Friday, October 31, 2008

Here comes that Oregon weather

I won't able to go flying again for a week and a half because I'm flying commercially to Barcelona, Spain for work. As it is, the gray skies of Oregon in November have settled in during the late part of this week, as always seems to happen around Halloween.

So, when I get back I'll be hoping for some flyable skies on two days I'll be in town, and then I'll be back on the road and hoping for more reasonable weather in mid-November. Yeah, right. :)

Meanwhile, I'm going to be spending a lot more time reading ad studying for the written tests, as well as the next phase of flight lessons, which involve navigation and flying cross-country and more complex airspace. It'll be fun.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First flight with Dave

Since my friend Dave just finished his private pilot certificate, the first order of business was - you guessed it - flying!

Monday evening we met at the Hillsboro airport and got his aircraft, a Cessna 150 rental from the flight school he's enrolled at. Then we departed to fly around the area. It was fun to be a passenger, and I was impressed and very comfortable with Dave's flying technique and his attention to detail.

We flew over Beaverton and Aloha a bit, then headed south to the Aurora airport. It was dark, and the airport was easy to find. Dave's done quite a bit of night flying, but this was the first time in many years I'd flown at night in a small plane. It was pretty fun, and made me remember flying as a teenager at night. Dave let me do some of the radio calls, and I practiced the process of reading the chart (map) and notifying other airport traffic (of which there was basically none, but it was good practice) when were were flying over and approaching, as well as the pattern "calls."

In many ways it's easier to find your way around at night, at least for the lit areas. We made a couple landings at Aurora, including a full stop and plane exit so we could walk around a little bit. Okay, I'll be honest - We did your classic "fire drill" like the kids do at red lights on the street: Jump put, run all the way around the vehicle and jump back in. In reality, though, we ran around the plane and then hung out on the ramp there for a few minutes. We swapped headsets so Dave could try mine out with the noise reduction turned on for the rest of the flight.

Then we got back off the ground and headed over to McMinnville. The runway lights for McMinnville are pretty darned cool (and really bright at their highest setting). There's lots of colored, bright flashy lights on the approach for Runway 20. Like many airports, you can turn the lights on and off and change brightness by keying the microphone a set number of times on the right frequency. It's fun if there are a few airports around, and at night it's one good way to figure out where things are visually. One thing's for sure - you can't miss it unless you're blind, and in that case I hope you're not at the controls.

Next we flew back to Hillsboro over the Newberg VOR at plenty of altitude (it's on a high ridge) and found our way back to Hillsboro. It was surprising to me how hard it was to find the Hillsboro airport at night visually. It's easy to lose in the huge amount of business, street and residential lights. But once there, it's a huge and well-lit runway to land on (at least compared to the small runway at Twin Oaks). The radio work there is a little different, too, since it's a tower-controlled airport.

We have a fun flight, and we're both looking forward to the next one.

Thirteen landings in one lesson - and some real success

On Monday after seeing my friend Dave arrive and get his Private Pilot certificate, I sped over to Twin Oaks Airpark to meet up with my instructor Kelly for a few hours of lesson time. I was a bit late, but once I arrived we discussed the lesson for the day (all flight time, with some new navigation stuff that we reviewed). This was basically to be a review flight and a bunch of landing work. Then we got the airplane and headed out.

It was - in a nutshell - a fun day of flying. And the weather was great. There was a wind from the west once aloft, but on the ground things were pretty calm, with only a 3- to 5-knot crosswind tops. A lot of the time it was calm. After completing the run-up and pre-departure checklist, Kelly crossed his feet a little on the floor, said he trusted me (he made a bit of a show of it - good confidence builder) and told me to take off.

We departed Twin Oaks, turned left and made our way to McMinnville. I used the VOR with Kelly's help for the first time. We entered the traffic pattern and headed in for landing number one, a touch and go that was so-so. Then we got back in the air and flew the pattern again, and did an aborted takeoff drill. One more trip around and we decided to stop at the FBO at the airport to grab a cup of coffee and stretch our legs. That was a good idea. Once back in the air we were flying patterns so many times I lost count (but Kelly keeps track of them, so it's all good). Helicopters were flying along the right side of the runway doing training in the grass, which was kind of cool to watch. Other than that there wasn't a whole lot of other air traffic to contend with.

After a couple of simulated engine failures in the pattern and a bunch of "normal approaches" with progressively better landings (and better tracking of the centerline), Kelly flew a slip approach to a landing in order to show it to me, then we flew the pattern again and I stayed high on purpose, then did the slip myself all the way to the runway. Wow, that was crazy. When the plane is slipping, you are pushing the rudder in all the way to the foot with one foot while simultaneously applying aileron pressure in the opposite direction (for example, full right foot, which points the nose to the right, plus left steering, which moves the plane to the left).

The net effect is that the plane flies somewhat sideways and is "slipping" through the air. Your nose is pointed off toward one side of the runway and you're dropping much faster than usual because turning the plane so one side is running into the wind creates quite a bit of drag. So, it's a very effective way to get on the ground quickly if you're high on your approach. It also feels really weird, at the least the first few times.

We made a total of 13 landings, which is a lot, and flew a total of 1.8 hours, which is my longest lesson time yet. I finished the lesson a whole lot more comfortable landing the airplane. I can say I feel confident that I could land the plane on the runway alone if I needed to. And when we got back I was still feeling good. I could have flown quite a bit more time, actually.

Best of all, I felt like I made real, substantial progress. Kelly gave me great feedback, and there were even a couple moments that deserved quick high-fives while flying. When we got back to Twin Oaks, Kelly told me I'm about ready to solo. That will have to wait until I get back from two weeks of travel, though since the rest of my week is tied up and then I head to Spain and Vegas for work. Plus I need to hear back from the FAA on some paperwork, and those two weeks should be just about the right amount of time.

Anyhow, I'm now at 15.8 hours and 72 landings and starting to feel pretty good. Unfortunately since this weekend is Halloween and I live in Oregon, the rainy season will officially be upon us when I get back (Halloween is that calendar event around these parts that marks the start of the wet season). But there will be good days, and I'll be taking full advantage of those whenever I can I hope to keep flying a couple times a week as much as possible to stay proficient and so I can finish the private pilot certification up soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My friend Dave's a private pilot now

Right before my lesson on Monday I drove over to the Hillsboro Airport because my friend Dave was already in the air and about to finish his practical exam flight with the FAA examiner. He was originally supposed to fly on Sunday, but the winds were too high, so they got the oral portion of the exam out of the way and rescheduled the flight portion for Monday.

I got there and found Dave's dad, Will, was also waiting. He and I hung out on the ramp for a few minutes and caught up on things, and then Dave returned with the airplane.

