Fly It, You’ll Like It!

I was 90% there in my mind to pursue my Private Pilot’s License but this program sealed the deal for me. Far better than a Discovery Flight which, in general, is a financial loss for the school, this program gives you a real (and yes, loggable) honest introduction to flight training at a discounted rate and with zero on-going commitment…unless, of course, you want to! And you will want to.

Cumberland Valley Aviation

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Fly It… You’ll Like It!

Flight Training Course

Cumberland Valley Aviation is offering a new way to get you started flying. The “Fly It, You’ll Like It” course. This course is designed to let you ‘try-on’ your flight training and see if you like it with a small commitment. It allows you to master the basics of flying and learn what is involved in earning your Private Pilot’s License. You receive the same training as a person enrolled in the complete Private Pilot Course. If you decide to continue, Nothing is lost….you will continue to work towards your first solo flight!! Why put it off any longer??

The course includes:

 3 hours of flight training with a Certified Flight Instructor in a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer II.

 2 hours of Ground Instruction

 1 Pilot Log Book

 Cost: $585.00

 The sky’s the limit!


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Post Traumatic TEST Disorder

It’s been now 7 days since passing my Private Pilot checkride.  After a year of training, months of general preparation, weeks of cramming, days of delay, and several hours of downright stressing out, 4 hours came and went in a blur. It’s done. I’ve kicked off the training wheels, got my ticket, and earned my wings.

Oh..but this is only the beginning….

So, how did it all go? I wish I had the gift of perfect recall but at least this time around, the details are somewhat hazy.  Over days of stolen moment reflection and nighttime dreams of being back at the yoke, the general flow of that day comes back.

Flow state…in the zone? Well, close but I definitely clanked out of it a few times.

