About 9 years ago I lived in Sacramento with three other Irish guys. One of our addictions (among many) was flying Chuck Yeager’s Flight Trainer on my Apple Mac. At the time I swore that once I got settled down I would learn to fly for real. I forgot this until recently when I was watching of all things a TV program about safety issues in General Aviation. Lots of stories about people in small planes getting killed. Perversely this reminded me of my promise to myself back in Sacramento. Just to be sure the bug was still there, I bought MS Flight Simulator 2002 (and boy had flight simulators changed in 9 years!). The fun of actually flying over the Bay Area in the simulator, landing in San Jose International and various other airports in the area convinced me I had to go do this for real. I searched on the web to find a flight school that operated out of Reid-Hillview Airport. This is a small controlled airport in East San Jose that I had seen a lot of small airplanes flying around. I didn’t want to fly out of San Jose International because I would rather not have to contend with commercial jets while I was trying to learn. I found a company called Tradewinds Aviation that offered a cheap demo flight for $99. I told my friends I was going to start flying (they didn’t believe me) and on Friday evening after I got home from work I called Tradewinds and as luck would have it they had a slot available at 12pm the next day. This is a log of how my training went/will go/whatever, I read a few of these on the web and thought what a cool idea.
The weather was beautiful (as usual for the Bay Area in July), clear, sunny and warm. I arrived 30 minutes early (eager to do it, afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the school). My instructor turned out to be a girl from Co. Mayo in Ireland called Grainne Gilvarry (which was a surprise as I am also from Ireland, small world, my brother lives in Mayo). We spent about 15minutes looking at a map of California that showed all the airports with the various types of airspace (Class B, C, D etc) and talking about flying South of the airport to try some simple stuff. Then it was out to the tarmac to a rather worn looking small plane (which I now know is a Cessna 172). Grainne walked me through the preflight checks which to my regret was not just kicking the tires. We got some fuel from the nice tanker guy and then got ready to go. At this point I was actually sitting in the pilots seat in this dinky little airplane trying not to touch anything. Grainne was starting the engine and listing to someone called ATIS. Then before I knew it we were on the end of the runway (13R I know from FS2002) and we were off. Before we were very far into the air (it seemed to me) Grainne says “your airplane” and I actually started to fly the thing (badly). The air was bumpy and it seemed that the plane wanted to go anywhere but smoothly upwards (like in FS2002). I managed to keep it flying more or less in the right direction (I think because I stopped moving the yoke). And then things calmed down because we got a little higher. We flew south a few miles to over Morgan Hill and did a few simple turns, which felt much more like the simulator. A couple of 360’s, a descent, a climbing turn then headed back towards Reid-Hillview. Grainne, told me to just aim the plane at Lake Cunningham which is just East of the airport. A couple of miles away we started to descend again and then Grainne took over as we flew over the lake. We watched for the runway to move to 45° behind my left shoulder, turned left, turned left again and as if by magic the runway was right in front of us. We landed and taxied off the end of 13L at which point Grainne asked me to steer the plane with my feet. I think she had been secretly working the rudder when I was flying because I sure wasn’t - FS2002 has an auto-rudder feature, real planes have a flight instructor. Now, rudder peddles work exactly the opposite way you expect them to. Imagine the front wheel has handle bars and you rest one foot on each side and steer - this is the way it doesn’t work, its opposite. It is stupidly simple (press the left peddle to go left, right for right, duh!) and completely non-intuitive. Needless to say I did a great impression of a fish swimming upstream, weaving from side to side up the taxi way. We (finally) got to our parking space and parked the plane and locked it up. My first flight for real - what a rush, wait wasn’t I supposed to look outside the windows. Mostly I remember being glued to the instruments. Next time I’ll look outside more.
My second flight and my first “real” lesson. Again the weather was great, wind was blowing from the North like it usually does in the evening, sunny, warm with just a little haze. I arrived just before 6pm and Grainne was waiting for me. She gave me (I’ll pay later I’m sure) a checklist card and it was out to a different Cessna 172. This time I did all the pre-flight checks from the card. It turned out that the plane only showed quarter full on each fuel tank. Grainne is paranoid about fuel so we called for the nice tanker guy again (he had gone home) and Grainne went to see if another plane was available (it wasn’t) so we actually measured it and both were actually half full. Grainne decided that this was enough for a 1 hour flight with the required reserve. I got covered in oil checking the dip-stick which requires a feat of gymnastics worthy of the Chinese Olympic team. With everything good on the outside we got inside and did another couple of checklists. I actually started the engine, we did the pre-taxi checklist, listened to ATIS (I listened, Grainne actually heard something useful). Then we pulled out of the parking space and I got to do my fish impression with the nose wheel all over again (even worse than the first time). Finally at the end of the runway we did the run-up checklist. Grainne taxied over to in between 30L and 30R and we watched two Cessna’s land either side of us at almost the same time. Then it was onto 30L and take-off. Grainne gave me the plane just a little after leaving the ground and told me to do 90 degree left turn. She then proceed to explain that highway 101 marked the boundary of Class C airspace for San Jose airport. We had a great view of the highway because we were flying right at it. I figured I should make another left turn without being told before we crossed. We climbed on up to about 4500’. It was supposed to be 4000’ but Grainne was explaining why I had to keep my foot on the right rudder when we were at full power and by the time I looked at the altimeter again we were on our way past 4200‘. We leveled off and did some shallow turns - this time the auto-rudder feature didn’t work and I had to push the damn things myself. I discovered that pushing the left rudder way to much while making a left turn puts the plane into rather an alarming nose down position. Grainne calmly told me a little less left rudder (I took my foot right off it) and things returned to a more normal attitude. More turns and I learned I could almost ignore the rudder in shallow turns (to my relief). This time I have resolved not to spend too much time looking at the instruments and tried to immitate Grainne scanning all over the sky looking for traffic (other airplanes), I even saw one before her but I don’t think it counts because it was about 3000’ lower than us on my side of the plane. We did another descent and a few more turns some climbing and some descending. Then it was time to head back to the airport. This time we had a stright in approach to 30L. We left it a little late to start descending (I knew this from FS2002, because the VASI was white-white and we came in very steep). I also screwed up the flaps, the first plane I flew in had a notch that stopped the flap switch at 10 degrees, you had to push it sideways to go beyond 10. This is a safety so you don’t put the flaps down too far while flying too fast and damage them. I was lazy, I assumed the notch was there and just pressed the lever. There was no notch and it went all the way down to 40 degrees. Grainne jumped to push it back to 10. I learned a good lesson about not assuming things, just concentrate and do it right. Grainne took over at about 1000’ and made a really nice landing (I thought), we even got to hear the stall horn just as we touched down (the best place to hear it I believe). I got to embarss myself again trying to taxi back to the parking spot, but slightly better than the last attempt.
I picked up the Cessna Pilot Center kit from Tradewinds ($299 for a bunch of CDROMs and some books including my shinny new pilots log book). This kit will be the ground school part of my training. Then I stopped by Fry’s Electronics and shelled out $130 on a set of rudder peddles for FS2002 - I will practice swimming a plane up a taxi-way in the privacy of my own home until I swim no longer. Next lesson is booked for Thursday at 6pm.
I got my medical certificate second class and student pilot certificate at lunch time today. I was a little nervous going to see the doctor, who knows what he would find. But in the event it was a breeze. A urine sample (I guess to check for diabetes), eyesight check with and without my glasses, peripheral vision check using a coat hanger that he waved behind my ears, a hearing check which was simply repeating numbers he said while standing behind me, standing on one leg with my eyes closed and then listening to my heart and lungs and a final blood pressure check. All that and $80 and I got a little yellow card that is my certificate to learn to fly.
Tonight I installed and started the Cessna Pilot Center (CPC) software. I was very pleasantly surprised at how good these classes were. Basically, there is a flow chart that has every step from the very beginning to the final check ride. It alternates between classes you complete at home and actual flying lessons. The classes are basically watching video presentations then answering different questions on the material, usually some twist on multiple choice. If you get an answer wrong it takes you right back to watch the section of the video again that deals with that topic. It tracks your progress and you save this on a floppy disk that comes with the kit. The sections on the actual flying lessons tell exactly what the flight will cover, what you should know after you done and then does a preview video of the actual flight. I completed the first two lessons and the first flight which just about brings me up to date ready for tomorrows flight. I also got in some practice with the new rudder peddles for FS2002 and made some progress - the simulator is good but the speed on the ground is much harder to control than in the real plane.
Wow! What a great flight. A beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, light breeze out of the North as usual. I left work at 5pm for the drive down to Reid-Hillview, the traffic sucked. I got to the airport about 5:40pm and stopped at the Airport Shoppe (stupid name) and purchased a Lightspeed QFR Solo headset for $145 (is anyone adding the dollars up, I’m scared to). I spent a little time online and this headset seemed to be the best value - the lightest, quietest passive headset available. Passive means its doesn’t need batteries to drive fancy noise reduction electronics, the review I read said that this headset was as good as some of the medium priced NR headsets for a lot less money. I was sold anyway. I really am starting to look the part, got my headset in its bag along with my new log book and my medical cert. Next thing I need is the big f**k off watch I believe pilots are required to have. I read a joke somewhere online “What do you get if you cross a pilot with a monkey? A monkey with a big watch”.
I met Grainne just before 6pm and we got the computer setup to read in my floppy disk from the CPC kit. She went through the checklists for the first two flights I’ve done and we made sure we had covered everything we were supposed to do (actually only missed gliding which we’ll do today). Then it was out to the airplane and I started the preflight checks. Only bumped my head once today (I had made a habit of checking the strength of the wings with my head the last time). Grainne had me taxi down Zulu taxiway (which is the one closest to the plane parking spaces) and wonder of wonders I did a pretty good job. Got the plane turned into the wind and did the run-up checklist, then taxied over to the hold area in front of runway 30R. Again watched two Cessna’s land together . Grainne did all the radio work. Then out onto runway 30L and takeoff - all on my own. The plane wavered around a bit as we took off, but not the disaster I was expecting. Did a climbing turn to the left and then another to fly the downwind leg of the pattern (notice the pilot lingo creeping in) and a nice steady climb up to 5000’ heading more or less South to the training area. Grainne had me practice some easy turns on the way up to check for traffic. The air was unbelievably clear - we could see high mountains so far South that neither of new what they were and all the way over to the Monterey Peninsula. The marine layer fog was spread out like a gray carpet all the way from Monterey to the nearest hills where it was just spilling over the top. There was a light haze low down over San Jose which I guess is mostly pollution - though I never noticed it when I was on the ground. We started off with a couple of 360 turns, this time I was a lot less intimidated by the rudder (having got an understanding of what it was supposed to do in the ground classes). The plane turned nicely just like it was supposed to without much adverse yaw (the nose going the wrong way at the start of a turn). Then we tried some gliding - just reduce the power to idle and let the plane glide down while keeping the nose at a pitch to maintain the best glide speed (65 knots for the C172). We practiced some slow flying and then a simulated “Go-Around”. This is when you are descending to land and a dog runs out on the runway and you have to quickly change to a climb to go around and try to land again. This went pretty well. Then some more slow flying just to get the feel of the plane at that speed - it gets really sluggish and wants to bounce around. I even got to make the stall warning sound which is easy at the slow speed (my first stall - I’m all misty eyed). At this stage it became the crowded skies. I think we saw at least four other planes around us over the next 10minutes, two of which I spotted before Grainne. Then we turned North for RHV. The haze was very thick over the airport but Lake Cunningham is still pretty easy to pick out even when you can’t see the airport. Started descending a few miles out and got lined up for a straight in approach to 30L. The next call from the tower changed that to 30R without explanation. We were a little high (again) and I was still flying the airplane. I have a tendency to “dive to the ground” and she had to keep reminding me to keep the nose up. We were just passed Eastridge Mall and I expected Grainne to take over at some point, she didn’t. She told me to level off and bump we were down (I think she helped a little at the very end). My first landing was a great surprise to me - I had actually done just about everything on my own and we got down. The landing was a little hard but still reasonable. I think if she had told me I was going to land I would have been much more nervous. I managed to steer down the runway and off onto the taxiway then do the post-landing checklist and actually taxi back to the parking space. This flight really boosted my confidence. I was a little depressed after the last flight because my control of the plane was poor, I think this was mainly due to not understanding the rudder and exactly how to use the ailerons to make turns. This flight was much better. Grainne is off this weekend so my next lesson is Wednesday next week.
