Friday, April 17, 2009

Flying and more flying, and being an owner

With more than 35 flight hours now logged in my Warrior, I'm getting to know the airplane pretty well. I've flown solo, with one person in the seat next to me, with one passenger in the front and another in the back seat, and in one case with one in the front and two in the back (they were light/young people, so still well within the weight and balance envelope).

Aircraft ownership brings with it some things you never have to deal with as a renter. When I cracked one of the stabilator fiberglass tips pushing the plane into the T-hangar parking spot, I had to buy a new one and have it installed. When the engine worries my novice and slightly-paranoid ear and I need to learn about better engine leaning and carburetor adjustments, I pay for the shop time to check it out. When the nose gear strut needs new seals and servicing, I pay for that. I just did pay for that, in fact. :)

Renters have all that stuff taken care of. If a rental is out for service, there's probably another plane you can fly.

But this airplane is mine. I can drive down to the hangar, pull the airplane out whenever I want, and fly it wherever I want - and for as long as I like. I have to buy the oil and fuel and parts, but in exchange I can fly for $30 an hour in fuel and oil (and then pay for as-needed parts and labor, plus inspections and whatnot).

Doing the calculations, I am flying quite a bit more in my own airplane than I would in a rental. I've flown more than 30 hours in the Warrior in about two months of ownership and sustaining this rate or something close to it won't be too difficult. With that many hours per year, I'm well past the affordability threshold for making ownership worthwhile, especially when you consider the low price I paid for the plane.

I've been able to share flying with friends, too - and that is the best part for me. While flying is something I actually enjoy doing alone (most activities I prefer to do with someone else), it's even better when someone else is in the airplane. I've even been thinking it might be fun some day (after I get a lot more experience and training) to teach others to fly. Now that would be fun!

Friday, March 27, 2009

First 15-or-so hours in the Warrior

I’ve flown about 15 hours now in the Warrior, and am getting to know the airplane better the more I fly it. It’s quite different than a Cessna is a couple notable ways (and almost exactly like a Cessna in most ways, of course).

The differences become most apparent during approach and landing. In a nutshell, airspeed matters a lot more in the Warrior when landing. Too fast over the runway and you’ll float, float, float.

The Warrior is a Cherokee with a tapered wing. Mine is a 150 horsepower model. What I’ve found is that unless my approach speed is about 75 miles per hour, I’m too fast over the runway and the ground effect float is just too much. If I try to raise the nose slightly while in ground effect at, say, 80 miles per hour, the plane just wants to climb. At 70 to 75 miles per hour I can descend through the ground effect much more effectively while keeping good control authority, substantially minimizing the amount of runway needed to land. the high wing on Cessna aircraft really fly differently when you’re a few feet above the ground. Of course, that’s in my plane. Yours will almost certainly vary.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been able to fly in slices of decent weather. A couple days were downright beautiful. I’ve flown to get lunch in Independence a couple times, flew over my home, took a friend and his dad up for a scenic flight over the Columbia River, and over the past couple days the neighbor kid (who’s on spring break this week) went flying with me for a night flight over downtown Portland and then yesterday for four hours of cross country and fun. I think he’s hooked. He’s already asked how old you have to be to get a pilot’s certificate and how much it costs. Hah.

The plane has flown more in the past couple weeks than it did in the past four or five years combined. When an airplane doesn’t fly one has to be a bit skeptical about the potential problems that can result from non-use. But things are looking good. The engine is running well and everything seems to be working just fine, so at this point I’m glad I found a great deal (and got a thorough pre-purchase inspection). Oil consumption is very low and the engine is delivering power quite well. There are a few minor things to be addressed, two of which were negotiated as part of the purchase: The carb heat lever needs to be adjusted because it slips a little bit, and the interior red light is “inop” (so I use a head-mounted red LED light, which works pretty well). Another minor issue that needs to be addressed is a slightly “sticky” front landing gear. It holds proper pressure and the mechanism works just fine absorbing any landing shock, but the O-ring seals are older and have hardened somewhat so they need to be replaced, which will allow the seal to travel a little more freely up and down.

So far, so fun. Time to start planning some cross-country flying and find some places around the area to visit that I have never been to before. Looking forward to exploring!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

New aircraft type to fly – My Warrior

I’ve just started flying in a new airplane. My private pilot training was done almost exclusively in the little Cessna 150’s, good airplanes that are small in size and power, but fun to fly around and great to learn in. I also flew one lesson in a Cessna 172, which is noticeably larger (four seats), more powerful, and more stable in the air.

A close equivalent to the 172 is the Piper Cherokee. Later models of the Cherokee include the Warrior, designated as the PA-28-151. It has a low-wing, four seats and a 150-horsepower engine. I was fortunate enough to find out about a Warrior based at Twin Oaks Airpark, my home airport. It’s been sitting in a hangar and not flying very much over the past few years, and while the interior is dated and tired, it is in pretty darned good shape and all the radios work, it has a current annual, and checked out okay. So, I test flew it myself and had it checked out by a mechanic, which is what you do if you plan to fly an unfamiliar aircraft a lot.

And then I bought it. For something akin to a steal of a price. Yes, you read that right: I own an airplane. It cost less (a whole lot less, in fact) than my truck. Airplanes can be much more affordable than people think. Most people I know are driving cars and SUVs that cost substantially more than this aircraft. I got a very reasonable price, thanks in part to the current economy and the deflation of airplane selling prices over the past few months. This airplane would have sold for almost twice as much a few years ago. In short, it looks to be a great time to but an airplane if you’re in the market and can afford one (there’s more than just the purchase cost involved in owning an airplane. Just spend a lot of time looking around, and don’t pay the asking price – It will almost certainly be too high. My purchase price was around 25% less than the asking price, if that tells you anything.

The plane’s tail number is N639MR (link goes to a web site I set up for it), and here’s what it looks like (click on each of the images to view larger):



Over the past few days I received some dual instruction in the airplane from my flight instructor at, Kelly. Being properly checked-out, I was able to fly about 1.5 hours solo yesterday for the first time. I did several take-off’s and landings at a couple airfields, and then flew to Portland-Hillsboro airport, where I met up with my friend and fellow pilot Dave. He got on board and we flew for a couple hours. We had a great time. Dave will also be flying the plane, as he’ll be building time while he works toward his professional pilot goals. I got to fly over my house for the first time and did two night landings.

Flying a low-wing plane, not to mention a larger and heavier airframe, presents some real differences compared to the little high-wing Cessna 150. Ground effect in the Warrior is much more pronounced thanks to the low wing, so a proper approach speed at landing is fairly critical in order to avoid floating in the air down the runway (especially if there’s any tail-wind). It’s very stable in wind and turbulent air, and flies wonderfully. And it climbs much faster and higher than my little training aircraft.

