Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Didn't Actually Drop Off the Face of the Earth, It Just Seemed That Way.

So, the past 23 months have been pretty crazy.  First, I'll tell you why I quit updating the blog, then I'll share what I've been so busy doing for the last 2 years.

I stopped writing for two main reasons - I met people in person who read by blog and whom I had to work with and for in real life.  This made it harder to be candid about my experiences, which took some of the fun out of it.  Second, I was just so insanely busy that I didn't really have time.  Since my last post, I've trained over a dozen students for nearly every airplane certificate the FAA offers, and earned a few myself.  I've moved, taught classes, taken on a puppy, and logged almost 2000 more hours in the air.

Because many things have changed in my life, the format here will do the same.  First - no promises of regular updates, I'll write when I have something to write about.  Second - I have changed the name, since I'm not really instructing professionally any more.  This is the blog formerly known as "My Life As A Flight Instructor."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vacation Over: Back To Work!

I haven't written a lot the past few weeks, mostly because this blog is about flying and I haven't flown very much since the first of the year. Since my last post I have done a lot of development work though, so I'll go through that a little bit.

Long story short, I tried to do some advertising at the Claremont Colleges. I ran a Facebook ad targeted at local college students, which got some results, but not many. The first potential client I met contacted me after seeing those ads. He is a student here in Claremont, and we met on campus one day to discuss flight training. He seems very interested, though he wants to start his training with me once this semester is over, later on in the spring. That was pretty exciting for me, and if he does decide to fly with me than the Facebook ad was worth the money. I also printed up some fliers and hung them on the campuses, but didn't get any hits from those.

Last Friday I was pleasantly surprised with a referral from Tony, the manager of the flying club at Cable. He had given my number to a guy named Brandon, and we met for the first time last Sunday. He has already taken a ground school class and passed his FAA written test (well done!), which will really help move his training along. He is also in school, is interested in at least training to the commercial pilot level, and seems very motivated. Having flown a time or two in the past, he did very well in the air, and I don't anticipate many problems for us.

Finally, one of Megan's friends from school decided to try flying. Her name is Erin, and she is really excited at the prospect. We flew today, and really seemed to enjoy the flight. I know I did; crisp clear sky and little to no wind or turbulence was a welcome change from all the rain and cloud we have had lately. We are scheduled to fly again, and she seems like she will progress quickly.

That puts me at one potential client and two active clients at Cable Airport.

I am excited to be busy again, especially doing the pre-solo training that all three of these people are working on right now. That is by far my favorite training to do, and it has been a couple months since I have really spent a lot of time on that (my last month or so back home saw me spending time getting mostly-trained pilots ready for their testing). I did notice I was a little bit rusty getting back into the groove, at least for the first 10 or 15 minutes, but once in the air, I felt pretty well on top of my game again. My biggest challenge working out of Cable will be staying organized and keeping records, I can tell already. I need to remember to use the checklists and scripts I have prepared for myself, and I need to develop some kind of filing system or something for each of my students. addition to that work at Cable, I am also officially employed at Fly Corona, a part 61 flight school at Corona Municipal Airport. How that came about is a long story, but I'll try to make it short. The moral of the story, however, is that networking is important - especially so in aviation. You never know what actions or words will get noticed by whom, and whether that is good or bad.

About a year ago, when Meg and I knew we were planning on moving 2,300 miles to the left coast, I started looking for potential employers here in the Inland Empire. One of the people I contacted through AOPA's online discussion forum was Mike B., the manager of Fly Corona. I just asked him if he knew any schools that were hiring, and what he expected the job marked to be like in 6 months, meaning Fall of 2010. At the time, that was the latest I expected to have moved. To my surprise, he offered me a job at his place, but I was unable to accept, and didn't end up moving until after the first of the year.

Fast forward to this past Monday, the 21 of February. I flew down to San Diego with Joe, another friend I met on AOPA's boards. We went on a tour of the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Center (SoCal TRACON), with about 35 other AOPA members. The tour was organized by Bob, a long-time controller, and it was an impressive experience. I learned so many things about what goes on at the other end of the radio, and feel a lot more confidant about operating here. We even learned a few "secrets" about some of the services the TRACON provides.

While at the tour, I ended up talking to "Mike", who quickly recognized me from our conversations almost 9 months earlier. He ended up offering me the job again, I accepted, and there ya go! Seems he remembered a tutorial I posted online last February about some basic uses of the Skew-T chart, a type of weather product heavily used by meteorologists that has some niche uses for us pilots as well. Thus the moral of the story I mentioned earlier in this post.

I drove down to Fly Corona yesterday, and met several of the people. Turns out one or two of them have read and followed this blog in the past, I've talked to others online and not known it. Its a small world for sure. This means I have to be extra careful what I say, because now there are watchful eyes to call by BS! I'm joking of course :)

At any rate, everyone I met was very cool and laid back, Fly C looks like about the perfect place for a CFI to land in SoCal. They take very good care of the employees, and promise to keep us busy. That part I believe, I just signed the contract Saturday and my schedule for the coming week is about half full already! Apparently they just ran an ad on GroupOn, and sold over 750 demonstration flights. I'm going to be doing a lot of those (along with everyone else there), and hopefully we can convert a significant number of them into flight students. Those demo flights are mostly out to Catalina Island and back, so I'll be seeing a lot of the Pacific coast in the very near future (tomorrow morning actually).

Let's do some quick accounting here...two, possibly three students at Cable. A full time schedule at Fly C. Looks like I'm back in the business again. From May to November last year, Attitude Aviation kept me very busy, I was at the airport 6 or 7 days a week, sometimes for 14 hours at a time. My schedule is headed in that direction again, and I'd be lying if I said I was anything but elated. The main difference is I'll be juggling two different sets of schedules though, so when I make an appointment at one place I'll need to be very careful not to book myself at the other airport for the same time slot. Wish me luck...

I'll end with some pictures of the flight to San Diego:

Here is a mountain poking out of the haze layer. We were at 5,000' on our way to 7. As best I can tell, my chart says that is Santiago Peak, at 5720' above sea level.

Here is a view of the San Gabriel mountains behind us as well as the Ontario/Inland Empire area.

On the arrival into Montgomery Field (KMYF) in San Diego I got a shot of some very odd-looking rocks. There were a lot of ridges below us that looked like this.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

First Post from California

As some of you know, I moved to Claremont, CA mid-January. The two biggest professional challenges have been getting to know people around the airports, and finding some flight students. Here is the chronicle of my flying life for the past week or so.

After getting settled in to the apartment with Megan over the weekend, I went in search of a flying position Monday morning. The first place I went was Cable Airport, in Upland, CA. Being close to home (5 to 10 minutes by car) and easy to navigate (no control tower), it seemed like a logical place to start. Back in March, I had met Tony Settember, the manager of Foothill Flying Club. After tracking him down and re-introducing myself, we had a chat, I presented him with my resume, and he said he would allow me to instruct in his club's planes. I would technically be self employed, and he wouldn't start referring walk-ins to me until I brought two flight students in myself. OK. That is going to be somewhat of a challenge, but I have some ideas. I'm going to try to market myself (and the flying club) to the 7 colleges that are located 3 blocks from my house. The flying club gives a very nice discount to students, allowing them to save over $1000 on a Private Pilot license compared to a non-student. The backup plan is to find a more formal flight school to work for if I can't generate enough business here. Tony is just fine with me teaching at two different places.

