Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Since it looks like at least a week before my flight test, and today saw by sun and a beautiful clear blue sky with a light smattering of high cirrus clouds, I decided to go up for an hour and practice. Of course the flying part, but especially the teaching/talking part. The plan was to take off with short field technique, do all the commercial pilot maneuvers and the CFI stall series in the practice area, then come back for a soft field landing and takeoff, then finish with a short field landing.
When I got to the airport, Rob was there. I asked him what all I should do in order to be allowed to teach with their airplanes. We talked for a little while, and he said he would talk to the owners of the place and put a packet of papers together for me to fill out once I get my CFI ticket and add instructor coverage to my insurance. We also talked about how to switch my friend Kim over to me as in instructor - she has been taking lessons with another CFI over there, but their schedules don't mesh up too much. I think the general idea is to get the three of us together and discuss it. At any rate, Rob says he sees no reason I wouldn't be allowed to teach out of the planes here, and I would probably wind up with extra or hand-me-down students (because I'd be the low man on the totem pole, so to speak, I'd have last dibs on whatever job may come along). The only problem would be if I try and teach at more than one airport - they don't want me accidentally taking their business along with them. Understandable to be sure, we will have to figure something out.
At any rate, there was enough gas in the plane for what I had in mind and it was gusty and 28 degrees F, so I did a brief (but complete) preflight inspection and skipped the trip to the pumps. Started up, taxied out, and took off after a successful engine check.
Best rate climb up to pattern altitude, contact the local Tracon for flight following in the practice area, and then depart up to 3500'. I started with an intro slow flight lesson, explaining the relationship between pitch, power, and drag. Then it was time for some stalls. Since I was climbing, I went ahead and talked myself through a departure stall, then transitioned to a power off approach stall. The cross control stall - where you stall with the controls in a very exaggeratedly uncoordinated position while turning, was successful and fun. The accelerated stall - a stall in a steeply banked turn - was characteristicaly difficult to achieve a clean break. After some steep turns, it was time to descend a little bit, so I practiced the steep spiral on the way down.
Everything was going well, so after a quick chandelle and lazy eight I reported inbound to the airport. Came in on the upwind leg to runway 26, flew around the pattern, and landed. Turned out that, rather than a contrived short or soft field technique, I had the opportunity to practice a real crosswind landing. It had been a choppy flight, and the landing was also, with winds variable from directly ahead to directly across the runway gusting to 15 or 20, though I was able to get a smooth enough touchdown out of it.
I have been comfortable flying in much worse, so I went around once more. I haven't had the chance to practice-teach-to-empty-space (or just to brush up my flying skills) crosswind operations for a while, and it felt good. One textbook takeoff, properly judged descent, and properly firm arrival later I was done for the day, with 1.1 hours to put in the book.
Rob came out and helped me tie the plane up while I installed the gust lock, pitot tube cover, and locked the cabin. We chatted a little bit as he wrote my ticket up and I put some money on account.
Everything went well, and I flew at least to Practical Test Standards, but I'm really getting frusterated. I want to finish my test and earn the last 30% of my instructor certificate. I'm qualified, I just need a day where the weather and personnel schedules sync up enough that I can demonstrate it to the FAA. I don't expect the cash to start rolling in (not really what I'm after anyway), but I know of at least one person who wants to fly with me on a weekly basis, and I'm ready to get started.
Stay tuned, I'll actually get to write up the flight test some day, maybe Feb 5 if the weather cooperates.
Monday, January 25, 2010
As I dashed in to the FBO, trying to not get too wet, Nancy (one of the private pilot students) greeted me, saying she and her husband were just talking about how it had been a long time since they had seen me. Tom was also there to say hello. He had joined the class about 2/3 of the way through. Apparently the place he had been taking lessons sort of imploded, and he started coming here.
