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My Last Flight With MY CFI?

This may be a little optimistic on my part, which is why I included the question mark, but at least as far as the requirements go, I have no completed all of the time I need with an instructor.

After knocking out about have of my required solo time, we decided it would be best to get back to some of the specifics of the checkride, as well as completing the remaining simulated instrument time.  Fortunately, there is an airfield that is just over 50 miles away that makes for a great, short cross-country field.

Before we headed over to Fallon (KFLX) we went out into the practice area and went through all of the maneuvers again for the first time since one of our first flights together.  It was great to work on something other than landings for a change.

When we had first gone through the maneuvers a few months ago I do okay, with the exception of my stalls, which kind of surprised me because I had never had too much issue with them nine years ago when I first started.

I’m not really sure what happened, but everything went much better this time.  I guess I just felt more confident in the plane as a whole, and more specifically in my ability to handle the plane in a number of different situations.  It was reassuring to me that it went so well, and gave me the confidence to get out there and practice them on my own in the future.

After going through the maneuvers I put on the foggles and we headed over the KFLX.  The only thing that I have found incredibly annoying about the foggles is their lack of protection from the sun.  I’m not sure why, but every time I have worn them we have always been flying directly into the sun.  Maybe that is just poor planning on my part, but I am glad I was able to knock that out of the way.

Our intention with going to Fallon was mostly to knock out the cross-country and simulated instrument time I needed, so we didn’t stay long.  Though I did take a second landing because I was not happy about the first.

On our way back to Stead we found ourselves safely squished between the Reno Class C airspace, and the mountains.  At which point my CFI, who I realize has a name, Nikk took the controls for a minute and casually flew through some of the hills for a minute.  It is easy to get so wrapped up in the learning aspect of this process that I can forget about what makes flying fun: freedom.

It was only a couple of minutes, and we didn’t do anything crazy, but it was awesome to watch him just freely move the plane through the air and demonstrate the lack of restrictions on VFR flying.  You are not bound to a road, or track, or even an airway.  You can let your hands take you all over the place and see and do exactly what you WANT to see and do.  It was just great.

Once we got back into Stead it was time to get back to work, taking on short and soft field landings/takeoffs again.  After working on them for an hour, the biggest thing I took away from it is that if you just always try and hit your mark there is no reason to do much differently.  The one caveat to that being control manipulation on the ground for soft field work.

What I did find interesting in this instance is how familiar I had gotten landing with only one person in the plane.  You add another 200 pound dude next to you and the plane handles a little differently.  My challenge at this point is really in creating a steady glide path into the runway.  I have a tendency to remain high through my base turn, something I think stems from the fact there is a big pond at the approach end of the runway that subconsciously makes me want to stay high.

The irony is that I then have a tendency to correct through what a normal glide slope would be and end up a little more drug in than I should be, not the best setup for either soft or short field landings.  If I had to analyze myself, since Nikk isn’t here next to me to do it, I would say I am not properly using the inputs I have to make the whole thing smoother.

While I shouldn’t stare at them, I am not utilizing the PAPIs enough as I try to develop my sight picture.

I’m not paying enough attention to my VVI as I make the base turn and turn to final which is causing me to make a completely level turn instead of a descending one.

Finally, I am trying to make the landings as if they have become muscle memory, and they haven’t yet.  I need to more consciously go through the steps of landing and make sure that both hands, and both feet, are making the proper inputs so that the plane will behave the way it is designed to.

All in all it was a good flight, and the fact that I no longer require the supervision of an instructor is a pretty awesome feeling.  It makes me feel like I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel to finally getting that license to learn I have longed for all of these years.

May 24, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Solo Cross Country Flight: Starting to Feel Like a Real Pilot

The fun just never seems to stop for me these days, though it doesn’t always feel that way during the day.

After my long night flight a few weeks ago, it was so nice to get back to flying during the day.  Even when I fly at work I prefer flying during the day.  It is just so much more enjoyable seeing everything around you as you cruise along.  I also feel like my situational awareness is leaps and bounds better during the day, which is to be expected.

For my next flight I was planning to go solo cross-country, with the intent to knock out my long sortie requirement since the weather was so good.  As the day approached, I decided to be a little more ambitious, and knock out all five hours of solo cross-country time in one shot.  The sun ended up setting before I could finish, but it was still a good run.

I took off from Stead (KRTS) in a plane completely full of fuel on a warm afternoon, which meant it was a long climb up to 8500′ even when you are starting at 5000′.  No worries though as I mentioned that it was a beautiful day and I was thrilled to be in the air.  There were a couple of bumps on climb-out which is also to be expected when you fly through the mountains.  A completely smooth flight is essentially unheard of in this part of the world.

This is one of my favorite ridges to cross. We often do what is called a zoom climb in the C-130 here which gives you about 2-2.5k feet in a matter of seconds. I know that is no fighter stuff, but for a heavy that is pretty good.

My first leg would take me up to Susanville, CA (KSVE) which led me to fly through one of the areas that we often train in for work in the C-130.  It is so fun to fly through some of these same areas at a much lower speed and really get to enjoy more of the scenery.  It is also a trip to be the one at the controls.  Getting eyes on the Susanville airport proved to be quite challenging despite the small town that it is a part of.  Normally, you can look for an area that is a little more sparsely populated and that will help, but the whole area is pretty sparsely populated, so nothing really stood out.  I knew about where it should be though so I set up for a 45 to downwind based on the winds, and right about the time I wanted to enter the downwind, the runway popped up in front of me.

At this point, it dawned on me again that I was in an airplane all by myself again.  The last time I had done this was at Stead where I had already made dozens of landings with an instructor by my side.  Now I was at a brand new airport, that I had never seen, landing the plane all by myself.  I gave myself a little pep talk as I turned base and told myself it was no different from the other landings I had done by myself.  In hindsight I kind of wish I had done a touch and go at Stead before departing just to remind myself I knew what I was doing.  Fortunately, I still knew what I was doing and, while I floated it a little after coming in high, I landed smoothly and taxied clear well before the end.