Tuesday came, and I went back to Cable to try and meet as many people as possible before my flight with Rick, one of the instructors at the club. He was giving me a checkout flight in a Cessna 182 Skylane with retractable gear. I met several other instructors, some of them part time, some full. I started filling out a questionnaire about the 182RG, which includes things like fuel capacity, what speeds to fly for certain maneuvers, etc. I was almost done with it when Rick arrived. We took off and flew east toward Rialto, which is along I-10 north of Riverside for those of you interested in checking out Google Maps. We had to stay north of the 210 freeway to avoid the class C airspace around the Ontario airport. On the way to Rialto, Rick had me do steep turns, slow flight, power on and off stalls in banks – pretty standard fare. We did a couple landings at Rialto, then he took me over Ontario's class C, south near Corona, and back up to Cable, pointing out important local landmarks along the way – things CFIs should know.

I performed reasonably well, but could have flown better. I guess I felt competent when I wanted to be impressive. At any rate, the flight was successful and Rick signed me off for the 182 RG. Tony had said earlier that since I am an instructor, if I fly the biggest and most complex plane there, I would be allowed to teach and fly all the others (most private pilot renters would need a checkout in each specific plane).

Wednesday I went back again for orientation with Tony. He got me started on the automated airplane scheduling system, online payment system, and we setup a flight together for Thursday morning in a Piper Archer. Not a checkout or test, Tony just likes to fly with anyone renting his airplanes, which is fair enough. I also discussed with him some ideas I had about marketing, which he liked. I spent the rest of the day authoring a flier to hang up on campus, and trying to contact someone who can tell me the official policy on hanging said flier. I'm still waiting to hear back.

At this point (Wednesday afternoon), I realized my biggest problem was going to be staying organized trying to, essentially, run a business. My to-do list currently includes designing and printing new business cards (I've already been asked for a card multiple times by people I have talked to!), getting certified with TSA to train foreign students (which would make me more marketable, especially here), getting a web presence to send potential clients to (I'm trying a combination of Facebook and this blog to present myself), actually getting the fliers I designed printed and hung, and various other small chores. As you can guess, I've gone to bed pretty tired each night this week.

Thursday morning saw Tony and I climbing into an Archer and heading north, then west along the mountains. As an aside, I have to say that there is beautiful scenery to fly by here. Mountains (big, real mountains) literally less than 10 miles north of the airport, and ocean not very far south and west. The airports and cities are located in a beautiful green valley, and over the mountains is a high desert. There is certainly a lot of variety and challenge to local topography. Before takeoff we had noticed the engine was a little rough below 1000 RPM, but after a long runup, leaning the mixture to burn carbon off the spark plugs, and checking everything, we decided it was safe to fly. After about 15 minutes of maneuvering and discussing various instructional techniques, we pulled the power back for a glide and realized the engine was very mildly backfiring. We turned toward home and setup a long, shallow glide. Mostly for the sake of practice (the engine was still running just fine), we treated it as a simulated engine failure and I made a beautiful, well managed approach, landing, and touchdown. Actually, the entire flight had been like we were riding rails, and I felt Impressive rather than just competent like Tuesday's flight.

After the flight, I decided to get lunch before filling out paperwork on each airplane in the fleet (quizzes just like the one for the 182RG on Tuesday). I mentioned this to Tony, and he invited me to eat lunch with him at Maniac Mike's Cafe there at the airport (apparently about 90% of SoCal airports have a restaurant on-field). Sitting on the outside patio, in a t-shirt and jeans, in the sun, in January; I ate a delicious tuna melt and met Vicki. She has been working at the cafe since around 1978, and everyone knows her well. At 1:10 PST, we all watched a huge Delta IV rocket launch from Vandenburg AFB, about 200 miles to the west. Not quite a shuttle, but impressive.

So now it is Friday night, and I didn't go to the airport today. I've been trying to get some of the items cleared off my to do list, which is hard to do. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading about my week. Tomorrow I plan on taking the Cessna 152 (a small 2-seater) out for an hour or so solo, just to get more familiar with the local area on my own. I promise I will take the camera and get some shots of the scenery to put up in the next few day. In the meantime, if you know anyone who lives in the San Gabriel Valley who wants to learn to fly, send them my way.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Twin Time

Picture yourself sitting in the FBO on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. A light snow is just beginning to fall, the front edge of a slow-moving system forecast to drop several inches of snow for the next couple of days. Someone comes in and asks if you have anything to do the next couple of days, and how would you like to fly in a pressurized, cabin-class plane to Jacksonville, FL? You just finished clearing your schedule for the next couple days anyway, the weather is not going to be good; you were anticipating 3 days of sitting at home. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Well, it was. I ran home, packed a bag, and was at the other airport climbing into the right seat of a Cessna 414 in about an hour. I was put in charge of communication with ATC and navigation, the other pilot flew the plane and taught me about the systems (more on this in a minute). Actually, if you notice, the back wheels are pretty far forward, and apparently this model has a reputation for tipping over backwards if you don't load it front to back. If I were going to be sarcastic, I would say that I may have been invited primarily to provide ballast in the front end of the plane. I called Clearance Delivery and obtained an IFR clearance to KCRG, Craig Municipal Airport, then got taxi instructions. We departed under a high overcast, and climbed through about 4000' of clouds before breaking out on top at 10,000'. The sun was shining and the sky was its usual remarkable blue, always a happy sight when you started out under snow flurries and grey clouds.We leveled off at 17,000' and began running the cruise checklist. Propeller RPM and engine manifold pressure, set. Cowl flaps, closed. Mixtures, leaned. Heading bug and autopilot, set. Prop sync, engaged. Pressurization, checked.

This was a really interesting flight for me because of the complexity of the aircraft's systems. This particular 414 has 6 fuel tanks (main tanks, nacelle tanks, and auxiliary tanks), 2 transfer pumps, flow meters, a totalizer, boost pumps, two selector valves, and one fuel gauge with a switch to select what tank to read from. You can't feed the engines from the nacelle tanks, which hold 20 gallons of fuel each (in cruise the engines use roughly 20 gallons per hour, each). You have to burn 20 or so gallons out of the main tanks and then use transfer pumps to move the fuel from the nacelle tanks to the mains. You can run both engines from the same tank, or from different tanks at the same time. Once I saw a schematic of the system, it made perfect sense, but it is a much more complex fuel system than I have flown before because there are two engines to feed. In addition to the fuel system, there was de-icing, propeller synchronization, and spoilers to learn about as well.

Luckily, the entire flight wasn't rapid-fire technical instruction. I got a chance to look out the window from time to time, and enjoy the sun. Here is a hole in the undercast. Not sure what made it form, probably the heat from the town below. As you can see, they thought it was night already - all the lights were on and it was dark under the clouds. We still had another hour of sunlight to go. Everything - even the end of a day - is just a matter of perspective.

We arrived in Jacksonville about 45 minutes after dark, and made a pretty turbulent arrival to runway 32. The wind was blowing hard and the last 15 minutes of the flight were very rough. While fun for me, and challenging (in a good way) to the guy flying, it would probably have spooked the nervous flyers among us. We taxied to the FBO, parked the plane, and headed to the hotel in a rented VW Jetta. I spent time wandering the roads while the guy I had flown down with conducted some business in town. You are thinking "what a jerk, bragging about skipping town, avoiding snow, and playing in Florida for 3 days." Well, it wasn't exactly like that. Jacksonville set record low temperatures every day and night we were there - it was cold and WINDY! In fact, the temperature never got above 35 degrees until the day we left.

