Friday, January 29, 2010

Thought for the day:

"The man who flies an airplane must believe in the unseen."

~Richard Bach

I've just ordered a few of Mr. Bach's highly praised aviation novels. I'll let you know what I think of them whenever I finish reading; right now I'm working on a book about bush pilots (thanks Mom and Dad!) and The Proficient Pilot...but after those finish it'll be high time for Jonathan Livingston Seagull and a few other choice selections.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Flying...

No flying lately for me. My CFI is taking a little time off to study for an exam he is taking towards a degree, and so I have a little more time than usual between lessons. I suppose I could go up with another CFI, but I know and trust the guy I'm going with, so I'd prefer to stick with him.

But just because I'm stuck on the ground doesn't mean I can't learn. I've been reading "The Proficient Pilot," and I'm going to start cracking the ASA Private Pilot manual before too long. Not only that but I can refresh my memory by practicing flight maneuvers in one of my flight simulators; not the same by any means, but a good way to solidify procedures in my head.

I have a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator X, which I enjoy, but I also have a copy of X-Plane 9, which is somewhat more realistic and challenging in it's flight dynamics. The cockpits and interior graphics are better in FSX, but XP9 has better scenery and more attention-demanding physics. X-Plane can also be modified to become an FAA-approved Instrument Flight Training device by purchasing another software package, which should speak to the simulation quality.

So, while I can't get airborne at the moment, I can refresh my memory. I've flown dozens of traffic patterns, practiced my stalls and steep turns, and tried my hand at some cross-country using the analog navigation tools--no fancy GPS for me until I've nailed the fundamentals of analog navigation. GPS is an excellent tool but knowing how to use the analog navigation tools such as NDBs and VORs is handy. I could ramble on for hours about the benefits of pencil-and-paper, map-and-compass pilotage, but that's a whole different post.

Anyway. Until I can fly for real, it's practice, practice, practice.

A screenshot from X-Plane 9.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I had another flying lesson today! After my last lesson, my CFI had wanted to work on the traffic pattern a little more and review some basic procedures. After a brief discussion of our lesson plan, we preflighted and took off in one of the flight school's Cessna 150's. Already I can feel a lot of improvement in my handling of the plane; I am no Red Baron but I am less hurky-jerky on the controls and my ground handling has gone from "drunk" to "pretty ok."

I made the takeoff and we flew North to the practice area to cover some more basic maneuvers. We climbed to about 2500 feet, made some steep turns to the left and right, and then practiced a rectangular pattern around a field on the ground below. The rectangular pattern is a simulated traffic pattern over a point on the ground that is used to show students how to set up a controlled descent and familiarize them with the basics of the pattern.

The traffic pattern exists at nonstandard fields to standardize the flow of traffic around the airport. Unless otherwise indicated, traffic patterns are flown to the left of the runway, and they consist of four legs: Upwind or departure; Crosswind; Downwind; Base; and Final. Here is a somewhat illegible hand-drawing:

To fly a pattern in a Cessna 150, these are the steps you must take. My instructor drilled this procedure into my head and it seemed to work perfectly.

1. Takeoff, upwind/departure leg to ~600 feet AGL

This step is self-explanatory. Take off and climb to about six hundred feet above the ground.

2. Climbing left turn 90 degrees, make for 1000 feet AGL

This is called the crosswind turn. Your objective is to turn 90 degrees while climbing to a height 1000 feet above the ground. On the radio you would announce "Winter Haven traffic, Cessna 3507Q making left crosswind runway 5."

3. Level off at 1000 feet, 90 degree left turn to downwind, reduce power to 2000 RPM, maintain 90mph and 1000 feet AGL.

You don't want to be too far from the field when on downwind, but being too close could create a traffic conflict. It's a judgment call and depends on the speed and type of plane you have. Your objective is to be parallel to the active runway, flying in the direction opposite landing. You reduce power to avoid traveling too fast and/or climbing. Radio "Winter Haven traffic, Cessna 3507Q turning downwind, runway 5, Winter Haven."

4. Maintain stability throughout downwind leg. Monitor position relative to active runway and compensate for drift. Monitor other traffic. Announce midfield downwind.

The downwind leg takes time. Use it to stabilize the airplane, look for other traffic, and correct for any dirft towards or away from the field. You are waiting until your wingtip is opposite the numbers at the end of the runway. When they are...

5. When abeam the numbers: reduce power to 1600 RPM. Add one notch flaps. Activate carb heat and control your descent.

Reducing power and adding flaps is the airplane equivalent of taking your foot off the gas and adding brakes. The carburetor heat prevents ice from forming inside the engine. You will begin to descend slightly, and you should be looking for the runway to be about 45 degrees behind your head. When it is...

