Monday, March 30, 2015

N162HG 1.8 Dave Pre-checkride phase check

Today I actually did the flight portion of the pre-checkride phase check with Dave.

Dave asked me to prepare an XC to Chico. I thought he was being very sneaky, since it is barely tempting but not advisable or safe to try to sneak to Chico on the half tanks that the W&B would allow. :) Turns out no, he just picked Chico. Well in any case, it was a challenge precisely because I had to decide to split the trip in two. I planned for a stop at Yolo County. I entered flight plans and got briefings using my account at

The actual Wx was okay for our trip except that KPAO was 15G26KT, blowing down the runway but way out of my solo limitations. I noted that to Dave and we agreed that, in a real checkride, that would be grounds to scrub. He made sure I knew why (in the checkride, the examiner is there as a passenger, not as an instructor, so I need to be within my own solo limitations). Then we agreed to go do the flight together anyway.

My plan was KPAO VPSUN KDWA. I took off and scooted off towards VPSUN, then turned, and in the process got to my target altitude of 4500'. Then Dave asked me to plan a diversion to Hayward.

I circled and plotted our course to Hayward. Dave said my numbers were good, then said ok, let's go do some air work.

We practiced slow flight, stalls, steep turns and a practice emergency approach. Then Dave asked me to go to Livermore.

I puttered around the San Antonio reservoir while I got the ATIS and called in.

We landed at Livermore then taxied back and did several takeoffs and landings.

We were sort of burning through our gas, so Dave said let's go back to KPAO. I asked for a left crosswind departure, found the Sunol golf course, then made for the KGO towers.

Dave gave me a choice of a no-flap landing or power-off short approach for our last landing of the day. I chose the short approach. He cut power on downwind. I tried to learn my lesson from previous such attempts and did a fairly wide turn towards the runway, because the Flycatcher sort of glides and glides. A slip and flaps later, I landed.

Afterwards, Dave made sure I knew about spins and spin recovery.

The following is the debrief of how things went:

Diversion. "Good job"

Approach to Livermore. I fumbled around a bit looking for the airport, but eventually all was good.

Steep turns.  I was very worried about these, but they turned out more or less okay. I guess I was mis-reading the bank indicator on the PFD and doing my turns at 50 degrees -- Dave pointed that out, then said if I'm doing okay at 50 degrees, I'll probably do okay at 45 degrees. :)

Slow flight. Good but lost altitude during the recovery -- remember it ain't over till it's over!

Power on stall. Remember to establish takeoff speed first, then climb, then enter stall.

Emergency landing. Forgot to squawk 7700.

Incorrect taxi. (Fail) I taxied off the runway and onto the parallel taxiway at Livermore. We do this at Palo Alto because the runway exits are very short, but in general, you taxi off till you clear the runway, then wait till told to go any further.

Parallel runway incursion. (Fail) I kept flying excessively tight patterns to Rwy 25L at Livermore and kept encroaching on 25R. On one pattern, I actually lined up for 25R by mistake. Things went better when I learned to fly a larger pattern, but I still need to pay attention to drift on upwind.

Soft field landings. (Fail) I kept flaring too high and so slammed my nosewheel down on my short field landing attempt.

Approach to KPAO. I absent mindedly kept my altitude at 2500' all the way to the KGO towers while inbound. Had my route been different, I could have busted the SFO Class B. Dave noted he reminds his students to be at 2000' over Lake Elizabeth in Fremont so there is no question of getting busy at the last minute.

Power off to landing / short approach. "Good job"

Suggested next steps:

1. Work on soft field landings.

2. Potentially, become more familiar with more area airports?

Friday, March 27, 2015

N162HG (0.2) Solo

The KSJC TAF was again predicting gusty high winds. KPAO was reporting 20 knots, more or less straight down Rwy 31. I waited for the next METAR, which said 15 knots, so I was good to go.

I taxied out, switched to Tower frequency, and was cleared to hold short. Then Tower called out the wind, 12G19. I said I could not take off and requested taxi back. They asked if I was able to do a left 180; I said yes; and back I went.

