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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Xcountry Part II: Execution: "A Flight of First"

Flight Log during planning

*Just a note: In my last post "Xcountry Part I: Planning" I covered what goes into planning a cross country flight. For those of us that are pilots or have astute knowledge aviation what I covered should've been no big surprise. However for those that may be curious about this adventure I just like to provide a little insight into my experience. My mother, who has no earthly idea what all this means, also follows via email.*

This is Part II:

My week called for two back to back cross country flights, one during day light and one at night. I hadn't flown it two weeks at that point mostly due to recent weather. Central Texas is normally hot and dry this time of year, but it turned into Seattle for about seven days which had me feeling a little bummed out. Flying multiple times a week had become the norm for me and I liked my new routine. Each day that there even looked like there would be a break in a weather I would call and talk to a weather briefer just in case. Finally on Thursday of the week the rain stopped I was able to fly the day cross country, and the night was scheduled roughly a little more than 24 hours later on Friday. The unwanted pause placed on my training due to work and weather was over.

I was more excited for these two flights than any others prior to this. It would be my first time really communicating with ATC while there's other traffic and my first experience with a tower controlled airport as well. Puzzle pieces were coming together left and right, and I was slowly realizing that I was well on my way to becoming a pilot.

Since I had completed all of my planning for both flights prior to arriving, we just did a quick review and I adjusted some things according to the winds aloft information I received in the weather brief. We also happen to have a new CFI at the school who would be riding with us in the back so I did another check weight and balance to verify the CG and that we were still under MTOW (maximum takeoff weight), which in the Archer we easily were. Now all that was left was the preflight and to actually fly the airplane, which is by far my favorite part. At this stage in training and flying I'm glad that I don't have an autopilot to rely on, I thoroughly enjoy "hand flying" the airplane.

After taking off the first thing I had to do was open my VFR flight plan that I had filed when I received my weather briefing. To do that I had to tune San Angelo Radio on the COM1 radio to transmit but to receive I had to dial in 110.4 on the NAV1 and listen via the VOR. After making contact I was told to stand by, but the operator never came back. So instead I tuned Gray Tower to request my transition through their airspace. Traffic was low and the controller was helpful, and offered me flight following from approach without me having to ask. After that it was a simple handoff to Gray Approach who was already waiting for me. I wasn't doing badly for it to have been my first time communicating with ATC for an extended period of time. The only time where I missed a call was after I was transferred to Austin Approach, and the controller was extremely busy at the time and spoke like the emcee at an auction. Other than that nothing I hadn't heard before on LiveATC.net. Preparation helped me also, because I already knew which frequencies I would be tuning, and I tried to stay ahead of the game as much as possible by using the standby feature on each radio.

Radio stack similar to the Archer

The rest of the flight was pretty routine, I mean it was a Texas evening so there was the expected turbulence but I was pleased that the winds given to me by the weather briefer seemed to be accurate. I was clicking off checkpoint after checkpoint within seconds of my estimated time enroute (ETE). As I neared my first airport which was GYB, Austin approach told me to begin a VFR descent into my destination. Our guess was he wanted us to get down to avoid traffic or something. We complied and after a midfield crossing I turned to enter downwind on the 45 and landed at GYB.

We landed full stop at GYB so I could review the soft field takeoff procedure which we did while taxing back to the active runway. A soft field takeoff differs from the standard procedure because you apply full aft elevator and flaps 2 in an attempt to get the plane of the ground before you reach Vr. Once you are airborne you lower the nose to stay in ground effect until you reach Vy, the prescribed climb speed, and once at a safe enough altitude you retract the flaps and continue climbing until you've reached your desired cruising altitude.

I'll admit my first attempt was highly unsuccessful but after David explained why it was unsuccessful I tried again and performed the soft field takeoff without any problems. Next stop would be Waco Regional Airport (ACT) in Waco, Texas. After turning onto downwind I was pleased to see that I was already flying my assigned heading, and now I only had to monitor progress. Flight Following was again provided by Austin Center, until the handoff to WACO approach. Halfway to WACO, I was able to tune the VOR and navigate to the airport using my first authorized NAVAID.

