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Earning the Title of Pilot

Have you ever wanted something your whole life?  Something that you have thought about pretty much everyday for as long as you can remember?  Something that you have always wanted to do, but always made excuses as to why you couldn’t?  Something that you actually started once, but then those excuses came rushing back in so you quit?  Something you actually convinced yourself would never really happen, but it sure was a nice dream to have for 30+ years?

But then you actually did it?

Such was my journey to becoming a pilot.  I have written about most of the journey in previous posts so I won’t dive in too deep, but before I talk about the hill that I finally reached the top of, I would not be telling the whole story if I didn’t share the struggles to get there.  If you would like to skip the struggle scroll about halfway down the page, past the picture, and you will get to hear about my checkride.

All of the questions that I wrote above were real life for me for more than three decades.  I would beat myself down and say it could never happen.  I would make excuses and blame everyone else for it not happening.  I would get really excited and motivated only to toss aside the dream the very next day.  I would say I wanted to do it so bad only to waste money on games or stuff or even just food.

To be very clear, these were all choices that I made.  Some of them I don’t regret one bit, like stopping flying when my daughter was born and we simply couldn’t afford it, but if I am being honest with myself, I wasn’t willing to do what it would take to actually get it done.  What that means is very different for everybody.

Some people are fortunate enough to be born into money or through some other means get their ratings paid for.  Others work multiple jobs, clean planes, sweep hangars, give up all of their free time and can barely squeak out a rating every year or two.  Still others decide to take on the debt and just go for it with that airline dream to pay it back later.

On that note we all do it for different reasons.  Some people do it to get to the airlines, others to fly in airshows, some to chase that $100 hamburger.  The reasons are endless, and it really doesn’t matter what your reason is, as long as it gets you where you want to go.  Your reasons may even change over time, and that is okay too.

So what finally pushed me to get it done?

I don’t really know for sure.  It definitely wasn’t one thing, but I can think of a few things that probably led to it happening.  In the last 9 months or so I have started listening to a handful of podcasts that relate to business and self-improvement and one aviation related one.  As I listened to all of these shows I was always blown away by how many incredibly successful people started later in life, or made huge commitments to stuff like Law School only to never practice law but instead be a comedian or a writer or some other job with no formal education needed.

It didn’t really matter where they had started, or where they had ended up, but the one theme that seemed common throughout them all was that they weren’t happy with where they were so they decided to do something that would make them happy.  Forget everyone else who told them they couldn’t, or that they were crazy, or that they would regret it.  In many cases they gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars to live on next to nothing, but they were happy because their life was filled with what they wanted to do.

I am sure that you can find just as many people with similar stories who failed as succeeded, but I have great respect for all of them, because at least they tried.  They saw something in their life they didn’t like and decided to try something new.  Even if they didn’t find success in the new venture they learned and grew and had a story to tell.  How boring will life be if the only story you have to tell is about the inside of a cubicle?

My apologies if it feels like I am digressing a little, but these were all of the thoughts swirling around in my brain when I finally said I truly didn’t care what I had to sacrifice, I am going to pursue my dream no matter what.  With any luck maybe it will inspire one person to realize they are not unique in having doubts and yes they actually can do it.

I had a plan to use a big chunk of my tax return to knock it out quickly, which lasted as long as it took the weather to ruin that plan.  It ended up taking a little more than three months, and I did take on some credit card debt to get it finished, but I don’t regret it one bit.  I still recommend getting it done as close together as possible since that does make a difference.  Having as much of the money together up front is also a good plan for the same reason, but don’t wait for everything to be perfect, because it never will be.  There will always be an excuse and somewhere else to spend your time and money.  That’s okay if you go a different direction, we all have different passions and flying isn’t for everyone.

The chariot that took me to a fulfilled dream.

Enough of me blabbering on about feelings and stuff.  Let me tell you about my checkride in the hopes that maybe you can learn from my mistakes and gain hope for your checkride(s).