Tonight was not so much fun. I came away from the plane exhausted and stressed out. The weather was “clear” but very hazy. It was hot (30C) and windy 13 knots blowing about 30 degrees off the right side of the runway. Grainne had another student when I arrived so she sent me out to start the preflight check. No problems, the fuel tanks were full and everything looked ok. I was just finished the checklist when Grainne showed up. Got the plane started and listened to ATIS, then started to taxi. Right away I had problems again, now I can more or less go in a straight line but corners are a mess, I was pressing down hard on the rudder but the plane just didn’t want to turn. I’m doing something wrong but I’m not sure what. We taxied to the run-up area and Grainne took care of turning the plane into the wind because of the problems I was having. I was nervous and my leg muscles decided to shake making it hard to hold the nose wheel steady. I had wanted to correctly practice the control surface setting for the crosswind conditions, but in the event I was way to busy just driving the plane in the required direction. I got us onto the 30R and took off. The climb was really bumpy because of the strong headwind. There was another plane that took off beside us on 30R. As we reached about 500’ Grainne grabbed the yoke and made a right turn. She may have been worried that I was going to turn left into the other planes path, because we have always made a left turn after takeoff up to now. We turned downwind and headed Southeast, climbing to 5000’ with a few S-turns to look for traffic. Near South County Airport ee did some clearing turns (90 degrees one way then 90 degrees the other) to check the area for traffic and started practicing stalls. First came power-off stalls which are relatively benign. The engine is at idle power, you are flying very slowly (45 knots or so) and you just pull back on the yoke. The plane pitches up, looses airspeed and stalls, then gently the nose falls down, you gain some airspeed and just pull the nose back to level flight. This was easy stuff. The we started the power-on stalls. For these you slow the plane down to about 60 knots. Apply full engine power and just pull the nose up and up and up until you stall. Grainne showed me one first and it was scary. If like me you are a seasoned traveler used to many hours on commercial flights then you kind of forget that planes do anything other than fly nice and smooth with a little turbulence now and then to keep things interesting. Well today I learned that they do a great impression of a roller coaster. With full power the plane just pulled way up then when it stalled its nose dropped way down and my stomach headed for my mouth. I got a real fright. Then it was my turn to try it. First we tried a few without full power and boy it just feels like the plane falls out from under you. It also has an alarming tendency to dive to the left or right. The first stall I tried dipped a long way right (Grainne said I must have started it with the ailerons ). We ended you on a heading almost 90 degrees from the one we started on once I got leveled out. Controlling the rudder is really important because its the only way you have to keep the plane going in the right direction. I tried three stalls without full power and then a couple with full power. By the last one I was recovering fairly well. But it feels real unnatural to put the plane into the stall. The we headed for Hollister Airport to practice flying the pattern. The FBO (Fixed Base Operator - just some guy who works at the airport) gave us an advisory on what runway to use (24). Its really hard to actually see the numbers painted on the runways and I had a hard time making sure I knew which runway was 24. We were at about 4000’ after the stalls so we spiraled down with three 360 degree turns to come in on a 45 degree entry to the downwind leg of the pattern. You enter the pattern at 1000” above ground level, fly parallel to the runway your going to land on. Then make a 90 degree left turn onto the base leg and shortly thereafter another onto the final leg which has you lined up with the runway. This worked great. I asked Grainne were we going to land and she said she wasn’t sure, just keep flying the approach. In the end we made a touch and go landing (you just touch the wheels on the runway and then take off again) with Grainne working the power and me driving the rest of the plane. It went well. Then it was back up to 4000’ and we headed back towards Reid Hillview. We did some climbing turns on the way up and then I did some rudder practice to try and get a feel for the adverse yaw you experience when banking into a turn. It was so hazy we really couldn’t see far, this gave me a chance to check the GPS receiver I had brought along for the trip. It was a Christmas present from my brother and I hope that flying will finally be something useful I can do with it. I spent about 3 hours last night getting the FAA aviation database loaded into it. It worked great, I just set RHV as the “goto” point and it pointed up in exactly the right direction. About 5 miles from the airport Grainne decided that it was time for my debut on the radio. She told me what to say: “Reid Hillview tower, Cessna N4754D at UTC, 4000‘, to land, with Oscar”. I said it perfectly (and remembered to press the push to talk button). No reply from the tower and Grainne said she hadn’t heard me over the intercom (I didn’t hear my voice on the intercom either). So I tried again, same result. So Grainne made the call and they heard us. Cleared to land on 31L straight in. Go figure, my first time to talk to Air Traffic Control and the radio doesn’t work. We started our descent and then Grainne showed me something called forward slipping. Basically you bank the plane one way and apply full rudder the other. Amazingly the plane flies in a straight line but descends really quickly. I tried it and it worked just fine, you just have to be careful coming out of the slip to coordinate the runner and ailerons back to their more normal positions. Again we landed with Grainne tweaking the power while I steered. It was really bumpy close to the ground. We landed fairly well and I somehow managed to steer us more or less off the runway. It was then that we had the fire in the cockpit. Well not really a fire, just a puff of smoke, an electrical insulation burning smell and one of the radios died. We quickly switched everything else off, there wasn’t any more smoke but the second radio didn’t seem to be working either (it transmitted a carrier but no voice so we couldn’t talk to ground control). We just kind of gingerly taxied back to our parking spot trying to make the radio work. I really glad that it decided to break when we were on the ground rather than trying to get setup to land. We completed the final checklists and then filled out the squawk sheet (which is just a description of what went wrong with the plane).
With my initial nervousness and problem steering on the taxiway, the sudden right turn on take-off, the surprise of the power-on stalls, and then the electrics frying it was a stressful lesson. I was exhausted and not really in a good mood afterwards. A big contrast to the elation I felt on the last flight. I hope the next lesson on Saturday goes better.
Another hot and sunny California day. It was about 30C and a little hazy, a “spare the air day” in the Bay Area. Winds were variable 6knots. We started by reviewing my progress on the CPC classes and updating the database with my last flight. Then it was out to the plane where I did the standard pre-flight check, everything looked good. Grainne had being coaching me on the radio calls and I made my first call (that worked) to Reid Hillview Ground to request permission to taxi, “Reid Hillview Ground, Cessna 739YE, at Discovery, ready to taxi , downwind departure, with alpha”. I messed up when I repeated the instructions back, I said “39L” for the runway when it is actually 31L, I guess I confused it with the 39 in the aircraft call-sign. I completed the start-up checklist and nervously eased the plane out of its parking space. This time I used some left brakes and the plane turned more or less correctly. No problems taxing in a straight line. And I turned into the run-up area reasonably well. During the run-up the engine tachometer bounced around a lot, jumping a couple of hundred RPM up and down. The check of the magneto’s was difficult, but Grainne got the tachometer to settle down and we completed the check. The throttle would not really pull all the way back to idle, it wanted to pull back in about 1/8” after you pulled it out. This meant that the RPM was high for idle (about 1000rmp rather than 750). I was not really happy about the way it was behaving, but Grainne believed that plane was safe to fly. The engine itself sounded fine, it was only the tachometer and the throttle that seemed to be the problem. Either way, I taxied over to the hold line for runway 31R. I was about the radio the tower for take-off clearance when he told us to make an expedited departure (just takeoff right now). Grainne took over and taxied us onto 31L (I would have been much slower) and we took off. No problems, climbed to 500’ , turned left, left again before freeway 101 and flew the downwind leg. We climbed up to 5000’ and leveled off. Grainne had brought along a pair of “foggles”. These are like clear plastic wrap around sunglasses with the top half gray and opaque. When you put the on you can see the instruments but not outside the plane, except for a little peripheral vision on the left side. They are used to simulate what it would be like if you mistakenly flew into a cloud or otherwise got into “non-visual” flying conditions. Grainne took over the plane and I put on the foggles. Then it was my first try at instrument flying. Grainne, just told me to keep constant airspeed and make various turns different headings. We did a 180 degree turn (to get out of the “cloud”), flew for a bit, did a couple of 90 degree turns, then climbed to 6000” doing a couple of turns on the way. None of this was as hard as I had believed it would be. I guess I’m somewhat used to looking at the instruments on FS2002 and as an Engineer I’m genetically inclined to believe gauges are telling me the truth. I didn’t experience any of the disorientation I was expecting when your body tells you one thing and the instruments tell you another. The only thing is to keep scanning all the instruments, rather than just fixing on one (an easy trap to fall into). Off came the foggles and we flew Southwest towards South County Airport to practice some pattern flying. I made the radio call to ask for a traffic advisory, but there was no answer. We decided to over-fly the airport and check the wind-sock. At this point two other planes also started calling and asking for a traffic advisory and things started to get real busy on the radio. Basically there were two other planes making for South County as the same time as us and we couldn’t see either of them. Grainne, took over the flying and we circled over the airport. I could see the windsock, but I couldn’t workout what wind direction that translated into. Grainne just asked me to tell here the right runway to us. This was easy, as there is just one so you only need to decide from what direction to land on it - and that is into whatever direction the wind is mostly coming from., the answer was runway 32. We started flying North away from the airport to setup for a 45 degree entry into a right traffic pattern. It was then that we saw the one of the two planes. He was flying Northeast and was more or less straight ahead of us. Grainne told him we would “follow him in” so we did a wide circle to the left that brought us onto a heading for the 45 degree pattern entry and behind that first plane. Grainne gave me back the plane and I flew onto the downwind leg, started descending abeam the numbers, turned onto the base leg and then went too far or turned too wide to get lined up with the runway on final. With all the planes in the air, the radio babble and the wind which had picked up a bit we were too high, too fast and offline. We decided to do a “go around” and set full power. I guess I didn’t give nearly enough right rudder when we applied the power because we veered off to the left quite badly as we climbed out. Having had enough of South County we headed North to practice some gliding on the way home. We never did see the third plane. Grainne had me flying above a valley just a little North of the UTC buildings when she pulled the engine to idle and asked me what I should do. There is an sequence called ABC for engine failure, its Airspeed, Best field and Cockpit. First, set the airspeed to the best glide speed for the plane, about 65 knots (a little less is the plane is not fully loaded). Then look for someplace to land. I was trying to work out if we could glide to Reid Hillview or South County (by trying to calculate the glide distance from our altitude of 4000’. At this point Grainne, put here hand over the altimeter and told me to just look outside for a spot to land. Remember, I said we were flying into a valley, so it was just mountains ahead and on both sides. However, as Grainne pointed out there was a nice flat plowed field right in from of us that I had not noticed, it would not be a nice landing but you would probably walk away from it. A good example of thinking too hard, and not looking for the obvious right under your nose (literally). I bet Grainne brings all her students into that valley for the same lesson. Then I radioed Reid Hillview Tower to tell them we were inbound to land and we headed back toward home. The straight in approach to 31L when without problem and I got lined up on the runway without problems. The landing was uneventful, taxied off 31L, across 31R and called Ground Control who told us to take the inner taxiway (a new one for me) to the parking space. All the taxi turns went well and I pretty much stayed on the yellow line. Grainne parked the plane.
All in all a good flight, other than the messed-up approach to South County. There were just too many things happening at the same time to keep concentration on all of them. I think, that as controlling the plane become more natural to me, my mind will have the bandwidth to focus on all the other stuff going on around the pattern. So I’m not too worried about it, it will just come with practice. I’m much happier about driving the plane on the ground and that was the real problem the last day. I think the radio work will be easy as well, I had a radio license in Ireland and used CB a lot when I was a teenager so I’m not mic-shy. Looking forward to flying tomorrow.
Another beautiful California day, A 10am flight so it wasn’t too hot yet and not a whisper of wind stirring the wind-sock. Blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Yes, its an expensive place to live. Yes, the traffic sucks. But days like this more than make up for it all. I was supposed to fly N74754D, but it was down for maintenance so I was given N9552A which is a 1999 Cessna 172, almost new (20 years younger than 54D). Grainne turned up right on time and we went to pre-flight the plane. Other than fact that the new Skyhawk (i.e. Cessna 172) has 11 fuel drains, each one of which has to be checked, the pre-flight is much the same. The oil is much easier to check, you don‘t need to reach the top of the engine. Yesterday, I burnt my fingers on the dip stick on N739YE, the engine was hot and you have to do a gymnastic exercise to check the oil. Lovely leather seats in the cockpit. The instrument panel had a different layout from the older planes, but all the familiar gauges were there. If I say so myself, I did a great job of taxiing today. Grainne never had to help me and I did the radio talking to Ground Control and the Tower. We were told to “hold in position on 31L”, I got the plane stopped right on the center line. Then we were cleared for take off and we were off. We did our usual downwind departure and climbed to 5000’ which we reached just Northwest of Anderson Reservoir. First up was power-off & power-on stall practice. Grainne had given me a written procedure to follow an thankfully, I remembered it. First, clearing turns 90 degrees left, 90 degrees right to make sure the sky was free of planes. Then the maneuvering checklist, fuel tanks on both, mixture full rich, landing light on, engine on 2200RPM, speed less than Va (95knots), oil pressure & temp in the green, emergency landing spot picked out (South County). Power-off stalls are what can happen as you come into land, did a couple of them and they went great. I didn’t lose much altitude, though I gained a bit of altitude getting setup for the first one. Then my least favorite, power-on stalls - these are a roller coaster ride. I did three, the first and last were reasonable, though both times I ended up about 30 degrees off my original heading. The second one however was really bad. Once the plane stalls there really is no control over the wings, the plane can roll one way of the other. This time it rolled a long way left and you start to feel as if the plane will go into a spin (a very bad thing). We recovered, but ended up pointing in a completely different direction (at least 120 degrees off heading), plus I got a fright when the wing just seemed to want to head for the ground. Grainne said that even a little imbalance between the wings when you stall can cause one wing to stall more than the other causing it to drop (the other wing still has some lift I guess). Either way, its all about getting the correct rudder control as the plane stalls and then recovering quickly. This is really practice for a sudden emergency, if you do this on take-off you are seriously close to the ground and you don’t have a couple of hundred feet to recover. I guess I will practice these until the recovery becomes almost automatic, I hope the fear factor subsides with time as well. We then did some more forward slip practice. This was not as easy as the first time. I did not keep the nose down and the plane proved impossible to keep going in a straight line. One thing we both noticed was how much more sensitive the rudder was in this plane compared to the older planes. I had to think far more about rudder control than before, and a couple of times I way over compensated with right rudder. Finally, I got the forward slip working, by mostly keeping the nose down where it was supposed to be. Then we did some more simulated instruments with the foggles. It went well, turns, climbs and climbing turns at constant speed - no problems. Back over UTC we did a couple of 360 descending turns to get to a lower altitude before beginning our approach to Reid Hillview. I did the radio again, but stumbled on the call sign a bit when I repeated the landing instructions back to the tower. He got confused and decided we were “Trinidad 532A”, instead of “Cessna 552A”. We didn’t figure he was talking to us when he used the Trinidad call sign. Finally, he just said “will the plane 5 miles Southeast state their call sign”, so I did. We were cleared to land on 31L and everything was going fine except we were again too high and too fast coming in. We did another go-around the left traffic pattern. The turn onto final was good, but we were again a little high, this time however we got down if a little steeply. I swerved a bit on landing (over control of the right rudder again), but generally handled the taxiing ok including pissing of ground control by asking to repeat the instructions again (he sounded pissed to me). This time I even turned the plane in front of the parking space by myself for the first time.
One thing I’m starting to notice is that Grainne is giving me less and less step by step instructions (I’m sure this is intentional). She simply tells me the maneuver or expects me to know what to do (like actually take off when you get the clearance). This forces me to take more control or ownership of the situation. When you are a little scared or nervous about you abilities its very tempting to “let the expert take over”, but this is not really learning. Eventually, you’ve got to do this yourself so the sooner you start the sooner the confidence that you can do it will build. Feeling good about flying again after the weekend , ready to do it again. My next lesson is scheduled for Thursday night.
