Sunday, January 2, 2011


The CriCri is the worlds smallest twin-engine airplane. It's a single-seater with an empty weight of about 185 pounds. The two engines? 15 horsepower each. Thats no typo; 15 horses each, for a total of 30.

We may have had to drive to Michigan this weekend, but this video is more or less what was going on in my head while we drove.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Night Flight

Night Flight is a small but integral part of flight training. To get a private pilot's license, one must fly 3 hours at night, including one cross-country of 50 or more miles. I did my night cross-country from Winter Haven to Melbourne and back, and since then I've made an effort to stay night current as it is handy.

Flying at night is different from daytime flying. Obviously, one's visibility is much lower, but if there are no clouds and a good moon you can get a surprisingly nice view of the world. The streets are lit up, the airwaves are quiet, and it's just you and the engine up there looking down on the grids of lights.

The view inside the cockpit of my rented C-152 at night.

Our most recent night flight was from Albert Whitted field back to Winter Haven. We had departed Winter Haven in the sunny late afternoon and flown over the suburbs southeast of Tampa, crossing the bay to St. Pete and making a somewhat bouncy respectable landing on the southerly runway. A nice walk past the marina, a cup of coffee, and then some time walking a rock jetty on the water and before we knew it it was dark out.

Facing east as the sun sets over St. Pete's marina. Control tower is visible.

A small high-wing plane landing at Albert Whitted.

The late-afternoon sunlight in St. Pete.

We headed back to the FBO at Albert Whitted and checked out our plane. Last time we had flown at night the landing light had been broken, which was inconvenient, but this time all the lights shone true and we were cleared for a departure East over the water by the tower.

Flying over water at night can be especially dangerous. There is not a clear visual horizon, so one can easily be confused and end up in an "Unusual Attitude" if not careful. Over Tampa Bay, there are the lights from various bridges and the suburbs on the east side of the bay, which is nice; but I found myself focusing heavily on the attitude indicator and the heading indicator.

While overflying the bay, we tried to contact Tampa Approach. The first controller bounced us to a different frequency, who bounced us to a third, who ignored us altogether. Technically ATC does not have to talk to VFR traffic (which is what we are) but usually they at least have the courtesy to tell you to go away. However, this time I simply monitored the appropriate frequency and flew on my way, saying hello to the controller at Lakeland as we flew over on our way home to Winter Haven.

At Winter Haven, we flew into the traffic pattern and completed a semicircle around the field to land. The landing was long as I had come in high, but I'd rather be a little too high than a little too low.

Looks like the next time I'll be able to fly will be January 9, almost 3 weeks out of the cockpit. I'll go solo and stay in the pattern at the airport to get my wings back, but maybe I'll have a fun story to tell you then.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fun to Fly!

Today I took Melissa for her third flight in a small airplane. Her first flight (chronicled here) was awhile ago, and I took her up again for a trip to Florida's west coast a couple of weeks ago. But today was a first for both of us: my first flight to another airport since getting my pilot's certificate, and her first flight to another airport ever.

We flew from Winter Haven airport to Albert Whitted, in St. Petersburg. Whitted is a small general aviation field in St. Pete that's right on the waterfront, and I had flown there before with a friend of mine who owns an airplane. There are a lot of places to get coffee or food, and the airport is a five-minute walk from several nice parks and a marina.

Airport Information at

We took off from Winter Haven around four o'clock and flew West, into the afternoon sun. We climbed to 3,000 feet and flew over the Lakeland airport before turning South and calling up Tampa Approach. Melissa made a great co-pilot, looking for other air traffic as we flew along.

About a half hour after leaving Winter Haven, we turned across the bay and were handed off to the controller at Whitted. We landed smoothly on runway 25, and as we looked out the window, Melissa couldn't believe how close the runway was to the ocean. "It's practically in the water...looks like dolphins are going to jump over the runway!"

View Larger Map

I taxied into the FBO and shut the airplane down, pushing it back into a parking spot and tying it down. We left the FBO and walked down the road to a pilot shop where Mel did some secret Christmas shopping, and then we took a leisurely stroll through downtown St. Pete before stopping for a late-afternoon coffee and a snack at a Starbucks.

