Climb and Maintain ...

The flying adventures of a software engineer in the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ready for Multi

At the beginning of the week, two more multi-engine flights were left -- both basically simulated multi-engine checkrides, with the stipulation that if any maneuver was out of limits, we would practice it until it was within limits. But, since I had already done so well on the previous flight, Milen did not think that there would be any difficulties.

The flight with Milen, as anticipated, went quite well. Just about the only thing I needed a bit more work on that we repeated multiple times was the Vmc demo. I just could not seem to get the rudder pushed in far enough in order to induce Vmc at anywhere close to the published value of 65 knots. Instead, the plane began to be directionally uncontrollable at 75 knots or so. Granted, the published Vmc value is the value determined under a very specific set of conditions -- none of which were probably true at the time of our demo. But, at the same time, Vmc tends to go down in real-life, due to the fact that we rarely fly right at sea level and with the most rearward center of gravity, just to name a couple of the conditions. So, I guess the fact that it occurred at a much higher speed than published means that there's really a bit more rudder travel available, and I just needed to make sure to use it all.

The next flight went fine as well. This one was with another instructor -- he would check on my progress and make sure that everything was fine for the checkride. The dreaded Vmc demo seemed to go a bit better -- maybe the speed at which Vmc was occurring was the same, but the process was definitely a bit more smooth. But, as on every flight, there was a surprise! A circuit breaker was pulled on me, and as luck had it, it had to do with the landing gear system. I had to do an emergency extension -- but on retraction, I did not quite follow the checklist procedure, and I forgot to close the emergency gear extension dump valve. The gear wouldn't retract (duh!) It took me a while to figure out what's going on, but in the end, going back to the checklist ensured that I was able to complete the procedure successfully. Lesson is: use the checklist. And make sure you do not skip items.

Speaking of the landing gear -- time for an opinion. The emergency gear retraction on the Duchess is somewhere in the middle, as far as ease of use is concerned, out of all the retractables that I've flown (which, granted, is not too many). It's not as easy as the Piper Arrow, where you just hold an easily accessible switch, and the gear free-falls. But, it's not as hard as the Cessna Cardinal RG, where you have to hand-pump the gear down -- and it takes a considerable number of hand-pump strokes to actually do so. The Duchess, on the other hand, facilitates emergency extension by requiring the pilot to turn a dump valve a quarter turn to the left -- using a special "emergency extension tool." Couple of issues there: if you do not have the "emergency extension tool" handy, then extending the gear becomes much harder, if not impossible. Above that, the dump valve is located on the floor, between the pilot's legs. IMO, requiring someone to maintain heading and altitude in instrument conditions, with turbulence, while extending the gear using this method, would be challenging at best. But hey, I still think it's better than a hand-pump.

Anyway, the next flight in the twin will be the checkride. Both Milen and Dave (the check instructor) said that I am more than ready. I'll be taking the checkride with exactly 7.0 hours in the Duchess -- and less than a week after I had started my multi-engine training (I'm a bit behind with the posts, as usual). Wow!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Third Time's a Charm

Waking up on Sunday about two weeks ago for my third and fourth multi flights, I knew that at least the first flight would have to be scrapped. From my condo in Seattle, I could not even see the tops of some of the skyscrapers -- they were engulfed in clouds. So, instead of heading to the airport early in the morning, I spent most of my time reviewing the Beech Duchess performance and systems descriptions. The Beechcraft POH's are expensive -- the Duchess one was over $100 from Essco -- but they are very well organized with regard to presentation of relevant information. In addition, Northway instructors put together a Multi-Engine Packet which provides a nice summary of the Duchess systems, together with accompanying photos so that you can really see, for example, where the heater overheat reset switch is.

During that morning I also did a considerable amount of "chair flying." What is "chair flying"? It's exactly what it describes: the pilot sits in a chair (or a sofa, in my case), imagines that he or she is in the cockpit, and goes through procedures while touching imaginary controls. From the last flight, I really needed to concentrate on engine-out procedures. Milen had said that I do them usually too fast, and sometimes in the wrong order. So, I practiced those over and over again until (almost) I could do them in my sleep.

Fortunately, as I chair-flew and read the Duchess technical information, the weather started lifting up. While it was still overcast around noon, the forecast was for continued improvement. So, after having checked with Milen, I headed up to the airport. We would only do one flight, but Milen was still confident that it was possible for me to take the checkride mid-week.

