Posts Tagged ‘Learning To Fly’

Diagnostic on my bad radio from Thursday – it went out to the shop for repair.

Before we even fly my Stage II checkride is booked for Tuesday morning with Steve – the Deputy Chief CFI at the school. The brief – “Come in and execute a Cross Country.” This checkride is before I do some more cross countries and then the school polishes me for the examiner. If all goes well – about 12-14 hours away.

So Greg and I go out to fill in the holes in the lessons. We have a list including engine failure on takeoff (to be practiced on a long runway at Providence), steep turns, hood time etc etc. Providence is busy when we head out and they ask us to take an intersection departure at Mike on 34 at just 2500 feet. This is not wise at Providence on 34 as if anything misses a beat you end up down on the highway in Warwick. We decline it. We get asked if we will take an intersection departure on Bravo which is more like 5500 ft. We take that. We don’t hang about – they are trying to get us out before a big jet at the end of 34 who has an IFR departure slot and is ready to go in a few minutes when it opens for him. We blast off and head out on course. I’m handed off to departure and spend a couple of minutes trying to get a word in edgeways. By the time I do – we are almost over the training area. We are planning to file an IFR plan for a box in the training area and then let me deliberately fly VFR into IMC to see if I can get out of the cloud using instruments. This as hood time training – only for real. We get 500ft under the clouds and check the outside temperature. 1 degree C – that means that 500ft higher the temperature will be 0 degrees C and there will be ice forming in the clouds. Ice on the wings=no lift from the wings. We skip the flight into clouds and I put on the “Foggles”. Then Greg has me take the aircraft back a moment without them. I thought he was ambitious trying for shirt sleeves on the ground today. He wriggles into his fleece and then I get back under the hood.

We do some straight and level and then some standard rate turns. Easy enough. Greg describes the clouds forming around us and the fact there are plenty of holes. He has me climb up through one – giving me courses and altitudes. Then he has me in a spiral climb. Then into slow flight and standard rate turns in slow flight. Then the Attitude Indicator is declared inoperative with a black suction cup over it. The question is “what failed it?” I say the vacuum system has failed – but that can’t be correct because the DG is still working (or at least has not been obscured to pretend it is not working). All still under the hood. I’m not sure because it is not part of the electric or pitot static system. I give up. The answer – just the instrument failed. We keep doing clearing turns – but I’m not allowed to look outside – I hope Greg is! Then he has me fly steep turns under the hood. I get the attitude indicator back for this but this is freaking hard. I’m chasing the altitude and then the speed and then the pitch but I can’t get the three locked together. Greg doesn’t let up. He is all over me while I try and pull it together. We go around and around, constantly bumping around in our own wake. The DG tumbles and is now jerking around with no useful information – I have to fall back on the compass. Greg is still on me and I am still not locking it in. Then he gives me one hint as to how to improve the instrument scan on the attitude indicator. Suddenly I get it – the plane settles down and I’m flying steep turns more or less locked in – under the hood. He tells me to roll right and steep turn the other way – I almost immediately get it – even allowing for the need for more rudder in a right turn. Providence calls up and asks if we would like to come back north or get handed off to Cape Approach. I’m out from under the hood a moment while Greg has me spiral back below the clouds and back to the north – then under the hood again. Slow flight and stall and recover. I set up, stall her and recover – but I’m 30 degrees off course as I recover. Again. I lock it in this time. Now power on stalls. All still under the hood. My first recovery is a bit aggressive and I snap the plane over as I do – losing too much altitude. The second one – she noses over – I stamp on the rudder to keep her straight and fly her out. “Nice!” says Greg. When Greg says “Nice!” – you know you done good! I come out from under. 50 minutes of sheer hard work and concentration. Do I want a break?

I’m actually on a high. Reveling in the exercise – wanting to do well and keep practicing. I ask about the standards of that last bit for the exam. I’m told you only do the straight flight and gentle turns under the hood for the examiner. The rest – I was being pushed to do better – as I requested. Now – do I want a beak? I know I will be tired at the end of the double block and it would be wise to take a break. Where are we asks Greg? – I point out New Bedford – I know there is a diner there. “Expensive” says Greg. “Let’s go to – oh – Plymouth”. I’ve never been to Plymouth. I don’t have Plymouth prepared on any of my little prompt cards and I’m beginning to think Greg knows that too. It is a diversion exercise. I straighten out, trim the plane and start flying slowly towards New Bedford as a known point from which to head for Plymouth. I call Providence and let them know what we are doing, grab my sectional chart and lay off a course, dial in a radial on the VOR, grab the AFD and look up the frequencies. I get the weather and figure runway 6. I get the CTAF and dial it in. Greg wants to know why I don’t start heading for Plymouth. I say I like to navigate from a known position. He wonders why I don’t just head there. Later over lunch we discuss it – it is a matter of style. We were both correct – his decision based on prior knowledge. Mine on finding from first principles.

We overfly New Bedford high enough to not worry about the Class D space. But the clouds are beginning to roil down ahead of us and we have to start flying lower and around them. NOT scud running – but cautious cloud avoidance. I realize I forgot to get the airport altitude and have to grab the AFD again to look so I can figure Traffic Pattern Altitude. For a moment I have forgotten it is also on the chart. Greg asks if I am going to get the weather. I already did – “050 12 gusting 16, 10 miles vis. So runway 6” – I say. Greg missed me getting the weather or is playing at distractions to see how I will deal with them. I’m not sure which. I get it again for him. We talk about pattern entry – I’ve already called on the CTAF and announced a midfield crosswind for runway 6 – my thinking is that I can hear other aircraft in the pattern and a full upwind, crosswind, downwind is likely to meet someone climbing out when I am on crosswind. Mid-field crosswind is safer. I’m articulating this aloud. Something I’m practicing because it goes over well with the examiner. Helps him understand your decision making. As I enter the pattern I’m saying things like – “have the plane on the taxiway”. Greg looks fairly relaxed. I fly the pattern and land. A small bark from the tires, a hair flat but I dealt with the gusts and slight cross wind fairly well. We come off and taxi to parking. We discuss the landing. Greg rates it a good one in gusts – you have to plant is and keep it down. We park.

