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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.