Thursday, May 27, 2010

Photo Flying

Had a bit of fun today, even if "today" started about 7 hours after "yesterday" ended. Woke up at 6:30 and flew with Francis about 7. We had to pick up an IFR clearance to get above the fog/haze layer - visibility was only 2 miles. As soon as we got 100' off the ground, the sky was clear and we were above the layer. Huntington Tri-State Airport is on top of a hill, so it looked like an island in mist, and that is where we went to practice taking off and landing the plane while waiting for the fog to burn off.

I am really happy with how he is doing. The deadline of June 24th for getting his license is fast approaching, but we have a detailed, realistic plan to get him finished up. We are flying again Monday (he can't fly this weekend because he is on call), and if his landings are as consistent then as they were today, I will be signing off my first solo student Monday or Tuesday. Shortly thereafter, maybe Friday, he will go take his written, and then he is off to work with Bill Peters (who will also be giving the exam) so that he can pass in the minimum time possible.

We finished flying about 8am. I started fueling another of our planes in preparation for my photo flight at 8:30. Got ready, met the photographer, we discussed our route, checked fuel requirements and weather, and took off into a rather hazy morning. Flight visibility was probably around 8 miles, and didn't really get better because the air is so humid. We flew a big square, about 40 to 60 miles per side. We would climb up and cruise to the photo site, then descend and fly a tight square around each structure or feature. We took shots of schools, highways, and other things the engineering company had built or was in the process of building. We also took pictures of the Air National Guard project at the Huntington Airport and the Bluestone Dam construction project. It was a lot of fun, and it really felt good to be able to fly so precisely. Hell, it felt good to fly. With students, I log all the time, but often don't actually touch the controls at all unless I sneak some corrections in during the landing flare. Today, I was the only pilot aboard, and actually controlling (as opposed just commanding) an airplane was a treat.

Now I'm done for the week, and while I can't wait to get started on Monday, I'm glad to have a couple days off.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Living the Dream (is hard, sweaty work)!

It is 10:15pm as I sit down to write this. I am exhausted, tired, sweaty, hungry, have a slight headache, and couldn't be happier. Today was my first day of really extensive flying with multiple students. This morning around 9:30am, I got to the airport. Met my student, Dustin, at 10, and we went and flew for an hour and fifteen minutes. By that time, the day was warming up a lot. We hit it hard, doing landings, going to other airports, some high air work, ground reference maneuvers, and even a little bit of ground school. As soon as we landed, one of the guys from the maintenance shop wanted us to take him to the airport across the river. My student and I were both hot and hungry, but free flight time is, after all, free flight time. I did a lesson on "how to go into and out of airports with a control tower" on the fly, literally. We got almost another hour of flying out of that endeavour.

The actual lesson with Dustin went really well. Every time he flys (once a week) he does better, and I'm very pleased with our mutual performance. I think he could probably solo in June if we keep after it, but there is a lot of new things to cover between now and then. Russ and I both think that maybe 3 lessons every 2 weeks, or 5 every 4, would help his progress a lot.

Anyway, by the time that was all said and done, I was very hungry. Ran across the road to Taco Bell for lunch, and ate it in the FBO (the office). There really isn't a cool place on the airport, except for the office in the maintenance hangar. I didn't want to turn the A/C on in the FBO, so I opened the doors and windows to get a breeze, and sat on the couch to study for my Instrument Instructor written test, and maybe to take a nap. Actually, neither got done, as I found myself answering phones and talking to airport regulars who were wandering through to get a drink or rest. I had a really nice chat with Gene Gill, a really nice, older Canadian native who now lives here. He flys powered parachutes whenever the weather is nice, and it was nice today; with a light breeze and fluffy, white, fair-weather cumulus clouds. I also answered a call from a man who was in Kentucky and planning on flying his Piper Cherokee 6 in this evening. He asked me questions about the airport for a minute, but we were cut off when the cordless handset's battery died. I couldn't find the call-back number, and he never called back.

