Friday, December 30, 2016

N712MF 1.3 closed traffic at KRHV

Today I did some closed pattern work just to get my landings straight. After talking with CFI friends, I had three tips to try out:
  • Put a piece of tape on the canopy to mark "straight ahead";
  • After a stabilized approach, pull power to idle SLOWLY so I can keep up with the compensation required; and
  • Don't bother using full flaps on the SportStar -- that's like dragging a barn door and does not add lift, so does not appreciably reduce landing speed.
7 takeoffs, 1 of them soft field (went okay, could be more precise on "hovering" closer to the ground) and 2 short field (also went okay, could be more precise on speeds but acceptable).

1 go-around requested by tower. I was asked to follow a Cessna on final. I followed a very similar Cessna, also on final, that I later realized was actually on the parallel runway! I ended up following my actual #1 traffic too close and was asked to go around.

7 landings (isn't it nice that it's the same as the number of takeoffs?), 3 of them attempts at short field. The short ones were mixed: 1 was really good, and the other 2 were iffy (landed too long). For all my landings, however, I had a good flare, with good control over my flare height, and they were all full-stall landings in the proper nose-high attitude.

The tape on the canopy was really helpful. Here is what I did:
  1. During preflight, sighted down from the tail to figure out what was directly ahead of the plane;
  2. When inside, with my head at my comfortable position, closed my left eye and lined up the tape with the "straight ahead" object with my right eye;
  3. With both eyes open, and focused far away, I could see two images of the tape -- and the LEFT image, which is the one seen by my RIGHT eye, was my aiming point.
This really helped with taxi, but also with runway alignment during takeoff and landing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

N712MF 1.7 Melissa to KHAF

Took Melissa out today. The plan was to go to KHAF.

Melissa  helped me by reading out my preflight as I did it, and remarked on how much work it was. :) We had enough fuel in the plane so we skipped the fueling part, which got us out of there quicker.

Outbound, asked for a KSJC transition. All was as expected, and we were off via the OSI VOR down to the coast, and then to KHAF.

The approach to KHAF was very, very bumpy. OMG.

My first pattern was way offset to the left, so I went around. But wow I was like going almost sideways -- so. much. wind.

My second time around, I was lined up. Crabbing on final, flaps on the second notch, not full flaps. Turned the crab into a forward slip. All went well.

I was on top of the runway, cut power, and started settling. But (a) I failed to put the nose down then arrest the descent with a flare; and (b) the wind died down near the surface so I started sliding sideways and failed to relieve the slip to compensate. Result: I slammed down on one gear leg.

Melissa was filming with her phone; her phone fell into her lap and she squawked!

I took off again, doing a pretty good crosswind takeoff, but there were already too many planes buzzing around the airport. With the high traffic, the bumpy air, the crosswind, and being rattled from my bumpy landing, I decided to call it a day before something really bad happened.

On the way home, we went via the Crystal Springs reservoir and again asked for a KSJC transition. At some point I thought they were telling *me* to reverse course and go via Hwy 85 to Hwy 280, so I did a 360 while we figured things out and I sort of spluttered on the radio. Embarrassing, maybe, but  I did do the safe thing, and they just clarified I was cleared to cross KSJC midfield.

Coming into KRHV, I had to slip to get to pattern altitude in time -- better planning would have helped, but it was no big issue.

My landing into KRHV was a greaser. :)

Braking was hard -- I keep fishtailing in hard braking due to the differential brakes on the SportStars. I made it off the runway and was told by Tower to taxi, which was sort of unexpected so I kept barrelling on and forgot to do my post-landing checklist. Which meant I was, for the first bit, taxiing with flaps.

As I taxied, I blazed past Battelle Rachmian, one of the AeroDynamic Aviation CFIs, who must have noticed me taxiing with flaps down but bless her soul, later at the FBO, she didn't say anything. She was sitting on the ground -- at first, Melissa and I were like, who is this random person? She motioned towards her handheld radio -- she was solo-ing a student.

Overall, things went well, but I need to figure this out:

1. In the SportStars, full flaps is like flying with a barn door sideways. What is my procedure for using them, if any? If I do it too late in the approach, I de-stabilize myself. If I do it too early, I end up coming in with really high power dragging a barn door behind me, which doesn't feel right.

2. Cutting power and rounding out. I have had trouble with this since the days of the Flycatcher. I need to learn to cut power slowly, starting earlier, and to compensate by dropping the nose (keeping the speed at target) then flaring when near the ground. Alternatively I need to figure out some other trajectory where I maybe come in high, then cut power when the field is made and have a stabilized descent all the way to the ground. Whatever I do, I need to have a more consistent procedure for this.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

N188EV 1.4 flight with Aden

Flight from KRHV down South over the valley then curving East towards the San Luis Reservoir, then back again. Sight seeing and hanging out. Not eventful but fun!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

N712MF 2.2 Flight over the coast with Melissa

This was my first passenger flight in a long, long time.We went South towards E16, turned West towards Watsonville, and flew up the coast to the Pigeon Point lighthouse. Melissa saw a pod of whales breaching! (We observed them from the safe 2000'-plus altitude over the ocean as required by the fact that this section of coastal sea is a national wildlife preserve.)

