29 September 2010

No Night Flying Tonight

I was hoping to get my first taste of night flying this evening.  We were planning to stay in the traffic pattern where I would attempt to bang out at least 8 of the 10 night takeoffs/landings required by the FAA in 14 CFR §61.109(a)(2)(ii) to avoid any night restrictions on my pilot certificate.  Though the forecast was marginal with rain, all I needed was an hour and a half of VFR legal weather.

Earlier, the Dulles TAF predicted a broken ceiling of about 5000 feet--good enough to fly the pattern with some margin--but that was later revised to 1800 feet broken.  My CFI called me a little before 5pm and mentioned that that the ceiling could drop below 1000 feet in short order.  Here we are, about an hour and a half after official sunset and the latest observations bear that out:

KHEF 300035Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM OVC010 16/15 A2992 RMK AO1
KHWY 300021Z AUTO 02004KT 7SM OVC010 16/15 A2990 RMK AO2
KCJR 300020Z AUTO 35003KT 5SM -RA OVC012 16/14 A2992 RMK AO2
KRMN 300020Z AUTO 00000KT 4SM RA OVC006 17/17 A2995 RMK AO2
For those who don't speak METAR, that is an overcast cloud layer at 1000 feet above the ground at Manassas.  Twenty minutes ago, it was at 1500 feet.  The ceiling at airports in the vicinity are about the same or worse.  At best, I would have had to cut this flight short, because I could not fly at the traffic pattern altitude of 1000 feet above ground (AGL) while keeping a minimum of 500 feet below the clouds.    

I watched the weather all day today.  Flying is compelling me to observe, appreciate, and respect the weather. I am half way through Weather Flying by Robert Buck. Highly recommended.

25 September 2010

Under the Hood

On Thursday, 23 September, I flew Lesson #15 in Jeppesen's Part 141 syllabus.
I spent almost an hour under the hood during this lesson, which focused on attitude instrument flying. First, I tracked a radial out to the Casanova VORTAC.  The ground track was a little better than last lesson, but I found it slightly awkward at first to add the Course Deviation Indicator (CDI) to my instrument scan.  We did unusual attitude recovery again, which is fun and one item that I should have no problems meeting the PTS minimums. I did power-off and power-on stalls under the hood as well.    

After passing Casanova, I changed heading and a few minutes later my CFI asked me where I was (still with the hood on).  I tuned up 113.5 MHz in the second NAV radio and identified the morse code transmission from the ARMEL VORTAC. I found the radial that I was on and formed a rough two radial fix by eyeball (didn't get out my plotter).

I had one rough short-field landing, but the landing technique seemed to click for me this lesson and I was stoked.  I did a few soft-field takeoffs, which were also a little better.

Next lesson will be at night.  I need to get 8 night takeoffs/landings in to be sure that I'll have the FAA minimum of 10 in before my training is completed.

Flight time this lesson: 1.6 hrs dual, 0.9 hrs simulated instrument
Total time to date: 17.9 hrs dual, 3.5 hrs PIC, 2.2 hrs simulated instrument

22 September 2010

Three Solos and a Lesson in Unusual Attitudes

I've really gotten behind on these entries. Since the last entry I have flown three solo flights and a dual lesson.

Track from my second solo (doesn't quite align with the chart)
On Saturday, September 11th I flew my first unsupervised solo in the Manassas traffic pattern.  Once one of the instructors had verified that the weather conditions were within the school's limits, the dispatcher just handed me the keys to the airplane.  I'll admit that this flight was a little bit unnerving, because the dispatcher changed airplanes an hour beforehand to one that I had never flown, a 1979 Cessna 172N.  Suffice it to say that in my nervousness, I performed a very thorough preflight inspection.  I was surprised to find that she handled quite a bit differently than her slightly younger sisters:  the rudder trim was such that I needed almost no right rudder to hold the extended runway centerline on takeoff.  I had one really good landing out of the 5 attempts.  In a couple of cases, I let the mains touch with too much airspeed, so I needed to fine tune my landing flare.  I managed not to bend anything on the airplane, though.

