Friday, April 30, 2010

Good Times In Calm Skies

I had a good night last night, flight with one of my airport friends. If you remember from my April 11th post, Hank owns part of a 1970 Mooney M20-C, and is preparing for his instrument rating flight test. I went up with him as a safety pilot again yesterday evening. We took off and he set a course for Charleston, WV. We picked up flight following from the local TRACON (air traffic control), and he got situated and put the foggles on (glasses that limit vision to the instrument panel only). Luckily for me, my job was to look out the window for other air traffic and to keep an eye on things. Not a hard job yesterday, it was a beautiful evening. The hills are finally, really green again. The water of the rivers looked amazingly clean and blue, and everything was lit up very well - there was not a cloud in the sky to block the increasingly golden rays of the sun.

We arrived in Charleston's class Charlie airspace, and were given vectors to the ILS approach for runway 23. Right as we crossed the Kanawha river, I covered up the artificial horizon with a post-it note. Simulated instrument failure! This is the one instrument that does not lag behind what the airplane is actually doing, and is the most useful in instrument conditions. I played it a little nasty too, I covered it up right as we passed over a factory and then the river, which Hank couldn't see. I knew we would hit an up draft, then a down draft, then back to calm air in quick succession. You know, just doing my best to help prep him for the examiner, who may also play such a trick. It didn't phase him even a little bit though, and we made a nice approach to 23. ATC turned us onto the final course a little late, and by the time we were established on the localizer, the glideslope had already dropped out of the bottom. Down we went, and it all came together beautifully, with soft morse code-music playing over the NAV 1 radio. (for the non-pilots, air traffic control (ATC) made the approach a little tricky for us, but this is a situation that is only as common as it is annoying, but not dangerous at all. The controller was very busy at the time, so a forgivable oversight).

Gear down, approach flaps in, trim setup, Hank made a very soft touch and go out of the bottom of the ILS, and we began following the missed approach procedure. After switching to departure frequency from the tower, we were cleared to hold west of the Charleston VOR (a ground-based radio-navigation station) as published. Entry was good, made it around the race-track pattern once, and exactly half-way around the outbound turn, I covered another instrument, this time it was the heading indicator. This is a fair thing to do, he has to do an approach with both of these instruments covered for the test, and since they are driven by the same power source (vacuum power), they often fail together in real life. This made things very interesting - the plane is a little more work to control with 2 out of 3 gyroscopic instruments out of service. Of course, its good to practice with a safety pilot onboard while in beautiful clear skies rather than in some crud and scud some rainy day on an approach to minimums. We came back around, intercepted the final approach course inbound, and Hank shot the VOR-A approach back to the airport. At the appropriate time, distance, and altitude, he called the end of the approach, I said "look up!", and he then could see what I could see - that we were exactly where we were supposed to be.

We turned back west and headed home. Flew a long, VFR, straight in approach at home base, and shut it all down. The sun was just setting as we were touching rubber to pavement, there were 2 or 3 people sitting on the front porch of the FBO, and all was right with the world. Hank and his wife Deborah invited me to eat Mexican with them - of course I couldn't turn that down, and it was an enjoyable (and spicy) meal.

Hank called today around 2:00pm to thank me for the help in getting ready for the test, and to let me know that he passed with flying colors today. Passing a flight test is always a nice feeling for somebody, and its infectious.

In other news, Russ let me know that I can take charge of one of the students at the flight school - the same guy I flew with a few weeks ago - now that I'm on the insurance. Excellent news, I'm excited to get started.

Also, a Cessna 310 (8 or so passenger twin engine plane) is going to be in the shop this coming week, and it needs washed, waxed, and the interior detailed. Oh, all right, for $15 an hour I'll wash planes all day. I'm expecting a good job to take about 20 to 24 hours if I work hard at it. Thats about double what I have usually made at the restaurant in a week, which is good, because tomorrow (Saturday) is my last day of working in restaurants. I can't stand it any more, and I reason that a college graduate (as of May 8th) and commercial pilot can surely find something else to do to pay the bills.

