Friday, September 29, 2006

Flying how it ought to be.....

Well I have done my first proper trip. I had to do a short cross-country trip with my instructor and the result of that would determine if I would be endorsed to go it alone the following day. The night before, Kevin asked me to plot a route from our airport, Gillespie, to a small airport to the North called Hemet. I had free reign to choose the route I felt comfortable with, choosing visual references etc that would prove useful during the trip.

I called round to Matt's that night and we planned the route. He's done the trip already, so he was a mine of useful he knows how to use the whizzwheel and I needed a crash course in that. Let me tell you about the whizzwheel though first. It's essentially a curved slide rule. It call help you figure out the corrected track for winds and how that will also affect your ground speed. It helps you figure out times for each leg, given a specific indicated airspeed (IAS) and recalibrates the IAS for True Airspeed (TAS) as the IAS changes with the difference in altitude (less air molecules hit the IAS instrument so you show a lower IAS than the TAS. And it also helps you convert litres to US Gallons, calculate fuel required for the trip etc etc etc. The only downside to it is that using this thing in the air is pretty bloody difficult because the markings are quite small. So you plan most of the trip on the ground beforehand.

I marked out the route and figured out the headings, then had to work out what the winds were doing and if they'd blow me left, right, tailwind or headwind and how that would affect my groundspeed and times for each leg. Then I sat ith Kevin before the flight. He liked how I planned the route and how I'd also incorporated the use of Radio Nav Aids to reconfirm my position when airborne.

Unfortunately however the flight wasn't trouble free. It started when I took hold of a new steed....a C-172 called N133AJ. This was the wee puppy who had suffered an engne fire a few weeks ago. She had a whole new engine put in and had been tested a few days earlier. But when I did the pre-flight I noticed the battery was flat because the flaps took FOREVER to deploy and the lights were all dimmed. I flagged it to Kevin and he agreed it was probably a flat battery. He asked the mechanic to come over and he said he'd hand start it with the propeller. Then we'd sit for a while wilst the engine recharged the battery. All looked well, we took off and headed for our first waypoint.

I was settling into the flight, keeping an eye on the instruments and an eye outside looking for traffic and my visual references as I flew North. But about half way into the flight, the low voltage light lit up. We recycled the electrical system and about 15 mins later the light lit up again. We then turned off the alternator and ran the battery only. Light lit up AGAIN about 8 mins later. We then turned off all non essential electrical equipment, recycled and guess what....lit up AGAIN.

Kevin took the circuit breaker out, let the thing cool down. By this time we were already heading back home. But the power was beginning to run low. We recycled a few more times and we knew things were getting bad when we were just about to approach Gillespie and the controller asked us to Squawk our transponder so he could see us on radar. I guess the signal was week because of the low power because he couldn't see us right away. Our main concern was getting back on the ground in a hurry while we still had radios. So we basically flew like the clappers, coming in to Gillespie at about 140kts and then only slowing her down for approach. I had to sideslip in because we were too high as a result of the extra speed we were carrying. But we got her down on the ground and back to the school. This little puppy was going back to the shed for the mechanics to fix her. And I was glad that I had finished the flight.

The flying and navigation parts themselves were fine. I just didn't like the fact that I was flying a sick airplane and the potential of flying home radioless. Matt and I will stick with "Zulu Papa" (Matt's re-christened her Zippee) and "Golf Foxtrot" (I've re-christened her Foxy Girl).

Passed my Meterology exam!!!

Great news....passed my Meterology exam, and again only got 1 question wrong. In fairness, the paper seemed a lot easy than some of the sample questions in the Mock exam. But I was annoying Matt because I was saying "I'm not sure, I'm not sure" and he was saying I shouldn't worry. He was right, but it's one of those subjects that just didn't sit well with me. You either know it or you don't. I guess I crammed enough to get a good grade. Next one up is my Navigation exam so I can do my "Long X-Country Solo" next week.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Crowded skies

Today brought with it one of the hottest days so far. I had a lie-in and went to the pool in the morning for a quick swim before heading to the school with Matt. I was a good boy today....had a sandwich for lunch instead of the usual burgers and other such crap they usually have in the cafe.

I studied for a while in the afternoon and then took "Golf Foxtrot" up for a spin on my own. I was doing Touch and Go's in the circuit by myself. For some reason, doing the preflight and taxy out to the runway I was feeling nervous, more so than yesterday when I went for my first solo. I think the nerves were the reason for a not so good first landing, but I soon settled into the saddle and starting feeling better and the landings improved. I tried a few soft field, short field and flapless landings by myself. It really is amazing how differently the plane flies when on your own....and it's only a difference of 90kg's or so!!