After a long, hot afternoon in the office, Russ had me fly with one of his students about 4:30. Russ had to go home, but his client had some time off and wanted to sneak in some landing practice. We flew for about an hour, and he had some really great landings. Of course, it was hot as hell, even at 90mph with the windows open. The last couple landings wouldn't have won any contests, but they were most definitely average, and I was really just an advisor mostly. This guy is right at the verge of soloing, and I really want to get my students to this level. Hell, I was proud of him, and I didn't even do anything. It is really cool to be able to see someone just getting to the point of correcting themselves and really flying.

After that series of trips around the pattern, I ran across the road again, this time for dinner at McD's. My food today wasn't very healthy, but at least I'm not the stereotypical, poor, Ramen-eating CFI - yet.

I came back and started working on a lesson plan for my other main student, Francis, who was supposed to arrive around 7:45. I went for a walk along the runway (it was still pretty hot and humid) to gather my thoughts about what we need to do. The reason I wasn't sure about a plan is that Dola flew with him last, and I wasn't sure what they had covered. After I came up with some ideas, I went inside and made a plan. I got the map and plotter out, and made a maze-like itinerary of intersections and airways for us to fly between here and Charleston, WV. My plan was that, if Francis had done short runway and grass field takeoff and landing techniques, then we would fly the Charleston route, working in the various types of landing as well as introducing navigation by VOR stations and emergency procedures. This would have put us out well past sunset, which isn't a problem, but would have made for a really long day for both of us. If he hadn't done the various types of takeoffs and landings, then thats what we would do - until dark.

Well, turned out that he hadn't done them, so we took off and started around the pattern. He seemed a little nervous about actually taking off and landing in the grass. I remember when I first did it, it seemed really strange and a little scary. Nowadays, I almost prefer a nice sod runway to a paved one (unless its raining). We did a couple grass operations, then moved on to short field techniques. That was going OK, and (given his previous pattern of extensive study between lessons) I have no doubt that the next time we go out, his procedures will be excellent.

As we were doing our lesson, a Cherokee 6 entered the pattern and landed. I chatted with the guy on the radio for a while - he was the man who had called earlier that afternoon. Its a good thing I was out with Francis, because everyone has usually gone home by that time of night. He landed and shut down by the fuel pumps, we did two more landings. On the last landing, I asked Francis to talk himself through the landing - I would remain quiet unless something was seriously wrong or he had a specific question. His last landing was firm, but good, and I was quite pleased. If he keeps flying every day, he will solo in a week I believe.

After landing, I ran into the office, grabbed the key, unlocked the fuel pumps, helped Francis secure the plane, de-briefed the lesson, ran the owner of the Cherokee 6's credit card for the fuel, wrote up the 3 million forms for all the transactions, locked the building, and drove the transient pilot and his luggage to the hotel that is, almost literally, located at the end of the runway. He was a nice guy, and we chatted for a few minutes after I dropped him by the hotel. I got on the highway, headed for home, but I felt like something wasn't quite right. About 2 miles down the road, it hit me - I had forgotten to lock the fuel pumps up! I turned around at the next exit, raced back to the airport, and locked the pumps up. I have already gotten "reminded" to lock both locks on the office door (I had only locked one a couple times), so now I'm paraniod about the locks. Got that straightened out and headed home.

Now I'm sitting out front of the apartment, drinking a cold drink and enjoying the night. It was a long, hectic day, I was at the airport (in the heat and sun) for about 12 hours. I got about 5 hours of flight time, and made just over $100. Thats about comparable to the restaurant job last summer, but today was a whole lot more fun. I'm not sticky, I don't smell like frying meat, and I spent the day doing two of the things that I love to do - fly and teach. I am going to fly at least once tomorrow evening on a longer flight, and again Thursday morning. Thursday late morning I'm going to be flying a photo mission, which should pay well and be a lot of fun. Its shaping up to be a great week. If I could fly as much every day as I did today, I couldn't really complain about anything at all. I'm finally, really, making a (very modest) living flying airplanes. It seems unreal, but it is real, and it is really satisfying to have achieved another one of my goals.

