Archive for the ‘Learning To Fly’ Category

Joe Caruso, center, is flanked by teammates Kathy Lewis and Mitch Turner on Saturday after the trio completed the Amica 19.7 Newport sprint triathlon. Caruso, who was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009, completed the 16.1-mile bike portion.

Joe Caruso, center, is flanked by teammates Kathy Lewis and Mitch Turner on Saturday after the trio completed the Amica 19.7 Newport sprint triathlon. Caruso, who was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009, completed the 16.1-mile bike portion.

For those of you who read my first blog about why I was learning to fly - one reason that spurred me on was news of friends and collegues who were facing living with cancer. When I wrote that original post – I left out the names. Later one of my friends agreed that I could name her and if you have followed the progress of learning to fly – you will see who she is.

Today however I’m going to tell you about another inspirational character who I still wear a “Livestrong” yellow band for. Actually – I’m going to let Scott Barrett of the Newport Daily News take up the story:

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. – Joe Caruso is certain that being active is keeping him alive.

Diagnosed with Stage IV adenocarcinoma, or nonsmokers’ lung cancer, in December 2009, the Newport resident scoffed at the idea of remaining stagnant during his chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He competed in the Save The Bay Swim a few months after being diagnosed and remained a fixture on the local triathlon scene.

A father of three young boys, Caruso wasn’t going to let cancer beat him.

But not long after he competed in the Mooseman triathlon in Newfound Lake, N.H., in June, things took a turn for the worse. He felt a bit dizzy and went to the doctor for an MRI. He was told the cancer had spread to his brain, and the next week, he started three straight weeks of full brain radiation.

“The doctors told me I was going to be tired, but I had just completed an Olympic distance marathon,” said Caruso, 44. “I was going into this feeling healthy, and I figured I would be back on my feet in a week.

“That wasn’t the case. Brain radiation really knocked me for a loop because I was just so exhausted. It wasn’t that I was sleeping all day, it’s just that I couldn’t move. Going from competing in a triathlon, to struggling to do the dishes was very difficult do deal with.”

Everyone can relate to cancer, but I can relate to what Caruso is going through. My mother, who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September 2009, also had the disease spread to her brain. She passed away earlier this month. Throughout all of the radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she was tired. Getting out of bed was a chore, and ascending a flight of stairs was torture.

Nobody would have blamed Caruso if he never competed in another triathlon, but that’s simply not his style.

He ended his brain radiation treatment on July 6 and picked up where he left off with his training. Last Saturday, he teamed with Mitch Turner of Middletown and Kathy Lewis of Newport to tackle the Amica 19.7 Newport, as part of Team Caruso.

“He’s saying, ‘I’m going to live my life and get out there and do things. I may not be around for this next year, but I’m going to enter it,’” Lewis said. “That’s the way he marches, and that’s contagious. I like being around people like that.”

Lewis took the half-mile swim, Turner ran the 3.1 miles and Caruso biked 16.1 miles, which he said felt more like 100.

“I was definitely fatigued,” he said. “My legs hurt, they were shaking. Mentally I felt great, but my legs were burning, and my back hurt a little bit. I started to get a pretty bad headache. There are a few hills there where I almost got off my bike and started walking.”

Team Caruso finished last of the eight teams – “It was tough getting passed by the ladies and the older men,” Caruso said jokingly – but winning was never the goal.

“I feel that exercise is definitely keeping me alive,” Caruso said. “When I’m out there breathing hard, I try to inhale clean air and exhale those cancer cells. So that’s why exercise pays off. That’s what I tell myself.

“It’s something that keeps me motivated.”

Caruso also wants to set an example for his sons – Mason, 6, Tyler, 4 and Noah, 3.

“I want to show them that you can never give up, and that anything is possible,” he said. “I want to let them know that there are always struggles in life, and you have to try your hardest to overcome them.

“I feel like I have a short time to inspire and motivate.”

And Caruso will continue to inspire and motivate until he’s no longer physically able. He’ll take part in the Jamestown Classic, a 19-mile bike race, in October, and the Newport Pell Bridge Run in November. Then he’ll spend the winter in the pool in preparation for the Save The Bay Swim.

“I know I’m going to fight to stay alive as long as I can,” he said. “The two-year mark is coming up in December. I keep telling myself that I’m doing better than most people, and I attribute that to exercise and my attitude throughout this whole thing.”

Said Turner, “I don’t think anything is going to stop him or get in his way. What really inspires him, more than anything, is when he sees what he’s doing for others. For him, it’s showing what can be done, that he’s changing the lives of people who he doesn’t even know.”

To help support Caruso, his wife Linda and their three boys, visit

A long weekend planning a 241 mile cross country to Elmira Corning. Just why the examiner wants that as an objective I’m not 100% clear but as I plan it out I have to deal with designated mountain areas, turbulence in the lee of ridges and most classes of airspace. I pore over the material and get the plan down in a broad brush and then refine it at least twice through the weekend. One small solace – it is almost the opposite of the route needed to get my plane back from PA so it is certainly not wasted work. My flight suit is freshly washed. My boots are shined. In the middle of the evening of our 4th July party – I sneak off and put in my first stab at the weather as I hit the 12 hour to go planning window. Back to the guests, clear up, skip the fireworks and early to bed.