I’m going on vacation soon so I decided to try and get as much flying in as possible before I go. Grainne is off next weekend so I scheduled an extra lesson today at the last minute. A Monday evening and nobody else seems to be flying. The parking lot at Tradewinds is almost empty. The weather is good, it seems cooler than the weekend, but ATIS says its 30C. Wind is 10knots from 300 which is almost parallel to the runway. Normal preflight on a plane that I haven’t flown before. We go from riches to rags, yesterday’s plane was only a couple of years old, today’s seems to be the oldest and most worn so far. A real problem is that the cockpit doesn’t have pockets where I can put my checklist, pen and paper. Grainne, suggests I get a kneeboard even though I won’t really need it until I start my cross-country flights. Still, I could have used it today. Also the plane is facing the opposite way in the parking area, so I’ll have to taxi out the long way round the ramp. I call ground control and they don’t seem to hear me (again!), the Grainne says that she can’t hear herself in her headphones, and she starts turning knobs and buttons all over the place. A comedy of “can you hear me now?, no, and now I can’t hear myself” conversation followed as we twisted and turned everything in sight. Finally, it seemed to work and I said “I can hear you”, followed by ground control on the radio saying “we all can hear you”. Somehow we got a mic button stuck open in the process and broadcast our conversation to the whole world. This was funny in an embarrassing sort of way, we couldn’t work out how we got an open mic, both buttons appeared to be working. We tested it a few times just to make sure. Good taxiing down to the run-up area, got the last couple of checklists done and taxied over to 31R hold line and called the tower. They cleared us for takeoff and I got onto the runway and did a passable job of taking off. Much less serving compared to yesterday. Started the climb out and I had some trouble achieving the best rate of climb speed (73knots) then plane just didn’t seem to want to accelerate. Then Grainne noticed that I didn’t have the throttle in all the way. I had had my hand on it until 500’ so she didn’t see until I took my hand off. You keep your hand on the throttle up to 500’ in case it try’s to slip out in the critical climb off the ground. Right turn onto the crosswind leg and another onto the downwind and a climb up to 3500’. Today we are heading down to Hollister to do some ground maneuvers. It is quite a long way, but we will be flying in circles at 1000’ so we have to find an area without much population to do it. I guess we are both in a lazy frame of mind so we just enjoyed the flight down. The only event along the way was another plan flying towards us at the same altitude. He passed us about 3 miles on the left. We were flying Southeast at 3500’, so technically he was at the wrong altitude. Planes flying VFR on courses north to south (0~179 degrees) are supposed to fly at old thousands of feet +500 (eg. 1500,3500,5500 etc). Planes flying 180~359 degrees should fly even thousands +500 (2500,4500,6500 etc). A few miles north of Frazier Lake airstrip (a grass strip along side a water strip for sea planes), we started descending in a glide to try and work out the surface wind direction. You look for smoke or dust blowing in the wind, or the surface of a lake, the windward side has a calm area along the shore. In the end we cheated and over-flew the windsock at Frazier Lake. The wind was more or less blowing from the Southeast. We found a useful railway line about 3 miles east of Frazier Lake and Grainne showed me flying S-turns along the track. The whole trick here is compensating for the crosswind. Another trick is finding a straight line on the ground that is perpendicular to the wind. Its all about varying the bank angle as you turn to account for the wind. Shallow banks when you fly into the wind, steep banks when you fly with the wind. No violent maneuvers, just fun turns trying to finely control the airplane. Grainne did a couple of turns and then I took over. Not very neat, but not totally bad either. The we went a little North and found some tanks laying in a field. Grainne circled it once and then I tried to circle it twice. The circling is easy, keeping a constant radius on the circle is the hard bit. You can checkout the GPS ground track to see how I did. Then a climb back up and back home to RHV. I did the radio, no problems this time. We started descending at the right rate and the right time and actually made a pretty good landing just as the sun was falling below the horizon. I felt that I was mostly in control with Grainne just helping a little bit. As we pulled off the runway the tower cleared us to taxi back to the parking area.
This was a nice easy flight. Plenty of time to enjoy the view and just enjoy flying without stressing out doing stalls or instrument work. The kind of flight that reminds you how much fun this can be and why you doing all the hard work. I think you need one of these flights every so often. Its also amazing how quickly you get better at things. Only yesterday I was swerving all over the runway during take off with way too much right rudder. Today it was almost passable. Yesterday we had to do a go-around on the landing, today was great. This is the third day in a row that I have flown and it really helps you see the progress you make. Looking forward to Thursday night.
Great fight, really relaxing. Another fairly clear California evening. But a lot of haze apparently from fires that are burning in Oregon. The wind was 10knots at heading 300 (I now have the RHV ATIS telephone number programmed in my cell phone and I check it on my way to the airport - that way I know what to expect when I hear it on the radio). Temperature was 28C, 7 miles visibility and clear . This seems to be the standard weather for RHV in the summer. Its certainly nice flying weather.
Grainne decided we should try flying to a different airport this time to practice pattern flying and landing and do some steep turns along the way. Our choices were Livermore or Watsonville. I figured that as Watsonville is near the coast it would be fogged in (as anywhere near the coast is in the summer time here). Grainne called the ASOS which is something like ATIS. Sure enough there was broken cloud cover, so we decided to head for Livermore. This was great because it means I get to fly more or less right over my house for the first time. I went ahead on out to pre-flight N4754D, no problems there. Grainne arrived (and as usual rechecked some of the really critical stuff herself), then we started the pre-taxi checklist. I tried to call, Ground Control to get clearance to taxi and they never heard me. Grainne tried and they didn’t hear her either. Now you may remember that N4754D was the plane we flew that had the radio short circuit just after landing last week. It looks like the combination of me, radio and this plane are fated not to work. The log showed the plane had being flown earlier that day, we assume with no problems. Either way after trying both radios all the mics (mine, Grainne’s and the cabin mic) we decided that we weren’t going to fly 54D today. Back to the office, Grainne looked for another plane and I filled out a squawk sheet for the radio. The out to N5766J which is an old Cessna Skyhawk II. It seemed a little bigger than the other Skyhawks and certainly had bigger seats. We split the pre-flight checks between us and got on our way. In the rush to get flying I forgot to turn on my GPS so that’s why there is no GPS track for today’s flight.
Oh how things change, Grainne actually told me to slow down as I taxied down Zulu. Got all the turns done pretty well, did the radio and ran through the run-up checklist without problems. We were cleared for takeoff on 31R, I got the plane lined up and we took off without a problem. I now seem to have the rudder under control during the takeoff and Grainne actually told me “good takeoff”. This time we were flying more or less North, so its about a 45 degree turn off the runway heading (310 degrees). The Tower has to clear you to make the turn, which needs to happen before you reach interstate 680 - this the boundary of San Jose International Airport Class C airspace. We got clearance and turned for the hills just behind my house on course to pass over Calaveras Reservoir. A nice simple climb up to 4000’ which we reached over the lake. The smoke layer was sitting right at 3000’ and was only about 100’ thick - a light gray horizontal layer just hanging above the tops of the hills. Once you got above it really cut the visibility to the ground in the distance, but didn’t really effect the area close by.
I did a couple of clearing turns and the maneuvering checklist and then Grainne showed me how to make steep turns. These are basically 45 degree turns and they are fun. You bank the plane about 30 degrees, then add a little power (100 rpm) and increase the bank to 45 degrees. You have to apply a reasonable amount of back pressure to keep the nose up and not lose altitude. I did a couple of 360 turns to the left and a couple to the right. I was using the setting Sun as my start finish reference for the turn. After we came out of the second turn lined up with the Sun we were seeing it directly through the smoke layer. It was a deep red and a huge sunspot was clearly visible on the eastern limb. I usually check out the “solar weather” on the web every lunch time. I live in hope of seeing the Northern Lights someday (without a trip to Alaska). I missed them July last year when there was a huge solar storm that pushed them as far South as the Bay Area (I was watching TV and didn’t hear about until after it was over). Anyway, I knew that this was sunspot number 69 and it is the largest one on the Sun’s face at the moment. It was really cool to see it flying an airplane over the Sunol Valley.
After the steep turns we headed for Livermore. I contacted the tower and we did a couple of 360 turns to lose altitude in order to enter the traffic pattern at 1400’ MSL (that is Mean Sea Level). We were cleared to land on 25L with left traffic. I did a good 45 degree entry to the pattern, a turn onto the downwind leg, a turn to base and then a turn to final and I was pretty well lined up with the runway. Livermore has a big runway and a little one, 25L is the little one. We did a touch and go which went without a problem. I controlled the steering and the power until just near the end and Grainne took care of the Go part once our wheels touched the ground. We did a crosswind departure (a left turn once we reached 800’) and climbed back to 3500’ for the flight home. I called RHV tower over the Calaveras Reservoir and were given right traffic for runway 31R. Then began the comedy of trying to find the airport through the smoke. I mistook Capitol Expressway for I680 and was looking in completely the wrong place. I’m saying “I can’t see the airport” and Grainne is saying “are you sure, I can see it fine”. I finally looked at her and there was the airport right in front of the right wing clear as a day with all its lights and beacons flashing. I felt a bit stupid. I did another reasonable 45 degree entry into the downwind leg, starting descending abeam the numbers and then a right turn to base and another fairly quickly onto final. I actually turned a bit early onto final and we had to fly a “dog leg” (what Grainne called it), which amounted to flying a bit to the left and then completing the turn onto final lined up with the runway. We were a little high, but not much and the landing was smooth. Grainne is still helping with the flare but I’m really starting to get the feel of it. I’m looking forward to practicing landings. We left the plane run down the runway until the last taxiway exit. This saves on the brakes and it gave me a chance to practice even breaking when the plane is not traveling too fast. We were cleared to taxi directly to the parking area and again I had no problems parking the plane. This taxiing is starting to almost become routine.
Tonight was a lovely flight to spite the problems with the radio’s in 54D. I’m really starting to see my skill progress and starting to gain confidence in my ability to make the plane do what I want. Grainne is off this weekend so I won’t be able to fly until at least next Monday - I can’t wait.
I couldn’t get a schedule slot until today, Grainne took Monday and Tuesday nights off. The weather over the last few days has been a little cooler, ATIS gave a temp of 28C with winds 290 degrees and 10 knots. Sunny and clear, but quite hazy. It looked yesterday like the smoke had finally gone away, but today I’m not so sure. I was about 15 minutes early and was sitting in the lounge when Grainne appeared. We discussed the flight, basically practicing emergency procedures, mostly engine failure. I got the key-book and headed out to pre-flight the plane. All standard stuff. I had booked N5766J again because I’m really getting to like this plane, it been mean to me yet (like the rough engine in N739YE, the radio’s in N4754D - twice and the lack of seat pockets and general beat up nature of N8276E). Grainne appeared as I finished the preflight and we ran through the usual stuff all now becoming routine. The taxi is no longer a problem. I made a nice take-off from 31R, straight and smooth down the run-way center line. You know, its really very very cool seating in the pilots seat, at the starting end of a runway, your planes noise wheel right on the center line, then just pushing in all the power and barreling down the line before lifting off the ground. Its not quite Battlestar Galactica but its pretty good. We turned through right traffic and headed south climbing to 4000’.
On the way up we simulated an electrical failure. There is a charge meter in the plane that indicates that current is flowing into or out of the battery. It should usually read 0 which means that the engines alternator is powering the plane. If it reads significantly positive or negative you have a problem. Negative means that the battery is powering the plane, this is not good, because the battery is really only for starting up the engine and as an emergency back-up if the alternator fails. If the meter reads positive then you possibly have an alternator that is generating too much current or voltage, this is a bad thing because it can damage the battery, the planes’s electronics or even cause an electrical fire. We pretended that we had a negative reading, and then ran through the emergency checklist for this failure. At this stage you may get the impression that there is a checklist for everything, and you’d be right. Never trust your memory, when you can have a trusty checklist to make sure. In this case, you switch the alternator on and off once to see will it recover, if not the you switch off everything electrical and make for the nearest safe landing. You need power to extend the flaps, so if you battery runs out before you manage to land then you have to land with no flaps. This is not fatal, but its not easy and generally seen as poor taste, and other pilots laugh behind you back.
Once up to cruse altitude Grainne showed me what to do in an engine failure emergency. Contrary to popular belief, the plane does not fall out of the sky when the engine stops. It just transforms itself into a glider. You simulate an engine failure by just setting the engine on idle, its still running, but not really providing any significant power to the plane. The trick with flying without an engine is to set the plane up as the best glider it can be, this means slowing it to its best glide speed, which is 65 knots in the Cessna 172. Then work out where your going to land, a runway would be nice, but any level ground will do in a pinch. lastly, you try and restart the engine. Engines are actually the one of the most reliable parts of planes. In most cases they only stop because they have run out of fuel which is of course the pilots fault, not the engines. So the first things to check are everything to do with making sure you have fuel and it can get to the engine. As we were simulating this, we pretended that we were unable to restart the engine and we headed for South Country Airport. Needless to say Grainne brought us in on a perfect approach to the runway and we could have easily landed. Instead, we did a go-around (full power, flaps up to 10 degrees, keep the nose from shooting up to far, start a climb at best climb rate and remove the last of the flaps once the climb has started). I flew back up to 3500’ and then it was my turn. No problem setting the best glide speed. I picked a nice flat field down below, but decided I was too high to get down safely and elected to do a 360 turn to loose altitude. I now realize that when you have no engine altitude is actually your very best friend. I came out of the 360 about 1000’ lower and then saw a landing strip off the end of the field I had picked to land in. This should be no surprise, Grainne has set me up to be over a landing strip called Frazier Lake, I just hadn’t realized it. Now I decided that I could make the landing strip but really didn’t have enough altitude to do it easily. I actually got lined up on the final with the runway in front of me, but we would have landed short of the runway and had a very bad day if we really had no engine. So another go-around and a climb up to 3500’. The marine layer clouds was just starting to cross the valley as we left Frazier Lake, its amazing how bumpy it gets if you even begin to get close to the clouds, I guess this is just their way of reminding you that they are a no go area for VFR student pilot.
Grainne was just asking me if I could see South County Airport when she cut the engine power. This time, I just headed straight for the 45 degree entry to the downwind leg of the pattern and decided if I was too high I would simply extend the downwind leg to loose the height. In the event I passed through the 1000’ point when I was abeam the numbers (pilot talk for passing the end of the runway as you fly past). This basically is right where you want to be for a normal approach so I decided to just fly the base leg and final as normal. Turned left, and then left again and was beautifully lined up with the runway. Made a fine approach and I could easily have landed. Altogether a much better attempt this time. I did the go around and we turned for home.
Over UTC, I contacted the Tower and headed for a straight in approach for 31L. This time I drove the plane and took care of he engine power. All in all a great approach, even through the Tower changed our runway to 31R less than a mile out after he had already given us clearance for 31L. This was no problem, just slide on over to line up on the parallel runway. The landing was OK, if just a little high, I had a full 40 degrees of flaps and idle power as we went into the flare so the plane just set itself down a little firmly on the ground. This time I turned off the runway onto taxiway D which is in about the middle, evidence that my even breaking has much improved. After yet another mix-up talking to ground control we were cleared to taxi to our parking space. This seems to be a recurring theme, I guess I so buzzed having just landed that I just lose it talking on the radio. I forgot to tell ground control where I was so his reply was “if your the plane at delta, then taxi to parking”. I didn’t really hear what he said then confused the “delta” in his message with my planes call sign and claimed to be “six six delta” instead of “six sis Juliet”. Oh well, I sure he’s familiar with student pilots by now.
This was a really nice flight and it was the first time I felt like I landed all on my own. Wow.
Nice sunny day, light winds, standard summer weather. Today we decided to do pattern work, which is basically practicing landings and working close to the airport in the standard traffic pattern. I hoped that by doing the pattern work on a week night we would mostly have the airport to ourselves - how wrong that turned out to be. We started with some time on the white board while Grainne explained what had to get done as we flew the pattern. There is a lot to do in a short time while handling the close proximity of other planes, relatively close to the ground in bumpy air while talking to the control tower. It was nice to go over it before getting into the plane.
