Monday, May 28, 2007

Jeffrey's and Cassidy's First Flight

Our kids have been begging me to take them flying since I became a private pilot. I finally got the chance to do so this weekend. Our youngest, Piper, could not go because I did not have an FAA-approved car seat, so I took our older two: Jeffrey and Cassidy. This was their first time flying in a small plane. For Cassidy, it was her first time flying ever!

My wife took a picture of the kids as I performed the pre-flight:

I think they were a little nervous; but once we we're in the air, they we're loving it!

We flew north towards Lake Lanier. On our way, I made sure we flew over our house and neighborhood so that they could see it from the air. They were amazed! Jeffrey could not believe we we're already over Buford in less than 5 minutes after taking off. We did a few circles over Lake Lanier and then headed over to Winder.

At Winder, I did a touch-and-go followed by a full-stop landing. I taxied back and departed towards KLZU. After we landed, Cassidy said she definitely wanted to learn to fly. They both looked like they had just come out of an amusement park!

My wife was a little jealous because I flew the kids around for about an hour whereas she only got to fly for 30 minutes on our lunch trip. I told her that there's always more time to fly in the future! Besides, Piper's first flight is next!

Monday, April 16, 2007

First passenger

Now that I'm officially a private pilot, my first mission was to take my first non-pilot passenger on a short flight. That first passenger was my wife of course!

We decided on a simple flight over to Winder for lunch. My wife, Brandy, took our camera so that she could take pictures from the airplane. I've included some of the pictures here:

Brandy takes a picture of Runway 25 at KLZU (Gwinnett County airport) as we begin our takeoff roll.

This is a photo as we fly past Lawrenceville and over Dacula.

Brandy takes a picture as we're on final approach Runway 23 at Winder (KWDR).

Almost there!...

We land successfully -- and smoothly according to Brandy! She was impressed with my flying skills. I've passed my final test!

We taxiied over to the ramp in front of the restaurant, and then went inside for lunch. As we ate, I watched the cumulus clouds growing in the sky. I figured that the ride back may be a little bumpy. After all, it was getting towards the middle of the afternoon on a warm day.

After lunch, I took a quick look over the airplane and started taxiing back to the runway. After taking off, we turned west to head back home. Brandy took another photo as we passed over Winder and Dacula:

I should note that this was Brandy's first flight in a small airplane. She did great! She was a little afraid because of the tight quarters, but being up in the vast sky eased her fears.

I'm looking forward to cross-country trips with Brandy in the future. For the next flight, I promised to take the kids.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Check-ride

I passed! Now I am officially a Private Pilot.

The last few days have been pretty stressful. Over the weekend I filled out my application online at the IACRA site. This helps by processing the certification faster than by mail. It was nice to have all of my logbook entries online at I was able to get the calculations needed much faster.

Yesterday, I had to plan the cross country required including weight and balance calculations. It was a long day because I was up at 4am to support a new software installation for my job. I worked until 2pm yesterday, and then attempted to get some sleep. An hour later I was up again. I spent the rest of the night preparing the cross-country and the weight and balance calculations.

The cross-country had three legs: Madison County Executive (MDQ) to Nashville International (BNA) to Chattanooga (CHA) and back to Madison County. I knew that I would not have to fly the cross-country; however, I planned it just as if I was really going to take the trip. It took me a few hours to plan everything to the 'T'. I wanted to make sure everything looked great for the examiner. I then prepared the weight and balance calculations for each leg. By the time I was done and getting ready for bed, it was almost Midnight. I was hoping to be done and relax for an hour or so before "hitting the sack" at 10pm that night. Unfortunately that did not happen.

The next morning I was out of bed by 7am. I checked the weather and saw something I did not want to see: strong gusty winds. I hoped for the best and left in time to arrive at LZU by 9am. Usually it takes 15 to 20 minutes to get to LZU from my house, but this morning it took 45 minutes due to construction. When I arrived, I noticed that the Cessna 172R I rented for my check-ride was not on the ramp. In the office I saw that someone had rented the plane and would not be returning it until 10am. My instructor and I had planned on being in the air at 10am.

My instructor arrived at 9:40am. We collected all of the items needed for our trip and waited for the plane to come back. By 10am, the renter had not returned the airplane. Now I was getting worried about being late. We added some padding to the time for just such unexpected situations. My check-ride was scheduled for 1:00pm Central Time. We figured that the flight out to MDQ would take an hour and a half, so we needed to depart by 11am. Finally, the renter arrived with the airplane. We checked out the airplane, verified that we had everything needed, and headed out to MDQ.

