Saturday, January 31, 2015

N162HG 2.8 Bob XC

Our second XC dual flight.

Bob asked me to plan KPAO KMOD E16 KPAO, which I did. I think I have a bit more of a handle now on how much to be "precise" with the calculations -- it's possible to make them really difficult with every possible interpolation and wind correction.

Some of the planning has to be done the day of, to get the right winds aloft forecast. I allocated 1/2 hour at the flying club to do it, but that ended up not being enough so I had to work while Bob waited, which I sort of don't like to do. Also, I thought I had had a decent lunch, but it was a sort of BBQ chicken thingey, which ended up not sticking to my ribs, so I was hungry for the entire flight. And I had failed to make sure my flight bag contained energy bars, which are usually the rescue ingredient. Oh well. More coffee, and off we went.

Our trip to KMOD was uneventful. I ended up having a bit of an overly long leg in my plan from VPALT to KMOD, so my dead reckoning and my GPS ground track did not agree exactly. But I got there eventually, called in and landed.

They asked me where I wanted to exit, the "terminal side" or the other side. I was like, the terminal side of course. I needed to go pee (recall the coffee). Bob tried to speak but I was like, no, I got this. I'm Pilot In Command [tm] and I'm like all over this baby. We ambled over to the terminal side, at which point he pointed out to me that it was actually the other side that had facilities; the "terminal" was defunct and closed. So we ended up going through the gate to find a place to pee, and failed. I told Bob to just go back to the plane while I found a happy tree to make happier. Eventually, we strapped back in and taxied off.

The ground controllers were bored and asked me about the Flycatcher; was it my plane?

We took off and departed for E16 according to my well-laid-out plan. Then Bob was like, divert to Gustine! Umm, okay. I sort of fumbled with a heading and sort of got there. Me: Oh look at the hangars! Bob: These are the chicken coops. The hangars are these little things over there.

We did an overhead approach but, as I turned, I sort of lost track of where the danged runway was. Eventually, I found it, and landed without event. Wow, what a tiny little hole in the wall. It had a "Pilot's Lounge" somewhere. Crazy.

We took off again and headed towards what I imagined would be E16. My next waypoint was a bunch of warehouses at the Southern tip of Gilroy, right around Highway 101. We ambled over the top of the San Luis Reservoir and I was about to turn towards the next waypoint, when Bob was like, let's go to Frasier Lake Airpark!

We motored along in the general direction of the place, and eventually found it. There's an anchor icon ("seaplane base") on the chart. Bob was like, that's a hint! I did not get the hint ... until he pointed out the large ditch of water running parallel to the runway. And there was a grass runway and an asphalt taxiway -- go figure. This was my day to visit weird airports.

We flew overhead then swung out very wide and came back in on the 45 for right pattern Runway 23. On final, the sun was in my eyes, reflecting off the silly ditch of water (and since the ditch was parallel to the runway, the point of reflection "followed" me wherever I went). I managed to do some semblance of a soft field landing with Bob warning me that I was off centerline and was about to hit the sprinklers by the side of the runway.

I learned to hold the nose up while going over the bump from the grass to the asphalt, and taxied back for a soft field takeoff. No stopping, stick back, lift off asap then build up speed. I am not sure I did it massively precisely but I did okay, I think.

Now Bob said, let's just overfly E16 and make direct VFR into KPAO with flight following. I called into Norcal Approach uneventfully, and they gave me a squawk code and everything. I decided to make for the Pruneyards, VPPRU. Then at some point Norcal asked me whether I was going East over Reid-Hillview or West. I was confused, till Bob pointed out to me that my ground track was nowhere near VPPRU. I had just sort of guessed the direction and went, without looking at my chart or correlating with intermediate waypoints. Bob pointed out the Calero Reservoir, which is very distinctive and on my chart and could have been a good waypoint. He helped me find the Pruneyards, which are a couple of whacky dark colored buildings.

