Archive for the ‘Learning To Fly’ Category

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.

I felt less than stellar for today’s lesson – couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Problem focusing on the task in hand and when I was analyzing it with the instructor prior to flying I said I would NOT fly if I was flying myself today. I WOULD fly if he was along as safety pilot (which he is anyway!). He could expect me to be very procedural and on checklist today.

Out we went to preflight. Two Civil Air Patrol Cessna’s were out looking important and taking up all of the ramp where we normally squeeze in five. I taxied over to the runup ramp so we didn’t blow their neat uniforms out of place. I was being exceptionally diligent to my checklists to help focus and by the time I was runup was pretty much back in the groove. Long taxi down to runway 5. Sierra Alpha was ahead of us and was scooted out in front of a SouthWest 737 on 6 mile final. As I passed the M1 intersection I was asked if I was ready. I just knew the controller was going to offer me an intersection departure in front of the landing jet – so I declined before he offered it and said I would let the jet in first. Another 737 snuck up behind me on the taxiway. The jet landed and cleared the runway. I was cleared to take off and we set off for the Newport Training area.

Then a morning of dodging other training aircraft while demonstrating slow flight, turns in slow flight, under the hood for recovery from unusual attitudes, stalling, practice emergency engine out and fire over the beach with some fun slipping down to make the beach and some steep turns. A distraction asking for which radial we were on while making the slow turn. I asked if Greg was trying to distract me – he told me to decide – so I said he was trying – and then dialed the radial on the VOR while slow flying the circle anyway. It was a practice checkride. Most of the day was to PTS EXCEPT for steep turns – they were close and nearly steep but not quite steep enough. But I knew that – I need more practice at them. Then I was asked to land somewhere. Newport was the obvious, close candidate – but “meat missiles” – aka parachute jumpers were falling out the sky all around Newport so I went to New Bedford. A real nice cross wind landing and in to park and take a break. A tiny kid was at the fence watching planes. We were the only plane doing anything so I announced I was going to park close to the fence so the instructor didn’t freak as I did. The little kid loved it. We went into the FBO for a break. The school guys there started to shop talk with my instructor. We got the weather.

Then out for some landings. But refocusing was going to be hard so I decided we would go back to Providence to do the landings – then if I got tired – it would be easy to stop. Off we went. My instructor kept going “check check” in my ears and I kept telling him I could hear him fine. He couldn’t hear me – his headphones had gone down. He turned on the cockpit speaker – a lousy alternative. We flew on and he clearly said to me – “you have the radios” – like I didn’t anyway – but he was telling me to make sure he knew what was going on. We got vectored for a “1 mile short final please and make best speed – you are number one ahead of a regional jet on 10 mile final”. We normally won’t accept that short a landing clearance and will ask to go around – but Greg was happier with that than carrying on without headphones. I bored on and the regional started getting twitchy with the controller. He reported a Cessna in front of him. The controller soothed him with the fact that I would be exiting the runway as fast as practical and I acknowledged that I “got it”. I got a REAL nice landing and we scooted down the runway to taxiway Charlie. The regional was somewhere right on our tail and must have been within an ace of going around as we got off. We stopped to clean up and took a moment. The regional appeared beside us on the runway as we were cleared to taxi “Charlie, Mike, Bravo to the ramp, cross runway 34. Stay with me”. The regional was cleared “Charlie after the Cessna clears then Mike, Bravo, November to the ramp cross runway 34.” The regional wasn’t familiar with the airport and asked for progressive taxi. I laughed when he got told “Follow the Cessna till you turn left at November – Three Sierra Papa (me) please stop just after you cross November for a moment so the regional can see where to turn left”.

We parked and fiddled with Greg’s headphones, tested them in another aircraft and confirmed it was his headphones had gone bad. Time was up.

I asked how Greg thought my flying had gone as I had felt unsettled before starting. He said it was as good as usual except for the steep turns. Back on Tuesday for more steep turns. I commented that if that was all we did for the whole lesson I would be happy with it. Greg smiled and said he was pretty sure that he would throw up before I ever do. Tuesday – we will see!

If you have read the very first post in this “learning to fly” section you will know that I am part motivated by the health of friends near to me. Six years ago Sharon Mooney and I discovered we became US citizens at almost the same time. Now Sharon finds herself living her life with melanoma.

Sharon bikes and surfs and skis and sails just like she always does. She has recently been honored on the Livestrong web site for getting back on her bike just 6 weeks after major surgery and riding 65 miles in the “Ride of the Roses”.

You can read more on the Livestrong site and if you feel so inspired – you can make a donation to the “In honor of Sharon Mooney” endowment.

Cyril Hall – Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Service Number 990275) – was not really a blood relation. In my childhood he was the third husband of my grandmother’s sister. He used to sit in the corner looking all “crusty”, having a cocktail and making a great art out of the smoking that eventually killed him. My grandmother’s sister has recently died and my Uncle was clearing out the house. He came across Cyril’s RAF logbook from the war and had a copy made for me. It was always vaguely thought that Cyril “flew Spitfires” during the war. In fact the logbook shows he did not – but he did fly in the Battle of Britain and was incredibly lucky to survive. He was in the thick of the battle and in far worse circumstances than the immortal “few” fighter pilots. In his case he was a member of a very small subset of the “few”.

The logbook opens with a note that he flew 631¾hours as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Nav Radio Specialist (cover for Radar Operator) from May 28th 1940 up till April 1944. From the Record of Service in the back of the logbook plus some Internet research:

Cyril Hall flew in the Battle of Britain with 18 Squadron from May to August 1940 in the staggeringly underarmed, unarmoured and underpowered Blenheim IV. He joined the remains of 18 squadron as it evacuated out of France. He flew with the squadron from 26 May-12 June 1940 from Gatwick and 12 June-8 September 1940 from West Raynham. The squadron was tasked with attacking the German buildup for the invasion of the UK in the Channel Ports, France and the Low Countries. Casualty rates on these missions were routinely 50% losses and often approached 100% losses. He was lucky to survive and was truly one of “the few” of the UK bomber force that survived the Battle of Britain period.