“Whether you are ready or not…it will show” — ME

Let the debrief Begin…
Sunday (T minus 1 day)
Technically, it was more like T+5 days since my original checkride got weathered out. After a TON of preparation, this was actually a good thing to have happen.  The previous Tuesday I was pretty much psyched out and not in the right mental frame of mind do anything aviation related. Having a weather delay happen (again) caused me to snap out of the situation and do the work of getting everything rescheduled.  Another chance to fly and a little more studying.
Sunday…I did get up to fly which was a good thing.  I didn’t want to do too much but there a few things I wanted to make sure I kept sharp.  Had to also realize I would never get everything perfect.  It’s a lot like golf except that going out of bounds in flying has a much more severe penalty.
Sunday’s flight was good. Airwork was fine.  I clanked the first landing but it didn’t concern me too much. I got around again and had 2 nice ones. The last one was a “soft field” landing which is essentially a landing carrying a little power with the idea to keep the nose wheel off as long as possible. Basically…land in and stay in a wheelie.  I did it almost too well.
Monday Morning
I had a plan to get some basic weather information, have my material organized and, around 9:30-10, get my latest weather and winds and fill out the last of my navigation log. As typical, I thoroughly underestimated just how long it was going to take, even with everything I did in advance.
After having a quick bite and a mini panic attack I got to work on the plan.  I didn’t get out of the house until after 11. So..behind schedule.
I got to the airport and thankfully the plane was already moved up and full of fuel.  That helped me to get back on the plan.  Talked with my CFI for a little while about the logbooks and she did one last sign off.
I did my preflight and strapped in myself and my now 2 bags of material for the flight over to Capital City (KCXY).  She said that it wouldn’t hurt if I had a little extra time to squeeze in an extra landing.  I said I would consider it but wanted to make sure I was there and prepared well ahead of time.
When I made my approach to Capital City I decided to do a short field landing.  I figured that would be a tough one. I pretty much nailed it and decided that was enough.
Into the aviation center I went. I got myself situated and ensured I could connect to the WiFi. Then I waited. It was now past 1 and no examiner. I asked at the desk and they didn’t recognize the name?!? That was odd in that this guy does checkrides out of there all the time.  Lady said he might be in the next hangar over at the school.  So I walked over there and, while doing so, called him on his mobile phone. He picked up and said he was at the aviation center! So, I missed him by a minute. No big deal.
Introduction and then into the conference room. Seemed a lot like I had pictured him which was good.  Also seemed like a reasonably nice person.  I’ve been told he was a “fair” examiner which is perfectly fine with me. I wanted an honest test with no tricks and good feedback. It’s definitely an exam but also a chance to show your flying skills, and, as always, learn something new in the process.
First part is always the initial paperwork.  He goes up to the computer and the screen is frozen.   A few minutes of whacking the keyboard and nothing.  I attempt to get involved.  I got underneath the desk to reset the system.  It was then a lady came in and said that it must have gotten hit by lightning the night before….uhh…so she brings in a laptop.  He gets to work on the laptop but the system isn’t letting him move forward.  I explained that he couldn’t use Chrome for this (personal experience) and that he had to use Internet Explorer.  Off to IE.  That started to work but then there was a script setting that wasn’t right. I used the aeronautical phrase for handing control over of the airplane with him but changed it for a computer.  Essentially…if the examiner wants to take control of the airplane during the exam he is to say “I have the airplane or My Airplane, to which I am supposed to say You have the airplane or Your airplane, after which he is supposed to say once again, I have the airplane.” I did that with him for the computer and at least got a chuckle out of him.  I also fixed the problem and he was able to get through the application. Thankfully the issue with my name was somehow resolved.
NOTE TO OTHERS: Make 100% sure your name on the Knowledge Test and IACRA form match EXACTLY.  Middle initial vs. Middle Name can be a major headache.
After that was done we sat at the table to begin the oral exam. Well..I had to hand over the cash first. $300.
About 1 hour
The oral exam went amazingly well. I was TOTALLY prepared for it.
I was advised by many to provide answers as if under deposition from a lawyer.  Only answer what you were asked and don’t offer anything else.
Well…I suck at that.  I answered the question always with the fact or regulation but often with a little bit of humor (because some of the questions are designed to be a bit of a “trick”) and I would expound a little on the answer because somehow I just knew what the next question was going to be.
No less than 3 times did I do that and he looked at me, smiled, and said, well that was my next question anyway…and then he turns the page in his book and moves on. I suppose if I started BS’ing an answer he would hang me but I knew everything he was asking.
As for the humor…an example, he was asking about Prohibited airspace.  He said can you fly in it? I started my answer by saying you could fly anywhere you want…just some places are going to get you a lot of unwanted attention and military presence.
Never in a prohibited space except in an emergency.  That’s the answer…I knew he was going to restricted space next so I just extended my answer to what you can and can’t do there and referenced the Camp David prohibited and restricted space as my answer.  It allowed me to ask a question there as well which he was happy to answer.
We talked about airspace, weather(METAR / TAF / FA including update frequencies), medical factors (hypoxia and CO), weight and balance including forward and rearward center of gravity, stalls of all types, short and soft field operations, required inspections, night flying, oxygen requirements, runway markings, required documentation, maximum elevation figures, and a few other topics.
We then went to the cross country plan.  I had put SO much time into this plan and I did joke that he picked one of the most difficult locations to fly to.  I said that even though I know we aren’t going to fly it today I am going to do this one sometime just to put all the work to use.
We talked through the plan with reference to the map. I just walked him through it but he didn’t have many questions.  Again, I kind of sensed where he was going with the questions. I was prepared to go over my take off, climb, cruise, landing, and weight and balance calculations as well as that damn nav log…Instead, after we had walked through the course on the map he looks at me and says, “Ok, let’s go flying.”
That’s when I finally took the earlier advice, shut up and said…ok.
I packed up my things and said I would like to get a weather briefing for the local area because there was the possibility of some weather during the checkride.  He seemed impressed by that.  Also that I had already referenced it on my ipad (which he wasn’t totally against either).
To the plane
He said he would watch me preflight and if he had any questions he would ask. All that went well.  He asked me one question about the propeller (how to tell if a nick in the propeller was too big) and then we were into the plane.
My instructor “might” weigh 100 pounds.
My examiner was 250 and probably 2.5 times as wide. He took up 70% of the plane width. QUITE cozy.