During the flight, we introduced the remainder of multi-engine checkride maneuvers, which basically consisted of a Vmc demo. Of course, we practiced engine shutdowns, simulated single-engine flight, and simulated single engine go-arounds (at altitude) -- all of which went much better than the day before. I can say I was much more organized and consistent. I "only" lost about 250 feet of altitude on the single engine go-around -- not because I was necessarily faster on the engine-out procedure, but because I was more deliberate about what I was doing. And overall, the entire flight went much better, period. Chair flying really works! Milen definitely thought I would be ready by end of the week. So, it was just a couple more flights until I would get my license -- one with Milen and one with another instructor to make sure everything was kosher!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Second Multi Flight

After the first flight in a Beechcraft Duchess, I was mostly able to locate the required switches, controls, etc. for flight with both engines running. I even flew a couple of ILS approaches into Paine Field, which went very well. I still need to master the Garmin 430 in Northway's Duchess (while the 430 is similar to the G1000 in concept, it's not really enough to look at the 430 for five minutes and expect to be able to operate it at a level proficient enough for IFR flight), but overall, I think the flight went extremely well.

The second flight was when Milen and I started to work on engine-out procedures. We did some procedures for identifying the failed engine -- both visually and under the hood. Basically, Milen would pull the throttle back and I was supposed to say which engine failed. This was easy if the engine failed suddenly (lots of yaw), but it was not as easy if the engine failure occurred gradually; I think that was an important point in the demonstration, because in real life, engines do not fail instantaneously.

After I got the identification of the failed engine nailed down, we proceeded to do the actual engine failure procedures -- that is, practicing bringing mixtures, propellers, and throttles forward, cleaning up the flaps and the gear, identifying and verifying the failed engine, etc. We practiced these procedures on the ground before starting the flight; however, I must say that in the air, everything seems to feel differently. On the ground, the engine failure isn't quite "real". But, in the air, it just feels different -- at least to me. When you're losing altitude, and you've got to manage the engine failure and keep the plane upright at the same time, there is certainly a tendency to rush things. Rushing is obviously not good, and it takes a lot of practice to get the right pace -- not too slow, but not too fast, either.

The final maneuver of the lesson was the single-engine ILS. I can't say it went as well as the normal ILS: I was "all over the place." Fortunately, neither the glideslope nor the localizer went full-scale deflection -- so theoretically, it was within standards -- but it still looked scary. I like it much better when both needles just stick to the center. :-)

So, we've got our work cut ahead of us -- but Milen is confident that a couple more flights, and I'll be ready for the checkride!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Time for "Identify, Verify, ..."

It's been almost 3 months since I got my commercial single engine license. And, the twin at Northway Aviation was something that I always wanted to try flying. Since the Seattle summer (and its associated good weather) are almost over, I figured "no time like the present." I called up my friendly CFI/CFII/MEI Milen and signed up for some twin time. Wow!

We basically figured I'd need around 7-10 hours in the twin. We split that over one weekend: two flights on Saturday and two flights on Sunday. Afterwards, I'd be going for a check flight with another instructor -- just to make sure everything was done well -- and then it would be off for the checkride later in the week. If this plan were to succeed, this would be my quickest rating ever. I guess I'm starting to believe in the "3 day multi-engine rating" advertisements featured in popular flying magazines. :-)

The first multi-flight was an "introduction" to the Beechcraft Duchess. By "introduction" we don't really mean straight-and-level flight: after departure, it was straight into procedures: steep turns, power-on and power-off stalls, slow flight, emergency gear extension, etc. I do have to say that the flight was not quite an easy one for me. Everything, and I mean everything, seems to be different in the twin. The switches are in different positions, the airspeeds are different, and because the Duchess has counter-rotating propellers, you do not need any right rudder on takeoff (which I applied anyway -- old single-engine habits die quite hard, I must say). But, at least I had a checklist in the format that I was familiar with -- that made it a little easier, but not by much.