Up at 05:00, shower, trim my beard – might as well look good – even if it doesn’t go well. Good impression and all that. I pull down the newest Surface Analysis Chart, Low Level Prognostic Chart, Radar Chart, Winds aloft forecast, a Full weather briefing, Notices to Airmen and Temporary Flight Restrictions and integrate them all with my plan. Print out a copy for me and a summarized copy for the examiner. I run though my document checklist:

- Aircraft Documents – in the plane
- Aircraft Maintenance Records – Filing cabinet at the school
- FAA Approved Flight manual – in the plane and my own copy
- View Limiting Device – Flight Bag
- Charts – Flight Bag
- Flight Computer and Plotter – in my Kneeboard
- Flight Plan Form – Filed at DUAT first thing and blank spare in my kneeboard
- Flight Log – In my Bag
- An AIM, AFD and other Publications pertinent to the flight – Flight Bag
- Photo ID – Passport in my Logbook cover
- Pilot Certificate – Logbook cover
- Medical Certificate – Logbook cover
- Form 8710 Application – Online in the FAA system
- Computer Test Report – Logbook Cover
- Logbook and Instructor Endorsements – Logbook cover
- Examiner Fee – Envelope in Logbook.

I head off for the school. Yes I am nervous. I’m seriously invested in this and really want to show I can do it. I use breathing exercises while driving to stay calm and go to Dunking Donuts and get donuts for the flight school crew like I usually do. Try and keep this like a normal lesson. Try and stay focused with normal routines and checklists. I arrive and the examiner pulls up in his car behind mine. We chat briefly. He was a 737 captain for Continental and flew the Caribbean routes just before he retired a couple of years ago. Now he is an FAA Designated Examiner. We wait a few minutes and my instructor arrives to open the school. We go in and fire up the computer and go online to check my paperwork, my ID is checked – we go through the application – everyone signs it online using their passcodes and then we repair upstairs to the quiet classroom to go over the game plan. The examiner outlines the way things are conducted, reminds me that I am pilot in command and in simulated emergencies I am to act that way – in a real emergency – I am still pilot in command but he is available as a team player to help get a good result. He goes through my logbook to check I have met all the flight requirements for solos, training, cross country, night flying and instrument time I am claiming. I have summarized this on a sheet of paper and this makes the entries easy to find in the log. This part goes quickly. He reviews my view limiting device to check it is suitable, I pay the fee. Any questions? I say so far it is just like the example oral exam given on the ASA CD of a sample Checkride. I get a faint smile. “The exam has started”.

I’m asked about maintenance records and when annuals are due – it is quick and I have the answer at my fingertips- we don’t spend long on it. AD’s? Airworthiness directives – I explain what they are about and example it with the recent seat rail AD issued for Cessnas.

Then my Aircraft Performance calculation for the day. I’ve prepared three. One for takeoff at Providence, another for the start of the cross country at North Central and another for landing at Elmira. I explain the spreadsheet I constructed to make this easier and how it encourages prompt and regular calculation of these important numbers. I had determined too many accidents came about from people simply not doing the numbers and thought this was because extracting all the numbers from the performance tables and calculating or looking up other material in other publications made this likely to get skipped. I had made it as simple as possible. My spreadsheet has entries for airport weather, runway length, fuel and people weight. Then it calculates – Density Altitude, Takeoff and Landing performance, Crosswind Component, Weight and Balance Limits and Center of Gravity Limits. The examiner reviews one – quickly does some math in his head. Some questions about Vne, Vfe, VApp, Vso and Vx and Vy – I have the numbers and explain the meaning.

He moves on to my Flight Plan and Nav Log. While I get out my sectional chart – he is reading my cover notes and quickly checking the waypoints I have picked. He looks at the line drawn across the sectional and then there are some searching questions about fuel requirement. I point out my fuel summary calculation and my personal reserve rules that I have incorporated. The flight can be conducted in one complete hop with no fuel stop – though I have built one in as a rest, weather review point and fuel stop if needed. More questions about the fuel. The examiner says the FAA want us to be tested on long cross country plans to see if we really understand fuel exhaustion limits. Hence the length of the cross country he set. Now forget school minimum requirements and personal minimum requirements that are set at a very conservative value. What does the law require for fuel reserves at day and night? I have the numbers.

My instructor Greg steps in for a moment and hands me the aircraft dispatch sheet. We are all set.

We move on and the examiner tests me on various chart symbols down the line of the flight. Where he can’t find one he wants he “moves” one to the line and asks about it. We cover Class D, C and B airspace reporting requirements and how to determine if you are cleared into airspace when talking to the controller. We also have a TRSA space – “not mandatory but treat as a Class C” is my response. Can I overfly this Class D without taking to them? Yes. It is raining and you are forced down to 2,500 ft? Now I have to talk to them as they control up to 2,700ft. An airport is picked at random. “You have a sick passenger and must get down – Without using your AFD – tell me everything you can about this airport from the chart symbology.” I do. Another airport is picked – “What does this RP mean”. Right hand traffic pattern on those runways is my response. Visibility requirements in the airspace? I go over it.

Sketches of Runway Markings – some questions. I answer. And if your nose wheel is there? He points – “Runway Incursion” is my response – “I may not look like I am on it –but I blew through the hold short”. He seems happy with that response.

Sketches of airplanes in the sky and who has right of way? I answer a couple and then indicate the rules are essentially the same as for ships which I have used all my life. The questions cease.

Spin recovery? I outline how to do it.

