7th Times the Charm??

It’s no surprise that at this time of the year the opportunities where conditions will be favorable for flying…or, more specifically, in my case, flying solo cross country will be limited.

For that reason, I had organized my work / vacation / weekend schedule to include several opportunities.  The idea was to get not one but all 3 of my cross country flights done.

I would have to do N94-KIPT, which would fulfill the 50NM requirement. I would do N94-KUNV which would be a second 50NM trip but have the secondary purposes of familiarizing me with another field and building towards the 5 total hours of Solo Cross Country. Last trip would be N94-KUNV-KLNS-N94.  This would fulfill my long cross country requirement.  Then I would be able to move onto the final phase of training and checkride prep.

So far…NONE of the above have been accomplished.  Not from a lack of trying.  I stopped counting but I know I am at least coming up on attempt 7.  Weather has just never cooperated on the date / time I picked.  As my luck would have it, my crappy weather days always seemed to be bookended by some beautiful flying days.  At least somebody’s getting to fly…just not me.

So, I’ve learned patience (not really) and to keep the bags always packed.

It’s Christmas, so no flying today…although the weather is naturally perfect for flying.  That makes sense because my last weather related cancellation was yesterday.

Next time to try…tomorrow morning. Weather, solidly IFFY. Super.

Well, at least I did get an aviation related smile today.  I’m constantly checking the weather lately and this morning was no different.

While it wasn’t in the raw METAR, I noticed something quite interesting in Foreflight’s weather translations.

Photo Dec 25, 7 17 09 AM

A Valiant Effort

Low, thick, gray clouds.

Just hanging there. Never really raining but serving up this omnipresent and heavy “damp” from which relief will seemingly never come.

The forecast said clear skies in the morning and, well, I wasn’t buying into it.  4 consecutive days of slop and you are conditioned for more of the same.

Saturday morning arrives and the clouds are still there but noticeably thinner.  A diligent breeze slowly working to clear the rest out.

Time to fly? I sent the obligatory text to my instructor including what could be dicey wind information and the hopeful query “Thoughts?”

Response: “Come”.  Finally.

Plan for the weekend (technically it was supposed to start Friday but that was already bagged due to weather) was to take a dual flight and get my re-solo certification…essentially I must fly dual once every 2 weeks to remain certified for solo flight. Assuming success with that, I would try to get the Solo X-Country off on Sunday.

Saturday was definitely windy but in this case a very good thing.  While I wouldn’t get any major airwork done, nor would I work on soft field landings, we would be doing a bunch of x-wind work. Not yet fun to do solo but I love to work on them with the CFI on board.

Cold day but sun coming out for the lesson.  Winds 11 gusting 18 from the Northwest which gave about a 8 headwind and 8 cross wind before any gusting.

I got a tenth of an hour “free” today so we could let the plane warm up as well as wait a few minutes for my CFI to call the renter taking out the Piper and admonish him for doing his pre-flight with the Master switch on.  While it’s entertaining to see her “correct” someone else there was a lesson there.  After the call she said, “That’s why we always leave the beacon light switch on.” When you walk away from the aircraft you will see the light flashing (or not) and know the status of the Master switch.

With crosswind corrections properly applied during runup,  and taxi, we were ready for departure.  First significant crosswind takeoff. Each airfield has it’s terrain features and N94 is no different.  In this case, there is a terrain to the Northwest and the hangars on that side of the field.  Where there are breaks in the hangars you get a compression and strengthening of the wind at that point in the runway. This, obviously, is an after the fact description.  I learned that on the fly…so to speak.

Coming down the runway, airspeed alive. 50 knots so craft is getting light.  That funneled wind hits and IAS jumps to 65.  Plane gets really light.  Not the best moment for that to happen but with proper cross wind aileron in, it was a simple matter of getting the aircraft off the ground, a slight pause in ground effect to build up a stable speed and lift off.  So, already a good learning experience.

Great tracking of runway centerline on departure.