It is also a great cross-country flier, and makes respectable airspeed even though it’s not a super fast bird. Visibility outside is quite good – much better than in the C150. It’s comfortable, will get you where you want to go relatively quickly, and is quite fuel-efficient in cruise. I can likely burn less gas in the aircraft that I would driving over the ground on long trips (and get there much faster). I’m looking forward to visiting some fun places and using the plane as an alternative to airliners here and there!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First two flights with passengers as a private pilot

When my good friend Dave got his private pilot certificate last year, I was his first passenger. So after I got mine yesterday, he met me at Twin Oaks Airpark this afternoon so we could go flying, only this time with me as pilot in command.

We took off from the airport and made our way south, ending up about half way between McMinnville and Salem before heading west a little ways, and them turning back north. We did a touch and go at McMinnville and then flew over Henry Hagg Lake before returning to Twin Oaks. We saw all kinds of cool stuff and did some fun turns and whatnot. It was a lot of fun flying with Dave again, and we will be spending a lot of future time together in the air, I'm sure.

A little later in the afternoon, another good friend and former roomie, Cory, went with me to the airport, and we took off for my second flight of the day. Our trip took us to Hagg Lake and the area to the south of there, then Aurora, where we did a touch and go then to Mulino, where we did a full-stop landing. From there we returned to Twin Oaks. By the time we got about 5 miles from the airport, the winds were really starting to whip up out of the southwest and west, and as I approached the airfield I started to wonder what the landing was going to be like.

In fact, Betty Stark (she and her husband own the airport) got on the radio when I announced I was approaching and intended to take a look at the windsock. She asked me what I thought, and I observed that the windsock was presenting a direct headwind, so I would fly the approach and see how it looked, but be safe in doing so. I flew the pattern to runway 20, but once I was on the final approach leg and getting close to the runway my strong headwind turned into a nasty 25-knot quartering crosswind - too much for that little Cessna 150, and especially way too much for my own personal limitations. So, I applied full power and climbed out on a go-around, crabbing into the wind.

At that point I had to decide what to do. I could go to Aurora, where I knew conditions were better, or I could go to Hillsboro, where the runways are more plentiful and facing more directions. Or, I could fly around Twi Oaks again and observe the windsock and the winds to see what they might do. I chose to head toward Hillsboro (at the Stark's suggestion) and in the process flew the box pattern around Twin Oaks again.

Once in the downwind leg for runway 20, the winds had calmed somewhat and were again running straight up the runway. As long as they stayed like that, I'd have no problem landing the airplane. So, I announced I was making another try for the field into the headwind and flew the approach. Kathy, an instructor who'd helped me with a mock check-ride exam and flight last week, happened to be in the ground in an airplane and she confirmed the winds were coming up the runway. She and her student sat on the ground in a bigger 172 while I flew the approach. It got a little squirrelly but the winds cooperated and I neatly put the plane on the ground, then got it off the runway. I have to say, it felt pretty good when Kathy keyed the radio and said "nice job." Heh. Well, I'm glad I was able to do it!

My instructor, Kelly Wiprud, had put me in situations like that one, with strong and highly variable winds, when we were early in my training and he was in the airplane with me. I hear some people hardly see crosswinds at all when they train, but I have had far more than plenty over the past few months. And I'm glad, as it's made me much more prepared for surprises like the winds this afternoon.

So, 3.3 hours just today, and it was fun. I added up my log book this evening, and was a little surprised to find out I have 77.9 hours of flight time under my belt. Pretty cool!

Monday, March 2, 2009

I'm officially a private pilot!

Wow, what a day! I woke up this morning and started in on some non-flying related stuff that I have on my list, and at about 8:45 this morning Kelly called me. Turns out one of the local FAA examiners that conducts check rides for private pilot candidates had today open and so he wanted to see if I could be at the airport for my FAA check ride at 1pm today. It wasn't quite where my mind was focused at the time the call came, but I quickly started shifting gears in my brain and agreed to be at Twin Oaks to meet Kelly at noon so we could make sure all the paperwork was in order.

I'd figured that I would have at least a couple more days to study and prepare, and I could have waited. But after I thought about it a bit, I decided I was ready to go and that now was the time. So I collected by books and equipment, loaded up the truck, and headed to town and to the airport.

I got there at about 11am, which allowed me time to get all the documentation for the airplane, like the log books showing the maintenance and whatnot. I also had to plan a cross-country flight from Twin Oaks to Corvallis, including the weather and a route to follow, as well as the standard weight and balance and other typical flying paperwork. One complicating factor for the flight was that I weigh about 180 pounds and the FAA examiner weighs about 210 pounds, which meant in the little Cessna 150 we'd be flying I could not take off with full fuel tanks, else we'd be overweight and unsafe. Luckily, Kelly offered to siphon some fuel from the already-filled airplane, and he told me later he didn't get a mouthful of fuel in the process. Been there. Not good.

The check ride consists of a session in the classroom where the examiner conducts and oral exam to determine if you know the myriad of basic information a pilot needs to be familiar with. We reviewed weather, charts, airspace, electrical and fuel systems, weight and balance, performance limitations of various types, a bunch of rules and regs imposed by the FAA, and various procedures. After a couple hours of that, we finished in the classroom and went to pre-flight the airplane.

The examiner watched as I conducted the pre-flight inspection and even offered a couple useful and seasoned suggestions for looking at the aircraft from a distance to get a big picture view of the airframe. It turns out he's been a pilot since 1965, and flew 17 different aircraft for the U.S. Army (rotary and fixed-wing), and since then has been a pilot, instructor and examiner in various model of Citation jet and other big/fast aircraft. So his advice was welcome and based on many years and many, many hours of practical experience. I can safely say I learned some new things today. Quite a few new things, in fact.

We did the pre-departure routine and then got off the ground. I started the first portion of my planned cross-country flight to the south and flew over the Newberg VOR (UBG), then lined up on the VOR radial I'd planned for the flight toward Corvallis. Now, I already knew we were not flying all the way there. The standard practice is to divert to an airport not on the flight plan once you get into the flight. Sure enough, after about 15 minutes of flying and discussion, he diverted me when I reached one of my visual checkpoints and told me to find McMinnville Airport. I located it out the right side of the plane and pointed it out, and told him the info necessary to get there. He was satisfied and told me that while I was not to fly there at that time, I needed to remember it because at some point he would likely be requiring me to return there later in the flight. Hmm, interesting.

We continued south and I executed some clearing turns to make sure the airspace around us wasn't occupied by any other aircraft. I flew the headings and made the altitude changes I was told, and then transitioned to slow flight. He them told me to descend at 70 knots until I reached 3200 feet, at which time I was to transition the nose high under no power and enter a power-off stall. It was a great method of simulating an approach to a landing, and the stall went off without a hitch. He then had me immediately recover to normal flight and climb back to 3200 feet, and then immediately enter a power-on stall. It took a while for the stall to happen (I was surprised at that, considering we were basically at max gross weight), but when it did I recovered properly and returned to level flight.