More to come this week I hope, so stay tuned. Washing the 310 (I'll try to remember to snap some pictures) and a possible trip to Detroit, which has been brewing for several weeks, are both coming up. Who knows what else may happen?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

You know, getting paid to fly just doesn't seem right...

Wow, what a busy week. I haven't had time to do much of anything except keep after school, work, and airport stuff. I had a 10 page film analysis due Monday, senior research due today, 30 minute presentation to give today, paper due Wednesday, and homework in all three classes Tuesday. In addition, I spend almost nine hours between Tuesday and Wednesday meticulously detailing a Cessna 182. Then tonight I had a flight at Ashland scheduled with some very nice people. Let me back up and take things one at a time...

This thing is 9' tall at the tail, 28' long, 38' wingspan, with a wing area of 172 square feet. A typical car is about 60 square feet. Multiply the wing area by 2, because it has a top and a bottom (ever tried stooping a little while waxing the ceiling? Not the easiest thing in the world). Thats 350 square feet of wing that I meticulously rinsed, scrubbed bug puddles off of, hand dried, and waxed. Just the wing - there was a fuselage and tail surfaces to do as well. Thats a lot of scrubbing! Luckily, this plane was already pretty clean inside, so detailing the interior didn't take more than about 3 hours. I washed it outside at Lawrence County, then pushed it into the hangar for the interior and wax part of the job.

Man did it look good when it was done though, the owner was very happy with it. Now he wants cars detailed, so it looks like I'm in business. Well, a business. I'd rather be flying, but the checks all look the same, so...we'll see where it goes. The maintenance shop liked my work enough that they want me to detail and wash a Cessna 310 that will be there next week. Not sure I can tackle such a job by myself, a 310 is a pretty large, two-engine plane.

Which brings us to the second major aviation event in my life this week. On Monday I got a call from Dan, who wanted to know if I would fly with a man on Thursday. I said "absolutelyareyoukidding?," so Dan gave me the number and I called him. John is a really nice guy from Ashland who hasn't flown for about 8 years and would like to again. I was supposed to meet him and a friend of his from church at Ashland at 6. The plan was for me to take her for a ride with John in the back, and then we were to discuss getting John up to speed and signed off to fly again.

When I arrived at 5, they were already there. I was a little disappointed, because I was going to grab the plane and fly around the patch for ten minutes or so to shake out the cobwebs. No, the plane didn't have cobwebs, I did, I hadn't flown for a couple weeks. Well, they were there already, so we decided to go ahead and go. I got into the passenger seat and she got into the pilot seat. Only after we were strapped in and I reached across to start the engine did she realise that she was actually in the pilot's seat!

I settled into my role of explaining how to taxi, use the brakes, what to do for takeoff, etc. She didn't want to fly too much, but she did want to try and do the takeoff. Oh-K! Well, it was actually pretty decent. I'm glad that she picked up taxiing so quickly. A lot of people want to grab the control wheel and steer like a car - except that has absolutely no effect on the ground, you have to steer with the pedals under your feet (the throttle is a hand control). I told her to put one hand on her knee, the other on the throttle, and taxi with the feet. This worked great. Once she had to take the wheel for takeoff, however, we were back to steering like a car :). Thats ok, with just a little nudge here and there from me, we got off the ground pretty well. I could tell she was concentrating really hard flying, because when I took over about 500' up, she exclaimed "oh, we're in the air!"

This was especially nostalgic for me. We were flying in the plane I learned to fly in, from the airport I learned to fly at. I hadn't been in that plane for at least two years, and I forgot how nicely it flies. It doesn't have anything fancy in the avionics department, but they all work, and once the trim is set, it flys hands off for a long while with no roll or pitch oscillations. Sweet! This picture is what the plane looked like when I flew it, it has since been painted white with a metallic blue underneath, and the threadbare brown interion has been reupholstered with leather and new grey carpet.

