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.