Tower offered me a straight in approach to runway 1 over the lake which had absolutely no effect on my landing, which turned out to be a greaser. There's added pressure when there's two CFIs in your airplane. There was no handoff to ground but I received my taxi instructions to parking and complied and had my first FBO experience at Waco Flying Service. I've already written about that experience and you too can read it by following this link: http://standingtalll.blogspot.com/2013/07/waco-flying-service.html.


This day had just gone too nice and I didn't want it to end yet, so I was almost sad when it was time to leave Waco their airport is far nicer than ILE. ILE is my home and my first airport as a pilot so it will always have a special place in my heart. On the way back home I planned a course a little eastern to ensure that we didn't enter Fort Hood's restricted area. Overall it was a short flight back, and I could see the Killeen area immediately passing 1,000' AGL (lake belton and stillhouse lake are almost visible in the above photo), so I decided to do some touch and goes in the pattern before calling it a day. All of my landings up to that point had been excellent by my own tough standards; however the last two out of the three were just terrible. It didn't dampen my joy at all though.

There was a different pep in my step if you will. I really felt like a real pilot for the first time. Being on the same frequency as guys from Delta, Southwest, and all the other airlines, made me feel right at home. Cross Country trips without GPS aid also add more workload to the pilot as well, and I asked my instructor to be "invisible" so that when I solo I know I can do it all on my own and it was a job I felt I did well.   We never lost or in any danger of becoming loss, and my planning proved solid.  I couldnt've have drew it up any better if I tried.

Aviation is where I belong and I'm glad I decided to make the move because in 25 years this has been the greatest thing other than God to happen to me. If you're on the fence about it please spend the $99.00 and take the discovery flight, it's been the best $99.00 of my young life.

* "Pick a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is the saying and I couldn't agree more. For all of those pilots that have made it to the airlines and may be unhappy about your situation, I urge you to look back and remember these times. I ask you to remember the journey of what it took to get to where you are and how bad you wanted it. Being a student pilot brings in zero income, but I wouldn't trade it for the world, and the kid in the candy store look has yet to fade. Honestly I can't imagine it fading for years to come. That's not to say there won't be down times, changing economies etc, but what I am saying is if it's something you want to do pursue it. Even if I never make it to the airlines, I'm already proud of myself and what I've accomplished in just a short time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Xcountry Part I: Planning

Once you learn how to fly the airplane you must learn how to navigate while flying the airplane in order to safely get your destination without becoming lost and if you're already a pilot skip this first paragraph. After all most of us would like to take off and land at a destination other than where we started right? Well that's exactly what a cross country flight is. A flight in which a takeoff is made from one airport and you fly to and land at an airport other than your destination, not literally across the country as in the United States. Flying from Atlanta, GA to Washington, D.C. is still a cross country even though you departed and landed on the east coast. For those of you who may into the more technical explanation here's an excerpt from the 2013 FAR found in part 61.1:

Cross-country time means—

(i) Except as provided in paragraphs (ii) through (vi) of this definition, time acquired during flight—

(A) Conducted by a person who holds a pilot certificate;

(B) Conducted in an aircraft;

(C) That includes a landing at a point other than the point of departure; and

(D) That involves the use of dead reckoning, pilotage, electronic navigation aids, radio aids, or other navigation systems to navigate to the landing point.

(ii) For the purpose of meeting the aeronautical experience requirements (except for a rotorcraft category rating), for a private pilot certificate (except for a powered parachute category rating), a commercial pilot certificate, or an instrument rating, or for the purpose of exercising recreational pilot privileges (except in a rotorcraft) under § 61.101 (c), time acquired during a flight—

(A) Conducted in an appropriate aircraft;

(B) That includes a point of landing that was at least a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure; and

(C) That involves the use of dead reckoning, pilotage, electronic navigation aids, radio aids, or other navigation systems to navigate to the landing point.

