing drop” when inducing a stall. A wing drop is when one of the wings stalls before the other, and the airplane abruptly falls to one side. Most of the time on these training airplanes, if you induce the stall with the wings level, the stall occurs evenly and the nose falls down relatively flat and even. In the plane we were flying, it had an overwhelming tendency to fall to the right, and after a few stalls I had enough. During one of our power on stalls, the right wing dropped out so violently that we lost almost 400 feet in altitude and the airplane was turned a full 90 degrees off course in the split second before recovery. As we were almost ready to return to the airport, my instructor pulled the power to idle and called out, “you’ve had an engine failure”. I immediately went to work pitching for best glide speed and looking for a suitable landing spot. As I glided to a field I had chosen, I realized that I was to high, and I would not be able to land in this field had this been a real emergency. We added power and went back up to altitude to try again. When the power was pulled out, I again pitched for best glide speed and flew toward my field (same field). This time, I worked in a series of s-turns and full flaps in an effort to lose altitude and steepen my descent. Again, I was too high when I approached the position at which I would have to touch down to avoid any trees — disappointing. I’ll need more practice as I feel that I need a better sense for the gliding capabilities of the airplane and the best way to set up for a landing in a chosen location when I have altitude to spare. I feels as though I could have flown a pattern around the field, or circled the field directly overhead, losing altitude, and flying straight in when I was at the correct level.

On Tuesday we did something really cool. I’m very lucky to have an instructor who doesn’t shy away from opportunities to fly in less than desirable weather. After all, it isn’t always nice out, and as a commercial pilot, I’ll be flying in all types of weather. The day was overcast and rainy, but warm. The key to our flight was the latter, the warm temperature. During the winter, it is tough to fly in true instrument conditions because when you fly through a cloud when it is freezing, you get icing. On this particular day, the cloud cover was no more than 1500ft AGL but temps were in the mid 40s, so no worries about icing. When I got to the school, all the planes were at the ramp, tied down, untouched for the day. The school itself was a ghost town, but my instructor was ready to go! In his eyes, conditions were perfect for an introduction to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) flight in true IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions). I felt the same way, after all, the ability to fly in conditions like these is the reason we become instrument rated pilots.

As we gathered our things and began to head out, we listened to the weather on a handheld before heading out to the ramp. While still inside, we ran into the school’s chief pilot, who remarked, “you guys are going flying? what’s the weather?”. Unsure if he was questioning the decision to fly, my instructor repeated back the weather briefing to which is response was, “I just wanted to make sure you had the weather, I would like to see more people flying in conditions like these!”. Off we went.

Our flight was to be a very short one. Takeoff, climb out, and fly to a nearby airport, only minutes away. We would fly the ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach to this airport’s runway, but rather then land, we would execute the published missed approach procedure, and fly back to our home airport, where we would fly the ILS approach and land. Total duration of the flight was only 0.8 hours there and back. Flying true IMC takes thing to a whole new level of seriousness. There is more planning (flight plan mandatory), more concentration needed. There is no time to be nonchalant about anything, and you have to be on the top of your game. Prior to takeoff, we entered all our frequencies into the radios, and set the navigation equipment. We ran through the steps we would be taking and the progression they would come in. You want to get as much done on the ground as you can, and never let the airplane get ahead of you. You want to always know and anticipate what is coming next, and be ready for it.

As I rolled down the runway and took to the sky, within a few seconds I was entering the cloud ceiling, and visibility went to zero. As we flew through 1500ft, I flew out of the cloud cover to a blanket of white clouds below me and blue sky above. A few turns as per air traffic control, and we were on course for the ILS approach to our nearby airport and ready to descend. I began the descent and soon was back in the cloud, zero visibility. I now had to rely on my instruments to guide me laterally and vertically to the runway which was somewhere ahead of me, but nowhere to be seen. As the altimeter turned lower and lower, I knew I had to see something soon, and just like that, I popped out the bottom of the clouds with the runway directly in front of me. We flew all the way down to the published missed approach altitude which was 300? or so feet. At this point, we executed the missed approach by adding power and climbing back out in the direction from which we came. We flew a another ILS approach back to the runway at our home airport, this time landing it. I didn’t see the ground until 700 feet AGL, and from that point the landing was more or less straightforward.

This short introduction to true IMC conditions was exhilarating. It is incredible how much multitasking goes on and how many things you are responsible for when flying IMC. I can see why people say that getting their instrument rating is the most challenging and technical rating to acquire, but I am looking forward to the challenge.