I showed up to the airport about an hour before the scheduled checkride.  My CFI had the plane all clean and ready to go with logbooks in hand.  I should also mention that I did a mock checkride a few days before with my CFI’s brother Zakk who is also a CFI and regional pilot.  There wasn’t much on the flying side that was improved on that flight, but the time he spent asking me questions about the plane and other stuff felt invaluable to me and my comfort level.  While much of it was not asked about, the peace of mind it gave me was well worth the time.  If you have the time I would highly recommend having a CFI that hasn’t flown with you go up for a quick ride to get an outside perspective.

After a good thorough pre-flight I taxied over to the fuel pit and filled her up before tying her down and heading inside to meet the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).  It was at this point that we discovered two issues.  My CFI needed to recommend me for my checkride online, and I had done an electronic flight plan but not a paper one.  With a little bit of luck, and 7 years of making flight plans, we were able to get both of them taken care of and I was only a few minutes late meeting my DPE.

After getting through some of the admin and introductions we went through the logbooks, where I looked like an idiot staring at the page with the transponder inspection while my eyes refused to see where it actually said it.  I chalk that one up to checkride jitters.  I’m not sure what to chalk the next question up to once we got talking about flying, because I had a complete brain dump once again.  At this point I was a little worried, but he quickly moved on and I got on a roll.  There was nothing that he asked that was a surprise after studying the ASA Oral Exam Guide, which I highly recommend.  $12 very well spent.

I still struggled through a few questions just because I wasn’t exactly sure what he was asking.  Once we clarified a little back and forth I was able to answer all of his questions except one (I will now never forget that the plane prevents itself from exceeding its load factor by stalling).  The oral part of the checkride was actually faster and smoother than I expected it to be after the first few questions.  He then gave me a quick brief on what to expect on the flight and we stepped out to the plane.

When we got to the plane he did a quick walk around himself and asked a few questions about the plane including asking if a lower pressure on one tire was normal, which it was in this case.  We then jumped in the plane and kicked off the flying portion.  I gave a good thorough passenger brief which is something I wish I had started doing earlier with my CFI so it would have been more in my habit pattern, then we started her up and headed for the runway.

I have the habit of talking myself through what I am doing including my thoughts when I am in this type of situation which may or may not be a good thing.  It shows that you are considering all different types of things, but it also opens you up to saying something wrong and leading to more questions that never would have been asked if you kept your mouth shut.  For me, I also don’t like silence, and a good examiner will not say much so the talking helps keep me more relaxed.

As we rolled onto the runway I got a little excited, and I said what I say on pretty much every flight I took in preparation for this day, “Let’s do this!”  It is kind of a silly thing, but it reminds me how much fun this is supposed to be.  In my excitement to get in the air, I tried to rotate too early, and the plane didn’t want to fly.  I relaxed a little, let it build up some speed, and we lifted off without further issue.

We headed out to the West on the first leg of the cross-country I planned, which did not take long to show I knew what I was doing.  I guess the millions of dollars the Air Force has spent on teaching me to flight plan and navigate has been money well spent.  Once we had climbed up and found some clear air, which was abundant on a gorgeous Summer morning in the Reno area, we proceeded to go through all of the maneuvers.  Stalls, steep turns, unusual attitude recovery, engine out, using the foggles, etc.  The whole thing went really well other than slow flight.  I went to full flaps, and I did it too quickly.  This led to me being unable to maintain altitude like I wanted.  I was in control the whole time, but descended more than I would have liked before slowly climbing back up to altitude.

A great lesson for anyone who has not done a checkride before is to not evaluate yourself.  If you do something less than perfect then push it out of your mind and move on.  Dwelling on the past will only make the rest of the ride go worse.  Having had my fair share of checkrides, as well as giving a fair number as well, I pushed it aside and kept flying the plane, which is the most important thing you can do.

With all of the maneuvers complete we headed back to Stead to take care of my landings.  I opted for my soft field first probably because I was more scared about the short field landing and my tendency to float and I hoped that getting a good one in first would help calm my nerves a little.  I came around high as usual and took advantage of the opportunity to get my slip in.  Still one of my favorite things to do in a small plane.  As it turns out my soft field landing was not incredibly soft, but I got it down safely, and we taxied back for my soft field take-off, which went much more smoothly.