He asks to see my run up checklist. It is of my own making. He takes a moment to find what he wants. He flips it over and points at the vacuum system requirement during run up. “It reads zero” – what does that tell you? “We are not going flying” is my response, “both vacuum pumps have failed.” He smiles – oh yes – this Cessna has TWO vacuum pumps! What do they drive? I start to outline it – the Attitude Indicator and the, the, the, and get stuck for a moment – I start tracing the panel in the air to pick off the items driven by the vacuum pump. He stops me. Let’s look at a panel on the way out to the aircraft he says. Let’s go fly.

Pit stop if needed – no.

We pass a poster of a Cessna panel. What does the vacuum system drive? I immediately point out the Attitude Indicator and the DG. Fine – how many gyros? Three- the Turn and Coordinator is electric for redundancy. “Good”.

I preflight the aircraft. First check for fuel – but she is topped right off. Oil is good. I get the impression my instructor or the school manager have made a point of putting her in the right spot and she is just right. I do a careful preflight and am watched doing it. I use the preflight and my checklist as a focus. This is something I do all the time. I can ignore the man watching. I can do this well. Let’s show I can. I put in my additional checks on certain bolts you see better with a flashlight, my check of the stall warning horn and shaking the wings. I declare the aircraft ready to fly. Then I am asked specifically about where the components of the pitot static system are and how I inspected them. Then asked what this bent pipe is? The fuel tank vent and I explain how it works – including the cross tank vent feed that is notorious for not venting well – so an AD was issued requiring venting fuel caps on both tanks – which I have also checked. What happens if it is blocked? Fuel starvation and engine stops. I get a story back about a wet wing that collapsed because a fuel vent blockage and the engine sucked the fuel out the wing and collapsed it.

We get in and I am told that he is comfortable with the safety brief and I can move on. I give the safety brief anyway. I really want to get to the bit about him being an active lookout and part of the team. Back on the checklist and start up. I set up the radio stack and also perform a VOT check on the VOR system. “Not required for Private Pilot” is the comment. Yes I respond but as much of the cross country is VOR navigation it would be nice to check it. I get the weather and then I completely blow it and call clearance on tower frequency. Tower put me right…… Well I have heard SouthWest pilots do it. It is not the end of the world.

I refocus and get my clearance and then out to the runup pad. I run up. All is well. I preset the radios for North Central. So I don’t need to do it in the air. Then I call to taxi. We get rolling. I’m told to short field out of Providence. I am setting the plane up but it is clear from listening to the radio that they will want me to go quickly before they bring in a jet. The examiner tells me to do a rolling short field – “what will I be missing out?” Tower – “503SP – Turn right heading 300 cleared to take off runway 23”. As I do a token sweep towards the end of the runway to maximize length I mention I will not be holding on brakes and running up to full RPM before releasing. I swing onto centerline – just manage to set the DG to centerline and start my roll. There is no wind and probably for the first time ever I Vx out at 57 knots without having to go a hair faster to allow for turbulence or gusts. “When you are at 200ft consider yourself over the obstacle”. I accelerate and get the flaps up and at 400ft turn to 300. I’m handed off to departure. I call my departure but don’t hear from them. I check the radio – no – it is good and I call again. I get a departure report back. Sounds like a new controller. Then I’m on a long climb. I get an altitude clearance but no heading clearance and I’m going the wrong way – to Scituate. At 3,000ft I call with a position report. There is a pause, an acknowledgement and then a realization from the controller. I get another call with a heading clearance too. I turn for North Central and listen to the weather. Calm. Pick a runway. I call I have North Central in sight. I’m cleared to squawk VFR and have a nice day. I switch to North Central but monitor Providence. The examiner asks if meant to do that. I reply I did because I am actually still in Providence airspace. Now I have to figure which runway to use. The examiner is suggesting I might fly a pattern and let him know. I really don’t think it will be worth calling UNICOM. The new management company has been at it just a week and are just getting their act together. I call my arrival on the CTAF again. Then Greg my instructor calls he is in the pattern and using runway 5. He knows I need this bone to make my life easier and he just threw me it. I announce my pattern entry and let down to pattern altitude. Then on the only occasion in the day – I blow an altitude and drop 100ft low – I’m in PTS but only just – I announce my error and corrective action and vow not to do that ever again today. (I don’t). “Make this a short field please – your aiming point is the 1000ft marker”.

I fly my pattern and get her in. I’m maybe 100ft past the mark. I’m allowed 200. I have the flaps off her as she is touching down and I announce – “Simulating heavy braking – but we have plenty of runway so I will not burn them out” and I roll onto the next taxiway and pull off. Greg my instructor was sitting with his pupil all this time – holding short. There was plenty of time for him to go while I was on the downwind but he held off to give me breathing room. What a nice guy! You just know everyone is rooting for you. Greg departs AND announces he is leaving the area. Boy he is giving me LOTS of room. Really nice guy. From the examiner – “soft field out please”.

I taxi round and set up I ask where the soft field starts and I’m told the hold short line – so I can stop and swing both ways to check the sky which I do then roll over the hold short and get going. I have her up off the nose wheel and I get her rolling well on the mains. There is a slight squeak from the stall warning horn and I nose down a HAIR till I am sure I am flying, then into the wheelbarrow position and roar down the runway in ground effect. The examiner said “no obstacles” so I really get her cranking and at 80 pop her out of ground effect and fly. I ease the flaps off and you don’t know I did – nice! I fly a pattern. “Soft Field landing please”. Boy am I glad I tried this in high density altitude on this very upslope runway EIGHT times on Saturday. Even in a good flare the plane will smack the upslope and you need to over flare to get it right. I bring her in and flare and then some. I have the stall warning squealing and I pull back – I touch the power to soften it. It is not a greaser but it is OK – I think. I keep the nose up. The examiner says – “I have the flaps – 3,500ft left – take off” and “confirming flaps are up” as I power up and get back into the air. On the climb out – “OK start your cross country please”.