Last Thursday, Sept 16th, I flew lesson #14 (out of sequence--the school likes a dual lesson before the practice area solo).  The focus of the lesson was attitude instrument flying.  I did a lousy job of tracking Casanova VORTAC under the hood.  Unusual attitude recovery was fun. The instructor asked me to put my head down while he attempted to disorient me by rolling the wings and pitching up and down.  He then put the plane in a banked climb or dive, and I had to recover using instrument references only. The landing at Culpeper was not great--I am a little frustrated with my ability to land the airplane smoothly at this point.  I haven't made any dangerous mistakes, but I think I should be making consistently better landings by now.

On Sunday, Sept 19th,  I attempted to make my first solo out in the practice area.  Unfortunately, the mist/fog at Culpeper hadn't burned off yet, and so the chief flight instructor cleared me only to stay in the pattern.  I got 6 takeoffs/landings in the hour (lots of other airplanes out on such a beautiful day).  I tried flying a tighter traffic pattern to be courteous.  This required a steep descent on final approach using idle power and full flaps early on. The landings weren't terrible, which is about all I will say.  I was nowhere near as nervous as Solo #2, though. In one circuit, I had been cleared to land on runway 34L and had just pulled the power back and added 10 degrees of flaps.  Just as I was going to turn base, Manassas Tower asked me to extend my downwind, then later canceled my clearance to land.  So I added power, retracted flaps, and kept flying on. In retrospect, I probably should have kept the flaps down and entered slow flight, because that was a long, crooked final approach.

Tuesday, 21 September, I flew my first solo out into the practice area. The visibility was unrestricted, sky clear, winds calm.  I took my time doing the preflight check again.  I couldn't quite touch gas in the left tank, though the gauge read 3/4 full. So I called for gas just to be safe.  There was about 5 1/4 quarts of oil based on the dipstick, so I called for another quart--overkill, I know, but I just didn't want to have to think about it.  Air temperature was in the 50's, and I noticed that the engine would cut off if I closed the throttle completely.  After the run up, the engine ran run rough at idle--as is usual for this particular airplane--but it didn't quit.  So I pressed on.  She climbed like crazy on takeoff, solo in the chilly morning air.  I did my best not to get lost and not to bust the Dulles Class B airspace or SFRA.  I was successful with those goals, though Potomac Approach seemed irritated that I called them on 124.65 (my assigned departure frequency) instead of 127.32 MHz on the way back into the SFRA.  To make matters worse, I forgot to switch between radios and called twice on the wrong frequency.   I dropped a wing slightly during the power-on stall (it was really a cool feeling to do that solo) and my heading control was a little sloppy.  I also didn't track the Casanova VORTAC very well on the way out.  I was so concerned with getting lost, that I stuck close between Culpeper and Warrenton for the maneuvers.  Next time, I will move further from Warrenton, because there was a lot of traffic around me and I could hear Potomac TRACON calling me out (unidentified, since I was squawking 1200 at this point) to other airplanes.  Next time I will be more courteous and work a little further to the west.  I followed the railroad tracks back to Manassas, and my landing was not great:  I let the main wheels touch with too much airspeed, causing a bounce.  I recovered fine, keeping a nose-high attitude and adding a little power to touch softly, but it was still ugly.  I need to start the flare sooner.

Track from my solo into the practice area
Total time to date: 16.3 hours dual, 3.5 hours solo

02 September 2010

Soft- and Short-field Takeoffs/Landings

Today I learned soft-field and short-field takeoffs and landings.  The soft-field takeoff is strange and fun:  full elevator is used to pick the nosewheel off of the ground as soon as possible during the takeoff roll.  The main wheels leave the ground a very low speed and the nose must be pitched down for the airplane to accelerate in ground effect until it can climb.  It was unnatural to pitch the nose down during takeoff.  I also needed full right rudder to keep the airplane straight once the nosewheel left the runway, which makes sense because the rudder is not terribly effective at that low speed.

I definitely need more practice with these techniques, but it was a fun morning.  My next flight is another pattern solo, with no CFI required. 

Flight time this lesson: 1.3 hours dual
Total time to date: 15.0 hours dual, 0.5 hours solo