If you read all of that I'm almost positive my simple definition was more than enough. In my last post I wrote about my unofficial cross country trip to Llano, Texas and back to Killeen. That flight was unofficial because I had not yet reached that point in my course syllabus and it was suppose to just be two hours of flying at night. Why not kill two birds in one stone? All of the requirements were met so I was able to log that time in my log book which is really all that matters. However before you can just get in the airplane and go, unless you're using GPS, there are some areas that must be covered and I'll touch on my own personal experience with each area in the following paragraph.

As you read this I am now well into the official Cross Country phase of my flight training that has been laid out in the syllabus. Just in case you haven't been following along I attend Central Texas College a part 141 school located in Killeen, TX and it's a great program that provides it's student's structure. CTC's goal is to get you thinking like a professional pilot from day one and they do a great job of it.  My first flight would be ILE-GYB-ACT-ILE in the daytime followed by ILE-T82-AUS-ILE the following night.

Professional pilots communicate with ATC every flight and now it would be my turn to join the conversations. I'd open my flight plan with San Angelo Radio, receive flight following from Gray Approach, handoff to the very busy Austin approach, again to Waco approach, Waco Tower, and eventually back to Gray Approach. It may sound daunting but proper preparation makes it a piece of cake.  Luckily for me, unlike most student pilots who are just starting out, the radio doesn't intimidate me at all and hasn't from day one, so very little ground school was needed on ATC prior to my first day cross country flight. Liveatc.net has been a tremendous help in getting me up to speed with the terminology and just the sheer speed at which the controllers speak, and the value of listening in as a training aid can't be understated.  If you’re a student pilot struggling with ATC find a nice class C airport such as KAUS on live ATC and just listen. I've also been communicating via FM radio in the military for the past 8 years and I'm told most military students make that transition with ease.

Planning the actual cross country takes a considerable amount of time the first you do it and it progressively gets easier with each flight. Even though some of our aircraft are GPS equipped, both of the Archer's I fly have GPS, they still teach us the fundamentals which I like. Pilots today seem to be losing the ability to perform the most basic task due to over-reliance on automation as the recent Asiana Flight 214 seems to point towards. In the event of a GPS failure they want us to be able to use, as quoted from the FAR, a combination of "dead reckoning, pilotage, electronic navigation aids, radio aids, or other navigation systems to navigate to the landing point".

You not only plan your route of flight to the destination but you must also calculate how much fuel you will need to reach each of your destinations as well. Regulations state that for day cross country flights you must have enough fuel to reach your destination and have a 30 minute reserve of fuel. At night time the regulation is the same except the reserve must be at least 45 minutes of fuel. Selecting checkpoints along your route that you can see from a few thousand feet AGL is a must also. It would do you absolutely no good to do all of that planning and still end up lost because you're checkpoints were unusable. I won't go into too much further detail but your sectional, plotter, and E6-B are the back bone of your planning as well as one often over looked person that isn’t yourself or your flight instructor.

Dialing 1-800-WX-BRIEF will, after a prompt or two, connect you with a briefer. Most briefers are really good and will give you a lot of information including; the current conditions along route of flight, forecast for route of flight; winds aloft at your cruising altitude; NOTAMs; and any other pertinent information pertaining to the areas your flight will be traversing. Out of all the things I just listed the one that can make or break your flight is the winds aloft. That's because you must use that information to calculate a wind correction angle that's either added or subtracted to the true heading you calculated using your plotter and E6-B.

If the information is accurate you should have no problem sticking to your planned route and reaching your checkpoints and destination. Downside is bad winds aloft can have you flying a heading of 180 for 100NM when you really should've been flying 170. Moving along with a groundspeed, also derived from winds aloft information, of 100kts you can see how getting lost would be a problem for the pilot. You expect to be at a certain place at a certain time but you just don't get there even though you planned it the best you could. Pilots reading this can probably relate to what I'm describing.