Well, it was a good flight for me, but she couldn't find her house. John is going to mark it in his GPS, and we'll go out to try and find it another time. I was asked to do a touch and go, and since the passenger was loving the flight experience, I did. I wasn't sure what would happen, since I hadn't flown for a couple weeks and there was a fairly constant surface wind. About 6' above the ground, I could tell it felt alright, and was soon rewarded with the best sound a pilot can hear - a soft "chirp, chirp" from the wheels and a "nice landing" from the back-seat passenger. Flaps up, set trim for takeoff, carburettor heat off, full throttle, rotate, and back in the air we went. I was thinking that, after a landing like that, they would be disappointed on the next one, surely I couldn't do that twice in a row. I'm not sure how, but the second landing was perhaps even nicer than the first!

Back in the FBO, John paid for the plane, then me, and I filled out a logbook entry for his friend as a memento. Too bad Ashland didn't have any of the free, 5-page intro-flight-souvenir logbooks, John ended up buying her a big, $20 one like I have. We need to get a hold of some of those logbooks.

As soon as he gets a medical certificate we will go up again and start working on his Flight Review.

I can not figure out why people will sit with me in a tiny airplane, flying around aimlessly for fun while I talk their ear off about nothing but flying, and giving my opinion about every little procedure and practice. Hell, they don't just go with me, they pay me to be there. I just don't understand.....

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Found out on Friday that I am now insured on the flight school's insurance. Should be able to start doing some more work this week (I hope). Can't wait until this semester is over in a couple weeks, I'll have a lot more time to network, be at the airport, etc. Megan suggested I start washing planes too, which is a good idea.

Also, can't wait until I can fly again, its been a week, which is longer than I'd like :)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quick update

Its been a while since I posted, so I thought I'd drop in a quick update on what I'm doing.

I am really focusing on finishing these next 3 weeks of classes. After that, I'll be done with my university experience, and will be able to focus full time on aviation - this blog should get a lot more active then!

Right now we are waiting on the flight school's insurance company to allow me on an an instructor. They got a new policy very recently and the new minimum hours in their open-CFI clause is 350. I have only about 300, so the owner called Tuesday to ask them to put me on the policy as a named-insured. We're pretty sure it will happen, just waiting on them calling back with the official word.

In other news, it seems that people think I have a knack for writing. I just wrote a basic introduction to the skew-T log-P weather chart over on the AOPA forums, and it seems to be getting good responses. I might just continue to write on aviation and weather issues, it is sort of fun.

See ya!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lots of Flying Today (M20C and C310)

Had a great day today. Got up at 8:00 and headed to the airport. It was still really cold outside, maybe 45 F. When I got there, there were already about eight people there - ready for the weekly breakfast run to Portsmouth. A group goes every weekend, and the plan today was for me to act as safety pilot for Hank so that he could practice his instrument work for a coming flight test. Sounded good to me, as I love flying in Mooneys (he has a C-model). While we were all standing around, the flight school owner told me to write down my certificate number, total time, Cessna-172 time, and a few other items. He is going to call the insurance co. and get me on the policy as a flight instructor (the open-CFI clause requires 350 hours total time, but I only have about 300).

We got the plane out, did the pre-flight, and took off headed west. There was a ton of other traffic in the air, and the view was amazing. Today it was completely clear skies with visibility clear to the horizon.

GPS 18 approach, landed, and grabbed coffee and an omelette to eat. The flight school owner had flown a Cessna 310 (a twin-engine plane that is really, really cool-looking), and we watched him take off. Back in the Mooney, and headed over to Huntington so Hank could practice a couple ILS approaches to runway 30. At one point I noticed the circuit breaker had popped out for the Scormscope. We just left it out, for someone else to look at later - on the ground. Hank just had some electrical gremlins worked out of his plane along with some other problems they had to fix after the annual inspection, I hope this doesn't turn into another big problem. It was still busy, but approach control was accommodating and in short order we were back on the ground with 2 practice approaches satisfactorily completed and 2 more hours of flight time in our books. I helped fuel the plane, and we talked about the flight for a few minutes. I really enjoyed flying with Hank, and I hope he enjoyed having me along as well. I'm pretty sure we're planning on flying again, especially after he gets his instrument rating. He can use me as insurance while he gets more comfortable flying in actual conditions.