Next came the hood, a set of blinders that allow you only to see inside the airplane, with your view restricted to the instrument panel. He had me put it on, did a couple turns to disorient me a little and to make sure the area was clear, and then handed the controls back over to me. I flew straight and level, did some turns to specified headings, did a climbing and descending turn. Then he covered my eyes and told me to do a left turn, then a climbing left turn, and then to transition to a climbing right turn. The purpose of this was to force me into an "unusual attitude." That term means the airplane is not in a normal flight attitude - It's nose high or low, rolling left or right. You don't really know what the airplane is doing until you open your eyes and look at the instruments. Then you have to react and correct the problem immediately. I recovered fine from the crazy attitudes and he then had me fly a couple more turns and headings before telling me to remove the hood.

Upon removing the hood, he directed me to look outside the airplane and see if I recognized any of my flight plan landmarks in the area. Sure enough, just to my left was the Woodburn drag strip. I told him that and he said, "Okay, just don't land there..." as he pulled the power on the airplane. "There's way too many wires to hit on that piece of property," he said. Heh. I started the standard drill for a simulated engine out. First fly the airplane. Trim for 60 knots. Look for aluminum sharing your sky. Determine the winds for a landing and start looking for a place to land. Do the engine failure equipment check and try to restart as appropriate (simulated). Dial in 121.5 and make a mayday call if it won't restart (simulated). I was at about 2500 feet and there were several good fields in the area below me, so I did a forward slip and lost some altitude in the process. I then determined since I was just over 1000 feet above the ground that I would fly a proper right-hand pattern to a clean, large field on my right, and started the descent and turned base. I them simulated setting the mixture to rich and turned to the field. My speeds and everything were right on the money and the field was definitely "made." About 500 feet above the ground he instructed me to discontinue the drill and to climb back to 1200 feet as quickly as I could.

I climbed at Vy (70 knots), and leveled off at 1200 pretty quickly. Things were starting to get thrown at me pretty quick now. The pace of the instructions he was throwing at me starting with the simulated instrument maneuvers was accelerating, and we were flowing from one maneuver directly to another on a regular basis. There were a couple times when I just took my time and made sure I was truly ready before starting the next maneuver. It's amazing what five or ten seconds can do to get you ready for the next objective.

I was told next to immediately select a point in a nearby field and execute a turn around that point. I first did some clearing turns for safety and then did a fairly tight right-side turn around a dead tree. It wasn't the best turn-around-a-point I've ever done, and it was pretty darned tight and steep, but it worked. He had me transition immediately out of the right turn into a left turn as the beginning of flying S-curves over a line in the ground that the tree happened to be sitting on. He had me fly the turns pretty tight, and I thought I did a pretty darned good job on them.

Once the S-turns were done, he told me to find McMinnville (the airport from before when we did the diversion decisions). At 1200 feet it's a little more difficult to find an airport several miles away, but I found it and started flying toward it. I entered a 45-degree entry for the downwind leg and followed the examiner's instructions to execute a soft-field landing. I have to say, my landing was probably barely passable. I was truly disappointed, and the fast pace of the prior 30 minutes was probably pushing my brain a bit. I applied power over the runway a bit too late and as a result we skipped lightly once on the runway, which was aggravating to me. At that point I had to question whether I was going to be able to pass the check-ride. It just wasn't a good example of the maneuver. It wasn't terrible or dangerous, but it still sucked. But hey, it happens.

We did a few take-off's and landings at McMinnville: Soft-field takeoff (went well), short-field landing (went pretty okay), and a short-field takeoff (which I screwed up a little by lining up not all the way on the end of the runway). Then, after getting back in the pattern, the examiner told me my flaps were broken and that I was to fly the whole pattern and turn into the base leg with no flaps and to stay at 1000 feet AGL and not descend as one normally would. He had me fly most of the base leg at 1200 feet an then told me I could start my descent and turn to the final approach. So, as I started my (very) short base turn I was at about 900 feet above the ground and already pretty close to the runway. I entered into a full-defelction forward slip, which effectively turns the airplane sideways as it flys to the runway. You lose a lot of altitude really quick, and somehow the aircraft still flies. It's a weird feeling. We dropped like a bowling ball and I straightened it out before we got too low. He instructed me to go-around, and I applied full power and climbed out from the runway.

We departed the McMinnville airport and the examiner instructed me to return to Twin Oaks. I set the course and started the climb over the Newberg VOR again, and then descended and did a decent landing at my home airport. And when I call it my "home" airport I mean it. I have spent more time there than at home much of the past few months, and I enjoy the people there. It's a great place to learn to fly.

As I taxied off the runway and to the ramp to park the airplane, I started to think about my soft field landing and the short-field takeoff where I had set the airplane up not quite on the end of the runway. Those weren't terrible mistakes, I thought, but if they were out of line with the standard and he failed me as a result, I would understand. Not a problem, I told myself. Just do this all again in a week or so.

As I killed the engine, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. It had been a whirlwind few hours to be sure. When I opened my eyes again, I saw the examiner's hand extended in front of me. He shook my hand and said, "Congratulations, Greg. You're a private pilot!"


My legs were rubbery when I got out of the airplane. I'd say it felt good to be on the ground, but in truth I love being in the airplane. It was stressful, sure, but it was also a lot of fun. I called a few people to tell them the news and found a few text messages from people close to me asking how I did. We did a bunch of paperwork to satisfy the United States Government, and I was handed my temporary pilot certificate, which will be replaced with a fancy-dancy wallet card whenever the FAA has a chance to print it up.

Tomorrow I'll fly with my good friend Dave, who became a pilot last year. I was his first passenger, and he will be mine. It's almost surreal to think that I've actually reached this goal, and that now I can share the experience with others along for the ride. I've learned a little thus far, and look forward to learning more and more. Wow!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Signed off for the check-ride

I flew on Thursday with my instructor, Kelly (check out after some classroom quizzing. It was a relatively quick flight with a number of things packed into .8 hours (VOR navigation work under the hood, recovery from unusual attitudes, soft-field takeoff, short field landing, a simulated engine-out landing right after taking off the instrument hood, etc). Once back on the ground, Kelly had me fill out the FAA form used as an application for a check ride, and he signed me off for my training. So, the next official step is to get on the FAA examiner's calendar.