Nancy thanked me for doing such a good job teaching about performance and weight & balance calculations in the class. She had just passed her written test with a 95% grade (fantastic, and the FAA considers anything above a 70% a pass), and said that 7 or 8 of her 70 questions had been on the topics I had taught.
The 4 of us had been chatting for a minute when Diane (one of the CFIs) came in. It was good to see her, and we all talked for a minute about Nancy's test and my mostly completed CFI checkride. Then it was time for them to get down to business. They were getting ready to have a group lesson on communications and ATC, simulating all of the radio calls needed to simulate a flight from our home base to the practice area, a local class D airport, then a class C, and back home. They invited me to sit in on it, so I ran out to the plane (how fantastic to be able to say, an airplane sitting right outside!), grabbed the POH, and then back in to the lounge.
I reviewed the entire book for the plane, copying important numbers and specifications for review at home. This time around on my flight test, I want to be sure I know every important aspect of the aircraft cold. When I was done, I sat and listened to the lesson progress. Everything was looking good to my inexperienced eyes. The students were learning, and in taking turns coming up with the responses to Dola's best air traffic control impersonation they were teaching each other as well. Very impressive, and a technique that I will try to reproduce.
Of course, I added my knowledge here and there, mostly when there was something needing looked up that I had studied more recently than the others, or if I was asked my opinion. I was thinking that I didn't want to interject, interrupting their session or Diane's plan.
After a couple hours of steady rain, grey sky, the heater kicking on and off, and couch flying, the lesson was over. As I was about to follow the 3 students out to the cars, Diane asked me what I thought of the just-finished training session - she had never done it in front of another CFI before. Well, I told her that she still hadn't. I could see that the students were getting more comfortable and quicker at figuring out what to say, when, and what words to expect back. They also were asking questions - good ones that really demonstrated some understanding, and I told her so. We talked about teaching a little bit - various philosophies and techniques that are used, and she shared a story or two with me about her time instructing. She also let me know that she and Rob (the other CFI in the ground school. Diane and Rob are the two main CFIs at the airport) really respected me taking the time to come to the ground school for 2.5 hours every Saturday morning for months, not even getting paid to do so, and for adding so much to the class.
I was really glad for the time Diane took to talk to me as an equal - aviation-wise. I have worked and studied a lot for the past 3 years to make this possible for myself, the flight hours recorded in the logbook are a small part of the time I have spent living, breathing, and studying aviation (not to mention the time spent working at the restaurant to pay for it all). The simple act of asking my opinion, saying that she thinks of me as a CFI already, really helped to make it worth all of the effort in my mind.
After chatting about what I should do in order to be allowed to teach in the FBO's airplanes, and a friendly but serious reminder not to take any of her students flight students, we were getting ready to lock up for the night when a voice crackels over the radio "La......Unicom, .....sever sierra quebec, is any one there, over?" I asked if she thought that was for us. Neither of us was sure until the second broadcast came in a little clearer: "Larson County Unicom, two niner sever sierra quebec, is anybody there, over?" The weather at this point was probably 500 feet overcast, with visibility a mile or less in mist and rain. It was past sunset, the dusk to dawn runway lights had just come on, and the temp was falling pretty quick. I was really hoping this was not some poor fool trying to find our runway - it does not have an instrument approach of any kind. We replied as Larson Co. Unicom, and the pilot asked us to transmit on 122.75 rather than Unicom's 122.7. We said we would, then tried to figure out how to re-tune the base station. It has all the common local frequencies programmed in, and is not normally manually tuned. We finally figured out how and called for the aircraft again. I was really hoping he was not in some kind of trouble, and was glad when the plane returned our call. Turned out to be a former flight student, now flying a jet in the upper atmosphere. He told us the cloud tops were around 40,000 feet, and was just passing over head, and decided to call "home" to see if anyone was there to say hello to.