I flew around the pattern more nervous than I had been on the rest of the flight, especially after my less than stellar soft field.  As we came in for the short field I was actually a little low and drug in which is incredibly unusual for me as I am almost always pretty high.  I was also a little fast, and just as we came over the threshold I let the wind push me to the side of the runway so I decided to go around.  Something else that you shouldn’t forget when you show up for your checkride.  If you have a bad approach to landing without a DPE you would go around, why wouldn’t you do it with the DPE?  I have a friend that told me he went around five times on his checkride because he was so nervous, but he still passed.

The second time we came around the whole thing felt much more normal, or in other words high, but in this case normal proved to be the right place to be, and I put it down near the back of the zone, but still inside of it.  A good firm application of the breaks and retracting the flaps and he told me to taxi off the runway.  As I maneuvered the plane down the runway towards the midfield taxiway the DPE said some of the sweetest words I have ever heard from another man, “Well, if you don’t crash on the way to parking then you passed.”

Just thinking about those words makes me pause for a minute.

I did successfully navigate back to parking where he shook my hand and told me congratulations.  The next half an hour or so finishing up paperwork and putting the plane to bed are all a little fuzzy to me now as I think back on it.  But the feeling of finally achieving something that I had wanted for so long is something that I will never forget.  I was finally, officially, a pilot.

I will share a few things he debriefed me on, again in the hopes of helping someone else.  One of the reasons my landings were not great is that I was landing with a tailwind.  I checked the weather on the way in and picked the correct runway, but while we were in the pattern the wind shifted which only made it harder on myself, so keep the windsock in your cross check.  There is no need to go to full flaps for slow flight, at least in a Cherokee.  The maneuver can be performed with other flap settings as long as you are safely getting to the correct speeds.  Don’t forget the little power bump before touchdown on a soft field landing, it really makes all the difference in how soft it will be.

The biggest lesson that I would like to share to help those who may be nervous is that you don’t have to be perfect.  I completely missed some of the questions he asked me on the ground.  My slow flight descended too much, my soft field landing was in his words, “not soft”, but I still passed.  At the end of the day he told me that he feels comfortable that I will handle a plane safely in the future, which is the whole point of the checkride.  You aren’t held to commercial pilot standards, they just want to make sure you will be safe and smart in the air, that’s it. It is often said that the Private Pilot Certificate is simply a license to learn, and I am even more excited to learn now than I was before.  Now to convince my wife to let me pursue an instrument rating.

I’m not sure if it is better or worse that I waited to write this post until a few weeks after it actually happened, but the whole thing is still very surreal to me.  I haven’t been able to get back up since the checkride courtesy of work, life, and some things I put off to finish my certificate, but I look forward to taking my sons and daughters up in the near future, as well as my sweet wife who sacrificed just as much during this time.

There is one other reason that I finally pursued this dream that I left out earlier.  If I am being honest with myself, it is probably the biggest reason, and the one that pushed me all the way to the end when it took longer than I hoped, I wasn’t as good at first as I hoped, and when the money ran out and I had to take on some debt.  I really wanted to show my kids that they can follow their dreams too.  It doesn’t matter how long you wait, or how hard it is, when you truly commit to your dream, you can get there.  I don’t know if any of my kids will love planes as much as I do, I hope they will, but if nothing more comes of this than showing my kids that they can follow their dreams, then the whole thing was worth it.

July 17, 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.

My PPL Checkride is in 9 Hours

I had originally intended to write a whole post about this and my preparations for this day that I have been anticipating for 30+ years. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it often does, and I think a good night’s rest is more important so this will be shorter than I had hoped.

I just finished going through my log book to make sure all of my times were accurate and complete. I got a brief from the flight service station that confirmed what Foreflight and my eyes already showed: it is going to be gorgeous weather tomorrow.