I’d like to say it was a standard pattern but with the winds, I had to make some new adjustments. I had the correction in for downwind so I didn’t get blown away from the field but I can say failed to appreciate the strength of wind on the downwind.  Ground speed was quite a bit faster.  So, my turn to base was quite a bit further.  Of course, the opposite was true on Base and Final, where ground speed was WAY slower than normal. Almost comical.

Still a good opportunity to work with more variables than the standard “calm” days.

Tracking on final for the 7 landings was reasonably good. Same as the landing flare, the amount of rudder required demands a level of “assertive finesse” I don’t yet have.  That’s why I was really excited about the tasks for the day.

That little wind funneling…did you forget about it??? So did I. It impacts the landing as well.  Also, at a not so great time in the landing process.  Just need to be patient, absorb the jostle and let the plane land.  Some were ok, some were not the best. All were passable.

We discussed the landings and I said that I tended to always land left of center.  She said that, considering the winds, that made sense.  I corrected and said…no, my landings, when they are not on center seem to be ALWAYS left of center, regardless of wind. Interesting.  She said, it may be your “picture” being off.  Have to think about that a little but. Technically, even on a perfect landing “I” will always be left of center. The plane must be on the centerline. Maybe I’m trying to put the CFI on the centerline??? Who knows…but definitely something to be aware of and work on.

I had really thought the Sunday X-Country flight was going to be pre-bagged but my CFI said to keep it on.  Finish the flight planning, check the weather around 8pm Saturday and we should have a good idea.  In the meantime she would get the 100′ extension cord to plug in the plane’s new block heater so things would be ready to go in the morning.

Cool.

So, planning was completed and everything prepped.  At 8pm the forecast looked good for the beginning of the flight.  With snow and ice forecasted later in the day though it could get dicey. Flight was supposed to start at 9AM Sunday. Dicey weather to be around N94 around 10AM.  Based on that, well, I could go off early but probably not going to happen.

Up at 6AM…weather check.  Marginal weather still coming but now not until 2pm.  Skies clear, wind calm. It’s on!

7AM…new weather….Marginal now coming at 11am.  Hmm…maybe???

Then the current radar image.

InBoundSnow

No doubt I would be able to get off in time but quite likely would have to get a hotel room in Williamsport. They’ve got a Wegmans but other than the Little League Hall of Fame…not much else going on.

Spoke to my CFI and we agreed it was a Valiant Effort but…Cancelled.

Let the weather watch begin anew.

 

Waiting for the sun to shine

Holidays, Maintenance, CFI Vacation, and, well, the cycle of weather have all been in force for the past few weeks.  It’s the equivalent of the triple critical in biorhythms.

Holidays..Check…well, until the next round.

Maintenance..Check

CFI Vacation…Check

Weather…FAIL

Not from here but might as well be…

Hoping by tomorrow it clears up.  Hoping the next lesson is more building on what I know instead of remedial training.

In the meantime, as always, a lot of aviation related thoughts, particularly about organization, situational awareness, and staying in front of the plane. Every flight is an opportunity to improve and even though I often get upset at my “performance”, once I get back home and think it through, I inevitably come back to that core belief.  That’s when the events of the flight get fully processed and a lot of the learning occurs. That’s when I am ready to get out there again.

When everything is in balance…I found this today and I love it.

Here’s to Crushing It.

 

Lost Procedures and Diversions (2 of 2)

With my real world distraction training now completed it was time to get lost and divert.

The planned flight was Carlisle (N94)-Selinsgrove(KSEG).  From both a point to point navigation and visual standpoint, the flight was VERY straightforward.  Get yourself to the river and follow it north.

n94-kseg

The biggest challenge of planning the flight was figuring out how to manage folding the two sectional charts I would need.  Beginning of the flight was on the Detroit chart and 2nd half was on the New York chart. The river just happens to be right on the edge of both so neither map is really helpful or convenient. Perfect training opportunity. I did ask for cockpit organizational tips but my CFI said it’s a matter of personal preference.

I would LOVE to hear of other’s solutions to this as I clearly don’t have one yet.

I had slyly asked the week prior to the flight which way we would divert.  I used the chart issue as my excuse.  West would be Detroit, East would be New York.  CFI’s evil response “ya never know.”. So it was up to me to guess the where and when.

