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.