I'll be flying on Friday for a little while with a different instructor for a mock check-ride to help get ready for the real thing. I totaled up my hours on Thursday and discovered I have about 70 hours of flight time. All those solo practice flights over the past couple months sure added up!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still flying and studying - Night flight, prep for check ride

I haven't posted an update in a while, but I have been flying and preparing for my check ride with the FAA examiner. I flew today for about 30 minutes, just to get a few laps around the pattern in since the weather was agreeable mid-day and I had about an hour to spare. I've been trying to grab a free airplane here and there on days like today, just to practice different take-off's and landings and to keep sharp. The weather has been a challenge much of the time the past couple months, so taking advantage of VFR windows is important.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to fly a 180-horsepower Cessna 172 Skyhawk (N734KU) for the first time. On top of that, it was a night flight with my instructor, and a friend of mine who is also a pilot jumped in the back seat for the flight. On top of that, our flight was to Portland International Airport (PDX), another first for me. PDX is a Class-C airport with a bunch of big, long runways and big, fast airplanes flying in and out.

The 180HP Cessna 172 is a lot more airplane than the little Cessna 150's I've been flying to date. There's plenty of elbow and shoulder room and it's a rocket, relatively speaking. The sight picture looking out the windscreen is different than a C150, but I got used to it pretty quickly. It was nice to fly a bigger, solid airplane and see what's different. Any dreams I might have had of someday buying a 150 were pretty much crushed that night. Heh.

PDX was an interesting airport to fly into. Luckily it wasn't too busy, but there were a couple handfuls of airliners and corporate jets arriving and departing. The tower controller gave me instructions to set up for a left-hand approach to the runway that runs west-east next to the Columbia River, and Kelly (my instructor) handled some of the radio traffic for me, since I was flying a different airplane at night into a huge airport with lots of airplanes.

We got squeezed in for our landings between 737's and Airbuses, as well as a couple corporate jets. The controller let me do a few full stops and touch-and-goes, which was surprising. I kind of expected I'd have to leave after the first landing, but I guess it wasn't too busy there after all (could've fooled me though!). Each time I landed he's ask if I wanted another one, and after finishing a few we let him know we'd get out of his hair and head over to Hillsboro. At HIO I did some more landings and then headed back to Twin Oaks for one last landing. It was a great flight and a lot of fun, and it was fun to be at the controls with my friend Dave in the back seat. I can't wait until we can go flying together, both of us as pilots.

Since that evening over at PDX, I've flown a couple times with Kelly during the day. Our most recent flight was particularly stressful, as he intentionally tried to rattle me (with some success) for about an hour. Shifting his weight, getting a bit impatient, even opening and closing the door once in the pattern. And pulling the throttle on me or telling me it was "stuck at 1500RPM, so what do you do?" He was purposefully testing my ability to function under pressure and in a less-than-perfect environment (he told me so later). It was a good experience, at least in the end.

We've also spent some more time in the classroom with Kelly quizzing me in a way similar to how it will be with the FAA examiner. It's helping me understand that I need to better memorize some key information about things like airspace rules and definitions, as well as a variety of other topics. So, I'm spending a good portion of my time now prepping for that oral examination, which precedes the checkride.

The only flight training requirement I still need to complete is about half an hour more time "under the hood" doing simulated instrument flight. Kelly and I plan to do a mock checkride in the next few days, weather allowing, and Kelly says he wants to get me to my checkride so I can be done with this phase of my training.

And I say "this phase" quite purposely. I'm already thinking an instrument rating is probably a smart idea, for two reasons. First, it will make me a safer and more complete pilot. Second, I live in the Pacific Northwest. It rains here and we have clouds. We're kind of famous for our weather.

So, I'm almost there! Just a little more work and studying to do.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's All Coming Together: Maneuver practice and passed the knowledge test

The past few days have been positive for me in "flying land." I took advantage of some great weather and approximately 8-knot winds aloft on Tuesday to fly for about an hour and practice all the maneuvers (except those requiring me to be under-the-hood, of course) required for my private pilot check ride. After flying in 25+ knot winds and attempting to do something close to accurate maneuvers the other day, flying them in 7 or so knots was relatively simple. I felt good about everything I flew: stalls and recoveries, slow flight, steep turns, slips, rectangular patterns, turns about a point and s-turns. I also practiced some engine-out checklist drills and did a go-around procedure from the final approach. All went fairly well.

On Thursday afternoon, after some work meetings, I drove over to the Troutdale airport, dropped $90 on the table, and took the computer-based FAA knowledge test, which I passed with a reasonably wide margin. I'm sure glad to get that out of the way, as I've been procrastinating on it for about a month. It's been hard to find the time needed to study for the exam, but I forced myself lately to make the time and knocked it out.

So, now I need to do at least 30 more minutes of night flight with my instructor, which I think we are going to do by flying from Twin Oaks to PDX and back (PDX is a Class-C airport, so that will be a good experience). After that I believe I will technically have more than the minimum number of hours of flight time in each of the required flight categories (like night, dual, solo, cross-country, etc). I think I'll need to do some more check-ride prep flying before being ready to fly with the FAA examiner, though. I want to be truly ready.

I'm getting close, it seems. I know I am feeling better with each flight about my progress and abilities. If all goes well, pretty soon I'll be able to fly with passengers. Wow, how's that for scary eh? :)

Some people have been asking me lately how much this training costs. It depends on the person, as everyone's development is a little different. For my own training, to date, I've listed the numbers below. Your expenditures could be more, or slightly less. I've flown solo quite a bit to practice, so my aircraft rental costs are higher than if I'd just flown the minimum hours - And I'm glad I've spent that valuable extra learning time. These figures are provided in the interest of educating anyone who might be interested in learning to fly (and if you're in Portland, you should call Twin Oaks and Kelly Wiprud to inquire about training, tell 'em I sent ya). There's a real financial commitment, to be sure, but it's not horrific by any stretch of the means. Find a good location and a good instructor, plus be sure to fly frequently, and you'll keep the costs down.

Greg's costs to-date:

  • Instructor time (flying): 34.9 hours @$35/hr = $1221.50
  • Additional Instructor time (ground): $400.00
  • Aircraft rental time: 53.4 hours @$75/hr = $4005.00
  • Books, plotter, E6B calculator and charts: $200.00
  • FAA knowledge exam: $90.00

Total expenditure so far is approximately $5915.00, give or take. Considering I'm close to finishing (I hope, heh), I'd say I'm on par to hit the lower end of the scale as far as how much money and time it typically takes to get a private pilot certification. I have a few more hours of airplane and instructor time still to add on before I finish, plus the costs associated with the check ride and a few other various things.

I also had to purchase renter's insurance during my training in case I ruined an airplane while flying solo, plus I bought a few other things that were not mandatory, like a noise-canceling airplane headset and a few additional study materials online. But those items are all above and beyond the basic stuff that's required.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Solo prep flight and nighttime cross-country to Astoria

Today I flew solo for just over an hour and reviewed the skills Kelly and I worked on the previous day in preparation for finishing my training. All of these are skills I will need to be able to show I can do properly on my FAA check ride, which Kely says he wants to get scheduled soon. Seems like I just started, but I already have more than 45 hours of flight time in my logbook.