From August to November 1940 he attended No 2 Electrical and Wireless School Yatesbury flying Dominies and training as a “Wireless Operator”. As he already was a W/O – this note was probably cover for Airborne Interception – later known as Radar.

November through December 1940 found him at 23 Squadron again in Blenheims in their role as Night Fighters with early Airborne Interception (Radar). The Blenheims tackled the German bombers through the winter of 1940-41. January to June 1941 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron in Wick in Scotland. Primarily equipped with Hurricanes flying as night fighters – Cyril flew in Douglas Havoc twin engine “night fighters” equipped with Turbinlite. The Turbinlite was an immensely powerful searchlight carried in the aircraft nose that was used in an attempt to illuminate German bombers for the Hurricances to shoot down. The Havoc itself was unarmed as it was all it could do to carry the searchlight. It was not a very successful method of finding bombers and was replaced as soon as airborne radar was available in night fighters. At this time he would almost certainly have been part of the defences over Scotland trying to stave off the Blitz on the Clyde shipyards.

June to August 1941 saw him at 25 Squadron in Blenheims equipped with airborne radar – he would have been the operator in the back talking the pilot on to the target in the dark of night – though the RAF record of duty suggests they were engaged on convoy protection duty for much of the time. August to October 1941 he was back with No 3 Reserve squadron. I can’t specifically find their task at that time but probably training or training other operators. He spent two weeks in October 1941 with the Canadian 406 Squadron in Beaufighters in the night fighter role. October and November saw him back at No 3 Reserve.

He spent December 1941 with No 29 Squadron who were flying a mixture of Blenheim and Beaufighter night fighters as they converted over to Beaufighters. Then from Dec 1941 to June 1942 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron again. Then from June to September 1942 he was with 54 Operational Training Unit in Beaufighters but it is not clear if as an instructor or under training. Given his next deployment – probably under training.

Then a whole year from September 1942 to August 1943 with 141 Squadron in Beaufighters. 141 had been equipped with the disastrous Defiant during the Battle of Britain and had been shot to pieces and when Cyril joined it had just been reformed – flying Beaufighter night fighters in Ayr in the defence of Scotland. He joined just after they were moved south to Tangmere which became its new base in June 1942 and Predannack in February 1943. In April 1943 it moved to Wittering, from where it began night intruder operations over German airfields in support of Bomber Command. A horribly dangerous task. British four engine bomber crews would shoot at anything with two engines – assuming it was a German night fighter. It might just as well be a Beaufighter. It was during this period on the 18th March 1943 that Cyril was promoted from Warrant Officer to Pilot Officer on Probation (emergency) and his service number was changed to 146289 in the “officer” series of numbers. (Promulgated – London Gazette 9th July 1943). He left the squadron a month before it got re-equipped with Mosquitos.

In August 1943 he was “rested” and rotated out to 53 then 54 then 52 Operational Training Units till May 1944. He was promoted Pilot Officer (Flying Officer on Probation) on 18th September 1943 (Promulgated – London Gazette 15th October 1943). He would have been instructing and like most of his contemporaries – they considered it more dangerous than actual missions and deadly boring.

To get out the OTU he volunteered as a pilot and from the 12th May to the 8th June he attended No 7 Elementary Flying School – Desford – for a Grading Course. He flew a total of 10.5 hours in a DeHavilland DH 82A Tiger Moth – mainly with a Sergeant Mortimer. It was two lessons a day sometimes three. Spin recovery was actively practiced on lessons 4, 11 and 13 (it is highlighted and underlined in the logbook). He soloed on his 15th lesson on the 8th day for a whole 10 minutes after 7 hours 45 minutes instruction. He actually had 4 lessons that day – including the solo. He passed the Grading Course on 6th June 1944.

Then on October 4th to a “War Course” at No 28 Elementary Flying Training School. October 6th he was flying again in a Tiger Moth. 19th October he was endorsed as knowing how to swing a propeller and he was also endorsed that he understood the petrol, oil, ignition and cooling systems. He flew through October – sometimes solo and the lessons were building on skills, adding emergencies, forced landings and side slipping. There were also plenty of practice spins – again underlined. He was 20 hour stage checked in November and on passing that – started on aerobatics and LOW FLYING (again underlined). By the end of November he had started work on Navigation away from the airfield. He also spent time in the LINK trainer (a mechanical simulator for instrument flying practice). December included more LOW FLYING, aerobatics and cross country trips. By the end of the year in 1944 he had amassed 43 hours of dual instruction, 24 hours solo time, 4 hours of night instruction and an hour solo at night.

In January 1945 he flew for the first week of the month and on the 8th January 1945 he was awarded his wings. 37.25 hours dual instruction, 32.05 hours solo time, 10.15 hours instrument time. Progress was “Average” and Special Faults to be watched was “Nil”. He was confirmed promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.

It looks like he was awarded two weeks leave because he did not report to Secondary Flying Training School No 17 – Cranwell till the end of January where he was introduced to the twin engined Airspeed Oxford. After just 6 days and 5 hours actual flying in the Oxford he demonstrated his cockpit drills to Warrant Officer Fisher and passed his presolo written exam. Then a few minutes later he soloed the Oxford on February 8th. He then carried on Flying 2 -3 times a day in the Oxford often solo till June 25th. He amassed 75.15 hours instruction and 65.30 hours solo in the Oxford and was passed out at “Proficient” on the 27th June 1945. The War in Europe had been over for 6 weeks. The war with Japan was still raging. He spent July at RAF Spitalgate – reason unknown before heading for No 21 Advanced Flying Unit at Wheaton Aston where he flew Oxfords again from August to September. But the tempo was much reduced. Sometimes a week would pass between flights. Then in October 1945 he spent a month at RAF Perton where he only flew 7 times in the month. These were his last flights with the RAF. He passed out from the Advanced Flying Unit course as a “Proficient” pilot and “Proficient” at making Standard Beam Approaches.