Workin' hard, and hardly workin'

Friday, May 21, 2010

Night flying is fun (but take lots of flashlights)

I've had a busy couple days, flying-wise. Yesterday I flew with the student that has been assigned to me, after about a two week break, and was surprised that there wasn't really any rust for him to knock off. Its funny, I'm starting to observe different strengths and weaknesses in the various students. This one can stall and flare, the other can nail the steep turns and has better coordination, etc. So far though, its a lot of fun for me to work with these guys. My student is just starting to work on landings and, even though I had to make a small control input here and there during the landing flare, he has the approach portion down like a pro, its pretty amazing (to me, at least). That went well, and we are going to start working on maneuvers and landings in the same lesson, rather than really only focusing on the maneuvers. He is sometimes prone to getting air sick. I have been looking for some kind of solution for him, but I'm thinking that perhaps we found it yesterday. By 2pm, the day was starting to warm up (finally!) after a long, cold, overcast morning. We were taxiing around with the windows opened, like normal, when I mentioned something about maximum window open speed being equal to the never exceed speed. The client thought it was a great idea, let's fly with the windows open. Sounded good to me, I like doing that also. We stuffed all the loose items into bags or seat-back pockets and took off. To tell the truth, I was a little chilly, but we certainly had plenty of ventilation, and the windows fall closed when approaching a stall, which is another cool "hint" to point out to the learner.

Now, on to the flight that inspired this post's title. The guy who wants to fly every day and get his license before the end of June has had to work a little late the past couple days, so we decided to go ahead and do a little night flying. He is almost ready to solo, so it has been very productive, and flying at night gives us a lot of things to talk about, like optical illusions, risk management, judging the approach, flight planning, equipment, weather, etc. Anyway, two nights ago we went out and just got in three stop and go's before we decided to quit before the fog formed. We could see big, stringy masses of fog starting to roll out of the valleys into the river/city/airport areas, and the temp was rapidly approaching the dew point.

That flight went well, and he wanted to get a lot more night practice, so he would feel more confidant in the dark. We went up again yesterday evening, planning to head over to a nicely lit uncontrolled field with a visual glide slope (VASI), then go to the local controlled field to see their approach lighting (except their approach lighting is broken), then make the 5th and final landing back at home base, which has low intensity dusk to dawn lights only, and trees at each end of the runway.

Things were going well. There was a very high overcast, visibility was about 8 miles, and the city lights made good references to navigate by. We started doing stop and go's at the big uncontrolled field, but my student wanted to come in high and fast. I think it was probably subconscious, due to being unfamiliar with the airport and a little uncomfortable with the darkness. We worked on it some, and got 3 landings over there. We were going to do one landing at the towered field, then head home. I believe we were both starting to get tired by 11:00pm, and his last touchdown was the worst of the evening - we landed very long, I asked him if he wanted to head home, but he wanted one chance to redeem himself at the towered field, so we went around once and landed again. This one was much nicer, but as we were taxiing to takeoff again, our landing light winked out! This has happenend to me so many times that I was exasperated more than anything, but I could tell that he was a little unnerved by it. After all, to get home we would have to fly over trees and land in a dark field at 70mph with no headlights. Well, it sounds a lot more dangerous that it is, I was planning on making him land without the light anyway, just in case it ever happened to him for real. In my limited flying time, I've had to land without it several times (in addition to training), and once had to land with only that light - the airport lights were inoperative.

Anyway, I reminded him of the lights-out techniques we talked about before takeoff, and said "let's go home." We took off, using only the sight picture of the runway lights, and climbed out normally. Entered the traffic pattern at home base, and started letting down at the normal location. Without a visual glide slope, he had to judge the approach based on the shape of the runway lights, and look for obstructions based on being able to see (or not) all of the threshold lights. As it turned out, the approach was not as high or as fast as the others, and the flare and touch down (judged only with peripheral vision and the apparent height of the edge lighting (along with just a tiny bit of coaching) was the smoothest of the night. I think it was a very good learning experience for him, and he is all ready for his night cross-country flight later on in training. For now, we will hammer out the other types of landings by the light of day, and I have the feeling I'll probably be recommending him to solo sometime this coming week.