The airport traffic pattern is a rectangular course around the airport, with one of the long sides of the rectangle being the runway you are using. If you go around the rectangle making left turns its called left traffic and right turns are right traffic. Left traffic patterns are more common, mainly because the pilot has more visibility from the left seat, its also easier to turn the plane left as it wants to go that way anyway (at least for me). The basic sequence around the patterns after take-off is as follows. Climb to above 500’ on the outbound leg, make a turn to the crosswind leg. Then make another turn to the downwind leg about which time you will be reaching pattern altitude of 1000’ above the ground (AGL) which is the pattern altitude in RHV. Level off and complete the pre-landing checklist as you fly parallel to the runway about 0.5~1 mile away. This is where the plane starts to get ahead of you, at the start your still trying to remember everything on the checklist as you reach the end of the run-way, otherwise known as abeam the numbers (meaning the big white numbers painted on the end of the runway). At this point hopefully the checklist is complete and you start descending by putting on carburetor heat, bringing the engine back to 1500 RPM and putting in 10 degrees of flaps. You should get a descent rate of about 500 FPM and you can trim the airplane for this rate. As the end of the runway passes about 45 degrees over your shoulder you start the turn onto the base leg. You have to be watching your airspeed and descent rate to make sure your not going too fast or descending too fast or too slow. You can see the end of the runway out the left window, its hard to describe when you start the turn onto the final leg, but you basically want to make a 90 degree turn and end up pointed down the runway your going to land on. At this point your putting in more flaps, and reducing the power to slow the plane down. You need to be at 65 knots before your wheels touch the ground. With engine power, pitch and flaps you control speed and descent rate and rudder to keep the planes nose pointing down the centerline to get the plane about 20’ off the ground moving in the right direction. Then gently (no really I mean gently) you level the plane out and then even more gently keep pulling back to make the flare. If you do it right the plane just decides to stop flying a few inches above the ground and you touch down like a feather. Well enough of the theory, it was out to N5766J to see if I could do it for real.
I did a standard pre-flight, run-up and take-off. This is all becoming routine by now. We had requested runway 31L so we could use left-traffic. We were cleared to cross 31R and takeoff on 31L. My takeoffs are fairly smooth and down the center line of the runway, I just need to be carefully about drifting left during the initial climb. Drifting like this is a bad thing because with two parallel runways someone else can be taking off beside you, thought a left drift not really bad if your already on the left runway.
Now I’d like to give my usual detailed account of the next hour of flying time, but frankly its just a blur of landings, take-offs and trying to remember everything at the right time. I didn’t even know how many landings we did until I counted them on the GPS track. My theory that we would have the airport to ourselves turned out to be totally wrong. More and more planes just started to appear in the pattern. There was always one to three planes in the pattern with us, and there were always another couple of planes in right-traffic as well. Even Grainne commented that this was about as busy as it gets. At one point a Citabria (according to Grainne a very slow type of tail dragger plane) just appeared to want to use our runway to land even though it was on right base (we were on left base). It just totally overshot its turn to right final. We got out of the way and did a go around, that is the GPS track the turns to the left in the middle of the runway. We saw the same plane a few minutes later screwing up its turn from outbound to crosswind. It was following a Cessna that was only just beginning its turn onto crosswind, when it also started to turn. This is pretty bad because it sets up the planes to collide. We heard the tower warning the Cessna what had happened. We did a bunch of landings and touch and goes. The landings to a full stop give you a chance to catch your breath and catch up with the plane. The last take-off was on 31R to try the right traffic pattern. We did a practice emergency landing when Grainne pulled out the throttle just as we were abeam the numbers. That landing was actually pretty good, probably because I didn’t have to worry about engine power (it was supposed to be broken).
Mostly, I think I did OK. I kept forgetting to turn on carb heat before reducing engine power, forgetting to turn on my landing light and transponder before takeoff and generally not being in full control on the final leg. Just way to many things to handle in a short space of time. We had no really bad landings that I remember in particular. But I never felt like I got the feel of exactly how I should do the landing flare. I strongly suspect that my definition of a good landing (plane and people on the ground undamaged) will change and I will become a landing snob, it won’t be good unless its so gentle that you have to get out of the plane to convince yourself your actually on the ground. For now I’m happy and I’m sure I’ll improve with practice, practice and then some more practice. I was pretty tired and ready for a cigarette by the time we parked the plane.
I woke up this morning and the weather was cold and gray. The marine layer fog was firmly over San Jose. When I called RHV ATIS about 9am the visibility was just 2 miles with a overcast ceiling at 1300’. This is not VFR flying weather. I was even unsure if I should go to the airport, I thought I’d look pretty silly turning up expecting to fly when the weather was so obviously bad. However, I figured it might burn off by the time I got there, it didn’t. I was early and waiting for Grainne and the clouds were unchanged. Grainne arrived just before 10:30am and told me that we wouldn’t be able to do the planned stalls, slow flight and hood work we had intended, but that we could do some more pattern work because this was low and close to the airport. I got the key book and headed out to the plane which was parked beside the Tradewinds maintenance shop (first time I’ll drive a plane from this part of the airport). Sure enough as I was doing the pre-flight checks the clouds started to break and by the time Grainne came out the sky was mostly blue. By the time we got to the runway it was almost all blue, but still hazy so we kept with the plan to do the pattern work. That’s summer weather in the Bay Area, if you could just predict exactly when the burn-off will happen it would be perfect.
This time I took off from 31R so we would be using the right traffic pattern. The turns are a little more difficult because you can’t see out that side of the plane as well and you really need to use the right rudder to make the plane turn (the plane will turn left if you just take your feet of the rudder). The first landing attempt was terrible, we were way too high and had to do a go around. I think I got a little ground shy on final and was going too fast anyway. Again, everything became a blur of takeoffs, checklists, turns and landings. I got better with the checklists and I didn’t forget the carb heat or transponder as much. Again it started to get busy with a lot of planes landing and flying the pattern. We did more landings to a full stop today rather than touch and goes this really helps slow the pace and helps you keep up with the plane. At one point we were told to line up and hold while a plane took off directly in front of us. He was climbing away when we were cleared to takeoff. So we took off following right on the guys tail. It was the first time I have been so close behind an another plane flying the same way. We had to wait for him to pass us on the downwind before we could turn to the crosswind and we were nearly over I680 before we were cleared to turn (I680 is the boundary of Class C airspace for San Jose International). At this point two (count them - two) planes joined the downwind leg at its mid point so now there were four planes all flying the downwind leg, the first guy was just turning onto base, the other two spaced along the field and us having just turned from crosswind. The GPS track that goes way outside the others was this trip through the pattern. We were told to extend our downwind to allow all three planes to land. So this time we did not start to descend until we turned onto final.
All in all today was not a stressful as last Thursday, I was more ahead of the plane and there was some incremental improvement in the landings and the control on final. Sill a long long way to go, buts it nice to see something change flight to flight. I’m scheduled to fly tomorrow at 9am, but if the weather is like today, there is no way the fog will have cleared by them. Grainne has my phone number and she’s going to call if it looks like we have to scrub the flight.
Well Sunday’s flight got cancelled. Grainne called me at 8am to say that the weather didn’t look good and the fog was unlikely to lift before noon. Oh well, I guess this is how the rest of the country lives, but its just so not California to have the weather cause a problem. I decided to go get breakfast as I was already up at this ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. About 9:30am I emerged from my local purveyor of fine breakfast food to beautiful bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. I called ATIS at RHV and sure enough visibility was up to 5 miles with broken cloud at 2500’, which I’m sure would be gone in a very short while. If we had only had faith in California, we would have decided that the weather would clear, gone to the airport with hope in our hearts. And we would have been rewarded. Next flight is scheduled for Tuesday, then its vacation for two weeks.
Tuesday August 27th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.3H (0.3 Simulated Instrument)
Today was hot and hazy, 34C degrees on ATIS, but as usual the wind was light just 8 knots blowing right down the runway at 310. I always leave work bang on 5pm if I’m flying, its about a 40 minute drive in traffic, but anything can happen and I don’t want to arrive hot, bothered and late for flying because of a jam on the freeway. Today the traffic gods smiled upon me and I arrived about 20 minutes early. Grainne arrived about 10 minutes later and sent me out to preflight the plane. Good old 66J again, I really like this plane. No issues with preflight, Grainne arrived and we got through the taxi and run-up checks. I made a fine take-off from 31R and a downwind departure. Everything was smooth and for once I forgot nothing (not even the transponder or the climb checklist). Today I would finally get to practice stalls again, slow flight, some more instrument work and some slips. Of course as we decided that we wouldn’t do any pattern work the airport was almost deserted with nothing in the traffic pattern. We climbed to 4000’ and leveled off over the North end of Anderson Reservoir. I was just making my first clearing turn when we spotted a yellow bi-plane doing aerobatics right in front of us, at the same time another plane was under him at about 1000’ and we had passed two other planes while climbing. I guess, its just Murphy’s aviation law that there will always be planes around when you’d rather have the sky to yourself. We decided to head further South to get some clear space for maneuvers.
A little North of Frazier Lake after some clearing turns we started with the slow flight. This was fun, it appeared that N5766J is almost unstallable. I slowed to 40 knots and still had to really pull back to force the plane into a stall, we didn’t even get a stall warning at 40 knots. Grainne also had me try to stall the plane by turning at 45 knots without adding any power. No luck, but I may have kept the nose a little down to keep the airspeed at 45 knots as we turned. Its amazing how tight a turn you can make at the slow speed. Generally this was a really well behaved plane at these slow speeds. All the power-off stalls went fine, I think I did three or four. Then it was time to try power-on stalls. I hated these the last time, I couldn’t seem to keep the plane coordinated, which got us into an incipient spin on one attempt. This time things went better. Pull the power back to 1500 RPM, pitch the nose for 55 knots which is rotation speed. When you reach that speed apply full power and just keep pulling back on the elevator until the stall breaks. Then forward on the elevator, recover from the stall and level off. This time the plane stayed coordinated, I kept my heading well, actually any deviation was because I didn’t put in enough left rudder while I was slowing to 55 knots. My only problem was being too timid to push the elevator forward when the stall breaks. You see, after the break the nose is pointing straight down (well downwards anyway) so the natural reaction is to try to pull it up which is the wrong thing to do. You need to let it go and gain airspeed then level off. So while my headings stayed good, I lost too much altitude on most of the attempts. After three or four goes I decided I had enough stalls for one day and we started heading back towards RHV.
We had worked our way quite far South so I started following highway 101 North. Alongside South County Grainne decided it was time for hood work. The hood performs the same function as the foggles I had used before, only its better at blocking your view out of the plane. Grainne had me do a constant speed descent at 90 knots and then some turns to headings on the way down. We descended to 2500’ where she had me level off and do some more turns to a heading. The only problems I had was with the rudder. I was keeping “my foot on the ball”, that is applying enough rudder to keep the ball in the turn coordinator centered, however, this kept me drifting left. I could see my heading was changing but I couldn’t seem to get the right amount of rudder to keep it steady. I had just about decided it was the planes fault when Grainne told me to just leave the rudder alone and when I did the plane came into perfectly coordinated flight and kept its heading. We did a few turns left and right and as I was doing this Grainne called the tower, so I guess we were over UTC. I was wondering would she have me keep the hood on until we were on short final to land. I had read about CFI’s doing this because it simulates what it would really be like to emerge from the clouds just short of the runway and then have to land as is common in IFR conditions. In the event, she let me take off the hood about 5 miles out.
As usual I was a little high on the approach, rather then use flaps Grainne told me to do a forward slip. This worked great the last time I tried it so I expected no problems. We were cleared to land on 31L and I had a good line on the approach. Then I tried the slip, I just couldn’t seem to balance the rudder and the ailerons to get into a stable slip. The plane just wanted to go one way or the other. Finally Grainne help get into the slip and then I held the controls, once setup it felt fine. While all this was going on the Tower changed our runway to 31R and I had to slip/drift/move over to line up on the new runway. Coming out of the slip was not very pretty, we were just short of the runway and getting the wings level and the plane pointed down the runway was a little stressful. For the first time I noticed Grainne didn’t have her hands on the controls as were landed - for the first time it would be just me landing the plane. I leveled off at the right time and then as usual flared just a little too fast and the plane floated upwards. Grainne reached for the controls and helped me start over, just level the plane again and try the flare again. This time the wheels touched the tarmac but we floated up again. Third time lucky, we stayed on the ground. So I got three landings for the price of one approach. I let the plane run to the end of the runway, though I had some problems breaking evenly - this is an old problem I thought I had conquered. I stopped on taxiway echo, radio’d Ground Control and was cleared to taxi to parking. Once I parked Grainne told me I had forgotten the after-landing checklist.
Its clear that Grainne is now not telling me what to do. She expects me to remember what to do and when to do it. I actually have to press her to give me directions. I can see that this is all preparation for when she’s no longer sitting in the right seat and I have to fly on my own. While I’m looking forward to the milestone of my first solo its only starting to sink in how much I have to remember on my own and how much more concentration this will require. I have unconsciously been using Grainne as my long term memory expecting her to tell me what I forget when I forget it. And I still forget plenty. For instance, I seem to have a mental block about carb heat. I either forgot to turn it on or off several times today. Next time I’m going write a large red “C” on the back of my right hand so that I see it every time I reach for the throttle.
I’m on vacation this Thursday until the 14th of September, Grainne is leaving on the 12th for her vacation so we won’t fly together again until at least Saturday the 21st, three weeks from now. She has recommended another CFI and suggested I get a couple of flight in before she gets back. I hope I’m not too rusty after the break.
My first flight in 3 weeks. I was a bit apprehensive that I would totally suck when I got back into the plane. The weather was typical, but it was hot, not a cloud to be seen. I had booked a new CFI for this flight, Grainne had recommended him and let him know I would by flying while she was on vacation. He turned out to be a fairly young, short little guy called Yoed Shani, and a great instructor. I was early and he was there when I arrived so we started right away. He did a much longer pre-flight briefing compared to Grainne. We went over what I had done and planned a flight to brush up on the basics, slow flight, stalls and some steep turns. I went out to do a pre-flight on 5766J. Everything looked good other than a bald spot on the nose-wheel tire. I did a normal taxi, run-up, take-off and downwind departure. handled almost all the radio work. To my great relief I didnt appear to have lost too much during the break.
We flew down to Anderson Reservoir and did the standard maneuvering checklist and clearing turns and then some slow flight. This was where the rust started to show. I had to walk through the whole procedure in my head, because I really wasnt sure exactly what I had to do. I guess, this is a big part of the learning process, but when the CFI says OK, lets do slow flight or some other maneuver I find it really difficult to remember exactly what I should do, I know I need to throttle back the engine, but how much ?, pitch for what speed ? put in how much flaps? and so on. Still, we got through it and the slow flight was fine. We did a couple of power-off stalls without much problem. As usual I just need to remember to level the plane quickly when the stall breaks. On one stall I was slow to bring the engine back to full power so we lost more height than we should have. Then some more clearing turns and Yoed showed me a power-on stall. The contrast with when Grainne had done this was huge. Grainnes first power-on stall was a bit like a roller-coaster while Yoeds was really gentle. I am much more used to what the plane does in a stall by now, so that may be part of the explanation why Yoeds was so much less frightening. I mentioned the problems I had had with keeping coordinated in a stall on N9552A (the almost new Skyhawk I flew back in August). So he showed me something neat. He stalled the plane with power off and then just kept it in the stall while he had me work the rudder. It was no big thing. We were totally stalled and it was easy to just keep the plane straight using the rudder. Other than we were dropping out of the sky at about 1000 FPM (and the buffeting and the stall horn) you would believe you were in straight and level flight. A good technique to take away any fear about keeping coordinated in a stall. Another thing he did just after the power-on stalls was to prove to me that the trim setting doesnt matter and you can always compensate for it with the elevator. I had been avoiding trimming the plane as I slowed down to setup for the power-on stall. I didnt want a lot of nose-up trim when I hit full power (it will make the nose jump up even faster). This is kind of dumb because you want the nose to come up to get into the stall anyway. He had me just fly straight and level and then keep that attitude no matter what. He then turned the trim wheel as far forward and as far back as it would go. You can feel the pressure on the elevator first forward and then back, but you can always keep the plane level. A very nice trick to remove any fear about where the trim is set. I think worrying about trim is a bit like a new car driver asking what way the wheels are pointing before they start the engine.
