2nd Solo

After waiting for a seemingly painfully long inteval, the wind finally died down to a manageable level and Brett cleared me to solo again. In contrast to my first solo, this time I allowed myself to get excited at the prospect of heading out on my own. Brett also extended my leash a bit to leave the pattern and work on manuevering to the south east of the city.

The pattern was quiet as I took off and I climbed out of the pattern on my downwind leg. The feeling of freedom was increadible. I think I had a ridiculous grin plastered to my face from the moment I left the bounds of the airport. My first solo felt like a significant landmark, but already I was enjoying this flight more.

There was weather building to the south and it looked like rain was beginning to fall in the distance. Seemed like this was going to be a short flight so I snapped out of my brief revelry and practiced maneuvering in slow flight. I didn’t get to practice for long before the weather had creeped to my border of comfort and I headed back to The Dalles.

Entering the pattern was a bit intimidating since the airport traffic had increased significantly.  Once on the radio and in contact with the other pilots my anxiety eased and I could focus on pattern flight and landing. I considered doing a touch and go, then remebered weather bearing down and was unsure of how much time I would have before it arrived. I decided to come to a full stop and save the rain challenge for later. A short, yet enjoyable flight.

Night Flyin’

After what felt like another painfully long wait, Brett and I took to the air for  an introduction to night flight. We discussed the 5 extra things one needs for VFR flight at night. FLAPS. (F)ueses, (L)anding lights, (A)nti-collision lights, (P)osition lights and a (S)ource of electrical energy for radio and electrical equipment.

The first stop was Goldendale, and finding it was relatively easy. Not only had I landed there before and knew where to look, but I had the advantage of riding back seat on one of Brett’s night flight lessons and was able to pick up the method for finding an airfield. First use whatever landmarks are available to find the general area, know where the airfield is in relation to these landmarks. Next look for the rotating green and white beacon, indicating an airport. Lastly one can key the mic on the appropriate frequency to activate the lights on the runway. This all went fairly smoothly and I entered the pattern. Everything felt great right up until I was almost over the runway. I felt ahead of the plane and was really happy with my approach. The only problem was that even though the runway lights were on and I could see its borders, but the runway itself was still disconcertingly dark. Even though I wasn’t sure why it felt weird I decided to go around. Just as I pushed the throttle, I realized my issue. I had failed to turn on my landing lights! UTFCL (see the post Wasco Lunch).

The second attempt with the lights on went smoothly, and I was able to land with plenty of runway. Since practicing approaches and flying in ground effect, I have been really surprised how landings have clicked. While back taxiing the runway Brett told me to next plan on heading to Wasco. In the run-up area I broke out the map, figured my heading, potential obstacles, landmarks near the airport, radio frequencies, what runways are available, runway altitude, pattern altitude, and pattern direction. Off to Wasco!

The rest of the flight went like this. I would land in one airport and Brett would tell me to plan the next leg. Goldendale, Wasco, Condon, John Day. Some of the airfields I had landed previously others I hadn’t.  As we flew I gained confidence and not only that, I had time to appreciate the peace of flying at night. There is an added and beautiful solitude to flying in the dark among the stars.

On the return Brett had me call up Seattle Center and pick up flight following. This was super easy and a great precaution to have already established communications with them in case anything were to go wrong. A little over 4 hours after leaving The Dalles, we touched back down on 3-0. While I wish I could have kept flying, I was pretty tired by this point and ok with calling it a night.

Redemption

It was a painful 5 day wait, but I finally got a chance to work some of the kinks out of my landings. The entire flight was spent in the pattern. Most of my focus was on slowing my airspeed on final to 70 mph then getting into the cushion of ground effect and staying there for the entire length of the runway. What I noticed with each pass is that I not only began to relax a bit, but by basically drawing out a landing for the full length of the runway, one could really feel out the subtlety in control adjustments. Normally the end of a landing feels like it is happening so quickly that my corrections end up being over-corrections that sometimes compound each other. Being patient really comes into play here. We ended up doing 7 or so passes, mostly staying in ground effect, but switching to runway 25 to deal with a crosswind as well. It ended up being a huge confidence booster and the most valuable exercise yet.

-IB

X-Country Trip

Lately, my ground studies have included interpreting charts, doing weight and balance calculations, and attempting route plans. Brett figured we should put these skill to use and have me plan out a cross country flight from The Dalles to Yakima, Tieton State, Packwood and returning to The Dalles. Route planning would not be the only challenge this flight. Flying into Yakima airspace would afford an opportunity for communication with a control tower and both Teiton State and Packwood would offer challenging approaches and landings.

I don’t find route planning all that difficult, just time consuming. Once one learns the tools to use it goes smoothly though I still feel faster doing the actual math than using the E6B. I had stumbled through most of learning how to do this while studying, but Brett showed me some tricks that sped the process up.

The initial leg felt pretty casual till we started into Yakima airspace. Talking with the tower was fine, as long as they kept the phrases short. Once I had to repeat back any volume of information, my brain would hit erase and I’d end up asking Brett what was the proper response. I am still surprised how task saturated I get. Just as I feel like I am starting to keep ahead of the airplane, Brett gives me something else to learn and I get behind again. Seems like it just takes time to be able to multi-task. At least the runway was a mile and a half long so there wasn’t any pressure to nail a short landing.