I'm really proud of him. He's a good guy and has worked hard for this. It's been his dream forever. Now he can go on to the professional pilot phases of the training. Congrats Dave!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cross-wind landings and a dash of success

I flew again today after my lesson earlier this week was cancelled due to fog (at 3 p.m. even). It was a nice day, with a moderate breeze when I arrived at Twin Oaks. The winds were coming from 300 degrees (northwest), which meant dealing with a slight crosswind from the right on takeoff and from the left when landing (we take off from Runway 20, to the south and a little west (a compass heading of 200 degrees), and land in the opposite direction on the same strip, Runway 02 (or 020 degrees heading).

The winds were probably blowing at about three or four knots when we started, which was pretty cool since it required a little wind correction, but not so much as to make it a lot of work or scary. Certainly not like the last lesson. By the time we finished our 1.2 hours of flying today, the winds had kicked up to around 10 knots and were quite variable in their direction. During any given circuit around the traffic pattern the winds would sometime shift a few times. Some smoke from a couple piles of brush burning near the departure and landing end of the runway would be blowing away from the runway one minute, parallel to then runway a minute later, and across it the next. So, I got to exercise my brain a little bit when it came to judging surface winds. The smoke made it easier, that's for sure.

The winds aloft were a little stronger than the surface winds, and considerably stronger by the time we finished. On my second to last takeoff a good gust shoved up under the right wing of the plane and tipped it to the left pretty quickly (from which I recovered quite well, thank you very much). Those little Cessna 150's are light and it doesn't take a lot of wind to push them around in the sky, but they also fly great.

For our last departure and landing we decided to take off on Runway 20 since the winds favored it slightly by that time, and since it's a rare occasion to be able to take off that way. The runway runs slightly uphill in that direction, and there are some tall trees in the departure path, so that's not the standard departure direction for sure, unless the winds truly favor that heading.

My previous lesson was pretty discouraging for me in terms of believing that I could do what was needed to land the plane in the wind. The day after that lesson I was honestly pretty discouraged and questioning my abilities in the overall sense. But after discussing it with my instructor and my friend Dave, I got my attitude back where it needed to be, took a few days off, and came back ready for today. And I'm glad I did.

We did eight landings today, and it took a couple of rough ones before I got some confidence back, but after that things shaped up quite a bit. My instructor, Kelly, helped out a little on the first landing and then flew one for me to observe at my request, and after that it was pretty much me. I'm still a beginner, but even with crosswinds and having to crab into the wind in the pattern and compensate on approach for the windy conditions, I did pretty okay overall. Even though my landings were far from stellar, they were getting better as I went, which boosted my confidence quite a bit. At one point, Kelly mentioned I looked like I was getting a bit frustrated, and not to worry as I was doing just fine. I said I was really more flustered than anything and that I just needed to clear my head and refocus. So much information to process at once, and as Kelly pointed out you have to do a lot of flying to get 15 seconds of landing practice.

From that point things continued to improve a little bit at a time. I've found that if I recite the steps involved in the my procedures out loud and talk about what's happening with the airplane as I go, I fly better and tend to get the various configuration tasks done more accurately and reliably. So I tried to stick with that method today.

A side note: My good friend Dave is flying this evening with his instructor over at Hillsboro airport, and tomorrow morning he will be meeting his FAA examiner, who will be running him through his oral and practical exams for his private pilot rating starting at 9am. Assuming he passes (hah, and I am quite sure he'll do just great) he'll be a private pilot by tomorrow afternoon. He's a natural. I'm really excited for him and very proud of him, too. He's worked quite hard to get to this point, and it's his dream. He plans to become a professional pilot, and I'm confident he'll do just that. For my part, I just want to fly for fun and recreation - That's my motivation. After Dave gets his private pilot ticket, we're hoping to do a quick afternoon flight to celebrate. I can't wait. Pray for us, heh.

I also met with my instructor and discussed the possibility of taking a mid-course flight with another instructor, and whether he thought that was a good idea at this point or not. He said he thought it was a good idea and that it would allow someone who has not been watching me to provide fresh feedback. Between that and getting a second perspective on how to do things, I think it would be good. I'll probably try to fly once with Dave's instructor, Justin. Sometime after that, I think Kelly will also want me to fly with one of the other Twin Oaks instructors for a progress check. I should say right here that flying with Kelly is great, and my request to fly with another instructor isn't a reflection on his teaching at all - In fact, I look forward to flying with Kelly every day, and I recommend him wholeheartedly. The fact that he's supportive of the idea of me flying with someone else for a flight shows once again that he's a good teacher. He and I agreed mixing it up for a flight would be a good thing right about now.

My next lesson is on Monday, and we'll be getting into what Kelly says is the really fun part of flying: going places and planning it out. Cool, sounds great to me!

A good aviation headset makes a big difference

One of the cool things about flying out of Twin Oaks Airpark is the fact that Betty Stark, who owns the place with her husband, has loaned me a variety of the different headphones they sell in the small pilot shop they have set up in the business office.

One of the brands of aviation headsets they carry is Lightspeed Aviation, which happens to be a local company (they're based in Lake Oswego, Oregon - which is in the Portland metro area). After wearing a couple of the less-expensive headsets from a few makers, all of which were pretty darned good, I tried a couple of the automatic noise reduction (ANR) models, at the strong encouragement of Betty (she's a very effective and patient salesperson, heh).

In a Cessna 150, which is a fairly noisy little airplane, not wearing a headset would be pretty miserable. The planes we fly require you wear a headset to be able to use the radios at all, and the built in intercom allows both occupants to talk to each other easily. What I found was that the headsets I tried were all good, but he ANR ones were noticeably better.

For me, the decision of which headset to purchase came down to two primary differences I noted in the model I chose. First, the microphone picked up my not-quite-loud-enough voice very well, even over the cabin noise. That's a big deal if you want to be understood clearly by others. It also has an adjustable microphone gain setting (which I didn't even have to change).

The second feature was important to me from a safety standpoint. One thing (among many) that you want to avoid doing in an airplane is stalling the aircraft. The plan has a stall warning horn that gets louder and louder as you get closer to a stall. Unfortunately, what I found - especially in a power-on stall situation - was that the ambient noise and headset made it difficult to hear the stall horn except at its loudest. But with the ANR headset I chose, I was able to hear the horn in stall practices from its initial warning stages.