One day, there was nothing better to do, so I decided to drive south on the A1A highway, along the coast. Even though a bit chilly, it was beautiful scenery, I walked on a beach, and saw the Spanish fort in St. Augustine. After reaching Flagler county, just north of Daytona, I decided I had traveled pretty far and still not found warmer temperatures; I turned around and went back to Jacksonville.
Its a good thing I did, because almost as soon as I got back, my friend got back and told me it was time to fly home. Grabbed our stuff, headed out to the airport, got a briefing, and departed into clear, calm, sunny skies. This time out, all the airplane systems seemed old-hat. Setup the radios, navigation, autopilot, prop sync, remember to transfer the fuel, continue to scan everything on the panel to be sure nothing is wrong and all tasks are completed. It was a beautiful flight.

After sunset, we got into some very low visibility, disorienting conditions between cloud layers. Since we were on an IFR flight plan, it didn't really matter, just gave us something unusual to see out the window between scans of the instruments. I have written before about the solitude of night flying, even in a full cockpit. Between the clouds, stars (if you can see them), lights below, and soft red glow of the panel, people tend to get somewhat reflective. I was content to monitor systems and contemplate the passing of dark spots and bright spots in the cloud layer below us. The bright spots were cities, and all we could see were the lights shining through the cloud layer like dying fires under water.

There wasn't a whole lot of conversation until it was time to start the descent and approach. There is something deeply satisfying about calling the local air traffic facility after a long trip. You get the feeling that you are home, especially if you recognize the controller's voice and he recognizes you. Sometimes there are a couple of remarks exchanged, just small talk. Other times, it seems like he can hear the weariness in your voice and helps bring you in a little sooner. Either way, we were cleared to land, and we were on the ramp in front of the hangar soon enough. The only difference around the airport was the ridiculous amount of snow that had fallen while we were gone. The power tug was sliding on the ice, and so were we - it took a few minutes to actually get the plane into the hangar. Luckily, my car started up after sitting outside for 3 days, and I didn't have to spend too terribly long digging it out.

My main thought about the flight was that it would take me a little bit of time to get comfortable flying something that big. It is heavy, has a long tail, and the sight picture is a little different than what I'm used to in light single-engine planes. Flying a Bonanza (single engine 6 seat Beechcraft) is about the top end of where I really feel comfortable behind the controls. I'm not going to be too hard on myself though, I only have 7 hours of multi-engine time total, ever.

My second recollection was that the complexity of the systems didn't bother me at all. At one point toward the end of our first flight, I remember looking at every item on the instrument panel and throttle quadrant and thinking "I know exactly what that switch/knob/button/dial/screen does, how it works, and I know how to use it effectively." I didn't before the flight began, but between asking questions and looking at the flight manual I got up to speed.

I can also remember a time when I looked at a Cessna 172's panel and thought "how will I ever remember how to use all the stuff here?" Just like anything, you learn it one piece of equipment at a time. Whether you are a student preparing to start flying away from your local practice area for the first time, a high-time private pilot trying to learn instrument approaches, or a 700-hour CFI hoping to start learning about flying with two engines soon, there is always a lot to learn. What is important for all of them is to have a good foundation of knowledge and skill to do it with, and to go back to the basics if you discover you have forgotten or missed something. There is certainly no shame in it, and it will save a lot of money, time, and frustration in the long run.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A little about myself

I really appreciate all of the comments I have gotten since I started doing this. It has been quite fun to create this little corner of the web to call my own. Admittedly, I haven't been posting as often as I did when it was new, but I do intent to continue posting from time to time, indefinitely.

I got a very cool comment from an anonymous poster, so to answer his question, I'm going to talk about myself a little more than I have before.

How old are you? I really look up to you. I mean it. It's awesome to know how much you love your profession.

I'm a freshman in college, work at an airport and fly off to the side, and am DYING to get my CFI-I once I get out of school.

I always wanted to fly. I remember being 7 years old, doing enough research to find out there is no minimum age required to receive flight training. I asked my parents if I could take lessons, and of course the answer was no. Obviously, I had no idea what all is involved in becoming a pilot.

Fast forward a few years to my freshman year in college. I was an engineering major at the time, and realized I had never lost the desire to fly. I also realized that I could fund it myself by working hard over the summer, and that is exactly what I did. The day after my last final exam, I took my first flight lesson. I waited tables all that summer, and when I was not at work I was either at the airport or studying at home. I read constantly, especially online. The AOPA forums (I'm still an active poster) were one of many excellent sources of expert information and camaraderie with other pilots of every level of certification. Five months to the day after my first lesson, I passed my private pilot checkride, paid for in cash from my job.

While in school (I eventually left the engineering department for chemistry, and ended up graduating with a BA in history), I managed to fund about one rating per year. I became an instrument pilot the summer before my junior year, earned my commercial license the first half of my senior year, and finally got the coveted CFI-Airplane my final semester in school. Obviously, by this point I had decided to pursue aviation as a career.

While there are many problems with aviation as a career (which might justify a future post, if anyone is interested email or comment please), I decided I at least had to try.

I have worked pretty hard to get myself to where I am, but I have also been very lucky. I work at an FBO/flight school with 2 other instructors. We have trained over 10 private pilots and a couple instrument pilots since May. In the middle of a huge economic disaster, the business has done far better than ever before. They needed an extra CFI, I had just graduated and needed a job, and it is the same FBO I had always rented from (though I trained with a CFI at another airport). Talk about right place, right time, I have flown over 400 hours since May 2010 and trained 4 private pilots (the first got his certificate a couple weeks before my 23rd birthday), two more coming in the next month. While working full time, I also volunteered time in the maintenance shop and FBO office, trading the time out for airplane rental, which I used to train and test for my CFI-Instrument rating.

To the commenter, and anyone else who is young and looking for a path into aviation, I hope you find it. None will be easy, but it is possible. Being assertive, friendly, and honest with the people you deal with is a good first step. Taking aviation seriously is another. You can't just tell people to follow the checklist, then throw it in the back when you are out solo. Even in something as stone simple as a Skyhawk or a Cherokee. You have to be real with people, and they will appreciate it. When you run up against the limits of your comfort level or experience, admit it, and explain what your thoughts or concerns are. Everyone from your boss to your student will appreciate it. Take care of the people you deal with and they will take care of you. I have had some awesome opportunities (flying various aircraft, high altitude endorsement in a Piper Meridian) because of this attitude.

I do love what I do. I will credit my life right now to hard work and the generosity of others. I hope you can also find a route into flying professionally, if that is really what you want to do - just be realistic about what it takes and what it is like.

Some recommended reading for aspiring CFIs:

Stick and Rudder by Wolfgang Langeweischz - read it several times, slowly, think about what it says. Really good stuff, especially about how to judge an approach.

Weather Flying by Robert Buck - Not the beginning or the end of studying weather, but it has a lot of useful, practical strategies for real-world flying. Don't rely on that NEXRAD image on the 696 too much.

The Savvy Flight Instructor by Gregory Brown - has a lot of good general advice about networking, teaching, how to act like a professional, etc. I would consider this an essential part of CFI training for anybody I may train for their CFI in the future.