Oh boy. I pull out my flight plan. Normally I would have set up the radio stack on the ground but now I have to do it on the climb out. I punch in the VOR and bug the DG and estimate the compass and DG are probably together. Hard to tell in a climb. I announce my departure from the pattern and climb on. I swing on course to Hartford and trim the plane in the climb. I start the clock. “I would call for flight following now” – but as I suspect the examiner doesn’t want me to. “Cross country suspended a moment – maintain your heading – please climb at 70 knots”. I pitch up. ”Now 60” – I pitch up some more. I ask – “You want me to demonstrate the power on stall?” “Yes please – pitch for 20 knots – recover on the first indication of an aerodynamic stall”. I pitch on up and she stalls. The air is still – very calm, there has been no heating and no turbulence. I really feel the aileron twitch the 1/8th of an inch to the right to hold her level in the power on stall. She stalls and I recover instantly and stay level, accelerate. BANG on heading. “Back to your cross country please.” I climb on tracking the Hartford VOR and at Top of Climb – 4,500ft I level, lights off but announce I’ll leave the strobes on in the haze and I lean the engine and look around. I take a cross bearing from the Scituate Reservoir and mark the chart and check the time and I enter it in the log. Gosh there is really no wind – everything is pretty much on the money. I notice the examiner watching and as soon as I make my first time entry in the log – “OK – cross country good – my controls”.

I hand off the controls. He hands me my view limiting foggles. I put them on and make sure I can only see the instruments. I get the plane back. He asks me to fly this heading and altitude. He watches for a few minutes. Then – “Pretend you were VFR and just flew into a cloud – what’s the plan?” I outline – straight and level flight, bug my heading, standard rate turn to the left and fly a 180 till the bug is at the bottom of the DG – then fly on till out the cloud. “OK – don’t actually do it – carry on.” A few minutes later – “You didn’t come out the clouds – now what?” I announce I would immediately get help from air traffic control to get to clear air. “OK.” Then a bit of paper appears under my nose. There is a 4 letter identifier on it for an airport. I’m told ATC has found me a clear airfield and this is it. Fly there………. I have NO idea where this 4 letter identifier is. I start cautiously programming the GPS to find it. Push a button, fly the plane, notch a dial, fly the plane, push a button, fly the plane, notch a dial, fly the plane, push a button, fly the plane and so on. It takes a good two minutes or so – but I must keep the plane straight and level. I get the code in and punch “Direct To.” I get a solution. I will have to turn 120 to the right and fly 103 miles to Sandford. Where? Never heard of it! I start the turn. We have a discussion about telling “the passengers” how long it will take – my answer “an hour” and do I have the fuel to do it – “yes – I have 4 hours”. I ask the examiner if he is keeping a good look out. I’m in foggles and getting my sailor’s twitch that says “time to look around”. “Yes we are good” from the examiner and – “Will I encounter icing in this cloud?” I get the outside air temperature. 18 degrees C – “No”. What should I do about altitude? The answer is 3,500ft or 5,500ft for the direction I am flying but I also add that I would ask for ATC’s help as I now have no idea about mountains that might be ahead. “My controls” from the examiner. “Eyes shut and head on shoulder.”

In my head I’m chanting “Blue push / Brown pull” while he flips the plane around the sky. He is going to hand me her back in an unusual attitude and I must immediately correct it. The throttle is KEY to passing this maneuver and as I get to open my eyes I have to push it in if we are climbing – blue on the attitude indicator and pull if diving – brown on the indicator. I’ve never found this exercise intuitive – it is even a little artificial feeling. But you gotta get it right. “Blue push / Brown pull” in my head. “Your plane.” I open my eyes – blue – I push the throttle home and level the wings then push down to level off. I recover and get her flying again. “My plane” from the examiner. “Take your foggles off”. I do. “Your plane. Fly North at 3,000ft then steep turns please – first to the left”. I fly my clearing turns and set up. There isn’t much to set up on – it is hazy. Mount Wachusett is a possibility. The examiner tells me to bug it at North and use the bug. I get her at Va and on altitude. I roll into my left turn. Flick in a wheel of up trim and she is solid. The rivets on the cowl carve across the horizon and round she goes. I roll out. That one was perfect speed, altitude and heading roll out. YES! We pause for a moment as I re-trim. “I have checked and you are clear right – Now to the right please”. I roll right, flick the trim and round she goes. The first half is OK – then she slows a hair and I chase her back into line. I roll out. I think I was up 20 ft at most and 5 knots off till I got her sorted. Still in PTS. “Fly 120 for Providence”.

“OK – Into slow flight please but only with flaps 20”. He holds up two fingers to emphasize the 20 instead of the usual 30. I fly clearing turns first. I think I am set up. I start into it but I’m not happy. It is headed out of PTS but not there yet. “Abort” I announce. “I can do this better”. I level off and set up again and get her into slow flight MUCH better. “Turn right to 200” – I gently fly around the sky to the heading. “Now smoothly pull the throttle and recover at the first sign of an aerodynamic stall”. I do and recover. At most I lost 100ft. “Back to 120 please”. We are flying on for Providence.