By this time my stress level was high, I had little sleep, and was worried about the strong winds. After reaching our cruising altitude of 4,500 feet, we used the GPS to set our course and activated the autopilot. With the autopilot flying the plane, I relaxed a little while just concentrating on watching out for traffic and looking at the scenery. Our ground speed was only 90 knots or so due to the strong headwinds.

On the way over, we found that one of the VOR instruments was not working. It was a good thing we checked. Luckily the second VOR was working fine. I also had to reset the directional gyro (DG) more often than normal. Things were not looking good.

After an hour and a half, I had MDQ in sight and retrieved the weather information from the station at the field. The runway at MDQ is 36/18 - a North-South runway. The wind was reported from 270 degrees (due West) at 12 knots gusting to 20 knots. I thought, "Great. There's a direct crosswind. This should be interesting." I entered the pattern and was heavily crabbed into the wind on final approach. As I crossed the threshold, I aligned the plane with the center line keeping my upwind wing low with a lot of left rudder to keep straight. I did a text book crosswind landing according to my instructor. It was a challenge with the gusting wind, but my training had paid off.

We arrived an hour early, but the examiner was already there, so I was able to start my exam early. This examiner has given nearly 8,000 check-rides! He has over 40,000 hours of time and has been flying for 50 years. He is very knowledgeable when it comes to aviation. He also has a lot of stories to tell. I was lucky to get to hear a few.

As he prepared the paperwork, he gave my two written exams: one on airspace and one on airport markings and signs. I had studied enough to know the answers backwards and forwards, so it did not take me long to finish the tests. I did not miss a single question. He said I was the 29th student to not miss a question on either test in the past 10 years. He then asked a variety of questions to check my knowledge of the airplane systems, regulations, and other questions. I answered every question correctly. He then started to ask me odd questions that I never came across in my studies. He gave me a situation where the fuel tank vent was clogged, but you did not figure this out until you were already in the air and the engine starts to sputter. He hinted that there is a way to vent the fuel tank from within the cockpit. I thought about it, wondering what he was referring to. I knew that one of the fuel sumps was under the wing right outside of the window. From his answer, you can take the fuel sample cup, stick your arm out of the window, and sump the fuel to let air into the tank. Apparently, he had that situation happen to a friend of his and that's exactly what he had to do. There's some practical advice you will not find in a training book!

Next, the examiner reviewed my cross-country and asked my questions about items on the sectional chart. He reviewed my weight and balance calculations and my weather briefing. He liked my detailed planning. He told me, "If you can fly as well as you answer knowledge questions and plan cross-countries, this will be an easy exam."

Finally, the oral part was over. He asked me to get an updated weather briefing then pre-flight the plane. I walked into the lobby for a second just to overhear a local pilot talking with the employees there about where he was going today. I then headed outside to get my bottled water that I had left in the plane. As I was outside, I could feel the wind pushing on me. After grabbing the almost empty water bottle, I started walking back to the building and noticed the windsock was completely straight out and indicating a direct crosswind. I opened my hand that was holding the water bottle, but the bottle did not fall. The wind was so strong; it was holding the bottle against my hand. As I entered the lobby again, the same pilot I had overheard earlier was walking back in with his bag and saying "There's no way I'm flying in this wind!" Now I was getting concerned.

I went to the briefing room and collected the latest weather. The winds aloft were about the same. The surface winds however were stronger than when I first arrived. The wind was now from 260 degrees at 17 knots gusting to 24 knots. My instructor kept saying "You'll do fine." The maximum demonstrated crosswind for the C-172R is 15 knots. You can land in more than this, but it is not recommended for safety reasons. There was no turning back at this point, though.

As I was checking the fuel during the pre-flight, the fuel was spraying towards me due to the wind blowing. I had to move off to the side to keep from getting fuel in my eyes. I kept telling myself that I could do this, and had a very capable pilot with me just in case I could not. Soon after, I was on my way to the runway for takeoff.

The very first thing I had to do was a soft-field takeoff. That was interesting with a near 17 knot crosswind. It was a little rough since I had never performed a soft-field takeoff with strong winds. I did alright though, and proceeded to follow the departure procedure the examiner gave me on the ground.