After landing and pulling off the runway I had another one of those yell for joy moments like I did on my first solo.  It was the most incredible feeling to be out on the road all by myself.  I am once again somewhat speechless as I think back on it.

When you have wanted to do something for as long as I have wanted to be a pilot, it seems completely surreal that I am actually doing it.  It doesn’t even matter that it is not an airliner or some other big aircraft, pretty soon I will actually be a licensed pilot.

Stopped at Susanville and enjoying the glory of my first solo cross-country landing.

After taking a minute to enjoy the moment, I sent a message to my CFI, and my wife, to let them know I was safe.  Then after a drink and a quick look at the iPad I lined back up for another takeoff.  With the runway being a bit shorter I decided a notch of flaps wouldn’t be a bad idea, which I am glad I did, because it was definitely the most runway I have used for a takeoff.  I would have been fine either way, but it is always nice to have a safety buffer.  Leaving Susanville, I was also a little leery about birds because I know there are a lot in the area with the large lake east of the airport.

No worries though as I climbed out away from the town with no problems.  I fly in this area all of the time for work, and I was pretty much lined up on the run-in that we use for airdrops which was also fun.  I’m pretty sure there are no restrictions for flying in that area, and I knew none of our planes were flying on a Friday night, but I decided it would be better to just continue my climb so I could pick up some true airspeed.  It was still cool to see the area from a different perspective though.

Pyramid Lake is a great warm fuzz for navigation because it is huge, and easy to reset your bearings if you aren’t quite sure where you are.

This leg took me across the northern edge of Pyramid Lake, which is a great visual landmark in the area.  Right now the lake is super full with good spring runoff and a few little rainstorms we have had recently.  It is also one of the common areas for us to practice maneuvers because there are obviously no mountains in the middle of a large lake, and there are some great flat beaches along the shore in the event of engine problems.  I considered practicing some maneuvers, but decided my energy was better spent focusing on the task at hand, as well as making sure I got back before sunset.

After passing Pyramid Lake I crossed a bunch of the North-South running ridges that are all over Nevada.  It was a good reminder of how easily you could get lost if you aren’t paying attention, because they all look alike.  Those same ridges made for a bit of a different arrival into my next airport; Lovelock (KLOL).  Having to stay high over the ridges I pulled the engine almost to idle and started a more rapid descent into the airport than I did when I came in here at night.  It is amazing how different airfields look at night, and I was glad to come back and get that perspective.

Lovelock may not be real pretty, but…yeah, it just isn’t very pretty.

Being as high as I was, I decided to do a bit of an overhead pattern to set up for the landing, which proved to be uneventful.  Something that I was grateful for after every landing.  They say any landing you walk away from is a good one, but I was grateful for no real issues other than maybe not being as close to centerline as I would like, or it not being as smooth as I would like.

Leaving Lovelock would be my shortest leg so I spent a little extra time making sure I had my frequencies squared away as well as looking at the airspace for Fallon Municipal (KFLX) as it sits right on the edge of NAS Fallon’s airspace, and I had heard them recovering aircraft on the radio only about half an hour before.  This would also prove to be the bumpiest leg flying over a bunch of fields that had been warming up with the sun sitting high.  I am quite familiar with turbulence from work, but it is always rougher in a small plane.  Knowing just how durable planes are makes the whole thing easier to tolerate.

Fallon almost felt like home after flying over so much open land for so long.

At this point I was about half way through my sortie and this would be the first traffic I encountered.  As I was setting up for a 45 to downwind there was another aircraft taking off from the field.  We both communicated clearly, and I thought he would just fall in behind me, but instead he decided to bug out, so I had the pattern to myself.  It was nice to get back to a field I had been to before as well as an area I had previously flown the Cherokee in.  I think those factors contributed to this being one of my better landings of the day.  After a quick stop for a text to my CFI I was on my way back towards busier airspace.

This is exactly what I would experience flying over a couple of smaller airports, including an amazing airpark that I would love to live at, but a few simple radio calls made the whole thing a non-issue.  I will say that my comfort on the radios has made this whole training much less stressful.  I still mess it up on occasion, and I have plenty to learn, but knowing enough to keep the whole system flowing relatively smoothly has made a big difference.

I talked to this guy a few times on my way to Carson. It is always fun seeing different aircraft types.

As I approached Carson City (KCXP) I came in behind some traffic, and had to quickly clear the runway for some other traffic headed inbound.  Another smooth landing, and a quick exit made me feel like I actually knew what I was doing.  While I was taking a quick break in the run up area I was able to call out a flock of birds to another aircraft in the pattern which made me feel like even more a part of the community.

When it came time to leave it got even busier with a Bonanza approaching the runway from the opposite side parallel runway, and a 172 on base.  Not being in much of a rush, now with plenty of time before sunset, I let them both go first before taking the runway about to head towards my tower controlled airfield.  I had spent even more time on the ground preparing myself for this leg since it was very short and I would need to contact approach almost immediately.

With the mountains in the way they couldn’t see me, even though they could hear me, so they directed me to the East of the departure corridor and I set up for an extremely long downwind.  I think that flying in a radar controlled area can be a little intimidating for some people, and admittedly Reno (KRNO) is not the most busy of airspaces, but it is amazing how calm it can actually be once you understand the basics.  This is another field I had been to quite a few times, but the runways are about twice as long as all of the other fields I had been to over the last 3.5 hours, so I bet many of you know what was coming on my first landing.

Reno is a little bit bigger than the other fields I visited on this trip, and my landings reflected that.

I flared high, and plopped that thing in there.