We got back to the airport just after the sun went down and signed out, heading out to the ramp and giving the airplane a quick preflight. Much to my dismay, the landing light--the light on the front of the plane that acts like a headlight on the ground--was inoperative. Luckily my beacon light and nav lights worked, and after a quick runup and a weather check we called the tower and were on our way over the bay.

Tampa Approach cleared us to 3,000 feet and we cruised East, looking down at the city lights and the roadways and up at the stars and satellites. It was a perfect, clear night with no clouds...great for flying. Mel asked questions about the instrumentation on the airplane and on the things that the controller and I said to one another, and I gave her a lesson on airplane instruments and communications.

Back at Winter Haven...

View Larger Map

...we landed successfully despite our inoperative landing light. Taxiing was a bit tricky as seeing where we were going required peeking out the side window and moving very slowly, but I made it to the ramp and we tied down the airplane.

Going home, Mel and I talked about the day...we flew to an awesome airport, had a nice leisurely afternoon, and then flew home. No traffic, no stop signs, no aggravation, just us and the air-traffic controllers. Flying in a general-aviation airplane, you get a new perspective on the world, seeing the lakes and the neighborhoods and the people from the sky. You get the unique combination of intense focus on what you're doing and the ability to explore whole new perspectives.

We flew from Winter Haven to Whitted in half an hour, a drive that would take at least an hour and twenty minutes even without much traffic. It was a fantastic day. Soon we'll go back to Whitted to eat at the airport diner, and we have many other flights planned out to take soon. Someday we might even get to own our own airplane.

Melissa and I in a Cessna 152, over the Western beaches of Florida.

It's fun to fly!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My wife's first flight

One of my first flights after getting my private pilot's license was taking my wife up with me. I had had it in my mind while learning to fly that it would be a fun thing to do to bring her up for flights; she loves to go out for a drive and see the sights, and seeing them from an airplane is much more fun than seeing them from a car stuck in traffic.

That being said, I want flying to be fun for her, not something that she reluctantly does because I like it. I briefed her on the flight before we left for the airport and repeatedly assured her that this was for fun; if she ever felt uncomfortable, or wanted to turn back and land, or just did not want to go, I would never hold it against her. This was something that I harped on in my passenger brief: I didn't want her to come away from her first flight, or any flight with me, feeling frightened or anxious.

So it was that we drove to the airport on a bright, sunny Central Florida day. The weather looked perfect for flying, and I called the ASOS from my cell phone as we drove through the gates of the airport. Skies clear, visibility 10 miles, winds calm...perfect.

We walked into the FBO and I signed out the aircraft we were renting for the flight, an old Cessna 150 that I had spent a lot of training time in. We walked out onto the ramp, and passed by dozens of airplanes: new Cessna 172's, some Warriors, even a couple of Lake Amphibians. And all the way at the end of the flight line we found the little 150, parked next to its more luxurious cousin the 172.

"This is it," I said, gesturing at the mighty 150.

"Really?" said my wife. She seemed shocked that I could fit into it, and intimated to me that the thought of me and my 6'4'' instructor both cramming into the 150 was pretty humorous.

We preflighted the plane, re-checked the ASOS, and taxied out to the end of the runway. I did the runup, giving her a basic explanation of what was going on, and started to move onto the runway.

"Wait! Stop!" she said to me. I stopped just outside the hold-short line, off the runway.

"What's wrong?"

"I...I just feel like I need to say a prayer before we take off in this thing."

"Do you want me to go back? We don't have to fly today if you don't want to."

"We can go, me say a little prayer first."

I stopped and let the fan turn at idle for a moment as my wife uttered a brief prayer. Now divinely insured, she gave me her go-ahead and we taxied out and took off.

The first few minutes she felt a little nervous, but as we got to our house and did some turns-around-a-point so she could see it, she began to have fun. We flew over some local landmarks, and then turned and flew back over some scenic buildings before returning to the airport.

All in all, the first flight with the wife was a resounding success. Despite some initial anxiety, she had a blast, and has gotten excited about continuing to fly. We have a few other local flights planned, and I'm glad that she seems to enjoy flying with me as much as I enjoy flying.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Officially a Private Pilot!

It's official. I'm legit now. As of October 16, 2010, I have passed my private pilot's checkride!

I went through a DPE who works at a nearby FBO and who does a lot of the checkrides at my flight school. I was nervous going in, and the oral exam began at 8 AM, which made me a little more nervous as I'm not a morning person.