I'll leave you with a picture I took one October morning on the ramp. There was a very thick fog over the airport, the sun had just come up, and one of the other CFIs was giving a new client his very first flying lesson. Yes, this was taken on full color without any processing or filtering, that is what it looked like in real life.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

In Review

For those that don't know, every pilot has to have at least one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight instruction every two years. It doesn't matter how often or little someone flys, or if it has been many years since they were last in an aircraft - they need a review within the last 24 months. Of course, we say that a flight review is not a test, and, the closer to expiring somebody's last review is, the more it seems like a test. I have had the opportunity to give a few flight reviews lately, and want to describe the process.

The review begins with a plan of action. This can be a plan the flight instructor prepares, or it can be something the CFI and the pilot create together. The only required material is a review of the regulations, and any recent regulatory changes. The rest of the ground and flight content is to be tailored to the specific pilot. I tend to try and set up my reviews as a scenario the pilot is likely to have in their day to day flying. This could be something like a flight to South Carolina for a weekend at the beach, or a flight to Parkersburg, WV or Portsmouth, OH for lunch. Of course, we don't actually fly that far, but the planning process is a great opportunity to learn about airspace, demonstrate a practical understanding of the regulations, and maybe learn a little bit about airplane performance.

For example; last week I was planning a flight from Huntington, WV to Dayton, OH, with a private pilot. There is a large military training area on a direct line between the two cities, and we would have had to stay at 5,500 feet to fly in a straight line from departure do destination. For what is roughly a 125 nautical mile flight, 5,500 is not terribly high in the Cherokee 180 the gentleman was flying. Many pilots these days want to fly the shortest distance possible, and going "GPS direct" has become quite common.

The problem is that the details of flight planning sometimes fall by the wayside. After all, if you get in, fire up the GPS, it tells you your destination is 1:30 away, and you have 5:00 hours of fuel, there is no problem, right? Well, what we discovered by diving into the performance tables for the airplane was that by going around this airspace (which meant going almost all the way to Columbus), we would only add 10 miles to the trip. On the map, it looked like a major detour until we measured it. Whats more is that by staying out from under the military space, we could climb to a higher altitude where the airplane is more efficient. By going to 8,500 feet, the plane was 10% more efficient, and the winds were slightly more favorable. Once we ran the numbers, we could go higher, further, in less time, on less gas, and take 200 more pounds of people/bags/fuel by NOT going direct. That was an effective flight review.

One issue I have run into is that many of the pilots I am reviewing have more flight experience than I do, both in terms of flight hours and years. At first, I was a little intimidated. One guy brought an airplane that I didn't have any previous experience in - though I have experience in similar models. I told him up front about the situation, and said that I would probably learn a thing or two about the airplane from him. When we were done with the review, he told me that it had not only been fun, but he had learn a lot from the flight. That made me feel great, because the entire flight I had been pulling out all the stops to share my best pieces of advice and experience. He hasn't been the only one of my clients to tell me this. As far as I can tell, the trick is being prepared, helping them identify a weak area of knowledge or skill, and then learn something about it.

I flew with one guy who had gotten his license a decade ago, but hadn't flown for several years. He has been training with another CFI lately, and wanted me to perform his flight review. I made the review a little more test-like than normal by performing all of the tasks required on a private pilot flight test. He prepared and brought a flight plan that we discussed, and then we flew the first leg to see if the plan was accurate. We diverted to a strange airport where he had never been, simulated IFR conditions on the way, and then made a short field approach and landing on the 3000 foot strip. On the way home, we did some maneuvers under the guise of trying to position a photographer to get the right shot, had a simulated engine failure all the way to touchdown on a well maintained but deserted grass strip, and then contacted ATC for the return to our home field. All of that in 1.5 hours, and he did very well.

While we were debriefing, he said the flight was very enjoyable but challenging as well. That made me feel good - it means I did my job right. The trick is to get someone to teach themselves something. Put them in a situation where they can spot the connections, and then gently point them out along the way. This can apply to keeping turns coordinated without looking at the slip/skid indicator, judging that engine out approach, or just managing the engine. To do this, you have to walk in the door with some kind of plan, but it has to be flexible enough to be meaningful for each individual.

Reading back over what I have written, it sounds more like a textbook or how-to guide than I meant. I'll share one more in-flight story, and call it a night.

This afternoon, I flew to Charleston with one of my students, Dustin. We went up there to practice dealing with their air traffic control and to meet the examiner who is going to test Dustin this coming week for his private pilot license. The day was overcast, grey, and cold. At our cruising altitude of 3,500 feet, it was -5 Celsius outside of the airplane, and my feet didn't think it was a whole lot warmer inside. I usually stay fairly involved in the cockpit, trying to help people polish their radio work, plan ahead, etc. Today I just sat back, stayed quiet, kept an eye out the window for other air traffic, and watched Dustin fly.

We took off, turned on course, were vectored into the flow of traffic, and arrived on schedule, safely. I didn't demand to see any special technique, didn't prod him into flying perfectly, didn't hint at what items were still undone. What I saw was a pilot - a good one.

After he and Bill had flown around for an hour, debriefed their flight, and scheduled the flight test, Dustin and I got back in the plane and headed home. The sun was just slipping over the horizon as we were taking off. Cloud cover in the western sky had broken up somewhat, and the colors in the sky ranged from bright flourescent orange to deep purples and blues, and it all faded to grey and then black as twilight settled in. As I watched the pilot beside me work the controls, I was proud of him, and of me. He flew efficiently, managed all the details, sounded professional on the radio, and kept us right on course, all the way to our after-dark touchdown. The first hour of instruction I ever flew was with Dustin, back before he had flown solo. They say that the performance of a student pilot is not really a reflection of the student, but of their instructor. If this is true, then I must be doing something right. Bill said that he flew very well and only had one or two technical things to brush up on. Had we been able to complete the paperwork, I have no doubt that he would have been licensed by now. He certainly deserves it.

Sometimes, the hardest thing for a flight instructor to do is just sit back and shut up; whether teaching, giving a review, or simply flying with other pilots. This evening, I'm glad that I did.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

...Through Footless Halls Of Air.

So, obviously it has been a very long time since I have written anything. I was moving, then didn't have my internet connection setup, then I was out of the habit of writing, and I just plain got busy! The business has had more activity this year then ever before, both in the maintenance shop and on the flight line. After having a wonderful flight tonight, however, I really wanted to share it. Enjoy...

Last week, I was instructing one of our customers, Paul, in his Piper Cherokee 140. It has nice off-white paint with a red and blue tail. About 70% through a cross-country flight to Flemingsburg, KY (which went very well and probably deserves a write-up itself) I mentioned to him that I enjoyed flying with him in his plane, especially since it is not a Skyhawk! Ok, so I like flying anything, and a Skyhawk is a reliable, predictable, jack-of-all-trades with decent performance: but I have flown in them a lot this summer, and at this point every other airframe ever built looks like a lot more fun. He offered to let me fly the plane if I would put gas in it, and I eagerly accepted. Every day since, the question on my mind has been "where do I want to go?"

After thinking about it for a while, I decided to plan a solo night cross country trip. Paul's plane is not equipped or certified for flight into instrument conditions, so I knew I would have to wait for a night with good weather and little chance of fog. The only other thing I had to work out was when to go. As it turned out, I didn't have to be at work terribly early this morning, and I don't have to be there ridiculously early tomorrow either. Oh yeah, and a high pressure ridge is dominating the weather for roughly the middle third of the US, so I knew the weather would be clear.