Next was Tieton state. This is where the trip started to become really fun. Within 10 minutes of departing Yakima we were flying over the forests, granite cliffs and waterfalls of the Cascades. Navigation was relatively simple since I just had to follow a prominent valley right to Rimrock Lake and the Tieton State airstrip. Flying over this relatively rugged terrain I was struck by the reality of how serious this could be. While beautiful, the terrain offered no open, or relatively flat places to land in the event of an emergency. If the engine were to cut out on us, the best we could hope to do would be to find a location to minimize injury to ourselves. The plane would not survive a landing here. I don’t think this fact will keep me from flying over mountainous landscape in the future, but I’ll make sure to have my ducks in a row. It’s not the place to get complacent.

The runway at Tieton State is 2500 feet long and 150 feet wide, as well as running uphill, so there is plenty of space to touch down and stop. A descision to go around though must be made early on because one needs to climb over the trees, steer away from a large cliff, and continue to climb as the terrain rises. As Brett and I talked through our strategy, he mentioned that if anything felt even a little off we would abort the landing. Luckily on this approach I was able to nail my altitude and speed such that we were set up perfectly to land. Final approach, low, and over the water, was beautifu,l and touchdown was as gentle as could be expected from a backcountry grass strip. I knew I had nailed it when Brett excitedly told me, “I want every approach and landing just like that one. Nice job!”

Maybe I let that go to my head. The last two landings of the day were much less graceful. At Packwood I initially approached to high, necessitating a go-around, followed by getting pushed sideways almost to the edge of the narrow runway. Back at the Dalles I really pooched it. Coming in to fast on final I rushed the timing of rounding out into ground effect and flare, resulting in a hard bounce off the nosewheel, and a few bounces after. That first bounce blew out the front tire.  I was extremely frustrated to finish such a great day on such low note, not to mention embarrassed as we made the walk of shame, pushing the 172 down the taxiway by hand.

Well I know now exactly what I need to focus on. That final landing was about as good a lesson as I could ask for. We weren’t hurt but the point of what my current weakness is was driven home. Hopefully the next round will prove to be redemptive.

-IB

Arlington Airshow

First Solo

So psyched! I soloed!

The day started off on a bad foot. After a late night of working in the shop I woke up late, realizing I had slept through a call from a friend from the airport, and subsequently an opportunity to fly with him in his Super Cub. Needless to say I was a bit frustrated with missing this chance to get in the air. Compounding my grumpiness, I knew Brett had a solidly packed day and the chances were slim that we would be able to squeeze in a flight. Somewhat unsuccessfully, I tried to shake my dissapointment as I headed for work.

When I showed up, I ran into Brett, another local pilot John, and his grandaughter Sarah. Sarah is another of Brett’s students and from what I understand, a very quick study. They were obviously all excited, and John, who was barely able to contain his happiness for Sarah, informed me first of her solo flight that morning. I was psyched to hear the news. Seeing others push and achieve goals has always been motivating for me, and this made me anxious to get into the air again.

Well, somehow Brett was able to squeeze me in on a flight right after Sarah. We did 2 landings which were ok. I asked Brett if we could do another because I wanted a good landing to finish on. He said, “Nope, but you should take it around a few more times.” I think my heart briefly missed a beat when I realized what he was saying. Ok. Game on.

I was super fired up, but tucked the mental celebrating away since I wanted to be focused. I felt relaxed and confident, yet there is a moment after take-off where I looked into the empty right seat and thought, “Well now you’ve gone and stepped in it.” The pattern was super busy at that point, and with staying in the pattern the 3 take-offs and landings passed all too quickly.

In all accounts that I’ve read pilots state how their first solo landings were perfect. Not so for me. The first was good, but a bit hard. On the second I could hear Brett’s voice in my head counting the bounces. Brett called through on the radio while I was turning base for the third and told me to just relax a bit more and the landing would be smooth. Well I relaxed, but still managed a bounce out of it.

When I landed Brett headed over and shook hand, and proceeded with the tradition of cutting my shirt tail. This is when it all started to sink in. Technically the flight wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t need to be. Taking the step of being Pilot in Command was perfect in and of itself. It is a special moment to realize that you have gained the skills necessary to safely take an airplane into the air and return it to the ground. In the days following I have enjoyed talking to other pilots and hearing about their first solo. All of them hold that moment as unique and special.

Gaining Momentum

Not sure whether it is consistency in flying the 172 or things are just beginning to click, but I’m starting to feel more and more confident each time up. Mostly Brett has had me working on repeated landings, at various airports. I am finding that the more effort I put into flying a good pattern, the better my landings are. Being strict with pattern altitude and approach speed (not getting too fast) are the biggest factors for me to be able to fly a good approach, and what is now giving me the most confidence is I am able to recognize when the pattern doesn’t feel right and correct in such a way that the plane feels very much in control. I feel sure that I could safely take off and land without Brett being in the plane. This isn’t to say that I’m setting the Cessna right on the numbers and greasing it on. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but I feel tangible progress and it is exciting.