But it was a fun afternoon at the airport, hanging out around airplanes, doing airplane things. :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

N162HG 1.8 Solo

Training flight to practice air work based on tips learned from previous flight with CFI.

Was watching the Wx all day, noting that KPAO had a straight-on Rwy 31 headwind that seemed to increase by about one knot per hour. For some reason the Internet feed for the ATIS was intermittent, and I'd forgotten the AWOS phone number, so I had to go to the airplane and listen to the ATIS on the radio to get the latest. It was 11 knots direct headwind. But the KSJC TAF kept predicting things like 12G19KT, which would be out of my solo limitations. I decided that:

a. If it were my checkride, I would scrub based on the nearby TAF; but
b. I would confer with a club CFI to decide whether to fly today.

It was already after 5pm, so the CFI agreed with my assessment that, practically speaking, the wind was not likely to pick up massively, and that it would be safe to launch. The CFI confirmed what I would have decided for the checkride as appropriately conservative.

I took on 3/4 tanks and departed towards the coast. There were clouds over the Southern part of the coast, but the area from Half Moon Bay down to most of the way to San Gregorio was clear. I decided to practice there, and keep my eye on the pass Crystal Springs Reservoir, since that would be my route back home. The cloud pattern remained stable throughout the flight.

Slow flight with and without flaps. Doing better at maintaining altitude. The trick seems to be not to dawdle too much with slowing down. Add carb heat, kill power, and get into the slow flight regime asap. I was able to turn 90° left and right without stalling.

Steep turns. Doing better -- was able to be easily within PTS using mostly visual maneuvering. I think I'm getting over my test anxiety a little bit now, and returning to my usual happiness.

Power off stalls. These were pretty easy. I did not have any secondary stalls.

Power on stalls. I did these at 2100 rpm, which is plenty of power for the PTS required 65%. Things were much more gentle. I got lots of wing drops, but I trained myself to counter these with rudder (rather than whacking the stick back and forth and wondering why nothing happened).

Ground reference. I tried to find a field South of the Half Moon Bay golf course, and descended to it, but realized it would be too close to houses -- there was not enough space between the field and the houses. I climbed back up and decided I'd practice ground reference maneuvers at Leslie Salt like I'm used to.

I flew by pilotage following the highway, up to the Crystal Springs Reservoir. Then I plotted a course (120° magnetic) that would take me to SLAC. Unfortunately, I used the sectional, rather than the TAC, side of my plotting ruler, so it told me I'd take 10 minutes to get there, which seemed too long. En route, I got the KPAO ATIS. In any case, 5 minutes later (!!), I was over SLAC, and I called in to KPAO for closed traffic.

The wind was still a straight headwind down Rwy 31. I did a total of 5 landings, including short field, soft field and normal. I felt like I didn't have any problem with any of them. I was still reading 48-49 kias intermittently on my short field approach. I did not try a no-flaps landing -- I should try to practice that once or twice on my next practice flight, when I do my ground reference maneuvers.

I tried to pay attention to how I flew the traffic pattern with the winds. I do not usually correct for the wind on my crosswind, but only because at KPAO this is usually all of one second to raise the right wing, look underneath it, then turn downwind. I had a good wind to use to practice crabbing during base. For my turns to final, I was undershooting all the time. I reminded myself that I was much slower and so needed to actually fly a base. For my last base of the day, I ended up overshooting the centerline by maybe ten feet or so, which I think is better in that I was at least trying to judge the turn rather than turning early then sort of ovalizing and wallowing.

After shutdown, I realized that the Mx folks had forgotten to put the towbar back in the plane. #protip: It is impossible to push back an airplane that has a castering nosewheel without a towbar. I heaved and pushed and tried, and realized that it is just un-possible. I went in and found a club CFI who got me into the hangar where I found my towbar, and the rest of the evening proceeded normally.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

N162HG 2.1 Bob

Long flight to rehearse as much as possible of the PTS airwork. We flew out towards the coast, did the maneuvers, then returned. The following are my notes about things we did:

Turns around a point: Failed. All over the place, because I did not pick 4 points to follow around the circle. Once I did that, I was fine.