On our way back we passed over Bonny Doon airport (a private airfield tucked away in the mountains Northeast of Santa Cruz), then returned to KRHV via E16.

In this flight I tried a couple of things -- some okay, some which I could have done better.

I wanted to experience flying higher, so I climbed to 8500' on the Westbound leg and 7500' when coming back Eastbound (East is odd, West is even odder). The altitude on the return leg was also due to the fact that we flew over the mountains, so I wanted to give myself the glide range to get to the Watsonville lowlands or to the valley around Gilroy should my engine fail.

This meant that I crossed the approach corridor of the KSJC Rwy 30 approach at a rather high altitude, so I was not below all the heavy traffic. But I was aware of that, made sure to squawk VFR and listen to Norcal Approach, and watched for traffic very carefully. At one time I heard myself mentioned, but that was when they were talking to a parachute drop over San Martin (E16). I think I did fine, but next time I'm just going to save myself the workload and maybe cross lower. And maybe also next time I'll get actual flight following if I want to do this; it would add an extra margin of safety.

Another thing is that I wanted to experience the effect of a glide from high altitude both as an aerodynamic curiosity but also to get an intuitive feel for how far the plane can glide, for future reference when (not if! -- we who fly reciprocating engines are destined to become glider pilots some day!) my engine fails. I did not do any formal measurements. But at idle throttle, near the best glide speed, from 8500' over the hills just East of E16, I could have glided all the way to the coastline with a bit of altitude to spare -- I stopped at around 2500' for safe ground clearance and in anticipation of staying clear of the wildlife preserve floor.

What I did not do (and was pointed out to me by the admin dude at AeroDynamic, who's also a pilot) is that I should have "cleared" the engine with a burst of throttle every little while to keep it from sputtering on me. Point noted. I do remember that my CFIs would always do that for me when practicing engine-out ops.

I practiced some steep turns while watching the whales, and got just a tiny little bit better at them, though I'm still not fully happy with how I'm doing and I need to practice more. I long for the day when I can turn (steeply or otherwise) and maintain altitude just visually, without having to watch my VSI.

My landing could have been better. The sight picture of the SportStar is different from the Flycatcher -- the panel and cowling are much more curved on top, so it's harder to nail down a "straight ahead" direction. So I was practicing keeping the nose straight, and there was a slight crosswind, and I was too focused on straightening the nose and forgot to dip my upwind wing, and I ended up being blown sideways and getting a bit of the wiggles. We walked away, and the airplane could even be used again, so no disaster -- but it just highlights that I need to work on this more.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

N712MF 1.5 Solo pattern work

This was 8 landings, closed pattern around KRHV, and my first solo in a long time. I just wanted to get comfortable with the idea of (omg!!) flying a plane again! At the beginning I was noticeably nervous, but by the end, I was like, yeah, I got this. Even I can fly planes! Yay aviation!

I am trying to stick with N712MF (rather than alternating with N188EV) because, even though they are the same make/model, they have subtly different instruments. Probably not a huge deal, but I figure at my current experience level, learning to fly Just. One. Plane. with everything exactly the same from flight to flight could not hurt.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

N712MF 1.5 Irene

More practice, same as before. Irene was hoping a more established club CFI would give me the final SportStar checkout, but unfortunately that CFI was not available for like 20 days in the future! Fortunately enough folks were around hangar flying that the relevant authorities could be consulted and figured out that, yeah, go ahead and check him out. So I am now good to fly the SportStars! Woot!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

N712MF 1.5 Irene

More practice. Stalls, steep turns, crosswind landings, slow flight, flapless landings.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

N712MF 1.8 Irene

More getting back into practice. 5 landings. We went to Frasier Lake Airpark (1C9), a grass field, and practiced.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

N188EV 2.2 Irene

This begins my tenure with a new CFI at AeroDynamic Aviation at KRHV, whom I have codenamed "Irene". Irene is awesome in every way -- fun to chat with, and good at being supportive while critiquing my flying. Having an instructor you actually like is a great thing in aviation. I'm keeping this one. :)

N188EV and N172MF are both Evektor SportStars at AeroDynamic.

We did stalls, crosswind landings, pattern emergencies and a total of 8 landings. I started to become de-rustified.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

N712MF 1.9 Harry

This was an attempt to get "checked out" on the Evektor SportStars. As I previously mentioned, I was diagnosed with cancer and, while cured by surgery, am doing chemotherapy. I'm rather out of practice with flying in general.