KPAO runway 13 was active, so they asked me to join right downwind (the city side, 1000' pattern altitude) to land. Landing was normal (not short or soft field) and uneventful. I have acquired the habit of landing at 50 kias, the short field approach speed. Bob reminded me that, unless deliberately doing a short field landing, I should be at the recommended 55 kias normal approach speed.

In the debrief, Bob noted that I have acquired a nasty habit of dragging the brakes on my takeoff roll. I need to deal with this. He also noted that I can use a nearby VOR to get an approximate magnetic heading off my paper chart. He said this was a pretty high workload flight, all things considered, with all the diversions, so I did more or less okay. He thought our next XC could be solo -- w00t!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

N162HG 1.4 Bob

Routine closed pattern work with Bob intending to be a short-field takeoff and landing "clinic". 8 landings. Not too much new stuff -- generally concluded that what's missing from my short field landings is consistency. If I can consistently hit the same spot, then correct "backwards" for landing on a given point on the runway, then I should be okay. More practice needed.

Monday, January 19, 2015

N162HG 1.5 Solo

Relatively uneventful time in the pattern at KPAO to make sure I don't forget my landings. Wind started VRB03 and seemed to stay that way, so very calm. Busy pattern so only got to do 5 landings, plus one go-around when there was some faster IFR traffic that Tower wanted to get in behind me.

I practiced short-field technique throughout.

For the takeoffs, I think I have them pretty much down. It comes down to having the intestinal fortitude to keep the deck pointed as high as you need to, but not one bit higher. It works best to try not to build up speed in the first place, rather than to speed up above Vx then try to slow down again.

I am able to do pretty uneventful approaches, with very little of the over-controlling I had trouble with at the beginning of my training. I also actually have some modicum of control over my flares, using the "ratchet" technique of only pulling back on the stick, stopping if it's too early, and letting the plane settle, etc.

As for short field landing technique, I have concluded I have no idea how it's done. I always zoom back up when I flare, then float and float. I need to get dual demonstration of this. I suck at it, period.

On one upwind, I suddenly started to feel myself being rolled to the right a little, which shocked me for a second till I realized I was flying through the wake of a Citabria ahead of me. Nothing more than a touch of aileron to correct.

Leveling out was shaky in the first couple of patterns but got better. As I've been told many times, leveling out at some reasonably close altitude then correcting later is much better than fighting up and down.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

N162HG 2.4 Bob XC and SP-A Written

Big aviation day. I took my Sport Pilot-Airplane written test in the morning, and did my first XC dual in the afternoon with Bob.

Sport Pilot-Airplane Written

I showed up at the club to take the test. I was asked to call CATS to give them my information, including my driver's license and the authorization I got from CFI Bob to take the test. I also had the privilege of paying them $140, down from $150 because I'm an AOPA member. Once I did that, I could then take the test on the computer at the flying club.

Apparently, the name and address you give them has to match exactly what's on your driver's license, or else you can't take the test. I got to explain that my street address was one fife zero two alpha without a space between the two and the alpha, and precisely how my middle name was spelled. At least the person I spoke to knew radio codewords, which made it easier.

Then apparently more information had to be entered on the computer, because the FAA is experimenting with doing this whole process digitally, so we have to do both. Experimenting, mind you. I mean, at the end of the experiment, they might just up and realize that this whole computer thing was a flash in the pan and go back to writing in longhand. You never can be too careful when aviation safety is at stake.