I rechecked my weight and balance along with drawing my route of flight on my paper chart. I took one last look through my study guide and have run through A TOMATO FLAMES, ARROW, and FLAPS about a thousand times in my head, so hopefully I won’t forget about the Mag compass tomorrow like I always do.

The crazy thing is that I don’t really feel that nervous. I have had plenty of checkrides in the Air Force so that probably helps. There is still some uncertainty of what the DPE will dig into on the ground, but I feel pretty good about the whole thing.

I don’t know that this is providing any value for anyone other than myself as it is helping clear my head before I go to sleep, and I am probably only doing it so that people will say good luck and make me feel better about myself.

To those of you out there that are pursuing the same path, at whatever stage you may be, stay the course, because it is totally worth it. I may be singing a different tune if it goes poorly tomorrow, but I doubt it. The sucky thing is I won’t even get to drink my sorrows away, or celebrate for that matter, because I don’t drink. Lol

Wish me luck!

June 21, 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.

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 now completed all of the time I need with an instructor.

After knocking out about half 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.

The Doubleheader of Flying Act 2: Flying the Canyons, and Then Flying Solo

I really wish that I could just spend my whole life flying, writing articles about flying, and working on videos about flying. At the very least I wish I was better at making the time to get all of my thoughts out right after they happen, because it has been a minute since this day, and I know I have forgotten some of the things I wanted to share. Maybe I should just type out outlines right after the fact to help me remember. That being said, some aspects of this day I know I will never forget.

After a couple of good flights the day before, I was feeling super excited about getting back into the plane again for some more fun flying. On this day I was only there to help another experienced Nav get recurrent because he had been away from the unit for awhile. The nice thing about these types of flights is that I don’t have to be super involved because he already knows what he is doing, I am just there to make it legal again. The downside of these flights is that I don’t have to be super involved because he already knows what he is doing, and I just really love to instruct.

Fortunately, we were going out to fly a really fun route through the mountains. This route is one of the reasons that I wanted to come back to Reno and fly so bad after flying it during the AMATS course I attended a few years back. Not having a needy student did let me enjoy the route a little more, which is never something to complain about. Again, I wish I was done with the video I am trying to make so you can get an idea of how fun it is, but time is kicking my butt right now.

Just imagine cruising through the valleys of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at about 500 feet, with snow covered peaks all around you, going 230 knots, in a big huge plane, with a big cheesy grin on your face. That is what I call living.

Other than the joy that is flying in this area, there was not a lot of remarkable stuff that happened, so I will move on to the really exciting part of the day.

After we were done flying and debriefing, I confirmed with my CFI that he was still good to fly that night, and then tried to focus on work for the last hour or two that I had before leaving. Admittedly, it was a pretty strong mix of emotions as I was incredibly excited about the prospect of flying in a plane all by myself for the very first time, while at the same time realizing that if something happened, I would be all by myself and have to take care of it accordingly.

When I finally got out to the airport I was greeted by my CFI and handed a small stack of papers that he said I needed to fill out before we could go fly. I had stumbled across this pre-solo test in some of my studying, and my stomach immediately sunk as I didn’t feel like I knew all of the material well enough to possibly pass and be able to go fly that night. I was seriously sad inside.

We headed over to the little mission planning room the airport has and I started working on it while he was checking out my logbook, and I was right that I didn’t know a bunch of the answers, at least not as well as I thought I should. With the sun heading towards the Western horizon I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about my chances of flying that night, but then my CFI got tired of waiting and started to go through the remaining questions orally. I knew a lot of the information, but it was also a valuable learning experience with some of the other information. Apparently I did well enough because after we got through the questions he picked up his stuff and said, “Let’s go do this.”

I ran into the bathroom for one more pit stop, I am a stress potty user, what can I say, and then followed him out to the plane. We jumped in like usual, started up, and headed over to the runway. I did a normal run-up and pulled onto the runway. When we took off, the plane practically jumped off the runway. In contrast to the last flight where it had been warm and the gas tanks were full, it was now cooling off in the evening and the tanks were comparatively empty, since we wouldn’t be going very far.