Another key thing Yoed told me that lead to one of those ah ha moments, was Whenever you change the flight attitude or configuration, LOOK OUT OF THE PLANE. I realized that whenever I did anything I was always looking at the control or the instrument as I was changing it. For example, glancing at the attitude indicator when starting a turn. As soon as I stopped doing this, my turns got better. Another example, is learning to judge the engine RPM by sound rather than looking at the tachometer. So when you want to slow down or descend, just set the power where you think it should be make sure the plane does what its supposed to do and then give a quick glance to make sure the RPM is about what you want.
We did a couple of steep turns, one left and one right. This was only the second time I had done these. They are fun and I think Yoed uses them as a kind of reward to good behavior. They want well and again focusing outside the plane the whole time and using the horizon to get the right bank angle made them a whole lot better.
The Sun had set as we turned to fly back to RHV. It was full dark by the time we got over the buildings at UTC where we normally contact the Tower. No problem picking out the airport, there is a flashing beacon and the VASI lights were easy to see. There were three planes ahead of us approaching the field. I guess this is coming home time for a lot of folks and the Tower was really busy. He was making some folks go around so we slowed down a little early to let the traffic stay ahead of us. The landing approach went just fine, and the landing looked great until we hit the tarmac with all three wheels. I think I was looking too close to the plane and misjudged the height slightly. I dropped the nose just a bit when I should have just continued the flare and we set down on three wheels. A little rough, but it was all mine and my first true night landing. I had my GPS setup wrong so I didnt get a GPS track of the flight.
Thursday September 19th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.3H (0.2 Night)
My second flight with Yoed. The weather was once again hot and clear, just like yesterday. Again the longer pre-flight briefing and we decided to repeat the same stuff as yesterday along with an emergency engine-out landing. Nothing significant about the pre-flight checks, taxi, run-up and take-off and a normal downwind departure.
After the standard maneuvering checklist we did a couple of steep turns. I had some problems getting my speed up to 95knots. 5766J always seems a little underpowered, at about 2200 RPM in level flight she just wants to trot along at 85knots. It took full power to get the speed up to 95knots and about 2500 RPM to keep it there.
Then some more slow flight and power-off stalls. These went fine, I still need to practice putting the nose in the right place to recover from the stall. But todays were better than yesterdays. We did one power-on stall which went about the same. Yoed could sense that I was reluctant to let the nose fall too much forward and that this was keeping me from pushing the nose down in a stall as quickly or as far as I should. So he asked me if I wanted to see what it felt for the nose to point right down. I was nervous, but I agreed. He the proceed to stall the plane with full flaps and then when we were stalled retracted the flaps and let the nose fall forward. We ended up facing almost straight down in a dive. He let it go for a couple of seconds and then gently pulled out to level flight. It was actually fun, it reminded me of all the fighter flight simulations I had played with where you throw the plane all over the sky in a dog fight. But mainly it showed me that its not so scary to have the nose point all the way down as long as the ground is far below.
We did a couple more clearing turns and were facing into the hills when he pulled the engine back to idle. I did a good job of getting the best glide speed and got pointed away from the hills. This time I remembered about Frazier Lake and we headed in its direction. I crossed over the center of the runway and checked the wind sock to choose which way to land on the runway. I also did a credible job of the emergency checklist. I made a left turn to enter the pattern on a downwind 45. However, I was at about 1500 AGL when I got abeam the numbers so I was too high. Yoed even told me that I should adjust my speed to make sure I got down, but I wasnt really listening (or hearing). I turned base and final (I was a little too close to the runway on the downwind). I was lined up on final but still way too high. In the end I think we would have overshot the runway, but Yoed thought we would have just landed on the very end (I think he was just being kind). We did a go around and headed for home. I had also forgotten to do the emergency landing checklist and make any radio calls to let people know I had an emergency.
Again it was dark when we got to UTC. This time we ended up as the first of four planes coming in to land from UTC. The glide down was good, though at one point a Long EZ shot past us on the right. I was just a little slow to start the flare and we landed on three wheels and bounced, the second touch down was fine. Again, this is failing to judge the round-out correctly. Its a little more difficult at night because there is just a lot less visual inputs to help you.
We were just about to push the plane back into its parking space when Yoed said Is that the rocket launch you told me about. I had warned him that Vandenberg AFB was scheduled to do a test launch of a Minuteman III missile out into the Pacific and it could happen anytime between 1800 and midnight. In the event they kindly waited for us to get on the ground and for darkness and it was spectacular. The missile climbed out and to the West into a clear dark sky leaving a glowing trail behind it. We saw the second and third stage separations. The photo shown was taken from Southern California, but it looked pretty much the same from the apron at RHV.
Saturday September 21st 2002, 12pm, N5766J, 1.4H
Open day at RHV airport. I arrived early to find no parking and cops and people everywhere. I finally found a parking space and headed for Tradewinds. Grainne hadnt shown up yet so I went for a look around. The whole transient parking area was cordoned off along with a chunk of taxiway Zulu. There was a bunch of cool planes most of which I couldnt identify, a bunch of bi-planes, some Skyhawks and Skylanes and a couple of what I think were YAKs one had Russian words painted on its side and the other had Chinese. The San Jose PD helicopter was there along with a life-flight helicopter. There was also plane rides for 10cents/lb. It was pretty hot walking around so I hung out in Tradewinds. Grainne showed up a little late. We spent some time going over what I had done with Yoed and decided that RHV would be too crazy for much so we would fly to LVK and do some pattern work there. As I walked out to the plane It was cool to walk past all the people just there to see the planes, and then walk through the police tape and out onto the apron, six weeks ago Id have been stuck behind the tape as well.
Did a normal pre-flight inspection, through the fuel truck arrived half way through to top up the tanks. Just after engine start the life-flight helicopter flew in front of us really close and shook the plane a lot. The guy in ground control was just completely flustered with everything. With his main taxi way was closed and only one taxi way leading from the runways was open there were planes going every which way. Some guy was trying to get help having some planes moved so he could get to his tie-down spot. Ground control seemed to keep forgetting where people where and kept asking them to tell him. In general it was chaotic and I was glad to take-off. We made a right 45 departure which like the last time pretty much takes us right over my house. Took the time to note the emergency landing spots ahead of the runway, I knew they were there, but at least now I know where to find them.
time I remembered all the checklists for climb and cruise and we had a
nice flight at 3000 over Calaveras Reservoir. The sky was really
clear and we could see the skyline of San Francisco in the distance. We
listened to Livermore ATIS and then called Livermore Tower over Sunol
Golf Course. When we called on the frequency from the sectional (118.1)
we were told to stay clear of class delta and call Livermore Tower on
a different frequency. Dont know why, but the Tower answered us
on the new frequency and gave us clearance for the option
(to land or do a touch and go). I did a reasonable job of getting us into
left pattern for 25L though we entered a little low (only 600 AGL
- ok a lot low). We did four landings, two of which were touch and goes.
The first approach was a bit low and we arrived on all three wheels again.
I dont specifically recall the next three it was a blur of getting
through the checklists and the final approaches. While none of the landings
were terrible, none of them were very good either. But at least we never
had to do a go-around. On one touch and go I was following another plane
on the departure leg and was just starting to believe he was not entering
the pattern when the Tower told me to make my left turn onto crosswind.
I probably should have called the Tower myself sooner to check what he
We made a crosswind departure and headed for home. Climbing up out of Livermore the Tower warned us about another aircraft crossing our path from the South, we couldnt see him anywhere until Grainne told me to lift up the right wing and hey-presto there he was right above us. A valuable lesson in why you lift the wings to check for traffic. At 2500 and back above Sunol, Grainne pulled the throttle back to idle and told me I had an engine failure. This time I knew I didnt have an airport close by, but there was a lovely plowed field just below the golf course. I did a fine job of getting the right airspeed, and doing the cockpit checks through I forgot to actually take out the checklist and make sure I had not forgotten anything. I remembered to make the mayday call and to go through the emergency landing items (again without the checklist). It was a great pity therefore, that I would have a very difficult time actually making the landing in the spot I had picked out. As the field was below us I started a 360 degree turn to get lower. However, what I didnt notice was a hill between me and the field topped with power lines. By the time I got around the turn I was really to low to get over the hill and lined up for the field. I forgot the first rule of emergencies to just FLY THE PLANE and really didnt think through clearly exactly how I was going to get myself in the right place to land on the one good spot around. That makes two emergency landings in a row that Ive messed up.
We powered up and headed for home. I leveled off at 2500 above Calaveras Reservoir and got the RHV ATIS. At this point Grainne covered up the Airspeed, Altitude and Vertical Speed Indicators with post-its. So now we would do the landing at RHV with a simulated static port failure. I did a good job of judging when to start my descent and got into the right downwind leg at about the right altitude and I got the final approach nailed (with no distractions from those pesky instruments). The actual touch down was not so clean. Again I had some problems with the round-out and flare and were flew along a lot of runway before touching down. Still, the actual touch down was OK when it finally happened. I know that the problems Im having with landings are common for most student pilots, but it is still frustrating to keep making the same mistakes. We will do more landings tomorrow probably at South County Airport, there just isnt any substitute for practice.
Sunday September 22nd 2002, 12pm, N5766J, 1.4H
The weather was sunny but hazy, only 3 miles visibility. It was warm at 25C but not too bad. I arrived just on time and Grainne was waiting for me. We decided that we would go do pattern work at South County as planned and I headed out to pre-flight the plane. No issues with the pre-flight, the airport was back to normal today after yesterdays Open Day. Normal taxi, run-up and take-off with a downwind departure. Although we took off on 31R, the tower asked us to turn left traffic for the downwind departure. This is a little unusual, but he may have had another plane coming in to right traffic at the same time. I made no mistakes and I remembered all the checklists.
I climbed up to 3000 and we had a smooth cruise down to Anderson Reservoir, through there was some traffic coming against us. I got South Country in sight and we listened to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). As South Country is an uncontrolled airport, all the panes announce their position and intentions on this frequency. We heard one guy saying he was turning onto right base for runway 32 which told us what runway and traffic pattern was in use. As I still needed to lose some altitude I flew a little left of the field to give myself a longer approach to the downwind leg. In the event I got on the 45 right at pattern altitude and announced I was there.
I did six landings at South County, four touch and gos and two to a full stop. In general, they were much improved over yesterday. The very first one was a little hard, but the others were fine. I really can see an improvement over yesterday and previous flights. One of the landings was with a simulated engine failure and it was probably the best. I really tried to keep focused on the end of the runway during the round-out and flare and it seems to be paying off. Another big help is that today I was ahead of the plane the whole time. I got the checklists done and I never forgot to switch on my transponder or operate carb heat correctly (my usual sins). This gave me more time to focus on getting the approach setup. Grainne pretty much left me alone most of the time letting me make my own decisions so I really felt like I was flying and landing the plane myself. Today was a definite confidence boaster. After the last touch and go I said Id take us to 2500 and head for UTC to go home, I was getting tired and a little hot.
I was just setting up to get the RHV ATIS when Grainne pulled the throttle out for another simulated engine failure. We were too far from either South County or RHV to I picked a nice field just below us. My mistake was picking a field with a crosswind and then failing to just fly the plane so I could get a good approach to land. Just like yesterday, I spent too much time on the emergency checklists and not enough just flying the plane. Its much harder to plan out the approach to a field than an airport. To some extent your are spoiled for choice, there were just so many nice fields we could have landed in. There is a big temptation to keep changing your choice. Once youve got best glide speed, you really need to plan out the whole approach, my mistake is to try and do this in stages. It doesnt work, and you end up too low and in a bad spot. Next time well see, I have a feeling Im going to be dreaming about landing in fields for a few nights until I get one of these right.
The only interesting issues with the trip back to RHV was that were first were told (by ATIS) to use a different Tower frequency (I guess they had two controllers on duty) and second was were told to change our transponder to squawk 5300 (the first time Ive ever had to change this). There was another Cessna on our left and a little ahead so we were told to follow him in. He was told to squawk the same code, so then we were told to IDENT. There is a button on the transponder called IDENT, when you press it causes your plane to flash on the controllers radar screen, this allows him to make sure he knows which plane is which. The approach went well and we were just coming over East Ridge Mall when I spotted another plane right under us. He seemed to be almost scraping the trees in the mall parking lot. Grainne didnt seem too concerned and said that he was probably heading for 31R, which sure enough he was. Either way is really overshot his final and was very low. My landing went just fine, not hard and on only two wheels (one less than my usual count). Other than the second emergency landing today was a nice flight.
Tuesday September 24th 2002, 6pm, N4754D, 1.4H (0.3 Night)
There is a major fire burning down in Morgan Hill called the Croy Fire. I saw a little smoke this morning as I drove to work, but this afternoon the smoke had completely covered the sky to the South and East. I made a couple of calls to RHV ATIS during the afternoon because I was worried that the smoke might close the airport if it moved up towards San Jose. In the event it stayed well to the South (not surprising as the wind usually blows from the North in the afternoons). Later, during the flight we had a spectacular view of the flames burning in the distance along the mountain ridges.
Tonight was a nice flight. The weather was hot again and there was a light wind blowing down the runway as usual. We had already decided that we would do some pattern work in RHV. The evenings are starting to get short and there really isnt much time to fly anywhere else and get anything useful done while daylight remains. The traffic was bad and I arrived with only a little time to spare. Grainne was waiting for me, so I went out to pre-flight N4754D as soon as I arrived. The last time I flew this plane the radios didnt work and we had to take another plane. The time before that, we had an electrical fire after landing and my radio didnt work. So, I have avoided this plane until now, my favorite N5766J was already booked and this was the next best choice. Other than the radio, this plane is nice to fly, this time everything worked fine.