My biggest challenge now seems to be with the roundout (leveling the plane into ground effect) and flare (slowing airspeed till the plane stalls right as the wheels touch). Many times I end up rushing the roundout into the flare. When this process is rushed and one attempts to flare before bleeding off airspeed, the plane is not ready to stop flying and will balloon up from the runway. I figured out the reason I was doing this was it felt that I was descending too quickly into the runway (which I wasn’t) and overcorrecting by pulling back on the yoke. I guess I don’t intuitively trust this invisible thing called ground effect to be there. I mentioned as much to Brett and he said that was a good thing.

I did have one adequate round out. The difference came from giving just a bit of throttle at the end while entering ground effect. Once the plane was flying in ground effect I pulled the throttle and it eased onto the runway. The humorous part of all this was that Brett felt we were descending too fast with too little airspeed, but was unable to verbalize anything other than a groan like he was bracing for impact. This was followed with a sigh of relief when a split second later I added throttle and settled into ground effect. I imagine being a flight instructor  can have it’s moments of real stress when giving students the leeway they need to recognize problems and correct for them, especially when the consequences are high.

One of the cool exercises we did was to fly the pattern without airspeed or altitude instruments. I was a bit apprehensive, but ended up flying as good a pattern as I’ve ever flown. I was extra careful to pay attention to landmarks for turns, timing for flaps, feel for speed-especially the signs of stall, and get the sight picture I wanted of the runway.  Almost unbelievably it worked. This was another huge confidence booster.

So the process is going great so far. On the ground I am doing quite a bit of studying as well. Learning FAA regulations, route planning, weather, etc… I’ll write soon on this as well.

Wasco Lunch

    In between some maintenance work at The Dalles Airport, Brett and I decided to sneak over to Wasco for lunch, using the trip as a flight lesson. I am repeatedly finding if I do not strictly adhere to the checklist, I often get distracted and end up being reminded by Brett to address something I had missed. On this occasion while taxiing I attempted to make a radio call. Brett mentioned that if I wanted anyone to hear me, I sh0uld probably turn on the Avionics Master switch. It was at that point I learned a new acronym, UTFCL or use the freakin’ checklist.

    Taking off I dealt with classic Dalles winds of 17 knots gusting to 25 making take off quick and easy, and our flight to Wasco rapid. The turn to base/final was super fun, the wind causing us to  skid around as I lined up with the runway. The gusts were challenging to deal with and I had to juice the throttle once to keep airspeed up and make the runway. On these windy days it is better to keep speed up so that if a gust of wind goes away the plane does not stall while on final and you have no room to recover.

    On the return flight we had to battle into the wind. This allowed for a really cool exercise though. Brett had me get out over the gorge, trim for slow flight with fully extended flaps, and see if I could climb in altitude. This took a gentle touch and bringing the nose to an attitude which dropped our airspeed right to the point of stall ~40 mph. With the strong headwind our groundspeed dropped almost to zero. Looking down it looked like we were hovering in space. Wild!

    Coming back into the pattern I naturally wanted to point right toward the end of 30 and land. This would have put us on right traffic and The Dalles is left traffic, which is the equivalent of driving the wrong way on a one way street. Brett pointed this out and I changed to flying a 45 over the runway and joining left traffic. The last bit of learning I pulled from this flight came while on final. While adjusting flaps I bumped the switch into the up position. This caused the flaps to automatically retract and would have caused me to lose lift and thankfully Brett saw this before it was an issue. We bounced once on this last landing but Brett seemed pleased given the windy/gusty conditions. When I looked at the wind report after parking I saw it was blowing 25 and gusting over 30.

    I am still working really hard while on approaches and landing, but it feels like it is beginning to come together. Now I just need to ingrain that acronym- UTFCL…

    -IB

    Breakthrough!

    After bouncing around in multiple aircraft and flying from the left and right seat, I finally put the 172 down gently and without control input from Brett.

    After my first crosswind landing lesson I was anxious to get back up and reinforce the techniques as soon as possible. First we flew off to the south practiced side slips and Brett introduced forward slips. The forward slip feels very unusual with the low attitude what feels like sideways tracking. I was surprised with how much rudder input was necessary for proper slipping.

    Back at The Dalles my first approach felt really good. Previously I had a habit of letting my altitude wander which ended up giving me a different sight picture each time. This time I stayed focused on pattern altitude which helped immensly. I wasn’t mentally ahead of the plane and got bullied around by the wind, bouncing in on the landing. On the second pass I overshot the base leg and went a little wide on turning final. We had time though and I tried to slowly correct and get the sight picture I was looking for. The wind continued to keep me busy all the way in and I could barely believe it when we touched down smoothly. I immediately looked over and asked Brett if he’d “helped” out at all. He shook his head, said, “nice landing”, and shook my hand.

    Damn, that felt good.

    -IB

    RV Fly In

    After finishing some work on a friend’s RV-7, we decided to fly in to join him and the local EAA chapter 105 BBQ in Parkside, WA. Here are some photos from the evening.