We did two patterns after which he told me to go ahead and exit the runway to drop him off on the taxiway. As we pulled off the runway and he opened the door to get out I asked him if he had a handheld radio or anything, to which he laughed a little and said, “Nope, it’s all you.” Then he jumped out and closed and locked the door. Once he was well clear of the plane I released the breaks and started taxiing back down to the end of the runway.

As I was taxiing down it was an incredibly awkward feeling to be in the plane all by myself. I took a moment to say a little prayer just asking to be able to perform to the level I knew that I was capable, and to be able to have some fun. When I got to the intersection where I would be taking off from I stopped for a minute and just took a few deep breaths before making my radio call and entering the runway.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W taking runway 32 for departure, staying in the pattern, Stead traffic.”

I put a little power in and pulled onto the runway, lined up on centerline, and then pushed the power all the way in. If I thought the plane jumped off the runway before, it practically exploded off with 250ish pounds less in it now. Before I knew it I was turning crosswind and shooting right through pattern altitude because I was not used to the plane climbing so fast. I quickly recovered and came back down as I turned downwind and prepared myself mentally for the part that had scared me only a few weeks before.

As I came abeam the threshold I pulled some power and dropped in the first click of flaps. At this point in the pattern you fly out of a little pond which doesn’t bother me because of the water, but because of birds that I had often seen out there. Fortunately the air was clear as I turned base, dropped the second click of flaps, and called on the radio.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W turning base, runway 32, Stead traffic.”

As I normally am, I was a little high, but since that was normal, I knew how to handle it and bled off some airspeed to help me get down. One more click of flaps, and one last radio call.

“Stead traffic, Cherokee 14W final, runway 32, Stead traffic.”

Deep breath, I’ve done this a bunch of times, including two smooth ones just minutes before. Aiming for the numbers, since I always float it. A couple final turns of trim to take some pressure away. VASI looks pretty good. Over the displaced threshold. Crossing the threshold, chop the power. Little back pressure right as I enter ground effect. Keep that pressure back. Just a little more back on the yoke.

Squeak.

I did it, I flew a plane all by myself for the very first time.

After a moment or enjoyment I recomposed myself, raised the flaps, put the power back in, and lifted off for my second pattern. One again I shot off the ground, but this time I was ready for it and leveled off just prior to turning downwind.

After what was an uneventful pattern, I made my second landing and entered my third pattern. As I was turning base I saw a few birds above me, but I used the Force and kept them from dive bombing me. I touched down after the third landing with my smoothest approach and transition yet. Afterwords, my CFI said he didn’t even hear the last one squeak.

As I taxied down the runway to retrieve my CFI, which also took longer because I slowed down so fast being so light, I couldn’t help but yell and scream a bit from excitement! I am not generally an overtly emotional guy, but I was so completely pumped that I couldn’t resist.

This is another one of the moments that I struggle to actually find the words for. I have wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember, and for the first time, I actually felt like one. The completely liberating experience that it was is really incomparable. I have always sort of felt this way every time I fly, but this was an order of magnitude greater.

Taxiing back to the hangar I probably sounded giddy as a schoolboy, but I don’t care. It was only a 0.4 by myself, but I honestly feel changed. I am paraphrasing the quote that is attributed to da Vinci, but once I have tasted the freedom of flying I will always look heavenward because that is where my heart longs to be.

I really can’t say it enough, if you haven’t ever flown in a small plane, go and do it. Once I get my certificate I will be happy to take anyone and everyone that I have the time for up. This is just too amazing experience to not share with everyone.

On that note, you should check out the Flying Cowboys YouTube channel, and in particular the #flywithmefriday segment where Cory takes up people who have never flown in a small airplane before. It is inspiring.

I am actually going to take my written test tomorrow morning, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I feel like I am getting so close that I can actually taste it. I am actually going to become a pilot!

April 12, 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.