When:  I was guessing it would be at one of the checkpoints I had chosen.  Reason: It would be a “last known location” from which we plot a course.

Where to?? East was a possibility but I reasoned we wouldn’t do that because of the Restricted area. No need to really do that lesson, especially since the area would be hot that day.

North past the airport would be a possibility since I will eventually have to fly to Williamsport.

West seemed right.

So, under the premise of gathering “all available information relative to the upcoming flight”, I studied up on each airport (including Google Earth views)within 20 miles and had all the airport sheets on the kneeboard just in case.

On the day of the flight we reviewed the flight plan, the 5C’s for Lost (Climb, Circle, Communicate, Confess, Comply) and what we would be doing.  “Any questions?”  I said that I didn’t have any questions on the flight but, since I was still working on cockpit organization, AND would be deviating from the planned plan I fully expected to get behind the airplane a few times.  Other than an emergency, I didn’t want any “help” figuring things out. Another evil smile…I don’t think there was going to be any disagreement there.

Weather was brisk but good VFR at departure.  Forecast was the same for all of Pennsylvania with a few areas of layered clouds around 6000.

Take off was great…but of course, even before getting to pattern altitude that darn GPS went dark thanks to my CFI.  My comment was simply “Ya never can trust that thing.” No flight following for this one so we squawked 1200 and monitored Harrisburg Approach.  CFI also had her iPad and Foreflight so check on things but kept it angled away from my curious eyes.

First checkpoint is Harrisburg VOR.  She always asks for course, distance and time.  Satisfied with my answers she said to let me know when we were over the VOR. Typically, she wants me to note the full deflection of the VOR  and changing of the To/From flag. I said I would do that but since we were flying visually (and the leaves are now down off the mountain) I said I’ll let her know when we go over that big white bowling pin directly in front of us.

Over the VOR and slight turn to the North to follow the river. Duncannon (Rt 322) and Halifax were pretty good on timing so ground speed estimates were good.  At Millersburg (my initial guess), it is announced that the weather in Selinsgrove isn’t looking too good so we are going to divert to the West.

“Take us to Mifflin airport”.  Hmm…a trick question? Without looking at my sectional I immediately asked her to clarify whether she wanted to go to Mifflintown or Mifflin County airport.  Both would be appropriate. She was happy with the query and said Mifflin County.  “Plot a course, tell me what direction you are going to fly, how far it is and how long it will take.” I had a sectional ruler on the kneeboard which worked out pretty well.  The distance was 35 miles which happened to be the length of the ruler.  Course was estimated by sliding the ruler over the compass rose for Harrisburg VOR (VERY difficult because of being on the edge of the map).  Time was 18 minutes.  She was ok with course and distance but time…she said we should probably plan for 20 minutes.

“Fly your course”.

I wish it was that easy.  I got on my heading and then the questions start.  “Can you identify your position?” I knew generally where we were but I wasn’t seeing the landmark I expected.  Lesson from first cross country was to find external landmarks and then locate them on the sectional.  DO NOT force external landmarks to “fit” someplace you think you are on the map. To make matters worse…each time I referenced the map, my heading would drift.  I noted it a few times.  Question from CFI: “How do you maintain a heading in the airplane?”

What???

While trying to fly the plane and locate myself on a map, I had this question and, well, I locked up.  I confessed / hedged…”Not sure what you are asking”? Response was “Keep the wings level.” CLEARLY, I over thought that one by a ton. It broke the tension.

After a minute more of searching outside, we had another little challenge.  That cloud layer at 6000 was actually a little lower.  While it didn’t help my visual reference to ground flying, I got my first experience piloting an airplane above the clouds.  COOL!

Only about 2 minutes and the layer was gone. CFI then casually mentioned that even though the GPS was “broke” I was allowed to use the Nav radios.  Huh? Sure, that would have been nice to know.