In the end, I was able to land the Duchess OK after the lesson -- and we did a few touch and goes to make sure I got enough practice. I must say: the Duchess landing gear is quite durable. Don't ask how I know. :-)

Stay tuned for more updates as my commercial multi-engine add-on progresses.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Photo Flight

My friend Neil at work is an avid photographer. And while I enjoy taking pictures as well, I'm a "point and shoot" kind of guy. Neil, on the other hand, takes it much more seriously: he's got several cameras (both film and digital), a complement of lenses, and when he needs that extra zoom telephoto, he rents it -- much like I rent airplanes.

Neil is one of those folks who wants to go flying without needing to be convinced too much. We talked for a long time about going up for a flight, partly (or mostly) because Neil wanted to take some pictures of freeway interchanges from up high. And, since we had the perfect weather for this last Monday -- sunny, with not a cloud in the sky -- we went.

I guess this flight with Neil was the first situation for me that might have been a real-life "flight for hire" that I might have been asked to do had I been a working commercial pilot. Of course, I couldn't really charge Neil, even though I have a commercial pilot's license -- my medical is over 2.5 years old, which means it's only good for third class private pilot operations. But, even though I wouldn't be getting any money, I still had a good excuse to go up flying. So, we headed up to Northway Aviation, the FBO that I rent from most often at Paine Field, boarded one of their Cessna 172's, and headed off.

Neil wanted to take photos on the East side of Seattle -- particularly the I-405/SR-522 and I-405/SR-520 interchanges. The first interchange, with SR-522, could be done easily, since the overlying Seattle Class Bravo airspace does not start until 5,000 feet. SR-520 required a Class Bravo clearance -- it's a bit closer to Seattle-Tacoma International, and Class Bravo starts at 2,500 feet there and even goes down to 1,800 feet at the point where SR-520 crosses Lake Washington (which Neil wanted to take pictures of as well). But, we got lucky! Seattle-Tacoma happened to be landing to the North that evening, and we had no problems getting a clearance into Seattle Class Bravo at 3,500 feet as long as we stayed north of the 520 bridge and east of Mercer Island.

This flight was my first with an open passenger window, and I anticipated a lot of wind and a greatly increased noise level in the cabin. However, I was pleasantly surprised. There wasn't much wind, and even though we did have an increased noise level, I could still hear air traffic control just fine over the radio. What I did not anticipate was that an open window would provide a bit more of drag, and the plane cruised just a bit slower than usual. However, that was not a problem: I chose to operate at a pretty slow airspeed to let Neil find the perfect shot.

An exact 1.0 hours and 3 rolls of film later, we were back on the ground at Paine. I finished off the flight with a nice greaser landing on Runway 29, which put us right next to Northway's parking spots -- no extra taxi time needed. The photos turned out great as well!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Trust, But Verify

How much faith do you place in air traffic controllers? Typically, we, as pilots, expect controllers to provide services appropriate to the rules of flight and the airspace we are in. For example, when flying IFR, controllers are supposed to keep you separated from other traffic; when flying VFR and getting flight following, they are supposed to point out traffic to you on a workload permitting basis.

With the advent of GPS, controllers can do something that might not have been possible before GPS -- give us a "direct to" shortcut. Or, they may give a clearance not along airways but with a "direct to" segment. As a result, sometimes, if we are lucky, the "direct to" point will be far away, and we will get to our destination faster.

But, there's sometimes a hidden danger. Controllers do occasionally make mistakes; most of the time, they are not fatal, and they can easily be corrected if caught. I experienced these mitakes first-hand recently on a flight from Reno to North Las Vegas. Even though I was flying a G1000 equipped Cessna 182, I filed via airways (direct Mustang then V105 to HARLS then direct) -- that was done to avoid restricted areas around Nellis Air Force Range and the Nevada Test Site. Reno Clearance, however, had a different idea: they said they were explicitly told to give me a full route clearance -- which sounded an awful lot like my original plan, except one crucial part was missing -- the "V105" part.

I questioned the clearance on the ground -- I had that "nagging feeling" that I would be going through some restricted areas -- but I got nowhere. Reno insisted on sending me direct from Mustang to HARLS. Given that it was +45C on the ground, that the plane did not have air conditioning, and we had "severely clear" weather, I took the clearance and decided to straighten it out with Oakland Center: "Uh, Center, Cessna 716LR, I'm showing that my current clearance will take me thru R-4807A, R-4808N, and some others... Is that going to be a problem?" Their response was "Standby", followed by "Yes, that will be a major problem, fly now direct Beatty VOR."