Not being personally completely satisfied with my cockpit log and paperwork management during my long cross country yesterday – and with the wind still gentle today – I ask if I could fly another long cross country today. I think my instructor is beginning to get the feeling that I don’t want him in the plane but he smiled and said sure – and I set up to the EAST today – out over Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket to land – some landings and then to Hyannis before coming home. Doglegging to Hyannis via Martha’s Vineyard so I would stay in gliding distance of land at all times. The winds were calm in the morning and the fog was burnt off everywhere – except Providence. My instructor rightfully fretted over the visibility as I preflighted – but by the time I was done – it was burned off. I was warned to immediately return if there was any doubt about visibility after takeoff.

I got in, ran the checklists and tuned for the weather. Nothing. I checked the radio on other frequencies and it was fine – just no Providence Weather. I dialed the number on my cellphone – listening to it on the Bluetooth link to my headset. Then I called Clearance for my squawk code and they asked if I would like the weather as Providence’s ATIS antenna was out today……. I ran up and called Ground for my taxi. For the first time in 8 months of flying at Providence I got offered runway 16. RIGHT next to the school. No taxi – great – the controllers must have read my blog from the day before! I was off and headed straight out to Martha’s Vineyard – clearly visible over 20 miles away. No problem with visibility. I’d been cleared on course but not given an altitude clearance so as I got to Tiverton I was still maintaining the last instructed “at or below 2,000ft”. Trouble is there is a big radio tower in Tiverton. I could see it but it was getting close. I call Providence and ask if I could be released to my planned 3,500ft altitude. I’m also going to need it soon for my glide to safety if the engine quits while crossing Buzzard’s Bay. I’m released and also handed off to Cape. I climb out and called Flight Service to open my Flight Plan. Fight Service asked if I was up to speed with the IFR weather warnings. I asked if they were new or if they related to the ones that had the fog burning off about now. “No they were for the fog burning off now”. I asked about Restricted Areas 4104 at Falmouth but they had nothing new to offer on the standard notice. I was ready for the usual request and offered a Pilot Report. “Cessna 172, 12 Miles FROM Radial 319 Mike Victor Yankee, 3,500ft, Wind Calm, 10 miles or more, 2 degrees C, No turbulence”. Then I checked in with Cape.

I start crossing to Martha’s Vineyard keeping close eye on the engine to make sure it would keep running. As I overflew the airfield in the middle of the island I dialed my VOR to the new heading and altered slightly for Nantucket. Again I watched the engine as I made the water crossing. The sun came out. The plane is trimmed perfectly and flying herself today. I get some pictures and Cape releases me to Nantucket Tower. I already had the weather for Nantucket and at 12 miles out I told them I was coming and they set me up for a left base to runway 6. It was busy – they were conducting Land and Hold Short operations. Well in my pre-flight research I knew they did – I would just have to be strong minded and decline a LASHO clearance if offered one. Not wise for a student at an airport they had never been to before. As I turned to final however – the airfield was quiet and all mine. It was a definite right crosswind landing as I turned final but the ominous smell of something getting hot was not too good. It wasn’t engine or exhaust but had that electrical whiff to it. Not good. Well I was going to land anyway – so I put her down in a stiff 90 degree right crosswind landing. I gave myself top marks for it – Right wheel graze and held square. I got off at the first taxiway.

The smell was stronger and the ammeter had an ominous discharge showing that was way too much for the low engine RPM. Tower asked where I would like to park. I told them I needed to stop and review something “that was getting hot”. They told me to “stay there – was I declaring an emergency?” Clearly they didn’t want a “hot” plane amongst the parked ones. I was working my post landing workflow and the very hot landing light switch was a big clue. I flicked it off and the ammeter went back to normal and the air quickly cleared. I reached under the dash to see if there were any hot wires but all was OK there and the insulation all seemed good. Everything was back to normal. Landing Light – not required. Only for night landings if for hire. I also have other lights to show my position in the landing pattern. Taxi, Nav, Strobes and Beacon. I am legal without it. I call tower and tell them all is well and I’d like to do some pattern work. They send me round and I fly a right pattern for noise abatement and to stay clear of the town. I crab 20 degrees on the downwind to deal with the stiff crosswind. Tower calls to say they will call my base turn and tells me to follow traffic on a left base. I call I see him and follow him in. Not as good a landing. The wind is now square right crosswind and slightly gusty. Even though I use less flaps and have her running true to the runway as I touch down – I still get blown off centerline a couple of feet – though I quickly get her back. The day is warming up and tower are reluctant to offer runway 15. Well I only need one more landing at Hyannis and I will have met the three controlled tower landings for the solo today so I elect to go for Hyannis. They send me straight out to Hyannis but I call and tell them I am going west first to overfly Martha’s Vineyard for gliding safety. The climb to 8,500ft to be sure of gliding safety across Nantucket Sound is a waste of gas. Flying a slightly longer dogleg but lower route uses less.

I Call Cape Control and they give me a squawk code and I fly my doglegs. It is the first nice Saturday of the year and the air is thick with General Aviation traffic – all practicing calling for Flight Following and generally stretching their winter wings. I call I see Hyannis and as expected Cape is happy to hand me off as soon as possible. I have the Hyannis weather already and they offer me a right base on runway 15. Almost head to wind. Great! A nice landing and they ask what I would like to do. I tell them I’d like to sit in the runup pad for a few moments and then I am back for Providence. The helpful controller sends me down to runway 24. There is a nice big runup pad at the end and when I depart I will be aimed almost at Providence. I take a few minutes to roll my shoulders, breathe deeply and set up my radios and nav gear. I experimentally test the mags – they are in limits but there is a little spread. Not usual on 503SP. I lean the engine a bit and give it a 30 second run at 1800rpm and then test the mags again. The spread has gone – back to the Sierra Papa I know. I call I am ready and after a landing aircraft crosses the threshold I get a one breath – “Cleared to taxi, cleared to take off runway 24 and depart on course and own navigation”. Clearly they don’t expect to talk to me again.

