28 December 2010


My final stage check was scheduled for this afternoon.  This is a dry run for the practical test, and if I do well, they will let me take the actual checkride.  The surface wind at Dulles was forecast to be 10 gusting 20 knots, but the actual conditions at HEF turned out to be less than that.  It was another story at 3000 feet:  the wind speed was almost 50 knots.  When I arrived at the airport, my regular CFI had just returned from a lesson and he warned me that I would be tossed around.  Pilot Reports (PIREPs) confirmed that:
I finished all of the computations for my cross-country flight plan with the current weather.  I had computed a +24 degree wind correction angle today, given the strong winds aloft: that's quite a crab.  The senior instructor performing the stage check pointed out clouds that appeared to be lenticular in shape, a clear indicator of strong turbulence.  As it was noon, the afternoon heating was just going to make it worse. So I opted to get the oral portion of the check done today, and I will fly tomorrow afternoon.

I learned a few new things today from the test (apologies for the long list--it is really for my own benefit as it helps me to remember if I type these things out):
  1. The winds aloft forecast doesn't list the temperature at 3000 feet, my cruising altitude in this case, but they do at 6000 feet. I need that temperature for density altitude calculations, though. I usually estimate the temperature at 3000 feet by adding 6 degrees centigrade to the forecast temperature at 6000 feet (this assumes a -2 degree centigrade per thousand feet lapse rate).  The instructor said that the forecast temperature is usually wrong, and that I should just extrapolate from the actual observed surface temperature instead. Good to know.
  2. The invisible 20nm outer ring of Class C airspace is where VFR pilots are encouraged to contact ATC for RADAR service (traffic advisories).  What I didn't know is that inside this ring, you are guaranteed to get RADAR service if you ask.  In most areas, VFR traffic advisories or flight following is provided on a workload-permitting basis by controllers, and they can refuse if they are too busy.  I've never been refused flight following, but I was dumped once on the way back from Charlottesville (the controller said, "RADAR service terminated. Squawk VFR. Frequency change approved.")
  3. When trying to spot Class D airspace on a chart, look for the bracketed square containing the ceiling altitude of the surface area as this is clearly visible.  Sometimes the blue dashed boundary of Class D will be difficult to see when buried underneath Class C airspace markings as KNGU is here.
  4. FAR 91.211 states that supplemental oxygen is required above 12,500 feet MSL (as in 12,500 feet not inclusive).  You can legally fly around all day at precisely 12,500 feet without supplemental oxygen.  Just as the Class E airspace begins at 1,200 feet AGL (the title of this blog, incidentally), Class G ends at 1199.99... feet.  I really need to study which regs are written as "up to but not including" before the test.  The lawyers just couldn't be consistent when writing these things.
  5. During the practical test, I should say altitudes to the examiner just as I would to air traffic control over the radio ("one thousand two hundred" not "twelve hundred," and "flight level one eight zero" not "flight level one eighty"). Sounds more squared-away, I guess.
  6. I had not seen the taxiway ending marker before.  I'm not usually stumped by signs, so I'll be sure to review them before the test.
  7. It is my responsibility to remember to bring a hood--a view limiting device--with me on the flying portion of the checkride. I'll surely fail if I forget: this has actually happened at my school.
  8. When picking a cruise RPM/power setting for the checkride flight plan, just keep it simple by choosing a round RPM number (e.g. 2200 RPM) and figure the power setting directly from a table entry in the pilot's operating handbook (POH).  I had done what I'd likely do in real life: start with a power setting of 65% and then interpolate the RPM from the POH based on the density altitude.
This hour of ground instruction was enjoyable. I'm looking forward to flying tomorrow.

23 December 2010


I called off the Stage Check today because the winds are out of my comfort zone (over 30 knots):
KHEF 231935Z AUTO 32022G31KT 10SM SCT048 05/M07 A3005 RMK AO1
KIAD 231952Z 32022G32KT 10SM BKN046 04/M07 A3004 RMK AO2 PK WND 32032/1951
KDCA 231852Z 32024G37KT 10SM FEW045 SCT250 06/M08 A3001 RMK AO2 PK WND 33037/1844 SLP163 T00611078 $
KIAD 231720Z 2318/2424 32020G35KT P6SM SCT040 SCT100
     FM232100 32015G25KT P6SM FEW040
     FM240000 32010G20KT P6SM FEW100
     FM241400 32012G25KT P6SM SCT250
     FM242100 33010KT P6SM SCT100 BKN250
I was listening to Dulles Tower (134.425 MHz) on my handheld radio earlier today. Several aircraft reported gaining and losing anywhere from 10 to 20 knots on short final. I prefer not to mess with wind shear.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate next week.  At least I have a little more time to study the PTS and the POH.

19 December 2010

Just need to make it past the senior instructors now

Simulated Engine-out Landing approach
On the heels of yesterday's bungled emergency landings, I made two successful simulated engine-out approaches today: one to a grass strip (broken off at 500 ft above ground) and another to the runway at Culpeper Airport (KCJR).   
Pattern work at KCJR

The wind at Culpeper was variable with a good shift at about 100 ft AGL.  I struggled with the crosswind correction:  I didn't adjust  the aileron correction  aggressively enough (or at all, in one instance) as the wind conditions changed below the tree line over the runway. I kept trying use rudder to re-acquire the centerline on short final. This is a definite weak point--most of my training has been in early morning light winds--and I just need more practice in squirrelly crosswind conditions.

Clearing turns and 45 degree steep turns
I climbed back to 3000 feet and executed some steep turns, power-on, and power-off stalls.  All were within standards.  I put the hood on, recovered from a few unusual attitudes, and then tracked the Casanova (CSN) VORTAC back to Manassas.  The lesson was finished with a soft-field landing that was slightly to the left of the runway centerline.

My CFI felt that I was ready to face the senior instructors for the final stage check. We completed my IACRA application and he signed the §61.109 and §61.107(b) logbook endorsements required to take the practical test. 

I've got the stage check scheduled for later this week; if I fly well, I'll be allowed to take the FAA checkride.  They warned me that the FAA practical test will feel like a review after this flight. I've seen some of their tricks already, though: I won't allow myself to be distracted, and when challenged, I will confidently stick to my guns with what I know is correct procedure.

Flight time this lesson: 2.1 hrs dual
Total time to date: 51.5 hrs total, 40.0 hrs dual, 11.5 hrs Solo/PIC

18 December 2010

Simulated emergency landings

I was surprised how much the little bit of snow on the ground changed the way things looked from the air.  The golf ball radomes south of Culpeper airport are usually an impossible-to-miss landmark for pilotage. I couldn't spot these giant white antenna balls until about four miles out.  They were hiding above a blanket of white snow.

Someone had taken the airplane up before me, so I was greeted with a warm airplane waiting for me on the ramp.