By not (almost noon) it was very warm out, likely the most beautiful day of the year so far. As I was getting ready to head home, Russ comes over and mentions that he has to take the 310 back to its hangar at Huntington (about 5 miles away), and since Dola was out with a student (she would normally have first dibs), he wanted to know if I'd like to come along. Sure! It was the same 310 the school owner had flown earlier, and was way more fun to fly than to look at (if thats believable). A quick briefing on systems and appropriate airspeeds during the takeoff procedure, and we were on our way. Everything was going really fast, but I was happy with how I was doing. One thing that surprised me was how heavy the controls are, it really took a lot of strength to haul the yolk back. In flight though, it was light and responsive, very nice! Huntington was busy and let us sweep east of the field so they could clear the traffic out a bit, so we did a steep turn or two to take advantage of the time, and then started the descent into Huntington. From startup to shutdown took about 24 minutes, but since the plane moves so fast, we got a lot packed in there.

Overall, excellent day. Learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and got to fly without burning hundreds of dollars.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mississippi Trip - Final Post (and finally with pictures!)

I woke up early - 6:30am central time - and grabbed a quick shower and a bite to eat in the hotel lobby. Brewer (the broker for the airplane sale) picked us up in his truck at 7:30. We headed over to the airport (Hawkins Field) and watched the mechanic continue the pre-buy inspections. He went over the airplane with a fine-tooth comb, and if I had been the buyer, I would have really appreciated the work. As it was, I really wanted to get out of there. The plan (as I understood it) had been for the inspection to be done early that morning, and then for the buyer to fly the plane with his instructor and with Dan, and for the decision to be made and Dan and I on our way home by noon. It was going to be close, because I was supposed to work at 5pm. I called work and talked to them, they said it would be OK if I could get there by 6pm. As it ended up, the pre-buy wasn't done until about noon. The mech had found some things that needed fixing, so Brewer called the seller to renegotiate the price while the buyer, his son, his instructor Langley, and Dan took it out for a demo flight.

I stayed on the ground. I didn't really want to sit in the 3rd row of seats in a hot plane, bumping around in the thermals. When they finally landed, we all thought that a deal had been made. Langley flys a Piper Meridian turboprop plane for a woman who goes to Ashland, KY, from Mississippi, fairly often. As it happened, he was going that very afternoon, and offered to take Dan and I back with him. Dan suggested that I ask him to let me sit in the right seat and get some flight time in the plane. We all talked about it, and Langley thought it was a great idea. The Meridian was at a different airport, so we all started driving over there. About half-way over, Dan got a call from the seller of the Cherokee 6 - no deal, and we need to fly it back. This was very bad, I wouldn't have been able to get to work until about 9pm, way too late. While I was putting a flight plan on file, Dan got another call. They had actually reached an agreement, and the plane was sold. We were good to go for the Meridian ride home.

Upon arriving at the plane, I was quite impressed - what a sharp plane! It looks fast just sitting on the ground. This plane is a 6-place plane, 2 seats at control stations and 4 rear seats in club configuration. Leather interior, air conditioning, and XM radio were just a few of the amenities. It has a service ceiling of about 30,000 feet, and a turbine (jet) engine that turns a huge, 4-bladed propeller. Langley did the preflight inspection, ordered some Jet-A from the fuel truck, and oversaw the loading of the plane. We taxied out and took off, over to Oxford, Mississippi, to pick up the owner. On this short leg, Dan flew up front with Langley, while I watched and snapped pictures. It was just about a 20 minute flight over to Oxford. When we taxied over to the terminal, the owner and her son were there waiting on us. We all got out, introductions were exchanged, then we got back in the plane: Dan and the other passengers in the back, Langley and myself were at the control stations. Shortly after takeoff, he asked if I'd like to fly. Of course! It was actually a fairly normal experience for me - just pitch for airspeed, set power to maximum continuous thrust, and keep the climb speed up. As I got more comfortable with the plane, I took on more duties, like communicating with air traffic control. It was an interesting experience for me, because everything was the same, but different too.

For example, below 18,000 feet, you just report altitude as "six-thousand feet." Above 18,000, however, they term altitude as "flight levels." So 20,000 feet would become "flight-level two zero zero." I kept getting tongue tied, trying to get it out in just the right manner. Also, I'm very used to calling myself "Cessna" to ATC. This plane was a "Meridian," however, so I had to try hard to make my radio calls the right way. I called us a "Cessna" a time or two, just because old habits die hard.

