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.