The winds were pretty strong aloft in two definite layers, which meant a strong turbulence layer at about 2000-2500 feet of bumpy, kind of crazy air in places. That plus the 30-knot east wind at 4,000 feet limited my ability to do some of the maneuvers I wanted to practice. I decided that trying to do power-off stalls was just not a good idea, even into the wind, so I focused my energy on a few landings and emergency procedures as well as steep turns and a couple power-on stalls. The gusty winds made all of the above challenging, but it was good experience.

I returned to the airport and met my instructor, as we were going to get set for a night cross-country flight to Astoria, on the coast. I'd flown there a couple days before on my solo daytime cross-country flight.

Flying at night is fun. I find it easy to focus, as there are really no distractions to speak of. You have to stay aware of what's happening inside and outside the aircraft, and what you can't see is probably the most potentially dangerous part of night flying. Altitude is your friend.

The winds aloft were still challenging and a couple places near Hillsboro had some quite turbulent layers, which we climbed through as we headed toward the coastal range, which we'd need to cross on out way to Astoria. I had planned the flight to be one that took us direct from the Newberg VOR (UBG), which is located a few miles south of Twin Oaks, to the Astoria VOR (AST), which is located at the Astoria airport. We took off and intercepted the VOR radial I had planned to fly along and headed northwest with the wind at our backs.

Almost immediately I could see a flashing red light on a tower that I had noted in my flight plan was along our route. It made it easy to fly toward the correct general heading. I could also see Astoria's lights off in the distance, which meant the visibility was pretty much unlimited. You could see Portland and well up in to Washington clearly, as well as south toward Salem and southwest toward Tillamook.

We climbed to our planned altitude of 5500 feet, which carried us well over the highest terrain in the area, and then started to descend into Astoria. The winds there picked up as we descended, and I entered a crab-angled path to the north, then crossed the airport mid-field before turning to the right to come back and enter the downwind leg for Runway 8. I raced downwind with the tailwind, then turned to base, and quickly to final. I landed the airplane on the runway with a bit of a bounce and a float, because I misjudged the flare in the dark. I retracted the flaps and applied power and took off, then told Kelly I wanted to do another one because, frankly, that landing pretty much sucked. We flew around the pattern and I did a somewhat better landing before taking back off and departing back toward Hillsboro.

The flight back was uneventful and I tracked the VORs while also using the my GPS. We eventually got back and found Twin Oaks, which is nearly impossible to see at night until you're a couple miles away. As I descended we crossed into the super bumpy turbulence again, and I made an bumpy turn to the downwind leg and kept fighting the bumps as I prepped the plane to land. Once I turned to base and descended a little more the wind calmed down quite a bit and I flew the plane to the runway, where I did the smoothest landing of the evening.

It was a fun flight. I had the video camera set up, but was so busy with winds and talking to Kelly that we forgot to turn it on. Oh well, maybe next time.

Some solo pattern practice and check-ride prep

After my solo cross-country flight on Wednesday, I arrived at Twin Oaks Airpark Thursday afternoon to get in an hour or two of solo practice in the pattern and at a tower-controlled airport. I wanted to spend some time getting takeoff and landing routines a little more refined, and it had been a while since I'd flown the pattern at tower-controlled Portland-Hillsboro airport. The weather was amazing, so I wanted to take advantage of it.

I got back in the same airplane I'd used for my cross country flight the previous day. It had been checked out to confirm the little issue I had the evening before was in fact carb ice and that there we no other issues. I put the video camera in the luggage area and pointed it forward just like I had on the cross country, then turned it on and forgot about it. I wanted to be able to go back and look at my landings and takeoffs and review the little detail aspects of what I was doing. I find it's a tool that gives me better perspective on what I can do better. It also makes interesting video for posting here. I'll likely add it to this post after I get it processed on the computer. I also plan to add a little video from my cross-country flight the other day. I just don't have time right now to get that done.

Once I set up the camera and turn it on, I just let it run. It's completely out of my way and stationed solidly behind the seats. It either quits on its own (by running out of battery or hard drive space) or I turn it off when I finish flying. I don't worry or think about it when I'm in the air, except to talk through everything on the intercom, which record my voice in the camera's audio track. Come to think of it, I talk to myself on the intercom whether the camera is there or not. It helps me stay focused and organized.

I was happy with my take-offs and landings that day. I was pretty much on the money and things were smooth and properly executed. It was fun to fly to Hillsboro and fly the pattern with other airplanes and talk to the tower. That controller stays plenty busy, I can tell you. Someone told me it's the busiest airport in Oregon, even more so than Portland International in terms of the number of airplanes operating daily. That's crazy. They have a big flight school there, which makes up a lot of the traffic.

On Friday I joined my instructor Kelly again and we did what he termed a "check-ride prep" flight. We flew from Twin Oaks out to the east to a safe practice area and I did all sorts of maneuvers and configurations: Slow flight, power-on and power-off stalls and recoveries, steep turns, flying under the hood and doing turns and level flight, and a couple simulated engine failure drills, one of which I flew until I was 500 feet over an abandoned airport before applying power to go-around. We then returned to Twin Oaks and crossed over the airport at 3,000 feet, where he again "killed" the engine (meaning he put it at idle) and I had to perform a spiraling descent over the end of Runway 2 to an altitude and position that would allow me to enter a downwind leg for landing, and then I landed the plane with no power, right on the money.

Next we did a short field takeoff and landing, followed by a soft-field takeoff and landing before calling it quits for the day. Overall I felt good about my progress and performance, and can see I'm getting closer to being ready to fly with an examiner. There are a number of things I want to practice more to be more proficient, but all in all it's going well.

On Saturday I plan to do about 90 minutes of solo flying time to practice the same things Kelly and I did on our "checkride prep" flight, and then after a brief break he and I are scheduled Saturday evening to complete the night cross-country flight that we need to get out of the way. Unfortunately we won't be able to fly to Boeing Field in Seattle as we have wanted to do, since the weather up there is still not cooperating and shows no real signs of improving. We're planning to fly to Astoria and back, which more than satisfies the training requirements. I'm hoping to get to fly with Kelly to Boeing Field so I can get the Class B airspace experience before I finish training, maybe as part of prep for my checkride since that would provide plenty of time and opportunity to review and test my skills, as well.

My Long Solo Cross-Country - The Oregon Coast

The weather turned from completely terrible to amazing here in northwest Oregon this past week, and I took advantage of it in a big way, getting in a bunch of flying while I can.

As I mentioned in the last post, I went with my instructor on Tuesday and was introduced to flying under the hood for instrument conditions simulation. It was the first time day people had been able to fly in weeks, and the weather just kept improving from there.

I also mentioned at the end of my last post that I'm glad for the training I've received, which has been excellent. A good part of training is focused on dealing with the unusual and unexpected. I put it to good use, as you'll read further on.