I climb out – maintain a nice centerline in a stiffish crosswind and climb hard to get over adjacent Falmouth’s Class D airspace as I head for Providence. I skip calling Cape for a code. It is only 10 miles and I will be handed off to Providence – so I fly along squawking VFR at 4,500ft trimmed out, leaned out and hands off – like the flying has been all day. Just gently prods at the rudder pedals to ease the plane around and make her gently rise or fall. I’ve been reading about this and it really seems to work.

As I pass New Bedford I can see a Cessna against the dark trees flying the pattern 3000ft below. I call Providence and announce I am coming home. The ATIS is still down and he offers to read me up the weather. I tell him I got it from a previous read up he just gave someone else. The controller is happy and relieved. This reading up the weather is a complete workload killer for them. You can tell they are busy. Flight Following is not being offered to the aircraft to the north near North Central airport. Instead the controllers are announcing “Numerous aircraft between 500 and 2,500ft around North Central”. I’m handed to the controller on 127.9. He is harried and busy. It takes me three calls spaced at two minutes before he gives me a vector for sequence and “please make best speed”. I’m trying to put the sound picture together but though I figure a Cutlass is in the pattern and a South West jet is coming in from the North – it sounds incomplete. I put my nose down and crank up to 120 knots. I’m reluctant to go into the yellow arc and go faster – the air is smooth but there tends to be bumps over water/land transitions. Bumps in the yellow arc are not a good thing. Between the wind and the incomplete sound picture and my speed – I’m scanning the sky outside like crazy to be sure I don’t miss anything. I’m expecting runway 16 because of the wind direction and I get vectored into what seems like a downwind leg. Then suddenly – “turn left and make straight in runway 23 – watch out for the Cutlass below you at 800ft – you are number 2 and cleared to land”. WOAH!

I haul back on the throttle, level to lose speed and as soon as I’m in the white arc get in flaps 10 and then 20 as I turn final to get her to sink down. I’m high and I keep the power out – but I can’t see the Cutlass. The controller clears me to land – he fits in that the Cutlass did a missed approach and then a SouthWest jet is cleared to land behind me “after the Cessna on one mile final”. I’m crabbing for the left crosswind and getting established in the glide slope. I’m feeling good about it. Then the controller calls up – “Wind 150 10 knots”. Darn – that is over my crosswind limit and though I’ve done it plenty of times with my instructor – I’m not endorsed to do this on my own. But I’m coping. I’ll keep going down and be ready to fly the go around and ask for runway 16. But it is still coming together and I’m over the runway in the right place with the crab transitioning to a sideslip and rudder correction. This is one of those – “Don’t try and grease it – just get it down firmly and safely at the right moment” landings. I’m flying her along waiting for the moment and when it comes I plant her and aileron hard to hold her. It is good. A two smiley landing on my scale of landings when anything that rates ANY smiley is good. It is nice and short too and I am easily off at taxiway Charlie. I stop to clean up and the jet follows in a minute later.

I taxi in to the school – every parking spot on the nearside is taken. I taxi around to the other side of the hangar and every spot there is taken except the far one at the access road and fence and which no one uses if they can help it. It is the longest walk in. It doesn’t help that the Twin Comanche has just been pulled out her hanger and I have to negotiate my way around her to hit the spot. I shut down, call in to close my flight plan and then clean up and go in. I squawk the landing light switch. Then a discussion with the instructor. There are two threads. One is a serious inquiry as to whether or not my training in emergencies helped me deal with the hot switch issue. I can’t honestly answer that one. I’ve had a past life at sea dealing with emergencies and am pretty sure my larger life experience led me to not panic on this issue. Also there was never demonstrably an electrical fire so that checklist never kicked in – I only figured the hot smell was electrical after landing. Then a more serious and good point well made – I should have gone to the FBO and got a mechanic to check the system over. It is true. I used a different bit of training in ship systems and my own skill set and I judged I was OK after isolating the problem. It was not my call to make. Good point. I’ll behave next time.

The mission is simple enough. A Cross Country to two DIFFERENT airports, total distance more than 100 miles, one leg at least 50 miles and three landings at a controlled tower. I have three different plans prepared to match the weather. The West plan, the East plan and the North plan. South would be a swim! The problem has been trying to get ANY weather.

Tuesday rained and snowed. Thursday was marginal though later in the day it got better. Today – today was just perfect. Calm or light winds and a high ceiling. The night before I check the winds and I pick the West plan. Providence, Bridgeport, Windham and Providence. 163 miles. Friday morning – I put in the final details of the winds, call the weather at all the airfields I will visit – or might visit and then head to the school.

It is my instructor Greg’s day off – but he has kindly come in – just to allow me to fly today. I’m planning on navigating the “old(er)” way – flying between radio beacons called VOR’s and ignoring GPS direct flying. I want to use the VOR system to get more practice in its use. Greg goes over my plan carefully. He asks questions about one part where I have decided I will pick the second airport whilst in flight after getting the actual weather in the air. We do a final weather and TFR check and I go out to pre-flight the aircraft. Today I’m flying N9905F. She has just been re-engined and the engine is still getting broken in. I’m to run her at 72% power instead of 65% and run her an extra 25 degrees mixture rich. She is running on straight mineral oil to break it in and I take along an extra quart in case I need to top off.