I will say that it was not as firm as some of my landings that I really struggled with earlier in my training, but after that first one I had to remind myself about the optical illusion that I was experiencing.  Needing my extra full stop landings at the towered field I spent the taxi time walking myself through the illusion of feeling lower than I actually was to help on the subsequent landings.  They were all still a little high, but they did get better.  Before my final departure I took a nice deep breath as I was about to start my last leg.

By this time I was about four hours in and I could feel the length of the day starting to come on.  Nothing unsafe by any means, just a quick reminder to myself to stay alert and not get lazy on the last leg.  Probably because of that, and the natural straight in that this leg lines up for, I came in too high and had a nice steep descent down to the runway.  I had decided before hand that I would take a couple of victory laps around Stead upon my return as long as the daylight would let me, and it certainly did.

As I took my last couple patterns around I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunset and my best landings of the day.

After leaving the runway and taxiing back to the hangar I took a few moments to think about how amazing of an afternoon it was.  Most people on a Friday night would have taken advantage of an early work day to get in some extra drinking or partying, but as a non-drinker that is also not much of a partier, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Friday evening.  I didn’t get the full 5.0 that I had hoped for, but I did log 4.4 hours of some of the most empowering flying I have ever done.

My wife asked for proof that I was actually doing it. This is the face of a very happy man.

Not only CAN I actually do this, I AM DOING IT.  This is no longer a dream that I have had for over 30 years.  This is no longer something that I will get to when my kids are older, and I have no more debt, and the Cleveland Browns are no longer the laughing-stock of the NFL (aka never), this is happening now.  For the first time, that really hit me after this flight.  I guess it was just doing what I have dreamt of for so long that brought it home for me.  I dream about going out for a $100 hamburger, or just cruising around with my kids for an hour or two and enjoying the wonder of flight, and that is essentially what I had just done for the last 4+ hours.

Weather and work continue to delay the timelines I had originally set, but even that is not going to stop me from finishing and forever wearing the title of pilot.

April 30, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Flying at Night was an Eye Opening Experience

I finally was able to knock out that flight I passed on a few weeks back after a little vacation, and a whole bunch of crappy weather, and all I can say is that I am glad it is over.  I should clarify that any time spent flying is better than time spent in just about any other way, but I realized after this flight that flying a small, civilian aircraft at night is just not a whole lot of fun.

In leaving Stead and heading down to Reno it really wasn’t all that different at first because we were over city the entire time so most everything is lit up pretty well.  That being said, it is definitely a different sight picture at night than it is during the day.  I found myself flaring a little to high and having to hold it off much longer than I would have liked.  This was likely a combination of not having flown for a little while, and the different sight picture I was experiencing at night for the first time.

We proceeded to do three full stop taxi backs at Reno because for some reason the FAA wants all of your night stuff to be full stop landings.  I personally don’t understand the logic in this, so if you have any ideas I would love to hear them.  The one upside in this case was that it gave me more time talking to ground and switching radios, which is something you can never really practice enough.  On the C-130 I just type in numbers so it is good to get practice spinning dials.

After leaving Reno we headed East into the I-80 corridor as we very slowly climbed up to a good safe altitude.  This may very well have been the first time I have ever climbed up through the mountains at night without having NVGs like I wear at work.  To be honest it was pretty unnerving.  Despite knowing that I had planned well, and could see the freeway clearly below me and in front of me, it is not fun not being able to see the even the outline of the mountains around you.  It didn’t help that there was absolutely no moon either, but I wasn’t delaying this mission any longer just for some moonlight.

The half an hour or so it took us to get up to Lovelock (KLOL for those keeping track at home) was relatively uneventful, and once we got to altitude the terrain sloped away to the East and there wasn’t even mountains to worry about.  With nothing really between us and the airport, we were able to pick out the beacon pretty quickly, and a few clicks of the mic lit up the runway like a Christmas tree making it even easier to find a few miles south of any other buildings.

After a quick survey of the area we went in and executed three more full stop taxi backs, but fortunately the winds were mostly calm so we opted to just switch runways with each landing to save on the taxi time.  It was definitely a very different experience flying at such a small airport with no lights around it after flying at Reno that is surrounded in lights.  I also had the thought in the back of my mind that there is a lake off the end of one of the runways that made the whole thing a little more ominous.

After finishing up our landings there we began our trek back to Stead, and since we were running a little behind schedule, we utilized the wonder of ForeFlight to go back home more directly.  I have to say that it is just an incredible tool for anyone out there.  If I had a small plane I would not waste my money on a G1000 or other system, I would just buy an iPad and a ForeFlight subscription, because they honestly offer so much more at probably 5% of the price.  The situational awareness that it gives you is just insane.  I honestly wish the Air Force had just bought subscriptions to ForeFlight rather than wasting money on developing a different app.  If you don’t have it you seriously need to check it out.

By this time it was after 2300 local and after a full day of work I was getting pretty tired, but we still had four more landings to knock out.  It was definitely a little comforting coming back to my home airport after so long in the unfamiliar dark, and it got me a little excited again to finish the whole thing out.  Fortunately, the winds at Stead were also light and we were able to execute a few teardrops in the pattern rather than flying a full standard pattern.  It saved a little time which was okay by me and my CFI.  It was also a fun challenge to execute something other than a standard pattern and having to adjust in ways that you normally wouldn’t have to.  That being said, it is not something you should do if there are other aircraft in the area because it would quickly become a mess.

Flying at night in a small civilian plane definitely opened my eyes to the value of having NVGs with the flying I do at work.  The amount of situational awareness that they provide is just downright ridiculous.  On a well illuminated night it is almost as good as flying during the day.  I can’t even imagine doing anything close to what we do without NVGs.