Flight instructing - never a dull moment!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

OK, so it wasn't an emergency, but...

Thorndike's laws of learning - Intensity: The more intense the material taught, the more likely it will be retained. A sharp, clear, vivid, dramatic, or exciting learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring experience.

I've been told that during the first 100 hours of dual instruction given, the CFI learns at least as much as his students. Today, we both learned something, and had a very beneficial post-flight discussion on emergency procedures.

After a routine briefing, preflight, enging run up, and taxi, I was prepared for another normal takeoff. After all, I've had 6 or 7 hundred in my life, many in the plane we were flying today. Of course, in hindsight the fact that the altimeter was 100 feet off could have been a clue to the coming excitement. As it was, the discrepancy made me think "I should tell the maintenance shop on Monday morning that the altimeter is off." 75' is the error allowed for instrument flight - VFR doesn't even require a sensitive altimeter, and it did seem to work.

During the takeoff roll, everything looked fine, and airspeed came alive just as it always does. However, after we cleared the trees I noticed that we weren't climbing. Sensing that our airspeed was high, and seeing a lack of climb, I was about to chide my student to fly the proper airspeed when I realized that the speed was actually lower than it should be. VERY LOW. Of course, the old joke that money makes airplanes fly wasn't too comforting, we needed airspeed and altitude, and weren't getting either. I asked if the throttle was completely open, and if the engine was generating maximum power, he said it was. We weren't climbing, and each time we tried to raise the nose, our airspeed bled off to extremely low levels.

About the time Mr. customer said "I think you had better take the controls" I said "my controls." The instant I took the yolk in my hand, I could tell that everything was OK. The stall warning was not close to going off, the controls were nice and firm due to proper airflow, and the engine was normal. Then the lightbulb winked on, ever so slowly in my head. I reached up and pulled open the valve for the alternate static source, whereupon the airspeed popped to life, altimeter twitched, and the vertical speed indicator showed a healthy climb. The entire sequence of events lasted for about 15 seconds, but it seemed more like minutes. For those that don't know, these three instruments are driven by air pressure measured at a tiny hole in the side of the plane. When this hole is blocked, the altimeter freezes and vertical speed goes to zero, while the airspeed begins acting like an altimeter - when you go up airspeed drops and when you go down airspeed increases. The alternate static is just vented to the cabin, which is almost, but not quite, equal to outside static air pressure.

Back on the ground, we checked the static port, and it did not look blocked. Best guess is that yesterday's hellacious storm blew some water into the static port, plugging it up. Later on in the day, a mechanic blew the lines out and the plane was completely normal - I even took a couple of nice teenagers for a discovery flight in it later this evening. The front seat passenger did a very nice job controlling the plane, and all had fun.

Other than the time I aborted a takeoff due to a minor radio issue, this is the closest I have actually come to a real "emergency." I'm sure the people back in the FBO suddenly became as anxious as I was when I radioed our immediate return to the runway (we later flew a normal pattern once the problem was sorted out). While my main job is to insure the safety of the flight, my other job is to be sure the student learns as much as I can get him to. I think now that he would have learned a much more valuable lesson (primarily self-confidence in an emergency or abnormal situation) if I had kept my hands off the controls. I'm not sure how I feel about the overall outcome or how I would do it next time - both things I need to figure out before my next takeoff. That said, we shared a productive "teachable moment" on engine out and partial power situations on the ground, I drew the connection that takeoffs like today's are exactly the reason we learn power-on stalls*, we grabbed another plane, and had our normally planned lesson.