“Imagine you were cycling the flaps and the breaker popped – what would you do?” I outline that I don’t need flaps on the long runway at Providence and a breaker reset might just lead to an electrical fire because I don’t know why the breaker popped. “OK – fly the rest of the mission without flaps please”. Then the examiner says he will get our clearance while I get the weather…. I set up the radio stack and get the weather. We are cleared for runway 23. “Your radios” from the examiner. I’m wondering if that was the emergency? The lost flaps? I pull out my checklist to check the flaps up landing speed. I announce I am leaning the engine below 3000ft because the Density Altitude is high and we have been flying at full rich for a while. I want to clean the plugs before the landing. Then approach asks us to turn final and make best speed and over to tower. We are still 7 miles out. Final is inappropriate. Then tower ask me to square my base – they have three planes they want to get out ahead of me. Wish they would make their minds up! I announce to the examiner I will just fly a normal approach. I am descending through pattern altitude but still high for no flaps – I announce I will slip on final to get the glideslope. I push full rich at 1,000ft as the EGT starts to twitch off the stop. I turn final as I am cleared to land. The examiner asks me to slip down to the glideslope then slip as needed to make the landing. I slip down to the red over white light and recover and fly on. As I come over the threshold at 80 knots I land fast and roll on. If I stand on the brakes I could maybe make taxiway Charlie but it would be hard on the plane. We roll on down for Tango – only it is closed for maintenance and we end up at Mike One. Sheesh – a long taxi home. I get her home, park on the spot and work my shutdown checklist. As I put the keys on the dash I announce – “Safe” and I take my headset off. It is wringing wet with sweat.

From the examiner and in a dry tone – “So as to save the suspense – you passed. It was an above average Checkride. My only comment was I think you could have been airborne a little earlier on the soft field take off. Do your housekeeping and we can go in and do the paperwork.” I write up the hours, check the plane for trash, chock her and put on the pitot cover to keep the flies out. I decide not to put in the cowl plugs. The engine is hot and the temperature is climbing into the mid 80’s.

As we walk in Rusty the ramp rat is working on the golf cart used to tow the planes. He is signaling “How did you do?” I give him a thumbs up. He is all smiles. His Checkride is coming soon. We are walking into the classroom and everyone is briefing their students for the next lesson. Trying to look casual but I have been out representing the school this morning – all the instructors want to know…. The examiner gives my instructor a thumbs up over the head of the student he is talking to. My instructor drops his lesson and races over to shake my hand. We do the paperwork. I am issued a “Temporary Airman’s License” on the spot – good for 120 days till my real license shows up. Chris – the manager – drags me out to the plane again for pictures (OK and so I could get the box I forgot to bring in).

My name is back on the school achievement board again.

9 months to the DAY since my Airman’s Flight. 130 hours flying of which 110 hours instruction. 20 hours pilot in command, 10 hours of cross country. I know JUST enough to be safe in good weather and when not to go. I also know a few good ways to get it wrong and how to avoid them. But I don’t need to ask my instructor anymore – but you can always call and ask. Guess I can go collect my plane this weekend! If the weather is good… If I have got the Flight Plan worked up…. If I check for NOTAMS, TFR’s…… Oh yeah – I bought a plane last week……

So I soloed to the Scituate training area today. Steep turns, Slow flight, stalls, power on stalls – I’m pretty sure all to better than PTS. VFR and within my personal minimums but quite hazy. I used the VOR for real to get back to the field when I came back from 12 miles away. (The GPS was also set up but I used that to find the edge of the Class C airspace rather than to find my way home).

Then at Providence for pattern work – soft fields in high density altitude conditions. Providence offered me 16 or 23 the wind was calm (the active was 23) – I said whichever would work best with their operations. They put me on 16. I think they decided to give the controllers a work out with crossing landing traffic. So I made 16 MINE for 50 mins. Softing down (well after the first couple) and softing out. The softs outs – after a couple I really got her wheelbarrowing and then catapulting out of ground effect at 80 knots. It was a blast. I’m required to do full stop and taxi backs on solos but Providence were having fun too and had me doing taxi backs on 16 rather than drive all around the taxiways. It was like I had my own little 3000ft strip at Providence today – just a bit of runway 16 (which is actually 6081 ft long). I never used more than 2000ft of it and more often than not I was stopped in 1500ft.

Then on one pattern there was a jet for 23 pretty close behind as I was midfield downwind for 16. “Two Sierra Juliet – please make this a tight one” from the tower. I couldn’t resist – I pulled a landing pattern from Commercial Rating which I had done with Greg a while back. I pulled the power, pitched up for flap extension speed put in full flaps then pitched down and SANK the plane 1000ft in a U turn around the spot to put her on the runway in a short field landing in no wind to help stop her. I was a little high at the bottom of the “U” and pitched up for 62 knots so the plane sank harder. Then pitch forward for 65 as I completed the “U”. Still a little high. Was going to be embarrassing if I had to go around and so force the jet to also go around on 23. I slipped gently. She sank more and I picked the 1000ft marker as my short field point. The plane positively sank on the point as I pitched up for 62 knots and then flared her to soften the “plant it” landing. She dropped firmly but gently onto her gear and I stopped in 500ft without hurting the brakes at all. I think I surprised tower because it was a while till the jet did show up! This was fun and flying!

Another pattern and in to the school and to brief my instructor. 6 landings in total. We sign me off for the examiner tomorrow after going through my logbook to pick out the required experience to put on the form. Till then – I’ve to book a plane every three days or so and solo to stay on top of it till the examiner can get to me. Just call the instructor and agree the weather is suitable in advance. Examiner possibly Saturday or more likely early next week.