There is a pilot shop. An excuse to leave your credit card with the owner. I keep myself in check getting a new sectional chart – my current one is beginning to fall apart – and a hat for Alex. We go have lunch. The clouds roil down lower and it gets pretty gusty. Greg gets the weather before we even eat – looks like me might have to file IFR to get home. We sit and watch planes take off and land while we eat. Estimating when they have to level off to avoid going into clouds. We finish lunch and go get the weather again. There is a local boiling pot of cloud hanging over the field but the forecast and looking to the west – and home – looks clear enough. I pre-flight the aircraft. As we get in I lay off a course on my sectional chart for home, grab my E6B calculator and put in the wind and get a wind correction angle. I jot them on my kneeboard, along with the correct radial for Providence. The plan is to take off and if we cannot stay VFR legal – land and file for an IFR flight plan. If we file first – it looks like we would almost certainly cancel it as soon as we got going and were in clear air. This is “real world” flying. The decision based on staying in the pattern which would be quite safe – and if it is not safe to venture out – landing and filing.

We taxi to the runway, runup and watch a helicopter and two planes land as we wait. I get her into the air. A gust knocks me up and the stall warning horn squeaks as I push her down to keep her flying. We are in the air and then it is a quick and fast and furious turn through crosswind, downwind and climbing out under the boiling cloud base. It is clear ahead and though I have New Bedford in the GPS as a precaution we will be able to climb above his airspace. We weave to avoid a couple of small clouds and climb up into gorgeous sunny weather with little fleecy sheep around us. My wind correction angle is good and we are on the radial. I call Providence to tell them we are coming home and start letting down. They set us up for a right base to runway 34 and I get handed to tower. I get a new one for me – I’m number one on runway 34 but number two on the field after the aircraft landing on 5. I see a 737 on final for 5 and I call back – “cleared to land number one on 34, two for the field, have the traffic” – about as short as I can compress it. “Good call” from Greg. The weather tells us it will be a right cross wind. Greg’s experience suggests I call for a runway report. The tower’s weather suggests left cross wind and as I go down I do a right, left, right mix as the wind swings around. A gust puts me a little high and left as I try and land. “Fly the plane” from Greg but he stays off the controls – I fly her down and get her down. I don’t think it is dreadfully elegant and I am off centerline – but Greg seems happy enough with it – apart from centerline. We taxi in. All the school planes are parked. We have to go the other side of the hangar to find a spot. As we go around the corner a gust sets off the stall warning horn. So – gusting around 35-40 on the corner of the hanger. “Nose Down” jokes Greg. I park, shut down and we relax.

As we go in I comment it seems strange all the aircraft are on the ground. Greg thinks it is because it is switch over time. But we are actually a few minutes early. We go in. All the instructors are sitting around. Where have we been? We tell them. They all sat out the last block because it was too gusty at Providence! Oh well.

All rainy Wednesday I’ve been watching the weather. There is a brief ridge of high pressure crossing the area on Thursday morning and if I time it right and double the lesson block then I think I can get in my first cross country solo. I call my instructor to see if I can get an airplane for a double block because the best of the high pressure I need for my plan will probably lie across two blocks. He tweaks the schedule and confirms I can have a plane for two blocks.

I work up the plan, research my destination (Orange County in MA on the Vermont border) and alternate (Worcester). I plan it by hand, by the online FAA DUAT tool and with the AOPA tool. They all come out within a degree or so for courses. I get the latest airport diagrams and pictures for the destination and alternate, calculate the aircraft performance and fuel burn and then run the whole plan through the online Air Safety Institute Risk Assessment tool. Even with my low hours and low experience it all comes out with green ticks. I head for bed.

Thursday morning – Newport is in thick fog, the ridge of pressure is not as strong as last night – but it still looks flyable inland. I call the weather reports at the airports I am flying to – and over. It is clear and calm. As long as Providence is clear – and the fog is still burning off – I should be on. I put the latest wind aloft forecasts into my flight plans, copy them to my notebook computer in case I need to make any last minute adjustments and head for the school. When I get there – the last of the fog is burning off. I go in and give my instructor the plan. My cover sheet is:

Solo over 50 miles to an airport – land and return.

KPVD to KORE – 64 miles
Alternate at midpoint KORH – Class D top 3500.
Overflying at 4,500 on outward leg for VFR/terrain and clear class D at KORH
On return overflying at 5,500 for quartering tailwind assistance.
Rationale – this builds on a similar X-Country already flown to KFIT only is further west. Finding KORE should be relatively straightforward. It is at the north end of the largest lake in the area. It is before the terrain rises in Vermont. The Gardiner VOR will give a cross bearing.
If completely lost flying east / west over the north end of the lake and south of the rising terrain will help find the airfield.
Rising terrain should be met with an immediate turn to the south and means you are 10 miles north of destination
The KORE runways meet solo requirements. 14-32 is 4800×75 and 1-19 is 5000 x 75
Worst case X-winds based on forecast 290 / 6 knots on runway 32 is left 3 knots
Wind can back and rise to 260 at 8 knots before X-wind limit of 7 knots is reached. Then runway 19 is indicated.
The airport is CTAF controlled – 122.8
Parachute Jumping is listed as “Weekends Only”
Fuel is available

Double block
Option 1 – With instructor approval – some pattern work can be performed at KORE for landing practice before return trip.
Option 2 – With instructor approval – stopping and taking a break at KORE
Option 3 – With instructor approval – some pattern work can be performed at KSFZ before final return to Providence.
Options are cumulative. If fatigue threatens to become a factor – further options are simply not performed and direct return to KPVD.

My instructor checks the plan and approves it including the options. My logbook and license are endorsed. I head out to preflight the airplane. I check the tanks first – half full. It would be enough but my plans require I leave with full fuel and I call the fuel truck while I preflight. My instructor and I have a lighthearted tussle over who is last to check the fuel caps are really on the tanks. It is Pilot in Command’s responsibility – me. He is the instructor and likes to check – now I have to check he did it right, now he has to…..

