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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.

My Heart was Stolen by a Piper Cherokee

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I made the decision to finally finish up my Private Pilot Certificate. With as much as I love flying and airplanes, it was a more difficult decision than you may think, so let me give you the condensed backstory.

I have wanted to be a pilot my entire life, and through college I did a few small things that would take me in that direction, but I never got it done. After I got married I started working on my certificate, but it quickly became far too expensive and very unrealistic. (On that note, picking a flight school and instructor is a hugely important decision. Please don’t make the same mistake I did and pick the wrong school and end up putting it off for ten years.)

With 7.5 hours in hand I pretty much gave up on becoming a pilot for the time. Life events led me to take a chance at becoming a pilot in the Air Force, but instead I was selected as a navigator. While I was disappointed at the time, I have enjoyed the last 6 years immensely. During my training I logged another 14 or so of student time which actually got me halfway to the certificate, but not there yet.

As life does to many of us, it got in the way and there were simply other priorities. I would like to tell you I should have just sucked it up and done it then, and to be fair I likely could have made different financial decisions and gotten to this point sooner, but the reality is I didn’t and no one is to blame, it was just a choice I made.

Fast forward to about a month ago and I was told that my Guard unit would be having a pilot board for the Navigators in the unit. Initially I didn’t plan on applying because I was continuing to make excuses about being too old, and not wanting to spend more time in training in AETC (Adults Eternally Treated as Children, lol) which is the Air Force command that oversees all training.

One day I asked my boss if I was being stupid to not even apply and he immediately said yes I was. He gave me a bunch of very practical reasons which I could not disagree with. Still not convinced I called a dear friend who is currently in pilot training after having gone through Nav training with me 6 years ago. We spent about an hour talking about the practical reasons to become a pilot like potentially going to an airline someday and simply getting two more years of active duty orders. I finally told him to just tell me what to do, which he declined to do.

The next day I was out flying my beloved Herc and when I landed there was a message from my friend that simply said “Do it.” Surprised by his sudden willingness to tell me what to do I called him to find out why the change of heart. His response is what has led me to this day. He said,

“Dave, for as long as I have known you, you have wanted to be a pilot. Why would you now not even try to do what you have always dreamed of doing?”

Just typing those words again gets me excited. I had spent a bunch of time talking to multiple people about the practical reasons to do it, and they do play an important role in the decision, but what I really needed, and wanted, was to have someone call me on my BS so that I would stop making excuses and do something about my dreams. I will forever be indebted to Brian for being the one to push me out of my comfortable seat and pursue my dreams.

While there is nothing saying I have to get my pilot certificate to apply for the pilot board in my unit, there are two reasons I decided to do it anyway. The first is that I want to distinguish myself from the others applying, because we are all very similar in many ways. The second reason is that this was the opportunity I needed where there was enough incenvtive for my wife to let me take on the financial burden. Thanks sweetie.

Life is still such that I couldn’t just go the next day and start flying, but I was committed to finding a way to make it happen. With the help of a good tax return, and the support of my incredible wife, I came up with a plan to make it happen. The only thing stopping me when I got back from a trip for work was weather, and wouldn’t you know we had the two biggest snow storms of the year within days of my return.

Since I am no longer in the excuses business, all I can say is that I had to start a few days later, but the scenery all covered in white looks spectacular from the air.

Yesterday, I finally did it and got back up in the air. I spent 2.6 hours in a stunning 1964 Piper Cherokee, and she has completely stolen my heart. We had a few rough spots on that first day, but overall, it was the most incredible feeling. I really can’t even put into words how excited I am right now.

As you might expect after 6 years away from flying, I was a bit rusty on some maneuvers, but for the most part it all went pretty well. For my own personal accountability these are some of the areas I struggled with:

Using the rudder consistently

Transitioning from descent to touchdown on landing

Holding a steady sight picture when doing steep turns

Getting deep into the stalls and not just recovering at the first buffet

Fortunately, I ended the day on my best landing and I put some of the pieces together that my CFI had been telling me to finish on a high note. It was also the first work I had done at a non-towered field, but my past experience certainly helped me out in that area.

All in all it was just such an incredible first flight back at it. As I mentioned in my last post, my goal is to finish by the end of the month, whether that means I am done in time for the board or not. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that will stop me is weather, or scheduling issues. I refuse to not take control of the things I want in life, and continue to believe that every one else is what is keeping me from pursuing my dreams instead of just myself.

If there is anything I can do to support you in your dreams, even if it is just moral support, please don’t hesitate to ask because helping each other out is the way of avgeeks, and the only way we are going to grow this amazing industry.

March 6, 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.