Being able to hear the warning horn was a very big deal to me. Add to the features I already mentioned a couple more cool ones, such as the ability to plug in an MP3 player or a cell phone (which sounds great), and the Lightspeed Thirty 3G headset was all I needed (and then some). When listening to music from the MP3 player (which I don't do now, I need to stay focused on flying as a student), if the radio kicks in the headset automatically reduces the volume of the music player so you can hear the radio clearly. The Thirty 3G is not Lightspeed's most expensive headset (that honor goes to their lighter-weight and Bluetooth-enabled Zulu model), but it's right up there among the best.

The folks at Twin Oaks sell the Thirty 3G for a full $100 less than I was able to find it at any of the other local pilot shops, so if anyone's interested in this model, call Betty at Twin Oaks or get hold of me via email or phone. I'm certain Betty would be glad to sell you one. I doubt you'll find it for less online, even. The online store I checked out at sells it for $50 more than Twin Oaks' price.

Since I have an iPhone 3G, I also needed a small adapter cord so the phone headset plug would fit properly. Here's a link to the adapter on in case anyone else wants to use their iPhone with the Thirty 3G headset. It only cost about $7 and arrived today. I tested it out tonight by hooking up my flight headset and iPhone and calling a friend (to plan a flight for this Sunday - quite appropriate!). I won't be using it for quite some time (and it's not exactly legal with the FCC to make calls from the air, anyhow), but I'll have it all set up when it's appropriate and time for it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sometimes it's best just to call it a day

The weather this morning was blustery and wet, but flyable - at least technically. After a ground school session about weather and reviewing my pre-solo written test, we headed for the aircraft. The rain had been coming down off and on, and there was a pretty strong wind from the south.

Long story short, I just wasn't in a mindset to fly. We decided to fly patterns around the airport and do landings, but the winds and my general disposition were not compatible with each other. After three approaches and some messy landings, I told my instructor I just wasn't dialed in and wasn't going to get anything out of the lesson. So, we stopped after 30 minutes and called it good for the day. I was frustrated and more than a bit discouraged. I needed to stop at that point.

Looking back at this morning before the lesson, several other things I had scheduled got turned upside down, and I had a lot of unresolved things on my mind that had nothing to do with flying. Add to that the fact that I was not comfortable with the weather (I wouldn't fly in it for fun, that's for sure heh), and the inevitable situation was that Greg was not going to perform.

Anyhow, that's over now and I have another lesson tomorrow afternoon. It looks like the weather will be better, and hopefully I can get some experience landing the plane with quite a bit less stress.

On the positive side, the takeoffs I did were a new and useful experience, because the strong headwind tried hard to pitch the nose way up high, so I had to hold the nose down with a lot of control pressure to avoid a dangerous stall attitude. Also, I got to experience for the first time in a substantial way how a strong wind aloft really pushes the plane around in the pattern and how you need to compensate by turning into the wind on legs where you're flying perpendicular to the wind direction.

Anyhow, back at it tomorrow afternoon. It's another day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Slow but sure improvements

It was a busy week in my little world of flight. After Monday's lesson I has a few days off and then flew again on Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. As of right now I have 12.3 hours and 48 landings logged in my book.

Wow, 48 landings? It sure doesn't seem like that many. Ten of those were all on Saturday, though (and on a couple of them I shared the controls for review purposes - more on that in a bit).

I'm having fun. It's a heck of a challenge, to be sure, and I have found myself both frustrated and a little discouraged at times - not to mention mentally and physically exhausted on a regular basis. But I am enjoying it. The challenge is a big part of what makes it meaningful to me.

I wrote about Monday's lesson earlier this week. It was a fun one, and was my first time doing slips and ground reference maneuvers.

Between my schedule and Kelly's, we were not able to get back in the air until Friday. Weather also kept us from flying on Friday morning. I had scheduled an early lesson that was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but Thursday night Kelly called and let me know he and one of his students had just made it back to Twin Oaks after some suddenly fog made them alter plans on their return leg of a cross country flight. Since the fog was still thick on Friday morning, we decided to scrub the flight and to meet at 11 a.m. and go an hour of ground school classroom work. When I arrived, though, the weather was just starting to shape up.

It turned out Kelly's lesson that was to follow mine had cancelled, so we took advantage of the available time and scheduled N45720 for a couple hours. After a ground lesson covering weight and balance of airplanes we headed for the airplane, which I fueled up, and got into the air. Kelly wanted to review a few procedures (power-on and power-off stalls, steep turns, engine failure landings and normal patterns and landings, so that's what we did. It's interesting how some people really have a hard time with stalls. They don't bother me at all. Some people find landings to be natural, and I don't so I guess everyone has their natural maneuvers and the ones they need to get comfortable with.

We flew to the Portland-Mulino airport, which is a smaller airport operated by the Port of Portland. It was kind of fun, since it has a low hillside at one end, so you're turning over the trees and whatnot a little closer than on flat ground. It's also a right-hand pattern, meaning all the turns are to the right, you fly counter-clockwise around the runway. A "normal" pattern has turns to the left. This was my second time (if I recall correctly) flying a right-hand pattern.

Kelly let me know this was going to be a day of him throwing things at me from time to time without warning. He told me he would be issuing go-around commands, maybe 50 feet from the ground, or maybe not until we were 5 feet off the runway. I just needed to be ready. He also threw a couple engine-out failure drills in there for good measure.

I had one or two pretty decent landings, and I floated and bounced a few more. Overall I was dong better than the last lesson, but I must be a little edgy about it, because every time Kelly would start to tell me the next step, even if I was already starting to do it I would hesitate and freeze up a little. I think I'm just not quite there yet confidence-wise, so when he'd provide a helpful next step cue, my mind slipped automatically into self-questioning mode. Needless, to say, that doesn't make for smooth operation. But, the information was very helpful and bit by bit, slowly but surely the plane is starting to feel better and I am improving.

You know how once you've driven a car for a while, especially one you are quite familiar with, you don't think so much about sitting in a chunk of metal and rubber with fuel burning in an engine to push you down the road? You forget the whole "man-in-a-tin-can" reality and the vehicle starts to feel like an extension of your body. I know in my police days, the high-speed and pursuit driving courses were very much like that. You push yourself and your vehicle to the edges of your respective limits, and in doing so you learn how the vehicle feels, and driving it becomes intuitive.

That's how flying is starting to feel, at least a little bit. I can sometimes feel the airplane and the subtle movements and control pressures. Air maneuvers especially feel that way to me. It's just slow flight close to the ground that feels awkward. Of course, it might also be the fact that the ground is right there, heading right at me, and I have to land on it without breaking anything (or anyone).

So, Friday was a pretty decent flight. It was calm as calm can be and I felt like I was making progress.