I get in and my instructor leaves to go give another lesson to someone else. I run the checklists, start up and immediately taxi to the run up pad to get clear of the hangar and the others who are getting their planes ready. Sierra Alpha is already there running up with a student and instructor. I slot in to the pad and run my checklists. I spend a lot of time checking the two VOR receivers against each other as my plan requires I track VOR’s. I also set up the GPS and radios and as the plane warms up – I call for clearance. I get my squawk code and run up. All good. Sierra Alpha calls to taxi a moment before me and I follow. As we pass the Fed-Ex ramp we pick up a couple of small Fed-Ex planes and we all waddle along the taxiway to the hold short line for runway 23. Sierra Alpha, Fed-Ex, Me, Fed-Ex. Sierra Alpha gets away in style. Then Fed-Ex. I make sure I am bang on professional and in my slot and on time so the Fed-Ex behind me is not un-necessarily delayed. I start the clock as I run down the runway and am quickly cleared on course as I depart Providence. It is slightly hazy to the north but as I make my climb I can already see North Central off the nose. I ask to go off frequency a moment to talk to Bridgeport Radio. Clearance is given. I call Bridgeport Flight Service station and ask to activate my Flight Plan. I’m happy that I am bang on time for it. Bridgeport reports I am activated, can he do anything else for me and pilot reports of weather would be appreciated. I say I see what I can do and go back to Providence Departure who acknowledge I am back. As I pass North Central it is already immediately apparent I am falling behind time. I correct the airspeed indicator for temperature and altitude and compare my true airspeed to the GPS ground track speed. The wind is blowing a whole 10 knots stronger than forecast. I start recalculating my waypoints. I’ll be 10 mins long on the trip. Something like 45 mins instead of 34. I have full tanks – fuel is not a factor. All the time I am keeping my head outside the cockpit looking for trouble. As I am at top of climb I lean for fuel efficiency. N470U is quite clear about peak lean as the engine starts to run rough and I enrich the 50 degrees Exhaust Gas Temperature from the operating manual and then 25 more for the school’s policy. The engine is running sweetly and I keep a close eye on the Directional Gyro precession as I gently bracket back and forth across the Providence VOR radial I am flying down. It is a lovely day. I can see most of my visual waypoints all the way ahead till the haze obscures the last ones.

Providence hands me off to Bradley. The controller asks where I am going and then I don’t hear from him again. Nothing to do for 5 minutes while I scan instruments and outside till I come up on Worcester. I recalculate the headwind against me and gather all the other weather information. “Bradley – I’d like to go off frequency a moment to talk to Bridgeport”. “Let me know when you are back.” I call Bridgeport. I offer a Pilot Weather Report. There is a mixture of surprise and delight from the guy on the ground. I read him my numbers. He thanks me and wishes me a good flight. No one ever calls with good weather. Only bad! Or they are pleading with pilots for reports. Back to Bradley’s frequency and check in with them. I get the weather at my alternate – Worcester – just in case I need to head there. Bradley are controlling aircraft in the area around Worcester which I am abeam of. I can’t see any of them. Ahead is the big lake and already it is obvious where Orange County airport is. VERY easy to find. I get the weather at Orange. Wind 360 at 3. Favors runway 32. I keep looking for the Ware private gliding strip below – one of my visual waypoints – but I can’t find it. I ask the GPS where it is. Right below. I bank either way trying to see it – I can’t. Orange is pretty obvious now. It no longer matters – though I put the time on my log sheet for later. Bradley calls up – I am north of his area. “Squawk VFR – clear to change frequencies”. He is done with me.

I switch to the CTAF for Orange which I have been monitoring for a bit alongside Bradley’s frequency. Another Cessna is coming in from the east to do touch and goes on runway 32. I announce my arrival from the south and that I am not a factor for him at this time. I start letting down and decide to fly a full pattern around the field to have a look and become familiar with it. I fly well to the right so I enter the upwind from well away from where anyone might be making a turn to final. The other plane announces his turn to crosswind. I’m 6½ miles away from him but as he banks I see a white flash of his upper wing surface and as he levels he becomes a tiny white dot against the dark green trees on the mountains. I announce I have him in sight and report I am not a factor to his landing. The instructor comes on and thanks me. I fly the pattern. As I turn crosswind – the other plane is turning base and I am following him around. He touches and goes – I turn base and am coming in with a slight right crosswind. Below I can see the hole in the trees where someone tried to land at night with no lights and didn’t make the runway last November. He lived – his daughter did not. I concentrate on the runway and do a textbook let down. For my first landing of the day (always a bit of a lottery) it is a slight bark from the tires but firm, safe and when I expect it. I taxi to the turn out, announce I am clear of the runway and go over to parking and shut down.

No cell phone signal. – I go into the FBO to borrow a phone. The manager and some locals are shooting the breeze. I ask to borrow a phone and it sets of a conversation about cell phone signals and carriers. “I need to close a Flight Plan” I gently drop in the conversation – between the headwind, the chat and all – I have five minutes left before Flight Service push the alarm bells and start looking for me. I’m quickly shown the phone. I call in and close the plan. I ask if I can call my instructor. Not a 1-800 number – this will cost the small regional airport. I offer to pay for the call. No – go ahead. My instructor is glad to hear I am down at my destination. The gallery at the FBO ask how many hours I have. On hearing 65 – I’m told nice landing. Where did I come from? Providence. There is a suppressed air of being slightly impressed – a student – out of Providence – we don’t fly down there – it is busy. We talk about fuel costs, the FAA and flying for a few minutes. I say I have to get going. I want a warm engine start. Can I pay landing fees? The manager points at the airport logbook. Just sign that for me – that is all the fees I need from a student. The gallery jokes that when I get to the REALLY big lake to the south – I’ve missed Providence and am headed for Portugal. I smile with them, thank them all and go out and preflight.