After we have preflighted – we both look at the left main wheel. It doesn’t seem to be sitting quite square. I get under and look at the axle carefully – it seems OK. We rock the plane back and forth to “spring” the undercarriage and make sure she is not just sitting funny from getting her out. We get the mechanic to come look. Brian brings a T-Square and compares both sides. He confirms the wheel is not square on the left. There is not a spare aircraft. Oh boy – this is all I need. After some careful measuring Brian checks the numbers. We ask the question – “Will it fall off?” – “No”. “Is it safe?” – “Yes”. The angle is in tolerance. We joke that I will just have to make right wheel landings but it is decided all is well. I get in and settle down.

I haven’t flown for 6 days. I feel a hair out of sorts and turn to my checklists to focus and center myself. By the time I am turning the key to fire up – I’m back on track. And the engine goes “thunk”. The starter makes no impression on it – it is like everything is stuck at top dead center. A second crank and she fires. I go to the runup pad and get the plane warm while enjoying the luxury of using the empty passenger seat as my chart table. I check the VOR instruments carefully. I get minus 1 and plus 2 errors on them checking against the local VORTAC. I look in the aircraft box at the log sheet. It has been running with the same trend for the last couple of weeks and the 3 degrees difference is within the 4 degrees standard on the ground. All is well. I’m cleared and get the longest taxi down to runway 5 – why does this always happen on my solos? It is the quiet part of the day and I’m cleared, departed and handed off to approach just about as quick as the controllers can reasonably get rid of me!

My flight plan is so on the money today it is not true. I’m two minutes late climbing out – but the rest of the plan runs the same two minutes long. The visual waypoints come up on time. At the Connecticut River – Providence tell me they can’t get me a handoff to New York Center right now and they cut me loose to fly VFR. Try them on 124.7 in a couple of miles is the suggestion. I monitor the weather at Bridgeport and then Bridgeport Traffic and decide to listen to the traffic. It is busy and there seems to be a lot of student traffic. The Bridgeport controller is juggling and one student is not responding to calls. At 15 miles out I warn them I am approaching so they can start to factor me in. The controller is still trying to raise the missing student. The controller stops accepting traffic coming from all over and starts to make us all fly pattern so he can keep it under control. The missing student comes back on the radio and is shepherded home. I report my midfield downwind as requested and get warned about a plane low over Long Island Sound on a 3 mile final. I’m number two after him and I project the runway out across the water and spot him. I follow him in and land. It IS a right crosswind landing and I stay off the left wheel as I land.

I taxi in – park with the engine running for a moment, set up for Windham and ask to go. I follow another Cessna out to the runway. A plane lands, the Cessna goes, two other planes land and the I depart straight out to the NE. I’m headed for the Hartford VOR. It is my airport turning point. North South winds and I turn left for Hartford. East West and it is right for Windham. I try getting the weather at Windham but I am not close enough. I fly on – tracking the VOR. I can hear aircraft on the CTAF at Windham and they are using runway 27. That works for me. Looking left I can see Hartford standing out and I can pick out the airport and the abandoned GE airport to the NE. Looking right and ahead the haze is obscuring Windham. I’m quite close, almost on top of the Hartford VOR before I get the weather at Windham. It confirms Windham is good and I can hear two helicopter and a Civil Air Patrol aircraft working runway 27. I fly on to Windham and join the pattern. Someone else calls to use runway 9. I call and tell him the rest of us are using 27. We don’t want to meet in the middle flying in opposite directions! He breaks off and announces he is going elsewhere.

I land. It is about 5 knots fast, a little floating and long but there is plenty of runway left. I pull off and taxi round. Though 9905F is not supposed to be used for a lot of landing during her engine break in – one more will not be of great harm – I’d like to get this runway right. The Civil Air Patrol and I are going to be taking turns in the pattern. Just before I go – something makes me run the engine up and do a mag check. She runs horribly rough on the left – so I lean her out and run the engine up for 30 seconds. Another check and the plugs are clear. I take the runway, and fly a pattern. My second landing is nice and tight and I set up and take off and depart for Providence.

The flight back is an interminable, light, choppy hassle. The plane won’t fly level from one moment to the next. I’m constantly having to trim and adjust and getting the Providence Weather down is a scrawl. I call Approach and get cleared onto a left base for runway 23. I write it down. That’s a hassle – a long way around the airport. The opposite of 5 which was on the weather. I get handed off to Tower. I announce I’ll be setting up for 23. No – say Tower – we are on 5. I mention the other controller gave me 23 but I am fine with 5 – it is the logical and easier route from where I am. A moment later I hear the original controller on the radio talking to another aircraft. He is joking that he is retiring in November because he is no longer up to the job!. A good straightforward landing in about minimum distance. I’m straight off at Taxiway Tango. I don’t think I’ve ever managed that short a landing on runway 5 ever. Of course it makes for a long taxi back.

In to the school. I call and close my flight plan. Then I call for my security escort in to the school. As I put the plane to bed I stick the fuel tanks. Predicted fuel burn – 20 galls – Actual 21. Hey. I’m getting better at this! And the left wheel – seems quite straight after all.

Switched Thu lesson to Wed because tomorrow’s forecast looks terrible. Today a quiet morning (wind wise). Flying wise however:

We do a simulated engine failure on takeoff on Providence’s long runway. Tower got all twitchy when we ask for a long enough time slot on the runway to start a takeoff and then abort it with a simulated engine failure. They let in a jet on long final rather than scoot us out ahead of it and then tell us the runway is all ours “at OUR discretion”. I start a normal take off. Now it doesn’t matter that I know this is going to happen – when the instructor pulls the power at 150ft the plane lurches and it is all happening REALLY fast. I point down. I do simulate switches off but miss the fuel cut off. A small gust throws us in a right crab and I’m stamping on the rudder at touch down to square her. It is a flaps up landing and fast and I stand on the brakes per the book and then pull hard back for aerodynamic braking. A little scrappy. “We lived” says the instructor.