The oral went well and was informal, almost conversational. The DPE began talking about a recent flight he had made, and then started drilling me with questions about that flight. He was so sneaky about it that I didn't even realize it was the exam until a few minutes into it, and I think that helped me perform a little better.

After the oral, we went to the flight school and I preflighted my mighty Cessna 152. We took to the skies and flew to the first waypoint on my planned cross-country, where we did some short and soft field operations and a few power failures. The DPE climbed me, had me do a six-stall series, and then put me into some unusual attitudes.

Before I knew it, the wheels squeaked down at my home airport, and I was done. I was a bundle of nerved as we taxied back and I secured the plane; the DPE didn't tell me if I passed or failed, but instead asked me to meet him back at his FBO, which left me quite uncertain.

I drove back to the DPE's FBO, and there he was, filling out the FAA forms to get me my pilot's certificate! I had PASSED! I was absolutely elated. October 16 of 2010 will live in my memory for some years, I suspect.

Since the arrival of my temporary airman's certificate, I've used the privileges granted me by the FAA to take my wife flightseeing over our house and introduce her to the wonder of General Aviation. I have several small trips planned out, and I plan to use the privileges granted to me by the FAA as best I can for the forseeable future.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Stage Check

Today I had my final stage check at the flight school. A stage check occurs before major phases of flight training, and the intent is to have a second set of eyes evaluate the student before they are handed more responsibility. My flight school does two stage checks for private pilot students: one pre-solo, and one pre-checkride.

My stage check today was with an older CFI named Fred. Fred's one of those guys that's been flying since 1903, who has seen it all and done most of it too. He's laid back, but intimidating simply because of the volume of his experience. I was very nervous going in, not because Fred is mean (I've flown with him before and he is very relaxed) but simply because I was afraid I wouldn't meet his expectations.

I showed up at 10 and then waited for Fred. He had forgotten that he was flying with me and gone out for breakfast, but I made the most of it by pre-flighting the airplane and trying to relax. When he did show up around 10:45, I felt much more relaxed and very ready to fly. I re-checked the plane and we taxiied out and took to the skies.

We began with a soft-field takeoff, a special takeoff where one must imagine being on a soft field, perhaps a grass strip. You must keep weight off the nosewheel, and never ever stop. Directional control is very important and can be challenging simply because the nosewheel is off the ground. I aced the takeoff and earned some praise from Fred, which helped me relax quite a bit more.

We then circled the field and returned for a soft-field landing, where one lands slow and keeps the weight off the nosewheel. We took off again, doing a short-field takeoff over an imagined 50-foot obstacle, circling back for a short-field landing over a 50-foot obstacle.

After the takeoffs and landings we began the cross-country portion of the flight, which I had planned from Winter Haven to Sebring. We stopped over the Lake Wales airport for some air work; slow flight, stalls, turning stalls, and some intrument work. Fred failed the engine on me once or twice but I managed to cope relatively well. We did turns around a point over the Bok Tower near Lake Wales, and then went for some S-turns over a road, during which Fred failed my engine again.

The only eventful portion of the flight was when my window exploded open mid-turn. I tried to close it, but the latch snapped and departed the aircraft, leaving me with a window stuck open. Fred shrugged it off, and since we're a non-pressurized, underpowered, low-flying Cessna 152 instead of an airplane where windows matter, it really wasn't a big deal.

We went back to Winter Haven, Fred failed the engine on me again, and we landed uneventfully. All in all, the stage check went well: Fred passed me and my checkride is scheduled for the 16th of this month.

He did leave me with some constructive criticism. Talk to the pilot examiner more, explain what you're doing. Be more diligent with your clearing turns. More brakes and more helm on the short-field landing. Apart from that...I should be good to go on the 16th for my checkride.

We shall see!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Long cross country

Recently I completed my long cross-country flight. I flew from winter haven up to Ocala, then from there to Lakeland and back across to winter haven.

The flight was perfect. Good weather, good scenery, and friendly air traffic controllers at Ocala and Lakeland. I had some time to kill at the end of the flight to meet my time minimums, so at Lakeland I asked for and was cleared for multiple touch and gos. After five nice landings and one right pattern, I departed for winter haven.

A perfect flight! Photos to follow; I'd post them now but I am blogging from my new iPhone And am not sure how to blog a photo yet.