I stick the tanks to calculate my actual fuel burn rate from the flight up. I’ve got it much more close this time – between my leaning the engine well and using some better numbers – I’m in good shape – 12 gallons burned for 1.3 hours prop turning. 4 hours left in the tanks. I preflight the aircraft and then head out to do some landing patterns. There is a NOTAM about cracks on the taxiway. I pull the yoke back to take the strain off the nose wheel as I get to the first one. Even though I am rolling pretty slowly the main wheels fairly twang in the crack. This is discouraging – every taxi round is going to be pretty painful. Maybe I will just go back to North Central to do more landings. I’ll see. I pull over in the corner and run up the engine. All good. The rest of the taxiway is much better and I go all the way down to the end of 32 which is displaced. I can use the displaced and rest of the runway for a takeoff. It is a long taxi. I announce my departure and am airborne before I’ve even used up the displaced part of the runway. I fly a pattern and put her down. Nice. I taxi round avoiding the worst of the cracks and after checking the length I skip the displaced part and use the shorter marked runway. It is still nearly 4000ft but just for practice I treat it as a short field and configure the plane for a Vx steep climb out. I hold her on the brakes, power up, check the gauges and then release the brakes. We jump – well as much as a Cessna will jump – into the air and I climb out to 500ft above everything before reconfiguring for a normal climb out. Round again – but I notice the haze is thickening. I’m still VFR legal. But the ridge of high pressure extending up into the mountains is narrowing and I decide to make this my last one and get out while the going is good. I’ll head back to the clear coast for more landings. Another short field takeoff. I really try to get the plane at maximum climbout and up we go. I announce my departure and head south east.

With the slower than expected flight up – the chat at the FBO and my landings at Orange – I leave a little later than planned. My return flight plan is about to expire – be a pain to file one over the radio while flying. I quickly call Bridgeport Radio on the climb to activate my safety cover. They don’t reply. I’m probably not high enough yet to be heard. I quickly scan my sectional chart and find another closer frequency which I dial in. It is Bangor radio – I call them. They reply as Bridgeport! (It all feeds back to the same guys at a desk anyway!) Still I’m just in time – my plan is still “in the box” and they activate it. I climb for 5500ft. The correct VFR altitude for my course and promising stronger tail winds to get me home. Almost immediately I’m getting blown right of track. There is plenty of helping wind up here. At top of climb I lean and call Bradley Approach for Flight Following. Takes a couple of calls but I get my squawk code. I hear him give another Cessna in the area a code too. The wind is blowing me right still. I spend about 20 seconds at most getting the outside air temperature and correcting the airspeed indicator to get my true airspeed. I also check the Gyro which is not precessing much. My off course is a wind issue. I look out the window and immediately roll right and behind another Cessna which is crossing from right to left in front of me. I can see his tail number. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me. He was probably about 1000ft away. It seemed closer. Well at least rule of the road up here is the same as at sea – I did the right avoidance maneuver because I’ve been doing it for years. I scan around the sky again – all clear. I need to get my head down for a moment to figure a new wind correction angle. I coarsely crab left to get rid of the worst of the error while I fine tune the answer with a new VOR radial and start working out a Wind Correction Angle.

Bradley calls me – do I know I am south of optimal track for Providence? I reply I’m aware and thank you. They call again. Again I reply I’m on it. Then I get a very formal call and “can I hear them?” I tell them they are 5×5. They call AGAIN. There is a tone of asperity. Lost comms procedure. I press the transmit button and a “T” appears on the radio. Volume up – not relevant – I can hear them. I call – watch for the “T” and ask if they can hear ME. No reply. I drop down to my second radio – where I keep my ground frequencies and dial in their frequency – then switch to that radio and call them. They come straight up. “We have been calling you for five minutes”. “Radio out” I reply and get on with more important tasks. Aviate – yep – all gauges green, altitude good and in trim. Take away that distraction. Navigate – well my coarse crab is just fine – even if I have not done the math. I can see North Central – see the shape of the coast where Providence is. The steam rising from the landfill is the other big pointer home. I’m tracking a VOR radial to Providence just fine. Now I just need to manage my 5 radio frequencies on the two slots on my remaining radio. It is easy to see how you can get sucked into working the problem in the cockpit and forget to keep looking outside. All those accident reports I’ve read about just this sort of situation come to mind. Fly the plane first. I keep looking outside while quickly checking my kneeboard for the note of light gun signals at airports for when all radios go down. I have them – right get back outside and fly the plane. Bradley hands me off to Providence when I am 25 miles out. I’m a poisoned chalice – they can make me someone else’s’ problem. I check in with Providence. All good. Then as I have a moment and I’m tracking well – I call Providence on the apparently bad radio. They don’t hear me. I resolve to stop bothering with this problem. Though I do use the bad radio to receive the Providence weather. I just get on with flying. It is also a nice day – but North Central and further landings practice is off the slate. Get the plane home and if I get in early – they can look at the radio before the next lesson. Providence promptly puts me on another arrival frequency just to make my workload more amusing for a moment.

It is still a gorgeous afternoon though and it is quiet. I’m arriving in the middle of a lesson block so no one is taking off or landing. They are all out at the training areas. From 10 miles out I’m cleared to right base on 23 and land. I start letting down. Over to tower and I set up ground on the reserve on my radio while I’m on my base leg – but I don’t expect to use it – when it is quiet they usually have you stay on tower frequency for the taxi. The weather report said calm but the plane is letting down through light chop like it is bumping down shallow steps all the way down. As I turn final I call tower and ask for a wind report for the runway. They say calm – I wonder why I am crabbing for a right cross wind. However as I get into the last 300ft – it all goes quiet and I delight in greasing the landing and pulling up with a lot of high wing drag to slow her down fast. A very short landing – I can come straight off. I’m told to taxi back to the school on runway 34 – the shortcut home when they are not using it – oh and change to ground frequency. Glad I set it up!

I nail the parking and then let the engine run on a moment. I set up the bad radio again and call Providence Clearance – No reply. Then I go to my good radio and call again – they hear me fine. Seems it is bad. I shut down and secure the plane. Then I call Flight Service to close my flight plan. Then I call the school for my escort into the building. I stick the tanks again before we go. 7 gallons used on a 40 min flight back AND three takeoffs and landings. That was one mighty tail wind pushed me home. With all the take offs and landings and the flight out and back – I put another 2.5 hours solo pilot in command in the logbook. AND Cross Country. Debrief with instructor and squawk the radio. Pay the bill – GREAT lesson.