The taxi and run-up went without notable incident. We took off on 31L and entered left traffic. Now, while Im much more ahead of the plane, its still difficult to remember particular landings in any detail. What I do remember was that today I did almost all the radio communications with the tower, I had no problems with flying the pattern, I was ahead of the plane the whole time and had time to actually enjoy the view. My approaches on final were generally good and I hit the correct glide slope almost every time. I have really got the hang of adjusting the power and keeping the nose in the right place to get the plane right where I want it over the numbers. My main sin is tending to be slow on final, I was often at 65 KIAS (Knots Indicated Air Speed) as I turned onto final. This is a little slow and close to stall speed for making a turn this close to the ground, its the biggest danger point for the classic landing stall (you overshoot final, going too slow, bank to much to recover so increasing your stall speed and then stall with only about 500 between you and the ground - it would just spoil the whole day). I need to watch this more closely and try to be at least 70 KIAS on the turn, there is plenty of time to slow the last little bit on the final leg.
I believe, like most student pilots timing the flare is the hardest part of the whole landing. I either flared a little too fast and ballooned up or flared late or not enough. I did manage to get the trick of adding a little power if I ballooned and settling down fairly softly, but I didnt always add it quite soon enough. The timing and feel of the round-out and flare is so fine that you really dont have time to consciously think about what you are doing, its really got to be instinctive. Im starting to believe its a little like learning to ski. You spend a ridiculous amount of time falling flat on your face (or behind), then suddenly you get the feel of it and while still not good you can suddenly ski. At least Im hoping that is what will happen, otherwise its going to be a long slog. If the flare lasts about 10 seconds, then only about 60 seconds of my 1.4 hours in the air was spent practicing the most difficult part of the whole exercise.
I tried a forward slip on one of the approaches, this is only the third time I have practiced this, the first time was fine, but the other attempts were poor. Unfortunately this one was not much better. The first attempt I turned far too soon onto final while still at pattern altitude, so we didnt have nearly enough time to get down. The tower told us to go around because the plane in front of us was still on the runway. The second attempt, I extended the downwind leg and so had more time to lose the altitude. However, it was very rough and jerky, just couldnt get the balance between the opposed aileron and rudder. I did get down onto glide slope and land but it wasnt pretty.
The only other incident of any note was the extended upwind leg. There was a plane entering on the 45 for right traffic. The tower told me to extend my upwind and he would clear me for the right turn. I dutifully flew upwind past the incoming plane, and then some more and then some more again with no word from the tower. I finally called the tower and asked to make the turn. I guess he missed me so maybe I should have just turned anyway.
All in all todays flight was a blast. I think significant improvement over last Sunday down at South County. Grainne seemed pretty happy with it.
Wednesday September 25th 2002, 6pm, N4754D, 1.1H (0.3 Night)
Tonight’s flight just sucked. I arrived without much time to spare, I was a little tired and generally not in top form. Grainne was waiting for me and we spent a little time talking about the night before. By the time we got through pre-flight it was already dusk. The weather was identical to the night before, hot with a light wind blowing down the runway.
The problems got going in earnest when I tried to call
Ground Control. Once again the radio’s in 4754D gave me trouble.
They transmitted a carrier but no audio. The previous night the same thing
happened the very first time I tried calling the tower. I tried a second
time and it seemed to work. We had a normal taxi and run-up and the radio
worked calling the Tower for take-off clearance. We got it and took-off
on 31L to enter left traffic.
I took-off on 31R and entered right traffic, by this time the pattern was less busy. We did three touch and go’s and one full stop landing. Of the four I messed up the approach on at least two, turning late onto base and being below glide slope on final. Its always better to be too high rather than too low on final, altitude gives you more options. The landings were uniformly bad, worse than last night and really a step backwards. I still cannot correctly judge the flare. The last landing was the worst of all, three bounces which took us almost onto the grass off the right of the runway. Just a real lack of positive control of the plane as we touched down. It was a relief to taxi back to parking and shutdown the plane. I was unhappy, I could tell Grainne was unhappy, all in all a bad day.
So what went wrong? Mostly the problem was me. As I said I was tired, I had had a great flight the night before, and this had me a bit hyped up when I went home, consequently I didn’t sleep very well, this caught up with me today. I think, in future I will not schedule back to back evening flights, just to give myself time to be on a more even keel. So I’ll leave at least one night off between flights. The radio problems had a dual effect. First, it threw me when it happened and this just made a bad day worse. Second, with Grainne flying the radio, I may have felt a little less in control of the plane, a little more like my CFI is with me so she can fly the plane. There is a temptation to laziness, sometimes you don’t concentrate as hard as you should because subconsciously you know the CFI will step in if you do something stupid. From now on I am just going to pretend she’s not there (soon she really won’t be) or that she’s just talking to me on the radio. I may also ask her to keep her hands off the yoke when we land, its hard for me to distinguish what control inputs are mine and what are hers, I don’t know if she’ll agree, but we’ll see.
Lastly, what the f&*ks up with the radios in 4754D? I have flown this plane 4 times. The first time I didn’t use the radio. The second time the radio didn’t work for me and then we had the electrical fire after landing which killed both radios. The third time (8/15) I was supposed to fly in this plane but the radios didn’t work at all and we had to use 5766J (now my favorite plane). The forth time was yesterday and they worked almost fine. Tonight’s debacle was the fifth time in this plane. So of 4 attempts to use the radios in the plane, three have resulted in major problems. This does not seem to be a random occurrence. As I can’t believe the plane actually hates me, the only conclusion I can think of is that my headset causes a bad interaction with the audio panel. You have to go through a pretty twisted trail of logic to see how this could happen, but is the only explanation that makes even a little sense. If I have to fly this plane again, I’ll borrow one of the clubs headsets and we can see if this is the root of the problem. Still I’m not in a hurry to book the plane again.
Friday September 27th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 0.9H (0.1 Night)
The weather today was different, a weak area of low pressure was passing from the North. There was a lot of broken cloud and the wind was quite strong. I checked the ATIS at RHV a few times during the afternoon. At 2pm the wind was 10 knots at 220 degrees, at 3pm it had changed to 270 and at 4pm it had changed to 10 knots at 090, by 5pm it was 12 knots at 120. So what does this mean? Well, the runways at RHV are 31/13, that is to say they approximately line up on a heading of 310/130 degrees or roughly in a NW/SE direction. The “usual” wind in the evening time is from about 300 (or from the NW) so it blows pretty much straight down runway 31. A wind at 220 is 90 degrees off the runway heading so it is blowing directly across the runways. A 10 knot crosswind is no fun to land in (the maximum for the Cessna is a 15 knot wind and only if your a real expert), I have done very little crosswind landings because the winds are so kind to us at RHV, so a 10 knot crosswind would likely keep me on the ground for today. The big swings in wind during the afternoon probably indicate that the front was passing at that time, you normally see a big wind change as a front goes by. The wind went from the West (270), to Southwest (220), to East (090) and gradually back to Southeast (120) where happily it lined up nicely with runway 13 and I could fly without too much worry. But for the first time I would be using runway 13 and everything would be reversed from the usual pattern., that is, the pattern would now be flying in the opposite direction. I also spent a bit of time over lunch reviewing taxi procedures for crosswinds, its a surprise how many accidents are caused by a crosswind blowing planes over while they taxi, especially high wing planes like the Cessna 172.
It was a Friday so I left a little early and stopped by the Airport Shoppe to get a Pilots Operating Handbook for the C172N, which is the model I usually fly. The POH in the ground school kit was for the C172R, which is the new shiny version and had some different specs for performance. The POH is needed to answer some of the questions in the test papers Grainne gave me on Wednesday. When I arrived at Tradewinds Grainne was still flying with another student, so I went out and watched planes land on 13 and waited till she arrived about 6:15pm. Then I did the pre-flight on 5766J while she was finishing up. She looked pretty stressed out when she finally came out. She said they had been flying over at Palo Alto and there was a lot of planes in the pattern, plus they had the transition across class C airspace to get home. No problems with pre-flight, a very short taxi to the run-up area from where we were parked, some fancy foot work to fit in next to another plane for the run-up and then a good take-off along 13L.
We did 7 circuits of the pattern, with 4 landings and 3 go-arounds. Today, I was much more focused, I talked a lot less and tried as best I could to pretend that Grainne wasn’t there. For the most part things went well. The last couple of landings were reasonable and I think I am finally getting the flare worked out in my head, its just a process of making my reactions faster to the subtle clues just before you land. I did all the radio work, Grainne only spoke once on the radio, so I’m pretty comfortable with that part of the flying. My approaches were fine today, mostly on or a little above glide slope. One was rather high, but I just picked a spot a little further down the runway and we made it just fine. The take-offs, especially from the touch and go’s were a little different. Runway 31 is pretty unobstructed on departure, however, runway 13 has trees and buildings very close. We did a couple of takeoffs at Vx (best angle of climb) rather than at Vy (best rate of climb). I got the impression that Grainne felt I should have been a little more concerned about skimming above the top of the trees, and probably I should have. On the first or second landing, I initiated a go around when we ballooned quite high on the flare. Probably I could have recovered the landing, but it just felt nasty and the approach had been a little shaky as well so I hit the power when we lifted up. Grainne was actually pretty happy about this, I guess taking responsibility means making all the decisions and I know I have been relying too much on having her in the right seat to tell me what to do on landing. Either way that kind of set the tone for the day and it was nice flying. On one circuit through the pattern the Tower told us to extend our downwind for a Senaca that was coming straight in. For runway 13L, if you extend downwind you will be flying along class c airspace on your left. So you can’t just make a left turn onto base with the extended downwind or you will be in San Jose International’s airspace. The tower gave me two options, I actually didn’t hear the first one and the second was a right 270 turn and reenter the pattern on base. This made sense to me and it worked fine, including starting the descent early enough and in a non standard place (at the start of the extended base leg). Today, I also got my first taste of some easy crosswind landings, there was just a 3 or 4 knot wind blowing from the right. This was enough to have to crab into the wind and work the rudders in a positive manner to get straight on the center line.
All in all today’s flight really helped after the unpleasant experience of Wednesday. I still don’t have the flares right, but at least now I have a much better idea of why and what I have to do. I also “discovered” I was doing something really dumb right as we landed without even realizing it. Just as we touch down I was taking my feet of the rudder peddles. I’m not sure why I was doing this and I’m amazed I didn’t realize it before. Anyway it explains why I have been “heading for the grass” on any of the landings that bounce or balloon. I’ll pay close attention to this on the next flight and it should definitely help with control on the landings.
Monday September 30th 2002, 2pm, N5766J, 1.2H
I took the afternoon off to go flying. With the evenings getting too dark and Grainne working on some on the weekends it seemed like the best way to keep the 2~3 lessons per week schedule. After the last lesson I felt like I was getting close to “finding” the landing flare so I was keen to fly again to see if I could finally nail it. I am frustrated! Today’s lesson was almost as bad as last Wednesday and I felt once again that I was going backwards. I just cannot seem to time the flare correctly or flare too much or too little. I think out of all the landings we did today only one was even acceptable and I felt that that was just luck - try it enough times and one is bound to be OK just by chance rather than by skill. This is definitely one of those learning plateau’s you read about. The fact that these are common and that flares and landings are the most common problem area doesn’t make me feel any better. However, one day I will look back at this and wonder what it was I found so hard and all the bad feelings will be forgotten. The very difficulty of what I’m trying to do, will make attaining the eventual goal all the sweeter. It brings to mind a quote from Kennedy about going to the moon, he said,
“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win...”.
Learning to fly is a personal version of the very same challenge. It is hard, if it were easy everyone would be a pilot. The very fact that its hard is what makes it worth doing, that, and the enormous reward of being able to fly!
While I’m indulging in a written therapy session I might as well put down my other nagging frustration. Everyone with a good self image tends to think themselves good at what they do. Be it driving a car, being an engineer or being a student pilot. For me, learning new things has always come easily. My job depends on my ability to turn-over my skill set every couple of years as new technologies obsolete most of what I knew before. Starting off, I hoped I would be a star student, quick to learn, a joy to teach, nailing every challenge along the way. I knew that many students solo at about 20 hrs. You read some stories where guys do their first solo at a little over 10 hrs. I know its not a race, I know its not important how many hours I’ve got when I eventually solo, but at almost 25 hrs and knowing I’m not nearly ready its just compounds the frustration. I will solo, and I’ll do it when I’m really ready and when my CFI knows I‘m ready, be it 30 hrs or 50 hrs. But still, I had that 20 hr figure in my head when I started and failing this personal goal bugs me. However, now I can look forward to how good that first solo will feel, because I had to work so hard to get it.
So what was the actual lesson like. Well, it was windy, ATIS said the wind was only 7 at 320, but it was really gusting in unexpected directions. This meant that I spent a lot of energy just keeping the plane steady. It was an extra chore flying the pattern with the wind fighting the plane the whole way around. After a normal taxi, run-up and take-off we entered left traffic. There weren’t many other planes around and we mostly had runway 31L to ourselves. Starting off ATC was a pain, the first three times around I had to remind him I was turning onto base to get a landing clearance, this is just one more thing to have to think of at a busy time. As before the pattern work and approaches were mainly OK. I need to watch my airspeed on those dangerous turns onto final, I got a bit slow on one of them (60knots). I had one approach where I was way too high, I’m not sure why. But I elected to go around once it became clear I wasn’t going to get down in the first half of the runway. Another go-around happened unexpectedly. My glide slope was good coming over Eastridge Mall, but just before Tully Road (just off the runway fence) a sudden sink pushed me down, I recovered well by adding enough power to counter it and was fine rounding out over the numbers with the throttle back on idle. Then just as I started the flare, we suddenly found ourselves almost 50’ back up in the air. I know my airspeed was right on 65 knots as I started the round out so I don’t think excessive speed was the cause. It must have just been a gust that caught us just at the wrong time and gave us way too much lift. Either way I found myself with the stall horn going off, 50’ above the ground. Grainne called the go around while I was still wondering what just happened. Got full power in and got the nose down, but not quite enough - its takes a little courage to point the nose anywhere down so close to the ground, we briefly heard the stall horn again and then I got the nose low enough and did a slow slightly scary crawl along at about the same altitude as we gained speed and then finally started upwards at something approaching normal.
There were two other low points of the lesson. On the second last landing we did a full stop, I usually elect to do this when I know I’m getting tired, the taxi time gives me a chance to catch my breath. I was waiting for my take off clearance when ATC asked me did I want to “remain in right traffic”. I said I did and he cleared me for take-off on 31R. Now I had spent the whole afternoon flying left traffic and using 31L. I heard “remain in ...”, so I happily proceeded to taxi to 31L instead of 31R to take off on the wrong runway. Thankfully, Grainne caught what I was doing before I got too far and we made an ungraceful turn back onto 31R and took-off. Yet one more reminder that I’m not ready to be in this plane on my own. Then, I managed to forget to put more than 10 degrees of flaps in on the last approach and we reached the numbers doing about 75 knots, without me realizing something was wrong. Grainne basically landed the plane, after a very long float down most of the runway. It was a poor end to a bad day. I know I was stressed and tired on that last loop around right traffic. It is so true that fatigue and stress make you stupid.