I almost ran into trouble late into the flight though. I was cleared by ATC for a touch and go and left closed pattern (i.e. to continue in the circuit for another toch and go) and I saw traffic ahead of me when I was climbing out. One of them was a smaller Cessna 152 which was doing T&G's with me, but the other one looked like a bigger C-172, the same as what I'm flying. From where I was after take-off, it looked like they were turning to depart towards San Diego over the hills. I turned to go downwind when I heard ATC tell them to follow the C-152 ahead of them (and me) but then they said that they also saw me and that I cut them up!!!! I knew I was close to both aircraft, and intended to slow my speed to keep clear of the 152 ahead of me, but when I was turning to go downwind, I had honestly thought the other 172 was departing and NOT joining the circuit to land. Had I know that, I'd have flown behind them myself, but since they joined the patter from the wrong place.....AND ATC never told me to do anything special other than continue with my normal circuits, that's why I flew in that piece of sky. I didn't feel I had done anything wrong as I had clear sight of both aircraft, the other 172 had sight of me and we were still a good distance apart.

Anyway, I continued downwind and knew I'd have to do a longer approach to give the slower 152 time to get down and off the runway. I let ATC know and they said that was fine and could I use the right hand runway instead. That gave them the option of putting the other plane behind in line for the left hand runway. When I got down I heard the other pilot in the school complaining. Enrico, Matt's instructor, also asked what went on, and I told him exactly what happened. He said it was fine, and since I wasn't told to deviate by ATC and also had both traffic in sight, then I was OK. But still......I have a nagging feeling going on in the back of my mind about the whole thing.

Tomorrow I'm flying on my first cross-country flight to a small airport called Hemet. I planned the flight with Matt's help and just need to finish the trip with the up to date winds. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Going Solo!!!!

Well, that moment of truth came at last. I was given the thumbs up to take control of a plane and fly it on my own. It was a bit nerve racking, but SO MUCH FUN.

Kevin came in and said that he didn't need me to do more touch and go's, he was happy with the ones I did yesterday. I had to find an instructor to do my check-ride (easier said than done because everyone was either conducting lessons, or the wankers that weren't busy simply didn't want to know) and get them to observe three touch and go's from the co-pilot seat and then if they were happy, they'd endorse my logbook to fly solo. Eventually I found someone, a Welshman called Neale who is one of the head instructors. Kevin went off for his medical and said he'd be back in time to see me go solo.

I pre-flighted "Zulu Papa", knowing that the old girl wouldn't let me down today. Matt was in "Golf Foxtrot" and I was happy he took the cantankerous old cow up earlier that day. Neale and I taxied out and I took off. and I felt funny having someone else sitting in the plane with me. The first circuit was OK, but the landing wasn't anything to write home about. I rushed it a little bit, so i think that's why it was shite. The second was MUCH better. Good set-up in the approach, and took my time all the way down. It was a loving smooth landing, needing a little rudder to keep her nose straight. The next landing was to be a flapless one. I got a little too low on the final approach and used some power to keep the height and speed up. When I was happy, i pulled the throttle back and just glided onto the runway. Because it was a flapless landing the plane floats a bit but I had another good landing. We taxied back and Neale gave me the all clear to go solo. So I called Janis and told her the good news. She asked me to stall my flight because she and John wanted to come down to watch.

I pre-flighted "Zulu Papa" and got set to take her off. Matt was taxying back from his flight and gave me a wave. The boys then stood to attention and gave me a salute (in mock Squadron style) and I saluted back and took her out on my own. I asked Ground Control for taxi clearance and messed up right away. There's this wanker in the tower, he swaps between ground and approach control, and he pulls you up on ANY little mistake. I was supposed to let them know I'm a student doing my first solo, so I called "Student Pilot at Anglo with Oscar (the weather) requesting taxi clearance to Runway 27 left." He replied back "Is Student Pilot your callsign??". I said a quiet "fuck" to myself, and repeated everything with my callsign first and "Student Pilot" last. Got my clearance and taxied out. Did my checks, lined her up and away I went.

It was amazing to notice how fast the rate of climb is when I'm on my own. Kevin's not a heavy guy at all, but I was already my required height before I did my first turn. So I throttled back, to stop the climb and to also avoid traffic quite close to me. I called when I was abeam the tower and enjoyed for the first time the fact that I was "Pilot in Command" of this particular flight. Set up for the approach and saw the traffic ahead of me on finals. It was a lovely approach, the only worry was that the traffic wouldn't exit the runway in time. but they did and again, I had a lovely soft of the better ones. I also stopped quite close to the first exit. Taxied back to the school and got a round of applause and a huge hand shake from Kevin. And then I got a bucket of water thrown over me in the traditional "first Solo Dunking". The rest of the evening was spent recounting the flight to anyone who'd listen and celebrated by several beers. I'm going off to fly again solo for the next few hours and then I think we'll start navigation after the weekend.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bad start.....Good middle.....Dodgy ending

Well as you can probably tell from the title, today started off pretty shitty. The airport was clagged in this morning and cloud didn't burn off for a while. Matt got up a little late and had a good flight.