That was the brief. I upped the ante on myself and presented this to my instructor on the morning:

Practice take offs and landings at a series of airports
Practice Cockpit Resource Management
Practice Pilotage/Navigation using VOR Radials

Fly Providence, North Central, New Bedford, Quonset, Providence – all airports which the student has flown to before. All runways meet the 3000ft x 75ft solo endorsement. If time is pressing or any airfield requires go arounds that will put the plan behind schedule – the plan can be shortened at any point by flying straight back to Providence. Full Stop landings.
CRM will require setting up for takeoff and next airport at each stop. Airspace Transitions and requests for Flight Following En-Route.
Though GPS equipped and GPS will be set up for each airport being flown to – VOR tracking will be the principal method of navigation used in order to practice the use of VOR.

Cruise Speed is estimated at a conservative 90 knots.
North Central to New Bedford direct touches the NE edge of Providence Class C airspace. Call will be made for Class C transition and Flight Following

On the day – a perfect forecast only slightly let down by the “1,500ft scattered” reported at Providence but not actually visible at the field. Would this be a deal breaker?

After looking at the haze to the North, going through my performance calculations for the sea level and 440ft altitude airfield, weight and balance, flight plan as calculated online with the FAA DUAT tool, my hand calculated plan, my radio frequencies and then a final look at NOTAMS and TFR’s my instructor endorsed my log book to fly the mission. I calculated I needed 8 galls of fuel – I was taking 53 – I should have plenty in reserve!

Out to preflight the aircraft – I was watched do it and of course – as ever – my instructor checked I’d put the caps back on the wing fuel tanks and verified my engine oil measurement. We pushed the plane out the hangar and I got in. My instructor did not. “Call me when you get back” and he disappeared into the hangar. I ran through the pre-start up and fired her up – only I had to have three goes – I slightly flooded her on the priming. But on the third go she moved the treacle thick and recently changed oil and roared into life. Immediately back to 1000rpm and check all the gauges. Everything was green or climbing to green. I taxied across the ramp and way from the hangar so as not to blast air around if anyone else was getting a plane out. The windsock was limp and the sky was blue. I worked my checklists – setting up the radios, nav radios, GPS, got the weather, got a clearance for North Central and then ran up the engine. All well – I called tower to taxi out.

“Runway 5 via Victor full length, Tango, Echo, Mike, Cross Runway 16” – the longest taxi from the school – sigh! I read back – was confirmed – and I got moving. A couple of jets came up on ground and also wanted to get moving. It started to get busy. Ground called – could I take a partial runway at Tango? I checked the remaining length – easily 5000ft and well over my 3000 minimum. It would also shorten my long taxi. I accepted the change. “Thanks for your help” from tower “Taxi to runway 5 via Tango”. I altered course and started to set up my lights and mixture while on the roll for the expected call – “N470U – are you ready to go?” – “Affirmative” – “Turn left heading 300 cleared to take off runway 5 at Tango”. I kept on rolling onto the runway, checked everything was in the green. Stopped for a moment on centerline – set the DG and started rolling. No wind and the plane smoothly lifted off into the air. Behind I could hear a SouthWest jet getting cleared onto 5. As I hit 400ft I started a bank to clear the runway as the tower called – “470U as soon as altitude permits – oh thank you – never mind”. I climbed out. The SouthWest jet was vectored on 360 for his take off – he would be to my right.

Damn! Here was that “broken at 1500ft” the forecast mentioned but which we could not see from the field – out to the west and north. But clear all the way up after that. “N470U contact departure – good morning” – I switched to departure and checked in while I looked at the cloud. There were some big holes – one of which I was climbing through. Looking to the North where North Central was – there seemed to be plenty of holes. Everywhere else was clear. With no wind it wasn’t going anywhere and even looked like it was still burning off and dissolving. Do I head back or carry on climbing? I can easily get back down because there is no cloud to the east. I kept climbing. Providence departure released me to my own navigation. I turned to North Central – tracking the VOR as planned. I picked up North Central weather – calm – pick a runway! Looking ahead I could see the airfield through a big hole. I was six miles out. “Providence North Central in sight”. I was released to change frequencies. I immediately announced my arrival in the vicinity on the CTAF but no one else was on. I called UNICOM to see if they had declared an active runway. No reply. Well I was going to have to overfly and then decide. 4 miles out – an aircraft announced a departure on runway 5. That made it easy. I announced a midfield left crosswind entry for 5 and watched the airplane take off. He called asking where I was. I announced I had him in sight, was well behind him and I was not a factor. “Thanks” from him. I was a little low from dropping through the cloud layer but powered back up to traffic pattern altitude before I made the crosswind entry. Not a good place to be low. The departing aircraft started to do radio checks with UNICOM while I announced my entry into the pattern, midfield crosswind, downwind, base and final. I set her down – very gently and took my time – a VERY smooth landing. Little long but I only used half the runway. I pulled off at taxiway C – announced I was clear, cleaned up and then announced I was taxiing round to go again on 5. 09:10 on my timeline – a little tight. Glad I planned a conservative 90 knot trip. I can make up a little on the next two legs at 115 and I can always skip Quonset. The windsock behind me said 5 was still good. As I crossed runway 15 the windsock ahead said I should be going the other way – but not very convincingly. I stopped and looked at both windsocks – both were barely moving but in opposite directions. Sigh – I’ll stick with 5. I taxied on down to the hold short and pulled over to set my radios for New Bedford. Dialing through the GPS – I wasted three minutes confirming that for some reason it was not in the GPS. Hunh? I manually entered it. Confirmed everything else and announced my departure on runway 5.

09:20 off and running – into the air. I set up on a climb for New Bedford and announced I was no longer a factor at North Central. I climbed on and called Providence Approach for flight following and for permission to skirt through the NE of their airspace. They acknowledged my call sign so I was good to use their space – then there was a pause while someone looked one up – then I got a radar squawk code. I flew on. This part of the plan was easy. Keep I-195 on my right till the Brayton Power Station then start letting down for New Bedford. My course was taking me across I-195 – that was not in the plan. There really didn’t seem to be any wind. I checked the temperature and calibrated the altimeter. I was making a true airspeed of 115. The GPS agreed. Compass and DG check – Ah ha! The DG had precessed a lot more than I was used to. The other plane I fly more often has a much more stable DG. I corrected and looked to where New Bedford should be – there it was. I got the weather. Calm.

