Archive for September, 2004

To Lawton– or not.

22 September 2004 at 11:11 pm
by Berck

After groundschool, I plotted a cross-country course to Lawton, 61 NM away. We can only fly to airports which are listed as “approved” in our syllabus. I picked Lawton since it was the only place listed at an appropriate distance which I hadn’t landed at before.

Unfortunately, when I got school, my instructor informed me that our plane had been taken for someone’s checkride.

So perhaps I’ll fly to Lawton tomorrow.

First Commercial Lesson

21 September 2004 at 6:22 pm
by Berck

I finally got my first commercial flight lesson out of the way today. Nothing exciting or new, just a review of private maneuvers, mostly so my new instructor can see that I can, indeed, fly. Stalls, steep turns, slow flight, emergency procedures and a few landings.

Picking a spot to pretend to land in is the only hard part of a simulated engine-out. Once I pick one, it’s all easy. In many places of the world, the best choice is typically fairly obvious. In Oklahoma the problem isn’t finding a field, but deciding on a field. My instructor’s only complaint about my choice of field was that it “was too green” and had some fairly high vegetation. I will admit that the surface of the field didn’t enter into my decision at all.

(Joanna says that if I don’t put this sentence in herepeople will think that I actually landed in random fields. Now you know that’s not the case.)

My first landing was a very nice, normal landing. My second landing was supposed to be a soft field, but a gust of wind left me high and slow, and I bounced on the mains a little after dropping out of the sky a good six inches over the runway. Last landing was my first short field in ages, and I nailed it. Cleared my imaginary obstacle and touched down not 10 feet of my assigned touchdown point, and so stopping in the allotted space didn’t even require brakes.

It was weird looking outside the plane again. I’m so used to staring at the instruments now that I have to try hard not to look at them. Steep turns at 50 degrees of bank were pretty easy, I guess I’ve finally gotten over whatever issue I had with them before. Turn coordination still isn’t wonderfull. I’ll be able to feel it one day.

I’ve got a 50NM cross country to fly tomorrow.

Dale’s Ground School

17 September 2004 at 8:08 pm
by Berck

I have time for things these days. I like having time. I don’t need to study just yet.

Commercial ground school is simply a re-hash of private ground school. By that, I mean that my flight school puts the commercial students in the same ground school as the privates. It’s generally referred to simply as “Dale’s Ground School”.

Anytime I ask about the setup, I get one of two answers. One is, “You forget it all in instrument training, anyway.” The other is, “At least the stories are good.” I enjoyed Dale’s ground school quite a bit more the first time around. I don’t mind it terribly much this time around, but it’s less exciting when I can tally the specific things I’ve learned after three days in three hours of class. Today, I learned that in spite of the fact that a Cessna 172P has “7 Quarts” printed on the dipstick, the capacity of the system is actually 8 quarts. This seems a little weird to me, since if you drain the system and put a new oil filter in, you ought to expect to be able to put the amount of oil printed on the dipstick in the engine. But, apparently, one quart is contained in the oil filter, and that just doesn’t count. Admittedly, I learned this because Dale said, “Oil capacity of the 172 is about 8 quarts.” So, I looked up the oil system in my operating handbook.

I also learned that Dale is under the impression that you cannot mix synthetic and conventional motor oils. Unless there’s something about aviation oil that’s significantly different than automotive oil, he’s wrong about this. I neglected to quiz him, since in general, he knows more than me about most things, which is an awfully nice change. I have to refrain from asking him to delve deeper into a subject that’s not really relevant and will probably annoy my classmates.

This group of people is substantially different than the last group. It’s nearly 20 people large, which is slightly larger than the “classroom” can comfortably accommodate. But the biggest difference is that this class has real, honest-to-god, actual girls in it. Two of them. Women may be a growing presence in aviation, but they’re pretty rare around this school. Prior to these two, the only other female student I encountered was leaving about the time I showed up.

These two girls amuse me for a couple of reasons. They’re both here because the Air Force sent them here. I was a bit surprised the Air Force outsources even pilot training. They only do their private training here, but they’ve got a pretty sweet deal. They get paid to go to learn to fly, unlike the rest of us who are spending obscene amounts of money. They don’t seem to much like Dale and complain about how long-winded he is, and how what he says could actually be compressed quite a bit.

They miss the point. The only reason this flight school operates a ground school class at all is because they have to in order to have their training certificated under part 141. The FAA allows “pilot schools” to condense training significantly over what you’d have to do outside of a pilot school. The school, in turn, has to submit an approved curriculum. The private course requires something like 40 hours of groundschool. It almost doesn’t matter what he talks about, the time is mandated more than the subject matter.

Dale follows along with a textbook, but he doesn’t pay much attention to it, using it only as an outline. Most of what he says is non-essential but helpful and colorful information that’s not in the textbook. This is good since anyone can read a textbook, a teacher who simply reads one for a class is hardly much of a teacher.

Dale asks questions continuously only pausing for an answer about half the time. Not wanting to look like the know-it-all I am, but still wanting to impress Dale (since he might be a significant factor in whether or not I can land a job at the school when I finish) is something of a delicate balance. Mostly, I only take the questions no one else can answer, or is willing to answer.

Every now and then he corners a student for an answer. Sometimes he goes around the room and polls, if it’s a particularly difficult question. He hasn’t done much of this in this class though since it’s much bigger.