I tracked a VOR radial first. I then had to use pilotage and ded-reckoning to fly the first leg of my cross-country course. I had to calculate my ground speed in the air using my manual E6B. He then had me divert to Fayetteville airport. As I approached I noticed the windsock indicated a direct crosswind. The examiner simulated an engine failure at this point. I went through my checklist and set up to land at Fayetteville. I then had to perform a forward slip to the left followed by a forward slip to the right.

As I was about to touchdown, I had to do a go-around. I then performed a short-field landing, a short-field takeoff, then a soft-field landing. I felt better after doing excellent on the soft-field landing.

After the landings I had to perform turns-around-a-point and S-turns. I did those without much of a problem -- even with the 20 knots winds.

I then had to wear the hood and perform all of the simulated instrument flying necessary for the exam. This included unusual attitudes. I did fine on all of these.

I removed the hood and performed slow flight after doing clearing turns. From slow flight, I did a power-off stall. Then the examiner asked me to perform a turning power on stall with a 20-degree bank to the right. During my training, I had performed a turning power-on stall once, but I knew exactly what to do and pulled it off without a problem. Finally, I did my steep turns -- first to the right, then to the left. Again I received complements from the examiner on my performance.

At the end of the check-ride, the examiner made me put on the hood again so that I would have to fly by instruments only. He was simulating getting stuck in IFR conditions. He was ATC telling me what headings to fly, at what speed, and decent rate. He had me fly all the way to touchdown by instruments only. That was pretty exciting!

On the ground, he said if I could get him to the ramp safely, I pass. Of course I did, so I passed. I was happy it was over.

Afterwards, we finished up the paperwork required. He then gave me my temporary pilot certificate. I should be getting the permanent one in three weeks or less. I still could not believe that it was over. It was like finally graduating from college.

My instructor and I departed at 6pm EST for our flight back -- my first flight as a Private Pilot. I felt great for accomplishing something that only 1/2 of 1% of the population has accomplished.

This is only the beginning. The training continues, but the teacher will be experience. Once I gain some time and get checked out in some other airplane types, I'll make the goal of getting my Instrument Rating. Until then, I'll enjoy all the VFR flying I can.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Check-ride Prep - Day 7

Check-ride Prep 7
Flight time logged:1.1 hours
Total flight time logged:51.5 hours
Total takeoffs/landings:161
Solo time:0.0 hours
Total time solo:10.2 hours
Total cost to date:$7580

It was a nice day to fly today! Not to mention today is my birthday. Today my plan was to do a simulated check-ride with the chief flight instructor. It would be one last time to practice before the real deal.

After taking off, I climbed to 3000 feet and headed toward the practice area. I practiced slow flight, power off stalls, power on stalls, and steep turns. My instructor indicated that I did fine and would pass this section of the check-ride without a problem. I then headed to Winder to practice short- and soft-field take-offs and landings.

As I crossed over Winder airport to enter the left downwind for runway 13, I had to perform a simulated engine out. As I was turning from downwind to base, I was asked to perform a turning forward slip to lose some altitude. On final, I setup my glide speed for a normal landing. At about 10 feet off of the ground, I was asked to go around. I put in full throttle, started to climb, and slowly retracted the flaps.

On the next circuit around the pattern, I had to perform a soft-field landing. After the landing, I had to perform a soft-field take-off. Again, I did well and would have passed if I was taking the real exam.

After the soft-field takeoff, I flew the pattern again to setup for a short-field landing. After the landing, I performed a short-field take-off climbing at 57 knots. That pretty much covered everything, so I left the pattern to head back to LZU.

In the pattern at LZU, as I turned onto final, my instructor pulled the mixture to idle and cut off the engine. Usually, he just pulls the throttle to idle to simulate an engine out. This time he really stopped the engine! I quickly went through my engine out checklist checking the fuel selection, shut off, and pump. Because the propeller was wind-milling (still turning), all I needed to do was push the mixture back in to the full position and the engine started again. Actually experiencing this makes you realize how keeping your calm and knowing what to do can actually make the situation an easy one to handle.

After parking and securing the airplane, my instructor and I went back into the office to discuss scheduling the check-ride. Right now I am mainly worried about the windy weather and not my piloting skills. I believe I can pass (and so does my instructor).