I wonder what would have happened if I had not caught the problem... Or, what if I had't been flying an aircraft equipped with a moving map GPS -- it would have been considerably harder to plot the course on a paper chart (actually two charts). "Trust but verify", I guess.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hot and High

My recent trip took place during a heatwave throughout most of the Southwestern United States. The Reno airport, with an elevation of 4,400 feet, registered +45 degrees C at the time I landed. That equated to a density altitude of about 8,600 feet. While the runways at Reno are long enough to alleviate any density altitude issues associated with takeoff and landing (other than, of course, the airplane accelerating more slowly and taking up much more runway), consideration has to be given to climb performance after takeoff -- especially if one is piloting an aircraft under IFR.

Reno, as a major airport, is served by a number of standard instrument departure procedures. Controllers usually do not realize (or maybe do not care) that an aircraft may not be able to fly a certain departure procedure because of the required climb rates. For example, take a look at the Mustang Seven Departure. This departure requires a minimum climb gradient of 525 feet per nautical mile to 8000 feet, which at 75 knots ground speed translates to about 650 feet per minute. This is no small feat for a Cessna 182 -- even a lightly loaded one -- when the temperature on the ground is +45 degrees C (and even when the temperature is standard, a Cessna 182 might not be able to climb that fast).

What's the solution? Refuse a clearance that includes a standard instrument departure (SID). Or, if you are already on a SID, and are unable to meet the required climb gradient, say so, and request a VFR climb to altitude while providing your own terrain separation. This may mean flying the route provided by the SID -- but at a lower climb rate -- or flying a different route altogether. Either way, the controllers will be glad you told them about your predicament. :-)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cessna Fuel Selectors

A good friend of mine got married recently in Phoenix. And, what better way to gain more flight experience than go on a long trip? So, as soon as I knew the wedding date, I reserved the FBO's G1000 Cessna 182 for the flight. Milen and I actually made a very similar flight almost a year ago to date -- but we only went to Sedona, so not quite as far south as Phoenix.

The original plan was to go to Phoenix all in one day -- especially if there was tailwind en route. That would be just under nine hours of flying time; I thought I could certainly manage that, especially with a capable aircraft with a good autopilot. But, as luck might have had it, on the day I flew, I had excellent VFR weather, but no tailwinds. So I had to scrap the plan of making it to Arizona in one day, and I decided to overnight in Las Vegas instead. An en-route fuel stop would need to be made in Reno.

The trip to Reno required some thought about good fuel management, although with 87 gallons usable fuel, I estimated that I'd still have more than 30 gallons left at my destination. Usually, Cessna fuel management is brain-dead simple: just leave the fuel selector in the "Both" position -- which causes fuel to be burned from both tanks at an approximately even rate. Note that I said "approximately": sometimes, for one reason or another, things do not quite work exactly right. This time, on the way down to Reno, just on the east side of the Cascades, I observed a noticeable difference in the indicated fuel quantity between the left and the right tank. In my mind, there could have been several problems: faulty fuel gauge, plane not burning from the left tank, blocked fuel supply line from the left tank, etc. Given that I had enough altitude to restart the engine in case the problem was with the fuel line, I put the fuel selector valve on "Left". The engine continued running, and I was slightly relieved. Now: is it a faulty gauge? It would take a while to find out, because the fuel quantity indicators in G1000 equipped C182's only indicate up to 36 gallons per tank (the actual capacity is 43.5 gallons usable) -- so for the first 7.5 gallons (about 30-45 minutes of flight, depending on the fuel flow), the pilot cannot observe any movement on the gauge. Fortunately, somewhere between Bend and Lakeview, OR, the left gauge started moving as well. If it hadn't moved, my plan was to divert to Lakeview, in southern Oregon.

As I was considering my situation, I sure was glad that I printed out the JeppView approach plates not only for my departure and destination airports but also for most airpors en-route. What if the fuel gauge did not move? What if the engine did not continue running when I moved the fuel selector to "Left"? I probably would not have touched the fuel selector if I had been in instrument conditions, but I sure would have liked to make an instrument approach to the Redmond, OR airport. :-)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Making Money in Aviation

In my last post, I referred to having a long way to go to catch Milen with respect to FAA certificates. Why? Because in the time it took me to get my commercial single-engine license, Milen got his: commercial multi-engine, commercial single-engine, CFI, MEI, and AGI certificates. Congratulations!!!