Today's flight became a review of emergency landings.  I kept trying to fly too close to the landing spot and was invariably too high on final approach.  I had no problem with these in the past, but I'll sort it out tomorrow.

We also did a few ground reference maneuvers, but they weren't too interesting in calm winds.  I kept calling out where the steepest and shallowest bank angles would be for wind compensation, but this ended up being more distracting than anything else.

When we got back, the chief flight instructor was plowing snow off of the tie-down area.  He asked me when I was going to schedule the final stage check.  I'm not quite ready, yet.

Flight time this lesson: 1.4 hrs dual
Total time to date: 49.4 hrs total, 37.9 hrs dual, 11.5 hrs PIC

16 December 2010


From FAA 00-6A: Aviation Weather, 1975.

In a pre-coffee--0630 EST--haze, I confirmed my suspicions and called my instructor to cancel.  Last night's TAFs, Forecast Discussion, and Prog Charts didn't look promising, but if the onset of snow and IFR conditions held off just an hour past the 1500Z predicted start time at HEF, it may have been possible to sneak in a quick practice area flight or some pattern work. No such luck, and it didn't occur to me that I could have gotten a few circuits in with a Special VFR clearance. So it goes.

The METARs from nearby Virginia airports were full of conditions that I hadn't seen before:

KIAD 161552Z 15003KT 1/2SM R01R/3500V4000FT SN FZFG VV004 M07/M09 A2988 RMK AO2 SLP123 P0004 T10671089
What is freezing fog (FZFG)?  Richmond got snow and ice pellets (PL):

KRIC 161854Z 00000KT 5SM -SNPL BR OVC009 M03/M04 A2976 RMK AO2 CIG 007V013 SLP084 PLB48 P0003 T10281039
And Lynchburg's forecast had freezing rain with ice pellets (FZRAPL) and freezing drizzle (FZDZ) on the menu: 
KLYH 161740Z 1618/1718 00000KT 1SM -SNPL BR SCT008 OVC015 
     FM162000 02003KT 3SM -FZRAPL BR OVC007 
     FM170100 34003KT 2SM -FZDZ BR BKN007 OVC040 
     FM170700 30003KT 4SM BR BKN012 OVC040 
FM171200 28004KT P6SM SKC
OK, enough METAR code for now.  I learn something new every day...

12 December 2010

Loose Dog

This afternoon, 11 December, I went to the airport for more dual practice.  When I got there,  I saw three or four small dogs--one was an adorable puppy wrapped in a blanket--at the FBO awaiting a rescue flight.  One of the dogs managed to get loose and took off across the ramp.  I heard that it was recovered safely on the other side of the airport, having crossed two active runways without incident.  The Archer carrying the dogs taxied out and took off behind us.

The sun was right in my eyes while flying the cross-country course to Lynchburg (KLYH), and it clearly showed how scratched up the windshields are on these training airplanes.  The haze also helped to reduce the visibility, though the METARs reported 10 statute miles.  The air was completely smooth, though.

I botched another simulated emergency landing. I flew the pattern too tight, and no amount of flaps or slipping would get me down to the grass in time.  I also discovered a new way to screw up soft field landings: I tracked off to the left of the runway centerline after touchdown.  I had been concentrating on making a smooth landing and keeping the nosewheel from touching through the use of throttle, but in so doing, I neglected my feet: not enough right rudder.  Fixate on one thing in flying and it is inevitable that you will mess up another. I thought I had these down a long time ago--very frustrating.  I'm beginning to see why there is an 80% attrition rate for student pilots.

There was no one in the pattern at Culpeper (KCJR) and the winds were calm, so I was able to use both runway 4 and 22 to cut down on taxi time (my school isn't fond of touch-and-go's for some reason).  It had gotten dark, and I had a tough time picking out HEF from the city lights in the background. 

After we got the plane tied down, my CFI asked me what I wanted to do.  I opted to fly one more practice sortie before taking the last stage check.  I want there to be no doubt in anyone's mind, especially mine, that I'm ready for the checkride. The stage checks have been exasperating exercises and I'd prefer not to fly another one before I feel completely prepared.  This means that I won't finish up in under 50 hours, as I had been on track to do, but so it goes. 

Flight time this lesson: 2.0 hrs dual, 1.0 hrs night, 3 night TO/Landings
Total time to date: 48.0 hrs total, 36.5 hrs dual, 11.5 hrs PIC

11 December 2010

FAA Written Test: Check

Thursday morning, 9 December, I took the FAA Private Pilot Airplane knowledge test.  I walked out of the testing center $150 lighter and about an hour and a half later with a perfect score.  That was some kind of fluke:  there were three or four questions that I didn't know and just guessed.    

I was warned that the examiner will treat a 100% just like a 70% minimum passing grade, and I will endure extra grilling during the oral portion of the practical test because the examiner will suspect that I memorized the test bank answers. I'll be ready for that--no worries--but I didn't memorize the questions.  I used the King Schools course and took their practice tests over the few days preceding the exam--I can still hear John King saying "ANDS" and "COSUN" in the background.  I also took two practice tests from my school's Jeppesen test book to show my CFI that I was ready for his sign-off to take the test.

The test is administered by computer and is nominally 60 questions long.  My test had 61 questions, one of which didn't count as it was an FAA trial question.  The test software was straightforward and included an on-screen calculator, E6B, and unit conversion utilities.  I brought my plotter, a calculator that I bought at Target the night before for $1.00, and an analog E6B to the test with me.

10 December 2010

Crosswind practice at CJR

On Wednesday afternoon, 8 December, the wind was gusting to 16 knots almost directly across the runway at Culpeper airport.  This was my chance to get some landing practice in something other than the early morning calm winds that I typically fly in.  

We set out treating this flight like a mock FAA practical test.  I realized after taxiing to the runup area that I had forgotten the passenger briefing.  I went through the briefing there, but it needs to be done before the engine is started.  That mistake probably would have caused me to fail my checkride.  I did catch my instructor purposely not wearing his shoulder belt, though. Sneaky.

During the simulated emergency landing, I couldn't spot the grass strip in the area for some reason.  I got down to about 1000 feet AGL and decided to head for another field.  About 200 feet later, I noticed the fence and power lines crossing the center of the field.  Doh!  After breaking off the approach, I headed to Culpeper airport.

The gusty crosswind there ate my lunch.  After the first botched approach, we abandoned our plans of completing a mock checkride and did nothing but pattern work.  I had a hard time holding the runway centerline in a sideslip, and the landing flare felt completely foreign in such a drastic wing-low attitude while being tossed around with the gusts.  My instructor told me to quit expecting to make a soft landing in these conditions: just get the plane on the ground safely.  A gust made my soft field takeoffs interesting, too.  I need more practice in these conditions.