It's final now. My check-ride is scheduled for Wednesday, March 7 (one week from today) at 1pm CST. I'm taking my check-ride in Huntsville, Alabama. We'll be departing at 10am that morning in order to get there and have enough time to review and get some lunch before the exam. It's been a long journey, but now I can finally see the end. Of course the end is really the beginning of being a private pilot!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Check-ride Prep - Day 6

Check-ride Prep 6
Flight time logged:1.4 hours
Total flight time logged:50.4 hours
Total takeoffs/landings:159
Solo time:0.0 hours
Total time solo:10.2 hours
Total cost to date:$7350

I originally planned on taking my check-ride today. Unfortunately, I had a severe head cold last week that kept me from flying. I did not finally get better until a few days ago. I'm happy to be feeling better and back to flying; however, I hate the fact that I missed being able to take my check-ride today. I really wanted to be finished before the end of February.

I completed my simulated instrument training requirement today. I needed to get 0.8 hours to complete the total 3.0 hours required. After take-off, I flew from LZU to the AHN VOR then to Madison airport all under the hood. At Madison, my instructor instructed me to remove the hood and land at Madison. Madison has a short runway -- the shortest that I've ever landed at, but I was confident I could easily land there.

I performed a forward slip to lose some altitude, then entered the downwind for Runway 32. I setup for a short field landing and as I turned onto final approach, kept the approach speed for the short field landing. I touch down right on the numbers and stopped within a few feet. It was a great short field landing. Even my instructor commented on it being good. I taxied back to take off and setup for a short field take-off. Again, I performed a great short field takeoff, easily clearing the trees at the end of the runway.

After getting into a climb attitude, I put the "foggles"-- a device that simulates flying in a cloud -- back on to fly simulated instrument flight again. I flew back to LZU under the hood. It was strange being under the hood for 50 minutes. Actually, it was somewhat boring not being able to see outside and just view the instruments the entire time.

My instructor took some of the "down time" to show me how to use the autopilot. This is a nice feature to have! I'm definitely going to make use of it on any cross-country flights from now on.

After landing and parking the airplane, my instructor asked me when I was going to schedule my check-ride for next week. It was just a great day today. The weather was great. It would have been a great day for my check-ride. If only I had not gotten sick... oh well. Maybe next week will be just as good.

Solo 7 - Last solo as required

Solo 7 - Last solo time
Flight time logged:0.8 hours
Total flight time logged:49.0 hours
Total takeoffs/landings:157
Solo time:0.8 hours
Total time solo:10.2 hours
Total cost to date:$7130

I finished up my required solo time today. I needed to get 0.6 more hours. I rented a C-172R this morning and took off to do a few touch and goes at Winder. I had not flown solo since September. I was amazed at how I jumped right back on the saddle with ease. After the flight, I realized that flying is becoming second nature. I felt like I was finally ready to be a private pilot.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Check-ride Prep - Day 5

Check-ride Prep - Day 5
Flight time logged:0.6 hours
Total flight time logged:48.2 hours
Total takeoffs/landings:154
Solo time:0.0 hours
Total time solo:9.4 hours
Total cost to date:$7800

There is nothing much to blog about today. I stayed in the pattern today for some short- and soft-field takeoffs and landings. My instructor wanted to see my flares. I had no problem with my landings. I performed all of them very well according to my instructor. I told him that the previous flight was just a fluke due to concentrating on the gusting winds.

Afterwards, he told me to think about a check-ride date within the next week or two. I wanted to have at least one more flight with my instructor as a simulated check-ride so that I would feel more confident before taking the real exam. I'm getting excited now that I'm almost there! I'm thinking about scheduling my check-ride for February 23.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Check-ride Prep - Day 4

Check-ride Prep - Day 4
Flight time logged:1.2 hours
Total flight time logged:47.6 hours
Total takeoffs/landings:151
Solo time:0.0 hours
Total time solo:9.4 hours
Total cost to date:$7610

Today was more preparation for the check-ride. I prepared a short cross-country to fly. While in flight on my cross-country flight plan, my instructor asked me to divert to Monroe. I knew exactly where I was, so I easily turned to a heading that would take me to Monroe. On the way to Monroe, I had to calculate my current ground speed (of which can be confirmed by just using the GPS) and calculate when I would arrive at Monroe and how much fuel it would require.

After the diversion, my instructor had me intercept and track some VOR radials. Not too much work there. I finished up the day working on some cross-wind takeoffs and landings.

The chief instructor again told me that I was ready. He wanted me to work on some landings, so I scheduled another flight in two days to practice landings.