Then we go off for real – to the driveway in the woods 15 miles away known as Richmond Airport. 30ft wide by 2000ft and change long. The visibility is perfect. I use the GPS and track the VOR and it still doesn’t appear between the trees till I am on top of it at 3,000ft a half mile out. I tell Providence we are there and they release us. I call an entry to the pattern and fly a full upwind, cross, down, base and final to get a good look. The strip is so small I keep having to check the altimeter to be sure I am not high in the pattern. Slight right cross wind. Irrelevant once you are down in the trees. My first one is a big pattern – plenty of time and I get her down without intervention. I forget to raise the flaps the instant she lands to get weight on the wheels so the brakes work better – but it was so short field that half the runway is left. I taxi back along the runway (no taxiways). Then we have to sit because another plane joins the pattern. This could screw up the day. But it is a local coming home – he waltzes in over the trees and lands and taxis to park. Shortfield out – for very real – there is a ridge of trees at the end of the runway. My second one I fly a huge pattern to give myself lots of time. I get her in – again without the instructor. “Tighten it up” he says “Really sink her in from high” so I do. It is “amusing” – this is a tough one for the instructor. I’m supposed to sink her in at flaps 30 and 57 knots and I’m more like 60 a lot of the time so a bit hot and flat. But if I slow to 57 then the instructor gets understandably nervous I might slow to 55 or slower and he is breathing down my neck a little. Fast means flat and there is that very real tree under the right wingtip. “Go left a bit then come back” – this all in the last 500ft to the runway and about 60ft up. I’m supposed to sink in over the tree – not have to fly around it. But I get the third one. We Vx climb out and I’m better on centerline as I do this time. I fly a pattern.

Very early on the fourth final I know I am high and fast and will land long on the runway. I call the go around but the instructor says – “no keep sinking so you see it”. So I do sink her hard in – practicing for the 57 knot sink. I am midfield and ask – “Now can I go around?” as I do. The fifth one – I don’t even get close and on the climb out we are out of time – we head back to Providence. It is hard to pick a spot on the freeway called runway 34 but I put her somewhere near centerline.

It is all about the speed control……

Maybe I will get in that trip to Hyannis. I certainly want to avoid going West today. Airspace around New York is closed for a Presidential visit. A close examination of the forecast suggests I can get this in during the first lesson block before the wind starts to gust. Overnight gusts have been moderating and all airports are currently reporting steady winds. I punch the new wind numbers into my flight plan and print it out.

In the time to get to the school – the weather is the same but a new Temporary Flight Restriction has appeared. A crash of a propane delivery truck in NW Massachusetts has led to the airspace above it being closed. I’m not going that way. My plan is reviewed, my logbook endorsed. My instructor asks if I feel OK about the trip. I’ve noticed he expects me to enunciate my considerations and comfort level. I do. Then out to the plane while I preflight. We share the usual joke about who gets to check the fuel caps last. I watch him firmly screw them down. I get in, he disappears.

Run the checklists, start up, set up radios and navigation gear, warm up, run up and depart. It is quiet at Providence this morning and I’m almost immediately released to my “own navigation”. I have my checklists for Top of Climb and Top of Descent firmly on my knee today. They are short and I have been trusting to imperfect memory. Today I am going to get these bang-on. I call Flight Service to open my Flight Plan. He confirms restricted area 4101 to the North of Falmouth is active today.

No turbulence but the winds are initially clearly west and not north west. I alter course to stay on the radial and fly along marking times on my flight plan. Providence calls up with traffic “12 o’clock at one mile and probably 1,000ft”. That is 2,500ft under my nose and I never see it though I intone “Looking for the traffic”. Then Providence hands me off to Cape. We say hello and Cape confirm 4101 is active this morning. I fly on. I cross Buzzard’s Bay above my safety altitude while looking for where to glide to if the engine quits. I can see a couple of nice muddy beaches. The engine keeps running. Buzzard’s Bay lighthouse is to the right as planned. The GPS is telling me I am south of Restricted 4101. I’m deliberately slightly off the VOR radial to the south as well. Mark one eyeball says I am on the south edge of Falmouth airfield and therefore definitely south of the restricted area. It is much more fun looking outside – it is a BEAUTIFUL day. Cranberry bogs, quarries, all the small lakes are bright blue and the spring green is just beginning to show. I get the weather at Hyannis. Whoever recorded it was a speed reader! It takes me three tries to get that the wind if 310 8 knots gusting 15. Hmmm. Still in my cross wind limits but I had better be careful. When I am over Falmouth Coastguard Station I call Cape and tell them I can see Hyannis. Cape asks if I want to descend through the Falmouth Class D space – he will arrange a transition. I thank him but my plan includes a steep descent without going into the space and I decide to stick with it. He hands me off to Hyannis. They immediately offer “runway 33 – report left base”. My cross bearing from the VOR at Martha’s Vineyard confirms I am clear of Falmouth’s Class D. I fly down to pattern and hit it at the correct spot and height using my planned 750fpm descent. “Hyannis 3 Sierra Papa is two mile left base for runway 33”. I’m cleared to land and told the wind is 360 11 knots. So right crosswind. As I turn final it is clear the wind is still left crosswind at altitude. I fly down final with an extra 10 knots to allow for any gusts and I only use flaps 20. The landing – like all my first ones of the day – the tires bark a little – but it is straight and I dealt with a transition at about 200ft when the wind went to right crosswind. I mark myself at 7 out of 10 on that one. I stop and am ready to pull off at taxiway Alpha. Tower asks where I would like to park. I tell him I am here for a series of three full stop landings. Then I get a clearance to back taxi on runway 33 and then left or right traffic at my discretion. As I turn around I get told – “no-no – taxiway Alpha”. I stop and turn to the taxiway and ask for clarification as I do. I thought I was told to “back taxi on runway 33”. There is a pause – the controller says I am to back taxi on the taxiway. It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before but it is clear he wants me on the taxiway. I taxi off, clean up and then taxi down to the start of runway 33. I set up and call I am ready and will make left traffic.