After locking the fuel pumps, balancing the cash register, settling the credit card machine, and closing the FBO this evening, I sat down at the desk with my plotter and a chart. I decided to navigate the old fashioned way - with nothing but a map, compass, clock, and a good view out the window. This is the way I teach students to fly at first, then I transition them to using navigation equipment like ground-based radio beacons and GPS. It is fun (and sometimes challenging) to fly only with pilotage and dead reckoning though, and at night the landscape looks different, making this type of navigation especially "thrilling."

The fuel tanks hold about 6 hours of gas, so I decided to try and fly about 4 hours total. Marion, Ohio looked about the correct distance away, so I got to work plotting lines, measuring bearing and distance, calling Flight Service for a briefing, and calculating compass error and wind corrections. I decided that I would have a groundspeed of about 78 knots on the way up and about 114 knots on the way back. Considering the distances, speeds, and routing, I planned on about 3:30 for a total flight time. With a planned departure of 7:00pm to be sure it was dark outside, I wouldn't be out too late, or get too tired, landing about 10:30. I called Marion just to be sure they have 24 hour self-serve fuel - in case I decided that more gas in the tanks would be prudent for the flight home.

The airport is a very quiet place after everyone has gone home and the sun has set. I did a preflight inspection of the Cherokee and all looked well except for the fuel level. After selling myself 25 gallons of 100 octane Low Lead aviation gas, I loaded my flight bag and emergency kit (hey, there is some dark, rough terrain between here and there!), organized the cockpit, and taxied out for departure.

Flight controls - free and correct. Throttle - 1800 RPM. Magnetos - check. Carburettor heat - check. Suction, engine, and electrical gauges - check. Fuel - fullest tank. Auxillary fuel pump - on. Navigation lights and flashing beacon - on. Throttle - full. With the last of the checklists complete, I accelerated down runway 8 and, at a speed of about 65 miles per hour, lifted off into the darkening night sky.

I turned on course, dimmed the lights, trimmed the plane for a climb to 5,500 feet above sea level, and settled back into my seat to look for landmarks. The first thing that struck me about flying on an October Friday night in the midwest was "geez, there are a lot of high school football games tonight, I wish the stadiums were on my chart." The visibility was unlimited, and in the 60 mile wide area I could see, there were at least a dozen stadiums lit up like beacons. Navigating the old fashioned way, the only way to know your speed over the ground is by matching up landmarks you can see out the window with things that are on the chart, and then timing how long it takes you to fly between them. With this time, and distance measured from the chart, you can calculate your groundspeed. After doing this a couple of times, I decided that my speed was exactly as I calculated on the ground, I was right on course and schedule, and life was grand. I continued to find checkpoints, clicked on the lights at the airports I passed, and was enjoying managing the flight. As I passed over Lancaster, Ohio, I switched fuel tanks and turned toward Marion Municipal.

My route of flight took me right over Port Columbus, in Columbus, OH. At my altitude, I could see the city lit up in all its glory - and at night the city looks huge. I could literally see a big haze of light in the air from Columbus from 60 miles south of the city. The airport was cool to see, as was the row of airliners below me on approach to the active runway tonight, 28 right. I especially enjoy flying at night. Up high, you can see the lights of towns, cities, and villages - sometimes from as many as 40 miles away. When there are no clouds and the sky is dark, you have no real depth perception, and sometimes it is almost like flying in a space capsule rather than in an airplane.

Approaching Marion, I cancelled my VFR radar services with Columbus Approach and began my descent. I landed at Marion on runway 25, light on medium intensity, taxied back for another takeoff and landing there, then headed to the ramp. Of course the ramp was dark - no planes, no people, etc. This is normal for an airport 2 hours after dark, but it was a little creepy anyway. I shut down and went to look for a vending machine. Found one and was ready to get a drink, but realized I didn't have any cash. Oh well. I checked the fuel tank that I had used for only one hour - it was down about 6 gallons. I was happy about this, because the plane normally uses 7.5 or 8 gallons per hour. To get fuel consumption low, I chose a high altitude (the plane gets more efficient as you go up), pulled the engine back to about 60% power, and leaned the mixture waaaay out. I decided to accept a slower airspeed in exchange for a huge improvement in fuel economy, especially since I wasn't in a hurry.

I walked around for a minute, took a couple pictures that didn't turn out (my camera doesn't work well at all at night) and began the flight home. Took off on a different runway - I used 13 for departure. It was most closely aligned with my on course heading home, the taxi route was shorter than for the long runway, and there was no wind at all on the surface.

Headed back, I climbed to 7,500' to catch a tail wind and started the process of navigation. My speed and course calculations from before were still coming out perfectly, and the trip back was really relaxing. Over Columbus, I heard the controller ask a regional jet if he could hear an emergency locator beacon on the emergency frequency. He said he could not, but I went ahead and tried to see if I could pick one up. Sure enough, I could hear one very faintly through the static, and I let ATC know. 10 miles later, I tried again, and the beacon was much stronger. Again, I let the controller know what I was hearing. Just as I was about to leave Columbus' airspace, she asked me if I could try and pick up the beacon again, but I must have moved too far away - I couldn't hear it any more. I hope my reports helped them zero in on the location of the transmitter somewhat, and I hope they discover some fool who landed too hard and went home rather than somebody in trouble out there - its a cold night in central Ohio.

Turned the corner over Lancaster and set my sights for home. I checked my groundspeed by timing myself between two points. 114 knots. I checked that number against the GPS on my phone - 114 knots. I smiled to myself, because 114 knots was exactly what I calculated I would be traveling about three hours before. I hesitate to say that I am so good, but sometimes things just come out right.

Arriving back in my home area, I was switched to Huntington Approach and requested clearance to do a touch and go at the big airport before heading back to home base. The controllers sounded bored, and sleepy, and I was cleared for the option on runway 30 about 20 miles away. I rolled the wheels on their runway for just a second and was back in the air enroute home.

After landing, mooring the plane, cleaning my stuff out of the cockpit, and putting the keys back in the key box, I headed home. 3.8 hours of night, solo, cross country flight. In not-a-Skyhawk. 4 landings at 3 airports. This is what I get to write on the very first line in my new log book - I closed my first log this week because it is full: another milestone in my life as a flight instructor.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nationally Published!

OK, so it has been a while since I posted, but life has been craaaaaa-zy this month. Things should settle down a bit around September 1st. I should be moved out of the apartment by then, and have a bit more free time to write.

Let me just point out, however, that I was published this month in AOPA Pilot, a magazine read nationally by around 400,000 active pilots each month. The website is read by many more people from many countries. Here is the link to the article online:

And here is what I had to say about landing an airplane...

No tunnel vision

“Don’t lock in to a spot on the runway. You have to look up and down it, use the far end as a horizon, and keep the nose just above that line. Let your eyes take in the side of the runway, and even the grass. The point is to not get tunnel vision, but let your peripheral vision work for you, too. [This] cleaned up my landings quite a bit.

“Remember to reduce final approach speed if below gross weight. Why use 1.3 [times] book VSO [stall speed in the landing configuration], when the airplane actually will stall much slower than that lightly loaded? I found that after learning to reduce all my speeds, especially final approach speed, my flying became much more stable, predictable, and landings are wonderful. In a game of energy management, it helps to actually do it.” —Matt Caldwell, Huntington, West Virginia

Monday, August 16, 2010

Helicopter Tree Trimmer (Video)

I know its been a while since I have posted, but after arriving in California I didn't really have access to the internet, and since I've come back I have been very busy flying with my students. Kevin got his medical certificate while I was gone, so on Saturday, I endorsed him for solo flight. The next day, I let him go on a cross-country flight. He trained to the solo stage about 10 years ago, and has several hundred hours as a passenger in light planes. Really, he should have his license - at least, that is his skill level, so we are working on getting the legal boxes checked.