Power on stalls. Failed. Hurried the stall (approaching a whip stall), and used full power, which is more than necessary. (Note max engine speed is 2750 rpm; 65% power is about 1790 rpm.)

Straight and level. Failed. I said at some point I was going to maintain straight and level 3500' while circling to plan my diversion. Bob said I descended unknowingly to as low as 2800' while futzing with my charts. I need to develop a better scan habit.

Diversion. Passed. Fold the chart and keep it open at all times; that helps with situation awareness.

Soft field takeoff. Passed. Hold yoke back before you add power, and add power gently. I am now allowed to practice this maneuver solo.

Normal landing at KSQL. Passed. Flared early -- too much of a "thud". Due to the fact that the runway is wider than what I'm used to.

Simulated engine-out emergency. Passed. I forgot to make the mayday radio call. I delayed my 360° turn to lose altitude; I should have done it directly over the intended field, with eyes on the field. Note for future reference that I lose about 600-700' per 360° turn.

Short field landing. Passed. Was slightly too slow on final (48-49 kias; book value is 50 kias). Landing location was okay. I asked whether it's a good idea to account for weight and compute a modified landing speed -- Bob said no; for small airplanes like the Flycatcher, the landing speeds are often based on an absolute margin from stall, so always use the book value.

Downwind departure from KSQL. Passed. I flew a wider pattern than usual, expecting this to be a reasonable "get out of my airspace" pattern. Do not do that. Fly the pattern as specified, at the normal altitude and geometry.

A/FD lookup. Passed. Study the format once again to become familiar. Always check traffic pattern altitude(s) for intended airport.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

N162HG 1.9 Solo

My intention today was to practice my non-emergency air work for check ride prep.

When I arrived, the METAR was reporting winds 34010G19KT, which I cannot fly in. I waited till the next update, when they became 33015KT, which seemed fine. I looked at nearby METARs and the KSJC TAF and predicted the wind would die down, so I decided to go. I then talked to a club CFI who confirmed my choice.

The club's online system said the plane was overdue for its 100-hour inspection. I got worried and asked the folks; they said oh never mind, we do inspections every 50 hours anyway. Hm. Oh well. :/

I preflighted and took on 3/4 tanks.

I departed Left Dumbarton, went out to OSI and then continued towards San Gregorio. There were scattered clouds over the land West of the mountains.

I then went up and down the coast doing a bunch of practice, all at 3500' nominal starting altitude:
  • Steep turns. I was doing this within PTS most of the time, but still with more zooms and dives than I would have preferred. I did lots and lots and lots of turns, ending up rather sick to my stomach from all the rolling.
  • Departure stalls. These were fairly easy to do, though a bit scary given the crazy deck angle I had to maintain.
  • Arrival stalls. These scared the crap out of me, especially because, for some reason, today, N162HG kept dropping its left wing. Being a Cessna, it would drop its left wing then mush, and sort of politely wait for me to do something about it. But in that wing drop, the ailerons were not at all effective, which was the scary part. I assume the right thing to do would be to use rudder to correct, as in the "falling leaf" maneuver, but I have not tried that yet (and have no plans to without a CFI).
  • Slow flight without flaps. I ended up losing up to 120 feet in the entry to slow flight, and once lost, it was really hard to gain it back. Otherwise, I was able to buzz around fine with my stall horn squeaking intermittently. I stalled once or twice and, again, dropped the left wing, which was again scary, but again nothing bad happened.
  • Slow flight with flaps. Much easier; I don't think I stalled on those. But otherwise not hugely eventful.
By that time I was over the Pigeon Point lighthouse, and I headed back for OSI. Some clouds had gotten in the way, so I climbed to 3800' (Class B shelf is 4000') to clear them by a wide margin. In any case, neither my solo nor my Sport Pilot license allows me to fly "VFR on top", so I looked for paths through where I could fly with reference to the ground. By the time I crossed the hills, I was quite a bit South of OSI, and honestly was not exactly sure where I was, though I could see both KPAO and KNUQ hangars. At that point, I should probably have gotten a bearing to one of them, plotted on my chart, and noted that I was at the intersection of that line with the hills!