The last part of the process is calculating the aircrafts weight and balance for the aircraft to ensure you have a CG (center of gravity) that is within you're airplanes limits and to ensure that you will not exceed the airplane's maximum takeoff weight. Your aircraft's POH will continue most of the information you need in the weight and balance section of the manual. Once all things are verified you will be ready to get into the airplane and actually fly and navigate at the same time.

GW and MOM of our fleet

All of that and you haven't even preflighted the airplane yet. I told you it takes a bit of time but it really does get easier and it's not difficult at all. It just requires you to be tedious and through, but when you hit your check points exactly when you said you were and make it to your destination the hard work you put into it will pay off. The better the planning the better the flight.


Waco Flying Service

Recently during my first day cross country trip I flew into Waco Regional Airport (ACT) and had the opportunity to experience my first FBO called Waco Flying Service. It was immediately obvious that the facility was new. Everything was nice and shiny and most importantly clean.

I followed the marshall in his golf cart to the parking spot in front of the building and was greeted upon exiting the aircraft with a friendly smile, handshake, and even a red carpet. Once inside we were greeted as if we were family and offered drinks and a snack. The decorations inside the facility were impressive and appropriately themed for the pilot. There is a full kitchen, a conference room; offices for the instructors, a pilot’s lounge with very comfortable chairs and a nice TV, and the restrooms were outstanding featuring a nice walk in shower. I didn't get the sense that I was a visitor and the place just had a nice vibe to it overall.

Customer service was great, and during our brief stay they were more than accommodating. My airplane was topped off promptly and the woman at the desk was friendly and sociable as well.

They have a variety of newer crew cars available as well. Aircraft rental, a pilot shop, and flight instruction are also available at this location, and for those potentially staying overnight you get a free fuel top off when you pay the hangar fee also which isn't really a bad deal in my opinion.

If you can't tell I really liked the place and you can find out more info by visiting their website here: http://wacoflyingservice.com/

For the FBO portion that gives an exact list of services go here:


The Chief Flight Instructor has his own blog which may be found here:



FBO Reviews

The purpose of this section will be to review the different FBOs I visit while flying here in Texas and eventually it will expand to other areas as I visit them.  My hope is that fellow aviators will find these reviews useful if they find themselves flying to any of these areas. 

If you are in the Central Texas area, leave a comment and let me know, maybe we can fly together or meet up for lunch sometime.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Six Pack and Deer

The "Rick Effect" was over, truthfully it really wasn't much of an effect at all as I covered in my last post, but it was only the first flight of a very busy week for me in the air. In only five days I would log 1.6 hours of simulated instrument conditions under the hood and using the FRASCA, two more solo flights in the traffic pattern, my first off airport solo, first night flight, which accounted for more than 8 hours of total flight time which covered five lessons from my syllabus. Friday July 5th would be the busiest day of that stretch by far. I would fly at 0800, an hour in the FRASCA at 1200, and then my first night flight at 2106 which is the beginning of evening civil twilight for us aviators. Night flights must be conducted after evening civil twilight in order to count for recency requirements. I'll spare you the details of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Honestly I wish all of my weeks could be as productive, but for now I still have a day job that takes up much of my time.
Had to sneak in a pic of Rick from ground school
Putting on the hood for the first time was a little trickier than I expected, but overall it wasn’t too difficult at all. Developing a proper scan is the key to maintain positive control of the airplane when your reference to the outside horizon and the ground has been lost. Six instruments on the instrument panel that we refer to as the "Six Pack" must be used in conjunction with each other to maintain safe flight. Fixate on just one instrument and you will quickly notice that fixation is not a good thing. A proper scan allows you to gain the picture of what is going on by cross referencing all of the instruments instead of relying on just one. If you were to only use the Attitude Indicator to tell whether you were turning or climbing etc, what would you do when it failed?