That is the kind of community one finds in aviation. Men and women brought together by shared passions, risks, losses, and rewards. Its a small community, the kind where senority and personal connections are important. People for whom the world is much smaller than it is for their ground-bound neighbors. People for whom a radio broadcast seeking the voices of old friends from seven miles up, moving 90% the speed of sound is as normal as morning coffee. I hope that someday, I too will be calling "home" on a rainy night from an isolated cockpit at the edge of the stratosphere, and someone will be around to reply.
Friday, January 22, 2010
I wasn't even sure I would be able to take the ride today at all. There has been a fairly strong low pressure center about 200nm south for several days. It has been bringing MVFR ceilings (2000 to 5000 feet above the ground, or thereabouts) and rain, but surface temps have been in the 40s. I spoke with my inspector yesterday, and was advised that they really dislike doing oral exams when the weather is bad because it can be hard to get the schedules aligned in order to finish. He was optimistic enough about the forecast to tell me we would go ahead with it.
I ate about half a muffin, a small glass of OJ, and some yogurt, then walked the door. The 40 minute drive to the Columbus, OH Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) turned into a 50 minute drive after I was led into a knot of exit ramps by some vague directions, but I finally found Airport Drive, building 2480 (I discovered 2460, 2440, 2410, a Marriot Hotel, and a Chiropractor's office along the way). Went up 1 floor from the main floor, which turned out to be the third (rather than the second) floor of the building which also houses a Lockheed Martin office, among others.
I was buzzed into the entryway, ID checked, signed the visitor's log, was issued a visitor's pass, and the inspector paged to come get me. He had me open up my bag and show him the contents of the various pockets. It is a Federal Installation after all...whatever. They were nice enough about it. We went to an interview room with 4 chairs, a white board, a small round table, and no windows in sight. This room was the only place I was allowed to go, and to leave the inspector had to escort my back to the entryway, which he did about once an hour for our breaks.
We started with standard checkride stuff, about 45 minutes to get oriented, look over the 8710 application, knowledge test reports, logbook endorsements, and pilot and medical certificates. We had a little confusion over the endorsements needed. I had the spin endorsement and the instructor's recommendation, and they confirmed what I had heard previously - that the endorsement on the bottom of the knowledge test report is acceptable as the endorsement testifying that incorrect answers have been reviewed. He said I was lacking the 60 day endorsement. I said that I see where the various sub-parts of part 61 require that for the pilot certificates, but it is not in the subpart goverving flight instructors, and I had reviewed Advisory Circular 61-65 (the AC governing pilot certification, including sample endorsements for all FAA certificates) to be sure I had them all. He took my log book to go consult with some others, I dug out my copy of the regulations to begin finding evidence to support my case. He came back and said "no problem, you are good to go." They said that the 60 day requirement wasn't in fact in the CFI subpart of part 61, or in 61-65, and it would be silly to ask for other things since the regs, and especially the Advisory Circular, is produced by the FAA so that pilot applicants can get everything right. Since these products contsitute the official guidance on the matter, we were OK.
Started out talking about the special emphasis areas of the PTS and how to, well, emphasize them in flight training. We then moved on to the aircraft's Pilot Operating Handbook for the 172 RG. I was still a little nervous I suppose, because I somehow switched Vx and Vy, and was a little off on Vno. Still, I had the stalling, maneuvering, never exceed, flap and gear operating speeds correct, as well as max gross weight and the fuel numbers, so it was a relative success. He said that I really should know the numbers from the actual plane I will train in by heart, and I agree. Good thing I'm not training people in the RG I guess.
Then came the fundamentals of instruction. I told him the basic definition of "learning," what the laws of learning are, the characteristics of learning, some defense mechanisms I may see, the levels of understanding, characteristics of good tests, how to tell if your student is nervous or stressed, and a few other random things. We talked about some practical examples of instructor professionalism, and I heard a few ancedotes about guys the inspector has known who did stupid things. This type of story telling has been a feature of every checkride I have ever taken, and I suppose it always will be.