Off I go and get into the left pattern. Someone is taking off on Runway 6. He is IFR and it clearly points him in the correct direction. I extend my downwind a little to give me more time to set up on the way down and call my turn to base. I’m cleared to land and am spot on the glideslope lights as I turn final. I power up a little to get a hair high and I decide that the first landing wasn’t so bad – and I try flaps 30 on this one and slow for a normal approach. MISTAKE. As I transition from the left wind at 200ft to the right wind near the surface – it is all going great till just before touchdown. Then a gust smacks out the left and the plane twists into wind. I can’t kick the rudder fast enough and I have visions of the right wheel crabbing the runway surface ready to scrape off a load of rubber. Perhaps it touches – I don’t know because I am flat out on the power for a go-around and I climb and fly her out. Flaps 30 to 20 and she accelerates. I transition off the flaps and call my go around. “left or right – your discretion.” from the controller. I call “right for noise abatement” as there was a note in the AFD that if you could avoid flying over the town it would be appreciated. I’m a little rattled by how quickly it had gone wrong near the surface. Perhaps I should just fly back to Providence. I need to make a judgment call. Balance trying again with being safe. The controller is calling “wind 360 at 11” to another plane departing on 6. I need to “get back on the horse”. I managed those winds on the first landing. I take a few deep breaths and roll my shoulders to relax. I carry on with my pattern and call my base. I’m cleared to land. Someone is incoming from Nantucket behind me and is cleared for a straight in behind me. I revert to flaps 20 and 10 knots fast and get her nicely over the runway. As I drop in the last few feet it goes nice and quiet and I plant her smoothly but firmly on the runway. Good landing – I put a :-) on my notes at the time. I aileron hard into the winds by the windsock and she tracks straight. I pull off at the taxiway.

I’m cleared to taxi around again. I look at my watch. I need to try and get in a third landing. Time is pressing and the next student’s lesson at Providence is looming. I’m waiting for the plane to land coming in from Nantucket. I can see him in the distance. Then a second plane gets in behind him to land. Time is running out – I’m going back so I am not late – I’m not letting the need for a third make me do something like a sloppy, quick, ill-judged landing. I start setting up the GPS and radios for Providence while the others land. I call I am ready to depart for Providence. I’m released to “turn left and call Cape if I want to” as I climb out hard to get on top of the Class D at Falmouth. The wind has clearly settled in the NW as forecast and I am Vx climbing to get altitude to get over Falmouth’s airspace. I call Cape and they give me a squawk code. I then ask to go off frequency to talk to Flight Service. “Let us know when you are back”. I call Flight Service on 122.1 – no response. I try 122.6 – the Providence frequency. No response. So I try Flight Watch on 122.0. Boston Flight Watch comes up and I ask him if he can close my last and open my next flight plan as I can’t raise Flight Service. He tells me that Flight Service’s frequency on the Cape is giving trouble today. Try 126.425 or try the VOR – but he has heard the VOR is giving trouble today. I thank him and try 126.425. Flight Service comes straight up. I ask to close my last plan and open the return plan. I’m high over Falmouth and top of climb workflowing as I do. He tells me he could hear my original calls but I could not hear him – there is something wrong with his VOR antenna today……

I fly for home. The winds are now pretty much as forecast. I planned a ground speed 92 knots. GPS says 94 knots and I am bang on the radial for Providence which matches the predicted course. Cape hand me off to Providence with 33 miles to go. I haven’t finished getting the weather but call them and tell them I am over Buzzards Bay. They ask me to call them when I do have the weather. The weather – is 320 11 gusting 16. I can deal with that on runway 34. Done it plenty of times. I remember my instructor saying that if it is too much in the gusts at Providence – “go to the bigger runway at Quonset and I’ll pick you up”. I fly on. Not over confident but happy that I have done this before. Providence Approach has me flip to 129.7 and I fly on. I’m told to set up for a left base for runway 23. I hear another plane getting told the wind is now gusting 18. This is not good. That is something like a 16 knot cross wind on 23. I don’t need my calculator to figure it is too much. I’m handed off to Tower.

“Providence Tower this is 3SP left base for runway 23 but requesting 34”.

Tower calls up and asks if this is an operational necessity. I respond in the affirmative – that the crosswind on 23 is too much for me. I’m told they will set me up but to continue my approach to 23 at this time. I hear tower call the maintenance trucks and tell them to get off runway 34. Then I am cleared to make right base to 34. I set her up. I’m cleared to land on 34 after the departing traffic on 23. I call “Cleared to land 34 after the departing traffic – see the traffic”. The departing traffic goes and I turn final and am cleared to land – wind 330 at 11 gusting 16. I go for flaps 20 and 10 knots fast again. It is a long runway. I get her nicely over the runway and correct for a left crosswind. I overcorrect the bank so I ease it and hold off a moment while I get blown back to centerline and get her down through the ground effect. She grazes straight but is not quite ready – I fly on and she grazes a second time and I make her stick. It is good and actually pretty gentle – though a couple of feet right of center. I aileron hard into wind as I slow and she tracks beautifully as I correct for centerline and slow down.

Tower asks where I am going. I can’t quite believe he asks a school plane that but tell him the North West ramp. I’m cleared to taxi 34 full length but monitor ground frequency as I do. I thank him for accommodating me – “Not a problem” he replies. I switch to ground and clean the plane up on the roll – flaps first so I don’t get gusted around by them sticking down in the wind. I get to the end, turn off and park at the school. I carefully work the shutdown checklist. I call for my security escort and as I do I also call Flight Service and close my flight plan.