On Sunday, as Kevin was leaving for his flight to Moorehead, KY, a helicopter came in to land with an external load. The company trims trees by power lines, and uses this huge aerial saw.

I got a video of it landing. The boom that connects the saw to the chopper is a rigid pole. Quite impressive to see them sit it down.

More to come in the next few days, I'm still getting things together after the trip, and trying to get moved out of our old apartment, so posts may be about once a week (give or take) for a while.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Driving Cross Country

Well, I usually post about my flight, especially cross-country trips. I'm not traveling via air, but I have been on one hell of a cross-country trip. I'm driving with Megan from Ohio to Los Angeles. We left home about 48 hours ago, and are now lounging in Seligman, AZ. L.A. is only about 400 miles away (total trip length is about 2250). One thing I noticed is that the terrain didn't change much until we got to New Mexico. Even Oklahoma and the parts of Texas we drove through looked a lot like northen Kentucky - at least from the ground. I'm sure the differences would have been a lot more obvious from the air.

Here are some pictures from along the way. I'll caption the ones I can remember anything about. I took a picture every hundred miles, exactly on the mile, regardless of what was outside the window. Some of them are good, some of them...

The St. Louis Arch - Gateway to the West. Saw this our first day out.

Wind Turbines in Missouri. Saw a lot of these is every state west of Illinois

After we made it to New Mexico, we saw a lot of very dramatic scenery on the horizon, but the Interstate only took us close a couple times. This is west of Albequerque.

We also saw a lot of trains, sometimes several at a time. We could usually see the entire train at once because they were far from the highway and the land is so flat and devoid of buildings or enough shrubbery to block the view.

And in the interest of keeping it Aviation-related, I snapped this picture of the Winslow VOR through the heavy rain we encountered in Arizona.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

When The Twin Breaks Down...Send A Skyhawk To The Rescue!

The weather was not looking too great - low clouds, rain showers, and grey skies were the first things I saw when I woke up. After checking the weather a little more closely, I called and cancelled my only student for the day. Our planned flight time of 3pm would put us squarely in low visual conditions and scattered thunderstorms. In anticipation of a relaxing day off, I ran over to the airport to pick up my paycheck.

When I walked in the door about 11:30am, the chief mechanic called me over as he was hanging up the phone. "Hey, one of the other pilots is out in the (Cessna) 414 and when he tried to start the left engine, it had some oil pressure problems. He is stuck in London, KY. Want to go pick him up?" In pilot-speak, he had pretty much just said "Hey, take an airplane and have fun all day doing what you want, the company will pay for it." Of course I accepted.

The first thing I did was to go over the weather in a lot more detail. Most of the crap was pretty far south and moving due east. Nothing was going to build too soon, and cloud bases were reasonably high above the ground for the entire route with good visibility underneath. I decided that as long as I didn't waste time, I could get down there and pick the other pilot up without worrying about the weather too much. He had the Garmin 396 handheld GPS with him, so we could use it's XM weather feature for strategic storm avoidance on the way home. I immediately started to preflight an airplane and file a flight plan. The plane I decided to take has a cruise prop on it, so it goes a hair faster and uses less gas than the others. It also has a Garmin GNS430 in the radio panel - an IFR-certified GPS. This tool makes IFR work a lot easier. As I was doing the pre-flight, my first private pilot student, Francis, came to the airport. He had just stopped by to drop off a check, but after I told him what I was doing he asked if he could go. I told him to check the weight and balance, and he could go if it was OK. It was OK, but just barely, and he decided to stay on the ground.

Only after I fueled up and started the engine did I remember that this plane has been having problems with the navigation radios - it wasn't legal to fly IFR. I ended up having to call Flight Service back and cancel the first flight plan and file another one, with a more complex routing. Then I had to put the first airplane away and do the entire preflight-fuel-setup the cockpit-game on a second plane. I finally got my clearance and off the ground, but I was about 35 minutes behind schedule.

This is a picture shortly after takeoff. You can see the wings are level, airspeed good, positive rate of climb, and right on course. You can also notice that the only thing to see out the window but a big grey nothing.

This picture is looking out the rear side window during the climb. You can see three states, Ohio north of the Ohio River (the bigger one), Kentucky to the left, and West Virginia to the right. KY and WV are separated by the Big Sandy River, which is smaller than the Ohio River.

At my cruising altitude of 6,000 feet, I was between layers of cloud and had about 15 or 20 miles of in-flight visibility. I could see scattered columns of cloud rising out of the floor below me and into the ceiling above, it was a very cool, and somewhat spooky, sight. I flew about 80 miles when I saw my in-between area of clear end, about 20 miles ahead. I was about 15 miles from London. I continued to get closer to London, but the wall of weather stayed where it was. The Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC, or center from now on) advised that they were showing an area of heavy to extreme precipitation ahead of my position, about 5 miles west of my destination. This was the crap I had seen on radar before takeoff and wanted to avoid. I would have made it with time to spare had the first plane been servicable. Not having on-board weather of any sort, I decided to take Indianapolis Center's advice and go back the way I had come. Being IFR with embedded storms and extreme precip is not where I want to take myself.

I set course for the Hazard, KY airport, about 30 miles east of my destination, London. When I got in the area I noticed the weather was a bit worse than it had been as I passed through earlier. The space between layers was still there, but the undercast was now solid rather than broken and a light rain was falling from above. From directly over the airport I turned west, outbound on the VOR approach, and began to lose altitude. Several miles later, when I turned inbound and crossed the final approach fix, I started trying to spot the airport. As the distance measuring equipment (DME) counted down the remaining miles to the airport, I began to think I might miss the approach - there was a large cloud ahead of me. I entered the cloud about 1 mile from the missed approach point. Just as I reached the MAP, I broke out of the other side of the cloud, spotted the airport, and landed at Hazard.

Here is another picture of some unnamed and unknown locale along the way. Notice the upper and lower cloud layers I mentioned earlier. When IFR, real-world locations don't really mean anything. The only reason you know you are moving is because the needles and numbers of the navigation equipment move. That and, well, airplanes can't exactly stop in mid-air.

After shutting down, and a quick dash through the rain, I found myself in a mostly-deserted and very typical small-airport FBO. My cell was dead, which made things difficult, but I got it to turn on long enough to get some phone numbers out of it. I called back home and let Megan know I was on the ground. Then I called home base to make sure I still needed to complete the trip - the pilot who was stranded with the 414 is also an A&P (airframe and powerplant mechanic). I was told that he was working on it, but still stranded, and the problem looked fairly serious, so I could continue if able. A quick glance at the radar confirmed that I was unable to continue for now. Every place between Hazard and home was clear of storms, but just north of London, there were scattered storms coming one after the other. I decided to take a crew car, drive into town, and get a bite to eat.

