Learning to fly

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.July 11, 2004 7:30 1.8hrs.
(Checkride)
Instrument flight test (oral passed 6/25/04, no flight test due to weather)

Today was the 4th rescheduled test date, with yesterday afternoon being weathered out yet again by thunderstorms and low ceilings over the N.C. mountains. We felt that today would be a better day if we got an early start, so we rescheduled for 7:30 am. That meant I'd have to get up at 5 am in order to fly to Andrews-Murphy (KRHP) by 7:30.

At 6:30, a call to the FSS showed RHP with 300 scattered, 600 scattered and an Airmet for the entire area, VFR not recommended. Knoxville (TYS) was clear as a bell, just like it was at 47A. So I waited. Every half hour, the RHP AWOS showed 300 & 600 or worse. Then at 10 am, Mr. Jones called and said it was clear, come on up. Randall got in the plane with me since there was still quite a few clouds between us and he wanted to make sure that I'd be able to get home if conditions changed. Sure enough, puffy clouds all over the mountains, but the valley that RHP was sitting in was clear below 12,000.

We landed and walked up to Mr. Jones office to finalize the paperwork, then it was out to the plane. All my plates were in place on my kneeboard, in the order that they'd be required per his briefing. After lifting off, I put the hood down and he vectored me around in a giant circle to get us out of the valley and headed to Knoxville. We had to dodge a few clouds that were building already, but they were no real problem yet. I dialed in the TYS ATIS, loaded the ILS/DME arc approach, and contacted TYS for vectors. (I had slight reservations in my mind about the DME arc approach and the partial panel VOR. The arc was a concern because I hadn't done very many in real life, and the partial panel was iffy for me because I was afraid I might foul up the math determining my timed turns.)

Back to the DME arc. We were vectored to intercept the 102 Volunteer VOR radial and cleared for the approach. In my mind, I was going to hit the radial, turn outbound to 7 miles and the follow the radial. But Mr. Jones wanted me to head directly for the IAF at OTAKY using the GPS display. I told him that that wasn't my clearance and he tried to explain, but then stopped and said OK.

By this time, I was so close to the 7 mile arc anyway, I just started flying it, which turned out to be the point he was trying to make. A few more turns of the OBS than usual, but I held it to 6.9/7.0 all the way around to the ILS intercept. Smooth as hell from there with the needles painting a bullseye when the glideslope came in. My 5T's and GUMPS check (and wonder of wonders, radio calls!) were all done correctly and without much fanfare. At DH he let me lift the hood and do a smooth T&G, if I say so myself. Then back down with the hood and back around as he pasted the stickies on my AI and DG for the VOR partial panel.

My vectors from approach were fairly easy to figure thank God, with only one taking a bit longer than I would have liked. I saw him start timing with his watch how long it took to me settle into the course, but it came in right after that. Then they vectored me onto final approach. With everything dialed in and my timed turns working fairly well, things seemed to be going fairly smoothly.

But then... a bit left of course, almost over the VOR, there's the zone of confusion and the needle pegs right as it logically should, the TO flag shuddered and flopped over and is now showing FROM... and the...needle...stays...pegged. Now I'm turning left, only making it worse, and by now it's too late with a full deflection, I realize what I've done, so I called my missed and shoved everything forward.
Sigh.

We quietly climbed to our assigned altitude and requested clearance back to RHP. Approach gave us a vector and we headed back. I now had 30 miles to think, with one hold and one GPS approach still to fly. I knew I was coming back for a retest, but I was resolved to only have to fly the partial panel.

The demonstrated hold was part of the GPS approach, so I loaded that and after we crossed the IAF, a teardrop entry and another full lap that went well. Then we shot the remainder of the approach into Andrews. I took it all the way down to minimums without busting, and then he let me lift the hood and land.

Mr. Jones is now on vacation and will be out of state for two weeks. He offered to set me up with another examiner to get the retest done sooner, but I said no. I'm not in a hurry for this rating, I'll just get a few more practice flights in and do it right the next time.

August 8, 2004 9:30 1.2 hrs.
(Checkride retest)

Mr. Jones is back. The weekend was forecast for beautiful fall-like temps and turned out to be just that. Saturday was a southeast wind out of mostly blue skies and Don had said that we would do the VOR partial panel retest at Toccoa (KTOC) instead of Knoxville if it stayed that way. The forecast was pretty firm for that so I flew the heck out of the Toccoa VOR/DME 2 approach, thinking that was the one that he wanted to do since I thought it would be faster.

Doh! As it turned out the VOR or GPS 20 was today's draw. Not a disaster, but I had only studied it for a little bit and didn't fly it at all on the simulator. Hell, that made me even more nervous than I already was.

I arrived at the airport early and preflighted the plane. It needed topping off, but when Randall and I pulled it down to the pumps, they weren't working. So we went looking for the gas truck driver and found him in the main FBO. We asked for and got, a priority on our plane. Well, it almost seemed that 'someone' didn't want me to take the test today and was trying to give me signs, because now with the truck nozzles in the wings, the truck wouldn't pump either. The driver fiddled around a bit in the cab, then came out and realized he hadn't flipped a crucial switch. Voila, 18 gallons of avgas.

