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.

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