Flight time this lesson: 1.8 hrs Dual
Total time to date: 46.0 hrs total, 34.5 hrs dual, 11.5 hrs PIC

05 December 2010

Four types of Hypoxia

Update 29 June 2011: This page continues to get hits from people searching for hypoxia information, so I thought I'd also list these hypoxia-related resources:   
I scheduled some time today with my CFI to do a mock oral test and go over areas that have historically tripped up students during the practical test.  It also gave me a chance to get familiar with the engine and airframe logs, since I will need them to prove to the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) that the airplane we'll use for the checkride is airworthy and legal.

I walked into the FBO with all of my normal gear a few minutes early and went straight into the computer room. My instructor said it looked like I was getting ready to file flight plans, so he stopped and said, "You know we're not going flying today, right?"  Based on the howling noises the FBO building was making in the wind and the fact that it was rattling the doors, he estimated the gusts at well over 30 knots.  I made a phone call to the AWOS and the overly enthusiastic computer-generated dude claimed 28 knots, but I guess the sensors are located on a more sheltered part of the field.  I saw a Travel Air land on 34R as I was driving up, and it looked a bit squirrely.   A Falcon jet landed as I was leaving, and the pilot reported wind shear.  There was none of the usual weekend student traffic today.

So I learned that there are four types of hypoxia. And also how to handle a passenger that can't clear her ears or experiences pain from blocked sinuses during descent:  it might not be a bad idea to throw a bottle of Afrin in my flight bag for that particular emergency.  I need to re-read the aeromedical chapters over closely.  Oh, and now I know that I'll need at least 200 hrs of total time before I can fly and be reimbursed for a charitable flight.

If I manage not to screw up, I'll have one last flight with my CFI next week and then he'll throw me to one of the wolves senior instructors for a final check. They have said that if I can get by them, then the checkride will be a review.  If past check flights are representative then I have no doubts about that. I created my IACRA account this afternoon and my FAA written test is scheduled for next week.

04 December 2010

Practice, Practice

I flew solo this morning to get another hour of practice time under my belt.  It was just a good day to go bore holes in the sky.  I can't describe how great I feel after flying--it is like a runner's high that lasts the rest of the day.  I had no idea before starting this training how much I would enjoy it, despite the difficulty:  I am clumsy, slow, and frustratingly dense at times, but I am determined to become a proficient pilot.

Manassas tower again had radio problems today: I couldn't hear voice on the ground control frequency--only a carrier--but they could hear me fine.  This lead to some confusion. I heard the pilot of a business jet (Lear?) give up and switch to the clearance delivery frequency, so I followed suit.  After I cleared the SFRA and Dulles class B airspace, I did a few stalls and steep turns, but then I just enjoyed the scenery for a few minutes before heading back to HEF for pattern work. 

I feel like rudder-to-the-stop forward slips finally clicked with me and I was able to hold the centerline with a VSI-pegging sink rate.  The wind built toward the end of the flight, which gave me a bit of a crosswind to practice holding the centerline (my goal after last Thursday's botched landing).  I was happy with my soft field and short field takeoffs (two each).
I have the FAA written test scheduled for next week.  It will be great to finally check off that requirement.

Flight time this lesson: 1.3 hrs PIC/Solo
Total time to date: 44.2 hrs total, 32.7 hrs dual, 11.5 hrs PIC

Short field landing on a relatively short field

On Thursday morning, 2 December 2010, I went up with my CFI to practice maneuvers.  The highlight of the flight was landing at Gordonsville Municipal Airport (KGVE): it was a real confidence boost to execute a short field landing on a short field, rather than simulating it on the 3,700 foot runway at HEF. Taking into account the displaced threshold at Gordonsville, there is 1,860 usable feet of rough asphalt available on runway 23 for landing.  The runway is 40 feet wide, the narrowest I've attempted so far. Surprisingly, I had no problems. I chopped the throttle after clearing the imaginary 50 foot obstacle at the threshold and landed with plenty of room to stop.  This was also the first time I had back-taxied on a runway--all the airports I've landed at so far have had taxiways.  Now if only the school's insurance company would allow me to practice landing on a real grass field... 

We did slow flight, stalls, steep turns, a simulated emergency landing on a grass strip, and ground reference maneuvers.  I had done the ground reference (S-turns and turns about a point) a couple of times back in the summer.  No major issues there--I think they were within the minimum standards.  So we head back home, and I botched the landing.  I had wanted to practice a forward slip, but I had already added 20 degrees of flap and the headwind made it unnecessary.  This was to be a soft-field landing so I was focused on keeping the nose wheel off and adding power right before touchdown.  Whenever I concentrate intently on one thing, it distracts me from others: my lazy feet let go of the rudder right before touchdown, allowing a bit of a side load on the landing gear.  Not pretty.  The conclusion was that I need one more practice flight before the last stage check  No argument there.

Flight time this lesson: 1.8 hrs dual, 0.4 hrs simulated instrument
Total time to date: 42.9 hrs total, 32.7 hrs dual, 10.2 hrs PIC, 3.8 hrs simulated instrument

29 November 2010

More Chilly Morning Maneuvers

My minor milestone for the day:  I broke 40 hours of total time during this morning's lesson.  Having now checked off all of the FAA's "aeronautical experience" requirements in 14 CFR § 61.109 for a single-engine airplane, my mission now is to demonstrate to my flight instructor, the chief instructor, and myself that I am ready for the practical test (checkride).  I still need to take the FAA written test, too; I'm hoping to get signed off this week to take it.  It would be great to earn this certificate before New Years so that I can start 2011 working on an instrument rating...

As usual, I've gotten ahead of myself.  My instructor and I noted a litany of deficiencies in my flying today that I need to fix:
  1. Checklist usage.  Up until last week, I thought the proper way to run a checklist was robotic line-by-line execution and that performing the steps from memory for non-moving tasks like the engine start and before takeoff checklists was somehow wrong.  It is much more efficient to do the steps, then refer to the checklist to make sure nothing was missed.  I'm trying to adjust to this workflow now.  I still managed to miss the cruise checklist a couple of times (engine RPM in the green arc, elevator trim set, lean mixture appropriately).  This checklist has to be run after all of the maneuvers (stalls, slow flight, steep turns, etc.) during the examination.
  2. Preflight Briefing.  The law states that passengers must be briefed on the operation of the seatbelts, how to exit the airplane, emergency procedures, etc., just as is done by flight attendants on an airliner.  The examiner expects a passenger briefing, and I neglected to do it during today's mock test.
  3. Forward Slips.  These still haven't clicked for whatever reason.  The orientation is still awkward. I wasn't using enough aileron to effectively hold the runway centerline and I had a tendency to let the nose rise too high when doing them today.  They are fun, though: in a forward slip with full flaps, power off, the Skyhawk sinks like a brick.
  4. Clearing turns. A 360 degree clearing turn must be executed before every manuever to ensure there is no traffic in the area.  I caught myself skipping this once today, and then I did two stalls in succession without a clearing turn.  That would have busted my checkride.
  5. Short-field landings.  I hadn't done one of these in weeks.  I forgot that the approach speed was 60 KIAS on short final rather than 65 and came in fast and a little high.
  6. Soft-field takeoffs.  Though the last example of the day was good, I let the plane get too far off the runway in ground effect during my earlier attempts.
  7. Power-off Stalls.  Again, I forgot the procedure and failed to go to idle power before inducing the stall.   I held about 1500 RPM, so it wasn't quite a power-off stall.
  8. Power-on Stalls. I can't explain why I did this--I know better--but I delayed breaking the stall and let the left wing drop violently.  That was probably the closest I've even remotely been to a spin entry. 
  9. Trim for level flight.  I now religiously trim the airplane after leveling off or changing power settings. But no matter what I did today, the airplane would start climbing if I looked down at my chart for more than a second.  I need to be more precise with that elevator trim wheel.
I'm hoping the weather will cooperate this week so that I can fly the final Stage Check with my instructor--it looks like we're due for high pressure Thursday through the weekend.  If he's happy with my performance, he'll sign me off to take the end-of-course test with one of the senior instructors.  Only after I make it through that gate will I be allowed to schedule the checkride.