I'd been doing a bunch of flight planning in preparation for my long solo cross country flight that I needed to get done as I (hopefully) near the end of my private pilot training. I'd planed three different trips, all of them longer than necessary by a safe margin (and a couple of them probably just too long to be realistic for one day worth of flying in a slower plane like the C-150). On Wednesday, I filed a VFR flight plan with the FAA for a three-leg flight from Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro to Newport, a town on the Oregon Coast to the southwest. From there my plan would take me to Astoria, a port town at the northwest corner of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. I would then fly to Woodland State airport in Washington and from there almost due-south back to Twin Oaks.

I arrived at the airport mid-day Wednesday and saw the fog had cleared and the overcast cloud layer was quickly burning off and breaking up - A good sign. I'd planned my flight to leave at noon, but in reality I would not be able to get off the ground until closer to 1:30 p.m. Fortunately (planning-wise), I found out the Woodland State airport runway was closed according to an FAA notice, because it apparently had been under water and was not serviceable yet. It turned out that with my late departure I'd need to find a way to shave some time off the flight in order to make it back before civil twilight anyhow, so Woodland wasn't really an option anyhow.

I departed the airport at Twin Oaks (7S3) and flew to the Newberg VOR (UBG). When I climbed to about 2,000 feet and looked over the ridge to see what the conditions were to the south, beyond the ridge the VOR sits on top of, I was greeted by an overcast cloud deck that surprisingly covered the entire Willamette Valley floor almost as far as the eye could see. I would not be able to fly over that legally or safely as a student pilot, but I had discussed this potential circumstance with my instructor before I left. I observed that a few miles to my west the conditions were clear, and I let the Seattle Center (who had me on their radar and was aware of my flight plan) that I was going to fly a few miles west and then turn southwest over the VFR area to reach Newport. And that's what I did.

My path took me over the coastal range just for a few more miles than would have been the case if I'd done a straight shot from Newberg's VOR to the one at Newport. I climbed to 7500 feet , which was higher than I had originally planned in order to make sure I had plenty of gliding range should an emergency situation occur, and I steered to ensure I had prospective landing spots in view (which is what one should be doing at all times anyhow). I made my way down to Newport just west of my originally planned track and took a look at the city, it's lighthouse and it's distinct bridge from the air for the first time. The airport was east to find, just south of the bridge, and I checked the weather and winds on the automated radio channel and then prepared to land.

The Newport Municipal Airport (ONP) is a nice facility, with two big huge runways (compared to what I'm used to). I set up to enter on a 45-degree entry into the downwind leg for Runway 34. There was a stiff crosswind, partially a headwind, with a crosswind component of probably 7 knots with some light gusting. As I flew the final leg toward the runway the gusts became apparent and I had to really work to crab the airplane into the strong quartering headwind. I stayed on the centerline and straightened out just before touching down, and put it down one wheel at a time (in the correct order even). I had to make sure I was "steering" into the cross wind with the ailerons, just to make sure the winds wouldn't try to lift the right wing.

I fueled up the airplane and shot a goofy little video of myself at the airport in the afternoon sun (you can click on the video to see it larger and in HD-ish quality on YouTube). The temperature was spring-like, which is nice for January. As soon as I was fueled up I got back in the plane and prepared to depart on the next leg of the flight, which would take me to Astoria, about an hour or so north of Newport. My path of flight would take me straight up the shoreline of the northern Oregon Coast.

It was so nice out I flew with the window open for a couple minutes twice on the way up. I saw lot of smaller, interesting airports while enroute and had the chance to see this beautiful piece of our country from a whole new vantage point. I'll be going back there again in the future for some scenic flying, for sure.

When I finally reached Astoria and stated to descend, I was a little worried about the fact that one of the fuel gauges was now reading almost empty while the other one was showing almost full. Now, I know these gauges are notoriously inaccurate, which is one of several reasons why you don't rely on them. Instead we check the fuel level in the tanks manually with a measuring stick and determine how much fuel will be burned on the flight leg by leg. My concern was of the self-questioning type: Had I been a lunkhead and left the right tank cap off when I refueled? I thought back and was certain I had not since I double checked, but at the same time I wanted to visually confirm it was on there. So it was good I was arriving at an airport.

I took a look down below me at the Astoria Regional Airport (AST), which I understand was a military airfield in another life. I crossed midfield 1,000 feet above traffic pattern elevation and determined that the winds were favoring Runway 8. I continued to the north after crossing midfield and did a right turn until I was headed back to the airport and then entered a downwind leg for Runway 8. I made the approach and then an uneventful landing on Runway 8. I eventually found a taxiway, and after trying to figure out where I was I made my way to the ramp to park and look at the top of the wing to see if two gas caps were on there.

Once parked, I was relieved to find both caps properly in place and secured. So it turns out I'm just paranoid, not an idiot. I can live with that. I got out the fuel level stick and confirmed there was still 8+ gallons in each tank. Then I saddled back up and got ready to go. I departed from Runway 8 and climbed out, turning toward Hillsboro, since it was time to get back, and Woodland State was still underwater.

The sun was going down while I flew the last leg, so I got to see a coastal sunset as I made my way home. I was still surprised at how warm the air was as I flew at about 5,500 feet toward Hillsboro. I was getting dusky as I arrived and descended to the small Twin Oaks airstrip. It also got very cold very quickly, as I descended into the inverted cold layer. I'd been pulling the carb heat as I flew and descended, since it was prime conditions outside. I entered the pattern on a descending 45-degree entry leg into the downwind leg and started my downwind run.

As I came abeam the numbers, I pulled the carburetor heat knob out, reduced power to 1500 RPM, and dialed in 10 degrees of flaps to start the landing routine... and the engine quit. It was a little quieter than usual, I remember noticing that first. What the?!?! I pushed the carb heat back in, pulled it again, no go. Checked the mixture, it was okay. Primer knob locked in place, check. Key in the on position, check. Pushed in the throttle all the way, nothing. Got the nose properly positioned for glide and glanced to my left at the end of the runway. I had enough time to try to get the engine back online one more time before I'd have to turn to assure I could make the runway. Checked the fuel valve, it was on. Set the throttle in a few notches and turned the key, noticed the prop was spinning, so I pushed the throttle in again and the engine came back to full-power life. I fed it more fuel quickly and assured it was running and not stopping, confirmed the carb heat was still on, reduced power and tried to calm down a notch.

I was still at proper pattern altitude and in a good position to make my runway landing, engine or not. I reduced power a bit more and turned to my left base leg, then set my flaps, and made my turn to the final approach leg. I dialed in some extra flaps since I was a little high (the extra power surge on the restart/whatever-it-was had caused me to balloon a little altitude), then landed the airplane right where it belonged, about 100 feet past the numbers on the runway.