We did a total of 7 landings, with Harry insisting I do a soft field landing his way (using power to cushion the descent during the flare) rather than the way I was taught (just coming in with enough energy, landing gently, and keeping the nosewheel off the ground then settling it down gently).

In general, this test/lesson did not go very happily, mostly because it became clear I was nowhere near ready for it as a test, and it took a while to convince Harry to switch into lesson mode. Oh well.

I learned something, though: More practice needed!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

N2791E 0.8 Gina

I decided to try the Aeronca Champ at Aerodynamic Aviation (KRHV) this time, with a new instructor who will be codenamed "Gina" in this blog. This was also my first flight without paper charts, as I tried using software instead.

The flight

Gina talked to me about the idiosyncracies of the Champ, including the fact that the Continental engine likes to overheat; that it likes to get carb ice and requires carb heat below a certain RPM even on hot days; and the weirdness of the locking/castering Maule tailwheel assembly.

We went through the preflight with specific emphasis on how to handle a fabric airplane. The engine required a quart of oil, which meant we got pretty messy and greasy. We got a rechargeable battery from the office to power the radio.

Gina showed me how to hand prop, but I did not yet get to do the actual propping to start -- just practice with the priming. One of the things I was worried about was: When untying the plane after starting, how do I put myself into the right frame of mind so that I don't think of it as a "routine preflight" and walk into the prop? Luckily someone had already worried about this, and the answer is to have my hand touching the plane at all times and never go in front of the wing strut. This naturally limits my movement to safe areas, and should be achievable even after I've done this hundreds of times and it's become routine and I'm thinking of other stuff at the time.

During preflight, Gina was worried about the rudder cables being too loose, and decided to bring in the club owner to check things out. The owner said it was fine. I actually really appreciated Gina's willingness to be both the instructor and student when appropriate -- rather than trying to pretend to be a know-it-all. I think this style fits my own personality far better.

We taxied off, with me doing more or less ok with the taxi (because the Flycatcher was not easy to taxi at low speeds, so I am used to struggling!). I ended up at the hold short line with the tailwheel locked because I got too close to it, and the heel brakes are sort of hard to get used to, but Gina rescued me and we survived.

Takeoff was less scary than I thought, even though I had a bit of trouble maintaining centerline with all the stuff that was going on and we ended up with the side-to-side rocking motion that Gina warned me would happen. We clawed into the air as fast as our 85 galloping horses could take us, and departed downwind towards the practice area.

Once there, we did some turns, which went mostly okay, but I could see by the ball that I was not coordinated. We also did stalls, which were surprisingly gentle in that plane.

On the way back, I did the approach and Gina did the landing with me following on the controls. We ballooned a little due to wind and did a 3-point landing. I taxied back without event.

Overall, this was a pretty cool vintage stick and rudder experience. The tachometer jangled about in turbulence, which meant I sort of had to estimate where my actual RPM was. I figured out that I should center the ball with rudder, and use aileron to set my bank angle (including zero if I want to be level). It was hard to do; I ended up uncoordinated all the time. I hope I can learn to feel coordinatoin in the "seat of my pants".

I'm pretty excited about this plane!

My EFB experiments

We got a 16GB iPad Mini 2 from my wife's mom, and I have an Android Nexus 6 phone. I put Garmin Pilot on both of the devices, and a trial of Foreflight on the iPad.

I very quickly found that Foreflight is way better. Our area is very urban and beset by stadium TFRs. Garmin Pilot just puts a 3nm circle around all stadiums, all the time. Foreflight actually goes and finds out what games are playing and gives you the data you really need. The briefing tool in Foreflight is very, very nice. And finally, Foreflight has a satellite map option for when you want to know what the area around the airport you're trying to find really looks like.

I think what I might do is use Foreflight on the iPad, and maybe use some free or cheap app on the Nexus as a backup. I could even just download the raster charts and PDF A/FD onto the phone and go that way, since it's just a backup after all.

That all said, during our flight today, I didn't touch any of my tech. Gina was navigating and pointing out landmarks, and I was working hard enough to fly!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

N188EV 1.4 Frank

My family and I bought a house in San Jose, so I joined AeroDynamic Aviation at KRHV.

I also had a rather weird experience with colon cancer, for which I had surgery and am now getting chemo, so I didn't fly for quite a while. I'm considered treated -- no evidence of disease (NED) post surgery -- so I'm doing quite well.

While I do the chemo, which started about 3 weeks ago and lasts for 6 months, I may or may not be able to maintain what I consider adequate currency, so my time may be solely dual. But it's still nice to get in the air.

