Sunday, August 7, 2011

CMEL Add-On Checkride...

I'm scheduled for my Commercial Multi-Engine Add-on checkride tomorrow with one of my school's check airmen.  While I passed the verbal part of the exam last week with a 95/100 (very good), I drew the short straw for tomorrow and got the toughest examiner on the line.  Needless to say I'm anxious, but an hour in the sim earlier today reaffirmed my procedures are solid and I have the checklists down pretty good. At the same time, I'm glad I got him, because I want to know I've gone up against and with the best, and made it through alive.

This is it for my licenses to become a professional pilot.  After this, once I have enough hours, I'll be able to fly for an airline or whoever hires me first.  Its been a fun journey, but is far from over.  I go on to my CFI training after this, which is going to be a whole different world.

Off to bed, I need to be well rested and ready to ROCK come tomorrow!  Stay tuned and I promise a lengthy update this week...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Commercial Pilot

Sorry for the delay, its been a heck of a couple of weeks.  Well, the title says it all, I am officially a commercially rated pilot.  About freakin time!  It did not come easily, though.  The checkride was one of the most challenging things I've faced, not in the sense of weather conditions, or emergencies, or whatnot, but the examiner was a bit of a handful.  The oral exam went well, with a few hiccups on some of the weather charts (anyone want to explain what a "dry line" is on a surface analysis chart?).  That said, once we got into the airplane, things just couldn't fall my way.  First off - it was windy, and they were swinging around all over the place.  I've flown in much worse conditions (ask me sometime about an A36 Bonanza into Nashua, NH), but its certainly not what I wanted on my check ride.  Secondly, the examiner wanted me to perform the check ride, and its associated maneuvers, HIS way, as opposed to the standardized way I was taught at FlightSafety.  

I was warned about this before, but didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.  Throughout the flight I was concerned with failing - he constantly told me how bad my maneuvers were and how I should be doing something different - and was worked up, but never let it show.  As we came back to Vero, I was soaked in sweat and exhausted, with only one landing left to make.  We sailed in along the glideslope, wind knocking us about like a dingy in a hurricane, and I fought to keep the airplane aligned with the center of the runway.  I rounded out my approach into the flare, and waited for the airplane to settle down, keeping my cross-wind correction in and hoping a gust of wind didn't float me past my touchdown point.  The resulting landing was only realized when we could feel the cracks in the runway pass beneath our tires.  No sound, no jolt.  The examiner's smile betrayed the mask he had been wearing throughout the flight, as he later said he is especially stern on commercial students to see how they react to pressure.  Thirty minutes and $400 later, I had my ticket in-hand.

So there we are!  The ink had barely dried on my Instrument rating and I was issued another "Temporary Airman's Certificate."  The economist (read: analyst) in me can't let the moment pass without some number crunching, though.  The total cost of my training from Instrument to commercial was $10,644.54 - nearly a full $4,000 less than what was originally quoted to me from FlightSafety.  I attribute the savings to a few factors.  FlightSafety quotes time and cost numbers based on "average" time needed to complete a rating or certificate (under CFR part 61).  Coming to FlightSafety, I was already a fairly proficient pilot, and didn't need a lot of recurrent training to adapt to their standards.  Also, I was very proactive in my studies and classroom preparation, a point which the Chief Flight Instructor mentioned makes a significant difference.  Further, my schedule was only limited by my instructor, aircraft availability, and work schedule.  Not once did a lack of preparation or available funds restrict my flying.  To that point, only 70 days had passed from my first flight (3/17) to my commercial check-ride (5/25) and in that time, I amassed 50 hours in my logbook, bringing my total to 271.2 hours.

So what's next?  Well my multi-engine training has started.  Its only 17 lessons, 5 of which are in the simulator and one or two briefs, so it should go fairly quickly.  I hope to be on my checkride by the beginning of next month.  First thoughts on it though - things get a bit complicated when an engine fails.  In single-engine aircraft, you have one option when your engine quits:  Land.  In multi-engined aircraft, you're still flying, so your approach to handling the emergency is much different than anything I've learned before.  The challenge is certainly fun, and I can't wait to have to learn to handle it all, AND fly an instrument approach.  Geeze... 

Flight Instructor ground school starts on Monday, so I'll be back to report on how that is going as well as a multi-engine update.  I'll leave you all with something I came up with while talking to a friend of mine, trying to describe why I love flying:

"It's always a sunny day above the clouds..."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"No Fair Having Fun..."