So, I had a little bit of an issue getting things organized.  Also, after I started the plane I realized my sunglasses were still in my bag.  Had to do a few flexibility maneuvers to get those while keeping the brakes on. Somewhere during that my pen dropped out of my kneeboard.  He said something hit him in the leg.  I still had the plane secure so I looked around…he pointed it out and I was able to grab it.  Seizing the opportunity I said “well, that could be considered the distraction.” Which again is somewhat funny because that was the cliche distraction used…it typically comes during takeoff when the instructor says he dropped his pen. You are supposed to ignore that and keep flying.
I got my taxi instructions and did my best to mind all the clearances, check for traffic and all the “normal” things.  No questions from him.  He mentioned we would start the test with takeoffs and landings and then move onto airwork.
After engine run up was ok I asked him what takeoff he would like first.  He said a normal one would be fine.  That was kind of odd but ok.  I had already briefed during the oral on how to do a soft field so I guess he was satisfied I knew how to do such things.
He said we would be doing the landings touch and go.
OH CRAP.  I’ve perhaps one formal touch and go before.
I had mentioned this to my CFI as I had read about them being used on checkrides for other people. She said we would do them but neither of us remembered. In fairness, I’m taking the blame for it because on the day we were going to do it, she started the lesson with engine out no flap landings.  3 times around and never once did I get one acceptably stable.  So, no opportunity to do the touch and goes…BUT, we definitely worked on slips.
So…while attempting to do landings I didn’t have a ton of practice on, I’d have to convert it into a touch and go on a runway 200 feet shorter than my home field, on a hot, high density altitude day, with a 250lb man in the right seat judging me and..oh ya…a pretty steep hill on the departure end of the runway.  This will be fun.
As we rolled down the runway I was self announcing the airspeed and my intentions of when to rotate.  After we had rolled for longer than ever before I made a comment about the density altitude.  We got liftoff speed and I pulled the nose off.  Rather than rush to get over the hill I took a few seconds in ground effect to build up some speed and then made my climb.  He seemed quite satisfied with it. We stay in the pattern and I was told to do a soft field landing.
As I am making the approach I see I am high.
My standard issue but…too high is always better than too low. I put in the full 40 degrees of flaps and the plane starts to settle.  Winds were variable which is the worst (well probably not but I like to complain about the winds).  I got down into the flare…wanted to make sure I had it centered.  Carried a little power into it like I was supposed to and, well, the landing was NOT that good.  I got a little skipped when we landed but kept the nose back at least a little and fought to keep the plane still tracking.  He says..ok, let’s take off.
So..onto that touch and go portion.  From the reading I did the process is 1) Make sure the plane is stable 2) Clean it up, which means get the flaps back to zero 3) Get full power in.  Somehow my muscles figured out the sequence and we had enough airspeed and runway to comfortably get back in the air again.  He didn’t comment on the landing but said, Ok, on this next pass I want you to do a short field landing using the 30 as the aiming point.  I said “Ok, 30 as the aiming point and I’ll have it down by the 3rd stripe.”  I did this because you are supposed to declare a spot and then land within 200 feet of it. 3rd stripe is 250 feet so I kind of “bought” myself a little cushion by declaring before he could.  He didn’t disagree. On the approach I was again high. I put on the 40 degrees of flaps and it started coming down but nowhere near enough.
Thermals. He called them.
As we were coming in over the warehouses, the heat just kept pushing the plane up. I said that it would make no sense to dive for the runway so I am going around.  I immediately turn off the carb heat, go full power and do my flap retraction.  Again, I talk through this aloud so he knows what I am doing (a good trick from my CFI….”Talk through what you are doing.  Never let your examiner wonder or guess what you are doing”) He says going around is a good choice.
As I am still cleaning up the airplane he says “be sure to tell the tower you are going around”.  I said, “Yes, I’m doing that as soon as I get my last notch of flaps up and am in a stable climb.” Aviate, Navigate, Communicate is the mantra and he was satisfied I had my priorities straight.
Next time around I tell him I’ll extend my downwind a little further to give some time to descend.  It does the trick and the short field comes right on target.  It was definitely not soft but that’s not the point. I threw the flaps up and announced maximum braking (we had discussed that it would be simulated), he said “ok, let’s go..” So, onto the touch and go. Off again.  So this time he says, tell the tower you’re going to do a soft field landing and then immediately go into the cross country portion. I said ok but I’m just going to tell them I am going to touch and go and then cross country…I joked and said they didn’t really care what type of landing I was going to do.
Well, that landing…kind of sucked.  It is VERY difficult to do a soft field landing when you know you have to get off the runway again…but again he said “ok, let’s go”.
I am to fly a heading of 240 and climb to 3000′. It’s out to the Pinchot practice area.  I had never been there but you better believe I had studied it intently. I had thought we would be doing my cross country route (or at least a few checkpoints) but decided to not say anything about it.  The “normal” thing is to fly 1 or 2 checkpoints, make sure your times are correct, calculate groundspeed in your head and then divert (presumably to the practice area). He said…”oh, we didn’t start your cross country..well, I’ll tell you what.  Let’s say there is a thunderstorm in the area from where we departed to just west of Carlisle.  I want you to work out a course around it to get us back on the planned route.”  Ok.  That was totally backwards from what I was expecting but was doable.
What I didn’t get was that he wanted me to do that now. I was still holding heading and almost near my altitude.  He asked me if I can locate us on the map.  I pointed out Pinchot lake which I had known ahead of time. He asked what the smaller lake immediately ahead of us was.  I was 95% certain but I looked down on my map anyways and said it was Lake Meade.  He said yes and then asked if I had the course worked out yet.  I got shaken a little bit and said I was sorry I didn’t think I was doing that yet.  No big deal…I pulled the map out a little bigger, grabbed my sectional scale and started the work.
The 2 benefits I got from this “stall” were that I was able to get the airplane trimmed at 3000′.  Essentially, don’t have to worry about it drifting quickly off altitude (I had to keep it within 100′ of the designated altitude or I fail) and, since I was now essentially right over Lake Meade I didn’t have to guess at all on the chart. I slapped the ruler down, said it was 19 miles to get back on course and then slid the ruler at that same angle down to a VOR dial to get a magnetic heading. 290. He says “That’s a neat trick. You don’t have to be perfect, you just need to have an idea and that definitely got you what you needed.” I said thanks but then mentioned that I thought that was a “standard” thing to do. Anyways…he said, that’s enough of the cross country stuff so he offered to put my maps in the back seat. I cautiously said yes and watched to see if there was going to be a trick.  Nope.
Stalls.  He just wanted a approach to landing stall. No bank. I started walking through the procedure and was waiting to get into a glide…he said no need, just pull the power here and hold altitude until it stalls. Normally we would get to 65, establish a glide, pull power and haul back the yoke smoothly until you stalled. This way took a little longer but holding altitude was a fun challenge and essentially shows how you can stall without the nose pointing way up.  I recovered it fine. No need for any other there.