My plane came back a little late. I was in "Golf Foxtrot" again and she was being a tempermental old I was also not on form. It started off bad when Kevin and I took off from Gillespie. We did a "Soft Field Take-off", which means having to take pull the elevators RIGHT BACK, and when the nose starts to lift, then hold the hose off until the plane wants to fly. Then you skim along the surface (not touching the ground) and increase your airspeed. But i pulled back too much and the tail struck the ground!!! I had a bloody tail strike and I hadn't even taken off yet!!! We took off and did a few touch and go's. It just didn't come together in the morning for some reason. I mean, I didn't smash the plane or anything, but they just weren't slick landings. I had a bone breaker for one and balooned for another. Time was ticking away and we weren't doing many touch and go's anyway, we were off to do a Nav lesson. I found it lots of fun actually. Kevin showed me how to get a rough fix on a target (in this case a lake) and how to figure a rough heading to follow and what landmarks would come in useful based on info in the map. He then told me to figure a route to another lake from our present position and go find it. So away I went.

It's pretty difficult to fly the plane, look at a map and do radio work ALL AT THE SAME time. But I got the old goat in trim, and used the rudder pedals to fly a rough heading while my head was in the map. Figured out my heading to fly and landmarks to look out for. Every now and then, Kevin would turn and ask, do you know where we are yet? And I'd tellhim I do and who him how I know based on what landmarks were visible versus on the map. I got us to the other lake without getting us lost and learned a key point, that with the limited visibilty over the nose, especially when climbing, items to the side are better to use as reference points.

Above the lake we did some more air work. We did some slow flight and I'm finally getting the hang of it. Then we did steep turns again. The turns to the left are so much easier. You have a lovely reference point being a line of rivets along the nose cowling. As long as I keep that on the horizon, then I don't loose or gain height. But the ones to the right are a pain in the arse. There's no useful reference point ON the airframe, so you have to find a smudge on the window or something else, and of course, I know the smudge to use in "Zulu Papa" which isn't a problem. I think it took three go's before I figured a useful reference point and nailed it in "Golf Foxtrot".

We did some more stalls again, like minimum height loss (basically full throttle, nose level and bring in the flaps as speed increases), the FULL stall, and I had to call when the wing was stalled. Easy to figure out as there's lots of buffet. I was made hold her in a stall for quite a while, didn't loose too much height and did quite well controlling lateral movement with the rudders rather than the ailerons (as that's a NO NO) and then recovered. Put the nose down to much too quickly (which isn't such a bad thing, just not smooth) and recovered her out of the stall.

Then I had to navigate us back to the airport. We basically flew back the way we came and landed on runway 27R. Again, wasn't a slick landing at all. My excuse was that it's because I was out of the saddle and a little cobwebs had grown. No excuse I know.

But then after lunch things picked up for the better. We took "Golf Foxtrot" to the Air BP fuelling station, filled her up with Avgas and then took off. We tried another "Soft Field Take-off" and this time I nailed it. No tail strike, skimmed along the surface in ground effect and shot up like a rocket when we had a lot of airspeed.

Then we did a series of landings, some "Soft Field", which is like the take-off version except that you keep the nose off the ground for as long as you can. Then we did some "Short Field" landings, which carry a little power, are slower than normal landings and you have to raise the flaps and break as soon as you land to wash off the lift from the wings. And then we did some flapless landings, which are without flap, faster than normal (about 70kts instead of the usual 60kts) and result in an amount of float during the flare and touchdown. I was nailing them all this time. Why couldn't I do it earlier in the day.....much have been the steak in my tummy from last night adding extra weight or something :-)

Kevin then let me choose which ones I wanted to do and I did some more of each, again very polished landings. But then on the Short Field landing he told me to open my door in mid flight while we were downwind. I looked at him as if he'd gone nuts, but he told me it was safe and he was going to show me something cool. He then showed me that with the use of the doors, if you push the right door out into the wind, the plane will turn left, and then he had me push the left door and sure enough, we turned right. He told me it was something he had heard about and tested and I was amazed. It was so cool. But then we were pretty high coming in for our landing, so I had to side slip us to get to a more manageable height. Again, I nailed that one, slipped us right the way down, then kicked in left rudder to line up with the runway and performed the "Short Field" landing. I was buzzing at this stage. We talked about how I am ready to go solo.....which is tomorrow. I need to do a check ride with another instructor, do three landings and if all goes well, I go solo tomorrow.