Town turned out to be a bit more than the advertised 10 minutes away from the airport. As I drove, I started to wonder if this sort of stuck-in-BFE-all-day-by-myself is fairly common for pilots. I suppose it is, which is OK, but sometimes I'd rather be home - especially when its supposed to be my day off. The valleys the road is built in were full of cloud and mist, and a light drizzle really made the entire day seem melancholy - especially because of the dilapidated-dirty-poor-coal-mining-area scenery. Not a cheerful place to live, thats for sure. After a quick bite to eat, I headed back to the airport. I was only gone for an hour. When I got back, I looked at the radar, decided it was time to go south, and called back home just one more time to be sure I should go. As it turned out, they had gotten the 414 repaired just before I called, and had departed London headed home just 10 minutes earlier. Aw hell.

I called Flight Service, filed the 12th flight plan that day, jumped in the plane, picked up my clearance, and headed for home. By this time, the weather south was flyable and the weather along my return route north was getting much better. The day's heat, which drives such storm patterns, was waning - it was almost 6pm!

Here is some cloud on the way home. Notice the layer dead ahead and same altitude - I punched right through that, but for the first time all day you can also see blue sky.

Local Approach was really friendly, as always, and offered me a localizer approach to get in. I accepted, and as I was starting to get radar vectors, they told me the ceiling was high enough that I could probably just get in by descending to the minimum IFR altitude and getting under the cloud deck, which was rising anyway. I told them that would be fine, and it would save about 15 minutes. The plan worked well, and I arrived home just as the last of the rain was clearing out. After cancelling my IFR clearance, I tuned to the UNICOM frequency for the home field and was surprised to hear someone answer me from the office. She had waited around for me to get back, and I was truly grateful. It was a fun day, but long, and I really got to exercise my decision-making and IFR flying abilities.

I took this picture right after I arrived. You can see the edge of the cloud layer - the last little bits of scud - moving away from the airport.

In retrospect, I did many things well, and a few things not so well. My first mistake was in getting delayed by about an hour. I missed my window for an approach to London by about 5 minutes. The second mistake was circling to land at Hazard. I should have started to slow the plane a bit earlier and landed more normally. Or I should have just headed for home. Neither one a big mistake, but things to think about next time I'm up in the soup. I made a lot of decisions that I was proud of, however. The decision I liked best was the decision to divert once I knew the flight could not be completed, and not before. I diverted to a relatively close location with known facilities and known flyable weather, rather than just turning tail and going home.

It was a fun, challenging day, and I got time in actual (which is very valuable experience-wise). My biggest complaint is that Francis didn't go with me, since I never did actually pick anyone up.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Matter Of Perspective...

In a typical day at work, I have between 3 and 5 flights. Of these, over 90% are with primary flight students. Some of the clients have been assigned to me, for others I am just pinch-hitting for their regular CFI. There are so many of them, but only one of me. Lately, I've been thinking about the way I experience a typical day at the airport vs. the way a flight student is likely to experience the airport. I am not much of a writer in the artistic sense, but I'm going to try a journal-like style for this post. I hope it works.

For the record, all of the people, events, and opinions described herein are entirely fictional. This is just a literary experiment. I hope it doesn't sound too pessimistic.

Tuesday, 7:22am
I glide my car into the usual spot in the shade by the FBO building. Just finished eating a peach and drinking a cup of coffee. I grab the flight bag, stack of papers, phone, sunglasses, and water bottle that make up my usual equipment for a long day. The morning fog is mostly gone, which is good. I have a student, a doctor learning to fly before clinicals each day, scheduled eight minutes from now, and I need to unlock the building, gas pumps, and get a flight briefing for the day before he arrives. We are both on a tight schedule this morning.

Tuesday, 8:07am
The doctor is here, and we just arrived in the practice area at 3,500'. He has had about 4 flight lessons so far, and today we are starting power-on stalls and recovery from them. After a steep turn and some basic maneuvers as a warm-up, I coach him through the first power-on stall. "Bring carburetor heat on, then bring power to 1500 RPM and add back pressure to maintain altitude, just like the slow flight we did two days ago. When you get an airspeed around 55 knots, bring your power to 2000 RPM, hold the back pressure on the yolk, and let the nose pitch up. Then, continue to bring the stick back until the stall occurs, the nose gently falls to the horizon, where you will relax the back pressure and pitch for a 70 knot climb." Sounds basic, tame, even monotonous to me. I know how the plane will react and am comfortable with it. I am also confidant in my ability to recover from anything could do to us. When we try the first stall, however, I can't convince him to bring the nose up enough to stall the plane. "Keep adding back pressure" I say. Finally, I add a gentle tug to finish the maneuver. The good part was that his instinctual reaction was to relax pressure on the stick. The bad is that he was a bit overzealous, and we are now in an accelerating dive. After returning to straight and level flight, it occurs to me how intimidating, even scary, this could be for a new pilot. Who am I to coax him into making the plane fall on purpose, what foolishness is this? Whats more, he is probably wondering if this kid next to him who is young enough to be his son can save the plane if something goes wrong.

Tuesday, 11:43am
Just finished a short cross-country flight with a college student learning to fly this summer. During the de-brief, I am thinking about how nice the AC feels, and feeling a bit hungry. Just another flight, to that same airport, 54 nautical miles away. My client, however, is really excited, remembering all the sights along the way, and asking a ton of questions. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do - teaching and flying, but sometimes it is easy to forget how blasted lucky we professional pilots are to see the things we see and do the things we do. Sometimes, it takes a fresh perspective to make us remember that. Sometimes, this is what I think about after that student has gone home, and I'm on my way across the street to grab lunch.

Tuesday, 2:18pm
Many afternoons around the airport are hot and boring. A lot of people who can afford to learn to fly are at work. The rest often don't want to fly during the hottest, stickiest, bumpiest part of the day. This is usually when I wander down to the maintenance hangar to relax in the air conditioned office, chat with the airport regulars, or volunteer some work time in the shop (refurbishing spark plugs, putting oil in motors, reassembling basic parts, etc.). This is also the time when I sometimes wish I was flying any of the planes in sight other than the Cessna Skyhawks. After over 400 hours in the front seat of a particular plane type, anything else (bigger or smaller, faster or slower) looks like paradise. Then again, I'll bet the small business owner won't look at the trainer plane in quite the same light when he arrives at 4:00. He walks in and sees an actual airplane. It is a Cessna, the brand that everybody has heard of but probably never touched. It is one of those beautiful "little" planes that his co-workers and family see as either dangerous or pointless. To him, it is the most fun he has had in years, a challenge, a tool, and a path to the dream of learning to fly.

Tuesday, 5:37pm
The chief pilot just called and asked if I have time to sub for one of the other CFIs who can't fly with his regularly scheduled student. I have a break in the schedule, and was planning on heading home for a couple hours before my night cross-country trip this evening, but I can stay. I'm looking forward to meeting someone new, seeing if I can help them hammer out the landing flare, and maybe looking forward to the extra hour on my paycheck, just a little.

Tuesday, 8:58pm
Now I'm flying with a middle-aged professional. He is almost done with flight training, and we are finishing the last of his night-flying requirements. I've now been at the airport or in an airplane for thirteen and one-half hours. I have made about 7.5 billable hours. We are almost home from a short cross-country destination. I'm drilling him on flight by reference to instruments, night-time optical illusions, emergency procedures, navigational chores, and nagging about using that checklist again. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about getting home to my girl, how tired I am, and the disparity between the hours I work and the hours I get paid for. Again, I love my job, but we can all imagine something a little better, can't we? During takeoff on our way home, I noticed that the landing light burnt out, but I don't think the student did. Oh well, he will figure it out soon. I hope it doesn't cause him too much concern when he does, I was going to have him land with the light off anyway, the landing lights burn out so often on these old planes that landing lights out is just another maneuver, just a training exercise. Still, as we plow on over small towns along the interstate home, radio chatter at a minimum, the air still, the world seeming to slow down and almost stop; things are peaceful, and beautiful. Without a word spoken, I realize that we are both admiring the beauty of the earth at night as only aviators can. For the first time all day, I think we are seeing things the same way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beautiful Picture on a Foggy Evening

Snapped some pics as my student-who-would-have-soloed-if-he-would-finish-his-paperwork took us around the patch. This one really stood out. All the mist/fog came from the really high humidity from the torrential rain of the past 30 hours or so. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quick Update (and another solo!)