It was another chilly morning lesson:

KHEF 291235Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR M07/M07 A3052 RMK AO1
That's -7C / 19F.  Again, I was grateful that the airplane was waiting for me in the hangar.  The air at 3000 feet was perfectly smooth, though.  And I think that is the highest altimeter setting I've used yet.

Flight time this lesson: 1.9 hrs dual
Total time to date: 41.1 hrs total, 30.9 hrs dual, 10.2 hrs PIC

28 November 2010

Solo Maneuvers on a Chilly Morning

The AWOS on field at Manassas read -6C / 21F at 7:15 this morning, about the time that I got the keys to the airplane.  We've been spoiled in Northern Virginia with a mild Fall, and this was the coldest I've been out flying so far.  I was grateful that they put the plane in the hangar overnight--I bet starting the engine would have been difficult, otherwise. Two shots of the primer and it started on the first attempt.

I am trying to fly as frequently as possible to get prepared for the checkride.  This morning, I was on a solo mission to knock out steep turns, stalls, slow flight, and some pattern work.  The airplane climbed like a rocket in the cold morning air.  I lowered the nose and climbed out above the best-rate-of-climb airspeed so that I could see ahead of me.  I tracked to Casanova (CSN) VORTAC and then climbed to 3000 feet when well clear of the Dulles Class B airspace.  No sense in getting intercepted by F-16s like the student pilot out of Warrenton experienced last week.

My steep turns were still a little sloppy.  I was trying to hit altitude, airspeed, and heading exactly using the mountains as visual references.  Airspeed and altitude control was better but my heading control needs work.  I had been practicing these more as instrument maneuvers up to this point, which I now realize is not the preferred way to do them. I used 90 knots as an entry speed, and I found that with just one in the plane and with the low density altitude, only about 2000-2100 RPM was needed to hold that airspeed in level flight (the very bottom of the green arc).

Then I induced a few power-off stalls west of Culpeper airport.  Today I was trying to enter a Vx (best angle of climb airspeed) ascent immediately after recovering from the stall to simulate being low to the ground.  I forgot to retract the flaps to 20 degrees immediately after recovery, so I did a few more to drill that into my head. 

I tried to remember the enroute cruise and descent checklists, but it turns out that they weren't printed on the skinny laminated card in the plane.  I might need to make my own checklist sheet which includes them.

I flew back to Manassas to do pattern work, paying close attention to descend below the Class B airspace and then to traffic pattern altitude so as to maintain a leisurely descent rate of 500 feet per minute.  Manassas Tower gave me a base entry for runway 34L as usual.  I was experimenting with different power settings to do a constant 500 fpm power-on descent in the traffic pattern as was suggested during the last stage check, only I didn't have the room.  On final, I was power-off with full flaps and still high.  I tried a forward slip but couldn't get it sorted out, so I went around.  I suspect my CFI has been silently helping me with those, so now I really need to practice them.   Manassas tower had me change my transponder to the SFRA pattern work code (1234) before I made the crosswind turn.

I set up again for a steep power-off approach with a really short base leg.  I need to work on widening my patterns just a little bit.  I touched down before the stall horn went off, so I decided to taxi back and try again.  The next landing also could have been held off longer.

I've realized that I still have a lot to work on before the practical test.  I'm going to focus on flying these maneuvers more precisely in the next lesson.

Flight time this lesson: 1.7 hrs solo/PIC
Total time to date: 39.2 hrs total, 29.0 hrs dual, 10.2 hrs PIC

27 November 2010

Maneuvers on a Windy Day

Earlier terminal forecasts for Dulles airport today predicted winds of 15 knots with gusts of 28 knots, so it was unlikely that I'd go flying.  The forecast changed slightly over the course of the day, though:
KIAD 272057Z 2721/2824 30021G27KT P6SM SCT050 
     FM272200 30012G17KT P6SM SKC 
     FM280200 31004KT P6SM FEW060 
     FM281400 30006KT P6SM SKC
I called my instructor at around 8:30am to make sure that I wouldn't drag him out to the airport only to cancel the flight due to weather conditions.  CFIs don't get paid for their time unless a lesson transpires.  Since he was going to be there anyway, I kept the lesson scheduled and would do ground work if we couldn't fly.
We reviewed checkride topics on the ground before making the go/no-go decision this afternoon.  Winds at Manassas were brisk (18 knots gusting to 25):
KHEF 271955Z AUTO 32018G22KT 10SM CLR 07/M06 A2999 RMK AO1
KHEF 271935Z AUTO 30018G25KT 10SM CLR 08/M06 A2997 RMK AO1
but fortunately they were blowing nearly straight down runway 34L.  An AIRMET (Airman's Meterological Information) for moderate turbulence below 12k feet covered the area.  I had seen a few pilot reports (PIREPs) for moderate and severe turbulence earlier in the day at altitudes near our usual 3000 feet:  moderate around BWI and a severe turbulence report near Roanoke (over 130 miles away).

After reviewing the weather again and calling the AWOS phone number to get up-to-the-minute conditions, we agreed to make the flight and took off around 1945Z.  It was a little bumpy, but not nearly as bad as my night flight back from Richmond; I didn't experience any large altitude excursions as occurred during that trip.  