I'm proud to say that I was Milen's first dual instruction "victim" -- and hence the title of the post: Milen is now making money as a CFI! The opportunity for dual instruction came because I was out of currency in the G1000 Cessna 182, and I wanted to get current before I forgot too much about the G1000 avionics suite. I ended up learning a bit from that flight -- more so than from my other checkout or recurrency flights. We did slow flight descents (which I've never done before), and Milen failed the PFD and MFD on me and made me land with backup instruments only. This was not so much of a challenge -- but it did make for some stick-and-rudder practice, especially with regard to power settings: if you lose the PFD and the MFD on a G1000 equipped airplane, you typically have no tachometer or manifold pressure gauge to refer to for power settings. And, while you do not need these to land, it sure does give extra peace of mind to glance over at the engine gauges to verify that the power you have set is the power you're supposed to have for descent and/or landing. Milen also caught me on some sloppy checklist usage... Yikes! It's amazing what you can observe from the right seat.

I flew the high-wing Cessna surprisingly well -- during the day, at night, and under simulated instrument conditions. It turns out that I did not really forget all that much... If I could point out one difference, however, between the Cessna 182 and the Piper Arrow II, it would be glide characteristics. The Arrow II, with its Hershey-bar wing, does not glide well at all. It's a very forgiving airplane: if you're 5 knots too fast, it doesn't really matter that much. On the other hand, you can't try the same in a Cessna: you'll end up floating in flare as the runway disappears from under you.

In the end, I'm again current in the Cessna 182, and by extension, in Cessna 172's -- just in time for the summer flying season!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm a Commercial Pilot Now

Let's celebrate! As of Friday, May 25, 2007, I'm a commercial pilot (single engine land). (And yes, I know I'm behind in blogging; it's been a busy couple of weeks at work with the end of the fiscal year). I'm finally starting to catch up to Milen in terms of certificates. :-) Although, I still have a long, long way to go.

The commercial checkride itself was quite uneventful, and much, much easier than I had anticipated. I guess that my CFI was right after all: I was for sure ready to be a commercial pilot. Here's what the examiner had me do:
  • Of course, the oral exam. I'm happy to say that I only missed one question on the oral; that had to do with light gun signals from the air traffic control tower. So far - great!
  • Normal takeoff from the airport -- to get established on course for my pre-planned cross country. That went quite well, but then again, there was not much to mess up.
  • Diversion to another airport -- basically get on course to the airport, verify that you are established on course, determine how long the plane is going to take to get there.
  • Maneuvers: my DPE picked steep turns and chandelles. Nice! I just nailed these!
  • Stall series - both power on and power off, with and without banks, in clean and dirty configurations.
  • Emergency approach and landing. This dreaded maneuver went just fine -- to my great surprise. It sure propped up my confidence for the performance landings, which were about to follow.
  • Performance landings. I messed up on the short field. I was told to land right on the numbers, which were right at the edge of the runway... I slammed into the numbers, and I'm happy that Mr. William T. Piper engineered a strong landing gear for the PA28 aircraft series. On the other hand, I excelled at the power-off 180. I landed right in the middle of the 1,000 foot markers on the runway!
  • Eights on pylons. Surprisingly, I nailed these as well. Even with some wind. :-)

And that was it! Wow! So much easier than I had ever anticipated.

We headed back to the home airport, and I was a commercial pilot. At the end, I was surprised that the DPE had a portable printer with him. He ended up printing my temporary commercial certificate -- so now I carry an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper in my logbook until my permanent certificate arrives.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Cool Super-Cooled Water Video

Switching topics for a bit from the progress on my commercial: here's a cool video that someone forwarded to me: Super-Cooled Water Demonstration.

The phenomenon is this: let's say you are flying IFR, the temperature around you is below the freezing level, and you encounter visible moisture. What might happen is that the visible moisture is in the form of super-cooled water -- that is, moisture in liquid form (even though the temperature outside may be less than zero degrees C). Such moisture tends to remain in liquid state -- in fact, the more pure the water is, the more likely it is to exhibit such behavior -- unless it strikes some kind of surface that is conductive to crystallization, in which case it crystallizes (in plain language: it turns to ice). What's an example of such a surface? How about your aircraft!