Cross Country Flying, Foggles, and Short Field Takeoffs and Landings

As you hopefully saw in my last post with an incredible video of some amazing mountain flying, I finally got back in the air earlier this week, and was rewarded with a fantastic flight.  Fortunately, the weather is finally turning Spring-like here, and my flying day didn’t end after work.  I was able to hustle over to the other local airport for some more flight training.

On the agenda for today was a little cross-country to get us out of the local area.  My CFI told me to just plan however I normally would, and then we would adjust from there.  Initially, I didn’t think much of it because planning for flights is literally what I do for a living.  However, when I sat down to do some simple flight planning (only about 50 miles away) I was genuinely at a loss.

You see normally I just plug all of my information into the computer and then it prints out a nice little flight log for me.  I have the ability to do it by hand, but even then it is over hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and while the principles are the same, the dynamics are a little different.  I did put together a simple little flight log, only to find out upon arrival at the airport that there is an actual VFR flight log that is commonly used.

Different awesome plane than the morning, but still the same incredible weather. How could you not love this?

When I got a good look at it after the flight, I saw that it really isn’t that different from what I use on a regular basis, and it would have really helped in planning the flight.  All of that aside, we had enough information to still make the flight safely, so we proceeded onward.

The biggest thing of note on departure was how poorly the plane was climbing.  While I have experienced this regularly in a C-130, the effects of high, hot, and heavy on a small plane is even more dramatic.  Our tanks were about two-thirds full, my CFI and I are not small men, the airport sits at about 5,000 feet, and as I mentioned, it was the warmest day I had experienced since starting back to flying.  We were still able to safely climb out, but the combination of all of the above was definitely noticeable.

Upon getting to altitude we were in range of the VORTAC we would be navigating towards so it was time to put on the foggles for the first time.  Now I was not overly concerned about the navigation aspects of flying, because after all that is what I do for a living.  The difference in this case is that I only had a VOR as opposed to the two VORs, two TACANS, two INUs, GPS, and Self Contained Navigation System, or SCNS, that brings it all together for me.

Man did I feel stupid.

I got it figured out eventually, but I had certainly overestimated how easy it would be for me.  It was a good reminder that I really need to put in the extra time and effort to make sure that I am prepared for the rest of this training, or quite simply, I will fail.  This was a common lesson on this flight.

Enroute to the VORTAC we started to discuss descent points as we were about 4500′ above our destination, and it turned out the VORTAC would be a good descent point.  Getting to that conclusion proved to be another reminder that I don’t have all the same tools I am used to, and the brain disconnect switch, otherwise known as the pilot’s seat, was in full force.  I have taught this principle to numerous students, but when it came time for me to do it in the plane I drew a blank.  Eventually it came around and we were able to descend without any real issue.

As we approached Fallon Municipal Airport (KFLX) we discussed the fact that the airport sits right on the edge of NAS Fallon airspace, which you may or may not know is the current home of Top Gun so we needed to be on the lookout for fighters, and Tom Cruise.  I mean, you never know.

It was also worth noting that the runway is a little shorter and more narrow than at Stead where I had done most of my landings, so we discussed the optical illusion of feeling like I was higher than I actually was.  No worries though, and I landed relatively smoothly, and we taxied off just to get a momentary break, and set up for the next training event, short field takeoffs.

We dropped the flaps to 25 as we pulled onto the runway, stopping as soon as we made the turn to centerline, stomped down on the breaks, and ran the power to full.  Refraining from putting back pressure that would increase drag, I was impressed with how quickly the plane accelerated to a safe takeoff speed, especially considering how much of a pig it was climbing earlier.  We popped off the ground, and once we reached Vx we climbed over our 50 foot obstacle, transitioned to Vy and as the speed came up got rid of the flaps.  It was no C-130 assault takeoff, but it was still pretty fun.

In order to ever need to takeoff from a short field, you must first land there.  So we came around for a short field landing, with full flaps, aiming for brick one, and keeping it nice and slow to minimize the ground roll.  As I have a tendency to still float it a little, I was pretty proud of myself for how close to the threshold I actually put it down.  It was a little firmer than I would have liked, but my instructor pointed out that they are expected to be a little more firm in general.  It is amazing to me how many of the principles never change between small GA aircraft like this beloved Cherokee, and the C-130 and what we do.  I am yet to bounce a landing, but it happens relatively often in the C-130 when we are doing assault landings, which are really just short field landings.