But the day ended on a bad note again. I reported downwind, got a little tongutied and even called us "Zulu Foxtrot".....must have "Zulu Papa" on my brain. We did our last landing and the speed was slipping away from me. I think we had a tail wind because the wind sock was pointing in the direction I was going. So I flared a little too early and had a bumpy landing. kevin laughed saying he bet I didn't want the end the day on that note....too bloody right. But he's still keen on sending me up solo tomorrow.

I have my FAA medical tomorrow at 1pm and I have an open book test to do before I can go solo and I have to do that by tomorrow. So it's all go here. I'm once again smelly a little of "Cessna Funk", so I'm off for a shower and meeting John and Janis for dinner. Keep your fingers and toes crossed that all goes well tomorrow.

Monday, September 25, 2006

And then there were three....

Well the weekend was pretty quiet, with the one exception that one of our motley crew (Mark) has successfully earned his wings. He sat his flight test over the weekend and we went out last night to celebrate. He's been an inspiration, having come over with some flying under his belt already but needing to finish off his hours and sit all his papers. He was rocketing through them last week, sitting and passing five of his papers in one week!!! Matt and I have now nick-named him Mark "The Machine".

We went out to celebrate his getting his wings by going to a steakhouse in the Gas Lamp area of downtown San Diego. It was a cool place. You get your steak and then have to cook it yourself over a flame grill. We were all huddled round the grill cooking the steaks and it felt like we were camping indoors over a campfire :-) I thought Mark's eyes were going to pop out of his head when he saw the size of the steak he got. But it was a bloody good meal.

I didn't do any flying this weekend because the planes were being used on Saturday for cross country flying and flight exams, and Kevin had a day off on Sunday. I used the time off productively and sat by the pool revising for my Met exam which I plan to sit this evening. I got a little sun burned, even though I was using Factor 30!!! It's pretty odd though sitting in 30 degree heat in late September.

You know, I'm starting to get pissed off with the bloody showers here in the U.S. They're fix to the wall and you cannot adjust the height, and they're also only chest height on me. Which means I basically have to become a contortionist each morning to wash my hair etc. It's so bloody annoying. And the large portions for meals are becoming a drag here too. Matt and I have vowed to eat salads for lunchtime for the remainder and I'm going to stick with light meals. If I can come home the same weight as I left then I'll be doing well. Thing is, when I come across for work, usually for 10 days, I usually put on between 3-5 kg's!!

I need to get my FAA medical today in order to be able to go solo....which is looming. I'm both excited and petrified. We're expecting me to get the thumbs up on Tuesday, but we'll see what the next day or two bring, weather-wise and landing-wise :-)

So now it's just Matt, James and myself left from the motley crew. I think James will be next to get his wings, followed by Matt and then myself. Looking forward to more celebration steak dinners though :-)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Another exam down.....Human Performance

Sat my Human Performance exam this afternoon. I didn't do as well as the Air Law....I got one question wrong this time and only got 96%. Oh well, can't ace them all.

Now the joke with the boys was that I brought the wrong crib notes into the exam with me...hahaha.

I had quite a good flight today. We woke up to cloud hanging around at 3500 ft, so that meant we couldn't get much training in for some of the more difficult aspects of flying. I flew "Golf Foxtrot" today and she has issues with her radios. We had to put up with static on the radio for the entire flight and I think we had a stuck comm button a few times too. It was pretty annoying to listen to. So instead, Kevin got ATC clearance to fly through the clouds where it was clear on top and taught me how to fly on instruments only. It was SO MUCH fun and I really felt like a proper pilot, do what the boys in the airliners do on a daily basis. It's funny though, because your inner ear (which helps tell you which way is up etc) gets confused because you have no visual references. So you have to trust the instruments and rely on them for clues on what the plane is doing. It was hard work but VERY enjoyable. We tracked a signal from a radio beacon (called Julian) and I was able to keep us on track and firly on target with the altitude ATC assigned us. We reached a spot of airspace where the clouds disappeared, but we were gone so long that we had to fly back.

Kevin then took out what's called an "Approach plate". It's a navigation chart that tells you how to fly an approach to a given runway and provided you follow it to the letter, you'll remain clear of all obstacles, mountains etc. Because we had to descend back through the clouds we flew an approach to Ramona airfield and wanted to do a touch and go. We studied the approach plate whilst still flying the plane and then got clearance to fly it from ATC. Once again, Captain Pender was at the controls and did a damn good job of it (even if I do say so myself) and brought us safely through the cloud. The only thing I should have done better was get the plane in better trim so I could fly headings and not worry about heights etc. But again I got a pat on the back from El Kevo for an outstanding piece of flying having ZERO hours flying instruments. I'm really starting to enjoy flying and like the gradual workload increase with the new challenges.