Without any more discussion, I looked at my sectional and started tuning in a radio.  When she saw the frequency she asked what radio I was using.  She was expecting me to tune in Selinsgrove but I did Ravine instead.  “Why choose a radio that is farther away?”  I pointed to the sectional and said…”Well, there just happens to be a victor airway that goes from Ravine directly to Mifflin County.  The course is printed right there along with the Ravine frequency.  All I should have to do is tune and turn.” Again, I think I favorably surprised her a little and she wasn’t going to argue the logic except to comment that the further away you are from the radio the broader your track is going to be.  Agreed…which is why I was still searching for landmarks.

diversion

Despite having the radio tuned in, I located 322 and remained south of it to go via Mifflintown airport.

Note: Drive Ins are great visual landmarks.

Got to Lewiston and turned North. CFI told me to report when we were over the airport.  When close I said I have the airport in sight and there was an aircraft taking off.  While prepared to land there she then said we’re going back to Carlisle.  Same drill.

Navigation back was still an effort me to pick a heading and stay on it.  I think the challenge is that I am searching for positive fixes and diverting back and forth while doing so.  Need to work on that. She was asking me questions about features and towns.  Some I would answer, others I would ignore.  I was working on my own way of orienting.  Looking for features I could identify, radios / radials I wanted to track (e.g. due West of HAR).  Her questions got in the way.  So, the only critique I got there was that it was ok to ignore her questions (fly the airplane) but I needed to be verbalizing what I was working on so she could determine if I was making progress.  That’s fine by me and a very good point even when flying solo.  Nothing like permission to talk to yourself!

When we got into our “valley” I was a little high for the approach and had to do a descending spiral. To prove I knew where I was, I said, “How about we do it over my house”.  Not that I planned it but that’s exactly where we came over the last mountain.  That was fun.

Still have issues switching from Approach to Landing mindset. On the first approach I was too high.  I decided to go around and set it up again. That’s always good practice anyway. Next approach was a little high but I used 40 degrees of flaps (“The barn doors”) and that got us down in a nicely controlled hurry. Leveled off and transitioned into the flare with a nice low ground / airspeed.  Great patience.  Kept pulling back the nose to just hold everything.  Stall horn just inches off the runway.  It was perfect. Mains kissed the runway…and then my brain gorked again. For some unknown reason I didn’t just hold off the nose, I pulled back further.  WHY? WHY? WHY? Oh look…we’re in the air again. Second “landing” was not a greaser. I was pretty hard on myself.  CFI took it in stride and said something to the effect of “Well, we’ll write off that landing…the rest of the flight was great.”.

I was left to secure the aircraft.  My CFI asked for my logbook and said to meet her up in the hangar.  When I arrived we talked about the flight and my logbook / medical / student certificate was returned…with my Solo Cross Country endorsement.  Cool.

So, Williamsport will be my 50NM solo X-Country flight. Planning has begun.

Alas, holidays are upon us.  School is out for the next 2 weeks. UGH.  Weather’s been horrible so it’s no real loss but I’m eager to get this next phase complete.

 

Lost Procedures & Diversions–Well a Distraction (1 of 2)

“For the next lesson I want you to plan a flight up to Selinsgrove”. Fresh off and overly confident from a very successful night cross country flight to Reading, my quick fire response was, “That’s a simple flight….I just follow the river”. I really have to filter myself.

In the interim between that night flight and the Selinsgrove flight I scheduled one solo flight.  I’ll do more work on Soft and Short field takeoffs and landings but on another day.  For the solo flight it was simply out to the practice area to nail PTS on some maneuvers.

Simply…

I have a contribution

Ironically, I had read this cover article not too long ago.  I won’t dwell on it too long but I must share to enforce the learning and embed the shame. It is also relevant to the second half of the article title (although, more like distractions)

It was a frosty morning so I knew there would be some delay in my flight time.  No issue.  I would go pick up donuts for everyone and at least get the preflight done in advance. Besides being really cold out, the preflight was routine.  Just needed a quart of oil.  Of course, no spare oil in the plane so off to the hangar.  This is the beginning of the chain.  I had to go to the hangar for the oil.  A chance to say hello to everyone. I get the oil and off to the aircraft.  I had finished the rest of the checklist already so it was just a matter of putting the oil in. No big deal. My CFI came out and checked the wings…still frosty.  She said to come back to the hangar and help out with the donuts. I finished up and obeyed the order.