I called in to KPAO and was eventually told to just make a left base for Rwy 31. Winds were around 26010KT, if I recall correctly, so there was a noticeable left crosswind and a bunch of bumpiness on the way down. I did a normal (not short-field) landing. I ended up touching down a little bit left of centerline, and I was still being a bit wobbly rather than rock-solid as I'd like to be, but I think I actually put the left wheel down first like I'm supposed to.

Overall, this was a rather hard slog. Lots of rolls, back and forth, and lots of high pucker factor stuff with the stalls and the wing drops. I felt pretty tired. I also feel sort of afloat and at sea regarding whether I actually meet PTS, on average, in my maneuvers. I think I really want to go ahead and have at least a pre-checkride "phase check" as soon as humanly possible.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

N162HG 1.5 Solo

When I took the plane, I saw it had 1.7 hours to its 100-hour inspection. A Web search revealed FAR 91.409 which said I could overfly the inspection period by up to 10 hours providing I was on my way to some place to get it inspected. No problem then. I was unlikely to go for 1.7 hours, but I just wanted to make sure.

I did one normal takeoff, one short-field landing, and a whole lot of ground reference maneuvers over Leslie Salt.

In the beginning, for some reason, I was not doing very well. Altitude was off, and I was fighting the plane in a series of zooms and dives all over the place. I started out not being within the +/- 100' the PTS requires in my maneuvers. To complicate things, the wind was not quite in line with either "leg" of my chosen ground pattern, so I sort of had to crab on every leg. On the other hand, it was a stiff 11 knots, which made the drift very clear and easy to see.

Later, for some reason, I started to relax, and stopped fighting the plane. I looked forwards. My altitude stabilized. I was doing fairly well by the end.

I think I have the "theory" down, and I can narrate myself through it pretty well. If someone (say, oh, a DPE in a checkride...) wants to determine whether I understand how to correct for this, I think they will be satisfied that I know how to do that, and that I have some discernment of the effects of the wind.

However, if that selfsame person is looking for gimlet-precise dimensions in my patterns, they will be disappointed.

Hopefully, I can do some flying with Bob soon and see if I'm good enough for PTS standards.

For my short landing, I think I did a decent job of maintaining 50 kias on the approach. I cut to idle over the fence. As I rounded out, I felt like I was a bit low, so I added a tiny bit of power to drag myself in, then let it out and plopped just beyond my landing point. My plop was firm -- I've had softer ones, but I would not say it was terrible.

Once again, I'm rather frustrated to say that I forgot to dump flaps and hit the brakes. I really need to work on this habit. Perhaps in a dedicated closed-pattern practice session soon.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

N162HG 1.3 Solo

My intention this morning was to go out to the practice area South of Half Moon Bay and practice all my non-emergency PTS air work (departure and arrival stalls, slow flight, and steep turns). However, KHAF was reporting a 500 foot ceiling so I assumed most of the coast would be fogged in and decided to go elsewhere instead.

I planned a teeny tiny "cross country" starting at KGO, going to the Sunol golf course, the Del Valle dam, to the Calaveras Reservoir, back to Sunol, then back to KGO. The idea was to get more experience in quick use of charts and pilotage.

I had trouble "leaning to max" per the POH -- max rpm always seemed to be at full rich -- so I just leaned a little bit and hoped for the best. I noticed the TAS display on my G300, which showed me that, at 100 kias, I have been blazing through my XCs so far! The trip involved lots of cruise climbs and descents to avoid the hills below and the Class B above. Overall, I think I did fine, but I kept using only the HSI for my heading and failed to practice the "good habit" of setting the heading, picking a landmark, then looking out the window.