We chose not to do the touch and go at Ramona because time was ticking, so we flew in visual conditions back to Gillespie and I took her in for a landing. A little bit of a tailwind to deal with, but nicely done.

Saw a lovely jet taxi right by the school today, and also saw that dinky little plane that I was in the circuit with the other day. There's a photo of it in one of my previous posts. And there were 4 old WWII fighter planes that took off. They took off in twos flying in formation and then joined up in a four ship formation. Then they disappeared off the horizon. Will post a photo of them when I pull it from the camera.

Since there's no more flying for today, Matt, Jose and I are hanging out by the pool. We're sitting in the sunshine while our laundry gets washed and dried. I'm going to go for a swim now, but I'll keep you updated on the news. Think I'll try for my Meterology exam next.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Slooooowwww day

Well, it's been a slow day so far. I was supposed to be up in the air since midday today, but one of the guys did his solo cross-country flight and was delayed leaving by an hour due to marginal weather. When he got back, he decided he was going to do some more circuits....which meant I didn't even have a plane to fly!!!! Grrrrrr.

I was then supposed to change planes and fly Golf Foxtrot for a few hours, but when I did the pre-flight I found a nick in the propeller blade that would need filing down and the passenger door was jammed shut. She was therefore unsafe to fly so I did not accept her. I handed her over to the techie guys (there's a cute Mexican girl mechanic there too) and decided to wait around. Am trying to study my navigation stuff but nothing is sticking in my head right now. Think I'll try to grab a nap or something, the heat is draining the energy out of me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Some pics from the ground and the air

Thought you might like some of the photo's I took from the school and from the air when bimbling around with Jose last week and also with Matt last night.

This old girl, a Beechcraft, was taken out for a spin. She has a MASSIVE engine and makes a roar when she takes off.

Here's a photo of the flight line at our school. The C-172's are the ones in the distance.

This little Piper Cub looked like she was brand spanking new, or maybe rebuilt. She was taking some people up from the school beside ours during the day.

This is Miramar from the air. This is where they filmed Top Gun. You can just make out the dozens of fighter jets and helicopters on the apron.

The beach at San Diego, flying at 500ft above the water.

Sunset over the water when we were cruising along the coast.

Downtown San Diego from the air.

Passed Air Law......100%

WOOHOO......I passed my Air Law exam and aced it....I got 100%. I'm SO chuffed. I got the piss taken out of me that I must have taken the answers in to the exam room with me.

I truth the mock exams helped a lot though. Well, I'm off to start studying for my Navigation exams. Will try for them in a week.

This landing thing is easy

Well, today was a great day!!! Weather was lovely and I got a lot of landings and about 3 hours in today. It was also an interesting day as far as life in a flying school goes and there were a few new visitors insofar as exotic aircraft are concerned.

I'm sitting my Air Law exam tomorrow for sure. Spent the non-flying day revising and sitting mock exams and feel more at ease about the potential questions and answers.

So the exciting part of today was the visit from the FAA. They often pay surprise visits to schools and ours is no exception. Of course, everyone in the club gets nervous around the FAA inspectors. They are the equivilant of God when it comes to being allowed to fly or not. But it seems everything was OK.

I flew a new steed today, a lovely newish C-172 called "Golf Foxtrot". She has leather seats and a spanking new GPS in the cockpit. The only downside to using her was the fact that the comms (radios to you uninitiated) work differently and took a little getting used to. But she felt nice to fly, but I was put off a little bit when Kevin told me that he didn't like her much because he could never land her as smoothly as good old "Zulu Papa". But I had a smooth flight in "Golf Foxtrot".

Oh, and I also managed to get the slow-flight manouevres down too. It took about 4 goes, the last two being the ones that nailed it. Let me see now, what else did we do? So more airwork and of course some touch and goes.

I've also got my "radio voice". I was joking with Kevin about it in the air and he laughed and told me he'd noticed. He complimented me on it and told me that he has several...for instance, he's got the one he uses when we fly, but also a really DEEEEEPPP one he uses when he's flying alone, late at night with bad weather. He showed me what it sounds like and he sounded quite something out of a Hollywood Top Gun movie.

We landed and had lunch at the cafeteria. The cafe is fun, nothing to do with the fact that two of the waitresses there got their breasts done (incidentally, at the same time) and are quite cute. But it's also right beside our school, looks over the runways and has tables outside where we can watch the world fly by. We saw some exotic planes today....a Huey helicopter (the ones they flew in Vietnam) being used as a forest fire fighting aircraft. It's got a big hose on the side which sucks up about 400 litres of water in 60 seconds. Here's a picture of it. The hose is the funny thing in red there.

There were also a few sexy jets and some old WWII fighters. I've taken some pics and will download them from the camera soon.