My CFI, a fellow student and I spent about 20 minutes in the hangar talking and ingesting sugar. Good times as always.  The two of us had initially been pretty even on our training progress but, with bad weather, business travel, and vacation, we have each experienced a different level of “delay”.  I’m ahead but it’s definitely not a competition.  In fact, I’ve been purposely getting out there a little early each day he’s scheduled for a morning flight because I want to see his first solo.

With the sun now helping out, it’s time to go practice. First, I head off to the office for a quick pit stop and then make the walk back down the ramp.  I notice my fellow student, and CFI, and a new white van huddled around the Piper.  Curiosity gets the best of me so I, of course, stop back to see what’s going on.

Question from CFI: “Are you any good at picking locks?”

After so much educational torment from her, I couldn’t resist…”Let me get this straight…you locked the keys in the airplane??? How is that even possible??? Seems like that should be a checklist item!!” All with a smile of course and a laugh all around.  Little did I know I just busted Karma.

So, trying to be ever helpful I assessed the situation. The keys were hanging from the sunshade because the student had started the preflight and the CFI had closed the door while we waited for the sun to come up. Again…the checklist process was broken .

The spare set of keys were in the CFI’s bag which was no safely secured INSIDE the plane. The guy in the van didn’t have a spare spare set. I walked around to the pilot side. Notice the little vent window. Being a nicely “aged” plane, the screw is a little loose. You can turn it with your fingers and the vent falls open.  That part I was pretty proud of.

Not so proud of…I was able to stick my entire arm in there, reach to sunshade and grab the key. Happy to retrieve the key but looking at the size of the vent window…I gotta hit the weights again!

Ok…now to the plane for the solo flight.  Finally. Or at least I thought.  I got in the cockpit and was getting things ready for departure.  Checklist in hand….

Up comes another student.  On the plus side, it is absolutely GREAT that there are more and more students around.  We need that tremendously.  He had recently done his first night flight so we talked about that for a few minutes. Definitely interested to share experiences.  He also recently bought his own plane. I said I’d love to see it sometime. Response: “Would you like to see it now??” Me, respectfully….”I’d love to see it but right now I want to go flying!” So, I have that to look forward to.

Ok…back to the checklist.  It had been at least 45 minutes.  I go through the pre-start items and am ready to start up. Since I had broken the checklist chain quite a few times, something inside me thought to take a quick look from the cockpit outside.  Pitot tube cover off, cones clear, chocks away from wheels…wait, what’s that? Holy Crap!

Laying there on the right wheel chock (which was dutifully pulled away from the right wheel) was the oil dipstick. I put the oil in the engine, closed the door but totally forgot to replace the dipstick.

No idea exactly what would have happened had I started the engine like that but VERY glad I didn’t.  My rationalizing mind said…well, you were going to get fuel first anyway so anything bad would have happened on the ground. REALLY?

Sheepishly, I slipped out of the airplane trying to avoid attention, thoroughly cleaned off the retrieved dipstick and placed it back in its place..and checked it 5 times.

Totally unacceptable mistake but something one can definitely learn from.

For me…checklist must be followed.  That didn’t change.  Slight modification. If something comes up and checklist must be delayed, I MUST fully finish and verify the one item I am on. Maybe someday I’ll get to a flow pattern but right now..it’s line by line.

Once up in the air, the flight went well.

Slow flight…controlled right to stall horn. Straight and level, shallow turns.  Recover.

First solo power off stall work…a little more daunting than I expected.  Not sure why.  Otherwise routine. Need to do power on stalls.

Turns about a point…decent but I need to pick a consistent entry airspeed and initial radius.

Steep turns…Probably only 40 degrees so have to get them a little steeper. Otherwise, they were to PTS both right and left. Particularly happy to get the little “bump” on roll out indicating I completed the circle perfectly and ran across my original wake.

Only one landing, in front of the Wounded Warriors group and a formation of helicopters. Greased it which was a nice change of pace since there were a lot of people watching.

So, along with some basic flight maneuvers, I “soloed” on distractions, which will be part of the practical test.  It was a real world test which I barely passed but a lesson which I will not forget.