When he asks, “What’s the fuel tank capacity of a 172?” there’s a chorus of answers, almost all simultaneous after a short pause. When he asks, “How much does a gallon of jet fuel weigh?” there’s only one respondant. I’m surprised, because it’s not me. Of the people who ever answer, we all play the game much the same way.

I haven’t flown yet, though I have been assigned a commercial instructor. The first part of commercial training is primarily cross-country solo flights. Now I get to worry about getting lost again.

Instrument Rating: Complete.

14 September 2004 at 10:37 pm
by Berck

Well, I have an instrument rating. Yay!

I didn’t finish it by the end of August, so the aforementioned happy dance won’t happen. But I’m still glad.

The oral portion of the exam was only a little over an hour long. There’s an art to both the taking and administration of an oral exam. B, who administered my private oral was really good at it, whereas C, who did my instrument, is not so good. C asked some really, annoying questions, sometimes in fill-in-the-blank form. More than once I had to say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I knew everything I needed to, but he was very bad at asking the right questions. In spite of all this, he said that I did a very good job on the oral exam.

I was a bit hesitant about even taking the practical portion of the exam today because of an airmet that indicated moderate turbulence below 6,000 feet and very windy surface conditions.

I filed a flight plan from Norman to Norman, which is always a bit weird, but I had to be able to prove that I could copy a clearance and read it back properly.

The first approach he had me fly was the ILS 17L at Will Rogers. He told me, before the approach, “you won’t see the runway,” which means that I’m expect to fly the approach to decision height then execute the missed approach. It was the roughest ILS I’ve ever flown. The plane was rocking so much I could barely see the instruments. I managed to keep the needles in roughly the locations by sheer force of will, I think. I was sure that I was going to lose it about 500 feet above decision height, but I just stuck with it, fighting the airplane, the wind, and doing everything but screaming at the needles. I got through without the needles moving outside the “doughnut”, executed the missed approach, only so I could set up for the next one, the VOR 17L. The examiner told me that this approach would end in a landing, and that I would be able to see the runway when the approach was over. The VOR, not being as sensitive as the ILS and with no vertical guidance was a bit easier to fly. Still, it took a lot of work. I was at MDA and about a mile from the missed approach point when the controller informed me that I needed to get out of the way or be mown over by a 737. My examiner opted for a sidestep to the parallel runway. Since I had no idea what to do now, since I was below circling minimums for that approach, but not yet at my missed approach point, I asked him if I could look up. He said, “What did I tell you before?” This led to us yelling back and forth, me flying missed approach, and telling him that he could either quit arguing with me or fly the plane, since I couldn’t do both. He flew, and we argued some more. I maintain that it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask, and his refusal to answer was ridiculous. He tried to feed me a line about being able to make decisions on my own, but it’s perfectly obvious in real life if I can see the runway or not.

In any case, he finally decided he didn’t want to argue about it anymore, and told me to fly the published missed, which ended in a hold. I flew the hold a few circuits, which was a bit more difficult than it should have been. I needed a 30 degree crab angle and was having a hard time maintaining altitude +/- 100 feet. Gusts would knock me up and down that much quicker than I could react. After a few circuits and thinking I was about to jump out of the plane if I had to fly another one, he told me to fly the localizer 3 approach back into Norman.

He’d told me at the beginning of the flight that I’d fly the localizer back into norman partial panel (which means without the directional gyro or attitude indicator), but mercifully he either decided it was impossible given the conditions, or forgot. I’m not sure which, but I don’t know that I could have flown that approach no-gyro. I couldn’t even SEE the compass, much less guess where the middle of it’s 180 degree oscillations were. Zach insists that one can fly a no-gyro approach without even looking at the compass, just looking at the needle. But in really turbulent weather you can get turned 30 degrees off course and never realize it, so I’m not sure how this is a good solution.

With the never-ending wind, I had to maintain an enormous crab angle to maintain course, and the localizer needle was all over the place. Fortunately, I somehow managed to keep chasing it back and forth rather than getting to totally lost. The controller didn’t help by giving me some really bad vectors, mostly because of the wind. When I looked up to circle I realized just how sideways we were flying. And flying a circling approach to a runway downwind is really hard in high-wind conditions because the groundspeed is so high. I guess it’s good practice for flying planes that actually move. I circled and made a pretty darned good landing, all things considered. Wind was gusting 15-25 knots and varying +/- 30 degrees. I was about to set it down in a beautiful crosswind configuration, upwind wheel first, when a gust launched me up 15 feet, effectively messing it all up. I recovered and managed a solid, straight landing with all kinds of rudder. Oddly enough, the wind turned more straight down the runway, and I ended up touching down on both mains about the same time, with the plane headed down the centerline and it didn’t feel like I was sideways at all. I spent the taxi back trying to keep the plane taxiing straight, which was nearly impossible in that wind.

After a never-ending debrief, he passed me and signed me off. I’m an instrument pilot. And I passed the checkride first time around, which feels a lot better than having to go back for a recheck.

Now I work on my commercial license. 75% of it is solo flights, VFR. That ought to be a nice relaxing change of pace, getting to look out the window, and not spending most of my flight time breaking a sweat flying approaches. The downside is that I’m not going to be using my newfound training, essentially just going back to the skills I picked up as a private pilot. I hope the instrument skills don’t go too far away.

A wasted week.

12 September 2004 at 4:33 pm
by Berck

I flew on Tuesday, as a review flight since I hadn’t been called for my checkride yet. I still haven’t been called, so I flew again today, just to keep me current. So now I sit around and wait some more.