 

Flight School – Recap – Week 9

What a full week of flying! I’ve been having a blast. I’m working through the remaining requirements necessary in order to be qualified to take the private pilot certificate check ride. This past week I flew solo in the traffic pattern two more times, and had my first solo flight out past my airport’s airspace. Lets talk about that first!

Friday was an early day. My instructor wanted me to come in early when the winds are usually calmest and have my first solo flight out to our practice area, about 15NM north west of our airport. We also had a regularly scheduled lesson at 10AM, in which we were doing a cross country flight out west. I had spent the evening prior planning out our route of flight and creating our navigation log. The plan was to have me come in early and do my first “further out” solo flight, and then when I was back we’d review my flight plan and fly the cross country. I arrived at the airport at 8am and pre-flighted my plane. This was the first time I was heading out all on my own and leaving the traffic pattern of the airport. I have done this flight since beginning my training, but this was the first time I did it alone. As I climbed out after takeoff, I reached 1200ft above ground and started a turn out to the northwest. I climbed to 2500ft and before long I was outside of my airport’s Class D airspace. There I was, completely on my own, free to fly any which way (for the most part) I wanted to. My instructor told me to practice some maneuvers as to not “waste the flight” but for once I was just happy to be able to fly around, look around, and simply enjoy being there after all the work I have been doing. I switched radio frequencies once I was clear of my airport’s airspace and radioed the practice area, “Skyhawk 5-Lima-Papa” entering the practice area from the south-east, 2500ft, anyone else out here?” To my pleasant surprise, my instructor radioed back with a good morning, his position (out east of me with another student), and told me to enjoy my flight. I headed out to the west toward a large lake I have become familiar with and climbed to 3500ft for a better vantage point over the land. I remember thinking about how just over two months before I had never flown a plane, yet there I was, on my own, completely in control, and free to do as I wished. After a bit more flight, I did a 180° turn above my friendly lake, and heading back toward the airport. I contacted the tower, and flew to enter the traffic pattern. As I turned onto final approach, tower radioed caution for bird activity, and just as I approached the runway a large flock of birds left the treetops and passed from right to left directly in front of me. I was a few seconds from adding full power, breaking off to the right, and going around. They were close! I landed, a quite good landing I may add, and headed back to parking.

Not to long after, my instructor arrived back after finishing his lesson with another student. We reviewed the flight plan I had put together for the next flight, and headed out together for my second flight of the day. This flight would be out west to an airport about 51NM away. The term “cross-country” denotes flights of over 50NM from one airport to another. I had planned the navigation to our destination airport using visual reference points on the ground, performance of the aircraft, weather conditions, and altitude. Each leg of our flight (from one visual point to another) was planned and timed out, and as we flew we would confirm our time and position to make adjustments as necessary. This is how all navigation was done prior to GPS, and this is how I am learning it… although with modern GPS much of this kind of navigation has become… dare I say it.. obsolete. Our flight went as planned for the most part. Some minor adjustments for wind and power setting of the plane were necessary inflight. As we approached the destination airport, I had trouble getting a visual on the airfield. There is some high terrain just east of the airport, so you need to keep your altitude and then descend pretty abruptly to enter this airport’s traffic pattern once clear of the obstacles. I spotted the airport, and as I passed over the high terrain, I was all of a sudden over a densely populated town descending down to a base leg of the traffic pattern, cleared to land. I turned base to final, only to find that I had a very substantial sustained crosswind from the east. I pushed in the right rudder and held the most rudder pressure I’ve every had to apply during a landing. With my instructor shadowing the controls in case he was needed, I landed the plane at our destination. I felt really good about this landing, considering the amount of crosswind. Truth be told, I felt more connected to the plane and in turn to the wind itself, because of all the physical pressure I had to keep on the controls. Maybe it was an intense concentration on the task at hand, or heightened senses, but I felt like I was one with the plane, as though I was gliding through the air myself and the inputs I was providing were keeping me on track with the runway. Incredible sensation, and good fun. We taxied back for immediate departure, and flew back to home base.

Atlantic City

Atlantic City, NJ (3500ft)