So, what is next. I’m flying again next Thursday
afternoon. Grainne suggested, and I was happy to agree, that we would
do something else instead of more pattern work. She said it would stop
me getting rusty on the other skills I’ll need for the stage one
checkride, so we‘ll do some slow flight and stalls and maybe a landing
or two and see how they turn out. But, it will also be a break from the
frustration. As Grainne is working her other job on Saturday, I’ve
booked a lesson with Yoed. I like his style and he brings a different
perspective to the lessons. I believe, when you hit a plateau like this
you just keep changing the variables until you find the one causing the
problem. A fresh pair of eyes seeing what I’m doing wrong might
help and it can’t hurt.
Thursday October 3rd 2002, 2pm, N5766J, 1.3H
So tonight I am a happy man. All my landings were OK, that is four in a row, not perfect, but definitely OK. So what the hell happened? On Monday I was despondent about ever managing to land an airplane. Well hopefully I’ve found and fixed my block, thankfully it was a simple one. JUST USE BOTH HANDS TO LAND THE PLANE. Yes, up to now, through all the frustrating pattern work at RHV over the last few lessons, I have had my left hand on the yoke and my right hand on the throttle. This was mostly in line with what Yoed said about always keeping a hand on the throttle, and it is a good place to have it on landing. You may need to react quickly with power to go around or recover from a bounced landing. Still, my problem was controlling the flare, it was either too fast, too slow, too early or too late. All this is basically fine motor control of the arm pulling back on the yoke. Well as I’m right handed, I guess I just don’t have that good a control of my left arm. As I was writing last night, I realized that all my best landings had been “simulated” emergency landings, where you pretend that the engine is dead. Hence, there is no point keeping a hand on the throttle, the whole point is getting down safely with it on idle. So I used both hands on the yoke and the landings were OK. I talked with Grainne about this before we started and she said it was no great sin to take your hand off the throttle as long as you were “over the numbers” and assured of your landing, and you were ready to react quickly with power if needed.
Today was clear and sunny as usual, ATIS had winds at 300 12 knots and 28C. I took the afternoon off again and I arrived about 20 minutes early. Grainne showed up on time and were went over the plan for today’s flight. South County still has flight restrictions, I assume from the remaining clean up of the Croy Fire so we decided to go to Livermore. Basically, slow flight, power on and power off stalls and some pattern work at LVK. About 2:15pm I went to get the key book and we discovered that N5766J was not back yet. It didn’t turn up until 2:30pm and we were surprised to find it been pushed back into the maintenance hanger. I don’t know if there was anything wrong, but after Grainne had some words with the Mechanic he gave us the plane and we pushed it back out onto the apron. Had a mostly normal preflight, taxi, run-up and take off on 31R, with a right 45 departure.
We climbed up to 4000’ feet and I took a little time to try and pick out my house on the way, couldn’t find it today. It was a little turbulent especially as we passed through 3000’ which happened to be when I wanted to look out of the plane. Anyway, we leveled off over Calaveras Reservoir and I completed the maneuvering checklist, some clearing turns and then some slow flight. Today, we found that stall horn was set at 41 knots. Every time you fly you find the stalling speed is a little different, it’s sensitive to the weather conditions and the exact state of the plane. We spent some time tooling along at 45 knots doing some turns and even a climb which is pretty anemic going so slowly with so much drag. Then we did a series of straight ahead power off stalls. This time I was real quick getting the nose down and the stall recoveries went pretty well. A couple more clearing turns and then we did three power-on stalls. These went fairly well, got the stick forward quickly, though I was maybe a little fast starting the recovery so I heard the stall horn briefly when I started to pull up. Didn’t mind in the least how the nose dropped in the power-on stall and I think I really lost my fear of this maneuver. In general, no problems and I didn’t forget to do anything critical. I need to be a little smoother on the controls, but that just practice.
We were at 3500’ over the Sunol Golf Course, so I got the LVK ATIS, winds variable at 5 knots, temp 28C, so pretty easy weather. Called LVK tower and got cleared to enter their class D airspace for a 45 entry to left traffic for runway 25L. I took a sort of big S turn to loose some altitude before I got into the pattern entry. Called into LVK tower 2 miles on the 45 entry and was told to make a wide downwind because there was another plane just ahead of me in the downwind leg. I followed him and the continued my downwind as he turned base. I waited for him to turn final before making my own turn onto base. So that is why the pattern entry looks so ugly on the GPS track.
LVK has two parallel runways (25L & 25R). The left runway is 2699’ and the right is 5253’. So the threshold of 25L is a long way in from the threshold of 25R. When you are used to the equal length parallel runways in RHV the difference makes judgment of the turn to base harder. Still, the final was good if a little longer than usual and as I came up on the numbers I transferred my right hand to the yoke. The landing was great, as good as anything I had done to date. YES, I thought it was the hands thing. We did the touch and go and had an uneventful circuit through the pattern though ATC changed the radio frequency along the way. A much better turn onto base this time and a fine final approach, again both hands on the yoke over the numbers and again an OK landing with just one small float before we touched down. THANK GOD, I thought the first one wasn’t just a fluke, it really is the hands. Power up for the touch and go and off we went. I checked the time and Grainne said we had time for one more, I was rearing to go to make it three in a row. A third landing just like the first two, beautiful. For the first time I have actually really felt in control of the flare. It wasn’t that hard to do the fine control with both hands, the plane just did what I wanted and landed on the centerline. We did the touch and go again and Grainne asked the Tower for a crosswind departure back to RHV.
As we climbed away I said “I’d like a nice relaxing flight back to RHV”, because I figured Grainne would throw in an emergency landing on the way otherwise. I didn’t want anything to stress me out on what was turning out to be the best flight in a long time. Over Calaveras again I got the RHV ATIS, wind 320 12 knots and temp still 28C. And then got the Tower. They initially must have assumed I was coming from the South because he told me to make straight in for 31L. I said roger, but was thinking that can‘t be right. So I called him back and repeated I was over Calaveras, then he gave me the usual 45 downwind entry for 31R. I should have been a little quicker to correct him the first time, but at least I questioned the direction and got it cleared up. Started a descent from 3000’ and made the entry over Lake Cunningham. I was cleared to land on 31R. As usual no problems on the pattern and the approach was fine, right on glide slope as I came around onto final. Last time was a charm, both hands on the yoke and a fine landing on the centerline, easily exited the runway at taxiway delta.
So are my landing woes behind me, I sure hope so. Grainne seemed happy, she gave me the pre-solo written exam to take home and we decided that we would schedule the stage one checkride for some afternoon next week. It’s a four hour block, 2 hours oral exam and then a 2 hour flight with one of the Senior CFI‘s. I’ll fly with Yoed on Saturday morning and practice my landings some more. Then fly with Grainne on Sunday, practice the emergency landings she said she had put off today due to my “relaxing ride home” comment and maybe a little more pattern work. Flying is fun again.
Saturday October 5th 2002, 8am, N5766J, 1.1H
Today I flew with Yoed again. It was my earliest flight so far starting at 8am. The weather was beautiful, the sun was rising just as I arrived at the airport, crystal blue sky and the barest whisper of wind. ATIS had the temperature at 14C, but it didn’t feel cold. Yoed, arrived pretty much on time. We went over what I have done before with Grainne, he wanted to make sure I was used to the pattern work. I talked to him about the two hands issue during the flare. Predictably, he thought it was a bad idea, and that I shouldn’t get used it, because it was just developing a bad habit right at the start. I was skeptical, but he assured me that it could be done. I figured that I’d give it another try with one hand and see what happened, I don’t think he would have accepted anything else and I didn’t feel confident enough that this was my problem to really disagree. In any case, he’s the teacher, so its a real waste of my time and money if I don’t listen to him.
The only new item during the start-up was priming the engine before starting. Because its cold and hasn’t been flown since yesterday you get a little fuel into the carburetor before starting. The primer is a little knob that you twist and then pull in and out three times, you have to make sure it in and locked once your done - left on it can cause problems with the engine later, I’m not sure why, but I’ll ask Grainne tomorrow. We had a standard taxi, run-up and takeoff, except I missed the “check flight controls” item on the run-up, first time I’ve ever done that. We took off on 31L and entered left traffic. Right away you see that Yoed is much more detailed in his instruction compared to Grainne. Whenever he sees you do something even a little wrong, he tells you to correct it. So while Grainne pretty much lets me fly around the pattern unhindered, Yoed coached me on better use of the rudder and better pitch control during the turns. Basically, my turns are still a bit sloppy, not fully coordinated and I often let the nose drop a little at the end of the turn and then pop up again when I roll out. None of this is fatal, but its just sloppy flying - it shows even the basics require attention and practice.
Yoed had decided that the first two circuits we would simply over-fly the runway trying to keep the plane first 10’ above the ground, then 5’ above. I would keep my right hand on my knee and he would take care of the throttle. This was to help me get the feel of fine control with my left arm flying in ground effect, without the distractions of making and actual landing or controlling the power. On short final he took the throttle. The first attempt was marginal, once again it was difficult to keep the plane from sinking and I was a little late starting to pull back to get enough pitch to keep the plane flying level. We did the go-around and the second time was not much better, we actually touched the wheels on the runway and bounced a little, powered up and went around. I had a few problems keeping the nose low enough to pick up speed and Yoed gave me a little help on the climb out. Its a bit disconcerting, but you really need to fly level along the ground to pick-up speed, even if this points you right at the trees at the end of the runway. Another difference with Yoed is how he takes the flaps up on the go around. Basically, he had me bring them to 20 degrees and then keep them there until we reached about 65 KIAS. It takes a long time to accelerate to that speed with 20 degrees of flaps. I need to pin down with both CFI’s what is exactly the correct procedure, because I’m not clear and its pretty important when your that close to the ground.
I think Yoed decided that my problem was really just judging the sink rate correctly, rather than anything to do with how many hands I used. We proceeded to do 9 “one handed” touch and goes without any go-arounds or really screwed up landings. Yoed pretty constantly drilled me on looking at the right place at the right time. I have two definite problems that I can recognize, but which I still need to fix consistently. First, when I should pause in pulling back the yoke, I tend to actually push it forward slightly. I kept doing this, even though my brain said “hold” my treacherous left arm pushed. I’m not sure how to stop this other than practice. Second, I have tendency to get the plane level above the center line and then “close my eyes and hope” it lands itself. I really don’t close my eyes, but my control inputs become much less positive (especially on the rudders). So I had some problems drifting to the left because of lack of right rudder. This is another thing to focus on and try and bring the concentration level a bit higher at the critical moment. The biggest thing I got out of today was focusing on the end of the runway - the very end, to judge the start of the flare. Basically, Yoed said “look at the trees” that are off the end of the runway. This really made it clear how far down I needed to look. I think before I was just looking about two thirds along. It was another of those “Ah Ha” moments, when you know you have done something differently from before and it has worked much better.
So its true, you can land a plane with one hand. I still think its more difficult, but I suspect that is because, my right hand was preventing the treacherous left hand push when I used both hands, so it fixed one of my biggest sins. The reason I needed to pause the back pressure is because I’m misjudging the start of the flare which I hope will improve with focusing on the very end of the runway. I’m flying again tomorrow morning with Grainne, we’ll do some emergency procedures and hopefully get in some more landings to see if I can repeat what I learned today.
Sunday October 6th 2002, 9am, N739YE, 1.3H
Another perfect flying day. The sky was crystal clear, winds calm, ATIS had 19C. I pulled into Tradewinds just after Grainne, our plane wasn’t back yet so we spent a little time going over my flight yesterday with Yoed. Grainne answered my questions about the fuel primer, its floods the engine if you leave it on and the flaps during a go-around, both methods are correct, the idea is to accelerate and take them off in stages so you don’t sink into the ground. We decided to go back to South County and do some emergency engine failure procedures along the way.
Had a normal pre-flight, except once again I couldn’t transmit on the radio. The audio panel and radio claimed we were transmitting but I never got a reply from either Ground Control or the Tower. I’m now convinced that my headset is to blame. So, as Grainne’s radio transmissions were fine we decided to proceed and let her do the radio. On the run-up the left magneto was bad, the engine coughed and spluttered. I tried 10 seconds at 2200 RPM and it didn’t clear, then we tried the same at full power, that worked. Had a nice smooth take-off and a downwind departure.
We climbed to 3500’ and along side Anderson Reservoir
Grainne pulled out the throttle to simulate and engine failure. I knew
I could make South County from there, but I wasn’t sure if I could
make the full downwind, base and final approach to runway 32. I pitched
for 65 KIAS and got through the checklists fine (this time remembering
to take out the checklist). The only error I made was not to just make
straight for the downwind leg, instead a turned a little left of the airport
thinking to come in on the 45. Once I got close it was apparent that I
couldn’t make the full downwind, I decided to make the straight
in approach to runway 14, this would have been pretty easy. There were
at least two planes in the pattern using runway 32 so we applied power
climbed to 2000’ and crossed above the airport. Given the traffic
around South County we decided to head south to Frazier Lake.
We entered left traffic behind another plane, as I had to wait for him to pass me we made a later than normal turn to base and final. Still, I timed starting the descent well, and we were nicely on glide slope for the approach. The landing went well, again using one hand. The only mistake I made was to release the back pressure once my main wheels were on the ground. This caused the nose wheel to bump down on the runway a little hard. We did the touch and go and entered the left traffic pattern. Grainne pulled the power about midfield on the downwind leg. So landing two was without power, it went fine, a little flat but very soft. Another touch and go and this time I pulled the power about the same spot and made a second power-off landing. This one was just fine. We did the touch and go and headed for home. That was three landings, all with one hand and all fine.
On the way to our call in point for RHV, we tried an experiment to determine how much altitude you need to get back to the runway if you loose your engine on takeoff. Basically, this it one of the worst scenarios. You have to make a choice between landing straight ahead in a built up area or trying to turn back to land on the runway behind you. The big question is “do I have enough altitude to make a 180 degree turn?”. If you decide to make the turn and you don’t have enough altitude, then you will crash before the turn is finished, in other words an uncontrolled impact with the ground. Making straight ahead you at least have the chance to control the landing, even if its onto a less than ideal spot. So somewhere between about 300’ AGL and 1000’ AGL there is a minimum safe altitude where you can turn back. The actual altitude depends on a number of things such as the wind, the temperature, the plane and the pilot’s skill. So, it makes sense to simulate the situation at a safe altitude and find out how much altitude is needed. First, we tried a shallow turn starting at 3500’ with the engine out. It took 450’ to make the turn. Then after climbing to 2700’ we tried it in a steep 45 degree turn, this time we lost 350’. This was a useful exercise, in the real event there would be additional reaction time as your accepted that the engine had quit and the stress level would be a lot higher, plus you need a little margin to establish an approach and land under control.
We got the ATIS for RHV and Grainne called in. I made the straight in approach to 31L without any prompting. I did the descent checklist, I’m not sure if I did the landing checklist, Grainne didn’t say anything and I can’t remember. This was the first time I’ve made this landing (straight in) without any inputs. In the event we came in high and landed a little far down the runway. I should have adjusted the approach a little earlier to get on glide slope. But, the landing itself was ok, a slight float up, but the recovery was fine. I let it roll to taxiway E and got off the runway.