6. When runway is 45 degrees behind you, turn 90 degrees and announce turning base.

You want to continue descending slowly through your turn. Don't overturn or your final will be sloppy.

7. Add one more notch flaps on the base leg of the traffic pattern. Continue descent. Monitor airspeed; maintain approx. 70 mph and do NOT drop below 60.

Dropping airspeed below 60 could cause a stall. Stalls are usually recoverable but it is never, EVER good to stall with so little altitude. Recovery could be impossible if you are too low.

8. When you are approximately abeam the runway, turn 90 degrees and line up with the numbers. Pick a spot on the runway and aim for it. It should get bigger without moving up or down at all. Double check the active runway to be sure you can avoid traffic conflicts. Call final approach: "Winter Haven traffic, Cessna 3507Q is on final, touch and go, left traffic, Winter Haven." Add a third notch of flaps and control your descent.

Monitor the runway. It should just get bigger without moving.

9. When just above the runway, pull the throttle to idle. Pull back and "flare" the airplane, gliding to a gentle scrape with the ground, main gear first and nose gear second.

10. If landing to a full stop, taxi off the active and announce clear. If doing a touch and go, remove flaps and carb heat and smoothly apply full power. Rotate at approximately 60 mph and climb out. Repeat.

In a nutshell, that's the traffic pattern. Nice and easy. The first two touch-and-gos we did were fairly sloppy; I was overcontrolling the plane and fighting myself. There's a lot to focus on and a lot to remember, and I felt slightly overwhelmed; but after a couple of patterns it suddenly clicked. By the end of pattern number five, my instructor told me I had gone from really crappy to pretty good, and said that the more we practice the better we'll get. I felt like I was improving a lot at the end of the lesson and I was glad to hear him say so too. Next time I fly: more traffic patterns and some work on tidying up and smoothing my landings.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My First Hundred-Dollar Hamburger

I never did follow up on the last post. I will make it a point to do so over the weekend. Meanwhile:

There is a tradition in Aviation known as the hundred-dollar hamburger. You and a friend, or a whole group of aviators, gather together and fly somewhere to get food. Usually the food is diner fare or cafe-style food, sort of the classic American luncheon fare, nothing too fancy. The "hundred dollar" part of the HDH refers to the hidden costs of airplane rental, fuel, and ramp fees. Still, despite the costs ingrained in general aviation, the hundred-dollar hamburger is a fun way to spend an afternoon or a great way to make a day-trip.

A friend of mine from work, a physician, offered to take me up in his airplane. I said that I thought it would be awesome if he wouldn't mind, and we made plans to meet at the airport this morning.

I drove out to the Winter Haven airport and found him waiting in a beautiful Beech Musketeer. I climbed in, plugged in my headset, and with a push of the throttle we were off. We chatted about flying as we made our way to the active, and then with a roar of the beastly engine, we took off and headed West.

The Musketeer has a much better sight picture than the 150's and 152's I have been flying in lately. It also is much heavier. The inside is more plush and spacious. The controls are about the same although the heavier weight of the Musketeer was noticeable to me. Compared to the 150's which zip along around 100mph, the Musketeer cruised around 130-140. This was a kick-ass airplane and I found myself thinking that I could get used to flying in such style.

We headed West and stopped for fuel at Bartow. The doctor showed me how to fuel the plane, grounding it first to prevent sparks and then using the fuel system to pump gas into the wing tanks. There was a minor incident of spillover where some fuel wound up on the wing and the ground, but such is life, and the doctor laughed it off.

We called the tower, got our taxi clearance, and made our way back to the runway. Moments later we were cleared for departure and we lifted off and turned West, flying towards Tampa. We cruised around 3,000 feet, and as we approached Tampa we radioed Tampa Approach to ask for radar following service. The controller told us no, which they are allowed to do with non-IFR traffic, and then told us to stay out of Tampa's airspace. That sounds harsh but the airspace is there for safety purposes and only encompasses certain segments of the sky. If we flew at 1,000 feet we could fly below the Tampa airspace, so we descended over Apollo Beach and then turned right and flew below the airspace towards our destination of Whitted field.

Landing at Whitted, we departed the airplane and wandered along the coast for a few minutes before stopping for lunch at a small restaurant situated next to a marina. We ordered, dined, and chatted. I took advice from him to bring home to Mel about medical school and the madness of exams, and also learned many things from his experiences as an aviator. The Doctor has an instrument rating, has flown all over the nation, and has a few thousand hours logged in his books, and so I absorbed whatever knowledge I could from him.