“Providence Departure – New Bedford in sight” – “Clear to change frequencies and call New Bedford”. I did – telling New Bedford tower I had weather “Bravo”. Tower called back the wind was now actually 130 at 6 and I was cleared to make a modified entry for runway 14 – cleared to land. I chugged on gently letting down to traffic pattern altitude and then a little more as I was coming straight in on final. There was some light chop on the way down. Hope I don’t have this over the runway. I got set up and called a 2 mile final. New Bedford called up the wind was still at 130. Slight left cross wind. My instructor would be proud of this crabbing and my gentle ‘left wheel first’ crosswind landing – only the wind was suddenly RIGHT of centerline and I let down with a right crosswind correction and right wheel first. NEARLY on the centerline. I was off about two feet. Slight bounce but I flew her on and the final touch was gentle. No barking of the tires. Well he would have liked the crab and cross wind correction. He would have sighed at the bounce – even though slight. Used about 1500ft to land. 09:40. Good for my timeline. Taxied on to exit at A and told tower I was departing straight out and did not need parking. I was offered a back taxi but I asked to come off and set up for my next airport. “Taxiway Alpha then Bravo at your discretion”. I pulled off, cleaned up and set up the radios. Called I was ready to go. “Right on Bravo, cross runway 5, cleared to take off runway 14 and right turn at your discretion”. I taxied down and set up then off at 09:45. Short of pattern altitude I turned right and headed for Quonset. 21 miles away but sticking out like a sore thumb in the bright day. I carried on with my VOR tracking to check for wind. There wasn’t any to worry about.

Called Providence Approach for following and to tell them I was for Quonset and THEN Providence. I got my squawk code and thanks for the heads up – “keep the squawk code for both landings.” I trundled on. I got the weather. Quonset was using 34 – another straight in from where I was. Not much pattern today. It was a beautiful day. Then I heard Providence announce to all traffic that they were switching runways and so would Quonset. I got the weather again and there was the switch – 16 instead of 34. I was handed off to Quonset Tower – “Make left base for runway 16”. I flew on – letting down till I was at pattern altitude on the downwind and abeam the numbers. I started the landing workflow. I called Quonset as I made my turn to base. “Check wheels down, cleared to land runway 16”. I always smile at the military “wheels down” – my wheels are always down in a C-172! I crabbed a left cross wind approach and slipped the end. Fair landing. Correct speed and on the left wheel. Flared a little high perhaps but I ran straight and centerline and she didn’t slam down. She might have if the instructor’s weight was also aboard – need to watch that early flare. Down at 10:02 I stopped quite quickly and I doubt if I used 1200ft of runway. I had to taxi on to A1 – a bit down the way. Quonset had me stay on tower frequency and sent me right on Alpha and depart at your discretion. I held short on the ILS hold short while I flummoxed the radios for a moment – temporarily dropping Quonset Tower. Stop, take a breath. Don’t let the aircraft get ahead of you. I set up again and then double checked all the frequencies. I called I was ready. I was cleared to take off and depart for Providence at my discretion.

Wheels off at 10:08. Climbed straight out and over to Providence Approach. “Make left base for 23”. I got to 2000ft and stopped climbing. Something “in the book” came to mind about maintaining VFR at or below 2,000ft would allow them to vector jets over me as needed. I made for the notch in the lake and looked for the schoolyard. Both now familiar set up points for a left pattern on 23. “N470U – Providence Approach – contact tower” I flipped frequencies. “Providence Tower 470U on left downwind runway 23”. I let down to pattern at the end of the downwind and in the absence of any calls from the tower called my position and turn to base. Was cleared to land. I nailed the turn to final, finishing in a left crab on centerline. Just a little high but flaps 30 and a power off dropped her onto the glideslope. As I came over the numbers I just flew her on, turned to left wheel low for the crosswind and after chasing it a little let her down. Good but not a greaser. I wasn’t complaining – neither was the aircraft. Down at 10:20. First taxiway I could come off at was Charlie and I turned off as tower called me to “turn off at Charlie then Mike and Bravo cleared to cross 16 back to the ramp – stay this frequency”. I stopped for a moment to clean up, kept my lights on till across runway 16 and then taxied into the school.

The parking spot was the tight inside one. All others were full. I squeezed between the building, the overhanging hanger door edge and the aircraft on my left. I snuck her up to the spot and stopped. Nailed it! Transponder standby, avionics off, engine stop, master off, fuel to left tank, trim to neutral, key out and safe. Silence. 10:24.

I called my instructor to come out for my security escort into the school while I wrote up the Hobbs and Tach and put the plane to bed. My instructor appeared and chocked her for me while I squared everything else away. I sticked the tanks to find out my actual fuel burn.

Mission planned time – 122 mins
Mission actual – 102 mins

Planned fuel burn – 7.8 Gall
Actual Burn – 10.5 Gall
Reserve left – 42.5 Gall (About 4 hours more operation). I think I had enough fuel!

Difference – flying at 75% instead of 65% to keep up with mission time and I could have leaned the engine better on the leg to Quonset. Should also up the fuel burn in planning.

Debrief, then – “Come in with a cross country prepared every time it looks like we might have weather. Time you went and found somewhere yourself you have never been before”.

Too windy for solo today – gusting 20 knots.

I want to hone my stick and rudder skills – so we went up and started on commercial maneuvers because I’m a great believer that when you try harder stuff and then go back to the easier stuff – it is better. So we started on Lazy 8’s and Chandelles. We eventually ended up at 10,000ft over Little Compton and Providence Flight Following actually called up to see if we were going any higher – if we were we would get handed off to Boston. We started down for Block Island. The exercise was to end up at 5,000ft over the airfield and then imitate an engine failure and get her down. We had a long slow descent to Block Island and I called down on the CTAF to announce our intentions, briefly orbiting while a couple of aircraft from Long Island arrived. Faked the engine failure and ran the restart drill only to get the usual “didn’t start” from the instructor. Simulated the mayday call and simulated squawking 7700 on my radar transponder to get my distress to show on air traffic control radar.