On Saturday I'd scheduled the flight for later in the day. After some minor schedule adjustments, Kelly and I planned to fly from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., no ground lessons today. I showed up a bit early and took my time "pre-flighting" in the aircraft (we would be flying in one today I'd never flown - N19333). I got it fueled up and we were off.

The plan for the evening was to fly to McMinnville airport, which is about 15 miles from our home base of Twin Oaks. Once there we'd spend the session doing nothing but landings.

Before we left Twin Oaks, we took a few minutes to review where we were going and what we were going to do. I got out the sectional map and located the two airports and Kelly showed my how to use my E6B flight computer (a fancy slide rule) to figure out distances and flying times. From that we figured it would be about 10 or 11 minutes to fly over to McMinnville airport.

After climbing out we headed up to about 2,000 feet and turned in the direction of McMinnville, to the south. I flew over the Newberg VOR (a radio navigation facility for air traffic) that's located on top of a 1,500-foot ridge between the airports, and before long Kelly was pointing out the airport in the smoky haze. The summer burning bans have been lifted all over the state now that it's not dangerous anymore, and a lot of crops have been harvested, so everywhere people are burning fields and brush. It makes for a hazy day, but you could still see almost forever.

We joined the pattern and I handed the plane over to Kelly. I'd asked him to fly a couple of the landings today and just let me observe - still on the controls but mostly just watching and getting a better feel for the process. It turned out to be a good thing. I was able to follow along without the opportunity to screw something up, heh.

I then took back control of the airplane and flew a couple patterns, doing touch-and-go landings on the runway and focusing on trying to maintain the centerline. Today we had a cross-wind on the runway, from the left as we were landing. It threw me off quite a bit at first, and eventually I started to get a little better feel for it. Ironically, I think probably my best landing was one I made with zero power. Kelly simulated an engine failure and I turned short for the runway. Concentrating just on maintaining speed and getting to the runway, I settled in pretty straight and set it down not too hard.

There was also a Chinook helicopter from Columbia Helicopters flying some training patterns on the runway, including a power-out autorotation landing. That's a huge helicopter, fun to watch.

After I'd done a couple landings, Kelly grabbed a few $20 bills from his wallet and used them to cover up the speed and altitude indicators. That was a good idea. I was forced to look outside more (which apparently I needed to do) and determine my speed and the altitude using my eyes and the feel of the aircraft. I'd call out when I thought I was close to turning or pattern altitude, or if I felt high or low, and he pulled the cover off the gauge to check my guesses a few times. I was pretty close on my estimates. I should have made a couple bets for those $20 bills, it would have paid for a good chunk of my lesson, heh.

The one thing I kept failing to do, over and over, was to step in enough right rudder adjustment when the plane was at full power. You have to compensate for the tendency of the plane to want to go to the left due to four forces on the plane. Keeping the plane in coordinated flight is important. The aircraft we were in today requires a lot of right rudder, more than the others I've flown in so far. It's a little ironic that the name of this blog is the one thing I regularly failed to do. Right rudder, right rudder right rudder...

The crosswinds were pushing me to the east while in the air, so staying in line with the runway on departure and keeping a reasonable distance from the runway when flying parallel in the pattern was a little bit challenging. By the time we finished up with the lesson I was getting the hang of compensating for it a little better.

The return was uneventful. It was a good day and I felt pretty good about the progress I've made so far. I fly again Monday and Tuesday next week. I'm scheduling flights later in the day now, both to accommodate for the morning fog that's so common this time of the year and to adjust to work-related schedules. In a couple weeks I will be traveling for work to Europe and Las Vegas, so I hope to get as much flying in as I can before then.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ground reference maneuvers, slips, more landings and engine-failure drills

Ah, Mondays. The start of another week. I had some time to fly today (I won't have as much time the rest of this week due to work-related things), so I took advantage of it and got to the airport at 10 a.m. Today was a busy lesson with lots of things to cover in less than two hours. When I arrived at Twin Oaks Airpark this morning it was overcast and the ceiling was just high enough to fly. I preflighted the airplane and joined Kelly for a quick ground instruction session, in which we discussed all the things I'd be seeing and doing during the flight, which ended up being an hour and a half long.

I'm getting much more comfortable taxiing the airplane now. In fact, I need to make sure I don't get moving too fast now that I have the hang of steering with just my feet. Proper taxiing speed is about the same as a fast walk. I'm also getting more comfortable with the checklists and all the procedures in general.

One of the several things my instructor, Kelly Wiprud, added into my list of tasks today was handling the whole talk-on-the-radio thing. He helped by telling me what I needed to communicate throughout the flight, but I was the guy on the radio the whole time, with just one or two exceptions. Even with years of police work in my past, thinking about what to say on the radio while flying is a bit complicated - But I think my police days might help a bit, since radio operation while driving a police car is also a bit of a divided attention thing.

Anyhow, it was kind of fun to talk on the radio.

We departed to the south and turned, as we always do for noise-abatement reasons, to the east. Soon we turned southeast again in search of higher clouds and clearer skies. We found that over by the Aurora airport, which is located east of I-5 and south of the Willamette river and Wilsonville, the conditions were pretty good - much better than McMinneville and other areas further south and west.

We started with slips - a maneuver I was not familiar with except in theory. A slip is a "cross-controlled" maneuver, meaning you apply for example right rudder and left aileron, which causes the plane to fly somewhat sideways through the air. That's a condition that creates a lot of drag and as a result the plane drops altitude very quickly. It's useful in situations where - you guessed it - you need to drop quickly to get somewhere - especially if you need to do a short approach to a runway, for example. It's a bit awkward feeling, yet it's fun to do and it certainly works.

I picked a radio tower out on a farm field in the rural area we were flying over and slipped toward it with the plane slipping both left and right. It takes some very heavy force on the pedals and controls to make the plane really slip.

Next we headed back up to altitude and did some work on three different "ground reference" maneuvers: Turns around a point, S-turns and a rectangular pattern. The idea is that you should be able to fly perfect circles around a single reference point on the ground (like a tree or barn or something) and adjust for winds to keep your circle clean and even-distanced from the point.

In an S-turn drill you pick a straight line like a road and do half-circles down the length of the road, so that each time you cross the road you start your next turn. From above it looks like you're drawing an S (or a few of them) with the road as the center. Again, you have to account for winds and adjust your turns each direction to ensure your half-circles are equal.

The rectangular/box ground reference maneuver is what it sounds like: Fly around the box, keeping the proper reference to the sides of the box distance-wise, and fly the straight lines and turns with wind adjustments.

All of these maneuvers are conducted at 800-1000 feet above the ground and to successfully complete the maneuvers you have to maintain proper speed, hold your altitude and consistent distances all at the same time. It was pretty fun. As a general rule, I'm very comfortable in the air. Flying the airplane in different configurations and in different maneuvers feels good and I generally feel confident.

