Archive for May, 2011

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.

Steep TurnsOut of Providence on a perfect day and off to the Newport Training Area. After the last lesson – I’d asked to practice steep turns. The plane was climbing out hands off once trimmed out. “Whatever you want” said Greg when we got in the training area. I flew my clearing turns and then two steep turns, clearing turns and two steep turns. 8 steep turns later the instructor called a halt. “They were all to PTS and on two sequences you rolled from one to the other and stayed in PTS – that is a Commercial Maneuver not Private Pilot – you’ve got it – let’s go do some short fields at Newport”.

We dropped into Newport as I worked it to drop in over the mythical tall trees at the end of the runway. Two were OK but not terrific and one was a bit late so I went around. On our last taxi around at Newport we came across a rudder lock lying in the taxiway. I stopped and called UNICOM and they said they would come out and pick it up. More to the point – it had not been there before when we taxied round before. I could see a small twin engine aircraft warming up in the corner. After we took off we called to clarify that the lock was a recent item on the taxiway. UNICOM replied that they had reunited it with the owner. Hopefully before he took off with his other control locks still on!

Then a long slow vector for sequence back to Providence. It was nice but we were beginning to wonder if the controller had forgotten about us as we flew slowly north watching a stream of jets flying south for the runway. We were about to call when the controller announced – “503SP – follow the Boeing 737 passing overhead about now – cleared to land number two with caution for wake turbulence”. We looked up and 500ft above us a 737 drifted over. COOL! We followed him in.