Monday, March 31, 2008

Lessons Learned... And More Coming!

Wow... a lot of time has passed since I last updated the site with the status of my flight training. As you might imagine, this is due largely to the fact that, well, I've been busy flying!

The past few days have yielded a number of lessons for me... many of which I hadn't anticipated, but they were good to learn.

Let's pick up with Wednesday evening's lesson. My instructor, Jim, and I returned to Palatka, where we shot touch-and-goes to work on my takeoff and landing techniques. Like I said in my last post, I had a tendency to veer left on both... something Jim was able to cure me of.

"It sounds hooky, but you really do have to develop a feel for the plane," Jim told me after Wednesday morning's frustrating lesson. "You have to visualize how it reacts to your inputs. You have to help it maneuver in the way you want it to. It wants to help you."

Actually, that didn't sound hooky at all; if anything, I appreciate the zen approach to flying. So Wednesday afternoon, before we took off again... I sat in the Gobosh's cockpit for about 20 minutes, visualizing the proper nose attitude on takeoff and landing... and generally commiserating with the plane, asking for its help as much as possible.

And it worked. How? I'm not sure I can explain it, but I'll try. Let's start with the Gobosh's requiring judicious amounts of right rudder on takeoff, more so than I can recall needing on most any other plane I've flown, in order to counteract the left-turning tendency generated by the rotation of the propeller and "adverse yaw."

That's the veering... and there really isn't a science in figuring out how to counteract it, other than learning to balance the application of throttle with the proper amount of rudder. Which I did Wednesday night, thanks to Jim.

"Bring the plane around just a bit right of centerline, and keep the plane lined up on the right during takeoff," he told me. "Don't let the plane cross the line... don't let it veer right, either, but you get the idea."

All my takeoffs since have been rod-straight down the centerline, regardless of crosswind.
As for landings, they're coming along nicely, too... finally. And what was the silver bullet solution? Again, developing a feel for the plane. In fact, once I finally stopped trying to land the Gobosh like a different aircraft, it all came together... and the plane actually handles quite sweetly and gently in ground effect.

Jim showed me a couple techniques to help with my landings, that I've since practiced. One is to alight the plane's maingear gently on the runway, then add just enough power to take off again... then throttle back, and set down. Repeat the process as runway distance allows, which on Palatka's 9/27 is about five "bounce-and-goes." I was put off initially when Jim demonstrated the technique... but it's actually a lot of fun, and it teaches precise control inputs.

The second was even more fun: holding the plane in ground effect, keeping the mains about a foot or so off the runway, using throttle inputs to hold the plane off. Essentially, you balance the plane between ground effect, and hanging on the prop. It's great fun, and a great learning technique; most of my landings since have been greasers, again in varying crosswind situations.

One final note -- I think I've finally come to terms with the Gobosh's throttle. I'm still not a fan of the particular arrangement, but I've learned to accept it for what it is.

As is the case on numerous single-engine piston aircraft, including most Cessnas, the G700S throttle is a push-pull lever jutting out from the lower center of the instrument panel. Push it in to increase revs, pull out to slow the engine down, and there's a ring around the base to adjust the friction placed on the lever. If there's too much friction, the lever becomes dangerously difficult to move quickly; too loose, and the engine merrily speeds up the moment you take your hand off the lever. It's the same in a lot of planes.

With Jim's help, we finally found a "sweet spot" for the throttle lever friction, and it's worked wonders. Tuning the proper engine RPM is no longer a big problem, and we've done several full-throttle applications (simulated go-arounds) with no problems.

Like I said, this exact same throttle arrangement works well enough on Cessnas and a variety of other GA planes; I flew it on Skyhawks long before I knew what a Gobosh was. But those planes are equipped with relatively slow-turning Lycoming and Continental engines, that only have a usable rev range of less than 2,000 revs. Those engines are also slower to respond to throttle commands -- if only barely -- than the Rotax engine in the Gobosh and most LSAs, and in my opinion is better suited to the friction-lock throttle lever because of that.

All things being equal, Evektor has a better idea, I think... especially for the peaky Rotax. The SportStar also uses a push-pull lever, but it incorporates a vernier-style "twist" action too, that allows the operator to fine-tune the precise rev setting. If you need immediate throttle power or idle, a thumb-lever at the tip releases the lever to allow broad inputs; otherwise, you twist the throttle to tweak the right setting.

Given that the Rotax operates from around 1,950 rpm at idle, to over 5,000 at takeoff settings, I think the vernier-type throttle control is better, just because it allows more precise inputs. (This same arrangement is also found in single-engine piston Beechcrafts.) But the throttle in the Gobosh is perfectly workable, too... I just had to learn how to work it!

Still To Come: Steep Turns, I Take The FAA Written And Pass, A Long Cross-Country Flight, And Dealing With Clouds En Route

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day One

(This update isn't very detailed, since it's 12:10 am EDT as I'm writing this after a VERY long day... but I wanted to get at least the first day's activity up. And no pics from the cockpit yet, since all my time in the air is about TRAINING so far.)