This was also a good flight to help me remember that you have a whole massive skill set to learn as a pilot.  It isn’t enough to get good at landings during the day on a long and wide runway.  You have to land at night, and on shorter and more narrow fields.  You should try to get to soft fields and different surface types because all of those things are only going to help you build your bag of tools that one day may save your life.  From a less practical side, it is also fun to try new things and go new places.

When I was deployed to Afghanistan we took an F-16 pilot for a ride one day and it was the first time he had ever landed on dirt, especially dirt that was probably only 4000′ long or so.  For a guy that is used to pristine pavement that is at least 10,000′ long, it was an eye-opening experience.  He gained a whole new respect for what we do that day, and I guarantee he became a better pilot with that understanding.

So while trying new and different things is often not very comfortable, it is a great way to learn new things, have some fun, and become a better pilot.

April 19, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Setting Personal Limits for Flying May Save Your Life

It is interesting that I have been thinking about writing this post for almost two weeks now as I have seen numerous people post comments or tweet about this exact subject.  No matter how many times I see this message though, I will always keep repeating it, because the concept may very well save your life.

If you have read the last few posts that I have written (if you haven’t, you should go read them now) then you will know that I had a week chock full of flying about two weeks ago.  When I started the week I was planning to fly six times in three days; three flights each for work and towards my private pilot certificate.  It was a little ambitious, but the weather was good and I wanted to take advantage of it after a bunch of crappy weather.

The first two days went very well and I got a lot of good stuff done, including my very first solo, which I am still pumped thinking about.  When the third day rolled around I was still planning on a third doubleheader in a row, especially with as motivated as I was after my solo.  However, as I went through the next few hours of flying I felt my body starting to wear down.  I was still able to fly at work safely, but as we landed after the sortie, I just knew that it wasn’t a good idea to push for another flight again that night, especially considering we were planning to do a three-hour night flight to knock that out.

I sent a message to my CFI telling him I would need to cancel for the night, which he totally understood and agreed with.  As soon as I sent the message I started to regret it a little because I am so anxious to get this thing done, and like I said, I was still pretty jacked from my solo the night before.  But as I got back to my desk and started to wind down from my flight and take care of some paperwork I knew I had made the right decision.  I could feel the effects of five flights in three days, and my body needed to take a break and recover.

I ended up having to wait a few weeks to get that flight in thanks to a family vacation and a busy schedule, but I am even more convinced now that I made the right decision.  Would I have had any problems getting through that flight, probably not.  Even if I was struggling my CFI would have been there to make sure we got back safely.  But, why would you want to risk it?  The only thing I would have gained is maybe finishing my certificate a little earlier, and the only thing I would have been risking is my life.  Seems like a fair trade-off, right?

The point is that many of us love flying and are anxious to spend as much time as we can in the air.  Whether we have been grounded for a while due to bad weather, work, or even just anxious to finish a rating or upgrade that you have been working on for ten years, none of us would rather be on the ground when we could be in the air.  Which is why it is smart to set personal limits for yourself above and beyond the limits the FAA sets.

In the Air Force we fill out a risk management worksheet before every flight that accounts for things like fatigue and health of the crew as well as the type of mission we are planning to fly and weather.  If the score is too high we have to get approval from leadership who checks to confirm that we have properly mitigated the risk and that we are safe to fly.  Sometimes the number is just too high and the risk isn’t worth it, so we don’t fly.  That may mean missing out on rare training opportunities, or even delaying a mission, but nothing is worth risking your life.

So what kinds of things can you set limits for?

Weather is an obvious one.  Maybe you set a ceiling and visibility limit that you will not fly with less than.  Similar to weather mins for an instrument approach you may set a limit for both VFR and IFR flight that you won’t bust.  As you get more proficient, especially as an IFR pilot you may lower those mins, but understanding your abilities and comfort level will go a long way to keeping you safe.  You may also have wind limits, or certain types of weather you won’t fly with.  One example for us is that if we have severe turbulence forecasted we don’t fly, period.  Maybe for you it is fog, or rain, or some other weather that you just don’t want to mess with.

Rest is another important one to consider that can be very easy to overlook.  The Air Force, as well as airlines, have rules on crew rest that delineate how much time to rest you must have before a flight.  In the Air Force we also limit what types of flying we can do a certain number of hours into the day.  Things that are more challenging are restricted to early in our duty day because we want to make sure we are sharp in those high risk situations.

You may opt to only go to fields with certain runway lengths, crosswind limits stricter than the plane can handle, length of flight, or any other limits that you feel are important.  The point is to keep yourself safe, no matter how experienced you are.

I would never suggest a specific limit for anyone else, because each of us know how proficient we are, and what our limits should be.  If you aren’t sure what your limits should be set something conservative and roll with that for a while.  Then as you feel more comfortable change the limits to match your skill level.  However, don’t change your limits as you are stepping to fly.  Find a time when you have no pressing concerns to sit down and honestly assess how you feel about the limits you have set.  This way you won’t feel inclined to lower your limits just to meet a deadline or take that trip you have been planning for months and get into a risky situation.

While I mentioned lowering your limits, also don’t be afraid to raise your limits if your situation reflects the need.  If you haven’t been flying for a while, or if you are in a new type of aircraft, or if you have gotten into a few situations that were more uncomfortable than you would like, be honest with yourself and raise those limits to keep yourself safe.

Now thinking of every possible variable that could happen during a flight and creating a limit for it would be an incredibly daunting task, so I would say start with the basics.  Set some weather limits for yourself, and some sort of rest limit as I see those as two of the simplest protections that will keep you out of the vast majority of unsafe situations.  Then as you get more experienced and start trying new things spend some time in your mission planning to set limits for yourself as well.

Maybe most importantly, write your limits down so you don’t forget, or try to fudge on them later.  The whole point of this is to keep yourself safe so make sure you are clear about it.