 

 

Night Requirements COMPLETE!

3rd time’s the charm right? In this case, thankfully yes.  The morning skies were crystal clear, made brighter by the fact that daylight savings time is now over.  Winds were calm to variable with the promise and smell of winter.  It was cold outside but cold is just fine.

My CFI had a fully loaded schedule for the day but our discussion during the Saturday lesson (Short Field / Soft Field…a post for another time) raised hope that she “might” be available for the dual night on Monday.  I booked the plane but not the CFI.

The good weather Monday morning gave way to a high overcast but still perfectly good flying weather.  Around 2pm I sent the hopeful text to see if the flight was still on.  30 minute delay but YES!  This would give me time to do the preflight, fuel the plane, and, most importantly get myself organized first for flying the plane but also for the normal barrage of queries, quizzes, interrogations, and distractions offered by my CFI during these flights. Now that I know this is the “norm” I am prepared.

Preflight was routine with the two happy exceptions that the cover was already off and the prior pilot had fully fueled.  That hadn’t happened for at least the last 8 flights. So, a little more time to try out some different cockpit organization methods.

For night cross country flight you are obviously juggling an extra variable in that you can’t see everything directly inside the cockpit.  So, the red flashlight comes in very handy.  But…where to put it in relation to the kneeboard, prefolded / highlighted sectional chart? I was originally going to try 2 kneeboards (I bought one and a colleague gave me an extra) but that seemed like overkill. The kneeboard was the primary writing surface and the place to store the flight plan, runway information, and checklist. I just kept the sectional off to the left side for the flight.  This method seemed to work well.  Watch with easy to use, lighted stop watch for timing segments was also a very good piece of equipment to have as the analog clock in the dashboard is, to me, altogether useless.

This time, I also pre-marked my sectional with the checkpoints so I didn’t have to keep flipping back and forth from the flight plan.

My cheat sheet

My cheat sheet

Once I got my weather briefing / winds aloft, I added the segment times to the post it notes.  That, turned out to be the game changer.  Side note though…Orange highlighter on a sectional looks great in the day time.  At night, under a red flashlight…well, it’s the same as the analog clock…altogether useless!

Departure review: Route was fine.  I was told I would do all the radio calls except for one she would do as we got to Reading.  I was ready for this and had even rehearsed a few of them in advance.  Though light, the winds were out of the East so I was planning for a 10 departure from Calisle and a 13 arrival into Reading.

We departed Carlisle in to the night sky direct to Harrisburg VOR.  I had the VOR tuned and the GPS flight plan loaded but focused on flying the plane, watching for my visuals, and checking the times.  Great practice and I am sure something I will have to demonstrate going forward since, with my CFI, things always seem to “break” while flying.

Flight following was all set up and with Harrisburg VOR being my only non visual checkpoint made, I altered course for Reading.

The clouds were still above us but visibility was outstanding.  Aside from being able to see all my landmarks, it also led to a few moments of quiet in the cockpit as we both just happily looked around.

Jay Rossignol & Arnold Offner - ILS 13 Approach - KMDT

Jay Rossignol & Arnold Offner – ILS 13 Aproach – KMDT

We passed north of the city but it’s quite a landmark.  Normally we look for lights at night but the river (one of my checkpoints) is equally good for its distinct lack of lights.

Each checkpoint came in within a minute of plan which was good given the variable winds. We noted a few interesting lights, not indicated on the sectional.

Hershey Park at Night!

Hershey Park at Night!

No, we weren’t that close or that low to Hershey but I wanted to give an idea of just how the scene could create an interesting light combination from 10 miles away.

We picked up the Reading ATIS and I was wrong, 31 was in use.  So, it would be a standard left downwind entry.  We were both looking for the beacon and once located began a standard, smooth descent from 3,500 to 1,400.

So, the beacon is often hard to locate. There is terrain off the approach end of 31 with, what turned out to be a very distinctive feature.

View FROM the feature

View FROM the feature

Photo Credit

The Feature

We agreed that is WAY better than a beacon.