Well it was too gusty to Cross Country – didn’t even think of taking off. So we went up and bucketed around flying stalls and steep turns and really trying to lock the plane in. Also moved onto a little more commercial with Autopilot use and slaving it to the Directional Gyro. While I understand this not part of Private Pilot I can tell you now this is a lifesaver if you accidently fly into IMC. 3 hours hood time makes you JUST proficient at keeping a plane level and flying a standard rate turn to get back out a cloud. But REAL WORLD your workload jumps enormously as you make the mistake going into a cloud and have to suddenly transition to instruments. A lot of people who accidently go into cloud without instrument RATING tend not to live. They are quickly spatially disoriented and spiral in….

With an autopilot – even just a wing leveler/heading unit – as you find yourself in a cloud you punch the autopilot on and your wings are leveled – you still have to deal with pitch but that is now a lot easier. Roll causes spirals and spins so level wings just saved your hide. Now you set the heading marker on the DG to straight ahead. Punch “Heading” on the autopilot and then turn the heading bug 180 degrees on the Directional Gyro. The Autopilot will now fly a standard rate turn towards the heading bug and fly you back the way you came in. It is a complete lifesaver.

So of course climbing out of New Bedford in a bucket load of turbulence and needing to get the weather at Providence I punched the autopilot wing lever on the climb while I wrote down the weather. A sigh and a smile from my instructor – “I shouldn’t have shown you that. Let’s face it – it is exactly what I would do – but don’t do it in front of your examiner on your PPL! Hand fly the plane throughout”.

So we got down. Went through the syllabus. The game plan is now:

- Solo 50 miles to a single airport with three full stop landings at a controlled tower at the other end and come home. (My little 5 airport jaunt the other day means I’ve actually met the airport landing requirement – I just need the solo flight)
- Solo minimum of 100 miles landing at a total of three points – one segment at least 50 miles
- Lessons 23, 24 and 25 in stage III – we have already covered. If there are days I cannot solo because of weather – I can go up and fly bits again if I want more time and proficiency.
- Stage III Flight Check from school
- Lessons to fine tune anything arising on the Stage III check ride.
- FAA Written paper (I’ve started revising)
- Examiner – Check Ride

I’m not counting my chickens – and the amount of material to revise is monumental – but I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

20 mins of oral exam covering a question from each area of the final exam. Seemed to go alright.

My carefully worked out cross country plan was not used and I was asked to plan on the fly for somewhere I had not been before – “Let’s say Westerly”. Not a true cross country – but the planning elements were the same.

I back of the envelope worked it up. I was asked a few questions about courses and execution of the plan and out we went. My pre-flight was watched. My startup was observed. I could see ticks or little scribbles going on the sheet whenever I think I was doing something right. I was verbalizing like I should for the examiner. Seemed to go over well.

Got off and immediately ended up in a small tussle with ATC. We deliberately filed for VFR at 3000ft so we would not require vectoring and didn’t need to climb high and burn gas for a 15 minute hop to Westerly. But ATC had me go up to 4500ft and I got a short lecture about VFR altitudes and directions from the controller. I wasn’t going to argue and took the assigned altitude but it was a waste of gas climbing up to come straight back down. Then I got told to watch out for descending traffic in front of me. Ho hum! We trundled along and as soon as I could I called Westerly in sight and I was let go to my own devices. I called my entry to the pattern on the CTAF and overflew the field mid-field left crosswind for runway 32. The ATIS had suggested wind at 330. The windsock in the circle was showing a strong left crosswind. I flew the pattern – ground tracking for the wind and because the wind looked strong I didn’t use flaps 30 on final. But I ended up high so I called a go-around and flew it again.

Extended my downwind some more and then tried again. On base I could look down into the salt water ponds and see the fish traps on the sea bed. Concentrate – look for the turn to final. The wind was now gusty and left right on the sock and I wiggled her down and got a nice landing. Then I was asked for a soft field take off. I don’t do them a lot. I asked where the “soft” field started and was told the pole just ahead. I stopped before it and cockpit managed my frequencies, VOR and GPS before proceeding onto the “soft field”. More scribbles on the notepad. I yoked back to stop the nose wheel getting stuck in a rut and kept her rolling then popped her up into ground effect asap and then wheelbarrowed her down the runway a few feet off while she accelerated and off I went. Back to Providence. Half way back I was offered a PARTIAL engine failure. I workflowed with an electric fuel pump and full rich mixture as I pointed out a field below I would go for. I got told I had my engine back. Then was asked what to do if it had been a full failure. I workflowed that and made mock distress calls without pushing the transmit switch. I again pointed at the big field below and declined the small strip at Richmond – also below – the field was a better bet with no engine. Then a headset failure was announced. I reached for the hand mike and pointed at the speaker switch. How would I deal with screaming kids in the back seat? I pointed at the crew/passenger switch on the intercom setup. Fine I was told – back to Providence.

As I approached I was not 100% clear about the runway I was being vectored onto and assumed it would be the same as my departure and started to set up for it. Then I got controlled onto runway 5 for a straight in. I let down and set up for the landing. A jet going off ahead of me failed to maintain centerline on his initial climb and I got a good assessment of the left crosswind. I verbalized my allowance for wake turbulence and where I had to touch down to avoid it and then crabbed down to the runway. Then I lowered the wing, kicked the rudder to square her and put her down in a long steady left single wheel landing, flaring her to lose speed and balance on the left wheel as it grazed the runway. Then we lost enough speed and dropped onto all the wheels – I aileroned hard into wind to hold her square and on centerline. Oh I GREASED IT! Man was I happy with that landing. I could have failed the whole test but that landing was my best ever and I loved it. Thanks to my instructor for all his patient attempts to get me landing and the exercises in strong cross winds and gusts. It all came together at that one moment. It was SWEET!

Then I beat myself up for forgetting my lights on the way down and fessed up to it – second time I have done that on a straight in final approach. The examiner missed it too.

In to park, secure the aircraft and debrief. The only serious criticism was for flying through a couple of altitude assignments by a couple of hundred feet before settling down. But as I had verbalized I knew what was going on – I was forgiven. Long and the short – my Stage II check – PASS.