I also met Tim again, and he would like me to go up with him in his new Cessna 177 Cardinal while he gets comfortable with it. The insurance co. doesn't care if the CFI has any Cardinal time after all. Cool! Appointment made after we couldn't fly today - the operating handbook was missing. He will bring it from home when we fly on Wednesday.

*power-on stall principles are how I knew we were completely safe the moment I took over. None of the signs of stalls or low airspeed (like mushy controls, horns, airframe buffet, etc.) were encountered.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Power On Stalls - My Client and I Both Need Some Practice, I Believe...

Had a very interesting day Thursday. I didn't think I'd be flying, so I headed to Mom's house, about 18 miles away, to clean some of my things out of her basement, and do some laundry along the way. As I was passing the airport, the chief instructor called me, but the phone connection didn't allow us to actually communicate (love AT&T). I decided to just stop in and see what he wanted. He had just wanted to let me know about another opportunity to clean vehicles, and also wanted to see if I wanted to call a few long-lost customers to check up on them.

Before long I was on the road again. I threw some laundry in the machine and drove the 4 blocks to my grandparents' house to visit for a while. I had been there for about 40 minutes (and eaten some tasty hot dogs) when one of the clients I had left a message for earlier called me back. He wanted to fly in 30 minutes, sooner if possible. I pulled radar up on the computer really quick and then hopped in my car, headed for the airport, about 25 or 30 minutes away!

We met, briefed the weather situation, and elected to fly. It was a very typical late summer afternoon, with some building clouds and possible thundershowers (none in the local area). I wanted the client to get some experience making this kind of decision, so we talked about it and then I let him decide what to do. After he elected to go, I told him about some caveats related to this type of weather pattern, handed him the airplane key, and sent him to do the preflight while I sold some fuel to a guy who had just walked in the FBO.

We took off and headed to the practice area. I wasn't doing anything except observing and offering advice - exactly the level of proficiency a future private pilot needs to obtain. We reviewed some of the maneuvers learned on previous flights, then moved into power on stalls. I am trying to implement some of the instructional methods I have been reading about in books like "Train Like You Fly: Guide To Scenario Based Training" and "The Savvy Flight Instructor," including offering only one opportunity to have the student demonstrate a "best ability" attempt at a procedure, and trying really hard to allow mistakes to develop enough that the guy who is paying me actually learns something.

We did power on stalls at 65% power, 100% power, with the wings level, and while banked. Quite a workout for both of us, and it was humid enough that I could see little beads of sweat on the client's face! Next time, I'll open the windows, and show him how the windows will shut themselves when approaching the stall (and keep us cool the rest of the time).

I was doing the best I can, but some more experience would be nice. I was trying to think of different ways to explain the stall recovery - my client is having trouble keeping the plane from wanting to spin during the stall break. Also, about half the time he wants to dive rather than gently reducing the angle of attack.

We are both making progress, and I am excited for the next lesson, when we review stalls and start throwing in some ground reference maneuvers like turns around a point, but I have some planning to do in the meantime.

Also between now and then I am looking forward to my main student, Dustin, coming back from vacation, and I have a few ideas I'd like to propose to Russ and Dola about finding more students and marketing-type activities. I'm thinking that some collaboration in trying to get more students for all of us would alleviate some of the tension around the airport.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Students, wax jobs, and rain...

Woah, its been a busy week. I can't believe I've not written for so long. I've had several students and spent 18+ hours detailing a twin Cessna 310. Yeah. It has a huge surface area, and was really dirty with bad stains, but I got it cleaned (Meg helped for a few hours Monday), and I waxed the entire thing. I haven't had time to catch my breath, much less write.

The high point of the week was when I had the same student two days in a row. I flew with Dr. Lee on Sunday and Monday mornings. It was really cool to be able to work with a student more than once, and to see him learn. I found that he is a really fast learner while we sat having an informal ground lesson on Monday while waiting for the fog to lift. The two lessons were geared toward slow flight and stalls - I really think I got the intended skills across, and I really tried hard to get him to feel the plane, to really get a sense for how it flys. These two exercises are used primarily to teach real-world feel for angle of attack. Lee was able to fly right at minimum controllable airspeed like he had been doing it for years - the holy grail of an "immediate stall upon further increase in pitch or reduction of power" was exactly where he was by the end of lesson 4!