After lunch, we returned to Whitted and departed East, heading back towards Lakeland. We flew over the hospital, then headed slightly North and circled the apartments where my wife and I live for awhile before turning East again and heading for Winter Haven. I could see the end of one of the runways from above our apartment, and it happened to be the active runway, so we got on the radio and announced a straight-in approach. There was some other traffic in the pattern, but we managed to slip in between a Cherokee making a full-stop and a taildragger doing touch-and-go landings.

The Doctor dropped me off in front of the flight school, and I thanked him profusely. What an awesome experience to get to go flying with a friend. I saw and got to handle for a few minutes an airplane I was totally unfamiliar with, and I got to get to know The Doctor a little better as well. On top of all that, this was my first "Hundred Dollar Hamburger." What an excellent day!
The route we flew shown courtesy of

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hand Props and Slow Flight

1/6/2010 C-150 N4655X GIF-GIF
4 Basics, stalls, traffic pattern entry, landing, practice approach.
2 landings. 1.3 hours.
Grand Total: 19.5 hours

Today was my third flight and second lesson with my flight instructor Brian. It is also my first flight of 2010, and another first for me: I got to see how to hand-prop an airplane.

Hand propping was more commonplace in the old-timey days, when the pilot would sit in the cockpit and turn the mags on while a crewman manually pulled the propeller through an arc in the hopes of starting it. With the exception of a very few very old airplanes still flying, hand-propping is uncommon these days. I never thought I would see it, until...

...I had preflighted the airplane. It was a cool morning for Florida with temps maybe in the high 40's. I was layered up good but a breeze was cutting across the airfield and I was fairly chilly. The plane looked ok: oil was good, plenty of gas, no major parts loose or missing, and despite a couple of missing screws on the epmennage, the vast bulk of the screws were still in place. "As long as most of 'em are in you're good to go" was the word from my CFI*.

We got into the plane, went through the startup procedure. Beacon lights on, master switch on, propeller area clear, turn the key. The engine whined, coughed, and ground the prop around once or twice before sighing and quitting. I pulled the key back and asked my instructor if I was missing something. He primed the engine, we re-tried, and still nothing. A few more tries while fiddling with the throttle and the primer led to nothing. "I'll go back and get a guy, and we'll hand-prop it," he said.

We left the plane and walked to the maintenance hangar to find a mechanic. A younger, gruffer mechanic came with us to the plane, complaining in a good-natured way that all of the planes needed a hand-prop in this cold weather. "First start of the day, every single plane, every single morning! All the batteries are frozen up. I can't wait until the heat gets back."

Hand-propping is dangerous. People have lost arms or died. You're grabbing and yanking on a large spinning blade driven by a large beastly engine that is designed to pull a ton of metal into the sky. The pilot turns the key and primes the engine while the mechanic grabs and pulls down on the propeller. Eventually, in theory, the pulling of the prop will act like the starter motor and bring the engine to life. I was lucky enough to be in the cockpit with my instructor, and I made darn sure that the brakes were locked before the mechanic pulled the prop through.

The first few pulls gave us nothing, but number four brought the engine to life. I roared alive and the mechanic ran back, pumping his arms in the air in the sign of victory, before the engine quit on us suddenly. "Awww, MAN! You killed it!" he said.

We repeated this sketch many times before the engine caught. Once it was fired up and running, we revved it a few times and watched it to make sure it wouldn't quit on us. As it warmed up it seemed to work better, and we began our taxi to the active runway.

Taxiing went a lot better this time around. Brian told me that instead of leaving no pressure on the rudder and then stomping it to go where I wanted, I needed to apply even pressure to both pedals and use differential braking to swing the plane around. It worked much better and the only issue was a wind pushing us to the right.

The engine runup was smooth. No problems detected, thankfully, so we taxiied to the runway and departed. Takeoff was smoother than before, and we flew North to practice some maneuvers. We practiced steep turns to a heading, and I was surprised by the difference in sight-picture between left and right turns. Right turns are harder to coordinate, at least for me, and maintaining an altitude while turning can be tricky to the novice like me. Brian mentioned that we would continue to work on those right turns but also told me I was doing well, which was nice to hear.

This entry is plenty long enough for now. Tomorrow: stalls, slow flight, and my experiences in the traffic pattern!

*This is consistent with what I've been told by other CFI's before.

Monday, January 4, 2010


I will be flying again in just a few days. This Wednesday at 9 AM I will be at the Winter Haven airport again, readying for departure to continue my education in the art and science of flying.

Meanwhile, I have been looking at some remarkable aviation pursuits online. Check out this video of a Beech King Air landing at Courchevel Airport in the Alps:

Incredible, eh? Short runway with a slope. Those King Airs have some power to them too, so I'm sure that controlling the power to get up the runway without overshooting is somewhat finicky. You can also see this winter landing at Courchevel in a much smaller plane:

Wow! All this and more I found on, which provided me hours of fun.