Steep turns. Once to the left, once to the right.  They were fine. As soon as that’s done he yanks the engine. I had originally spoke to him about who would do the engine clears during the maneuver and I said I would handle them.  This is another “tactic” to use which can buy you some altitude if the approach looks to be short. Well, I established my glide, found my landing point (described it and why I chose it) and went through the engine restart checklist. I didn’t pull the paperwork for it but it didn’t seem to bother him as I walked through it thoroughly. I announced it was pretty clear the engine was not going to restart so I would start the formal process of approach and landing. At the same time it was time to communicate the situation.  So, I simulated the emergency calls required.  Then it was on to cabin securing (buckle up, shut the fuel off — simulated of course, unlatch doors, etc) and make the approach.  I told him the general elevation of the area (500 feet MSL) so I would look to enter the key position around 1500′ MSL.  This is standard pattern altitude. My brain wasn’t doing the math right but somehow, when I was at the key position I was DEAD on that altitude. I said,well, from here it’s essentially a standard power out approach to soft field landing. I flew the base leg.  Said that we’ll keep it a little tighter here because we would rather be high and close than low and far away.  I made my base turn spotted my landing area. He asked if I thought I would make the field.  I said, “Yes, we’re in a good position.”  He said “I agree. Go ahead and recover”.
We go back up to about 1600 feet and he says to do turns about a point.  I said ok. I’ll just clear the area and start on the downwind. As I start to maneuver towards a barn silo he says “So, what is your point you will turn around?” I laughed and pointed out the barn silo. I then said something like “Aren’t you reading my mind yet?” I’m sure I told you it was that silo in my head!” He laughed. The turns were easy. We then did S turns across a road.  Similar type of maneuver.  I did them fine…I guess. He said he had ordered up 20 knots of wind today but didn’t get it. That makes it a LOT harder.  I explained what I would do differently and he seemed satisfied.
Back up to 2000′ for some hoodwork. I put the foggles on.  He says to hold heading and altitude for a little bit.  Ok. No problem. I do a turn and then am asked to tune in and track Harrisburg VOR.  This is where I knew there would be a potential snag.  Both Nav radios had an issue.  Nav 1 could hear the test tune but the CDI needle didn’t work.  Nav 2…no test tune but the needle worked fine. So, I “cheated” by fat fingering the radio stack and pushing down both radio controls.  That way I was sure to hear the test tone.  Once the radio was “identified” I could turn those off and use Nav 2’s needle to track. I told him where we were relative to the station and then also what direction I had to go to get there.  I got the needle centered and tracked fine. He was satisfied and allowed me to go back to normal flying.
“Ok…let’s head back to the airport.”
Now, I had heard from other people that if you have passed he will tell you that he will do the last landing. After I made my call to Harrisburg approach I realized I had misinterpreted one instruction.  They said to expect a left base and I heard left downwind.  So, I was starting to set myself up in the wrong direction.  He pointed to a spot over the ridge line and said you need to go there for a left base. I owned up to the error and even made mention of the type of error.  Pilots often have a “normal” expectation of the instruction they would receive and when hearing something to the contrary, essentially disregard it. I said that was exactly what I had done and that I was thinking of the conservative route back to Capital City which wouldn’t require us to crest the mountain.  He said I wasn’t expected to know the “normal” way of getting back from this practice area.
He then said that he wanted me to do a soft field landing.
I had switched over to tower and advised of my approach.  They asked if this would be a full stop landing or touch and go. I looked at my examiner and he said full stop. PHEW.
Ok.  So I let tower know and got my landing clearance. We cleared the ridge right where he pointed out and we were perfectly lined up for the left base.
FOCUS time.
I wasn’t going to be high and I wasn’t going to be fast coming in.
I was going to carry some extra power like I was supposed to and now, since I didn’t have to worry about taking off again I was going to hold that thing in the flare until it landed.
Approach was a little high but I got it to settle. Put in that little bit of power and just let the plane hover above the runway.  Got a little squirrely as the wind shifted but I kept it dead straight. Little bit of stall horn and then the mains came down, they didn’t kiss the ground as I wanted but that’s not a requirement.  I pulled back that yoke to keep the nose wheel off…thankfully with the extra weight up front the amount I pulled didn’t make the plane take off again. I held it there for a few seconds and settled it down. Used a good amount of runway but that’s fine.
He said “That one was good.”
Taxi to the end of the runway and get my instructions back to the ramp.  I cleared the runway and started going a little further. He kind of interrupts and says why haven’t you put your flaps up? It’s essentially the after landing checklist. I told him I was going to do that but wanted to make sure I was past the runup area and could see down the runway I had just exited. It was kind of a lie as I was still replaying that landing in my head. But…what I said actually made a lot of sense. I cleaned up the aircraft and taxied it to the parking area. Shut down the engine per the checklist secured it and then just did a big exhale.
Nice long pause as he removes his headset.
“Congratulations.  You passed”.
I smiled, shook his hand and then exhaled very hard.
He said that my airwork was great.  He was very impressed with my hood work.  I explained that I was a simulator junkie so I got used to flying looking at instruments.  If anything I always wanted to make sure I was keeping my eyes outside. He then said that last landing was a good one.  I acknowledged that the others were sloppy but agreed with him on the last one.
It only takes one thing to fail you which kind of sucks and they don’t have to give you a second chance.  I know the soft field landings into touch and go weren’t passing but until they say you’ve failed you must assume you are passing. Without saying it he gave me that second chance on the landing based on the rest of my performance and I delivered it.
PHEW!! My only comment was that it’s a lot easier doing a soft field when you know you are going to eventually stop. He laughed but agreed.
Off to the hangar where we would finish up the paperwork and get my certificate. Another computer had to be used and I got to do another round of IT support.
Hadn’t realized till then that I was absolutely drenched in sweat. I wore a light colored shirt though so it didn’t show too much. Got my certificate.  We chatted a little bit, he signed my logbook and that was it.
It’s the never ending day.
My first official Pilot in Command flight.
And of course…right where he had indicated the fabled storm was during the checkride was a pretty mean looking thundercloud.  I called my CFI to ask what it looked like in Carlisle. She said she saw the cloud but it looked like it would blow by.  Wait 10 minutes.
I moved the plane to a tiedown spot but by then I could see a clearer sky.  I decided to make the flight.
Once in the air I got to altitude and was on course. Passed over my first checkpoint I had planned for the test. Smiled. Then it started to rain a little. Good excuse to divert a little to the north.  Allows me to go over my house on the approach. I didn’t see anybody outside nor did I see the painted sign left for me but no matter.  It was a good feeling to fly over.
Sarah Malone Gaudelli's photo.
Landed at the airport…and NOBODY there.
A little sad but then again, I did this for myself so I got to savor my own moment.
A long journey but a truly worthwhile destination.