Next came landings. More landings. Good, I really need them, heh. Landings are my weak point. Today my first landing was probably my best. First Kelly showed me three things all in one approach: an engine-out landing procedure, which included a slip approach and a go-around. He then gave me control of the airplane and I flew the pattern to do a touch and go. I landed a little flat but not too bad, and got back in the air. As I flew more landings I discovered I was getting a better awareness and feel for the airplane, little by little. I could look outside and tell better if I was too high, too low or too fast, etc. Scanning outside and glancing inside the plan is easier now, in part because I don't have to think as much about where instruments are, and in part because I am just relaxing a little bit more.

On the third landing pattern, I started to get configured for a landing just prior to turning and Kelly pushed the throttle to idle and told me my engine had just died. I was a little off on the configuration and flew too fast, and as a result didn't quite make it to the runway, but it was a good experience. Lots of "good experiences" these days, heh. I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities for unexpected situations to be thrown at me in the future.

I was far from perfect today, but I felt a stronger awareness of what was happening each step of the way. I'm starting to "feel the airplane" now. As Kelly told me, an instructor can't teach a student to land. They can tell you how, but when it comes right down to it, they're just helping you learn it for yourself. Makes sense.

So, I bounced a landing or two, flared too late on another, landed a bit too sideways on yet another, and did a pretty good job on one, too. My take-offs were substantially better (well, most of them anyhow). I'm going to have to get better at staying on the center line on these big runways, though - The runway at Twin Oaks is probably one-fourth the width of the one at Aurora. You have to land straight on the small runways, or else you find yourself in the grass (which is Very Bad).

On the way back to Twin Oaks, we flew over a farmer's crop-art formation. Either that or aliens from outer space are carving crop circles in order to convince us to do our duty as citizens. I can't imagine many people get a chance to see this from the air, though - so I made a video and am sharing it here with you.

I captured it with my new Kodak Zi6 pocket HD video camera, which I picked up at a local Radio Shack store. The embedded version below isn't too bad, but you can also see the higher-quality version of the video here.

I'll be doing a review of the Zi6 camera on my main weblog sometime soon. My plan is to mount it in the plan the next time we fly (we tried briefly today but didn't want to waste time when we could be flying). I figure a video record of maneuvers filmed out the front of the plane would be a good learning tool. Plus it might make for an occasional interesting video to post here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More maneuvers, improved landings and almost killed by a helicopter

It's been a fun and interesting week of flying. I flew both Wednesday and Saturday, and am feeling overall quite a bit more comfortable and better as I fly more.

Wednesday consisted of a set of new maneuvers, including power-on stalls (which were a lot of fun) and some other maneuvers Kelly showed me in order to demonstrate how the aircraft can be recovered from unusual situations. I also practiced emergency landings due to an engine out situation and got to fly a router around a bunch of clouds that were broken up and dotting the area, which was a nice view. It was a good day.

Saturday was yet another lesson designed specifically to practice flying traffic patterns and landings at an airport (Hillsboro again) in the form of touch-and-goes. I did eight landings (or maybe it was nine, I'd have to look back), and with each one I found I was starting to feel better and better. My landings still need a lot of work but I flew a number of them with Kelly's feet and hands not helping, and I was better able to get and maintain flight over the runway centerline each time. I'm getting a better feel for the airplane and realizing the value of getting lined up early and letting the airplane fly without having to steer it the whole way down, if at all possible. My landings were a little too flat - I need to keep that nose wheel in the air even after the main gear is on the runway.

But all in all, it was a successful day of landings that built my confidence a bit, which I think is good for me right about now.

Then came the excitement.

We departed from the traffic pattern at Hillsboro to the left and set up to extend a bit to the south. Once clear of Hillsboro we turned left to head back to Twin Oaks, the airport where I am training out of. We made out way to win Oaks and I entered the traffic pattern at the proper altitude (1000 ft. AGL) and angle. I then turned to the downwind leg of the approach pattern and flew to the point in the pattern where I was to reduce power and configure the airplane's flaps at 10 degrees.

You need to understand that all airports have a traffic pattern that aircraft are supposed to follow. They're established and published and are part of the standard information available to all pilots. At many airports, including Twin Oaks, there is a common radio frequency that all pilots use to communicate while flying around the airport, called a Unicom frequency. We announced what we were doing (entering the pattern on a left downwind for runway two-zero) as we entered the pattern. Generally, the pattern around a smaller airport is flown at about 1000 feet above the ground and is either a "right" or "left" pattern - referring to the direction of the turns a pilot makes when flying the box around the airport on approach and departure.

Twin Oaks is a left pattern, and I was heading "downwind" in the pattern parallel to runway 02, about to make a left 90-degree turn that would put me perpendicular to the runway. The step after that would be another left turn 90 degrees to the final approach leg, at which point I'd be headed straight at the end of the runway and about to land.

As I was saying, I'd just configured 10 degrees of flaps and reduced power. I was flying slower and was about to make my left turn to the base leg when all of a sudden a dark Robinson R-22 helicopter appeared at exactly our flight level, headed literally straight at us head-on - and closing fast. Kelly grabbed the controls and pulled a fast right turn and steered the airplane toward the ground a bit. The helicopter, which was no more than 200 feet from us (at best), also did a hard right turn (thank goodness) and we missed each other.

It doesn't really get much closer than that. That helicopter, flying through the area on its way back to Hillsboro, was doing the equivalent of flying the wrong way on a one-way street, right at the traffic pattern altitude, on a Saturday at a busy recreational airport. Honestly I have no idea why anyone would do that. What I do know is that some rather terse phone calls were made once we landed (Kelly kept control of the plane after the helicopter incident and got us safely down onto the runway).

I'm just glad Kelly's a great pilot and got us out of the way on time. And yes, I'm still looking forward to flying again on Monday. Today was a great experience with some level of improvement in my landings, and I also got to experience first hand why it's so important to know where you are, what your surroundings are, and how to get out of a dangerous situation the right way.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Windy landings and the oatmeal-brain effect

Today I flew for almost an hour with my instructor, Kelly. When I got to the air park, the winds were calm and the clouds were starting to clear. It was looking much better than over the weekend, when the weather had been pretty bad. But as I pre-flighted the aircraft, the winds started to pick up. By the time I was done with the inspection, there was wind of about 10-12 miles per hour.