So I'm signed off to take my Commercial Single-Engine, Land checkride on Tuesday.  I have a "mock" checkride tomorrow with another instructor, just to make sure everything is fine, but the endorsements are in the logbook.  The last hurdle I had to pass in order to get those endorsements was to show my instructor I could perform all the maneuvers in order to pass the flight test.  Lazy-8s, Chandelles, Steep turns - I was performing them well within the practical test standards, and often better than my instructor.  Hell, on the steep turns, I not only hit my own wake after the first one, but after the SECOND as well!

Unfortunately, I am human, and like all humans, had a nemesis:  The Power-Off 180.  The power off 180 is a maneuver designed to simulate an engine failure in which you have to make a 180-degree turn and land on a designated spot.  The kicker is, for the commercial exam, you need to be within -0/+200 of that designated spot.  When you're moving at 70+ MPH on touch down, that window comes and goes in about 2 seconds - its no easy feat!  On top of that, the Piper Arrow is no glider.  When you pull the power off and put the gear down, it sinks like an elevator with the cables cut (or a Cirrus full of doctors).  The margin for error is very slim, and for one reason or another, I could NOT get the hang of it.  Some times I'd come in too short and have to go-around.  Other times I'd float forever and miss my mark.  I was getting frustrated, flustered, and angry with myself.

So I started asking around for advice.  One of the senior instructors at FlightSafety recommended I pick a "gate" to aim for in the sky.  In other words, at "x" point from the runway on my approach, I should aim for "y" altitude, and that will put me into a position to make my point no matter what.  The theory was if I could get myself set up early, I wouldn't have to work so hard later in the approach.  So I tried it on my first attempt, and while the winds were relatively calm, I felt I was a little shorter than I wanted to be, but was able to use ground-effect and flaps to my advantage.  Had the winds been higher, I don't think I would have had the kinetic energy to get to my point.

At that point, I was happy that I could hit the mark at will, but I wasn't convinced the method would be perfect for my checkride.  I turned to my instructor and told him I was "going to try something a little unorthodox."  Keeping my pattern tight, I came abeam my landing point, pulled the power out, lowered the gear and imagined I was back home flying my friend's Decathlon.  Established in a slight slip, I started a constant turn to base, managing my airspeed through the pitch of the nose and noting my altitude.  Seeing I was a tad high, I put in flaps and increased the slip, all the while continuing my turn from base to final.  I had a LOT more energy than the other method, but as soon as I was into the wind, it started to dissipate rapidly. I rounded out a few feet over the runway, keeping the slip in to bleed the remaining airspeed, kicking it out only to grease it (greaser = soft landing) within 50 feet of my mark.

I couldn't help but smile, and under my breath, said the same thing JJ would say time and time again: "No fair having fun..."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Talking the Talk...

Wow, I can't believe it's been a month since my last post.  It's even more unfathomable that I've been here at school for two months already.  Things have been professing well, but besides flying, there hasn't been a whole lot of relevant news to report.  That's not to say there hasn't been ANYTHING to report.  First off, I've completed both my Commercial and Multi-Engine ground school courses.  Both were extremely interesting and I enjoyed both.  More importantly, I passed my FAA Commercial Knowledge Exam with a 91%.  To say I was happy about that would be an understatement.

I've also transitioned into the PA28R-201 Arrow, a more complex and faster aircraft.  This stage of the training added a retractable landing gear and a constant speed propellor - which is like a manual transmission for airplanes.  The difference in feel, though, compared to the Cadet is huge.  The extra speed adds a positive responsiveness to the aircraft, which makes it easier to control.  It's heavier, and therefore more stable in windy or turbulent conditions.  And the extra levers and switches are quite fun to play with, but add other variables to the equation and the risk of a gear-up landing.  It's fun.

What I thought I'd do now is share a story of note from my time in the Arrow.  My flying has certainly progressed to a level of proficiency I haven't known before, and my ability to fly like a professional strengthens every day:

If you've ever listened to air traffic control communications on the radio, you'll notice there's a certain tone the controllers reserve for the airline pilots and one for the general aviation guys.  The latter is a formal, stern tone with clear, methodical instructions, and little in the way of any personality behind thus voice.  The former is a bit different, though.  With the professional pilots, there's a certain lightness to the faceless voice over the radio, an informal exchange between two professionals, working together, as opposed to one working for the other.

Controllers take their jobs very seriously.  The amount of responsibility they have is immense, and the mental capacity to juggle thousands of airplanes, per day, all moving in different directions and speeds is admirable.  When you throw a student pilot into that mix (who can often be unpredictable or unintelligible if their cradle language is other than English) the tenseness in their voice noticeably increases.