We practiced the cross-country routine of intercepting the course line and tracking time between waypoints, only there really wasn't a course--I reused my HEF-CHO sheet from a solo flight.  I didn't realize this was going to be part of the exercise ahead of time, so I hadn't recalculated a wind correction angle and ground speed.  I was guessing at the crab angle, and wound up sliding over Warrenton airport.  I used pilotage from there to get to Culpeper and Mitchells (abeam a tower on a hill), and then we simulated a diversion to Culpeper.  I forgot to simulate opening a VFR flight plan with Flight Services (since I hadn't really filed one).  I also neglected to run through the enroute climb and cruise checklists.  This is easy to do because there really isn't much to do: the fuel mixture stays full-rich below 3000 feet in cruise for a C172.  The checklist mistake is a checkride buster, so I won't let that happen again.

My steep turns were mostly within the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) , but they were not as good as I want them to be.  In one of the unusual attitude recovery maneuvers, I didn't close the throttle before recovering from a dive--first time I've botched that one--but the airspeed was still well below Vno when I recovered.

The landing at Manassas was interesting with the strong, gusty headwind.  I didn't use any flaps and started the approach a little high, carrying more power than usual.  I pulled the power back and quickly developed a high sink rate, finding myself low in a hurry.  I had to add full power for a bit, needed some coaching getting the crosswind correction dialed in with the gusts, and landed long.  It wasn't pretty.  The approach profile with no flaps and a strong headwind felt foreign.  More practice is clearly required.  Fortunately, the weather looks good tomorrow so I am planning to fly solo for more practice.

Flight time this lesson: 1.3 hrs dual
Total time to date: 37.5 hrs total, 29.0 hrs dual, 8.5 hrs PIC

21 November 2010

Lesson #23

On Saturday, November 20, I flew Lesson 23 from the Jeppesen syllabus.  This was a dual review flight to work on executing the maneuvers to better than PTS minimums in preparation for the checkride.

It was a beautiful morning, and they had put the airplane in the hangar overnight so that it would be easy to start.  During preflight, I got a slug of water in the bottom of the fuel tester from the fuel strainer drain.  This was a first, and now I know what water will look like in the tester.  After a couple more refills of the fuel tester, it was clear of water.  The engine ran really rough for the first few minutes, but eventually smoothed out.

I executed a soft-field takeoff that was not bad--I'm over with not pushing the nose down enough when in ground-effect.  We flew out around the greenhouse and I executed a simulated engine-out landing on a grass strip next to it (we aborted the landing at about 500 feet AGL).  I definitely had the field made, but I probably added flaps too soon.      

Next was slow flight.  I forgot to do my clearing turn first: that would have busted the checkride.  After the clearing turn, I slowed the airplane to minimum controllable airspeed with the stall horn blaring the entire time.  I think this was within PTS, but it is definitely something I want to keep practicing.  Then power-on stalls.  These were passable, but I still took forever to induce the stall break.  Power-off stalls were OK.

Steep turns caused me some trouble.  I was over-controlling. There was definitely some rust to knock off, since I hadn't done one of these in over a month.

We flew to Culpeper and I tried to forward slip in to runway 4 on final.  I was a little high, so I decided to go-around instead of landing long.  On the next circuit, I briefly let the nosewheel touch on my soft-field landing.  I did another soft-field takeoff and flew back to HEF.

If I can get my act together, I have a few more review flights before attempting the final test to be signed-off for the checkride.  I had my CFI renew my 90-day solo endorsement so that I could get more practice in, if needed. My goal is to get the checkride knocked out before New Years.

Flight time this lesson: 1.8 hrs dual
Total time to date: 36.2 hrs total, 27.7 hrs dual, 8.5 hrs PIC

Another Solo Cross-Country Flight

After two weeks of not flying due to weather, illness, and work constraints, I flew my "long" solo cross-country flight on Monday, 15 November.

My instructor called me Sunday afternoon to ask what had happened to me, and I told him that I was just about feeling well enough to fly.  He said that he'd keep an eye out for good weather.  He called again at 8pm and told me the weather looked good tomorrow (Monday) morning.  I was set to meet the chief instructor for a 7am flight plan review.  This meant that I needed to wake up at 0430 to get to the airport in time to check the weather and wrap up my flight plan.  The trip was to be HEF -> Lynchburg (LYH) -> Richmond (RIC) and finally back to HEF.  I started flight planning after the phone call and soon realized that Lynchburg isn't on the Washington sectional and I didn't have the Cincinnati sectional that I needed (doh!).  Since it was too late to call anyone, I planned to go to the airport, apologize for dragging the chief flight instructor in early, buy the sectional, and reschedule the flight. I hate being unprepared, and scrambling to finish a flight plan is not the way that I wanted to begin this flight. So it goes.

Manassas was socked in with mist and fog when I got there. The chief instructor said that I wouldn't be going anywhere for a while, so finish up the flight plan and get ready to go.  The weather forecast was bad for the rest of the week, so it made sense to try to get this trip done.  It turns out there were no Cincinnati sectionals anywhere in the FBO, so he suggested that I change the plan for Charlottesville rather than Lynchburg. The planning process took me longer than I wanted, but the ceiling wasn't VFR until about 1130 EST so there was time.

I took off around noon and made it outside Charlottesville without incident.  The tower controller was managing traffic in both the right and left traffic patterns for runway 3.  I was #3 in line to land, and the tower controller ordered me to report right base for runway 3.  In a moment of confusion, I thought he told me runway 21.  Several miles out and at traffic-pattern altitude,  I called the tower just to confirm what he asked me to do.  He straightened me out, sounding a bit irritated, and had me do a 360 for spacing.

I was landing immediately behind a Boeing 717. It looked like the pilot was shooting instrument approaches for training:  I think he did a touch-and-go.  I was concerned about spacing to avoid wake turbulence behind this 100-seat regional jet, so I flew a slightly wider-than-normal pattern. While on about a 1 mile final, a Skyventures plane waiting to takeoff called the tower to make sure they hadn't been forgotten.  If I remember correctly, the tower controller said with slight sarcasm that he was behind a "Cessna on 7 mile final."  That was just a bit of hyperbole.  I am sensitive to pilots' irritation with students flying bomber patterns in slow, trainer airplanes, especially after reading recent complaints on the dcpilots mailing list.  I usually try to fly a tight pattern.  My only excuse here is that I don't have a lot of experience sharing the traffic pattern with fast jets.  After landing, I called the tower to apologize and said, "I appreciate your patience."

I was advised to fill the tanks at each stop, so I parked at the Landmark FBO and asked for 7 gallons of 100LL, which should fill the tanks.  It looked like they accidentally spilled fuel on the plane and ramp and it took time to clean up.  The interior of the plane smelled like gas for the rest of the trip, but I looked thoroughly and could find no liquid remnants.  It felt like I was there an hour waiting for my ticket, which put me even more behind schedule.  I had stopped for fuel here during prior dual and solo cross country flights, and it seemed to take a long time to get out of there in both cases.  The people in the office were really nice, though.