I learned that lesson near the end of my FRASCA session on Friday. It was near the end of the hour and I had completed all maneuvers and developed my scan to my instructor’s satisfaction. However the syllabus mandates that we have an hour session so David, my instructor, had me repeat the maneuvers once more. By that time the boredom had set in and my scan had begun to become extremely lazy. Somehow David seemed to have sense this as well so he failed my attitude indicator while I was in a straight and level state. David then told me to make a standard rate turn to a specified heading which I began to do execute, but due to failing to maintain a proper scan I turned the FRASCA right into what would've been the ground all because one instrument was failed. Needless to say it was a much needed wake up call. Complacency has no place in aviation or really anywhere else in life. No I'm just a careless pilot, I am just highlighting how easy it is to get off track and potentially crash. Discipline is a must while operating in instrument conditions. What really struck me was I knew something wasn't right because I was speaking aloud, but I didn't realize which instrument had failed until after the incident was over. After a thorough debrief with David part two of my day was over.
The Six Pack

Prior to the FRASCA I had my first off the airport solo flight. As usual I taxied out to runway 19, took off, and headed out to the south east over the lake. It was just after 8:00am and the air was the smoothest I had ever experienced. Everything was going smoothly and I had decided to take advantage of the increased performance and climbed up to 6,500 feet. While scanning for traffic, I then realized that David wasn't there, and it hit me really that I was away from the airport flying alone. Every noise from the wind, every hum from the engine now seemed magnified now that I was alone in the airplane. It wasn't scary or anything I just found myself paying a little extra attention to the airplane because the last thing I wanted was to have to really use the emergency procedures I had been trained on. However that would not be the case and after some maneuvers and a lap around the lake I headed back to the airport for some touch and goes and finally a full stop. My first off airport solo complete, but there would be no bucket of water this time, or much fanfare. It was becoming routine and clear to me that I was well on my way to my dream of becoming a pilot.  I felt like I had truly arrived and belonged in the seat piloting an airplane.

Event number three for the day, little did I know, would be much more interesting. My third lesson for the day was to be my first night flight. It would also be my first cross country flight as well, although it was unofficial according to the syllabus, from Killeen to Llano and back to Killeen. Requirements for the flight were to perform seven landings at night, with three being to a full stop, with and without the assistance of the landing light, and to practice emergency procedures at night. After a quick ground school reviewing night operations, I went out and conducted the preflight, we briefed and taxied to runway, you guessed it, 19 and proceeded to take off.

First thing I recall saying about flying at night is how peaceful it seemed. The air was smooth, no chatter on the local CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency), and as I switched over to Gray tower to request transition through their airspace the situation was much of the same. Express jet had a flight arriving at GRK and that would be the only other traffic we would hear that night. It was a moonless night without any clouds and visibility was good. Only a few minutes into the flight you could almost pick out the destination's city lights in the distance, and it was nice to see people still shooting fireworks on the shores of Lake Buchanan as well.

Since this was an unofficial cross country I was allowed to use the aircrafts GPS taking us directly to Llano, TX a total distance of 54NM from ILE. It's worth mentioning that my instructor had not informed me prior to that we would be using the GPS so I planned the flight the same way that you would any other cross country. My San Antonio sectional had its first course penciled in, highlighted and ready to go, but would stay in the flight bag that night. While enroute I pulled out my AFD to see if there was anything unusual about the airport and to double check the CTAF and AWOS frequencies I had plugged into the COM1 and COM2 radios. You always check and recheck I'm not a fan of leaving things to chance. In doing so we saw a special note that said watch out for deer. (See note towards the bottom: http://skyvector.com/airport/AQO/Llano-Municipal-Airport)

Using a 500 fpm descent rate I started down from 6,500 to meet the TPA at Llano, and while doing so I grabbed the weather on 119.42 which reported conditions favoring runway 17. Winds at the time were 170 @ 4, straight down the runway. I was pleased I wouldn't be dealing with landing at night for the first time and a crosswind at the same time. Our flight path had us lined up perfectly for a left base and then final. At that point everything was normal and I was focusing on landing the airplane. It was not my greatest landing by far due to the completely different "Sight Picture" at night.  (You can read my initial post about "Sight Picture" here: http://standingtalll.blogspot.com/2013/06/sight-picture.html)

It was the first of the required 3 full stop landings, but will be my last ever at AQO until they install a fence. As I turned left onto the taxiway to clear the runway I saw the first deer, completely unphased by the noise of the airplane he stood there just eating his grass. I stood on the brakes with and gave the engine some RPMs and the deer seemed to get the point and wandered away, so I continued with the after landing checklist I careful taxied back to the beginning of the runway for departure.