I jumped in and took off from runway 4, flipped up the gear handle and... nothing. No transit light, just three greens still glowing brightly. Toggle the handle, nothing. Another sign? I turned and called crosswind and then downwind while I toggled the switch a few more times. Since Andrews-Murphy (KRHP) is in nearly the opposite direction from downwind, Randall came on the radio and asked if I was coming back in. Just then the gear came up. I quickly explained and peeled off from midfield back to the north.

At Andrews-Murphy, Mr. Jones and I really had nothing to do before taking off for the test except brief the approach and give the plane an abbreviated preflight. So we climbed in and did an intersection departure. Down with the hood and he gave me mock ATC vectors to intercept the Blairsville VOR 118 radial to Foothills VOR at Toccoa.

At about 9 miles from Foothills VOR he failed my attitude and DG instruments and the test began in earnest. Deep breaths and try to remember to relax. The wind was pretty strong at that altitude and I was having to hold a big correction to maintain the needle, so I was making mental notes about the correction I'd have to hold once I was established on the approach.

We arrived over the Foothills VOR, turned outbound and it took a bit longer than I'd like for the needle to come creeping back in (I saw him glance at his watch), but it did and I captured it to about a dot off center. A procedure turn that went very well with the wind pushing me back in and on course right quick. But it took nearly a 30 degree crab to hold the needle, and I was sweating bullets by now even though I was able to keep the needle within 1 and 2 dots of center.

A quick 8 second left dogleg over the VOR, turn, time, twist, throttle, talk, gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop, and I was on the home stretch. I leveled off at 1900' right where he wanted it to terminate, and then he had me lift the hood. There was the airport and (I assumed at this point) my ticket. Down came the hood, off came the stickies and he told me to execute the missed approach procedure: a climbing left turn to 5000' and back to the VOR.

After the VOR was behind us, he played ATC again and vectored us back to RHP. Once he got me back in the pattern, I 'broke out' and I was able to do a fairly smooth landing on 26. When I taxiied off and shutdown, he held out his hand and said, "Well done, congratulations".

October 15, 2006
KGVL - KTOC

I've waited nearly 3 years for this day, and so has the Little Man.

Over the course of the last few months, every time I've left the house on a Sunday to go fly, the Little Man has known where I was going and would say in a small, plaintive tone, "I need to go fly with Papa."
There is no greater heartbreak for a pilot to bear than those words from a future birdman.

But today...today, for the very first time, we got to sit side by side as Pilot and Co-pilot, (with his Mommy in back as our somewhat reluctant passenger), while we flew from Gainesville, Georgia to Toccoa, Georgia.

The skies were clear and the temps were fairly cool. With a Mommy on board that is very prone to motion sickness, I had also hoped that the turbulence would be at a minimum. It was, but to no avail.

As we waited at the hold line of runway 4, I double checked that my co-pilot’s seat was in the rear-most position and locked and his door was secure. Then once on the centerline, after I asked if everyone was ready to go and got two affirmative answers, I pushed the throttle forward and we headed for the sky.
When we leveled off, I pushed my intrepid and fearless Co-pilots’ seat forward where he took control of the yoke and with an instinctive sense of direction, flew unerringly straight to our destination.

There we landed and lunched on peanut butter sandwiches and Coca-Colas, which Mommy would revisit in spite of our efforts just before we landed back at Gainesville.

I did have to caution my Co-pilot at one point during our return flight however, when he kept quietly pressing the push-to-talk button without my knowledge, causing me much confusion and sending me looking for the loose headset connection.

Our next anticipated milestone: no passengers, just us Birdmen.


A beginner's FAQ

How much does a private pilot's license cost?
The amount will vary from region to region across the country, and will also depend on the type and age of aircraft you use. Generally however, most people should plan on spending around $5000.

How often should I schedule my lessons?
To maximize your dollars, it is usually recommended that you fly at least twice a week.
Long delays between lessons will mean re-learning much of the material already covered instead of concentrating on new skills.

How long will it take me to solo?
The number of hours to solo varies as widely as the number of pilots. Every person is different and brings to the airport an individual set of motor skills and attitude. Older students seem to usually take longer than younger ones, but there is really no way to tell.

How long will it take me to get my private pilot's license?
The FAA requires a minimum 40 hours of flight instruction, divided between solo and dual. Keep in mind that this is only a minimum time requirement and the national average is around 70 hours. You must also pass a written exam before you will be allowed to test for the license.

How do I find a good flight school or instructor?
Unless you know a pilot or a flight instructor, look in the yellow pages. Call nearby airports and ask to speak to a flight instructor. He will probably suggest an introductory flight. An introductory flight will allow you to observe their flying and teaching skills. If you find an instructor that you feel comfortable with, ask for references. A good flight instructor will be more than happy to provide you with a list of satisfied customers.

What kind of airplane will I learn to fly?
Most students learn to fly in a Cessna 150 or 172. The flight school you choose may use Piper Archers or Warriors. The differences between all of the models listed is minor and they are all proven, reliable student trainer aircraft.

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