Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Still A Pilot, Still OK

Hi all... Sorry for the lack of recent updates, but I've been busy re-adjusting to life in New Mexico (where's the ocean????) and facing down the New Reality, going through the latest round of scans, blood work and doctor visits. Everything is fine, of course... As everyone but me knew already.

Anyway, now I may officially enjoy the benefits of being a licensed sport-pilot... who, alas, is going to have to scramble to find a plane to fly, as the only LSA advertised for rental in all of New Mexico is, curiously, unavailable. So, hmmm.

That's OK, though. In fact, it's all good, because of this (soon to be replaced by a real, not "temporary," license):

P.S. My Aero-News series on the training process begins the week of April 28, and will run every other day or so through the middle of May. (Yes, I've changed the dates, as I wasn't able to write this weekend as much as I'd planned.) Check it out!

Friday, April 11, 2008

I'm A Pilot

The title says it all. A LOT more coming, when I have a moment to post an update. Amen.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

0.6 To Go And Counting

Hello from rainy northern Florida... where we've been socked in for most of the weekend under a low cloud layer with ever present rain and intermittent thunderstorms. Fortunately, it hasn't been as bad as it could have been.

I actually was able to get up in the Gobosh late Saturday morning, skirting under a low, but constant, 2,000' cloud ceiling to perform some of the required maneuvers ahead of my checkride. After landing at Palatka for fuel, I headed back north to practice steep turns, "S" turns and turns about a point -- all maneuvers I've had some difficulty with performing.
Adding further challenges was the wind, which was blowing up to 20 knots on the ground and was equally turbulent between 1,000' and 1,500 above ground level. This was actually a plus, though, as it gave me yet another challenge to work against... and with some practice, I was able to hold the required steep angles and altitude during each maneuver, fighting with the wind at every step.

That took about a half-hour or so... leaving me with a decision to make. To qualify for my checkride, I needed to rack up 2.3 hours more solo time in the Gobosh -- and so far, I'd only done .7 of that. Part of me wanted to land back at Haller right then, as it was rather bumpy at altitude (winds again) and the low cloud deck made me a little nervous (one of my biggest in-flight fears is losing visibility, or reference to the ground)... but given the task at hand, I turned and headed southeast across the St. Johns River, to eat up some more flight time.

That turned out to be a good decision... as the air smoothed out considerably across the river, allowing me to relax a bit, not having to fight the flight controls. I lazed across the sky for another .6 hours, occasionally practicing more steep turns, but generally flying level and snapping more pictures.

By 12:15 pm, the Hobbs meter showed I'd been flying for 1.3 hours... and, truth be known, I was now kind of bored, as I'd accomplished everything I set out to do on my checklist (except for stalls, due to the low clouds that kept me from climbing to the required 3,000 feet AGL.) I was also a little thirsty, so I decided to head back towards Palatka, land, and grab a bottled water.

I was glad I did... as it provided me with two more good lessons. The first one came to be as I was over the treeline, on short final to land on runway 17. I was fighting a stiff headwind, but it was more-or-less straight down the runway so I didn't need much of a crab angle to stay on track. Though my airspeed was pegged at 60 kts, as required, my ground speed was a lot slower. It felt like I was crawling along the ground, fighting my way to the runway.

And then, suddenly, I wasn't. I looked down, and my airspeed had dropped to under 50. Wind shear! I jabbed in the throttle slightly, and recovered the needed knots before the plane began to drop further. I think I caught it about as quick as I could have, but it still didn't seem fast enough; had I not been paying attention, the plane would have possibly come close to stalling, a scenario that has downed a number of aircraft at the absolute worse time -- within about 150 feet of the ground.

Things smoothed out after that. The 20-knot headwind helped me make a fine short-field landing, and I taxied over to the small terminal/FBO on the field. I'd already gassed up once, so I didn't need fuel. After tying a wing down, I walked in, greeted the counterperson on duty, and made a beeline for the Coke machine for a Dasani.

"In from Haller?" the staffer, Dave, asked me. Over the past two weeks, Jim and I have been regular customers, after all.

"Yep, burning off solo time," I replied. "I passed my oral exam Thursday."

We chatted a little more, then Dave asked "have you seen the latest weather?"

I replied in the negative; I hadn't been near a computer or a phone in nearly two hours. I had been keeping an eye on the clouds, of course, and nothing too threatening had popped up.
Dave's eyebrows perked up, and he motioned over to the weather terminal. "Check it out. There's a major cell over Gainesville right now."

I looked. Sure enough, a line of green -- with some ominous fingers of orange -- was forming directly over Gainesville, about 30 miles west of Palatka. It seemed to be moving relatively slowly towards the east; the last echo was recorded 10 minutes before, according to the time stamp on the image.

Decision time. I'd planned to burn off at least another 45 minutes in the air before I returned to base... but the weather forecast altered that plan. Conversely, the weather was still far enough away that I didn't need to wait it out at Palatka; if I took off in the next 10 minutes or so, the 20-minute flight would put me on the ground in plenty of time before the clouds moved in.

Not to mention the winds, already strong, would only get worse throughout the rest of the day.
"I'd better head out," I told Dave. "Better safe than sorry."