On my return, I arrived at KGO at 2000', which is rather poor planning. I cut to idle and descended rather quickly to TPA of 800' while making clearing S-turns. I am not sure actually whether that was a "good habit" thing to do. I suspect it would have been better to circle while descending, and even better to plan ahead in the first place.

I then did three landings at KPAO, with one go-around because I was too high. I tried to do short landings on all of them, and in all cases did more or less okay. The last one was pretty close to perfect, coming down with a firm but gentle bump within the PTS target area.

I have been losing the "good habit" of looking forwards at the horizon while landing, and glancing down at the landing area and my IAS. I need to remind myself to do that. I think the short landing practice has taught me to fixate on my aiming point at the expense of looking at the horizon and using visual means to maintain my pitch.

On the go-around, I failed to re-trim to takeoff trim as I climbed, so I ended up climbing at higher than Vy.

On my short landings, I failed to ditch flaps and apply brakes.

I think my use of checklists during my "cross country" was okay but could be better. Another "good habit" I need to cultivate.

For the checkride, I will need to remember to do nothing at all while the aircraft is moving during taxi -- not retrim, not open the door because it's hot outside and I'm cooking, nothing, nada.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

N162HG 1.8 Solo

I arrived and got checked out by a club CFI. I took on 3/4 tanks. I noticed my charts were about to expire, so in a panic, I went to the dinky PAO airport shop. (I was told to get a subscription, but failed to follow up.) Annoyingly, the store was closed early, as it often is. Then I realized my charts were valid up to 0901Z on March 5th, which gave me, like, 8 whole hours of validity to spare. Saved.

My first task was to do air work over the Western shoreline South of Half Moon Bay. My intention was to also practice pilotage and diversions using paper charts. I set my MFD page to the engine instruments and left it there for the entire flight.

I took off with a left Dumbarton departure, and plotted a course for OSI. I proceeded to fly very short "cross country legs" between places like Pescadero Point, the Half Moon Bay golf course, etc., practicing the use of a measuring stick I made to determine heading and estimated time, and using the stopwatch built into my transponder. I developed a good rhythm, and was making my waypoints pretty accurately.

I then tried maneuvers, reminding myself to do a 90 degree left-right dogleg clearing turn frequently. I still had questions about how often we are required to do these -- every maneuver? Before beginning a "session" of maneuvering? I probably did mine every couple of "maneuvers". Later, Bob said do them every single maneuver. Wilco!

At 3500' for safety, I tried slow flight, first without flaps, then with flaps. Without flaps was really hard to keep stable. I think I wandered below 3400' the first time, but more or less stayed in that range on my second try. I was able to keep a heading fairly well, by setting my heading bug before doing the maneuver.

I then tried steep turns and was able to stay within PTS with the help of my VSI and altimeter, though they involved more variation than I would have liked -- there were a couple of zooms and dives where I would have preferred to see a smooth maneuver from start to finish.

I then overflew OSI and asked PAO to transition to Leslie Salt for maneuvering. I was asked to cross at or above 1500', so I flew at 2000'. I then told them I was going to remain this frequency while maneuvering.

Winds were 8-9 knots a bit diagonally to the salt flat roads, but I tried to make the best of it. I did a few rectangular patterns and turns around a point. I think I have the technique down, more or less, but I am not completely sure of my accuracy.

It was getting late, so I asked PAO to make inbound for landing and was told to make right traffic. I flew a sort of rounded path that brought me into the correct point on downwind. I made a short landing where I was able to bring the plane down, with a noticeable but not uncomfortable bump, within the PTS 200' beyond the intended point.

This was a long flight by time standards, but given that much of it was spent in XC practice or tootling around from one place to the other, it felt pretty restful.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

N162HG 1.0 Bob

Practicing ground reference maneuvers at Leslie Salt.

We briefed the maneuvers to start with, talking about where the steepest banks are, etc. Then we went out and did them. Things were fairly uneventful.

I did a reasonable short landing on our return.