I am still working on a post about my developing perspective on flying every day, but until I can complete that train of thought I'll share some pictures I took today.

First, here is Dustin, who flew solo today for the first time in his life!

We started the day by practiceing various takeoff and landing techniques. It has been several weeks since we have done nothing but landings, and I wanted to be sure he was in the zone. Last week we flew a cross-country trip together, and I wanted to brush up a few skills I had seen on that flight. The flight before that one, I had decided he was ready to solo, but then a two week break set us back a little. Today, however, he was at the top of his game. I didn't bother telling him that there was a variable crosswind to 8 knots - words that would make a lot of pilots nervous. He flew the pattern perfectly each and every time, and was compensating without even thinking about it, so why bring it up?

I wanted to surprise him with the solo, because I didn't want him to overthink things, so when we taxied in to get some gas, I nonchalantly asked if he had gotten his medical yet, and if I could have it to make a copy for our files. One of the other CFIs asked if it was going to be a solo, and I said "no" so as not to ruin the surprise - we had just come in to get gas and use the head.

After getting back in the plane, and one final circuit around the pattern, I asked Dustin for his medical while we were taxing back to takeoff. He gave it to me, I signed it and his logbook, and then said "give me three normal landings" and jumped out.

He made three beautiful patterns, and the touchdowns were the best of the day. I really felt better about soloing my second student, and was a lot less nervous this time as I watched him climb away from the runway. I didn't have him fly with one of the other CFIs, this was entirely my own judgement call, and I knew it was the correct decision, even with the wind. Now, all we need is some better weather. Shortly after Dustin went home (to celebrate, I presume), the day turned into this and we aren't expecting anything better for about 48 hours.

Notice the red and white plane, N1868V, which comes into view tied-down near the the grass when the camera pans left. It is a new plane for the flight school, a 1975 Skyhawk. She flys true, climbs well, and is quite fast with the wheel pants on.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Flying a Cessna Original

Flew in an interesting plane today. Dubbed the "Rainmaker II" by its owner, N8574B is an original Cessna 172. As always, click the pictures for a larger, higher quality version. The older, 1970s models I teach in are, roughly, the 15th versions (L, N, and P models), and the ones produced today are S models. 74B isn't any model, its an original, manufactured in 1958, and it isn't what we would consider in "mint" condition, with a few stickers and a rattle-can paint job. The owner lives in Alaska, but his nephew lives here, and wants to finish his pilot training that he started about 7 years ago. Of course, he wants to fly the uncle's plane, which will be much cheaper (has to buy about 5 gallons of $4.50/gal gas per hour vs. a $90/hour rental).

There are many differences between the Skyhawks I usually fly and this early-model bird. First of all, the engine is a 6-cylinder, but rated at the same horsepower. Second, the plane is a lot lighter than the later models. Since the engine is flatter, the cowling (nose) is flatter, and so is the instrument panel. The windshield is bigger, and there is better visibility out the front, it is really cool. The tail is more square, which doesn't affect flight characteristics, but is very noticeable in this picture, which has a newer Skyhawk tail in the background for reference. Also, the plane sits much higher off the ground, so the sight picture is a little different and thus the landing also. Flaps in the school planes are electric, and when you select the flap lever, it takes several seconds for them to deploy or retract. In 74B, there is a big manual lever on the floor, much like the emergency brake handle in a car. Its really cool because you can go from zero to full flap much more quickly, and take them out quickly also. The final difference about the old plane is the way a vacuum is generated to power some of the gyroscopic instruments. In newer planes, there is an engine-driven vacuum pump to provide a vacuum source, but many older planes have these:
Each of these two tubes is called a venturi. As air passes through the narrower part, it speeds up, and as the speed of a fluid increases, the pressure decreases (this is Bernoulli's principle, one of the same effects that create lift in a wing). This vacuum is connected to the gyros. This is awesome. Cessna 172s are certified for spins, but normally can't be spun because there is no way to legally disconnect the gyros. If you spin the plane with the gyros powered, the bearings wear prematurely, which is especially bad for planes certified for instrument flight - where the 3 gyros are the only way of controlling the plane. Since this 'hawk has venturi-power (they aren't very good, especially at low speed) and is not certified for IFR, and the gyros are ancient, nobody cares if the plane is spun.

Spins have the reputation of being dangerous, but it would be more accurate to say that unintentional spins are dangerous, and spins when it is unclear who is flying the plane are dangerous, and spins in planes not certified for them are dangerous. Otherwise, it is a relatively low-stress maneuver for the airframe, and if loaded and certified, the planes are capable of entry and exit completely reliably. All pilots practice making the wing stall, which just means it hits the air at too high of an angle. Spins are simply when one wing is in this "stalled" condition and the other is creating lift, so that the plane rotates. It is a lot of fun to glide with the engine at idle, slowly pull the yolk back to the stop, wait for the nose to begin to break, hold it, and shove one rudder pedal to the floor. The nose drops off to one side, falls about 70 degrees below the horizon, and begins to rotate about one revolution per second or two. To recover, you just push the other pedal, let the yolk come forward, and bring the nose to the horizon. Lots of fun.

Well, because of all these differences, I was told to take the plane out by myself and get used to the way it flies before I try to teach in it. I went through the papers, read the checklist, examined the instrument panel to find the switch and lever locations, and fired 'er up. Despite the differences, it is just a Skyhawk, and the first circuit around the pattern went very normally and culminated in a near-perfect landing. OK, checkout complete, the plane flies almost exactly the same, so I headed out to the practice area, got radar services, and climbed to about 5,000' above ground level. Spins in the 172 are something I've wanted to do since I got spin instruction last November in preparation for my instructor rating, and I have come to the conclusion that (as long as safety is carefully considered) spins are pretty much the most fun maneuver that is legal in a non-aerobatic plane. After a couple each left and right, I headed in for some more landings. That was when I discovered the joy that is manual flaps. Had fun getting to know the plane, and did some grass operations and engine-out practice (the plane glides much worse than the later models).

After an hour of the most fun I've had in a plane for a long time, I headed over to the fuel pumps. Before the flight, the left tank had 13 gallons and the right tank had 10 gallons, 23 total. After the flight of 1.7 hours, the plane had 16 gallons in it. 7 gallons cost me $33.50. When is the last time anyone got almost 2 hours of free, fun, solo flight for less than $40? I don't know, but it sure is cool when it comes around. I'm excited to start teaching the nephew in his uncle's aerial classic, sans the spins of course.

The entry in my logbook for this flight was the last one on the page. While adding the columns, I realized I just hit 900 landings and 400 flight hours. I have flown about 100 hours in the past 8 weeks, when I started this job. Up to this point in my life, I have managed to average about 100 hours per year. Now that is something to write home about.