He nodded. "Good luck on your checkride!"

Though there wasn't a real reason for me to rush things -- the skies to the west were still clear -- I still worked through the checklist in record time, not missing a single item. There was only one other plane in the pattern at Palatka, practicing crosswind landings; the Gobosh's wheels were off the runway within seven minutes after I started the engine.

It was a bumpy ride back to Haller, from the moment I turned downwind to exit the pattern to the north. And sure enough, the clouds appeared darker to the west once I climbed up to 1,500 feet... but they were well off in the distance, and I was moving at least three times faster than they were. I would have much preferred clear, calm skies... but everything was well within limits, the clouds over my head were at least 1,500 feet above me, and I still had easily 12 miles visibility in the haze.

Still, the winds were on my mind as I entered the pattern at Haller. From downwind, I could see the windsock sticking straight out, favoring landing to the south, as expected. In fact, the wind seemed to be blowing straight down the runway. Poy-fect.

For as much bumping around that was going on as I descended -- wind currents blowing off the trees were causing updrafts -- the approach was very calm, and routine. I'd planned for some burbles over the trees at the end of the runway, and I figured things would calm down after I was below the treeline. Which is exactly how it played out; in fact, it was one of my best landings to date.

The showers started 45 minutes after I landed, about the time I'd expected them to. They haven't let up since; no matter, since the plane is now down south in Punta Gorda, anyway -- Jim flew it home for the weekend -- and I won't see it again until Sun 'N Fun starts Tuesday.

Due to cutting things short for weather, I'm still .6 hours short of the five-hours solo requirement. I'll have to go up and burn off that time at South Lakeland, where the plane will be stationed throughout the show. And then comes the checkride.

If all goes to plan -- and I don't screw up royally, and bust the checkride -- by this time next week, I should be a licensed sport pilot.

Stay tuned.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another Quick Update

One more hurdle cleared -- today I passed the oral exam, arguably the hardest part towards receiving my sport pilot ticket. Weather precluded me from wrapping up my 2.3 hours remaining required solo work today, so hopefully the weather will clear for Saturday.
It's close. I can feel it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Quick Update

I'd meant to go into more detail about all this, and still plan to (either here and/or on the ANN series) but as time is fleeting, here are the basics: 

1) Training is going VERY well... as you may be able to tell below:

2) I scored a 90 percent on the FAA written last Friday (passing is 70.) I'm ticked I didn't do better, but know which questions I missed and they were ones I had questions about on the test.

3) I flew with Jim to Punta Gorda last weekend to rack up dual cross-country time. All flight planning and navigating by pilotage went to plan. Hard to believe I had only a basic grasp of these concepts two weeks ago.

4) Flying Saturday from Punta Gorda with Jim, I experienced something inflight I never have before: I actually got a little sick, not nauseous but a cold sweat and headache. We turned around over Port Charlotte Bay and landed back at PGD. Must have been something I ate/drank, as later I felt fine and it hasn't recurred. I've NEVER gotten sick flying, not even during aerobatics.

5) Flying back Sunday, low cloud cover forced us to land in Ocala (OCF,) stay the night, and continue on Monday. My laptop computer also chose to die a whirring death Sunday night.

6) I soloed from Palatka Tuesday, no fooling. 0.6 hours in the practice area and three touch-and-goes. I accumulated another 0.5 hours later that evening, flying out of Haller. The Gobosh and I have reached a happy truce regarding its touchy throttle, and its STRONG left-turning tendencies on takeoff. I even felt emboldened to perform my first-ever solo stall.

7) The next day, Wednesday, I completed my cross-country solo. Haller (7FL4) to Palatka (28J) to Flagler County (XFL) and back to Haller. Time en route: 2.2 hours, of which 1.6 was inflight. I have the signatures from each airport and photos to prove it. I had a blast, the plane performed wonderfully and the weather was perfect... as it had been for most of my time in Florida, Sunday excepted.

8) Thursday, the bill came due on the nice weather. I was grounded for the entire day by low cloud cover and rain, which turned into full-blown thunderstorms by evening. Jim and I spent the time cleaning the plane, which accumulated quite a lot of grime and bug-gunk on it in the past 10 days.

9) So, here's where we stand: I need to complete another 2.3 hours solo time in N702GB, to fulfill the five-hours-solo requirement ahead of the checkride. Jim and I also have to fly another .7 hours dual in preparation for the checkride, which we'll accomplish handily flying down to where the examiner is based, Zephyrhills (ZPH.)

10) I'm ready, I think. I plan to spend the solo time practicing maneuvers I feel I'm weaker on, including steep turns. Whenever I fly them with Jim I perform them to checkride standards, but I still feel shaky. That may take half an hour or so, all-told, so I plan to fly back out to the coast to grab the pictures I didn't take during my cross-country flight, in order to eat up more time on the Hobbs. I'm really looking forward to it, just waiting for the weather to cooperate... which it might not until the weekend.

As I often end articles I write on ANN, stay tuned. Things get REALLY interesting now.
(Thanks to Hernan Enriquez, for use of his photo of me taxiing into Palatka on Wednesday.)