The wind was westerly 50 knots at 5,000ft so the spiral down (another commercial maneuver) was going to have to be egg shaped on each circle to stay over the field. Called down the intentions and started down. I got set up 2000ft over the end of the runway and very close in. I really didn’t want to loop around again in case the wind blew me away so I very aggressively side slipped some S turns and got over the runway. Simulated emergency drill for the fuel cut off, smacked in the flaps, and set her down, bounced slightly but got down. Hard on the brakes and stopped before I ran out of runway. Instructor commented I should have used the engine to smooth out the bounce. I looked at him – I realized I had drilled it for very real in my mind – I didn’t have an engine – even though I actually did.

In for breakfast at the great diner on the field. Out and preflight and then waited while a Britten Norman Islander (like I used to parachute from in 1989) arrived. The island commuter travel hop between Westerly, Block Island and Nantucket. Then it left and I got a couple of landings in – in the pattern – but it was wickedly gusty and just asking for trouble if we made a slight mistake – so we climbed out and started back for Newport. But it was gusty there too – so back to Providence for pattern work. As we were vectored in – we asked for touch and goes. But on our first run around the pattern we were bucketing around in the turbulence. I called down for a full stop and my instructor thanked me for being nice to his greasy breakfast. A stiff crosswind landing where I had to use full rudder to kick her straight just before touch down.

At the debrief – “Come prepared to do a cross county every lesson ongoing” – Instructor no longer worried about my landings – time to let me fly my solo cross countries. If I come prepared for every lesson – I will get them in when the weather permits.

I am happy!

Saturday 5th March – a quick lesson squeezed in at the end of the day because Sunday was going to be a bust with an approaching storm. The wind was from the South to South East. 20 gusting 32 and with a cross wind component of up to 16 knots on Providence’s runway 23. The big problem was just going to be taxying to the runway without getting blown over and we proceeded with extreme caution. The name of the game was strong wind landings. Set the plane up, correct for crosswind and then hope that as you arrived at the end of the runway the wind didn’t drop and dump you or gust and balloon you into the air. Really good practice and I managed to pull off four landings and two go-arounds when it all came apart at the time of touch down. As my instructor said (while demonstrating two landings himself) – “It is not about elegance – it is about being in the right place in the right gust and planting her safely when you get there”. Some brief hilarity in the cockpit when Tower called another aircraft and told him to “look out for the Cessna Skyhawk on final” and the aircraft called back he had seen the “Sky Chicken”. (You have to go read Bob Mason’s “Chickenhawk” to really get the joke). On my fourth approach we saw a twin engine Bonanza which was ahead of us get blown to the edge of the runway during his landing. “Centerline” was never more important and as I pulled off a VERY credible fourth landing – I called it a day. No point in pushing my luck – I got the point of the lesson!

So Tuesday morning – the 8th – bright and clear and light North Easterly winds. Good chance of another solo out of Class C airspace if the instructor thought I was up to it. The usual brief – “three good landings” and – as they were – I took my instructor back to the school and he got out. I got a new endorsement in my logbook – cleared to fly in and out of Class C airspace and to any dry 3000ft x 75ft runway in the area with a maximum of 7 knots crosswind and 5,000 ft ceilings. “Go land somewhere or play around” was the brief. As I was just happy to be soloing again and had not prepared other airports in any great detail – I called for a clearance to the training area and taxied out. The airspace to the North of the airport was about to get closed for a Presidential visit to Boston so I went south and east. I duly lined up at the end of runway 5. Two jets ahead of me and one RIGHT behind me. The two jets left, a Cessna landed and then my turn. I was all set, run up, the pesky birds that had plagued our earlier landings had left. I pulled onto the runway, took off and proceeded on tower assigned course. Then just to mix it up – Providence Departure changed frequencies and then also had me change my squawk code on the fly while climbing out.

It was a BEAUTIFUL morning and I actually did some sightseeing above the bird sanctuary and over the beaches before putting in some more practice maneuvers. I got the current weather then I called to be allowed back into the Class C airspace and got vectored for home. As I made my turn to final – everything looked just like it had earlier in the morning except the windsock was standing out a little more strongly. A jet was waiting to take off after I landed and I was cleared to land at 5 miles out. As I was making my final approach I heard the controller clear a jet just 4 miles behind me to land. No mention of “you are number two following the Cessna Skyhawk”. With 200ft to go I called down to check the controller had remembered me (which was a way of saying to the number two aircraft – watch out for me – I’m already here!) Then with the plane beautifully lined up some little gusts came out of nowhere knocking me left, right, left and leaving me dancing on the rudder pedals to stay lined up. I was low, slow and off centerline and was about to slam the throttle forward for a go around when all the previous practices came together. The instructors “land when YOU want to – not when the plane does” came to mind, pitch nose down and a small spurt on the throttle arrested the descent, regained the airspeed and I flew back to the centerline. Then when I was ready I let her down again gently. I taxied into the school and got out. Nice! Another 1.2 hours Pilot in Command in the log book

So today was absolutely freaking AWESOME. Double block and no time pressure, sun and moderating winds. Went down to Quonset for the cross winds of 12 knots on the beam of the 7500ft runway 34. My personal limit is set at 7 and the plane is demonstrated to 14. The controller kept offering us runway 23 but my instructor was adamant about me nailing cross winds and kept me on 34. Did a couple of slip approaches and then got told to fly the runway centerline at 1ft off the concrete in a flared slow flight configuration and not touch down. “Centerline and 1ft”. If my instructor said it once he must have said it 50 times today as I drifted back and forth and porpoised along the center line. After using up 4,500ft I was to go around with the remaining 3,000ft and treat it like a cross wind take off. On the first run I got the picture, on the second I started to dial it in and got it locked in and pretty straight. On the third it was quite gusty and I had to really work it and porpoised around a bit – it wasn’t quite as good. On the fourth it was sweet. Then he had me on touch and goes. One thing I got about the crab versus cross controlled slip approach was – test the slip at the start of final, then crab your way down because it is easier and then turn into the slip just before flare. I really had to work it for four landings. Then I called a break.

The weather was gorgeous but a little gusty and over my cross wind limit so I was gently let down about probably not soloing again today. I knew EXACTLY where he was coming from, said so. “I’m pretty close to dealing with this – but absolutely respect the decision” (which I did). I then re-iterated what I had learned so far and where I felt we could work on it in the next block. Out we went and did more cross wind touch and goes – the controller offering that 23 was really optimal headwind now. We stuck to the tougher 34…… Three more and I got told to take the instructor into the FBO. The wind had eased a little.