I have to admit, as irrational as it is, for a brief second there when the engine power was unexpectedly gone, I looked to my right and half expected to see my instructor Kelly sitting there telling me my engine had just died, as he's done so many times in the pattern when simulating an engine failure in almost exactly the same place. My mind just started doing what it does every time he does that. It was pretty much automatic. Not as organized as it could be, granted, but automatic nonetheless.

I taxied to the fuel pump, powered everything off and killed the engine, removed my headset and seat harness, and jumped out and onto the ground. Wow, that was an experience. I was a little jumpy with adrenaline from the experience.

In discussing it with the Starks (who own the airport and have been flying since forever ago) and my instructor there at the airport, we determined that I'd been descending into a prime-for-ice-condition cold, moist layer from a warm, dry layer with the engine running in the lower end of the green operation zone. I'd been applying carb heat periodically while descending to prevent icing, but when I entered the downwind leg and applied power to maintain altitude the carb heat was off. I flew the downwind leg in these prime conditions for carburetor ice and apparently built up quite a bit until I again applied the carb heat. When the ice suddenly melted, it likely entered the engine and cause it to bog down and stop producing power. I don't remember seeing the propeller sitting completely still - It was always spinning, I think. It's not like I was looking at the prop, I was focused on solving the problem and those things I needed to check to get the engine running normally again, and making decisions about when it would be necessary to forget the engine and just glide to the field. At any rate, most likely some melted ice (water) got aspirated into the engine and had to disperse before it would run properly. The airplane checked out okay, and it was basically a non-event, but without the proper good training, it could have been a lot scarier.

The next day I went back out, check on the plane and found out it was fine, then got back in it for a couple hours and flew a bunch of take-offs and landings at Twin Oaks and Hillsboro airports. It was a good day of flying, and I wasn't about to let the jumpy ending of my awesome cross-country flight get the best of me, so I went back out and got back on that horse and kept up with my training.

It was a great couple days of flying. The weather has remained excellent, and I was able to fly again on Friday with my instructor. More on that next time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Unusual Attitudes and flying under the hood

I wish I'd shot some video of this lesson, now that I think about it. Maybe next time. On Tuesday my instructor Kelly and I went for a flight to do some under-the-hood instrument flying in the plane. It was the real-world version of what I'd "flown" on the simulator the other day. We also planned to do some other maneuvers like stalls and steep turns as a review.

This was my first time "under the hood" in the airplane. For those who are not familiar, the "hood" is basically a set of human blinders, designed to restrict your vision to just the portion of the instrument panel right in front of you, which is where the critical flight instruments are located. It prevents you from looking out the windows, and requires you to fly the plane by instruments only. The whole idea, in private pilot training, is to give you enough experience so you can get out of the clouds if for some reason things should get royally screwed up and you fly into one. Private pilots don't fly into clouds or low visibility without an instrument rating, which involves a lot of training and requires special avionics and navigation equipment in the aircraft.

We flew out to a good practice area and made sure the area was clear. With the hood on he had me fly straight and level, then do a controlled climb, and then a descent. Then he had me do some standard-rate (one minute) turns, which are designed to let you enter a specific bank angle on he turn coordinator and count 60 seconds on the clock (in this plane, anyhow). When the time is up, if you made the turn at the proper bank angle, you'll be flying in the opposite direction. If you turned for two minutes, you'd have done a 360-degree turn and be back were you started. So, if you were flying due south and do it correctly for one minute, you'll end up flying due north when you're done with the turn. The obvious reason for being able to do this as a private pilot is that if you're either unfortunate or stupid enough (or both) to fly into the clouds, going back the way you came is a good idea, and with nothing but cloud outside the plane you have to be able to do it by the gauges. We did a few turns to the left and a couple to the right. I was able to maintain altitude and attitude pretty well, but it was a lot of work.

Your head really messes with you when you start doing turns and other maneuvers without being able to see the outside world and it's natural horizon. I found out quickly that there is no way I can trust what my body is telling me it feels in an instrument flying situation. If I relied on whether I feel like I'm in a turn, or a dive, or flying straight and level, I'll be dead. The human body doesn't accurately inform the brain once you've made a couple turns or other moves. Many pilots have been killed because they trusted what their body was saying. Death trap.

Next we did some turning climbs and descents - So Kelly was mixing things up a bit, having me control every dimension of basic IFR flying with just the instruments. It went pretty well.

Then Kelly showed me some "unusual attitude" recovery maneuvers, first without the hood on. He wanted me to see what they look like in the air before I went into the "dark." By "unusual attitudes" we mean a variety screwed up dangerous attitudes for the aircraft to be in, such as a diving turn or a steep climbing and rolling turn. You have to be able to recognize from looking at the airplane's attitude indicator when you're in a dangerous attitude and how to act immediately to correct it and get back to straight and level flight. We did several of these, including a bunch where he had me wearing the hood and closing my eyes while putting my head down. Kelly would fly the airplane in all sorts of different directions: Turns back and forth, diving, climbing, and any combination of those over and over. They he'd say "Okay, your airplane" and I would look up, determine what the situation called for, and take immediate action. It went well, and I felt like I understood what needed to be done and showed I can do it.

Luckily I didn't get sick (sometimes people do, but I'm not prone to motion sickness). But by the time we were done with the hood work my brain was stretched pretty far. But we had more to do, and I was okay. So, Kelly asked me to set the plane up for slow flight, which took me a little time to get set in my head after the hood maneuvers. I managed to get there, and Kelly told be to do a power-off stall. I got it about half right and almost spun the plane, and realized I was a little overwhelmed with new and old information. Kelly walked me though the steps a little (but not too much), and I was able to do a couple stalls, power-on and power-off, and recover properly. We then moved on to steep turns, which I had not done for a while (in fact I have hardly flown in the past month), and after a couple not-steep-enough tries I got in the groove and did some decent turns.

We then headed back and I set up for a landing on Runway 2. You'd think that by now I'd predict and expect engine failure drills in the pattern when flying with Kelly, but again this time he surprised me as I pulled the barb heat and he pulled the engine to idle and told me my engine had just died. I flew the plane at idle to the runway and put it down just fine.

As you'll find out in my next post (how's that for a clever little hook to keep you reading, eh?) there are some very real-world examples of why practicing for failures and emergencies is so critical. Let's just say I'm glad I know the drill. But hey, that's for next time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Simulator flying, winds and another night delay

Twin Oaks Airpark just acquired and put into service an Elite PI-135 BATD computer simulator, which one can "fly" for $35 an hour (that's a lot less than $70 for a C150 or $99 for a C172). It's cool, and has a yoke and pedals and a whole panel with working controls and switches, plus the computer screen for the live part and for looking outside. For people doing the instrument rating training some of the hours can be flown on the sim, and even for me and my private pilot training, a few hours can be logged on the simulator.