Prior to the flight, I was told not to ask for Flight Following on the ground at Charlottesville.  After takeoff, when directed to switch to departure, I should instead switch to Flight Service, open my VFR flight plan, and then contact Potomac to ask for flight following.  This would eliminate the usual request for a temporary frequency change to open the search-and-rescue flight plan. When Charlottesville ground control offered Flight Following without my asking, I didn't think twice about it and accepted. I was given squawk code. After being handed off to departure, I tried calling Flight Service on 122.65 MHz and was told "Standby. You are number 2."  Thinking they forgot me after a few minutes, I called again and was told "Standby. You are number 2."  So I dialed up 122.2 MHz, thinking that might be another queue, and was told, "Standby. You're number 5."  At that point, I gave up and called up Potomac.  I'm not sure what the backup at Flight Service was, as it usually takes less than 60 seconds to open a flight plan.   On initial contact with Potomac, they said they had been trying to reach me for awhile.  Lesson learned:  if they say "Contact departure," do it.  Potomac said that they can activate flight plans as well.  I had assumed they opened it at that point, but it turned out that my search and rescue flight plan never got activated for this leg.

I flew to Richmond without incident using the RIC VORTAC to guide me in.  It was raining when I entered the outskirts of Richmond and while the visibility was VFR, it wasn't great.  I could see the tower and had my airport diagram in front of me, but I decided to double-check with the controller about the runway.  I made a pretty good landing on runway 20 and taxied to Richmond Jet Center.  The people are great at that FBO:  they began fueling my airplane immediately and I was out of there in just a few minutes. Unfortunately, there was no one around the ramp when I was leaving to give a tip--I really need to learn the tipping protocol.  I was so grateful for a quick turn because my time calculations would have me getting back to HEF at around sunset

I asked Richmond ground control for a run-up since there were planes all around me.  He put me on taxiway Sierra and I had to make a tight 180 degree turn. Now I know the minimum turning radius of a Cessna 172. The ground controller had me taxi on Romeo and hold short of Alpha.  I held short a little too far back, but it was fine because I had to let a United Express ("Waterski" callsign) go ahead of me.  I took off on runway 20 and was given vectors by the controller.  I was told to stay at or above 3,500 feet.

The flight back to Manassas was uneventful, though the visibility was 5 miles at best.  I needed at least 3.3 hours of solo cross-country time to reach my 5 hour minimum, so I did a few maneuvers over Casanova, VA before returning to land.  I asked for "the option" from Manassas tower and contemplated doing a go-around, but after seeing all the headlights on Route 28, I decided it was getting close to sunset and made a full-stop landing.

There are lots of lessons to take away from this trip.  I won't make those ATC communications mistakes again.  Looking at the GPS track, I did a slightly better job tracking the VORs, but I was still chasing the needles in a few places.  I also think I did a pretty good job of staying ahead of the airplane:  I had frequencies programmed well ahead of time, ATIS 20-30 miles out from the airport, an airport diagram in front of me at least 10 miles out, and descended to be at traffic pattern altitude in time.  It was cool to have made this trip solo, and it has been a great confidence boost.  I was on a high for about the next day-and-a-half.

Flight time this lesson: 3.3 hrs solo cross-country
Total time to date: 25.9 hrs dual, 8.5 hrs PIC, 5.0 hrs solo cross-country

Stage Check II

On Saturday, 30 October, I flew my second stage check--a test with one of the senior flight instructors at the school.  The stage checks are intended to simulate checkrides, and a successful sign-off is required before I can make my long solo cross-country flight. This was, by far, the most exasperating flight so far.  The short version: I passed and will be making my long solo XC flight soon.

I had planned a flight from Manassas to Louisa (KLKU) and I got to the airport early to finish it based on the current winds aloft, density altitudes, computed fuel burn, etc. The oral portion of the test was no problem, though I was again warned not to volunteer more information than was asked so as not to dig a hole for myself during the FAA practical exam. Good advice. The instructor scrutinized my flight plan. He told me that I needed to put airport information, including a runway diagram in the remarks section of the flight plan form--another good thing to do.  I entered the course heading in the first departure block rather than the "top of climb" entry.  I realized that mistake ahead of time but forgot to strike it out.  I also mistakenly added the taxi and run-up fuel burn in with the pattern/climb burn. OK, no problem.

We were running behind schedule and the airplane was scheduled right after my flight.  After a complete--but motivated--preflight I took off on runway 16R.  A Cherokee was on base for landing, but the tower cleared me for takeoff.  Though I expedited my takeoff, the Cherokee must have been flying a really tight pattern and I think I heard the tower order them to make a 360 degree turn to make sure I was clear.  I started the course intercept procedure by declaring that I was going to make a 45 degree turn at the usual 900 feet (the traffic pattern altitude - 300 feet).  First mistake.  That turn needed to be at 1200 feet since we were leaving the pattern.  Once at 1700 feet (TPA + 500 feet), I turned 30 degrees past my intended heading to intercept the course.

The CFI told me ahead of time that he would be watching how well I intercepted the course, so I focused on precisely flying to the imaginary course line.  In so doing, I climbed 100 feet above the 2300 feet filed in my SFRA flight plan and continued to climb.  The Dulles class B airspace looms overhead and promises a violation if busted, so I was duly chastised.  I am usually hyper-conscious of the DC airspace, but this CFI was very successful in distracting me and actively adding stress. Errors began to snowball.  That fiasco caused me to forget to cross-check my directional gyro with the compass, though I had done it once during the run-up.  The directional gyro in this particular airplane precesses terribly and one needs to check it at least every 5 minutes to remotely stay on course.

So I was heading off course and I realized it when we crossed the railroad tracks, but that occurred right when Potomac Approach called to terminate my RADAR service.  I postponed dealing with my course situation for a second to ask Potomac for flight following to Louisa--usual procedure for a cross-country flight-- though I usually ask on first contact with them after takeoff.  So I fixed my course situation with Warrenton (my first checkpoint) in sight.  We passed the tower at Catlett and I indicated my intent to climb to our planned altitude of 3000 feet, so as to reach the top-of-climb point before the first checkpoint. Now, I usually just wait to climb until around Warrenton since it is unmistakenly outside the Dulles Class B airspace, but I was trying to stick to the plan.  My climb profile of 500 ft/min would have put me near the 3000 foot floor of Dulles airspace before we left it.

It was reminded that I had my priorities out of whack (aviate, navigate, communicate), and that I was completely behind the airplane. OK, he's right, and the reason is that I altered my routine to try to pass this test.

I followed the course and made my second checkpoint at the planned time.  I saw a biplane in the distance doing aerobatics.  I began calling out points on the chart that I was looking for to confirm that I was on course.  One was Simpsonville, which I couldn't find.  I said that I think it is a grass strip, to which I am told that it is a terrible checkpoint.  "Not a checkpoint, just pilotage," I say.