Lastly, don’t ever budge from your limits when it comes time to fly.  I mentioned this briefly before, but it bears repeating.  Limits are there to make the decision for you when you may put yourself in a questionable situation.  They allow for a good level-headed decision when the stress and temptation are not part of the equation, or in other words, way before you are going to go fly.  By all means change those limits when you are not in your flying bubble, but never do it in the heat of the moment because you set those limits for a reason and that is to keep you safe.

One last dynamic of this that I want to point out is that setting limits doesn’t mean you can’t still do something flying related.  In my case I spent my extra time studying for my written test, which I passed with a 100% this past week, so I guess that time was well spent.  You could do some work on your plane, you could better prepare for taking that flight the next day.  Maybe you have a local flight school with a simulator you could use instead.  Or maybe you could even just hang out at the airport for a little while and get to know your hangar neighbors and build some relationships for the future.

As much as it sucks having to miss a day of flying, there is still a lot you can do to not let the day be a waste.  Setting limits for yourself may keep you from flying, but it will also keep you safe so that you can have many more flights for years to come.

April 15, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Crosswind Landings: Sometimes you Need a Challenge

I am so freaking pumped right now.

I am getting ahead of myself though.

I was honestly a little frustrated with myself after my last flight on Saturday. All we did was patterns at KRTS and a few down at KRNO, but I was still struggling with my flare. I had a couple of okay landings, but I was really struggling to put all of the pieces together. I wasn’t thinking of quitting or anything, but I was really frustrated with myself.

Last night I stayed up far later than I really should have playing Call of Duty. Not exactly a Sunday game, but I lost to the Browns in Madden so I really needed to take out some more frustration. The relevance of this tangent is that as I was going to bed around midnight I decided that I needed to get back to some good habits that I had let slip over the last month, so I set my alarm for 6 am, and went to sleep.

6 am came around far too early, but I knew I needed to stop making excuses and get up. When I get up in the morning I like to read while my house is still quiet and get my mind going for the day. It was challenging to stay awake and not just go back to sleep but I did it.

I got to work and took care of a handful of things I needed to do. It wasn’t a groundbreaking day by any means, but I was productive, which is always a good thing.

Sitting at my desk I could see that there were blue skies outside so I messaged my CFI to meet up at the airport after work. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I can now get some flying in after work.

The second habit I needed to get back to was getting exercise. I have been doing terrible at that for the last month, so I left my desk an hour early and went over to the gym for some cardio. I was able to hold a better pace than I expected, which was just another win that I needed. I always feel so much better after exercising, so I can’t figure out why I make so many excuses not to do it.

While I was working out, my CFI messaged me to say that it was a little bumpy but that we could still get some more pattern work in. Bumpy is pretty normal in this part of the world, so I was not to be deterred. I finished my workout, got changed, and headed to the airport.

When I got to the airport the METAR was calling for 3kt winds at 180 which is not anything to be concerned about, but as you can see by the windsock in the picture, that weather reading was just a little bit off. We had a full sock most of the time we were out there so winds were actually more like 15-20 kts. Oh yeah, and it was a direct crosswind.

These were the strongest winds we had experienced at the airport so we talked about positioning controls on the ground for the wind as well as proper crosswind controls on takeoff. Based on my previous attempts I was pretty nervous about how I would perform in even more challenging conditions. But we also chatted about how much better many pilots are in challenging conditions because they are forced to focus more on what they are doing.

We took off and it was indeed a little bumpy with plenty of wind. I actually felt pretty good about my pattern shape and taking the winds into account. Unfortunately, my landings were still sucky. Everything was fine right up until touchdown and then I couldn’t position the plane properly so that we landed smoothly. I landed in a crab once, and my CFI actually had to take the controls once because the nose wheel started to get away from me. As you might imagine, I became even more frustrated and was actually about to suggest we just land and call it a day because I wasn’t sure any valuable training was happening.

Fortunately I didn’t say anything and he gave me the tip that I had finally needed to hear. He once again pointed out that I was still carrying a lot of energy across the threshold and that was leaving too much energy when I would go to flare which was causing me to float. So this time I pulled my power to idle shortly after crossing the threshold at about 50 feet.

Holy crap it worked!

I didn’t end up in the middle of the runway, but both mains landed smoothly and the nose came down relatively smoothly. With only a small correction we came back to centerline and took off again to join a fellow Cherokee in the pattern. It was fun to have someone else out there for the first time. The next landing was even better, and I was much closer to centerline at touchdown.

I finally was feeling better about myself and that I may actually get this down. As we were turning downwind my instructor pointed out that most young pilots wouldn’t even be trying to fly in these conditions, and if the second runway had been open, we likely wouldn’t have done crosswind landings either, but it is closed for construction until the Reno Air Races this fall. I came around with one more solid pattern, pulled power as we crossed the threshold, kicked in some left rudder, lowered that right wing, held back pressure as the speed bled off, and then brought it all back to center right as the mains touched down evenly on centerline. As the nose gear settled to the ground I could feel the excitement surge inside of me and I just wanted to shout with happiness.

Taxiing back to the hangar I was so incredibly pumped. I am sure my instructor noticed the change in my demeanor. After putting her to bed we filled out my log book and talked about preparing to solo. Unfortunately, weather will likely keep me from flying the rest of the week, and then I will be out of town for five days, so this my have been my last flight for the next ten days. That being said, if I have to sit and think about my last landing, at least I had three good ones to end on.

It may seem like the first half of this post has nothing to do with flying, but I am more convinced everyday that everything we do impacts our performance. Sleep, diet, exercise, and mental state all play in to how well you perform, and all of those variables play an even bigger role when you are first starting. In my full-time job I can get by without each of those being at their peak because I have strong enough habit patterns to overcome other deficiencies. I am nowhere near that as a pilot, but after today I feel like I will get to the same level of proficiency someday.