After having a good landing, I had to get one more, so after one more smooth pattern, we headed back for Stead utilizing the same VORTAC, and those super fun foggles.  I can personally attest to their uselessness as sunglasses, as we were flying West into the sunset and I had to duck below the cowling to even be able to see my instruments.  This leg proved to be much more effective on the VOR while climbing out to clear the mountains between us and home.

One of the first incredible sunsets of the spring that you get here in the high desert. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

Upon arriving back at Reno-Stead, we decided to do a few more patterns before the sun set.  All went well, and as we taxied off the runway my CFI pointed out that I had done 7 smooth landings without him even thinking about touching the controls, so the next time we flew I was going to be going solo.

SOLO!

Based on the crappy landings I had performed for the first few flights I will admit that the thought was both exciting and terrifying.  I knew it was the next major step in my progression, but I also have seen enough videos of idiots jacking it up that I didn’t want to end up on YouTube.  But for the moment I would simply enjoy the compliment on my landings as we taxied back to the hangar and put her to bed.

All in all, it was an amazing way to end an awesome day of flying.  I really couldn’t think of a much better way to spend a day than flying all over the place.  Possibly even more exciting to me was that I had the same thing planned for the next two days as well.  As you will see in the coming posts, I did a whole lot of learning, and had a whole lot of fun.

March 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.

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.

Becoming a Pilot: Getting Better Each Time You Fly

It is always amazing to me how much of a mental aspect there is in everything that we do in life. We spend so much time talking about skills and abilities, but in the past we pretty much ignored the mental aspects. Fortunately, we are starting to realize how important the mental side is as well.

As I went out for my second flight in the Cherokee, I was a little down on myself because I was struggling so much with landing. It is kind of an important part of flying so I think that added to my frustration.

For this flight we ran through the maneuvers and then headed over to KRNO for some visual patterns there. It was fun to be at a towered field as all of the other work we had done was at the non-towered Stead Airport. I am grateful for all of the time I have in the C-130 to help with all of the radio aspects of flying. I can see it being a ton harder if I was also having to learn that.

After a few patterns I was finally starting to get some relatively smooth landings. Both my CFI and I both realized that the sight picture I was familiar with was in a C-130 where we fly significantly faster and I am also sitting much higher. This was causing me to flare high, float it, and land too firmly.

Once we made that connection I forced myself to push through the ground rush and my landings got even better. Coming back over to Stead, my first landing was a little off adjusting back to the shorter runway, but the second landing was my best one yet.

I was on speed the whole time, I pulled power on-time, flared nicely, and smoothly touched down. We wisely stopped on a winner landing and put the old girl to bed.

We then went back and filled out my information for my student license. Along with my medical I got yesterday, I am finally seeing the reality of becoming a pilot, and I am almost shaking typing those words because I am so excited.

It was just amazing to me the difference it made in analyzing what I was doing and how quickly it could be corrected once we diagnosed it. No matter what you are doing, understanding the mental aspects will always make you better.

I also wanted to share how cool it has been flying around the Stead airport. My CFI owns his plane with his brother so they are a very small “school”, but they seem to know everyone around the airport. On the radios he is constantly talking to people he knows and talking about their planes and where they are flying. It is really one of the best parts of aviation, the community.

On our way out to the practice area, a buddy of his pulled up in his Kit Fox and we flew near each other for a few minutes chatting and just enjoying the wonder of flight. With the snow covered mountains all around us, I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could not absolutely love flying. It is the most incredible, empowering experience I have ever had.

I think the thing that is getting me the most excited about all of this experience is the community I am finally tapping into. If you haven’t been out to your local airfield recently, get out there and make some friends. As awesome as the planes are, it is the people that truly make aviation special.

March 8, 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.