I went in and took the test, which was fairly straightforward except that I missed 3 out of the 40 questions. A bummer given how hard I studied. For reference, posterity, and to help those who wish to point and laugh at me, here they are --

1. Does a runway exit sign have an arrow or not?
Runway exit signs are at the side of a runway telling you of an exit to a taxiway (runways have numbers like 9 and 23; taxiways are named with letters like A, B, C, ...). I remember learning that they are supposed to be on the side of the runway on which you exit. But do they have arrows. I guessed "no", and I was wrong:
2. When are you required to notify the NTSB of an incident?
What constitutes an serious incident versus an accident, and is reportable or not, is not obvious. For example, if your single-engined airplane has an engine failure and you land hard and damage the landing gear, it is not considered a "serious incident". But if you suffer a failure of the flight controls, it is. 
One complexity concerns the difference between notifying and filing a report.
    • You must notify the NTSB immediately if you have an accident or serious incident:
      • An accident is when bad sh*t happens.
      • A serious incident is defined by legalese.
      • An overdue aircraft believed to be in an accident is one of the serious incidents.
    • There are differing requirements for filing a report:
      • For an accident, you must file within 10 days.
      • For an overdue aircraft, you must file within 7 days.
      • For any other serious incident, file only upon request.

3. To whom should you report a DUI?

Ok, that was cold. Just plain cold. Everybody studies how much time you have to report your DUI -- 60 days. But to whom? I don't know. To the authorities. To the f*cking FAA for Pete's sakes! What do you mean to whom? The choices were:
    • To your local FSDO; 
    • To the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute; or 
    • To the FAA Security and Investigations Division.
Seriously? So here I am, arrested for a DUI. Big event, no? I'm in deep trouble at that point. And I have 60 days to figure out where to address my freaking letter! Am I supposed to do it from memory? Even for the FAA, that was completely below the belt.

ps: I guessed the Medical Institute, because DUIs are substance abuse issues and affect your medical. Bzzzt! Apparently, it's the Security and Investigations Division. Really, people? Really?



Bob and I planned a cross-country from Palo Alto to Salinas, over to Hollister, and back to Palo Alto. To prepare, I was to draw the route on my chart and make up VFR flight logs. I forgot that he asked me to write plans for each leg, and so I had to scramble to draw them up. VFR flight logs are these pretty detailed things that take into account the wind, fuel used, your heading, checkpoints on the ground, and all sorts of good things. I had to sit and finish my homework at the airport while he waited.

It was sort of good, though, because really, for a flight each leg of which was less than 15 minutes, it's not immediately clear how much detail to add. How do you account for climbs and descents? In my flying so far, they just happen.

I used my E-6B (basically, a rotary slide rule) and pencil and paper to fill them out. It had an old skool je ne sais quoi, but it was a bit of a pain. Next time I'm going to use some software; Bob says it's okay so long as I can print out the results and be able to explain the various elements to my examiner.

This, fyi, is what a VFR flight log looks like. You're supposed to fill in how long things actually took and how much fuel you actually consumed (if you know...) as you go along. It's actually surprising that, for all its gewgaws, the Flycatcher does not have a fuel flow meter.

I also filed a flight plan using my DUAT account (there are apparently two companies that provide Direct User Access Terminal services for the FAA; one of them is called DUAT and the other is called DUATS; I kid you not).

I also got a DUAT briefing. That ended up being, like, 25 pages of TELEX-abbreviated text. Luckily, for some of the stuff that really matters, the AIRMETs and SIGMETs that warn of bad weather that can deadify you, the FAA has a (creatively named) G-AIRMET Website that's a bit easier to use. Otherwise, all these areas on the map are defined in text by specifying paths from one known reporting point to the other.


We took off from Palo Alto and tried to contact the Flight Service Station to open our flight plan. No reply. After several tries, we gave up. From that point on, the flights themselves were uneventful, so far as these things go, and pretty fun.

It was a bit hazy today, but overall, the scenery when flying down the coastal areas of Norcal is amazing and well worth the yards and yards of FAA paperwork. (Also, airplanes! Did I mention airplanes? Yay airplanes!) It was great to finally hop into the plane and fly.

The Garmin G300 in the Flycatcher is pretty fancy; it shows a "highway in the sky" to follow and pretty much takes care of everything for you. I found it a bit distracting -- it kept my head inside the cockpit, where I was not scanning for traffic, and did not help me maintain altitude and heading visually. Next time, I'm going to use it only as a backup.