In any case, I needed dual to check out on a new plane, an Evektor SportStar. With that in mind, I scheduled a lesson with one of the CFIs at AeroDynamic.

The preflight was interesting primarily because of the differences of the Rotax from what I'm used to. Of course this was also interesting because I'm a big fan of experimental aircraft and hope to put a Rotax into something I build some day!

Per the instructions, since this was the first flight of the day, we undid a bunch of 1/4-turn fasteners and took off the top cowl, to check the coolant level and the general health of things. I've been reading the maintenance manuals for the Rotax 912, so I was happy to see all the little parts I'd been reading about. Nifty!

We took off towards E16, did a few takeoffs and landings, did some air work, then returned to KRHV.

I was definitely out of practice -- especially with the radio, where I felt like a 10-hour student again, having trouble keeping up the pace. I got better as the flight progressed.

Taxiing was way easier than the Flycatcher on account of the directly steered nosewheel and the lack of huge springs on the rudder pedals (!).

Takeoff was uneventful. During the trip to E16, Frank pointed out the local landmarks and their relation to the boundaries of the KSJC Class C. He also suggested I get myself Foreflight and an iPad! The SportStar does not have the fancy Garmin glass that the Flycatcher did; it has a tiny handheld GPS in a dock, but that's all but invisible in the sunlight.

I quickly learned that I had failed to fully brief my approach into E16 -- another thing that I would not have overlooked when I was more current. Fortunately Frank knew the frequencies and runways and talked me through it.

At E16, where I had to call out all my maneuvers, my radio green-ness was again very evident, with me confusing crosswind for base at some point, and sounding slow and unsure. Frank was not too worried though.

I had one drop-in landing; the others were fairly good. I got used to the huge drag that the SportStar's split flaps create!

On the way back, I did steep turns which Frank called "perfect". We also did slow flight with and without flaps, and stalls. All seemed fairly standard. I tried holding the plane in a stall with a "falling leaf" maneuver, but that just resulted in more and more pronounced rolls, which Frank said just get worse and worse. Otherwise, the plane really didn't have a stall "break" and was pretty docile. The stall horn -- bless its heart -- apparently goes on at some ridiculously high IAS, so it's basically useless and kept switched off.

On my landing back at KRHV, I was slipping against a very light crosswind, but as the wind changed when I was close to the ground, for some reason I got into a little yaw PIO and fishtailed across the runway in a most ungainly way. I will chalk that up to my rudder legs being a bit too violent, from all these hours of working against the springs in the Flycatcher -- but that's a habit I need to lose.

Overall, Frank said he liked that I did "attitude flying," asked me who my instructor was (that would be Bob), and said the instructor did a good job! :)

I did not consider today a completed type "checkout". Frank was ready to call it a checkout if I had filled out the form, but after the fishy landing, he seemed more skeptical. Good choice, I am too. I would like at least one more lesson of intense takeoffs and landings before being happy to solo in the thing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

N162HG 1.9 Practice flight near KLVK

We've had an insane El NiƱo season in California, and the weather has been solid IMC for weeks and weeks. We need the water, but still. Yeesh. :)

Anyway, today was VMC so I played hookey from work and went on a practice flight.

As I did a normal takeoff from KPAO, the plane felt weird. Like, just not the usual. And I looked down and had this feeling like, omg, I'm flying in this thing -- are you quite sure that this is safe? Should this not be a job for, like, the professionals?

I motored off to the area SouthEast of KLVK and did a bunch of air work: steep turns, slow flight with and without flaps, steep turns, stalls in landing configuration. I also selected a field and road and did rectangular patterns, turns about a point, and S-turns on a road.

The air work was okay, even though my steep turns got worse as time went by. The ground reference work was passable, but the S-turns, traditionally my weakest ground reference maneuver, were sort of all over the place.

I returned to KPAO and did one normal landing, one short field takeoff, one short field landing (a bit low but passable), one soft field takeoff, and another short field landing (was sent to the higher-AGL pattern side, so my descent was a bit steeper and it worked better).

By the time I was back, things were back to normal and I was feeling like I knew how to fly planes again. But wow, man -- 5 weeks is all it took! Says something about currency.

While doing my ground reference maneuvers, I was tuned to 121.5. Someone called in going, "2TA Palo Alto Tower, can you read me?" I tried to be helpful and replied, "2TA this is Guard". They repeated what they said. I again tried to be helpful going, "2TA you are on Guard frequency, 121.5". Then someone piped in and said, "He knows, that's why he's using it!" I wasn't sure what to make of that but I figured I'd stay out of it. There were no more calls to Guard.

Usually if I were calling Palo Alto on Guard frequency, I'd say so -- which is why I thought the other pilot had forgotten to retune their radio (something I have totally done myself) and was trying to help. Oh well. Hope they got it sorted out eventually.