So, in the last three lessons I’ve done 17 landings without a single unplanned go-around. While the landings have not all been perfect, they have all been either OK or adequate. I think my major landings problems are behind me. I wish I could point to one single thing that helped me get over it. The two handed landings on Thursday gave me some confidence that I could do it. The lesson with Yoed helped on looking in the right places and proved one hand could do it. Today’s flight reinforced yesterday’s learning. My next flight will be the stage one checkride either on Tuesday or Thursday afternoon. I’m actually looking forward to it.
Tuesday October 8th 2002, 2pm, N4754D, 1.3H
So today was my pre-solo stage-check, it went very well. The stage check consists of an oral test and a practical test with one of the senior CFI’s at Tradewinds. Grainne set it up for me, the CFI she chose was a guy called Tony Plumb. He turned out to be a young guy with a goatee, but real nice. The way Tradewinds conducts training is very precise, Tony came armed with a checklist of topics to cover in the oral part, and he pretty much systematically worked his way down the list. I guess checklists are just second nature to aviators. The questions covered the FAA regulations, mostly on what are the limitations placed on a solo student pilot. The operation of the plane’s systems like the engine and the instruments. Some questions on the local airspace and the airspace around South County. Some questions on the length of runways at RHV and Q99 and how much of said runways I usually need to takeoff and land. We covered density altitude and its effects on performance - basically the less dense the air than the worse the plane works. We spend some time going over the SFO Sectional Chart and demonstrating I could identify different airspace types and read the airport info from the chart. Lastly we covered some emergency procedures like what to do if you have an engine fire in flight and what to do if you have a total electrical failure inbound to RHV. I really didn’t have any problems with any of the questions, I’m good at book learning and the technical stuff is mother’s milk to me. I went to have a smoke, got the key book, borrowed a headset and headed out to pre-flight 54D.
No issues with the pre-flight, got a fuel fill up while I was just finishing up. Tony turned up and we got started. I had fun telling him how to undo his seatbelt, but on a stage check you have to make sure to do the passenger briefing, so he got the full spiel on the how to use a seatbelt, the under-wing emergency exits, the secondary rear exit (the baggage door) and not to touch the controls or talk when somebody else was talking on radio. We had a normal taxi, but had a little trouble with the left magneto, but I did what I had been shown and it cleared it. The takeoff on 31R went well, just a little drift to the left when we lifted off. Flew the right pattern and exited downwind. I had a Cessna 152 ahead of me and a new Cessna 172 behind me. It was funny, I out climbed the 152 easily on my way to 3500’ and then turned to look out my right window to see that the new 172 had caught up with me and was passing to the right. The newer Skyhawks have a bit more power than the 33 year old plane I was flying. I remembered to complete the climb checklist and the cruise checklist when we leveled off. It was sweet, I nailed 3500’ and pretty much kept it here plus/minus 10 feet.
Because of the traffic around us we flew a little further South to Anderson Reservoir and I did a clearing turn to the right and another to the left, completed my maneuvering checklist and then started slow flight. I lost about 300’ slowing down because I was slow to add power to stop the descent. Tony asked me to gain it back, so I added power and we slowly climbed back to 3500’. This was the right answer, pitch for speed, power for altitude. Then a couple of turns at slow speed, which went well thought I let the aircraft pickup a little speed in the turn. I should have added some power, I think I need to practice this some more. Then powered back up to cruise did a couple more clearing turns and setup for a power off stall. This went fine until the actual recovery, I actually forgot to add full power until Tony pointed it out - stupid mistake, but the only major one of the day. A 180 degree turn and then a power on stall, which went well, had good rudder control and we maintained our heading fairly well. Still the stalls need practice as well.
We did another two clearing turns (Tony believes in “clearing turns for clearing turns”) and we started into steep turns, one to the right and another to the left. These were passable, but I really need to apply more back pressure in the turn and keep the nose up. We lost some altitude and gained some speed. This is the hardest part of steep turns, but they were fun to do all the same. At this point Tony pulled out the power and told me I had lost an engine, he didn’t put carb heat on, but I think he noted that I did it for him, so I hopefully scored some brownie points there.
I did a good job of getting best glide and trimming for it. I knew we were close to South County but when I located it out the back window I couldn’t judge if was it inside glide distance or not. I hummed and hawed a bit before deciding I should just turn around and see what it looked like from the front. As soon as I turned it was apparent I could easily make the straight in approach to runway 32. Tony took care of the radio and a nice couple of planes in the pattern made way for us to allow us the straight in landing. I got through all the checklists, including actually getting out the checklist, and continued to fly the plane and getting us on final for the runway. It was clear we were high, so I got a full 30 degrees of flaps in and we made a fine landing with only a little drift to the right due to a crosswind that just caught me as I flared. But a nose high, no bounce (one handed) soft and gentle landing. Just great!. We got off the runway and I completed the post-landing checklist and taxied back to the takeoff point. Tony told me to make a circuit of the pattern and this time handle all the radio work on the way around. There was just one plane turning base, but I had plenty of time to get lined up and takeoff. It turns out that South County has a rule about making turns in the pattern, you are not supposed to turn under traffic pattern altitude (1300’). I hadn’t known this before and had been turning at 800’ (or the usual 500’ AGL), Tony said we should follow the rule so it was a long climb up to 1300 on the upwind leg, then a simultaneous level of, reduce power and turn to crosswind. This actually went very well and I nailed the 1300’ altitude. The approach for the second landing went fine, right on glide slope and another fine, no bounce, one the center line landing. We did the touch and go and Tony said head for home. So I started the climb back up to 3500’ and headed for the call in point at UTC. I remembered to complete the climb checklist and was just listening to RHV ATIS when we leveled off at 3500’ close to UTC. I made the call to the Tower and was told to make the straight in approach to 31L and report at 3 miles. At 3500’ we were high, so I started the descent right away, a nice 500 FPM, 90 KIAS powered glide.
At this point another plane called in from Calaveras, whose call sign was 45D (very similar to our 54D) and another plane in the pattern was calling in with 475 (also very similar to our 4754D). So the Tower had three planes all coming in to land and all with almost identical call signs and he proceeded to get more and more confused. I made the 3 mile call and took great care to clearly say my full call sign and was cleared to land on 31L. Shortly afterwards 45D called in on the right 45 for 31R. The Tower, then cleared ME (54D) to land on 31R instead of 45D. At this point Tony called in and asked for clarification - did 54D have clearance for 31L? the Tower then said “Um 54D is cleared for 31R, no um 31L”. Tony repeated back the clearance for 31L and both of basically rolled our eyes to heaven. We figured that we didn’t appear to have anything in left traffic for 31L and we had the clearance, also 45D didn’t seem confused, he knew he was headed for 31R so we looked good to land. At this point we were coming over Eastridge Mall, I had slowed at the 3 mile point and had in 20 degrees of flaps, I got in the last 10 degrees and setup for 65 KIAS on short final. The landing was beautiful, right on center line, no bounce, one hand and nose high - everything was good. Tony helped a little in breaking (I’m still a bit timid on the breaks) and we exited at taxiway C and were cleared to cross 31R. I called Ground Control and go cleared to taxi back to parking. In a final fit of confusion, Ground Control called himself “Reid Hillview Tower”. As we taxied back along Zulu the Bonanza with the 45D call sign was stopped at taxiway D. We heard, Ground Control tell him “Be advised, there is another plane on the ground with a similar call sign”, to which the pilot in 45D replied with an audibly sigh “we know that”.
The debrief went well, Tony said I was ready to solo whenever Grainne thought the time was right, basically a nice calm day, without too much crosswind. He said my oral exam was well above average and my flying was excellent for my current stage of training. He nitpicked a couple of things, like the delay in turning back to South County when the engine “failed” and the loss of altitude in the steep turns. But otherwise we were both pretty happy with how things had gone. I’m still not quite sure why the landings have gotten so much better. I can’t really point to a single thing I feel I’m doing differently from when they were terrible. To some extent I’m a little worried that I’ll “lose it” and they will revert to previous performance (or lack thereof). Still, if I fly with Grainne and land a couple of times like I did today, then I’ll really feel ready to do it on my own. I hope its soon, I’m eager to get it past me and start the next phase of the training.
Thursday October 10th 2002, 3pm, N5766J, 1.4H
There are many important milestones in life. Many are mundane, like ticking off another birthday. Some are the result of years of work, like graduating from college. Others are profound, like the birth of a child. However, the events that really stand out share some things in common. They are special because they can only happen once, they often mark the beginning of something new and wonderful in your life and above all they are rare. Well today was a rare day for me, I flew solo for the first time.
Flying is like nothing else. All other experiences in life are extensions of what we can already do. To drive a car is an extension of riding a bike, an extension of running barefoot. Sailing an extension of swimming or floating on a log. Flying is completely unnatural. No other experience can really prepare you, in fact many mislead you. Learning to fly is a sequence of unlearning whatever you thought you knew and replacing it with something different. It is a leap into the unknown made with wings. Only your skill and knowledge of how those wings fly will bring you back to earth. When you take off on your own for the first time, only you will bring that plane back down. You’ve cast yourself into this unnatural state that rests on a knife edge of technology and skill. No matter how much we seek through training and design to blunt that edge, it still exists and is unforgiving. I can think of no other experience in life quite like it. I can only say that its one experience you walk away from feeling like you just conquered the world.
And so to details. Today was cool and a little windy. ATIS had the wind at 310 10 knots, which is straight down the runway. The temperature was 22C and there were some broken clouds at 15,000’. Not a bad flying day. I arrived early, and luckily so did Grainne. We went through the written exam she had given me last week. This was the last item to complete before I was clear to fly solo. I did fine on the exam, only one question wrong and it was pretty minor, (do you know that in some limited cases it is in fact OK to fly a plane without its Emergency Locator Transmitter - I didn’t). We also reviewed what Tony had written from last Tuesday’s stage check. He wrote some pretty nice things and concluded I was ready to solo, pretty much what he had said to me at the time. Grainne said “we would do some pattern work and see if we could get me to solo”.
In denial, I headed out to pre-flight 5766J and was just about done when Grainne showed up. We had an uneventful taxi run-up and take off on 31R, entering right traffic. The first approach was good but quickly proceeded to go badly wrong in the flare, the plane wandered all over the place and as I got close to the grass on the left so I decided to go around. I figured that had blown any chance of a solo today, this was landing performance like a week ago. I’m not really sure what I did wrong, I think I was trying to use just my rudder to keep the center line, fighting between keeping the nose straight using left rudder, while trying to stay away from the grass using right. I should have used just a little aileron to keep in the middle. After that we proceeded to do three touch and goes. None were great but none were too bad. However after the second one I really didn’t feel in the landing grove and I said I thought I should wait for a day with a little less wind before I did my first solo. Grainne was having none of that, after the next landing as I was about to do the “go” part of the touch and go, she stopped me and said to drop her off at the compass rose, I had no idea where that was, but I thought it sounded like a bar. She called Ground Control and told them we were stopping to drop her off, I could hear one of the controllers cheer in the background. The compass rose turned out to be a square bit of tarmac with the cardinal points of the compass painted on it, its for testing your navigation equipment. As it is near the end of the runway it gives the CFI a good view of your landings.
I shut the door and taxied over to the hold short line. I was thinking that radio was pretty quite and wondering if I should call the tower and remind him I was waiting. That’s when I noticed my radio was still tuned to Ground Control. I don’t know if he was calling me, but I set the radio to the Tower frequency and told him I was ready for takeoff and he told me to position and hold on 31R. The big moment, no going back once I took off. I got the clearance and was heading down the runway without really thinking. A fine takeoff, I reached 700’ which is my usual altitude for turning crosswind, as I turned I realized the turn was quite a bit sooner than usual. That was the effect of Grainne’s meager weight on the planes climb. Got turned onto downwind and overshoot pattern altitude slightly. Usually, I can wait until after the turn to level off, but without the weight I hit the altitude somewhere on crosswind. I had one plane ahead of me in the pattern. I saw him turning onto base as I flew downwind. I started a normal descent abeam the numbers and I guess either he was much slower than me, or I turned onto base too soon. Either way as I came up on final, he was still short final. I was just thinking, he’s not going to be clear of the runway in time when Tower said “that’s not going to work, go around”. So my first solo landing resulted in a go around. Second time through the pattern there was a plane coming straight in to 31R. The Tower told me he was “over the Mall, and I was number 2 to land”. I couldn’t see him but as I was already a little passed the Mall I decided that he must be past me and I could turn base. Bad decision, he was further out than Tower said and I ended up way to close to his backside on final. This time, I called the go around even sooner. Moral of the story always get the traffic in sight. So a second go around, I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get back on the ground. Next time through, I had just started my descent abeam the numbers, when Tower told me there was a plane again coming straight in for 31R, he also said “over the Mall” but this time I wasn’t fooled. I saw him about a half mile further out and waited for him to pass my wing before turning. That is the long downwind shown on the GPS track. I had to put on some power once it became apparent I was going further downwind than expected and I really had to play with the glide slope as the final approach was about twice as long as usual. The landing was OK, a little flat but not too hard. My first solo landing, just two more to go.
Tradewinds doesn’t allow solo pilots to do touch and go’s, so every landing is to a full stop. It certainly spaces things out and gives you time to catch your breath. Did my after landing checklist and taxied back for takeoff. Another takeoff on 31R and right traffic. This time everything went well and I made a second landing, though the flare was better I was moving a little sideways when I touched down so I got some side force on the landing gear. Another takeoff and around the pattern for my last landing. Again a fine approach and then the flare when bad, just like the first attempt of the day, so another go around. The last landing was pretty much like the second, nose was high, but I was moving a little sideways on touch down. Still, three landings with me and plane both undamaged - that will do nicely for today.
Taxied back and got the plane parked, its hard work when you have to push it on your own. Grainne turned up with an instant camera and she took a couple of pictures of me grinning like an idiot for the notice board and a couple of shots on my own camera. I finished locking up and we headed back to the office. Grainne wrote up my shiny new solo endorsement on my license and the various endorsements in my logbook (which technically she should have done before I flew). She then proceeded to get me to cut the back out of my tee shirt. I guess its an old tradition when you solo your “shirt tails” get cut off. I’ve read that it goes back to the biplane days when your instructor sat behind the student. They didn’t have intercoms so to get his students attention the instructor would pull his students shirt tails. Cutting them off was freeing yourself from the instructor when you soloed. We had fun writing my name on it, drawing pictures and tacking it to the notice board along with the picture.
So now I’m to be let loose to fly planes around Reid Hillview. I guess I thought that I would solo, take a few more dual lessons and then sort of gradually solo a few more times. Not at all, Grainne wants me to fly this weekend solo and practice landings at RHV. We will fly together again on Monday and go down to South County and maybe Hollister so that I can get endorsements to fly there and land. That will pretty much opens up the whole practice area to me to fly solo. I’m looking forward to this weekend.
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