Saturday morning – A gap between the thunder squall line that just passed over and the next incoming block of rain. Ceilings at 5000 overcast. I evaluate we can squeeze in a lesson but must stay local. Greg agrees. It is still raining a little during preflight. I go over 503SP very carefully. I’ve flown her so often she is like MY plane at the school. Well I like to treat her that way. I clean off the grease and oil streaks more than really necessary for preflighting and check her over carefully. I know her wrinkles and dents and can spot anything new immediately.

She is all set and Greg and I clamber in. Though we have done this countless times – I brief him about seatbelts, air vents and door closing and tell him he is part of the team and should help keep a lookout. I start up and out we go to warm up. We are going to the training area to do steep turns. We get a new taxi route to runway 5 – the ground controllers must get bored handing out the same ones! We set up to go and though the wind is indicated as right cross wind at takeoff – we experience some left part way down the runway – I get on it but I don’t think very well. We climb out to the training area and look at the rain showers over Providence and the roiling mess above. The bank of cloud towards Danielson looks lower than our altitude. Wish we had a weather radar. We get the weather on the radio at other airfields to the west and keep a close eye on the clouds and rain around us.

We skirt the rain and get to Scituate where I set up for steep turns. I haven’t done them in a while and they are the first thing to go in your skill set. I perform my clearing turns and then around we go. Greg chivying and prompting and nudging me to do better. We go right and we go left. About eight times. I like about two of them. “Enough” calls Greg – “let’s go do some landings.” Now when Greg says “Enough” that usually means he thinks you are getting tired and you will be back up again to do better. My last one to the right was not great. “No” – I say – “I want one more”. I dial around to the right again. It is locked in and nearly flawless. Well for me. I’m much happier. We head back to Providence for landings. I’m happy with about three of the nine turns.

We discover that at 3000ft the wind is blowing about 30 knots on the nose. It is a long haul home. We have called for pattern work. We are cleared for the option on runway 5. “Short or Soft Fields” says Greg. I need Short Field practice. I listen to the wind factor and the gust factor the controller reads me up. I elect for soft with only partial flaps and a 10 knot added landing speed to account for gusts. Shorts would not be appropriate in the conditions. Right gusty crosswinds. I don’t do right a lot – usually left. Down we go. I wrestle and wriggle and get after the plane the whole way down to final. The kids’ soccer game on the right hand corner of the safety area seems awful close. I set up, bank the wings, correct on the rudder and wriggle down and soft her onto the runway. There is some cross wind. I’m at nearly full yoke to hold her but I get stopped in about 2,000ft at the 5,000ft remaining marker, flaps up – good to go and off we go again. Four times in total. Each one a joy in staying on the plane in the gusty wind. Flying and skill practice. Love it. Each time the controller calls me up the landing wind it is stronger and gustier and each time I manage to wrestle her down on the centerline. The last one was not perfect but it was a 12 knot cross gust as I put her down and I’m pretty happy.

We taxi in. I checklist and shut down. “What did you think?” asks Greg? I say I liked about three of my steep turns and had a lot of FUN with the landings. Greg tells me my steep turns were ALL to PTS except perhaps one and he liked the landings too. “It is probably time to end our relationship.” This is code of my Stage III Checkride from the Checkride instructor before the ride with the examiner. “What do I think?”

I actually think and enunciate that an examiner’s job is to check that the instructor’s opinion is valid and that this means he has in effect passed me as a private pilot – even though I now need to demonstrate this to two others. I also don’t think of it as the end of the relationship. I want to pass my Checkride and then fly on with Greg for my IFR rating – but yes – I want this and I am ready.

We go in and book my Stage III Checkride for Sunday morning (probably get rained off) with a fall back of Tuesday morning.

Density AltitudeSo Saturday, Tuesday and today Wednesday the weather has been slowly getting on the boil. Easily hitting 24C by 08:00 in the morning this morning. Which means we have to start to worry about density altitude. The air is hot and thin and the plane doesn’t fly so well. 3000ft runways that you could jump off in 800ft or less in the cold of winter are now 2000ft stretches. Short Field technique to get out is beginning to be for real and short field to land the same.

Have to do the math. Wind direction, strength, crosswind, headwind, airport altitude, temperature, dewpoint and humidity. Runway slope and condition. Suddenly that spreadsheet I labored over this winter because I thought it might become useful really is. Instead of 10 mins with a calculator and 3 sets of tables and all the chances of mistakes – you punch in the numbers from the field weather report and it gives you an immediate runway length needed and abort point as well as expected take off run and distance needed to get over the 50ft trees at the end. Newport (where we practiced today) may be at 147ft altitude – but the air today calculated as 1,400ft it was so warm. At 13:30 in the height of the day it is now 1960ft.

Take Off – 1112ft roll, 1899ft to clear the trees, Abort at 1500ft roll if plane not doing 38.5 knots – it ain’t going to fly. We even leaned the mixture slightly prior to take off and got an extra 100rpm and 5% power. The air was thinner and the mixture could be leaned.

Vx hard climbing out – Flaps 10 and supposedly at 57 knots but in practice at 60 for safety as the warm turbulence can leave you a few knots short – also an exercise in speed control. Constantly chasing the airspeed as the air swirls around the wings.

Landing – Total of 1297ft needed to clear 50ft trees and get down with a 559ft roll included – with heavy braking. We stayed off the brakes to save them and managed 1600ft stops.