The afternoon brought with it some fun. Kevin taught me more on specific flapless landings, landings with loss of engine power, short field landings and soft field landings (like grass runways) and some more about losing height quickly. We also did some training on short field take-offs. That's when the plane takes off quickly but builds up speed along the ground. Then all of a sudden you pop the nose up high and tear up into the air. It's like a fun roller coaster ride. Oh, which reminds me...Jose brought us up for a jaunt, but more of that later. I continued with my circuits and landings and Matt said they looked fantastic from where he was watching. but the icing on the cake came from Kevin. He said he was amazed at how quick I'd got everything nailed in only a handful of hours. He said I've done in about 8-9 hours what it takes most people to master after 20-30 hours!!! His debrief after the flight was great....essentially I am way ahead of schedule. We'll focus on take-offs, practiced forced landings and short-field operations next.

Here's a pic Matt took of me you can see, very stable and looking good.

I was also flying in the circuit with this strange looking contraption this evening too.

When I finished my debrief with Kevin, Matt came to get me as we were both planning to fly up to Santa Monica with Jose for dinner. But the weather wasn't great and since Jose hadn't filed a flight plan we had to turn back. But on the way Jose showed us what Zero G feels like. It's a bit like this doggy....

We landed at night at Gillespie, which was Matt's first. We had a great time all in all. I was saying the Matt that this has got to be right up there with "Best Holidays Ever" and he agreed. We're not looking forward to the day we need to go home.

Tomorrow is Air Law day and I'm scheduled to fly 6 hours. Better get some shut eye.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No flying yesterday.....damn.

Spent the day revising Air Law and meeting some new students that arrived the previous night. Atmosphere the last few days has been fantastic. Matt, Mark and I have been chatting about this, that and the other. Matt and I are a wee bit more sarcastic than everyone else, so we tend to take the piss when we get a little giddy. It seems we're more giddy when stuck on the ground than when flying. Mark is really pushing himself hard to get his PPL. He's only got a few days left before he's scheduled to return to Manchester, and he's STILL waiting for the results of his Nav exam.

Matt's doing the last minute adjustments to his route for his bimble up to Hemet, an airfield North of where we're based. It's his first cross country and he'll do it with his instructor and then go off and do it on his own.

I'm revising for my Air Law. If I'm happy enough to do it today, then I'll sit it this evening when I get back on the ground. I'm due up at 10am and again at 4pm I think.

Jose also mentioned to Matt and myself that we take a trip to Santa Monica tonight for dinner. We'll plan the flight and either share the flying or share the comms. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Making a dream come true

Hey Everyone,

I've started this blog to keep you all updated on how I'm getting on with my lessons. As some of you know already, I flew out on Wednesday and arrived in San Diego with the sun still shining and temperatures of about 25C. Flight was long and I was glad to get my head down. I left Amsterdam with a headcold and managed to get some painkillers for my sore throat, which thankfully never got too bad and I didn't really need them afterall. But as they say in the boy scouts...."Be Prepared".

Thursday was a slow day. There were some screw-ups with my accomodation. Apparantly the guy who had my flat never cleaned it and when I arrived it was a pig-sty. It looked like a bomb had gone off inside it. I managed to get the school to have someone come round to clean it, albeit after some persistent persuasion. My room-mate is a Spanish guy, called Jose. I thought I was tall until I met Jose. He's 2m tall!!! Jose's here hour building for his Commercial Licence. He's a nice guy and we get on well. Sonce he's already got his licence, he told me I should feel free to ask him any questions and he'll help me out as best he can.

Since I had a head cold and also getting over the effect of the jet-lag, I decided to ground myself and not begin flying. Instead, jose rented a Piper Cherokee (for those of you who don't know what they look like, they're the small planes with a wing on the bottom of the fuselage instead of the top) and he went for a spin around San Diego. He invited me along for the ride and I sat in the back whilst Jose and a mexican pilt friend of his, Ricardo, flew around San Diego. They gave me one of the charts so I could familiarise myself with the local area, reporting points and landmarks. We flew straight out of our airport, called Gillespie, and headed West towards the side of Miramar Airbase. Miramar is a HUGE military base. It was previously a Naval Air Station but is now used by the U.S. Marine Corps. It's also famous for the fact that Top Gun was filmed at Miramar.

Anyway, when we passed Miramar with it on our right, we then turned left towards San Diego Internaional Airport. There's a VFR corridor that small aircraft can use that keeps us out of the way of the commercial traffic going into and out of the airport. We passed another Naval Air Station on our right, and had Downtown San Diego and the Int'l airport on our left. We bimbled along until we neared the Mexican border and then hung a left towards a small airfield right on the U.S./Mexican border called Brown. It's so close that the ciruits flown there for touch and go's are done with right hand turns instead of the standard left hand turn because if you did a left hand turn you'd then be over Mexican airspace. Ricardo took the controls and set us up for a touch and go at Brown. I can honestly say that it was THE WORST LANDING I have ever experienced. It seemed that he let the plane get a little away from himself and we just dropped hard onto the runway. Flaps up, full power and away we went and headed North to another airstrip here called Ramona.