Private Pilot Airplane Single Engine Land

A picture is worth a thousand words.

White paper is good!

White paper is good!

16 months of time including every weather and scheduling delay imaginable.

Surprisingly, no mechanical issues (knocks on head).

64.6 hours of flight training in accordance with Part 61.

4 total hours of practical testing.

Let’s not get into the money portion of it yet.

One white piece of paper as a result. Yes…priceless.

Details later.



Are we there yet?

Not including a few solo jaunts off to Capital City airport, I have 5 true Cross Country flights.

  1. A dual cross country from Carlisle to Martinsburg, VA.  My first so called navigational experience.
  2. A dual cross country from Carlisle to Reading, PA.  My night cross country.
  3. A solo cross country from Carlisle to Williamsport, PA.  My first 50NM+ solo cross country.
  4. A solo cross country from Carlisle to University Park, PA.  A “time builder” 50NM+ solo cross country.
  5. A solo cross country from Carlisle to University Park, PA, to Lancaster, PA,.  My long cross country.

In preparation for the dual cross countries, I had ground school coursework on flight planning as well as a 2 hour 1:1 session with my CFI. 1 hour of good instruction. 1 hour of me just running my mouth about everything else.

During these sessions the focus is on good route planning. Considerations are for terrain, airspace, navigational aids (e.g. VOR’s, prominent landmarks), backup airports, P-40!, winds, weather, and available runways.

Even though I was strictly VFR, I always tried to fly with reference to at least one radio NavAid. In that way, even if I had an issue with finding an expected visual reference, I had a “connection” to a known spot and could at least get to it and get reset. Of course, there was always the GPS but as my CFI would say…”ya never can trust those things…” Or at least the brightness knob which could somehow get turned to dim and stay there during the flight.

8-12 miles max between visual checkpoints.  8 miles was my minimum visibility for flight so, theoretically, I should always be able to “see” the next point. And, that seemed to be a good distance for managing checkpoint timings, calculating groundspeed, and adjusting ETA.

I also learned to fill out a navigation log with everything but the winds and photocopy it. This was a HUGE time saver. That way, on the day of the flight you just need to fill in the up to date wind information and calculate your headings, GS, fuel burn, and ETA . Well, that part is simple . The huge time saver comes when that flight you just filled out gets weathered out and you have to go through the same process 9 more times until the weather cooperates!

So with navigation log in hand, I’m off on the dual cross country flights. Navigationally, the first one was a bit of a disaster. I was task saturated from just flying and communicating. Trying to manage a precise location on a poorly folded sectional map with a penciled in set of checkpoints, while also reading numbers in the handwriting script the quality of which a 2nd grader would scoff at is next to impossible while also trying to hold a heading and altitude in an aircraft traversing the ground at 106 knots (or at least that was what was originally calculated!)

So, lessons learned:

  1. Binder clips are your friend. Get that sectional chart folded exactly how you want it before the flight.  Make sure it will fit on your kneeboard properly and then clip that thing in place. 3 clips minimum.
  2. While that thing is on your kneeboard, you won’t be able to see your navigation log (2 kneeboards???) So, when it comes time to update a timing, you’re out of space. Not easy to shuffle paperwork in a 172. It’s a bit goofy but along with binder clips, Post It notes can be your friend. Put everything you can on that sectional to minimize the back and forth.
  3. A C-172 has an analog clock in it.  Now, that’s nice and “classic” but it sucks for leg timing. A digital wristwatch is helpful but it would probably be better to have a timer within easy reach.
  4. You’re paying your CFI…as part of the lesson, feel free to use them as a storage facility for a reasonable amount of this material. Reasonable must be stressed though lest they decide to test you out on distractions by dropping a chart at your feet and then pulling the engine while you go reaching for it.

Handwriting…I’ve got a terminal case of bad handwriting.  The only thing for that is technology. Printed flight plans from or on the iPad with ForeFlight are MUCH more readable and arguably in my case safer.

In preparation for my solo cross country, I had to cover lost procedures and diversions. I knew I was going to get overloaded on that one as well but I definitely tried to prepare for everything. While I didn’t get “lost”, I was NOT happy with my ability to get myself to the “found” place including the calculation of time / distance.

For diversions, on a sectional chart, from a known position, it is not hard to quickly estimate a course and distance with a pocket ruler.

Get a general idea of the course. Measure the distance right off the scale.  Then, without changing the angle of the ruler, move it towards the compass rose of a VOR.  You can estimate your magnetic heading from there.

So, you’ve got a course, and a distance. HOW LONG UNTIL YOU GET THERE?

And that’s where I would begin the mental lock up. If you’ve got the GPS on you’ve got a groundspeed but we all know how unreliable at least mine is. So, you’ve hopefully been taking your leg times between checkpoints and calculating your groundspeed, right? RIGHT?

I already said I barely had room for the sectional chart and navigation log.  Now I need to manage either of these things as well?

Even if I could find a place for it…not going to be able to use it efficiently.

Slightly better but still…BULKY.