Due to strong, gusting winds in northern Florida Monday, I wasn't able to get started on my sport pilot training until Tuesday.

My instructor, Jim, and I took off from Haller (7FL4) at 10:15 am, first heading 15 miles south to Palatka (28J) for fuel. After topping off N702GB, we took off once again, and flew east of the field, on the other side of the St. John's River, for airwork.

Jim led me through a basic refresher course of maneuvering flight: turns-around-a-point, forward-and-side-slips, descending and climbing turns, and pilotage. Like I suspected during my earlier "sim" training, it's tough to miss Palatka -- since two large smokestacks rise over the flat terrain, visible for miles around, and the airport lies southwest of those stacks (the smoke also gives a handy reference for which way the winds are blowing... and for my readers at AG, Lafarge's drywall plant is right next door to the power station.)

After 1.3 hours of pretty intense airwork -- not helped at all by turbulence brought on by the warming of the ground, and residual breezes -- we returned to Palatka, and borrowed the FBO courtesy car to grab lunch.

Since I still had to post afternoon stories on ANN, we decided to return to Haller afterwards. This would be my first-ever soft-field landing, on a grass landing strip... and I was nervous of that, even going so far as to tell Jim I was willing to sit back and watch him do it. My confidence was shaken further the more we were bounced around by the increasingly strong winds, which a few times sent both of us out of our seats a bit, heads hitting the canopy.

Surprisingly, however -- well, to me anyway, if not Jim -- I made an unassisted, spot-on landing at Haller.

After working for four hours, it was time to head back into the air. As we once again headed down to Palatka, Jim showed me how easy it is to trim the airplane to fly at 60 knots -- on the edge of "slow flight," flaps up. This helped in the landing pattern at Palatka... where traffic had cleared out appreciably from the rather crowded state it was in earlier. 28J is VERY popular with student pilots, flying from Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, or the CAPT program. 
However, at this hour -- 6 pm -- we were the only plane in the pattern for a significant part of the time.

Here's the short version of what followed: I still need work on my landing technique. It's where I show the most "rust." While I did make some passable landings, and two rather decent ones, other times I was skidding across the runway.

Part of that is still learning the particular quirks of the Gobosh (for one, its nose sits higher off the ground than the SportStar did, so the sightlines for flaring are different; for another, the darn thing has a free-castering nosewheel, no direct steering) part of that was the crosswind, and part of that was rust.

Jim showed me a technique that helped a little -- "fast-taxiing," in which you push enough power in to raise the nosewheel off the ground, but not the mains, then bring it back and hold the nose off the ground as long as possible. The goal is to give you an idea of the ideal sightlines for when you flare on landing.

By the end of the lesson at 7:15, I WAS making progress... and I capped it off with another nice landing back at Haller.

Total time in the air today: 3.9 hours. And there's more in store for tomorrow: steep turns, stalls, more landing work, and a trip over to the Class D (towered) airspace at St. Augustine (SGJ.)

I'm loving every minute of it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Let The Games Begin!

Howdy... Happy Easter, everyone. I'm writing this from a Starbucks (natch) in the Nashville Airport, awaiting my flight to Jacksonville, for the start of my sport pilot training. No joke. I'm really, REALLY starting to believe this is gonna happen.

I spoke Friday with the man who will be my instructor -- I spent an hour on the phone with him, discussing topics ranging from where to take my FAA written exam (there's a place in St. Aug that's open six days a week) to what he thinks about the Gobosh ("it flies really nicely, and I love that it has a six-pack [of gauges]") to how long he's been instructing ("let me think... I think I'm coming up on my 35th year.")

As I type this while slamming the rest of my Java Chip frap (BIG mistake) my instructor, Jim, is flying the Gobosh to the airpark where my boss, also-Jim, resides, and where I'll be staying. Which leads to what I expect will be my first adventure: learning to depart and land on a 2,600-foot grass airstrip, my first introduction to non-paved runways, shorter than the 4,000' runway at Grand Prairie Muni (and I thought 4,000 ft was short!)

I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

One More Story

Ah, the best laid plans of mice, men, and managing editors. I had planned to use Tuesday to "catch up" on a number of errands close to home, in anticipation of heading to Florida for three weeks for sport pilot training... but, alas, the news cycle had other plans. Here's my usual routine. I wake up around 6:30 am, have my first cup of coffee, and sit down at the computer to grab the morning's news. I usually do about 10-15 stories in the morning; since I knew I was going to try to break away early, I'd written five of those the night before. So, I was on track to be able to get away from the computer at around 10 am.

I blame the following on Delta. They started it. "Delta Pilots Say Northwest Merger Deal Is Off," followed shortly by "Delta Offers Half Its Workforce Buyouts."

And then the feds chimed in. "FAA Calls For Inspections Of Airline Maintenance Records." "DOT, EU To Meet Over Airline Alliances." "Southwest Considers Early Retirement For Some Classics" (referring to the carrier's older 737-300 and -500 "Classic" airliners.)