Landing at Reading was extremely smooth. Of course, as I was congratulating myself, the full taxi instructions came through (this was that one radio call my CFI had made) and I missed most of it.  I got the turn off of the active which was the most important and then called back for the rest.  I was a bit embarrassed but was told I did the right thing.

Taxied back to 31 and took a few minutes to reconfigure airplane and paperwork for the return. For fun, I planned a different route back.  This would be Southwest then West crossing directly over Lancaster airport and then off to Carlisle.

Again, the first leg was to a VOR.  Got to fly an actual airway, be quizzed and properly responded that I was not going to bust Class D and even get a scenic overflight of Three Mile Island.  Again. ALL very good landmarks.

Flight back had 3 “learning” experiences.

1) On departure from Reading I turned onto the runway as cleared but, not realizing the width of the runway I lined up on the left side.  Not a big deal, more of a laugh than anything else. Recentered myself and took off.  That wasn’t the learning experience. When I departed and altered course towards Lancaster my CFI asked what the planned heading was.  I looked at my flight log and gave her the number I read.  I didn’t question what I said before I said it but she certainly did afterwards.  I read the wrong number and, had I flown it I would have ended up in Philly…well, pointed that way but I would have hit the mountain first! Fortunately I was flying the plane based on the initial GPS line and not to the heading I said. I definitely have to get all that information straight in advance.  Basically, I had the flight plan folded a little differently than the previous one and I just looked at the wrong column. Like I said, it’s different in the dark.

2) I was really good at altitude control…except for 2 times during the flight where I went up (never down) 150′. During both of those times I was either working a radio or adjusting the GPS. As I would reach for those instruments with my right hand, my left hand remained on the yoke.  Since the seats essentially suck and wobble a little, my left hand also became a bit of a brace…meaning…I pulled back ever so slightly for support.  Result….150′ of altitude, 50′ of which are outside the PTS.  So, I got that one figured out.

3) Landing at Carlisle was not great.  Probably tried to do the pattern too tight and came in high.  I called my own go around.  Next one was a great pattern but a sloppy landing. Keep flying until the plane is off and tied down.

A long day but a great lesson!

And with that, the night requirements are complete.  I got my solo endorsement renewed and we’re moving on to Diversions and Lost Procedures.

With those done, it will be on, finally, to the solo x-country.  Here’s to fair skies and zero business trips!

 

Loop and Lands

The midday sun slowly peeking through the cloudy morning haze provided a glimmer of hope that the dual night cross country flight would occur. With the forecast originally being for full overcast, to see the yellow rays of the sun and even some blue skies…get the flight plan ready!

Arriving home from work I said my hellos to everyone and then quickly went to the office to get everything in order. Flight plans had been prefilled with everything except the winds.  Experience had taught me to make photocopies of the plans up to that point just in case they ever needed to be redone. Weather briefing seemed fine with light and variable winds along the route of flight and 6 miles of visibility (warning 1). Airmet Sierra just north and west of our position which did not currently impact our route of flight (warning 2). Only oddity during the call was that the briefer knew my name and aircraft before I told him???

I decided to ask about that and he said I had a profile online linked to my phone number.  Hmm.  I thought it might have been because I had done a version of the flight plan on a flight planning website (although I did not file it). Turns out it was because I had created an account on the Lockheed Martin website with a plane profile which they could now use.  So, creepy but useful??

Driving to the airport, the air was a bit heavy.  The sun warmed land coupled with a now cloudless sky was eagerly giving back its heat into the sunset (warning 3).  My instructor came out during preflight and we talked through some options.  We were worried about fog / haze but decided we would “take a look”.

As typical, I had to fuel the plane up. After nearly 3 weeks away, things were moving rather slowly although not unfamiliar.  In the run up area we pulled in the Capital City ATIS. My CFI asked if there was anything in there that concerned me.  Wanting to say No…Let’s Fly! was of course the desire but I definitely heard it. Temp / dew point spread was less than 2 and we knew it was cooling off rapidly(final warning). It was going to get soupy.

It’s like a Merry go Round

So, still flying (phew) but into backup plan 1.  Instead of cross country we would do night take offs and landings. I need 10 total.  Have one from the previous flight and will get 2 if/when the cross country occurs so on the menu tonight…7 landings.