There are some rule of thumb estimates, but I like to be a little more precise than that. While I haven’t used it yet, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a useful tool.


Fits right on the kneeboard. Won’t always have the exact information but should have enough to make a PTS level estimate.

Confession: On my Williamsport trip I used the sectional chart and the navigation log as faithfully as possible. I took some leg times, tried to calculate my groundspeed and updated my ETA. But, of course, the GPS was working fine, I was following a major river the whole way, AND I had ForeFlight running on the iPad with the exact same flight plan loaded….which, incidentally was automatically calculating my leg times, my groundspeed and updating my ETA…which allowed me to keep my eyes outside.

On my subsequent trips, the iPad got attached to the yoke via my Christmas gift and, while there was always the paper and GPS backup, it became my primary inside navigation tool (I still did update the paperlog after each leg with the new groundspeed and ETA!). Is that a bad thing? I think you should always have a backup AND be able to do it the old fashioned way but realistically, if technology is there to help you fly and keep your eyes in the sky, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?

On a checkride, I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ll be able to use is the charts and timer so I’ve got some practice ahead of me.  I’m definitely up for the challenge but also happy I took some of the time to work out a good balance between straight up pilotage and using all available resources to ensure a good outcome for the flight.


Aviation Weather Products

Along with continued flight training, it’s certainly time to begin brushing up on all aspects of the PTS.  While the Oral Test Prep Guide

is often cited as the definitive reference the PTS makes reference to 31 different CFRs, Advisory Circulars, FAA publications, AIM, Airport Facility Directory, NOTAMs, your POH and, just in case that wasn’t inclusive there’s always OTHER.  All of which you should become familiar with and the contents of which are fair game for your Oral Exam / Checkride.

With the exception of the Advisory Circulars, I’ve already reviewed all or at least a portion of the other material.

Since I missed two weather related questions on my FAA Knowledge Exam I decided to look at AC 00-45G Aviation Weather Services first. While AC 00-6 Aviation Weather last updated in 1975!!! speaks to weather itself, AC 00-45G, assuming you already understand weather, advises on the myriad “official” weather products.

Through countless Flight Service briefings, DUATS sessions, and maniacal refreshing of Weather Underground,  I like to say I’ve become familiar with all the weather information available.

I can decode METAR and TAF data.

I can interpret lines of Constant Pressure winds, wind direction, frontal systems, AIRMET’s / Sigmets, Radar Summary Charts, and read (but never understand) all the latest school closings.

If you put a chart in front of me, I could interpret it.  If you asked me questions about when it is issued and how long it was valid for….blank stare.  Not sure why.

AC 00-45G has it all in there, albeit across 405 pages.

So, as part of the learning I tried to piece together the major ones.

METARS: Every hour.  My experience has them coming out around 4-6 minutes before the top of the hour.

AIRMETS: are routinely issued for six hour periods beginning at 0145Z during Central Daylight Time and at 0245Z during Central Standard Time. AIRMETS are also amended as necessary due to changing weather conditions or issuance/cancellation of a SIGMET.

For the rest, I created a file. Hopefully it’s useful and I’ll study my own work.

I’m on on the hunt for all the checkride related hints, tips, advice, experiences available.


142 Days

On November 15, 2013, after a few weeks of business travel delay,  I was officially certified to begin my Solo Cross Country flights.

What does that mean?

FAR 61.109

b. 10 hours of solo time in an airplane, including:
i. 5 hours of cross-country flights
ii. One solo cross-country flight of at least 150nm total distance, with full-stop
landings at a minimum of three points and with one segment of the flight
consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 50nm between takeoff and
landing locations
iii. Three solo takeoffs and landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating
control tower

That’s what I needed to accumulate.

It was still autumn, albeit late autumn but surely the above would be the proverbial walk in the park.

The plan was 3 flights:

  1. N94-KIPT-N94 (Williamsport, PA).  This would be the “short” cross country.  
  2. N94-KUNV-N94 (Penn State), This would be a another “short” cross country.  Essentially a time builder.
  3. N94-KUNV (Penn State) -KLNS (Lancaster, PA)-N94.  The “BIG” one.  The last one.

In November, facing the onset of winter with dismay, my CFI stated, “There are often more VFR days in the Winter time than any other season.” While that may have been a historically accurate statement, this year, not so.

To say that this Winter has been an aviation “challenge” is an understatement.  To say that the weather has been downright horrible, consistently craptastic, and generally VFR Not Recommended is perfectly accurate.

I don’t know if I have the record of planned and cancelled flights but I’ve got to be close. Perfect marketing for getting one to consider an Instrument Rating. Of course, I’ve still got this PPL thing in the works so first things first.

It took 10 times to get the initial flight in. 7 tries (minimum ’cause I stopped keeping track lest I get a severe case of seasonal affective disorder) for the time builder (which will be detailed later) and at least 10 for the Long XC.

On the positive side, I am now a certified Jedi Master ADM as it relates to finding reasons that a XC flight can’t be made. Despite lets say a round 30 scheduled attempts, some of which got all the way up to the point where I had the plane loaded and ready to go, I don’t think there was ever a time where we decided I shouldn’t go when I could have and clearly some which, where I was given the go/no go decision and I said no, it turned out to be the right choice.

But then came April 6, 2014.  The 5th was sunny but horribly windy. Both the Dual Lesson as well as the XC were cancelled. The forecast for the 6th looked VERY promising but as the sun set on the 5th the wind continued to blow.