Since I need to do unusual attitudes and "under the hood" time as part of my private training, and since the weather has not been cooperating recently, my instructor Kelly set me up on the simulator this past Thursday. I did 30 minutes of instrument "flying" that way. This was my first actual instrument training, and we were able to cover the requirements for the private license in the 30 minutes. The idea of providing basic in-the-clouds training to a private pilot is to gave them enough skills and experience to make sure they can make a safe turn and fly back out the way they came.

I think it was good to see how the instrument flying works in the simulator first - which is very sensitive and accurate, by the way. I've heard pilots say if you can successfully fly the simulator you can fly the same maneuvers in a real airplane, and now I see what they mean. It's very exact and requires you to be precise in your control of the plane. Next week we'll be doing the same maneuvers in the air, with all the real-world airplane noise and the sneaky tricks your brain plays on you when you get a real aircraft into unusual attitudes.

We did get to fly for a little while on Thursday, as well. Since it was quite windy (12 knots) and the wind was highly variable in terms of direction (changing constantly from crosswind to a headwind for Runway 20), and since the active landing runway is not the typical one, Kelly wanted me to get some time in the air after a few weeks of almost no flying, and to get some valuable cross-wind landing practice.

Runway 20 at Twin Oaks is not the standard-use runway. It's only used when needed sue to wind direction. It requires you approach on the final leg over some taller trees and then drop in a bit to the threshold of the runway. When you add to that the stronger winds on Thursday and how much they were changing direction, it was a very challenging - but doable - environment. I would certainly not fly in those conditions on my own (it would be too much of a crosswind component for me for sure, and is beyond my established solo crosswind component limits right now anyhow), but when flying with Kelly it's a good learning opportunity.

And learn I did: From the first landing the winds were close to getting the best of me. On the first one Kelly helped me at the very end because I was not using my feet nearly enough to keep the airplane pointing straight down the runway. The fact that the runway slopes downhill landing in that direction adds to the complexity: You tend to "float" more, and combined with any gusting headwind you can imagine the process of landing the plane could be interesting. Not dangerous, just challenging.

Kelly flew the second pattern and landing and I followed along. That was good after being out of the seat for as long as I have been. He even had a little difficulty with the winds landing, although not nearly to the same extent as I did, so I didn't feel too bad. I then flew another pattern and did a go-around because the winds pushed me around and I wasn't feeling confident, then landed it a little better, but still not what I would consider good. We were thinking about calling it quits, but I said I thought I should to do one more and try to land it cleaner. Better to end on a positive note anyhow, I figured. Plus, I was improving little by little.

The last landing was far from perfect but given the conditions not too bad. I'd call it a relative success.

On Friday night we were hoping to fly that night cross-country flight to Seattle's Boeing Field that we've schedule a few times before, but once again we were prevented from doing so by the weather. It's just not burning off the way it needs to these days, so we seem to consistently end up with fog, haze and low cloud decks at night at least somewhere along the route, if not the whole way.

Next week looks pretty great weather-wise, though and I have scheduled quite a bit of flying: The night cross-country for Monday, my long solo cross-country on Wednesday, a daytime lesson for instrument work on Friday and unusual attitudes, and I'll probably another block on the weekend for good measure.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Right Seat in a Grumman AA-1

I recently met a fellow pilot type named Chris via an online contact. He owns a Grumman AA-1 that he has hangared at Pearson Field across the river from Portland in Vancouver, Washington. Turns out he's also a tech-type (he's a software engineer). I had the opportunity to meet him in person for the first time on Saturday afternoon at his hangar at Pearson.

Chris is a cool guy. He's building a RV-6 at his home, and recently acquired a RV-4 as well, which he co-owns with a partner. So, he's certainly got the flying bug. His dad is an instructor and taught him to fly when he was younger.

He showed me the AA-1, which is a small airplane, with two seats side-by-side. It uses the same engine as a Cessna 152 (108 horsepower), and has a shorter wingspan. It burns fuel about the same as a Cessna 150 or 152 (meaning something like 6 gallons/hour). It has a castering nosewheel, meaning you don't steer with the nose gear (rather, you steer by differential braking of the main wheels).

Chris wanted to get in the air and fly a little and he wanted to get some fuel into the plane, so he asked if I wanted to make a quick flight over to Scappoose with him. I'm not one to miss an opportunity to fly, so I grabbed my headset from my truck and waled around the airplane with him, then jumped into the right seat. We flew to Scappoose, got the fuel in the wings, and then flew back. By the way, 100LL fuel is quite a bit cheaper at Twin Oaks (7S3) right now. :)

The AA-1 is a similar in terms of elbow room to a Cessna two-seater, but it's a low-wing airplane and has a slide-back canopy, so visibility is great and very different than the Cessnas. It flies a little faster, and you have to lift off and land at higher speeds. It was a fun aircraft to fly in. He offered me the chance to do a few turns and feel the airplane. It turns much quicker and tighter than a Cessna, for sure.

It was a fun flight. I had the chance to meet someone new, experience a new airplane type, and see a new airport (including the unusual relationship between the PDX tower and Pearson Field, since the approach and departure pattern routes for Pearson are technically located within the PDX Class-B airspace once you reach 1,000 feet).

One of the things I have been doing some analysis on is whether or not fractional ownership of an airplane might make sense for me, as compared to renting. Depending on how much one flies, it can be better to do one or the other. Aircraft ownership is not exactly a simple undertaking, and there are a number of very real recurring and non-recurring expenses involved in addition to the basic flying costs to consider in calculations. I've found the AOPA web site has a bunch of good resources for pilots and owners that help in the process.

Rusty wings and test prep

I took advantage of some VFR weather on Friday to fly for an hour from Twin Oaks over to Aurora and back. I had the opportunity to fly a non-straight line (vertically and horizontally) in order to maintain proper cloud clearances, and while I only got a couple landings in, it was good to get in the air again after a few weeks of being grounded by weather.

One word describes how I felt in the air after my little flight sabbatical: Rusty. Not unsafe in any way, but a little awkward and squeaky, to be sure. I made the crosswind landings acceptably but found myself having to remember things that I've semi-automatically processed in my mind before. After this flight, I could see what instructors mean when they say flying often is conducive to learning more quickly (and some say better), in that building upon skills is easier if your 41-year-old brain hasn't been provided a chance to do what it does naturally: Forget.

It was an interesting flight since there were widely scattered clouds in the area at about 2,000 feet with a ceiling of broken clouds at around 4,500 feet. That provided the opportunity to fly and avoid the occasional cloud between airport, which was good from a practice and experience process.

I also spent a couple ground lesson hours on Saturday with my instructor Kelly, going over weather and a few other topics in preparation for my written and oral exams. I was glad that for the most part I was able to answer the questions he asked, and I made a few notes for areas I should focus more study time on (specific types of fog is one example, since we deal with all of them around here on a regular basis).