It feels really good to be able to teach someone something like this, and he really enjoyed his time with me (at least, thats what he said).

I had considered taking the offer to fly the jump plane for the parachute jumpers, but the flight school told me that as long as I worked for them, I wouldn't be allowed to fly commercially for anyone else. I didn't realize this was a condition, and its OK for now. If good opportunities come along or I don't get enough work with them, however, then I'll have to consider other options. For now, I'm very happy to stay with them - they have done some favors for me, to say the least.

Right now we are in the middle of a 4-day rain, so the flying has been a bit slow (read: it hasn't happened since Monday). I'm hoping that, as the weekend rolls along and the sun comes out. I'll get back into the thick of things, but tomorrow I'm going to take a nice day of rest before starting the wash job on a Cessna 210 that is in the shop.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Student Of My Own

Flew with a student today. My student. Russ and I talked last week, and he is really swamped these days. Asked if I would help out, and of course I would. He told me to call Dustin, and if he agreed, then I'd be his main instructor. So I did, and Dustin did, and so I have a student that is not just someone I will fly with once. I will fly with him every time. Its my job to plan lessons, make sure he understands the information and procedures, and can safely pilot an airplane. Oh, did I mention that another part of the goal is to accomplish all this in the shortest amount of time and money possible?

So anyway, we met at the airport around 3:00 this afternoon. I actually got there a little bit early and checked the fuel and oil, then locked the plane again. I wanted to see him do the preflight inspection and make a decision about the airworthiness of the plane. Well, after Dustin arrived, I called flight service and got a standard briefing while he got the plane ready to go. After a quick discussion about the day's weather (fair-weather cumulus, warm, possible light turbulence) We briefed the takeoff, flew it, and headed out to the practice area at 3,500'. The first exercise was slow flight. I asked for various airspeed and flap configurations, all the while asking questions about what control does what, etc. After a little bit of that, we transitioned into a power-off stall: the most benign variety. After two of those, we headed over to Tri-State Airport. Nice long runway, no trees, and a little wider than home base. The purpose was two-fold. First, I wanted to get Dustin some practice at dealing with a control tower. I also wanted to see how he would do trying to land. We talked about how the exact same skills we had just practiced were the same skills used in landing. I talked him through the arrival and landing in the same terms. On the first flare, we ended up a bit high and started to balloon, but it was something I nudged the yolk subconsciously and then subsequently forgot about. I should have brought that up in the post-flight debrief. Next time for sure. I think he, at least subconsciously, figured out what was wrong with that first flare though, the next two were great. After two really nice stop and goes at Tri-State we headed back home for one final landing. Dustin did a fantastic job on each one, and overall it was a very successful day.

I can't wait for the next time, and I'll be hard at work putting together a lesson plan for this coming Sunday when we fly again. I'm going to have to give it a lot of though. Its up to me to progress with his training in a logical and productive way, and I want to be sure to do it right. Its easy to show up to pinch hit, and just practice what a person did with their CFI last time. Its also easy to start from scratch with someone that doesn't know anything about flying. Its a lot tougher to start somewhere in the middle.

That said, my first inclination is to go for some ground reference manoeuvres and start throwing in some emergency procedures (or at least starting to talk about them). He has spent a lot of time doing high air work. Its also time to start adding partial power-on stalls and banked stalls. Unfortunately, he seems to get motion sick kind of easily, so we are hoping that as he gets used to the sensations of flight more, we can do more aggressive procedures.

Anyway, I'll be thinking about it for several days. Its a good thing we are flying in the morning. Maybe if the air is very smooth we can do some new things. Thats always good.

One final note: tomorrow will be 3 years to the day that I took my first flight in a general aviation aircraft. What a long way to have come.