Sunday morning, bright (well I should say dark) and early, the sky was clear, the air crisp but calm. The forecast was right….and the flight was on.

A little frost to wait out as the sun came up but some time to get everything in order, one last checkout and then off on the journey.

4.5 hours later, I was back in Carlisle, mentally and physically exhausted but also finally done.

Only 142 days from start to finish! Walk in the park.  Well sort of.

Text to CFI to let her know I finally did it.

“Great!! Now the work begins.”

More details on the more “interesting” aspects of the Long XC later including a debatable radio instruction inbound to KLNS.

For now…it’s clear this student can get the plane from A->B->C->A safely.

Now, I have to prove I can really fly…like a pilot.


Lucky Number 10

For anyone on the East coast of the US of “moderate” age, the winter of 2013-14 has already shaped up to be one of the more brutal ones in memory.  Along with a healthy dose of snow, whose total inches this year are already several multiples of the last few year’s snowfall combined, the “Polar Vortex” has brought with it low ceilings, brutal winds, and of course, soul chilling cold.  A Spring Break trip to Fairbanks to escape the winter seems somehow a plausible option.

Polar Vortex – My own TFR

While on the topic of bad winter weather…I’m officially NOT on the like list for the new practice of naming winter storms.  Pure marketing / ratings hype. No real value. Further, while it’s been a bad winter in relative terms, this still isn’t that bad. If it’s a full on blizzard that actually closes schools in Rochester NY you can name it.  Other than that…it’s just a snowstorm.

In between these vortices there were numerous, albeit slim opportunities for me to get my first solo cross country flight in. 7 as of the previous entry..none of which materialized with sufficient margin of safety for my flight to be approved. Numbers 8 and 9 followed the same course as their predecessors.

But then we come to number 10. The new year is upon us.  New hope and of course new weather.  Saturday, January 4th had a chance.  That was, of course based on the weather forecasts made on December 31. By the 2nd it had snowed again. Enough to cover the ground and the plane in a thick blanket of white. Normally that ends the planning for the week. But, the polar vortex, in all it’s sub-zero glory turned out to be a bit of a saving grace.  Due to the extremely low temperatures, the snow didn’t melt. Why is this good? Since it didn’t melt, it didn’t have a chance to re-freeze! So, in the early evening of the 3rd, I trekked out to the airport, snow blade in hand.


This thing is amazing. Took about 30 minutes but I had the plane uncovered with only minimal icing on the leading edge.

Still not “on” but the flight had a chance.

Saturday morning I got up early to check weather and get the preliminary go/no go from my CFI.  We were on.  Another “quick” trip to the airport to get the plane plugged in.  A nice and necessary addition to the equipment list for the year was the block heater. A moment of panic when I realized I was not the only one with aspirations of committing aviation that morning. No outlets to be had.  I knocked on a few hangar doors and was able work out a power arrangement.  The aviation neighborly equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar.  Nice neighbors.

With plane plugged in, I went back to work on the snow removal. I missed a lot of spots the night before but took my time to make sure everything was free and clear.  C172’s have a lot of nooks and crannies where snow and ice like to hide.

2 hours later, with clear skies, and only moderate winds, my logbook was signed and I was ready to go!

As it was still REALLY cold out, I was instructed to spend 3/10’s of an hour letting it warm up (I would be able to deduct 2/10’s from the billing). Fine by me as it gives me a little more time getting the nest set up for flight.

Queue “challenge” 1

The plane started rather effortlessly.  Oil pressure was good and the engine was running smoothly The radios, which typically protest the cold weather by not displaying frequency information for a while came to life immediately as well. But then there was the AI. The checklist says to ensure the gauge has erected and righted itself. was definitely doing something. Bouncing from bottom to top and back like a basketball. Hmm…one would expect it to be frozen in place due to the weather but bouncing all over the place? Odd.

A radio call to my CFI who was just starting up a plane with another lesson to discuss.  “Wait a few minutes and see what happens.” I waited all the minutes I could.  The bouncing stopped! But then it essentially pegged itself representing a nose dive.

Now it should be noted that the Attitude Indicator is not required for VFR flight but it is definitely useful..particularly for a student pilot embarking on his first real trip away from the home airport. At the very least, the absence of it, or the re-commencement of its dribbling would be pretty distracting.  I don’t think my CFI would allow me to make the flight that way but I could tell we were both quite torn on what to do. After 9 previous weather related busts, a glitchy gauge was NOT an acceptable reason for cancelling the flight.

Always a fan of the “let’s go up and take a look” approach, my CFI suggested I take off and stay in the pattern to see if things would rectify in the air.  Agreed.

Focused back on the flying I taxi into position, make my radio call and am off in the air. At 1200 MSL I make my left turn to stay in the pattern, approaching TPA of 1500 on the downwind.  I look at the AI just as my CFI calls over the radio to inquire. “Is it working?” My response, thankfully, came after a second of consideration. I was initially going to say, “Well, it came off the full on dive but now seems to be indicating a shallow climb…” Which is, of course, exactly what I was doing! Instead, I simply replied “It appears to be working fine.”.

“Text me when you land in Williamsport.”

And like that I was off on my adventure.

Route of flight was very straightforward.  Go direct Harrisburg VOR and then follow the river north to Williamsport.