Getting in over the (usually theoretical) 50 ft trees at the end of the runway need not be pretty – just a smart drop in and flare onto the main wheels at slow speed, flaps up to transfer weight from the wings to the main wheels and heavy braking to stop. Saturday I was sort of getting it. Monday I had the sight picture of aiming short of the runway and diving slightly while flaps full down and power off to hold her at a sinking 62 knots then flaring in over the end of the runway to sink her in. I had it in my mind but not happening very often. Today – they were dropping in to Practical Test Standards – even with cross winds. I had the speed control. The last one my instructor had me do all power off from 900ft to control it all the way down.

By 10:00 we climbed slowly like a dog out of Newport and crawled home to Providence. Been an interesting three lessons. Tomorrow’s density altitude threatens to be even higher. Speed control, Speed Control, Speed Control….

Windshear LocationsTouch and go as to whether or not the fog will lift for Saturday’s lesson. I lost the first block – but though it is still thick fog in Newport it is apparently clearing at the airport. I drive in for the second block. It is hazy and my instructor and I carefully look through the weather. The satellite shows we are sitting in a growing hole as it burns off – but there is a bank of sea fog to the south – pressing against the coast. Visibility everywhere else is varying up and down in 5 mile increments. We decide to play safe and stay in the pattern at Providence. Making short fields on Providence’s enormous runways seems a bit silly – but we will be close to home if the weather turns sour.

We go out and pre-flight. Then we start up. It is a nice gentle breeze Saturday for flying but we can see the coastal fog on the horizon. We get clearance for traffic in the pattern and are cleared to hold short at runway 16. We wait a moment or two – my instructor keeps looking at the fog on the horizon. Is it nearer the tree line?

I’m cleared for takeoff and I line up, correct for wind angle, everything green and throttle up – I get the plane in the air and we briefly discuss the aileron correction I used. I look ahead and a line of fog is blotting out the tree line and rapidly advancing on the field.

“Providence Tower – Tree Sierra Papa – we will make this a full stop and return to the ramp” I call as I turn crosswind. To my instructor – “We are going home”. “Good Call” he says.

“Three Sierra Papa” cleared to land runway 16” from the tower. I’m turning downwind and not even climbing to full pattern altitude. We just need to get down.

“Providence Tower – Tree Sierra Papa – midfield downwind 16” I call.

“Tree Sierra Papa cleared to land Runway 16” and then in the background in the tower we hear alarms going off – “All Providence Traffic – Wind Shear Alert landing end of Runway 16. 20 knot decrease”.

I’m throttling back, smacking the flaps in and turning base. “Keep it tight” says the instructor. I’m turning straight to final and power off to drop her in and tell him I’ll only use flaps 20 and land fast. I’m doing the math in my head. A 20 knot wind drop on landing at 65knots means we need to be landing 85 knots in case the wind disappears. Tower are on again – we can still hear the alarms and they are calling the wind shear alert again. I’m lining up.

Everything seems normal about the landing. I’m correcting for crosswind – flying it down a bit faster than normal and I can see the windsock standing out a bit more as the wind accelerates the fog bank towards us. Tower call the wind shear alert again. The alarms are still audible in the background as they call. I’m nearly down. I’m at 80 knots over the runway when I am usually at 65. I start to flare. “get her down” from the instructor. A mixture of – you are a bit early in the flare but this is one of those occasions when you plant her. I do. We get off at taxiway Mike.

“Taxi Mike, Bravo, stay with me this frequency” from the tower. We taxi in and shut down. The wind is gusting and a layer of cloud is across the field at about 500ft blotting out the sky that was bright blue 5 mins ago.

One of the other school planes was caught over Scituate has to abandon the lesson and get special VFR clearance to get back down. The other school plane is up at North Central somewhere. Hopefully he got down there.

We go in – My lesson scores a very hard to get “Excellent” and there is a short write up put in the notes section about excellent Aeronautical Decision Making.

My cheapest (and shortest) ever flying lesson! But a great lesson.

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Runway IncursionA gray and cool day. My last two lessons – my landings have been – well – dreadful. The ideal place to practice – Quonset with a long runway to float over – is fogged in. Fair visibility everywhere – except Providence – and Quonset. We look at the weather all around. We can’t even get out of Providence because of the clouds. The decision – we file IFR to get out and go to North Central where it is clear for the lesson. I will get a chance to fly VFR into IMC under instruction and see what it is like. Today it is warm enough and there will be no icing in the clouds.

We pre-flight the aircraft. I haven’t flown for 8 days. I want GOOD landings today. I use my checklists to get focused. There is a broken layer of cloud 1,000ft above the runway. Just before we start up – my instructor outlines how we will use the North Central approach plate and the missed approach procedure. He sets up the VOR’s and the GPS. He briefs me how to ask for an IFR flight plan with Clearance and what I can expect them to read back.

We start up, get the weather and I call:

“N503SP is a Skyhawk requesting a pop-up IFR departure to North Central with Bravo.”

Even though I have a template on my kneeboard that should help me get it down – I barely get the simple clearance and only manage to read back about half of it – my instructor fills in the gaps on the read back. Then a little unusually for a pop up – according to my instructor – Providence asks us to file a complete Flight Plan. My instructor magic’s a blank Flight Plan form under my nose and I mentally “fill it in” over the radio as I read the details to Clearance. It goes through my mind that declaring 5 hours fuel – for a 10 minute flight seems a bit incongruous – but that is the reality!