On the first night flight the winds were from the East so instead of 28 we departed and landed on 10.  I had never landed on 10 so it was ALL new.  I had no references at all and that probably helped.  That landing was pretty good.

Tonight we would be on 28 which I’ve landed on countless times. Lots of references, lots of familiarity…in the day time…when you can SEE! That turns out to be a big liability at night.

N94 only has 1 light setting.  So, with 3 clicks of the mic, the aeronautical version of the clapper does its job and the runway goes aglow. Very quaint.  Not much to look at.

As we take off, everything is routine.  On the climb I look behind to spot the runway and, while it’s only lights, I can clearly see that I am on the centerline. Turn base, reach pattern altitude, turn downwind…hmm, was that too early? Can see the runway but not yet judging distance.  Seems closer…of course, I don’t have my little rock quarry as a guide.  It’s there but as dark as a hole in the ground! Answer…yes, I am a little too close.  I make a little correction to create some distance and commence the descent.  Turning base…the airplane is stabilized but I am all kinds of disoriented.  Basically…I lost the runway. Wasn’t sure at that point what I was looking for.  I eventually spotted the runway threshold lights (along with a set of night landmarks) but by that point the rest of the descent was all out of whack.  I called the go around early.

Then, during that portion of the flight I noticed I couldn’t hear anything in the headset.  Radio went dead? We were both puzzled. She flies while I tinker. Nope.  I fly while she tries a few things.  When the intercom isn’t working you truly realize how hard it is to hear another person in an airplane.  Final cause??? Looks like I knocked the volume control when re-trimming for the go around.  Stupid error but a good one to make in training because it’s going to happen again.

On the plus side, while she was flying she set up the downwind leg and the spacing was much better.  I still had a little issue finding the threshold on base leg but plenty of time to get things stable.

7 landings in all.  The first two were decent but rusty.  3-4 I had nearly nailed until I totally didn’t.  Great patience rounding out and holding the flare until I jerked ever so slightly on the control and whoosh! Balloon time. And of course those typically end with a bit of a jolt. And they did.  We discussed approach speed of 65-70 and she said to try 60, especially with the 30 degrees of flap.  I have decent speed control on approach so I guess there’s no longer a concern and making a slower approach.

Much softer landing as I had less energy to bleed off. That’s now in the book of tricks.

And then, of course, so I wouldn’t be complacent, landings 6 & 7 would be without a landing light. A TOMATO FLAMES + FLAPS is a mnemonic most student pilots will encounter during their training and one I got into during the trip to Taiwan.  It’s a way to remember required equipment during VFR flight (A TOMATO FLAMES) and VFR at night (FLAPS). While I wasn’t going to turn down the maneuver I questioned my CFI about landing lights being required equipment (the L in FLAPS).  She said they were not and asked me what the heck the A TOMATO FLAMES thing was. So, a discussion ensued.  I recited everything in the mnemonic (good on me for remembering it…at least I learned something during the business trip). She said that all the other items were required but not Landing lights.

“And besides, the landing light could blow out during the flight so you’ll need to learn how to make the landing.” Not one to turn down the opportunity, I said “Well, sure, the engine could blow out as well but of course, that’s required equipment!”.  At least it got a laugh but I don’t think one is supposed to joke about those things…at least not while airborne.  So we had a bet to be settled later.

No landing light….no problem.  In fact, they were 2 of the best landings of the night.  Can’t explain why…not going to question it, just going to smile because the lesson ended on 2 good landings.

Of course on the wager…I was wrong.

I pulled up my A TOMATO FLAMES reference and did my victory dance. She pulled out the REGS (damn those things) and showed me that Landing Lights were required…..when the plane is FOR HIRE.

<Lawyer Mode On>

“Well, I’m renting this plane…and I’m hiring you to teach me how to fly it….” So…landing lights are required.

Nice try…but no dice..

<Lawyer Mode Off>

Somebody owes somebody cookies.

Somebody owes somebody cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soft field / Short Field work this weekend.

Dual night….well, there’s a plan to do it next week.

We’ll see…