By the time I crossed HAR I was at cruise altitude of 5500, had flight following coordinated, and into my navigation.  Due to a nice wind out of the Southwest I was making almost 130 knots over the ground.

Fully marked chart on my kneeboard with corresponding fully populated navigation log.  HAR on Nav 1, FQM on Nav 2, General N94-HAR-FQM flight plan in the GPS as backup #1 and full flight plan loaded in ForeFlight on the iPad as backup #2.  No way I was getting lost on this flight! Of course, the visibility was amazing, I just had to follow the river, and I had rehearsed this thing for 10 times so to call myself over-prepared is probably accurate.

FINALLY…had a chance to take some pictures. Save for the old windscreen..the scenery was stunning.

Outside Duncannon checkpoint

Outside Duncannon checkpoint

2014-01-04 15.19.26

2014-01-04 13.18.32

Focused on the outside..squealing with delight on the inside

Focused on the outside..squealing with delight on the inside

Once past Selinsgrove and nicely on course I began to prepare for my arrival.  Approaching from the south, Williamsport has a little challenge in the form of a mountain. If you are into a spiraling descent you can go over it but again, just follow the river and a normal approach can be made.


KIPT has an ASOS which is updated continuously. By using the ident setting on the COM 2 radio I could just begin to pull it in at Selinsgrove.

What I heard was NOT encouraging. While the winds aloft were around 230/22, winds at the airport were out of 120.  That they were opposite was not immediately troubling.  What seemed off was the wind number.  120 at 13.  Hmm.  That seems a bit strong.

I was handed off to NY Center.  I let them know I was a student pilot (forgot to do that with Harrisburg Departure).  NY Center was quite accommodating.  Went out of their way to ensure I knew I could ask for any assistance required.  While that was reassuring, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. Thank you would have sufficed.  I think I responded with “Roger, will ask for help if needed.”

Getting close to Muncy the wind had not changed direction.  It was now 120 13G23.  KIPT has a Runway 12 so I wasn’t too concerned about a 13 knot headwind.  It was the shorter runway (still plenty for a 172 into the wind) but I would request it if they didn’t immediately offer. The gusts to 23 though was definitely troubling. My limits were a 13 headwind.

After requesting release from NY Center after assuring them I had the field in site (not quite accurate but I knew where I was) I contacted Williamsport Tower.  As hoped, I got runway 12. Enter and report a left downwind.

I was already near pattern altitude so I just started lining up to enter the 45 left downwind.  And then the thing I should have figured out happened.

Quiz question: If winds aloft are 220/22 and winds on the field are 120/13G23 what can you expect?

Turbulence? Well, yes.  How about wind shear? Well, double yes. An essentially 180 degree shift in the wind NEVER happens in a nice linear fashion.  In this case, it was pretty much instantaneous.  Looking back over the flight, the reason was quite obvious.  The mountain.

With winds out of the southwest the winds were blowing over the mountain top.  Of course there would be some turbulence as I got down below the ridgeline.  But then you’ve also got the new, and relatively strong opposite wind in the valley.  Once you hit that zone you get the wind shear.

I got tossed pretty good but kept it under control. Definitely found a new, even higher level of focus.  Yes, I considered turning back but fell back on the “let’s take a look” mantra.  I should have done this ahead of time but did make this firm decision on downwind.  I would attempt the approach.  If I was not fully stabilized both on airspeed and descent profile on my base turn I would abandon the approach and fully reset. My lesson for the day for sure.

I reported my downwind.  The controller cleared me to land. There was some additional information given which I heard, processed (I think) and moved on with approach.  Additional information was winds 120/13 G24, Peak Gust 28, blowing, and drifting snow on runway surface. Ok…this is going to be fun.

I made by base turn and things looked correct.  The wind was definitely in line with the runway. There was absolutely zero side drift and my ground speed on final was REALLY slow. Plenty of time to get everything in order.  I had originally planned on carrying only 20 degrees of flaps but 30 was still a good choice.  I took 5 extra knots of airspeed over the threshold to account for gusts. In the flare it was, as is always the case, a matter of patience.  Just hold it off and wait for the plane to land.  The wind swirled a little which caused me to do a little rudder dance but still with plenty of time to get it settled. Very decent landing!

Taxi to the FBO….KEEP YOUR WIND CORRECTIONS RIGHT ALL THE WAY TO THE TIEDOWN! Didn’t forget that lesson this time and today was a good day to remember.

After getting the plane as secure as possible I went into the FBO to get my signature and get reset. Nice little airport with its own mascot dog.  Will have to remember to bring treats next time. No landing charges but the little dog definitely wanted his “fee”.

15 minutes to reset then back into the cold for the flight back.

I got 12 again for departure. Got to experience ALL the bumps and wind shear on the climb out but this time I was ready. Within a few minutes, I was at cruise altitude, clear of the Class D, back on with NY Center and following the same flight plan back home.

So, while I made 130 knots ground speed on the way up.  I was barely making 80 on the way back! I guess everything balances out.

Peaceful, uneventful cruise…and that’s just fine.  My first chance to really enjoy the whole flight.

Wish I could say I nailed the crosswind landing on the return (winds had picked up here as well) but it was definitely passable.


Patience pays off but it is a hard lesson to learn.

Next XC flight will be a time builder to KUNV prior to my long XC.

In the meantime, I think it will be time for my CFI to start drilling me on airwork (aka making me super humble once again).

Can’t wait…as always.