This is how you may end up getting clear ice. For light aircraft, which often lack any kind of anti-icing or deicing equipment (save the Pitot Heat), this can be an extremely dangerous encounter. And unfortunately, the phenomenon shown in the video is all too common over the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.

Well worth watching!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Pre-Checkride

So close! The day of the checkride was coming up on Friday, and Thursday evening we were out again practicing maneuvers. To say the least I was a bit anxious, especially given yesterday's (see previous post) failure on the simulated checkride because of a botched emergency approach and landing. The focus of Thursday's lesson was just that: emergency landing, together with a review of lazy eights, and of course, eights on pylons. This time, we north of Everett, and our practice area was between Paine Field and Skagit County Airport.

How did the first emergency approach and landing go? Well, I again overshot a bit... I was actually really disappointed in myself at this point, because I should have judged the distance to the field much better. And, there were no obstacles at the beginning of the field to provide any kind of excuse for the lack of good performance. The next one was not much better either -- all because I somehow insisted of flying the pattern too close to the field. Of course, that, combined with the fact that I was making the approach just like a power-off 180 meant that I was not losing as much altitude in the descending turn. And hence, the overshoot. Once I figured this out, and managed to get it in my head, things started going better.

Power-off 180 accuracy approach landings were still a bit dicey. Out of 4, I think I made two within PTS limits, although the other two were not too far off -- but they were off, and I was not feeling too confident.

Nevertheless, I was to meet my instructor tomorrow, at 10am, to get officially signed off. My CFI was confident that I would be a commercial pilot in less than 24 hours!!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pre-Checkride Jitters

(Note to readers: I'm a couple of weeks behind in posts, but I'm trying to catch up.)

I've been having pre-checkride jitters. The checkride was scheduled for less than a week away -- on Friday, and my maneuvers were not quite perfect just yet. My instructor seemed to think I can do them within PTS standards, but on every flight, there seems to be some maneuver that is out of standard -- or barely within it. That's not good, because it doesn't give me a feeling of consistency. And without a feeling of consistency, I cannot feel good about the upcoming checkride.

With that in mind, I've scheduled flights for Monday and Thursday after work (someone else has the Arrow on Tuesday and Wednesday). Monday's flight was a simulated commercial checkride. I guess it went semi-OK: stall series was good, and so were chandelles and lazy eights. We then climbed up to 5,800 feet (Seattle Class B started at 6,000 at the point where we were); on the way up, we went over slow flight as well as systems emergencies. The following emergency descent (steep spiral) went well also. So far so good.

Then came the dreaded emergency landing. For starters, I've been having a lot of trouble with this maneuver, probably because it's more difficult to judge distance between yourself and the ground, and also because without power, I tend to stay high on the approach and overshoot the field as a result. During this simulated checkride, I picked a field, and I thought I had it made... Unfortunately, the field that I picked had a slight problem, which I did not realize beforehand: there were trees at the approach end, which meant it was not only an emergency landing -- but an emergency landing with an obstacle! So, as usual, I stayed high -- too high. In real life, I probably would have made it into the field OK, by holding a slip almost all the way to touchdown. But, this was not real life -- it was practice -- and we have to recover by 500 feet. And in my instructor's judgment, I probably would not have made it. Yikes! That's a failure on the simulated checkride. :-(

We proceeded to do some eights on pylons, but there was too much low level traffic in our practice area... So we couldn't really do them, and there aren't too many other areas east of Paine Field to do eights on pylons at. Why? Well, strictly speaking, you have to be in a "sparsely populated" area to do this maneuver, because typically you will be less than 1,000 feet above ground level. For me (and for my CFI as well), finding this type of area within reasonable distance was tough, so we decided to head back to Paine to do some landings. The landings were OK -- we concentrated on shorts and softs; the dreaded power-off 180 would have to wait until next time.