We'd scheduled landing practice - Nothing but patterns and landings. Winds were within the safety limits, and I imagine Kelly was thinking I'd have to learn to do this sooner or later, and so now's as good a time as any. We got the aircraft ready, taxied and got in the air. I'm feeling more and more comfortable with the whole process each time, and "ground flying" the airplane helps. Taxiing and turning the plane on the ground is a lot easier now than it was the first day, for sure.

Once in the air I could tell right away it was going to be a different flying experience. It was bumpy and a little gusty. Holding turns at the right bank angle was noticeably more challenging than on previous flights and our speed over the ground with the wind behind us was pretty quick. Gusts tossed the plane around a bit and I had to level the wings pretty much constantly for the first part of the flight. Before departing, we'd checked the weather for the local area. Aurora, our original destination, had winds sustained at 16 miles per hour and gusts up to around 25, so we clearly weren't going there. We checked McMinneville (which was the same story as Aurora), and then Hillsboro, which was calmer with winds at 11 miles per hour and gusting a bit higher.

Hillsboro is a tower-controlled airport, and this was my first time flying into one. I didn't have to worry about radio communication, Kelly was handling that. Granted, I only have five hours under my belt and I should not expect much of myself, but I'm allowed to be nervous. Fortunately for us, this normally busy airport has only a few student pilots flying at the flight school there right now, so it was not as busy today as it often is.

Compared to Twin Oaks, which has one 50-foot-wide runway, Hillsboro (HIO) is freakin' huge. Two ultra-long runways as wide as a large freeway can be spotted easily from only 1,000 feet above the ground from several miles away. I had no problem locating it, that's for sure. I was able to look around and recognize a bunch of buildings, roads and locations I recognized, which was good. The places we've been flying over up until now have been relatively unfamiliar to me.

As I said, today was all about landings. It was clear as we flew that the winds were pretty quick aloft, since our ground track in a crosswind required me to "crab" into the wind in order to maintain a good line over the ground while in the landing pattern. Think of it as pointing off to the side, into the wind a bit so you don't get blown away and off track. From the outside it looks like you're sliding a bit sideways down your flight path. I think I got the hang of that pretty well, and after being caught off-guard in a couple turns and figuring out I needed to adjust more for the crosswinds while turning, I felt a bit more comfortable.

Landings were another story. The winds at HIO were coming toward us and somewhat from the left on runway 20, and seemed (at least to me) to shift direction quite a bit closer to the surface. The strong headwind on approach meant applying more power to maintain our altitude into the wind at a distance. I got the hang of that pretty well and found myself adjusting power on my own several times while flying today without being prompted. But getting down onto the runway was still pretty uncomfortable and as we got closer to the surface the shifting winds threw me off. Now, keep in mind this whole "landing" thing is pretty much greek to me so far, so these added wind components are a real mind-meld.

We ended up doing four landings before heading back, plus one go-around per the tower when we didn't execute a short approach fast enough for the controller. I guess that Lear jet coming in behind us was more important or something, heh.

I became slightly more comfortable with each landing attempt. Slightly is an operative word in that sentence, by the way. Kelly was on the controls with me for all of them and helped keep the plane straight as we touched down - I was just not getting it too well myself. After just those few landings my brain had pretty much turned to oatmeal - I was past my ability to go any further at the time, as far as landings were concerned. So we climbed out from HIO and headed back south, and I located the hangars at Twin Oaks, where the windsock was standing straight out and shifting between a headwind and a left crosswind for runway 20. After a slightly bumpy approach and a little extra power to compensate for the wind, Kelly helped me put the airplane on the ground and we got it parked.

It was a humbling hour. Not that I have a shortage of humility or anything, but I think it was very useful, even though it was complicated and right on the edge of overwhelming. I got to see what it's like in a good wind, which is important. I spent a little time while we completed our log books chatting with Kelly, and he told me I am doing fine and that I'll be okay, it takes time and everyone has to figure out how it feels. No one's an accomplished pilot at five hours, heh.

I need to eat a better meal before I fly. By the time I was done, I was pretty wiped out. I plan to take a PowerBar or something with me, too from now on.

I have a busy week on the calendar. Our next lesson and flight is set for Wednesday, with another on Friday, followed by one more on Saturday. Looking forward to it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Great student pilot podcast and pretending to fly on the ground

When I told some people in my "network" I was beginning flying lessons recently, Tim Heuer (@timheuer on twitter) pointed out a great podcast by Bill Williams (@billwil on Twitter) called The Student Pilot Podcast. He started it almost a year ago and has used the audio format (and some video) to record his learning experiences from beginning to end. I've spent some time listening in, and it's been especially useful. I like the way he throws in the occasional comment about being too low or too high on approaches, those little details that make a difference and let people like me know it's truly a learning and growing experience. It's a good informal learning tool, and for someone like me who's just getting started, it's especially nice to be able to hear complicated stuff like radio traffic procedures and to vicariously share in Bill's training milestones. A couple times last weekend as I was flying (on an airliner) to Philadelphia and listening on my iPod and laughed out loud at situations happening in the podcast, which drew a couple funny looks from the passengers around me. In his latest episode, Bill highly recommends another site and podcast called Uncontrolled Airspace. So, I'm checking that out this evening. It looks quite good, too.

I was supposed to fly this morning for a couple hours and do a bunch of landings and approaches with my instructor, but we had to cancel due to high winds and cruddy weather. Yesterday the weather was poor, too. But I dropped by the airport anyhow since I was in the area and asked if it was permissible to sit in the aircraft while they're on the ground and "pretend" to fly. I've recognized early on that running through the procedures and drills in a calm, quiet, non-distracted environment might just help when it comes time to actually fly, especially after reading my newly-acquired copy of the C-150's Pilot Operating Handbook (or POH) and realizing there were a couple things I'd missed in the cabin.

I was pleased to find out from the kind and friendly people at Twin Oaks Air Park that not only would they allow me to sit and practice in unreserved aircraft, they encouraged me to do so as much as possible. Just turn out the lights if everyone's gone - Nice! One of the people there said, "I really wish more people would do that," and my instructor Kelly said, "Yeah, that's a good idea, you'll save yourself some money" (by potentially reducing the number of flying hours needed to become proficient).

So, I headed for an unoccupied Cessna 150 with my trusty visual flight procedures book, the POH and a few other odds and ends, and started practicing the in-cabin procedures for things like startup, taxi, run-up, take-off, departure, airport traffic patterns, approach and landings. I also did a pre-flight inspection on a couple different airplanes. After about an hour of practice time my good friend Dave, who's about to complete his own private pilot license as part of his pro-pilot schooling, dropped by the air park, so we geeked out on all the aircraft there for a while. Dave was pretty impressed with the trainer/rental fleet there as well as a big, old, very-cool airplane on pontoon floats that's parked there (I think maybe it's an old Beaver, but I'm not really sure - I'll have to ask).