When we landed in Hollister, we saw their skydiving aircraft come in for a landing, in a sideslip and probably in beta (reverse thrust). Pretty dramatic, and an awesome and practical airplane! There was also an AMS Carat parked. I got to hop on a ladder and fuel up my airplane for the first time, woo! This might seem like a dubious achievement, but it's one more step in being "independent" with a plane, making it my plane, in a sense, rather than just a Disney ride that comes readily configured.

As we returned to Palo Alto, I was getting pretty exhausted, and Bob noted that I was flubbing my radio calls. It had been a big day. It was also just past the end of civil twilight (which is the definition of "night", for those following along at home), which is when I turn into a pumpkin because Sport Pilot does not permit night flight. But with Bob with me, of course, it was okay.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

N162HG 1.6 Bob

I have asked Bob to give me some night and hood time before I allow myself to carry innocent passengers. This is not required for Sport Pilot, and I have no intention of taking my Flycatcher out at night or into IMC. But in case the need arises for whatever weird reason, I don't want the time I have to do it in an emergency to be my first ever.

Tonight was my night practice. We went from KPAO to KHAF, did 4 landings at KHAF, and returned for 2 landings at KPAO.

It was really, really different. I mean super different.

I realized that I really needed a headlight if I were to do this often. My fancy machined aluminum red/white Smith and Wesson Captain's Flashlight, while fancy and made of aluminum (did I mention it's machined?), is inconvenient to pick up and point every which way while in the cockpit. And by the way, pencil on paper is not easy to read by the light of a dim red LED. Now you know.

We did an overhead entry to the Rwy 30 right pattern at KHAF, to avoid having to fly close to the mountains at night. Oh the mountains. Did I mention Betty? My Garmin 300 companion, ever faithful, kept saying "Caution caution, terrain terrain, pull up pull up!" She does that all the time at KHAF, but this time it was doubly disconcerting because I could not see anything. Well, I could see the ground underneath me, but there was a lot of "I've been here in the daytime and I know I'm very far away from any obstacles" going on.

It was fun to click the radio PTT and turn on the lights at KHAF!

Apart from one approach at KHAF where I flubbed my pattern and overshot so much that there was no way I could land, and one landing where I seem to have fixated on my landing light lighting up the runway and forgotten to flare, I did sort of okay. The various and sundry illusions that are supposed to plague landing pilots did not seem to hurt me that much. But then again, I was at least fairly familiar with the airports where I landed.

We came back to KPAO via the Crystal Springs Reservoir. Bob noted to me that, if I can see lights ahead, it means I'm not going to hit anything between them and me. Check. I also noted that, had I not known better, Menlo Park looked like a lake, and there was this little light somewhere that I would have sworn was a boat. The marshes South of KPAO looked just pitch black and indistinguishable from the Bay proper, of course.

One illusion I did get to experience is the false horizon. For some reason, I had this idée fixe that the various shorelines around me were just so, and would line up my "horizon" to match. But I was not level. Bob kept reminding me to use my instruments.

I got to experience the surpassing dimness of runway lighting -- as Bob noted, the airport is the darkest spot in any given city!

It gave me a chance to also do some dual with Bob, and for Bob to renew my solo endorsement. Apart from various critiques (not being trimmed at some point, overshooting altitudes a bit), Bob said my flying was okay for someone with my experience. He even complimented me on my nice smooth flying and one of my landings!