Planned for Saturday was a night cross country flight, as per the requirements for the private pilot certificate. I spent a good amount of time on Saturday planning our flight for that evening. I planned a for a south east departure and flight to the coast of New Jersey, where we would turn south, pass Atlantic City (scenic @ night) and fly direct to Cape May County airport where we would land, taxi back, and return direct north to our home airport. Navigation at night with visual references are much harder for obvious reasons. I chose points along the planned route such as lighted towers, areas of population, and certain airfields. From the air, you can activate the high intensity runway lights at certain airports from the airplane using radio frequency. This helps for navigation as you are able to choose an airport as a navigation point, even though you can’t see it at night from the air. As you approach this point or when you think you are flying over, you can activate the lights and see it come alive on the surface. This confirms your position, and is also just plain awesome to see. We lit up several airports along our route as we navigated from point to point. Since it was night, we also utilized VORs and had flight following from air traffic control for the majority of our flight. Flying at night is incredible. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, but I loved it. It is peaceful, you can navigate with reference to all the lights on the surface, and you can see air traffic much easier against the dark sky. As we made our turn to south to follow the coast of New Jersey down to the tip of Cape May, I could see the lights of Atlantic City. As we flew over the Atlantic City Expressway I could see all the familiar hotels from a new vantage point. It was really awesome. Landings at night will take some getting used to. You don’t have much visual reference to the ground and the tendency is to come in steep. There are a lot of ‘tricks’ that your brain and your eyes can play on you at night, for more on that, check the textbooks. I landed at Wildwood, taxied back, and took off for home. My first time flying at night was went better than expected, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Until next week….

 

 

 

 

Flight School – Recap – Week 8

It’s been two months since I officially started my flight training. There have been good and bad days, stretches of days lost to weather, and frustrations along the learning curve. Nonetheless, when I look at these past 8 weeks collectively, I feel extremely accomplished and proud of what I have achieved. I have just over 30 flight hours logged. I’ve flown solo as pilot in command. I’ve learned so much, met so many great people. I’m getting closer to my first certificate, private pilot.

This week we did more instrument work, and honestly, it was pretty frustrating and confusing at the beginning. As I wrote in last week’s post, instrument flying means you are flying and navigating the airplane without any visual reference (looking, or being able to see things outside). Newer planes with ‘glass cockpits’ use GPS and basically most of this work is done for the pilot. The airplane that I am learning on uses only analog radio wave instruments to navigate from one point to another, the way it has been done since the dawn of navigation in aviation. Almost all new production aircraft being built today are equipped with glass cockpits. Many people who learn to fly today opt to start their training on a glass cockpit airplane rather than the old analog style, but I believe that learning on an old ’round dial’ aircraft and having to learn to do things the hard way leaves you with not only the ability to get the job done, but a much more thorough understanding of the fundamentals of flight and the mechanics behind the processes that make navigation and aviation possible. Once I complete my private pilot certificate, I will continue my training in a G1000 glass cockpit equipped aircraft.

On Thursday there was a TFR (temporary flight restriction) issued for the airspace over Philadelphia, as our new president Trump was in town. Our airport lays just outside this area so we opted to fly, but the skies were calm as most people are either scared off simply by the thought of a TFR, or do not know that you can commence a flight as usual during a TFR, as long as you file a flight plan. Again, even if you are flying VFR, you need to file a flight plan and get a unique identifier to fly within a TFR. Furthermore, there may be areas of the TFR that may be completely off limits to general aviation aircraft. We flew out to the northeast to Princeton. As we approached Princeton, a small uncontrolled airport, the winds picked up and we encountered the strongest gusts, downdrafts, and shear that I have experienced up until this point in my training. We intended to practice pattern and do touch-and-goes at Princeton, but after one attempt which resulted in a go-around I decided that practicing my landings on Princeton’s narrow and short runway during these rough wind conditions wasn’t for me.

I finished the week off with a great day of flying. We continued our instrument work and everything as coming together much better for me. I was able to navigate and fly the plane on instruments at my instructor’s request much better. My instructor gave me two simulated engine failures and I felt good about the outcome of both. As we flew along, he called out “you’ve had an engine failure” and cut the power to idle. The first time we were just over a small uncontrolled airport. I pitched for best glide speed, simulated my engine restart procedure, did a mock mayday call and passenger brief. All the while I was flying the plane toward the airport and was able to land the plane on the runway. We taxied back and took off, and as we climbed through 2500 feet he did it again! He called out “you’ve had an engine failure” and again cut the power to idle. I immediately pitched for best glide and start flying toward an old closed down military base that was just ahead. He did not tell me that that airfield was there, and was impressed that I had seen it and identified it even before he cut the power on me. We finished the day off with some stall recovery practice with foggles on, and headed back to the airport.

I’m really looking forward to more solo time now and finishing out the requirements for my private pilot license. Assuming good weather, by the end of next week I should have most of the training requirements done for my private pilot certificate. I’ll spend some more time brushing up skills, hitting the books, and not to long from now I’ll be taking my check ride for my private pilot license. Back in late 2016 when I was starting this endeavor, I was hoping to be on track to have my private by my 30th birthday, which is in two weeks. I’ll probably need a bit more time, but considering I started a bit later then I wanted to and all the time lost to holidays and weather, I’m more then satisfied with where I’m at, plus every day is a blast.