Dave and I left the air park, and I went and grabbed some food. I realized I still wanted to practice some more, so I selfishly decided to call another friend (who's also named Greg, which makes for a bit of confusion in a group but we do okay when it's just the two of us) to see if he'd want to go check out the airplanes and help me learn. He didn't hesitate to say yes, so we headed back over and spent a good hour and a half, with me explaining everything I'm learning out loud to Greg while I practiced it and checked myself with the checklists and maneuver instructions. I also found myself teaching him a lot of what I have recently learned in my ground lessons and study, which is a great way to reinforce it for myself. Ultimately, I'm learning more and better by sharing it with others.

It's amazing to me how much information I've picked up and learned in the past week and a half. This middle-aged brain still works, heh. I'm also realizing that one of the things I like the most about doing this pilot training is that there is so much information I have absolutely no clue about. Much of what I have been involved in over the past several years has been quite fun and rewarding, but this is all those things plus it's really, really challenging. I guess that's what I need right now: a good challenge tied to a fun undertaking. It's invigorating.

Sounds like we're focusing on landings next time around. After spending some time getting more familiar with the controls and practicing procedures on the ground, I'm looking forward to it. That should happen Monday, if the weather cooperates.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Slow Flight, Stalls, Steep Turns, Patterns and Landings - Woah!