Cleary my mind was on deer and while taxiing into position for takeoff I asked my instructor to be more vigilant during takeoff to assist in looking for deer. I'm pretty sure I could've went without asking him because like the great instructor he is, he was already on the edge of his seat. I applied full power and began the takeoff roll eyes peeled for any sight of movement. As the airplane accelerated past 40 knots I stood on the brakes as hard as I could, and reduced the throttle to idle. Bambi had come back with three more of his friends who decided to sprint across the runway only yards in front of the airplane. Disaster averted I reapplied takeoff power and climbed out of AQO with no intentions of going back.
Not how I wanted my night to end

Needless to say we decided to finish out the rest of the requirements on the way back to ILE as well as the remainder of the landings which progressively got better but still not great. I wasn't frustrated because I knew I would master night landings in due time. Good things truly do come to those who wait and if you've been following along you would know I struggled in the day time as well, but those issues are, for now, a thing of the past.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The "Rick Effect"

Chief Flight Instructor Whitesell isn't a very tall gentleman, and really isn't all that physically imposing at all. However he is quite, he has a sense of humor, but is very difficult to read. When he walks into a room full of chatter, things get quiet in a hurry. Not that he makes it that way that's just how it happens. And you hear the stories of the dreaded stage checks with Rick, all throughout the hangar and the classrooms. It was kind of comforting but not at the same time knowing that I wasn't the only pilot who felt that way. To me he's like the guy from the Dos Equis beer commercial. Rick's facial expression doesn't change when he's upset or when he's happy. You just never know what the man is thinking.

                                                   My version of Rick at first, mysterious!

After my first solo flight, our part 141 course curriculum mandates that the student’s next flight be what's known as a stage check with Rick or his assistant Mike. A stage check is no more than a practical test of the material covered in the prior "chapter" if you will, whereas the final check ride is more like your final exam that covers the whole curriculum. Our school divides the private pilot course into three stages. Solo/Maneuvers, Cross-County, and the final check ride. If you're a pilot already reading this you're probably familiar with "check-ride-itis" which is the same as the "Rick effect" that I spent the weekend dreading. Hoping I wouldn't forget everything I learned and make myself look like a fool. As an athlete I'm no stranger to pressure situations or the big game but for some reason this was different. I didn't know which maneuvers I'd be performing or what type of mood Rick was going to be in at the time either. Honestly I probably wouldn't know anyway. I had to wait until 0800 on Monday July 1st to find out. If all went well it would be the first flight of a very busy week.

I chose a morning flight purposely because I knew that the air would be smoother than it would be at 3:30 in the afternoon for sure and I needed every advantage I could possibly get. Honestly though, the "Rick Effect" had gotten into my mind so bad that I almost started to consider it a disadvantage. At least if I struggled some during the afternoon thermals and turbulence I would have something to blame it on. Mess up in the calm smooth morning air and it would be all on me. While driving to the airport I called and spoke to my Mother who told me to just relax and fly the airplane. She told me I'd been doing fine all of this time, so it shouldn't be any different today. As usual she was right and I slowly began to relax.

Once I completed the pre flight inspection Rick joined me in the airplane and we went over the pre flight brief, then started up and taxied out to runway 1 instead of the usual 19. Remember when I said in my last post that nothing seems to go according to plan? This would be only my third departure from runway 1 which meant unless the winds changed I'd be performing my landings on it as well. You're probably asking yourself what's the big deal? Well due to helicopter operations and some airspace restrictions on the western side of the airport we fly a non-standard or right traffic pattern when runway 1 is in use. Last time I actually landed there it was my second lesson and my instructor set up and flew the 45 for the entry, so it would be my first time doing that as well. Any other time I would've hardly noticed, so I guess you can blame it on the "Rick Effect".