After stumbling my way through the airplane numbers and the learning process, we took a break. Escorted out of the office to the hallway/bathroom/snack machine area. He told me to come back when I was ready, about 10 minutes, and he would go check the weather. Unfortunately, I was not allowed in any area that had a computer, so I had no real input on the weather decision making process. All I could do was look at METARs (a French acronym for routine aviation weather reports) on my phone and look out the window. Still, the ceiling was up to about 4500 or 5500 feet with a few small clouds around 1700. Out the window, I could see pretty high, up through a hole, and blue sky above. When I went back in, the inspector was saying that Columbus' weather looked ok for now, but it was probably going to get worse and that Wilmington, Dayton, Mansfield, etc. were all reporting a 900 to 500 foot overcast layer.
We elected to continue the oral and reserve weather decisions for later in the day.
We went back in and I taught him about stalling aerodynamics, we discussed aeromedical factors, and I taught a 35 minute lesson on airspace. Luckily, I just taught this to Kat a few weeks ago, so I knew that I knew what I was doing here. The only thing I got wrong was my answer that a Piper Cub could not operate to an airport under Bravo airspace. Turns out there is a blanket exemption from the transponder requirement for airplanes certificated without electrical systems. Who knew? We went on to discuss general endorsements for pilots, the requirements for a private pilot's license, and endorsements for student pilots as well as consideration when giving a pre-solo written test. Then it was time for a break much like the first.
After the break he told me the good news that as long as I kept doing as well as I had been for the remaining hour or so, I would pass the oral no problem. He also told me the bad news that the weather didn't look so good, and we wouldn't be doing the flight portion of the test today. I guess it was one of those situations where if we had been sitting at the airport waiting, we could have squeezed the flight in for the time the ceiling was up, but it wasn't to be for us today (the airport with the plane to be used is about a 45 minute drive from the FSDO, clear across the city). I toyed with the idea of suggesting we take off on an IFR flight plan, punch through the clouds on top, and do the test in bright sun under a sunny blue sky, then descend into the grey murk when we were done, but I sort of sensed that would be bad suggestion. We had just had a conversation on not pushing the limits or skirting the rules with students the same way we might if we were on our own, and I thought it important to show him the better side of my judgement.
Anyway, we got back to it. I was to teach him a ground lesson as I would to a private pilot wanting an endorsement for complex airplanes. We talked about landing gear and propellor systems including how they work, the various types, how they are used, why they are used, how they can break in flight, what will happen if they do break, and how to handle the problem. Then I taught a simulated pre-flight lesson on a maneuver, in this case rectangular patterns. That is pretty straight forward and includes the reason we learn the maneuver, the procedure for doing the maneuver, some common errors and their remedies, and the completion criteria. With that, my oral testing, as well as today's ride, was complete at noon.
He returned my papers and application, and gave me a letter of discontinuance. This lettel basically says that the test could not be completed, even though I did everything right, and I can bring it back and resume the test where I left off any time in the next 60 days.
His evaluation was good. I did above average on the fundamentals of instructing (which I thought I had sort of stumbled through), my lesson on airspace was very good, as was my understanding of regulations, student pilot requirements, and pilot endorsements. With the cancellation of the flight though, sort of a bittersweet satisfaction.
All in all a decent day. Even thought I wanted to be a flight instructor by now, the oral part is done, so when I do the flight test I can start frest rather than having just had a 4 hour grilling in a windowless interview room. We will keep in touch, keep an eye on the weather, and the next time there is a day with a solidly good forecast, I will fly up here, bang out the flight test, and head home the same afternoon. I almost asked, as I returned my visitor pass and signed out of the visitor log, if I could have a ground instructor certificate today. Instead, I shook the man's hand and walked out of there knowing I had done a good job. Now its 3pm, about the time we would have been landing, and the Columbus airports are reporting (and have been for an hour) a 1500 foot overcast, and looking out the window, I have to say that I agree. Sometimes its better to leave the weather decisions to someone who doesn't have as big a stake in the successful outcome of a particular flight.