“Right – go have fun and pick me up at 12:30″, “Pattern or the training area – or both – your call”, “Have fun”. Off he went for coffee. I fired up, got a clearance to the Newport Training Area, taxied out, ran up, got cleared out of Quonset and headed off to Newport. I called Providence for flight following and climbed up to 3,500ft. Top of climb workflow. Got to the training area. Full rich for maneuvering, clearing turns to check my tail. Then a series of four power on stalls took me from 3,500ft to 5,000ft. On one I was a little aggressive and swooped up (instead of a “mushing” up) – the nose dropped quite a bit. Two steep right turns at 5,000ft – I was pretty locked in on the second one. Then rolled for two steep left turns – nicely locked in. Providence were calling other aircraft with vectors but leaving me alone. I even heard the school Deputy Chief Instructor calling “looking for the traffic” – while she looked for me and Providence vectored her under me. Then two sequences flying into slow flight configuration at 5,500ft, stalls from slow flight and recovery. I then flew the plane in standard rate turns in slow flight configuration, hanging on the prop on the edge of a stall. The needle on the ASI wasn’t even registering, the stall warning was screaming and I gently flew her round. I fully expected to stall as I crossed the turbulence of my own wake but though I bumped around – I still carried on flying – gently rolled into a left standard turn and made another 360. As I rolled out I deliberately stalled her and recovered her. Time was getting on and I was being blown towards New Bedford’s airspace – so I started back to Quonset and added in two more power on stalls at 6,000ft on the way home. Called into Providence for clearance for Quonset, got vectored to there and started down. I got the weather and then was handed off to Quonset for landing. Set up for another one of those cross wind landings. Let’s say it was on centerline, in the correct flare and just a HAIR fast so I ballooned very slightly and had to fly her down again. But thanks to that centerline exercise earlier in the morning I kept it together and she touched down rather nicely. In to the FBO to pick up my instructor. then with 30 mins left, fire up, Quonset weather, Providence weather, Quonset clearance, run up, go, cleared into Providence airspace, vector for landing, a rather poor RIGHT (as opposed to all the left’s I’d done all day) cross wind landing and into the school to finish off.

Procedure points to be worked on – Top of descent workflow – on my solo I got my lights wrong. I was lit up, legal but not optimal.
Hand off to Providence Arrival to Tower. Remember to tell Tower what leg of the pattern Arrival left me on.

Smack me later – it was still a GREAT lesson

Marginal wind conditions for my skill level today. Instructor said – “give me three good landings and a go around at an appropriate airport and I’ll get out.”

I picked Quonset – the local National Guard field – 7500ft (I only need 1500 for the aircraft and 3000 for solo personal minimums) and off we went. Cross wind was there but not quite at my limits when we got there I got her in OK. Second time a bit of a bounce but OK. Third one – OK. As we flew round to demonstrate the go-around we discussed the emergency landing spot. Instructor said he would try for the runway and take the water if he didn’t make it – I said I would go downwind and take the brush on Jamestown Island – the water is too cold. “Let’s see” I said and pulled the power out and tried for the airfield. In fact I made it – and slightly high so I “went around” and the instructor got his demonstration.

I came in to drop him off and got a PERFECT landing in a cross wind. “Right – I’m definitely getting out – pick me up at 10:00 and fly as much as you can in the time”.

I dropped him off at the FBO for coffee. Then out I went. Got stuck waiting behind a Beech Baron for a bit who was waiting for his time on an IFR departure and then out I went. Couple of landings later (and they were pretty good) I went in and picked him up. Then flip back to Providence for a fast straight in between the 737’s. Not too bad a landing.

GREAT LESSON!! Cross wind landings improved hugely compared to my previous.

Next time there is a weather slot I get to solo away from the airport to the training area and back again.

Great end to a very blustery weekend. Having spent a bunch of time outdoors counting birds (feathered) for the Great Backyard Bird Count – the wind calmed enough at day end Sunday to sneak in a flying lesson. We went up over the Newport Training Area and flew steep turns, emergency approaches (using Horseneck beach as a practice runway) and 2000ft per min descents in side and forward slips to practice high rate altitude loss. Finished with some landings in the twilight at Providence. Awesome!

“Air Graeme” is pleased to announce the success of their first NIGHT cross country mission – flown from Providence to New Haven and back again during the late evening of January 31st, 2011.

Completed at an average ground speed of 100 knots – the mission came in 2 knots faster than predicted with an elapsed time of 4 hours of which 190 mins was spent with the prop spinning. The unusual length of the total mission was because the first aircraft became unserviceable at start up and another had to be pre-flighted and brought out to the flight line. Notwithstanding this minor technical difficulty the mission was considered a complete success.

Thanks to friend Sheri Miller for the “Air Graeme” mascot – she is talented with a needle and thread.

Sat morning – 290 at 7 knots, 15F/-10C, 10 Miles plus visibility – we have Visual Flight Rules and are just in cold weather operating limits. Let’s try for breakfast in Fitchburg, MA followed by some accelerated stalls and landings. Wonder what Greg my instructor will have in mind? I take him in the Flight Plan I have prepared. He reviews it. OK’s it and off we go.

FANTASTIC smooth air – clear for 50 miles in all directions blue sky flight, first down on freshly plowed runway 32 at Fitchburg. Couple of circuits – in for breakfast, some more circuits then back to the Scituate Training Area for accelerated stalls and power on stalls. Back down in Providence. 3.6 hours and 7 take offs and landings in the logbook. The nav plan worked out beautifully, VOR tracking was right on the money and we even remembered to close our flight plan with Flight Service before they came looking for us. It just doesn’t get any better on days like this when the aircraft performs so well in the dense cold air.

“Wet” aircraft rental for flight out and back – $135 per hour
Instructor $55 per hour
(Out and back was about 1.5 hours)
Breakfast for two with generous tip – $25
Landing fess – remember that generous tip? No fees.

Total $310 / 2 = $155 per breakfast.