I've got to say, the XM radio is worth it on that plane. There have been very few moments in my life as cool as hurtling for flight-level 270 (27,000 feet) at almost 200mph through a clear blue sky while listening to Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and other classic rock songs.

While we were flying, Langley and I talked about a lot of things. He asked me about high-altitude physiology, the effects of thin and cold air on aircraft performance, oxygen use requirements, and emergency procedures having to do with altitude. Turns out, he was giving me a high altitude endorsement free of charge. This is normally a hard (or at least expensive) endorsement to get, because it involves paying to use a plane that can fly that high. Now that I have the endorsement, I am allowed to be the Pilot in Command of an aircraft operating above 25,000 feet.

Our trip was very short, under 2 hours from Mississippi to Ashland. Here is a shot of my flight instruments while at 27,000 feet. Notice the altitude on the right side, and the speed at the bottom. Our true airspeed was 265 knots or so, and with a tailwind our groundspeed was above 300 knots. This is about 365 mph! Note also, that the outside temperature (the OAT) was -25 Fahrenheit. Thats cold! We were warm inside the plane though.

On the ground, I got Langley to autograph my logbook for the flight time and the high altitude endorsement. I was thrilled of course, and it was only 6pm. I got to work in Huntington, WV an hour later - only 2 hours late (they were understanding and not mad at all, lucky me!). I collected my pilot fee for flying the Cherokee 6 down, and called it a day. The best part though, was talking to Langley on the ground after the flight. He told me that I was very professional and that if I ever wanted to come to Mississippi, he would have a job for me doing something. He owns a flight school, and has a ton of connections, and I most definitely appreciate the offer.

What a fantastic trip, and if its a sign of things to come - aviation was the correct career choice for me, these 2 days were an absolute blast.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mississippi Trip Suppliment (part 2 coming soon)

I'm really tired, I've been awake for 18 hours now, working 90% of that, and I'm going to do a full write-up tomorrow. Just wanted to share this picture of the kind of airplane I flew today. For 2 hours, I was at the controls of a Piper P46T Meridian. It is a propeller that is turned by a jet turbine engine, and the plane is certified for known ice (FIKI), and pressurized. We went from Oxford, Mississippi to Ashland, KY today in 1.8 hours. With a true airspeed of about 265 knots (305 mph) and a 40 knot tailwind, were were traveling with a groundspeed of over 300 knots . Thats just over 350 miles per hour, at 27,000 feet above sea level. I was very lucky, and got a high-altitude flight endorsement in my logbook also. I am extremely grateful to the people that allowed it to happen, and wow, what a view!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Airplane reposition to Mississippi. (part 1)

Well, here I am - in a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. My CFI Dan and I flew a Piper PA-32 Cherokee 6 here to see if we could sell it. Of course its a Dog, and of course we are not emphasizing the negative aspects of the plane. If it gets sold, we are going to catch a ride home on a Piper Meridian (pressurized turboprop). This will turn a 5 hour flight in the heat into a two hour ride in the flight levels (above 18,000 feet). Also, I might get lucky and get to sit in the front of the thing. 2 hours of turbine time would be a lot of fun, for sure.

The plane we flew in today wasn't really that bad, I guess. The engine and airframe are in good shape. But to get the airspeed indicator working, you have to tap it during the takeoff roll. The radios sound scratchy, and the vacuum-driven gauges wobble and precess. Still, its very stable around the pitch and roll axes, and since its so old (and therefore light), it has a nice useful load (about 1400 lbs).

Right now I'm sitting in the hotel. Naturally, our pay includes allowance for tonight's meal, so I grabbed a steak, salad, and sweet potato at the Logan's by the hotel. Dan and I talked about the life of a corporate pilot for a couple hours. Sounds pretty decent, maybe one day I'll get there. However, I'll be perfectly happy to instruct and fly these occasional ferry flights. I don' think it will be too much of a hardship - I just doubled my weekly income, and to do it all I had to do was to fly a high performance airplane for 5 hours.

When I get home tomorrow night, I'll write up the rest of the story.