The animal rescue flight tomorrow has also been canceled because of weather, but I'm hoping that I still get the job flying a plane from Huntington, WV to Madison, WI on a ferry flight. That would be fun, and my first commercial flight.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I went through a quick startup and taxi checklist, and proceeded to "teach." Dan would ask for a flight demo of one thing, an explanation of something else. 30 degree banking turns, VOR interception and tracking, slow flight (which seems easy to non-pilots, but is actually a very neat - and complex - trick), and every performance maneuver I know were "taught" back to the man who taught them to me at one point or another. I was really getting put throught my paces (and doing the same to the plane). Then I showed him a cross-controlled stall and an accelerated stall. These can be hard, that Cessna wing is too slick, and just wants to mush around through the air unless you know exactly what to do to get a clean stall break out of it.
By now it was probably "sunset," though no mortal man could have told you that by looking at the sky. Tonight had one of those grey, 3 hour long twilights that just fade to black. We headed back to the airport - me remembering to continue running my mouth about getting the ATIS, traffic pattern entries and altitudes, and reminding Dan to "fly it by the numbers - 2100RPM, 100 MPH - top of the white arc, find your altitude...," etc. I was told to teach a soft-field (grass) landing, then we did short field takeoff and landing technique.
When my CFI was satisfied that I was properly trained to train others, I asked for one final ride around the patch. "I'm not going to touch the controls unless you make me, why don't you show me some of the dumb things that these people will try to do to wreck the plane?" Little did I know that I was in for the wildest ride in an airplane I've had so far in my life. We drove big circles trying to line up with the centerline, swerved from one side of that 150' wide runway to the other, skipped sideways and who can remember what else before the plane was finally airborne! We proceeded to accelerate to approx 5000 MPH before starting to climb out of ground effect, at which time we established an extreme pitch-up attitude (good thing we both learned how not to stall with power-on :D). The traffic pattern was sufficiently wide to let the B-52 between us and the runway make a successful landing, flaps were nearly retracted several times during the approach, and the flare - one second it was 30 feet too high, then we were pointed nose down about to make contact with the ground propellor first. When we were again to a complete stop I vowed to always, no matter what, pay the strictest attention to my student and the airplane at all times. I believe this was the lesson I was supposed to take away from the experience, at any rate...
Back in the office I filled out the log, went through my CFI-Airplane Practical Test Standards book (PTS), and got the last few things taken care of. 8710 form (the application that I may have forgotten to take to a previous checkride, but definitely will not let the same fate befall me or any of my students ever again), written test review, etc. were endorsed. Last came the big one, the endorsement in my logbook where my CFI and flying companion of several years and many hours attests that I am prepared and proficient to take the practical flight test to become a flight instructor for single-engine land airplanes! What a nice feeling. I have been anxious this past week about my upcoming test, but I don't think I will be from here on out. I know I can do this whole instructor thing - because I have - and the aviator that I trust the most to keep me realistic, informed, and in line agrees with me.
By this time it was dark, and the ceiling down to about 3000' AGL. Not too good, but not too bad either. I still had to get the airplane and myself back to our home base about 12nm away. I took off with the runway lights at max intensity and the throttle all the way in. In the cool winter air with half tanks and only my 10lb flight bag and 180lb body as cargo, that little old plane took to the air like nobody's business. About 300' in the air I noticed Dan in the parking lot watching me takeoff, and I blinked my nav lights at him as a farewell greeting.
The flight back home was beautiful, the air was still thick and heavy, but the temperature and dewpoint were still 7 degrees C apart - no danger of fog any time soon. I flew up the river valley, admiring the view of city lights ahead and beside me as I went. Arriving in my home airspace I smiled - the runway lights are broken again. The entire runway is supposed to be boxed by lights, but only the threshold lights and about 700' of the runway at one end actually are. Not a problem though, I decide that now would be a good time to get night current again. This involves 3 takeoffs and landings at night every 90 days in order to be legal to carry passengers. The last time I did this exercise was about 100 days ago. Even if the weather starts to get worse (which it shouldn't), I am close, and there is a class Delta airport 4nm away that I can get into on the ILS if I really need to.