I really can’t even express how excited I am right now, and pissed that the weather sucks the rest of the week. The whole way home I cranked up the radio and would randomly clap my hands together and yell out because I was so excited. It is a side of myself that I don’t show very often, and generally one that I reserve for competing in sports. Maybe that is why I am so excited right now. I feel a little bit like the competitor I used to be. Either way, I am super excited right now, and can’t wait to get back in the air.

March 13, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Taking Wins No Matter Where They Come From

You may wonder why I gave this post the title I did since it doesn’t seem very aviation related, so I will tell you. That thought was what got me to stop reading tonight and write the long post before this one, that I am sure multiple people stopped reading after they saw it wasn’t just about airplanes, and that’s okay, cause I wanted to share, as well as the post you are reading now.

In the book Crushing It! that I mentioned in my other post, there is a story of a T-shirt business that thought they had missed a golden opportunity to grow their brand because their logo had been on the back of the shirts when a bunch of people wore them on a show sponsored by Oprah on her network. Turns out it actually proved to be a huge win as they were able to tell their customers they “had their backs” and it was one of their biggest surges as a company.

This got me thinking about my flight that I had today (sweet video from that hopefully coming next week), as well as the same experience I have had on countless other flights over the years. Sometimes you don’t do everything right, and you still get a positive result and success. I have previously written about airdrops and how they work, to include my constant desire to learn from each flight and figure out why I got the result I did. Reading tonight made me realize how often I have screwed up in some, or many, ways and still had a successful drop.

It has been easy for me to beat myself up and see my mistakes and just chalk my success up to luck, but sometimes we need to just take the win wherever it came from. By no means am I saying that we as aviators shouldn’t analyze our performance and look for ways to do better, but I am saying we should enjoy the successes we have, even, and maybe especially, if we didn’t necessarily deserve it.

I have heard that luck is simply where preparation meets opportunity, and maybe that is true to some extent. We train and study and analyze so that we get thrown a proverbial bone on occasion. We have a great landing on a rough weather day where we struggle to keep the plane stable, or we encounter unexpected favorable winds that allow us to make up for a delay, or we simply have a day where despite Murphy’s best efforts, everything just seems to work out in the end.

I wonder how often we throw away a win, or miss an opportunity to enjoy success because we feel like there were too many mistakes getting there. To quote the Beatles (I think), “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So why not enjoy the positive results that life gives us, no matter how hard it was to get there.

February 2, 2018 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

2016+ Year in Review

I know it is cliche, but I really can’t believe another year has gone by.  Even more unbelievable to me is how much I have actually done this year, and some of the incredible experiences that I have had.

With all of the time I have spent all over the Pacific I have neglected this writing, which I am just now realizing was a sort of therapy that I have also been missing out on.  Such is life though and all I can do is work at getting back into it.

So rather than try to cram everything into one post, I am going to work on getting out one a week or so which will hopefully give me some time to really internalize everything I have learned this year, while at the same time not overwhelming myself and then just giving up.

So here is a quick overview of some of the things I will be writing about over the next few months:

Operation Christmas Drop 2015–  I have mentioned this before, and a year later I am going to actually get to it.  I was on a crew for this operation which was an amazing opportunity to fly all over the islands of the Pacific bringing Christmas joy to people who live about as remotely as you possibly can in this world.

Cope North 2016-  This is a massive exercise that takes place in Guam every year involving 8-9 different countries in this instance.  Once again I was on a flying crew, which was one of the best crews I have ever flown with.  This was the first time I had ever trained with fighter aircraft which was a whole lot of fun.  As well as visiting some pretty historic sites.

Balikatan 2016-  Another large-scale exercise but in the Philippines.  For this exercise I went as a mission planning cell chief working at a location we had never fully manned before.  While I didn’t get to do any real exciting flying, it did really open my eyes to the time and effort that is required to pull off these vitally important exercises.

Red Flag Alaska 2016-  Surprise, surprise, another exercise, though most people who have interest in military aviation have likely heard of it, or at least the Nellis AFB version.  While I was back to flying for this exercise, it is structured differently than the other exercises so I also did a massive amount of mission planning.  It was some of the most incredible flying I have ever done, with a fun crew, and some amazing off duty time in the awe-inspiring Alaskan mountains.

Becoming an evaluator  Not exactly an exciting flying adventure, but something that has shaped the way I view being a flyer.  I have written numerous times about how much I love instructing, and evaluating has only deepened my love of instruction, but on a much deeper level.

Operation Christmas Drop 2016-  This year I went as the mission planning cell chief and there are few times I have worked so many hours and felt so completely fulfilled by what I have done.  To be very clear, there are a lot of people who did a lot of work to make this operation happen, and it was an honor to be a part of it.  It will be hard to beat the value of this experience in my life.

So there it is.  I am sure I forgot events that I will write about as well.  It seems so short listing them all like this, but I am excited to go back and relive all of these experiences again.  I know it will put a lot of smiles on my face, and I hope that you will find some enjoyment from reading about it.  Thank you for all of your support in the past, and I look forward to your comments in the future.

January 6, 2017 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Lessons Learned: Even the Best Laid Plan Can Completely Fall Apart

Proper planning is essential to the success of any type of flying.  Even if you are just going out for some VFR fun you need to make sure you are prepared for the weather as well as any NOTAMS pertaining to where and what you plan to do.  But as anyone who has flown very much knows, even the best laid plan can quickly fall apart.  That is just the nature of aviation.

A few weeks ago I got to witness just such an occurrence happen to someone else only a day before it happened to me.

A friend of mine had planned for a pretty complex mission involving three aircraft and two parachutists getting off at least six jumps.  She had thought through the situation well and had developed a pretty solid plan to accomplish all of the necessary training in the safest way possible.