It's been a busy - and slightly overwhelming - couple of days. Two flight lessons, each incorporating an hour of ground and about 1.3 hours of flight, got me up to somewhere just under 5 hours of flight time total. I felt pretty good about my experiences on Tuesday, and on Wednesday things got more difficult and mentally overwhelming (but hey, I still enjoyed myself).
Tuesday Kelly and I did a ground lesson and covered aircraft systems and instruments. Then we were off to the airplane, which I pre-flighted. Found a small amount of water condensation in one wing tank, so that was a good experience - I got to see what it looks like in the real world, and kept sampling until it was gone.
When we took to the air, we climbed out and made our left turn, then headed south and a little to 3,000 feet. We reviewed and executed a few standard and medium turns, and then after a couple "clearing turns" (which allow us to examine the sky above and below for "other aluminum" as my instructor calls it), Kelly showed me how slow flight works in two control configurations: "Fully-configured," meaning in a landing configuration with flaps fully extended and running under high power) as well as "unconfigured" (no flaps, lower power, nose high). The C-150 can fly quite slowly - Down to about 45 miles per hour in the air with full flaps. In that configuration, which is similar to landing configuration, the nose is way up in the air and the plane is really dragging through the air.
Then we moved on to "power-off" stalls. Now, for those not familiar with how airplanes fly, I won't explain it all here. I'd just get it wrong anyhow. You can look it up on wikipedia or at any one of a slew of web sites ( is a great resource for that sort of info). Let's just say that the basics are this: A wing needs to have air moving over the top and bottom of it, and the air needs to be relatively undisturbed. The way a wing generates lift, for the most part, is by generating lower pressure air on the top of the wing, as compared to the pressure underneath. Mother nature abhors a vacuum, as they say, so the wing is sucked into the lower pressure zone (above the wing) as physics tries to equalize the two pressure areas.
In a stall, the wing is climbing relative to the wind at such an angle that the lifting ability is killed. What actually happens is that the air moving over the top of the wing no longer flow over the surface, and the wing just stops flying. This happens when the air speed is low enough and the angle of attack angle of the wing as compared to the wind its flying into) is very high. So, you pull back on the controls, which pushed the nose of the airplane up into the air at a higher and higher angle until the wings stop flying. You can feel it slip when the lift goes away, and thankfully the C-150 airplane nose tends to drop, which is what you want. As it drops and the airplane starts to fall, wind moves over the wings again and lift is again generated and - voila - you're flying again.
Anyhow, that's a very rough explanation, which I really write only to help myself understand and remember. In actual practice I thought the stalls were a lot of fun, in a similar way to how skydiving has always been fun to me. I suppose I like the way it feels, heh. But, while it's important to learn to stall and recover from stalls in an airplane, that's not controlled flight, so probably not too good to get used to other than to be safe.
I did a few stalls and did well on a couple and got the nose really low on another (you want the nose to drop to gain airspeed, but you don't want to dive straight at the ground).
The idea behind fully-configured stall practice is that if you stall while in the landing configuration, you need to be able to recover pretty quickly. Nothing like being a couple hundred feet off the ground or less and stalling an airplane - not good. It also helps in terms of being able to execute a go-around, which is when you decide not to land for whatever reason and instead circle in the traffic pattern for another approach and attempt.
We finished up Tuesday with some steep turns, which are executed with the wings at 45 degrees to the horizon. You can turn around a spot on the ground pretty well in this configuration, and it was fun. Kelly tells me I am doing well on turns in terms f maintaining my altitude while turning. On my last steep turn I tucked in in pretty tight and could tell it was a nice turn, and then as I exited it got bumpy on the turn out. "You feel that?" Kelly asked me. "You just flew through your own wake, that means you did a great turn." Cool. Nice to do something well.
Anyhow - Tuesday was a lot of fun and I felt pretty good about it.
Between the Tuesday lessons and today's lessons I did some more reading and got a full night's sleep. I also wore myself out a bit on jet skis Tuesday evening, trying to get in some last-of-the-good-weather water time in before it gets all cold and rainy on us. But I was up and ready this morning and headed for the airport.
I pre-flighted our airplane, a different C-150 than we've flown for the past two lessons, and then joined Kelly in the classroom for some ground instruction. He told me that we were going to fly to a different airport this time - Aurora to be specific - so we talked about traffic patterns related approach in general, and for Aurora and our airport (Twin Oaks) specifically. We reviewed the approach/pre-landing procedures for the aircraft type, as well. Kelly is still handling all the radio operations (thank goodness), so I am focused - with his sometimes substantial help - on flying the airplane, maintaining attitude (of the airplane as well as me, heh), and performing the tasks needed for whatever flight maneuvers we're executing at the time.
I should stop for a moment and say something about my instructor. Kelly has a way of knowing what to explain. how to explain it and when to explain it. He doesn't overwhelm but keep the information flowing. So far he's pretty well matched my ability to take in more information and execute on it. I think flying in the distant past helps a lot though, since a good part of what I remember seems to still be ingrained in my little brain. It's the "wrong" stuff that I have to work through. I'm certainly not smarter than the airplane. It seems to fly just fine. If something's wonky, it's almost certainly me that's the cause. If I do something well, he let's me know. "You did that one all by yourself," he'll say. "Looked good." And when I'm all over the place, he's right there to keep us from being crushed in a tin can with wings, and to let me know what I need to do or not do. Thank goodness.
Today we taxied from the ramp (which I felt a little better about today - taxiing this airplane type is a lot like taxiing oatmeal - it's really mushy), and did the engine run up and final checks. Then he let me know we could go and I taxied onto the runway and applied full power. I remembered to keep some right rudder applied, and learned quickly that you have to pull back a bit to get a "wheelie" going. And then we were in the air. The C-150 really wants to fly, it seems. My nose was a bit high and Kelly told me so I lowered it slightly and we got quickly into a good climb at 70 MPH, got about 500 feet off the ground and did out left turn. Kelly had me maintain the climb on a heading that would take us toward Aurora (I had no idea where it was, but he does so that's good). We headed on up to 3,000 feet and I got my air-legs back a bit. Right rudder seems to be a rule. It feels weird but it's starting to make more sense.
Why right rudder? There are a few reasons. Basically it has to do with the tendency for the airplane to try to fly to the left. This is cause is large part by the fact that the engine's drive shaft and propeller rotate in a clockwise direction (as the pilot sees it), so the airframe it's attached to tries to push a bit to the counterclockwise. Also, the wash of the air over the airframe tends to corkscrew (one of the characteristics of a center-mounted propeller twisting the wind), and the wind tends to push on vertical stabilizer's left side, pushing the tail of the plane to the right (and therefore the nose to the left). So, as you can surmise, the more power and wind applied, the more right rudder is likely to be required.
Anyhow, we got to 3,000 feet and did a couple clearing turns to make sure no one was near us. Then we got back into slow-flight mode like yesterday and did some slow flight turns, which required more power to maintain altitude for sure. This aircraft type will fly at really low speeds and is pretty forgiving. It's also pretty gutless as far as power goes (only 100 horsepower). It's a pretty great way to learn.
Next Kelly reviewed the pattern flying information with me briefly and had me turn toward Aurora airport and configure the airplane so we could start losing some altitude. We were at 3,200 feet (3,000 above ground level) and needed to get down to about 1,200 feet (1,000 feet AGL) to enter the pattern at Aurora.
We entered the airport approach pattern at a 45 degree angle, which lets us see the airport and any aircraft in the area pretty well. Then I turned another 45 degrees to enter the pattern on the "downwind" leg, running parallel to the runway. So, the runway was to my left, visually cutting through the midpoint of the win strut, and I was at about 1,200 feet - the pattern altitude. Kelly walked me through the steps: Once we were abeam (90 degrees alongside) the numbers at the end of the runway, I applied carb heat, reduced the throttle from cruise speed to about 1500 RPM, set up 10 degrees of flaps (hold the button and count "thousand-one, thousand two, thousand-three" and let off), and dialed in a bit of nose-up trim to help keep the plane in the right attitude. I checked the plane's instruments (oil pressure and temp, etc.) and looked out behind me. I discovered I was already well beyond the runway and we started out left 90-degree turn to the base leg. While turning I set the flaps to 20 degrees by extending them for three more seconds, straightened out and checked our airspeed, which was pretty good. We had a long final leg back to the runway though since I had ran a little to long on the downwind leg, so I had to apply some more power to keep altitude while flying it in.
Obviously, if I'm flying at a runway I must be flying at a landing. Kelly was on the controls with me, but that's what was about to happen - my first landing. I seemingly forgot about using my feet for the most part once we got over the runway. I reduced power to idle and pulled back but I must have tried to steer with my hands. Kelly jumped in and talked me through the landing and thanks to him we survived. He graciously told me that was a "pretty good landing for the first time, not too bad." Heh. After taxiing off the runway we came to a full stop and "cleaned up" the aircraft (retract flaps, carb heat off, etc). He let me know the very basics of what went wrong and what went right. He's very good at not discouraging the student while still letting you know just why things went the way they did. Next he told me to turn right onto the taxiway and taxi to the end of the runway, where we would take off again and fly around the pattern and land a couple more times.
I could feel myself starting to get a better feel for controlling the airplane while on departure with each take-off. There's a little bit of art to take-offs, but there's a lot more art to a good landing it seems. My next "landing" was a touch and go. Again we flew the pattern and I was quite a bit better on my pattern distances and headings I think. We came in a little high so we throttled back to lose some altitude as we approached. The landing was quite a bit better, and once rolling on the ground with flaps up it was back to full power and back in the air.
The last landing we did was better. I drifted a bit to the left and the concept of lining up on the center line and staying there seems bit out of the realm of reality so far, but I think it will happen for me. The tendency to forget to step on the right rudder and keep my flight coordinated is something I need to concentrate on for sure. Probably appropriate given the name of this weblog, heh. It feels weird to step on the right rudder when the plan is feels like it's drifting right, but I know if I do it and apply the proper aileron controls it will work. I just need to "get it."
After a full stop and a quick review with Kelly we taxied and departed again. This time I felt quite a bit better about the departure roll. It just felt slightly more natural (or perhaps slightly less foreign is a more accurate way to describe it). I was better able to fly straight off the runways and maintain good attitude and heading with a good rate of climb. Nice to end on a positive note.
Kelly asked me to turn left and we headed northwest-ish with a goal of 3,000 feet altitude. One the way out I saw another airplane crossing our path just ahead at about a mile or so and pointed it out. Kelly called him on the radio and we made sure we could see each other, then it was back to flying up to our goal. Once back up at 3,000 feet AGL we did a couple of stalls and Kelly asked me if I wanted to see and try a couple slips. One Tuesday I was excited at the end of the flight lesson and asked if I could do a couple more stalls, but today I felt like I'd just reached the edge of my ability to process new information. Those approaches and landings were a little intimidating, and I told him I thought that was enough for now. He agreed, said he didn't want to over-do it and that's why he was asking me.
We headed for the Twin Oaks Airport, entered the pattern and landed the airplane, which went pretty well. I'm not completely on the controls and it's about the time I cross the runway threshold that I seem to not be light enough on the controls. I'm going to talk with my friend, Dave, who is just about done with his private license and is on his way to becoming a professional commercial pilot. Maybe he can tell me what it was like for him the first few lessons.
Kelly tells me I'm doing well and that I'll get it. I know I will eventually. But when you have to put a flying chunk of metal on the ground, you want to feel safe and get it there in one piece. That'll take some practice. In the meanwhile I'm still having fun!
I'm taking a couple days off from flying and will be back out on Saturday. That'll give me time to let things sink in, plus I'm feeling a little cruddy physically now so probably a good idea to take it easy. Besides, I need to read and study. Wow, there's a lot to know!