At Ramona, Jose took the controls and turned to me to say that this landing would be smoother. And he was right. Although he did say that with the extra weight in the plane (i.e. yours truly) he noticed the speed was harder to keep on. After the touch and go in Ramona we bimbled back over to our airfield in Gillespie and each of them did a touch and go there. Ricardo again had a heavy landing, but better than the last one. Jose's wasn't as good this time, but still they were all pretty safe. We got back to the airfield, shut down and headed home. I was shattered that I went home, had something to eat and hit my pillow. That was Thursday.

Friday was brought with it good weather but strong winds and also my very first PPL lesson. My instructors is an American guy, Kevin Teeter. He's one year younger than me, served in the Marines for 5 years and is also a qualified commerical pilot as well as an instructor. He's really a cool guy. Very patient, very trusting and explains everything to me clearly and concisely, albeit a little fast sometimes. But I let him know if I need him to repeat anything.

The first lesson was basically an opportunity to let me have a go at the controls and to get a feel for the aircraft. My steed today was a Cessna 172 called N6ZP. They're a single engine, high wing mounted plane. Very docile, very forgiving and a really nice plane to fly. Kevin showed me the pre-flight check where we check the interior and exterior of the flight before we even start the engine. He also said that going forward, he'd typically get me to pre-flight and he'd simply double check the fuel and oil. We then sat in the cockpit, I got myself ready and comfy and went through the "Before Engine Start" checklist. There's lots to go through and the location of all the dials and buttons takes a bit of getting used to, but Kevin walked me through it. We then started the engine we then dialled in the Ground Controller to get taxi clearance to the runway. Kevin took her off the stand and then shortly gave me control to get used to taxiing the plane. I do that by using differential braking. There are brake pedals above the rudder pedals that I depress. One for the right hand brake, one for the left. When I want to turn right, I tap the right toe pedal and vice versa. Apparently I got the knack fairly quickly, but every now and then I would use the steering column (called the yoke) which does absolutely nothing on the ground for controlling the plane. I joked that I need to get the "driving the car" concept out of my head and Kevin laughed agreeing that it happens to everyone in the beginning.

After taxiing to the runway we were going to use, we checked the by powering up the engine. That's called the engine run-up test. Everything in the green, we got clearance to line-up and take-off. And away we went. We turned to the North towards Ramona and went to an area near a dirt strip. There Kevin handed me control and explained the controls to me. He then said I could have goes at turning the plane. I told him I noticed that I needed up elevator input when turning and he explained that it's because the into turn wing has less lift that the outer wing and consequently you need up elevator to maintain height. I then experimented with getting the plane in trim. It was so bumpy from the thermals off the low ridges below us that I had serious issues getting her in trim. I never managed to get it in trim properly and also got my trim directions the wrong way round. In other words, trimming nose down instead of up, etc. I had fun though and we then went back to Gillespie. Kevin talked me through the approach to land, letting me fly her down to the runway but then took control to show me how to land. We had a slight crosswind, so he had the into wing down, a little opposite rudder which meant we had the nose pointing at a slightly funny angle. Just before touching down he centred the rudder and we landed one wheel first (the into wind wheel) which is the correct way to land in a crosswind. Taxied back and shut down. I was fairly sweaty after that, since it was about 33C in the cockpit.

After the debrief Kevin said we'd do some turns on the Sunday. So I revised the book for the procedures that night. Saturday was a quiet day. Jose and I went to the beach and then I met my friend Janis who lives in San Diego for dinner.

Sunday was a little bit more intense. Flying Zulu-Papa again. She really is a nice little airplane. Same checks as before, with the only difference being this time that I was doing the take-off!!!! I was SHITTING myself. Had to put in a little rudder and turned right for our Northerly departure a little too early. But Kevin actually complimented me on my control during the take-off. We headed back towards the dirt strip and did some turns, some climbing and some descending. I got more comfortable with the plane. But that DAMN TRIM was bugging the shite out of me still. It didn't help either that we were flying in bumpy conditions again. Kevin told me not to worry, but I promised and vowed to read the book in minute detail on the art of trimming. In fact, that's exactly how the manual put it. I've realised that being an accountant probably isn't the best occupation to have as a pilot. I'm so used to everything ticking and tying, balancing everything and it all being exact, that when I try to fly precisely and trim exactly, the smallest change pissed me off. But I guess I have to de-learn that. The next thing that happend though will be with me for a long very FIRST LANDING.