I am also planning to do a cross-country (KPAO KSNS KCVH KPAO) on Saturday with Bob. For that, I need to prepare. Some notes about what I need to do --
  1. We will plan as follows --
    1. KPAO OSI KSNS, fill out a complete VFR flight log.
    2. KSNS KCVH will probably not require flight following.
    3. KCVH KPAO will be with VFR flight following and will transition KSJC Charlie.
  2. Either carry an A/FD or print out information for all possible alternates.
  3. Draw the route on both the sectional and TAC.
  4. Highlight checkpoints on the charts. Plan for 10-15 minutes between checkpoints.
  5. On the route, draw in 2-minute tic marks.
  6. Remember there are 3 kinds of navigation:
    1. Pilotage
    2. Dead reckoning
    3. Navigational aids -- we do not have VORs in the Flycatcher!
  7. Bodies of water, railroads and roads are good landmarks, but remember you cannot tell which ones they are.
  8. You will only recognize an airport if you're on top of it or on extended final. Otherwise, it's hard to see!
  9. Plan to be at pattern altitude a couple miles away from an airport.
  10. Mark start of descent -- assume (say) 500 ft/min descent.
  11. Need a DUAT[S] account, to get a briefing.
  12. Remember FSS is available on the Mountain View RCO.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

N162HG 1.7 Solo

Closed pattern, 8 takeoffs and landings. Standard (not short field) technique.

My goal today was to practice simply looking out the window and, during approach, continuing to use the horizon as a pitch reference, referring to but not fixating on the location of the runway threshold and ASI. I did all my approaches at 50 kias (normal approach is 55 kias; I used 50 because it helps me prepare for my short-field approaches, which I'm going to have to get back to practicing soon).

My landing spots were not very consistent, but I think I had better speed control on final and was more easily aligned with the runway. My landings were not always full-stall but in all cases at low speed, so I think that's a small but steady improvement. I did not have any drop-in hard landings, due in part, I think, to my improvement in eye position in the flare. I would say that, today, I gained a small amount of consistency and confidence.

In my slips to burn altitude, so far, I've been doing well at pushing the nose down so I don't lose speed. That is just plain survival. :) But I was letting my speed increase, so that after a slip, I would have to work really hard to bleed off the extra speed. Today, when I slipped, I tried to maintain my usual approach speed, which allowed me to come out of the slip ready to resume my approach. I also did a much better job than before of coming out of the slip in one smooth motion rather than violently yawing back and forth. For the future, what I would like to do is to (a) allow myself a few knots extra in a slip, because the yaw angle makes my IAS read a bit low; and (b) continue improving anticipation of the recovery, and doing a smooth recovery from the yaw.

I had two interesting mistakes. The first was when I was following some traffic, and stayed at 800' pattern altitude with 1 notch of flaps, then was asked to turn base when I was at the usual 45º position to the threshold. I found myself -- of course -- very high since I had failed to start descending!! I almost decided to do a go-around there, but I was able to burn enough altitude to confidently land with plenty of runway remaining. I did turn off at the last taxiway though!

The second teachable moment was when I was on left downwind, and had been told I was #2 following a Mooney. I identified the Mooney and turned base. Then Tower told me to turn back to downwind. I did, and resumed the reverse runway heading. All seemed okay until I turned base and final and ... whoa holy overshoot Batman! Like #duh. So when I resumed my downwind, I could not see the runway, so what I should have done at that point is to mentally visualize where I ended up, or perhaps even look over my shoulder to check.

There was a whacky time when I was asked to keep it rolling and take off, then Tower told me to hold short at the last minute. Screech! And a second later, there was a Cessna, flaps down, doing a short approach barreling straight for me (or so it seemed). That was more exciting than necessary. I always wonder how these things would happen without ATC. With a high wing, I would have seen them after turning onto the little stub of taxiway off the runway, but not before. I would have technically been on the runway, but I believe an accident would have been averted. Of course, were this an uncontrolled field, there is no way I would have just blithely kept it rolling to the active, so there you go.

There was another whacky time right at the beginning when I was at the runup and was asked to hold short. Just as I started moving, a Centurion at another runup T-bar licked the throttle and taxied pretty fast across my path, against the direction of traffic, to go back to parking. Another screeching stop. Eek. I think what must have happened is that I was talking to Tower at that point, and they were probably talking to Ground and got the go-ahead for their taxi simultaneously with my hold short.

Again, I see these incidents as reminders to be careful, to not assume clearances are laws of physics, and to be extra special vigilant at non-towered airports.