I am then instructed to don the hood and fly to the Brooke VOR.  No problem.  I start turning to about 090.  When he asks me what I'm doing, I say this is the rough heading to get there--I learned later that this was one of the few things that I did correctly.  I declare my intention to identify the VOR (listen to the morse code it broadcasts to ensure the VOR is operating and that we're receiving the correct station).  Here again, I'm told my priorities are out of whack: since I have a centered CDI needle, start flying to it and then identify it.  Good advice.  I twist the OBS to center the needle and he asks what radial we're on.  I say "one-zero-zero To" and add 180 to get the radial. My judgement is again brought into question, since the OBS is set to 097, and I had rounded. Don't do that.

We make it to Brooke and I'm instructed to fly to Shannon, which is roughly 6 nm on the 240 radial.  I begin to fly it once the barber pole was displayed in the CDI (cone of confusion over the VOR) and verbally said the time.  I had my hands full and didn't write it down.  I asked if DME (distance measuring equipment) was off-limits and tuned up Brooke.  Once I thought I was 3 minutes on the course, I declared that we should be over the airport.  Nope. We had a few minutes still to go, and my lack of common sense was pointed out because I could have just looked at the DME distance indication. All good stuff to remember for next time.

I was then told to fly to Stafford (KRMN).  I looked on the chart and computed a rough course of about 010.  We approached runway 33 when he pulled the throttle to simulate an engine out.  I pitched up to best glide airspeed and adjusted trim. I wasn't sure we could fly the entire pattern to the downwind runway (15).  I had never been to this airport before.  In a real engine out situation, I probably would have gone to full flaps and forward slip for runway 33 and just landed with a tailwind. I said I wasn't sure we'd make it by flying the pattern for runway 15 (and not without the proscribed steeper-than-standard-rate turns).  At that point we were flying faster than best glide airspeed, I was instructed to check my airspeed.  He then took the flight controls, flew downwind, and made a 30 degree base-final combo and gave the controls back to me before touchdown.  Again my judgement was in question.  I also failed to dial up the AWOS and switch to the CTAF, as there was time to do so.

Then I am to take us home.  I plot a long course that avoids both the MOA and the restricted area.  This is wrong.  I follow a VOR radial instead and we turn to fly through the MOA.  Manassas tower gave us a base entry to land on runway 16R.  I pull power to 1500 RPM and add 10 degrees of flaps at a point where I usually do, but we are a little low, and that move is questioned so I add more power.  I'm getting badgered all the way to the ground while trying to get my crosswind side-slip sorted out and hold about 70 KIAS for the gusts.  We get a little slow--I was probably about 60 KIAS over the numbers and I started the flare too soon.  Stall warning starts.  CFI adds power and we land long.

There were a lot of lessons to take away from this flight.  The first is to act like pilot-in-command, even if that means telling the CFI that you are not going to do what they're asking.  In the future, I will not deviate from my normal operating procedures for a test.  While it wasn't pleasant, I am grateful for the experience.  I am committed to becoming a safe pilot, one that will be able to handle any problems that arise. I passed this stage check, whatever that means, despite doing a terrible job of demonstrating that I am really not a fu**ing idiot.

26 October 2010

EAA RV Assembly Workshop

When I heard about the RV Assembly Workshop at EAA Chapter 524's hangar at KFDK, I jumped on it. Jack Dueck taught the course this past weekend (Oct 23-24) and he was assisted by Doug Kelly.  Jack showed us how to buck rivets and work with aircraft sheet metal.  His enthusiasm is genuine and infectious. Now I know how to tell an AN426AD3-3 from an AN470AD4-4 rivet.

On Saturday, we built a small project requiring flush, universal, and blind rivets. We countersinked, deburred, and dimpled.  In the afternoon, we paired up to begin assembling a small airfoil section which demonstrated many of the techniques required to build a Van's kit.  The trailing edge was a bit tricky and had a few challenging spots to try to maneuver the bucking bar into. It was a fun hands-on course. One of these days, when I can secure the necessary space, I'll start my RV7...

I witnessed the conclusion of a gear-up landing after the lunch break on Sunday.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.

25 October 2010

First Solo Cross-country Flight

My ground track with yet another embarrassing course deviation
On Monday, 18 October, I flew my first solo cross-country flight.  The term "cross-country" is a misnomer, and I had to explain to family and a few friends that I was not really going to fly completely across the country (that would be fun, though).   The FAA defines a "cross-country" flight as one where the landing point is at least 50 nautical miles straight-line distance from the departure airport.  In my case, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (KCHO) fit the bill at 56 nautical miles.  This airport's runway is 6000 feet long and 150 feet wide--no wonder they send students there.

My CFI signed off on my flight plan and the weather by around 0800 EDT.  By the time I had filed my Washington DC SFRA and VFR flight plans, preflighted the blue 1981 Cessna 172P, called for fuel, and completed the run-up, it was almost 9am.  I have consistently taken way too much time on the preflight for solos.  I asked the lineman to fill the tanks 2" below the collars so that I'd have room for 7 gallons of 100LL at Charlottesville, the minimum for the FBO to waive the ramp fee.

At 0856 EDT, I rolled onto runway 34L at Manassas and the flight to Charlottesville was uneventful.  I had no problem getting flight following from Potomac Approach (they are great) and the tower controller gave me a downwind entry for runway 3 with no one in the pattern.  I was a little high on final and ended up making a power-off, full-flap landing with touchdown just past the numbers.  My landing time put me within 1 minute of the ETE in my flight plan.  I taxied to Landmark and this time there was a lineman directing me on the ramp.  This was a first for me, and I didn't understand the signals aside from "stop."  He explained what he was trying to tell me after I shut the airplane down and then turned the plane 90 degrees by grabbing the propeller and lifting the nose wheel off the ground.  Yet another lesson learned by my screwing up.

Cool looking Cessna 140 next to me on the ramp.
I see a tailwheel endorsement in my future...
Since I was running behind schedule and I thought someone had scheduled the airplane at 11, it felt like an eternity for them to put gas in the plane.  I called Flight Service to close my flight plan, and it turned out that they had opened the wrong one. That was easy to sort out. The woman at the desk was gracious enough to autograph my logbook, which was required to prove that I had been there.  Apparently a student at my school had just flown circles in the practice area rather than flying to the destination airport, so proof was necessary.  There was a pretty Cessna 140 on the ramp next to me.

