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!!