Kevin said I'd do the approach just like the last flight. In the last flight he took her at the last minuteWe set her up for the circuit. They call a circuit here in the U.S. a "Pattern". We came almost straight in for the runway we were going to use....RWY 27R. It's a long runway, plenty of room. Kevin called the speeds I should aim for. I was watching the runway and the airspeed indicator, moving my eyes between both. The trick is to aim for a spot on the runway that is not moving up or down in your view on the windscreen. If you have that reference point, then you fly the speed you want and flare at the end. I was expecting Kevin to say "OK, I've got it" but he just said "You're looking're looking REALLY good" He then told me to keep pulling back slowly, slowly, more...more...TOUCHDOWN!!!!! I landed Zulu-Papa and it was a BEAUTY of a landing. I kept the plane on the centreline with the rudder and slowed her down with the brakes. Kevin took her to come off an earlier taxiway and I yelled out "I landed.....I landed". He laughed and said "Yes you did...nicely done!!". On the walk back from the flightline he told me he was amazed, that it's VERY RARE for a student to land a plane on only their second attempt. He sounded dead impressed and chuffed at the same time.

Sunday also brought with it other good news. One of my friends who I've met here at the school, Matt, went solo on Sunday too. He was a bot apprehensive with the wind and the amount of traffic, so he waited until later in the evening when it calmed down. His instructor Enrico gave him the thumbs up to go, and away he went. He did one circuit, a good approach and a one wheeled landing. At the very last minute a gust caught him and he he landed awkwardly, but safely nonetheless. We were all looking from a distance and got the buckets of water ready for him to be doused when he got back. The two of us had Chesire Cat grins on our faces for the rest of the evening and we went out for dinner to celebrate. The news of the day at the airfield was also about the pilot who had to land on the freeway. He was a banner towing pilot, he ran out of fuel apparantly and his engine stopped. Matt was in the air when he heard the Mayday call. it was on the news and everything. We think he's gonna loose his licence because running out of fuel is a cardinal sin.

Monday was a hectic day. I logged three hours in the air doing stalls, slow flight and steep turns. I also managed to NAIL that damn trim wheel. I got everything the right way round....YIPPEE. It also helped with the fact that it was a calm day wind-wise. The stalls were easy to do....when you hear the stall horn go you push nose down, apply full power and control any yaw or roll with the rudder until you're out of the stall. The steep turns were ALSO lots of fun. You basically pick a reference point on the engine cowling (the metal bit that covers the engine on the nose) like a rivet or something and memorise where it is in reference to the horizon. You then pick a pint that you'll turn back to (because you basically do a 360 degree turn), begin your turn, pull back on the control column to maintain height and apply full power to also maintain height. It was a little dizzying, but lots of fun. I only found a good reference point on the second attempt to the right, but the left hand ones were easier. Slow flight was also a lesson that day and it was a hit and miss affair. Haven't mastered that one fully yet and I think I need more practice before I get comfortable. But the next bit was to come was the fun part.....touch and go's. I got the circuit almost licked. Take off, climb, turn left at the freeway, roll wings level, then aim for the valley with some houses on it, left again towards a big blue box. Call to the tower when we're abeam (i.e. when we pass them) and then when abeam the numbers lower power to about 1900 rpm and apply first stage of flaps. Aim for 70 knots of airspeed. At 45 degrees from the runway numbers turn left onto the base leg and apply 2nd stage of flaps and then roll left again onto final. When I'm happy with the approach and I can make the field, then apply full flaps do my landing checks and aim for about 65-60 knots. Steady the approach....steady....steady....steady...OK......pull back...pull back...pull back and flare....."Nice landing Claython!!" Only problem is, every second one seemed to get away from me. Kevin was impressed with one of my recoveries but I wasn't too happy with some of them. The ONLY one that I got wrong was the last one. Came in, flared a little too high and Kevin took her from me. He said that he thought we got a slight crosswind AND thermal component and to not beat myself up over it. I think it was good day yesterday all in all.

Right now I'm studying for my Air Law exam. i need to pass that before I'll be allowed go solo. Solo isn't for another 10 hours yet, but Kevin's estimation is that I shouldn't have any problems. In his words, I have excellent control and awareness of my speeds in the circuits, which most students don't get until hours 10 or so, and I've done 5. And I'm not afraid of the plane and to make it do what I want it to do. We're going to work on smoothing my control inputs and do some more work in the circuit.

I think I'm going to go to the cafe now, get a cold drink, study my Air Law and scope out the two waitresses working there who got their boobs done (hahahaha).

I'll continue to keep you all posted on my progress. Just keep your fingers, toes and everything else crossed that I pass my first exam.