Turned out that I didn't need to use that other airport, and I made one beautiful, greaser of a landing after another. I had forgotten how much I like flying at night. With the interior lights turned down low, the thrum of the engine, the unusual (but welcome) silence on the radio; it is very peaceful and calming.
All too soon I found myself standing next to a dark airplane, tying it down, gathering my things, locking the keys up, and walking across the dark and deserted ramp to my car. Then the realization hit me - the next time I climb into one of these planes, I could be that guy. The little fleet of 20 to 30 year old Cessnas that I have spent, literally, hundreds of hours in. I've flown as primary student, insturment student, commercial student. I've been taught to fly high-performance planes and complex planes. I've also flown as Pilot In Command, with family and friends - both on sunny spring joyrides and cold and rainy fall Instrument flights with a particular destination and timeline in mind. I've spent hours flying solo - for fun, for proficiency, for learning new things. But as I walked across that ramp tonight, bag over my shoulder, it hit me - the next time I fly in one of these planes, I will probably be the Instructor, the guy in the right-hand seat with the plan, and the answers, and the person who knows where to look for answers he doesn't know. I could be the guy who teaches someone else to fly solo, to make safe decisions, and to take their closest friend or relative on a $100 hamburger run for lunch some sunny Saturday afternoon.
Wow, what a thrill, what a responsibility. Now, I just need the weather to cooperate with my plans for my scheduled test date - 3 days from now.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The big thing today was that I practiced talking a ficticious student through the maneuvers as well (the flight bag can probably solo the plane now, it was strapped in the pilot seat). This was the hardest part - I wasn't stumbling over my words, but I need to polish up and stream line my explinations. That just comes with practice, I have been spending my evenings making lesson plans (so I don't forget anything on my test or when teaching students), and any alone time walking, driving, etc talking to myself like a crazy person, and maybe I am, well, just a little.
I'll try to start taking pictures at the airport, I need to find my camera!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
This blog exists because I thought it might be interesting for people to read (and for me to write) about becoming a flight instructor in small, single-engine, General Aviation aircraft. I have never done anything like this before, so we will see how it goes. Right now the plan is to post whenever I have an interesting experience regarding flying, teaching, or whatever else happens in my life.
First, a little about myself. I am 22 years old, in my final semester of undergrad (degree in History with minors in Chemistry and Spanish), and earned my Commercial Pilot Certificate from the FAA about 3 months ago. This does not mean that I can fly for the airlines (you need an Airline Transport Pilot certificate for that), but I can fly any single-engine land plane for hire. Basically, I can fly parachute jumpers, tow banners, give sight-seeing flights, carry cargo, and you can hire me to fly you around in your airplane. As of today, I have just over 260 total flight hours (after almost 3 years flying), and endorsements to fly Complex, High Performance airplanes, as well as to fly in instrument conditions (low visibility, inside clouds, etc.). My FAA exam to earn the flight instructor certificate is scheduled for January 22.
I have been studying for this test every day for weeks, and for a little longer than that total. I have had to pass two different written exams, take spin recovery training, and learn about so many other things. Psychology of learning, methods of teaching, procedures and common errors for every maneuver to be taught to Student, Sport, Recreational, Private, and Commercial Pilot candidates, and many technical subject areas such as Federal Air Regulations, aeromedical problems, airspace, weather, aerodynamics, and many others. This is a lot of material to keep in my head at once, and I need as much of it as possible to be there come test day.
Stay tuned for more! I'm not sure what I'll put up between now and my exam, but Jan 23 at least will see a full write-up posted here. Throughout this blog, the names used will have been changed.