After paying the bill, I taxied back out to runway 3 and did my run-up in the taxiway since there is no run-up area at that end of the airport.  I noticed the engine ran a little bit rough on one of the magnetos, but since it didn't cut out solely on that mag, I decided to press on.  I had filed for 3,000 feet on the return trip, but the ground controller told me that I needed to fly 3,500 (not true for VFR altitudes at or below 3,000). After waiting for two aircraft to land, I was cleared to takeoff.  I wound up on the wrong side of my first checkpoint and forgot to sync the directional gyro with the compass heading--I won't do that again.   When I asked for flight following from Potomac Approach, the controller assigned me a new squawk code.  I mentioned that I had been given one on the ground (5xxx), but he said he didn't know what that was and assigned me a code beginning with 0.   The original code turned out to be my transponder code for my DC SFRA flight plan. He realized that about 10 minutes later and switched me back.  I mistook another hill for the checkpoint at Mitchells hill/tower and flew off course. When I saw the lake near Culpeper, I realized something was wrong and corrected.  This error put me off my planned ETE by only 2 minutes.

My landing on runway 16R at KHEF was nothing to be proud of.  It was 2 minutes after 11am, so I rushed to get the plane secured.  I was greeted by the chief flight instructor, who broke the news that the airplane wasn't scheduled until 12.  I told my coworkers that if I wasn't in the office by 1130 then someone would be starting to look for the wreckage (overly melodramatic, but so it goes).  When I didn't make it to work by almost noon, they were wondering what happened...

17 October 2010

Night Dual Cross-country Flight

On Friday evening, 15 October 2010, I flew from Manassas (KHEF) to Richmond International Airport (KRIC) and back. There were lots of lessons learned from this flight.  Next time I will:

  1. Completely finish all non-weather-dependent portions of the flight plan before showing up to the airport.  I hadn't finished planning  the second leg of the flight due to work commitments, so I got to the airport an hour before the planned lesson time to finish it and preflight the airplane.  Didn't happen.  I'm happy that I am learning to do the flight planning with nothing more than a pencil, chart, plotter, and E6B, but I really underestimated how long it would take.  I am a perfectionist, and so I went about wasting time trying to pick the perfect checkpoints, etc.  I ended up paying the CFI to surf the internet while I finished.
  2. Remember to open my VFR (search-and-rescue) flight plan in the air.  On the first leg, I completely forgot to do this after getting engrossed in finding the checkpoint in the darkness (those airport beacons can be hard to spot in a lit backdrop).  By the time I realized this, there was no point in opening it as we were almost in Richmond Class C airspace.
  3. Avoid using DUAT to file VFR flight plans.  They don't make the pilot's phone number readily available to Flight Service.  More on that later.
  4. When opening a VFR flight plan in the air, tell Flight Service the time that you took off even if they don't ask.  I made this mistake and I believe that Flight Service used the time as filed (which was just a rough guess).  This along with a serious 45-50 knot headwind made us appear overdue and at after 1am EDT, there was no tower open to check with or FBO to confirm anything.  I got a phone call just after we landed from a slightly irritated Flight Service rep who couldn't find my phone number without digging (it was in all of my DUAT-filed flight plans, but they don't pass that information on, apparently).  He said that they would have initiated a search-and-rescue effort if he couldn't get in touch with me soon.  
  5. Make small corrections (no more than 20-30 degrees) to intercept a VOR radial.  I know better than to fly like that flight log shows (tracking Casanova VOR on the return leg).  It is embarrassing to post that.  My only excuse is that we were bucking a ridiculous headwind that had increased after I had computed wind correction angles.  We were making 50 knots over the ground at one point, since we had to slow down to Va to avoid risking structural damage to the airplane due to the turbulence. The turbulence made it challenging to take any attention away from flying a heading (CFI rated it moderate turbulence).
  6. Don't plan cross-radial VOR checkpoints when not tracking one of the radials. It just doesn't work and is easy to forget which needle should cross which way.  I did one of these on the outbound leg and should have just started tracking the Richmond VORTAC (though the outbound leg was intended to focus on pilotage for navigation)
  7. Gain proficiency making landings with a high crosswind.  The Dulles TAF had forecast 10 knot winds, but when we returned to Manassas the AWOS reported 14 gusting 32 knots.  My skills are not up to handling that, yet.  We (well mostly my CFI) landed on the long runway (34R) with no flaps and a pretty significant wing-low crosswind correction when we touched upwind-wheel first.  Wild ride.  We had a pretty good crosswind on runway 2 at Richmond as well.
  8. Keep an airport diagram handy when taxiing around an unfamiliar airport.  It is not wise to try to grab an Airport Facility Directory (A/FD) out of a flight bag while taxiing.
This flight was good experience.  It was cool to fly in Class C airspace where my movements were controlled much more closely.  The tower said at one point "VFR descent approved" to allow us to descend to traffic pattern altitude (TPA) from our cruise altitude.  I didn't know that I needed permission in Class C airspace.  Also, when requesting a temporary frequency change to call Flight Service,  the tower gave a time limit of 10 miles to get back on her frequency.  I also enjoyed trying to navigate the labyrinth on taxiways using the signage alone, which was interesting to do at night.    

10 October 2010

Dual Cross-Country #1

On Thursday, 7 October, I flew my first cross-country flight from Manassas (HEF) to Charlottesville (CHO) with my CFI.  The FAA requires 3 hours of cross country time--flights of at least 50 nautical miles out and then back--with an instructor for the Private Pilot certificate.  I will make this trip again, solo, hopefully in the next week or so.  

Having spent two hours Wednesday morning doing the flight planning with my instructor, I had everything ready to go except all of the calculations that are dependent on the current weather (winds aloft, density altitude).  I am not yet very proficient with the E6B, a circular slide rule used to compute wind correction, fuel burn, and distance-speed-time problems, so it took a while to finish the flight plan.  I'll get plenty of practice with it over the next few weeks, though.  I tried using an E6B application for my Android phone, but it crashed several times during my attempt, thus proving that the slide rule is more reliable. Seriously, why would a glorified calculator application crash?  Not a lot going on there.  

The weather was great, if a little bumpy.  We flew the outbound leg using pilotage and dead reckoning. The route took us to Orange County Airport (OMH), over Barboursville, and finally into Charlottesville.  We were able to get flight following from Potomac Approach, and I had my first interaction with Flight Service en-route to open my search-and-rescue flight plan.  My landing on runway 21 at Charlottesville was one of the best so far, and my computed flight time was accurate to 1-2 minutes.

We taxied to Landmark Aviation, parked, and had 7 gallons of 100LL AvGas put into the airplane to avoid paying a landing/ramp fee.  There is an airline on the field and plenty of business jets. We took off shortly after I paid the fuel bill. A Dash 8 landed while we were waiting for takeoff clearance.   We watched where it touched down and then made the takeoff rotation past that point to avoid any wake turbulence.

We departed on the downwind leg and turned for the WITTO intersection.  The return route  was intended to be flown with the hood on, had I remembered it, as it required tracking a radial all the way back to the Casanova VOR. 

This was a fun trip. While I was busy looking for checkpoints and flying the airplane (no autopilot or GPS on board), I enjoyed having a few moments to look at the scenery.  It was great to actually go someplace other than the practice area.