We taxi to runway 23 on “Alpha”. Today it includes a hold short at “Mike”. When we get there another plane is sitting on Mike holding short of Alpha waiting for his IFR departure. We sit and look at each other. Two planes land then the other plane is sent on his way and then our turn. “Remember” – says my instructor – “follow the vectors they give you”. I’m on a normal climb out vector – just there will be more vectors. I trim the plane for a hands-off climb and look ahead at the bank of cloud. “Today you are allowed to fly into that” says my instructor – “keep going”. It lasts all of a disappointing 5 seconds or so and we break through. I hardly have time to see if I can deal with flying in the cloud. It is VFR all the way to North Central. Providence knows what has happened – do we want to cancel IFR? We tell them we will stick with it for the practice and they vector us onto the runway at North Central. I like this IFR stuff. It is like being treated as a bit more grown up by the tower! We announce our arrival on a straight in for runway 5 ILS. Other planes are VFR on 5 but as we get the weather it is already suggesting we should be using 23. We land on 5 because others are – it is a slight quartering tail wind landing and I don’t use full flaps to stop me being pushed off. I pull it off and the instructor says “nice”. I’m mildly pleased.

We taxi round checking three windsocks and a flag. It should be runway 23 now. We decide to announce a change of runway while sitting on the ground and hope everyone else will fall in line. The only problem is one of the other instructors has a student up soloing right now. We taxi over to tell him what we are about to do. Another plane in the pattern then announces that HE is changing to runway 23. So all is well. I proceed to practice soft field landings. Greg wants me to fly “just above the runway floats” on the landings. My first is pleasing – I skim touch down and float three times in 2000ft before climbing out and we do it a couple of more times while I dial it all in. My confidence – dented by my last two lessons – is soaring and I get my feet in better tension on the rudder pedals while close to the ground and everything really firms up on the centerline. One more and time for a break.

Out for short fields. A Piper Pacer is practicing tail dragger landings. With no flaps and has to slip like crazy to get down. Fun to watch. After a couple of landings I am beginning to really “sink it in” from on high over the theoretical 50ft tree at the end of the runway. Third time around a plane scoots out underneath us and despite warnings from another plane on the ground and ourselves – he takes off underneath us – just as we are about to land. We execute an emergency go around – clawing into the sky. We jink right of the runway but he is still under us. We swoop left and get clear. We fly around and land. Another school instructor on the ground says there was only about 100ft between us. We do a couple more and then in the thickening haze we fly back to Providence before we have to file IFR.

I feel much better about my flying today! :-)

Red Winged BlackbirdSlightly better today than a dreadful lesson on Friday but not great. But better. I’m a bit stuck on performance soft field landings.

We set off for New Bedford as it would be quiet on Saturday but the orographic cloud was forming in the onshore breeze and the dew point spread was tiny. I had to fly down the VOR and then cross a visual bearing on it with a line from the harbor mouth to find the field. Circled at 3,000ft above the clouds and talked to the tower and though we could make an approach in the clear from over the water to the south – the cloud layer was basically at TPA. Not going to work for practice landings. We blew off and went back to the training area. Newport was clear – though less than optimal due to the nature of Saturday flying there. Still it was quiet when we arrived – so we got in a couple of soft field landings. Then the Newport Helicopter tour got going every 15 mins and the parachute jumper aircraft took off for the first time. We kept making circuits.

Fun couple of approaches as the parachutes were dropping in JUST to the west then as we came around one more time and were climbing out a Cessna 152 crossed in front of us while blathering about entering for Newport on crosswind from Jamestown. He never saw us. We had to genuinely cut around his tail and then we got back in the pattern. After every call he made I made precise spot on radio calls and added (as a broad hint about our whereabouts) “following the arriving traffic”. He was way low in the pattern and I proceeded to fly a perfect pattern behind him. He landed and I was turning final. He announced “clear of the active” when he was still on the end of the runway and I clicked and broadcast clearly “No you are not!” As he cleared I was going to announce “Now you ARE clear” but I got busy landing. I could sense the thumbs up from my instructor. We went in for a break.

A guy and gal were standing looking for a taxi (car on road variety) to go visit the mansions. People were lining up for helicopter tours and parachutes were being packed for the jumpers. My instructor casually engaged “the guy” in conversation – “yes he had just come in from the Hamptons, yeah – a little red Cessna…” My instructor then gently drew him to the side and politely mentioned how to fly a pattern at Newport. “The guy” wasn’t very pleased but didn’t have a leg to stand on. Hopefully the guy got it.

We flew some more patterns. As I banked on one turn to final a Coopers Hawk was hovering over a field about 100ft below me – looking for prey. And if you want to see Red Winged Blackbirds – I can recommend all the bushes around the field at Newport, the grass around the runways and on the runways if they think something is worth looking at – which they do – a lot.

The cold front was pushing down from the north and the warm wet air was still blowing in from the sea. The line of squalls where they met to the north of Providence was building and we were watching because the risk of thunderstorms – forecast as a possibility – was now becoming real. As I climbed out for the eighth time over First Beach the thick hazed moist air visibly turned to small fleeces of cumulus before my eyes – about 200ft below. Cool to watch but there is a lesson about how you can VFR into IMC because the atmosphere changes a hair of percentage point of a degree in temperature. There were still plenty of holes and we were easily still VFR but it was time to head back for Providence.

Critique – nail the soft and short landings and it is Checkride time. I’m a bit stuck on a plateau with them right now – I’ll try flying through that plateau tomorrow.