After takeoff I began to feel more comfortable because I had less time to focus on Rick. On the way to the practice area conversation was very little and Rick was just as stone cold as ever. "Oh Boy" I thought to myself. Once we arrived I performed a power off stall, slow flight, emergency procedures which included a slip to landing, and one or two more maneuvers and then he said "take me to the airport". All the anxiety I felt was pretty much gone at this point. I had nailed the maneuvers and now all that was left to do was enter the pattern do one touch and go, come back around and land. Interestingly enough on the way back, and in fairness some other parts of the flight too, Rick started up a conversation that lasted all the way up until I entered the pattern for landing. Word's can't describe the relief I felt but I also felt quite stupid in a way. There I was all worked up dreading something thinking Rick was this terrible guy when in all actuality he's not. All I had to do was fly the airplane and he would have no reason to complain. Flying the airplane and focusing is exactly what had brought me through the maneuvers and again during landing. My landings on runway 1 were the best I'd had since I first started flying there on the 8th of June. If the "Rick Effect" made me grease it on like that particular morning, then I wanted him to be on board for every flight. We taxied in and I shutdown the airplane and it was all over. Rick had some advice for me which I took in and planned to adhere to during future flights. The "Rick Effect" was over and as it turns out it really wasn't much of an effect at all. Just the typical case of nerves commonly referred to as "check-ride-itis". My next stage check should have fewer reservations about it prior to the actual flight.

With the stage check complete I was able to resume flying and move on to the cross country phase of my training. A well planned, and later executed with the willingness of my instructor, week allowed me to fly as much as possible and cover 5 lessons in 3 additional days of flying. During that week I'd also enjoy my first out of the traffic pattern solo flight to the local practice area, my first night flight and cross country. One more each: dual day cross country, a night cross country, and a day time solo cross country are all that remain before I will have my next encounter with the "Rick Effect" for my cross country stage check. Difference is this time I'm actually looking forward to it. In less than a month I've experienced tremendous growth in my own abilities as a pilot and have been humbled as well, and I've meet great people and unfortunately some not so great. I say that to say this is more than a future career it truly is a journey, or a voyage of sorts. There will be ups as well as downs but when you're doing something that you absolutely love to do, nothing can keep you away.


Monday, July 8, 2013

"One Small Step"

As I mentioned in the last post I had recently switched instructors and things began to build up to a pace that was a lot more to my liking. The lessons clipped away and I was becoming a more confident, proficient and most importantly safe pilot. My first solo flight could happen almost any day now, but there were some requirements I had to take care of first. So when David asked me to come in on a day I wasn't schedule to fly I thought to myself "exam time". First of those aforementioned requirements, and the most time consuming by far, was the pre solo written exam. Normally this is a smooth piece of cake test where you answer some questions that you should already know. When I opened the test and began to take it I quickly sensed this would be no walk in the park.

Piper Archer II

I fly the Piper Archer II or the PA-28-181 airplane which I know just as well as if not better than my truck. Problem is everyone else at the school trains on the Cessna 152 during their private pilot’s course, but since I'm 6'4 with very long legs I was granted permission to fly the Archer. Which is in my opinion a better airplane, but all of the schools test are set up for the C-152. Unlike the other students I didn't own a 152 POH (pilot operating handbook) because I don't fly it and truly have no need for it. For the sake of testing however I quickly learned that I must be able to at least memorize the Cessna's information as well. Frustrations aside I studied the 152 manual with my instructor highlighting the key points and I went on to pass the written portion missing only one question which of course was related to the 152. I only mention this because one I was assured the test would be altered and two nothing ever goes as planned for me.