Debrief was at Jack in the Box over some fast-food dinner. During the debrief itself, my CFI actually was far more encouraging than I had thought: he just said -- pick a field without obstacles (if you can), set up for a normal power-off 180, and execute the landing. I say: easier said than done, but I sure will try to do it on the checkride. :-)

So, the conclusion was: we'll continue working on these maneuvers next time! Since the weather for Friday looked good, I had better be ready by then! :-)

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Top Gun" Moments

For one reason or another, whenever I strive to learn something new, I sometimes go through stages where things get worse before they get better. It's when the instructor demonstrates a maneuver, you do it by rote repetition (and it turns out semi-well, probably through luck), but in subsequent days, things are not going as well and there's lack of visible improvement. Or, worse: you've been doing well on a maneuver, and suddenly you find that nothing is going your way: the maneuver is outside of PTS tolerances, and perhaps the entire training flight has not gone as well as you might have expected.

I've had one of these moments recently in preparation for the commercial checkride (which, by the way, is already scheduled -- no backing away this time!) I call those events Top Gun Moments, because it seems like when they happen, I go home, watch Top Gun (again), and I tell myself that I can still do it! :-) For this recent flight, it had to do with my perennial problem -- eights on pylons. The maneuver just isn't going so well, and I'm wondering if I'm ever going to just magically "get it". I seem to choose pylons that are either too far apart, or too close, or such that I lose track of where they are altogether in the middle of the maneuver. The plane seems to go all over the place -- and even though I know what to do theoretically with respect to pivotal altitude, I can't seem to reliably translate this knowledge into physical flight control movements.

To add to the frustration, my power-off 180 degree accuracy landings are all over the place: I'm either short, long, or not within the 200-foot PTS limit. What's worse is that I seem to have done quite well on these before, and now for some reason they're not turning out as well. All this seems to be calling for me to watch Top Gun again. :-)

The checkride is coming up soon -- I've scheduled some additional flights to make sure that I'm all up to standard. On a more positive side, at least I'm up to snuff on my airplane and systems knowledge!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"I Fly IFR"

Different types of flying currency tend to lapse if you do not fly often enough. For flying VFR, it's not so hard to maintain currency or to regain it: you need three takeoffs and landings in the past 90 days -- and that's only to carry passengers; for practical purposes, that means you can always get current on your own (if you haven't flown in a while, it may be a good idea to take a CFI along, though). There are additional requirements for flying at night, but these can be accomplished on your own as well.

On the other hand, for flying IFR, it's a bit different. In the past six months, you must have had, under actual or simulated conditions, six instrument approaches, a hold, and you must have intercepted/tracked navigational courses. If you let the six month currency lapse, you cannot file IFR, and you have six additional months to fulfill the requirements in VFR conditions - with a safety pilot on board. Easy enough thus far, with the caveat that you not only have very specific tasks to accomplish, but you cannot really accomplish them on your own, since you will most probably need a safety pilot: even when flying IFR, conditions at your destination airport have to be such that your approach is conducted under actual conditions. That rarely happens, so most IFR proficiency is accomplished in visual conditions while wearing a view-limiting device (also known as "under the hood") -- with either a pilot buddy (free!) or an instructor (paid).

Looking back at my logbook, I did three approaches, a hold, and I flew IFR cross country last September. Before that, I did six approaches, a hold, and some course tracking in June, 2006. What does that mean? Well, I was definitely out of currency for filing IFR -- but not only that! My additional six month grace period for accomplishing the requirements under VFR conditions was almost over. And, as nicely outlined by the FAA in 14 CFR 61.57(d), if you let this additional grace period lapse, you're up for an "instrument proficiency check", which is almost like an instrument checkride all over again. Yikes!

What to do? Take Milen along as a safety pilot, and get instrument current! We did that a couple of weekends ago in the Arrow. It actually went quite well -- better than I expected, probably because I did quite a bit of instrument practice in Microsoft Flight Simulator X (the game actually works quite well for practicing IFR procedures -- if you do everything exactly right, set the realism settings to most realistic, and get used to a bit of extra sensitivity on the yoke). We started off with an ILS 16R to Paine, followed by a VOR 16R, followed by a hold at the Paine VOR (which included tracking directly to the VOR). The Seattle Center controllers were not very busy, so we got vectors for a practice LOC 34 to Arlington, and then we did the ILS 16R approach to Paine again three times. After 1.6 hours of hood time, I'm instrument current. Note, though: current does not necessarily mean proficient. These are just the minimums so that I do not have to go through an instrument checkride in June!