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.

03 October 2010

Night Flying

On Friday, 1 October, I flew at night for the first time.

A cold front behind the remnants of the tropical storm had passed through during the day, and there were surface gusts over 30 knots.  My CFI called me on the way out and asked my opinion on the weather.  At the time, the surface winds were still gusting over 20 knots--stronger winds than I had experience flying in.  The Dulles terminal forecast for 0000 Zulu and later showed the winds abating, so I decided to go for it.  When I got to the FBO, I discovered that I was the first student to be dispatched for the day, due to the weather.  In my standard briefing, I noticed an AIRMET for moderate turbulence below 10,000 ft covering our area, but it was scheduled to expire mid-flight.  While the surface winds were dying down, the winds aloft were still brisk (31 knots at 3000 feet).

The sensation of flying at night was wild.  Pilotage was difficult, especially picking out HEF's beacon with all the city lights behind it.  That will take practice.

I flew the maneuvers (steep turns, stalls) very sloppily.  I oscillated between flying them using external references and instruments.  Next time, I will transition directly to instruments when doing these at night.

We went to Warrenton (KHWY) and practiced takeoffs and landings.  The dispatcher at the flight school warned me that the first landing will be a hard one due to the change in depth perception--and she was right.  I flew the first approach normally to full 30 degree flaps, but with the 30 knot headwind, I was dragging the airplane in.   I held 10 degrees flaps for all the remaining landings, which was the first time I had done reduced flap landings.  The flare was a little different, but the landings weren't terrible.

I was surprised how much the headwind changed the approach angle and how much power was required to correct the sink rate.  On the downwind turn, I noticed the airplane accelerate quickly relative to the ground due to the nearly direct tailwind.  On the return leg back to HEF (about 060 ground track), I could see the city lights sliding by horizontally at a good clip.  I added a few degrees left for wind correction and slid right into the spot for a base entry.  A Baron was landing ahead of us, and I didn't spot him until he finally overtook us and started to turn final.  

Flight time this lesson: 1.7 hrs dual, 1.7 hrs night
Total time to date: 19.6 hrs dual, 3.5 hrs PIC, 1.7 hrs night (8 TO/LND)