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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.

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