As is wont to happen when you fly planes that are more than 40 years old, maintenance issues complicated the execution of the plan.  Ultimately, the plan really fell apart when it was discovered that one simple phone call had not been made and thus precluded any of the jumps from taking place.  That meant that my plan for the next day just got more complicated.

I now had to develop a plan to get those jumps off while still accomplishing all of the other objectives I already had for my flight.  I developed just such a plan and everything was in order to get it done.  The planes were even working well and it looked like it would all go off without a hitch.  Silly me to think that would actually happen.

Occasionally we plan for the day flights to pass off their planes to the night flights without shutting down the engines.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the short version is that it saves a lot of work for our maintainers while still allowing us to get two different groups of flights.

As we stood there waiting for the morning flights to land, two aircraft landed and taxied off while the third plane went around for one more approach.  I hoped that it was not our plane, but it was, so we were left waiting for another ten minutes while the other two crews took over their aircraft and got ready to fly.  The problem with this situation was that my plane was supposed to do the first set of jumps, with the other jumps to follow after.  With my plane taking off a good 15-20 minutes after the time we were supposed to take off, the whole plan had just been tipped upside down.

Fortunately, I work with a bunch of great professionals and we came together to modify the plan in a way that would still get the mission accomplished.  As the mission commander I laid out the new plan with the new times we would utilize and the rest of the formation confirmed the design of the new plan.  There were still a handful of delays and a couple of miscommunications with the air traffic controllers that led to some wasted time, but in the end all of the jumps were accomplished and as much training as possible was completed.

This just reaffirmed the importance of contingency plans when putting together a flight.  Even if you are flying alone it is important to have a plan for when unexpected weather rolls in, or when the engine starts to run a little rough and you need to land quickly.  If these situations have been considered long before takeoff, then they will be far less stressful when they come along.  It will simply be a matter of implementing those solutions that have already been discussed.

The other important reminder from this situation is the value of flying with professionals.  People who take their job seriously will put in the effort needed to be personally prepared to fly.  They will not wait until the day of a flight to look through the pubs, but will study them well beforehand.  They will ask questions of those with more experience and try to learn from their previous mistakes.

One of the greatest benefits of working with experienced professionals is the level of situational awareness that they possess.  As you become more experienced as an aviator you are able to take on more of the situation and better understand the picture around you.  In this case, the crews of the other aircraft were able to look at our delay and understand how that would affect the mission as a whole.  They were able to provide valuable insights to me as the mission commander that made it possible to come up with a solid plan that would work for everyone involved.  They were not simply sharing their opinions for the sake of doing so, but were contributing to a solution.

As a navigator I have a unique role on the flight deck as I have no access to the aircraft controls but I can still do a lot to contribute to the successful flight of our aircraft.  One of the most important things for a Nav to learn is what to say and when to say it.  I could spend an entire flight talking about things and provide no real value to the flight.  On the other hand I could not say much and save the crew in an emergency.  The real value is in what is being said and its value to the mission.

Part of that equation is also in the timing of what we say.  Telling the pilot about your timing situation as he is flaring to land is not a good idea.  The information is important, but not at that time.  It is exactly the same when you are working with a formation.  We often talk about “the good idea fairy” appearing when a plan is presented.  This is when everyone and their dog decides they have a better way of executing your plan and they decide to share it right before execution.  There is nothing wrong with sharing good ideas, but right before take-off is not the time for that, unless of course it will keep the formation more safe.

Planning for a flight is incredibly important, and an essential part of that plan needs to be some sort of contingencies for when the plan starts to break down.  Ideally, you will never have to utilize them, but I can almost guarantee that the flight you decide to plan with a little less detail will be the flight that you needed it most.

November 12, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Lessons Learned: Planning and Executing an 8-Ship Formation

There was much anticipation for me before we took the runway.  Especially because lead had a maintenance issue.

There was much anticipation for me before we took the runway. Especially because lead had a maintenance issue.

It’s been awhile since I did one of these posts, and it certainly isn’t for a lack of learning, but quite the opposite actually.  I’ve actually been a little overwhelmed recently with how much I have learned but I finally have a minute to put some of those thoughts to paper, or keyboard I guess.

The biggest learning that I have done recently took place just after the new year and involved planning and executing an 8-ship formation flight for my squadron.  We ended up with only six planes in the formation because of some maintenance issues, but it was an awesome experience nonetheless.  The maintainers actually deserve a huge amount of credit for getting that many flying considering what they had to do to make it happen.

There is just something about having this much airpower on one runway that gets me excited.

There is just something about having this much airpower on one runway that gets me excited.

I found out about this mission about a month before it was scheduled to take place and got some preliminary planning done before we all left for Christmas.  To the surprise of no one that has served in the Air Force, when we came back from the break, the powers that be changed our plan completely which meant we had a week to put the new plan in place.  I say we because I received a ton of vital help from about a half dozen people who provided guidance and expertise for something that I had never done.  It never would have happened if it weren’t for their help.

That week of planning was probably the most learning I have done in my relatively short career and I am so grateful for it.  With that being said I can’t really describe those lessons I learned because I don’t know how without spending the week that I put into it, besides, it is the flight that is the interesting part for most of you.

Sometimes it takes a little time to get everyone in position...

Sometimes it takes a little time to get everyone in position…

Because we don’t fly with this many planes together very often anymore it took a little work for all of the pilots to get back into the groove of flying with so many planes.  It is not just a matter of putting six planes close to each other, as you have to deal with the turbulence created by the plans in front of you as well as the accordion effect that takes place when you put any large number of moving objects together.  The closer you are to the back of the formation, the more challenging it becomes.

As you can see from some of these pictures it can be really challenging to stay in position in these conditions.  I give all the credit in the world to the pilots, and mine in particular, because they were working hard to stay in formation and keep it tight.  Being in the number five aircraft we had a great view of the formation and it was awesome to watch the ordered chaos come together almost perfectly as we recovered over the airfield.