Our Cessna 152s on the flight line

After the test was complete and my logbook was endorsed I left and went home for the day. The next day was 27 June 2013. I arrived at the airport shortly before 1700 (5:00PM) and proceeded out the door to the flightline and performed my usual preflight inspection on N75193. My first indication of something out of the ordinary was during the preflight briefing. It was explained to me that we would not be going to the practice area for maneuvers today, but instead we would depart closed pattern and practice touch and go's. Being green still my thoughts to myself were "I thought my landings had significantly improved, I guess not". So we taxied out for runway 19, took off, and performed several touch and goes. Nine of them to be exact! As I prepared to lower the flaps and add full power I was instructed to make it a full stop and exit at the runway at taxiway Delta. I complied, finished the after landing checklist and headed towards the hangar thinking the lesson was over for the day. I'll admit I felt a little bummed by the thought because in my mind I knew that I was ready. "Silly me" I thought moments later because during the taxi I was asked for a Photo I.D., medical certificate, and my logbook.  It was then, at that moment, I realized what was about to happen. I watched David endorse my student pilot certificate and logbook compelting my requirments, and then heard him tell me to perform two touch and goes and one full stop landing.  He hopped out and closed the door.

Standard Traffic Pattern

Here I was alone in the airplane for the first time heading to runway 19 for my very first solo flight in an airplane. During my scan for traffic I saw an aircraft on entering the downwind leg, but base and final were clear. I keyed the mic and said "Skylark traffic Archer 75193 back taxiing runway 19 closed pattern departure". The airplane hauled off down the runway and I quickly became airborne. Passing 1300' I turned left for crosswind and continued my climb to TPA of 1650' which is 800' AGL at our airport, and after another left turn I was on downwind. Pre landing checklist complete, I had a brief moment to take in the fact that I was piloting an aircraft alone. My thought of achievement was quickly interrupted when I saw that same aircraft was still on downwind as I was abeam the threshold of the runway. With a sense of confusion and irritation I considered some options in my head which included; cutting them off, making a 360 degree circle, or just following. Since they were at a lower altitude and would technically have the right of way, I decided to just follow them. Eventually I turned base, bordering on the edge of Fort Hood's restricted airspace I might add, and then to what had to be at least a two mile final. Nothing ever seems to go according to plan when it comes to me and luck. Even though we were separated by a safe enough distance in the beginning the aircraft, which turns out was a C-162, was much slower than the archer so after the first landing I elected to pull off and taxi back to the runway and start again. Why on Earth a little Cessna was flying a pattern that could've easily landed a Boeing 737 is beyond me. Our neighbors at the airport have been known to do some fairly odd things but for the life of me I couldn't understand. The remainder of the flight progressed normally, over way too soon though, and I was pleasantly surprised to see some fellow students who I've become good friends with had gathered at the hangar to watch my solo flight.

Landing recorded by a fellow student

Those other students and myself share the same flight instructor so I guess I was the only one not in on the fact that 27 June 2013 was going to be my day.  It may not sound like much but it meant a lot to me that they cared enough to come hang around and watch me fly!  Pretty cool guys.  We parked the airplane outside of the hangar for some pictures since it was my very first time flying solo. There was no cutting of the shirt tail but that did not stop them from dumping a bucket of cold water on me as if I had just won the Super Bowl as a head coach. Honestly what I had done hadn't set in yet and wouldn't fully until after I left the airport. I just smiled and kept saying wow and how cool it was. Nothing in the world could've dampened the joy I felt at that moment. Not even the mention of Mr. Rick Whitesell, our chief flight instructor, who would be the next person that I have to fly on a check ride of sorts that we call stage checks.  (More on what I refer to as the "Rick Effect" later).  Once the fanfare was done, we put the plane in the hangar and went over to a friend’s house to really "celebrate" our achievements.   A good friend of mine by the name of Brian Glover passed his FAA CFI check ride earlier on that same day.  Needless to say June 27th was a great day for a few reasons.  You would've thought I hit the lottery, but this was a moment I'd never forget.  It was “One small step for man”, but one “Giant leap for my career”.  Somehow I gathered a sense of truly belonging.  Many people dream of flying, and here I am fortunate enough to get out and live it!

Water on the way