And oh, Mother Nature also had to weigh in. "DFW Airport Assists Passengers Stranded Due To Spring Storms." (Here in New Mexico I didn't hear about the horrible weather in Dallas until early afternoon, which is kind of ironic. To all my friends in the Big D -- when The Flood hits, send me an email, would you? OK, you're allowed to get to higher ground first.)

Fortunately, there was some lighter news, as well. "Cirrus Announces New Standard Maintenance Program." "A380 Makes Its First Revenue Flight To Europe." "Embraer Completes First Phenom 300 Wing Mate, Engine Install." "Skycaps Sue American Airlines Over Baggage Fee." "Cessna Introduces 350, 400 Aircraft To Sales Force."

And what is becoming my favorite ongoing story of late: "ATC Tapes Show go! Pilots Were Unresponsive For 17 Minutes." Why? Well, we don't know for sure... but all signs point to the flight crew napping on a 215-mile interisland flight from Honolulu to Hilo. There are only so many reasons a modern jetliner will continue past its destination at 21,000 feet, as air traffic control frantically tries to make contact with the plane. Most of those scenarios result in the plane eventually crashing. Fortunately, this one didn't.

And so on through the day. Thing is, when I see a news item, I can't walk away. I have to write it up. Combined with on-phone interviews and other regular duties... this is why I was stuck at the computer until 5:30 pm, with only a small break to clean up and run to the grocery store.

Argh! So, I postponed my plans until this morning. Same general plan... except this time, I posted seven stories ahead of time last night...

...And the site's down. Something about moving the server to a new location. So while I can write up stories, I can't post anything (or reference any previous stories on ANN, which I do often since we often do several stories on the same subject, as the news cycle progresses.) The web hosting company we use has no idea when we'll be back online.

I think the Universe is telling me something. "Walk away from the computer... NOW!!!!!!"

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wishful Thinking (Or, "Advanced Training")

With T-Minus two weeks until the start of flight training, I'm already spending free moments between Work, Life, and Sleep trying to do as much advanced training as I can. 

I've already taken three Sporty's Practice FAA exams, scoring an 88 on average (course plotting remains an issue, and "classes" versus "categories" of aircraft foil almost everyone) and, thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator 9 and a semi-decent video card, I'm also "flying" my planned cross country flights.

Above is a screen capture from my "flight" from Palatka Municipal Airport (28J) to Flagler County (XFL), the second leg of my planned cross-country, that starts and stops back at St. Augustine (SGJ). The route covers about 85 nautical miles -- sport pilot requirements dictate you must travel 75 miles -- and each leg is just over 25 nm as required by the same regulation.

With some irony, my Flight Sim aircraft of choice is an Evektor. I came across a free download of a Eurostar -- the European ultralight version of the SportStar -- several months ago. Apart from being "powered" by the less-powerful 80hp Rotax 912, instead of the 100hp ULS version in the SportStar and Gobosh, the aircraft's "flight" characteristics are remarkably similar to the Sport's (and, in theory, the Gobosh's.) The Eurostar model I'm using also has a straight "six-pack" of instruments, as does the Gobosh.

Since I'll be flying over unfamiliar territory, I'm trying to pick a route with recognizable landmarks. I think I've stumbled across the best one I could hope for -- there's the St. John's River near Palatka, plus some powerplant stacks north of town (rendered with surprising accuracy on FS9) and, of course, there's the Atlantic Ocean.

I might get "lost" from Palatka to Flagler, but I'd be hard-pressed to go off my planned route up to St. Augustine. Can't wait to see what it's like in real life!

(Sectional image courtesy of

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Let's Light This Candle

I'm happy and relieved to report there's some GREAT news to report on the job/personal fulfillment front. I have my ticket in hand to fly down to Florida at the end of the month for two weeks of training that should result in FINALLY wrapping up the requirements for my license.

The plane I'll be training on is already at Jim's place in Green Cove Springs. It's called a Gobosh G-700S, and it's derived from a Polish aircraft called the Aero AT-3. I've already flown the plane I'll be using once before; I had a demo flight in N702GB at Oshkosh last year, and I really liked it.

I won't try just yet to make comparisons between the G-700S and other LSAs I've flown, but from my notes from that flight at Oshkosh last year I recalled it felt a bit more substantial than the SportStar I was training on in Dallas -- tighter in the cockpit (by four inches in width) and a tad more deliberate on the controls. It's also slightly heavier, which should hopefully reassure my grandmother that I'm flying a "real" airplane. (The Gobosh does have a tough act to follow, though... I loved N676EV, it just "fit" me.)

None of this will be "real" for me until I actually have my certificate in my hand -- or, at least, take the first flight with the instructor Gobosh lined up. But it's a good sign, I think, that I have my ticket down to Florida. I'm scheduled to leave Easter morning, with class starting Monday the 24th. That gives me two weeks to get my training done, which should be more than enough. The only things I need to do above what I've already accomplished are the cross-country flights... which should be pretty neat to do over Florida, within sight of the ocean. (I've plotted out my cross-country already, which includes a run up the coast from Burnell to St. Augustine.)

My goal is to have my sport pilot certificate in time for Sun 'N Fun, which starts April 8. It would be nice to go to an airshow as a real pilot, at long last.