...But it's pretty sweet once everyone slides into place.

…But it’s pretty sweet once everyone slides into place.

For the second half of the flight we actually planned to split the formation in two with a rendezvous about forty minutes later to bring us back together for the second airdrop.  As the person who had spent 40+ hours planning this thing down to the minute, and reassuring everyone else that it would work, I can’t really explain how excited I was when we reached the rendezvous point and I was able to look out the pilot’s window and see four other C-130s trucking towards us.

My pilot banked the plane up to turn towards them pointing the plane right at the last aircraft in their formation.  Then about a minute later he banked it back up the other direction and we were back together as a complete formation.  With all of the work it took to get there, it was incredibly fulfilling to see it come together so smoothly.

As I said before, there were really way too many lessons that I learned in the planning stage to try and cram them into one post, and most of them would make no sense without being there to experience it.  But, there are still a handful of lessons that came from the flying that can be applied to lots of different types of flying.

It was a huge relief once the flight was over and everyone taxied safely back to parking.

It was a huge relief once the flight was over and everyone taxied safely back to parking.

First is having faith in the people you fly with.  Whether they are sitting in the seat next to you or five planes away in the back of the formation, there is an incredible amount of trust we put in people we fly with.  In the 600+ hours I have in the C-130 I have never once been at the controls, though I do get to steer the plane through the autopilot sometimes, which means that every time I step onto the flight deck I am literally placing my life in the hands of the two pilots at the controls.  On this particular flight I could not have asked for a better pilot.

Second is the saying, “if you don’t use it you lose it”.  As I mentioned previously, I regularly fly with some incredible pilots.  They have flown me into different countries, through mountain valleys, and into dirt landing zones, but even the best pilot loses a little bit when they don’t do something often.  This was apparent during the first part of the flight, but it was equally important to me to see how quickly their proficiency of flying in a larger formation came back.  So for all of you pilots out there make sure that you are challenging yourself and forcing yourself to do things you don’t do often so that you can remain proficient.

For those of you thinking that formation flying is just for military planes, you couldn’t be more wrong.  It takes a matter of seconds to find videos of civilian formation flights on YouTube.  There is even a group of Bonanzas that fly in formation to EAA Airventure at OshKosh together.  If you are looking for something that is incredibly fun, and challenging, then I highly recommend a formation flight.  Make sure that you put in the proper planning though because it is not something to be taken lightly.

To take a look at more of the pictures from the fun we had head over to my friend’s Flickr page.

February 18, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Lessons Learned: Surviving a Murder Board

The problem with having essentially a two-week break from work as a flyer is that you really don’t get to fly either.  I was fortunate enough to get out with my friend in his Piper Cub on Christmas, which was amazing, but mostly just time around the house, and some homework otherwise.

I did have something to look forward to coming back to work this week, but it was a bit of a bitter-sweet thing.  The exciting part of this week is that I get to be part of an 8-ship formation soon.  In years past this would have been a relatively common occurrence, but these days almost all of our flights are only 2-ships, so to get out on an 8-ship is really exciting.

The downside is that I am one of the two main planners so there is a lot of work that goes into it.  We got a great start two weeks ago and had a bunch of stuff prepared only to find out that the powers that be didn’t like our plan, so we changed it to a more vanilla plan.  However, there really is no such thing as a vanilla plan when you are flying with four times as many planes as you usually do.

No worries though as I got a good base of a plan last week with a whole week to put it all together, or so I thought.  I spent most of the last day or so putting the plan together and starting to prepare products and a brief to explain what we were doing.  Then this afternoon we invited a handful of very experienced pilots and navigators that will be flying with us to take part in what we call a “murder board”.  The point of a murder board is to get other people who may not have been involved in the planning process to look at your plan and find anything that may be wrong or just things that need to be reconsidered.

The name and the description make it sound like an incredibly painful process, and it can be if you are stubborn or prideful, but in reality it is an awesome chance to get an outside perspective.  Especially for someone as inexperienced as me, it is an opportunity to learn from the people who have been there and done that.  Though it can lead to massive amounts of work, or in other words what I will be doing until we actually fly.

Please don’t mistake this for a complaint, as I do genuinely appreciate the feedback.  It is something that can be valuable in many different arenas, and even in civilian flying.  While the vast majority of civilian flying is likely not as complex as an 8-ship military formation, part of the fun of any flying is trying new things.  But, trying new things can also be a challenge if the plan is not thought through well enough.

Most of these poor plans can be traced back to a few common phrases, “Watch this!”, “I bet you can’t do…”, and the most dangerous “Hold my beer.”  There is nothing wrong with trying new things and challenging yourself, but it should be done in the right way.  If you want to get into aerobatics, take a class.  If you want to fly across the country, plan it out thoroughly like Bill Harrelson’s trip around the world.  If you want to land on small landing strips practice where you have extra room, and then when you are ready go for it.

One of the best things you can do is to get feedback from others with more experience.  Anything from building a plane to getting a new rating can be done better with help from those who are more experienced than you.  They can help you see things you never considered, and provide insight when you come across a problem where you see no answer.

One of the great things about military flying is that you can’t just rest on your laurels because they expect you to learn new things and progress through higher ratings and certifications.  It can be challenging at times, but as I said, it is important to find new challenges in all aspects of your flying.

So the real lesson to be learned here is to be open to feedback from other people.  If they are just being a jerk then nod and smile and then move on.  However, the vast majority of my experiences have been that they are just trying to help you get better.  That is one of the awesome things about people in aviation, for the most part they just want to help.  So don’t be afraid to not only accept feedback, but actively pursue it, because that is the only way to reach your full potential as a flyer.

January 6, 2015 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.