I was on a solo flight one beautiful evening.  The sun was getting low in the sky, and I was practicing maneuvers for my upcoming commercial practical test.  I timed it, so I would have about 30 minutes to get a few touch-and-gos in before I had to return the aircraft.  There was no one in the pattern when I arrived back to Vero Beach so the radio was mostly silent except when I was cleared to land.  As to be expected, the controllers, not knowing me, spoke in clear, formal tones, making sure I understood what they wanted to do.  After my second time around the pattern, a few other training aircraft began to filter in, and the controllers had to start giving me special instructions to work around them.  I responded as I normally would, calling traffic in sight, and keeping my messages short and to the point.

Then, something interesting happened.  I'd hear the controller give the other students an instruction, in that certain tone of voice, and then give me an instruction, but almost in a tone that said "I don't need to worry about you." I did another two or three landings, and on my final landing the controller, instead of giving me specific taxi instructions, like everyone else, simply said "Monitor ground [control] with me, taxi to the ramp." I repeated the instructions back, as I always do, and added, "see ya" to the end, to which he responded "have a good one, sir."

It was hard to wipe the smile off my face on the way into the ramp, because I knew that the controller didn't just consider me another pilot, but as a peer - one professional to another.

I'll talk to you all next week...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Requesting Flight Following

Beep beep, beep beep, beep beep.  Fuel pump - ON, switch tanks, reset and start timer, Fuel pump - Off
Every 30 minutes I'd go through the same routine.  In-between I'd be checking my course through landmarks on the ground and navigational beacons, timing the distance between them, calculating my ground speed, and talking to air traffic control.  Sitting here now, it seems like a blur, but my 667 mile cross country is behind me.  Having cancelled twice already, due to weather, I was happy to take off from a cloudless, 71 degree Vero Beach and head off to my longest flight, yet, and log more flight time in a single day than I ever had before.

Wheels-up came just after 11:30 in the morning, and I lifted off into some of the most beautiful weather I've experienced yet, here in Florida.  Winds were relatively light, thanks to the high pressure following the front that cleared the day before.  I settled in at 6,500 feet, opened my VFR flight plan and contacted Orlando Approach for flight following (they monitor your flight).  The eastern corridor was quite busy north of Melbourne, FL.  I was getting several traffic calls, including a Mooney which passed me 500' below and to the right (same direction) and a Beechcraft 400 jet going in the opposite direction.  The flight also carried me just west near Cape Canaveral, and I was able to see the entire space center from the air.  The open-structure launch pads rose up along the coast, pointed like fingers towards the heavens.  In the middle of it all, the immense Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) sat like the nucleus of the atom which made up KSC, and just east, the legendary pads 39A and 39B sat.  The former waiting to launch the final two missions, carried out by shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis respectively.  It was awe inspiring.

Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39B, the VAB, and Pad 39A (Left to Right)
I landed at St Augustine Florida (KSGJ) right on schedule, and decided to take lunch.  Its fortunate I did, for the FBO (Fixed Base Operator - the private aircraft terminal) was receiving a delivery of AVGas and couldn't fuel my plane until they'd finished.  The restaurant at SGJ was quite good, and I fully recommend the Western Burger.  While I sat back in the FBO, in my uniform and duly playing Angry Birds on my iPad, an Air Force pilot waiting to depart came up to chat about the iPad, and its usefulness to a pilot (including playing angry birds).  It was nice to be treated as an equal by the Major, a fellow professional pilot out accomplishing a mission, bound by a common passion.

As I departed St Augustine, I fired up the bluetooth GPS module my instructor let me borrow. The DUAL XGPS 150 is a bluetooth enabled, WAAS capable, portable GPS receiver that, when coupled with my iPad, would present my real-time position on a sectional/en-route chart, including GPS altitude, groundspeed, and heading, using the App ForeFlight.  To any pilots reading my blog, the iPad, XGPS 150, ForeFlight combo is probably one of the single greatest investments you can make.  Considering you can get a portable, WAAS capable, moving-map GPS, and will geo-reference your position on CURRENT aviation charts, for less than $600 (plus a $75/year basic subscription to ForeFlight) - its absolutely amazing the situational awareness you are able to obtain, especially in older, less well-equipped aircraft. Not only did I get my en-route briefing through ForeFlight, via the iPads built-in WiFi, but I was also able to correctly file my flight plan with the FAA from it, and track my progress along the way!  I should get a commission from those three companies for the plug I just gave them...

Okay, back to the flight.  So St Augustine was nice, but I had to keep trucking along.  Its certain that the designers of the seats in the poor Cadet did not have long-range flights in mind, because after about an hour, my butt started to go numb.  At least it kept my attention, unlike the boring, flat landscape, and the quiet control frequency.  I arrived at Albany, GA (KABY) without issue, and made a silky smooth landing on Runway 16.

Over the boring state of Georgia
The controller at KABY was extremely nice, she warned me of smoke in the vicinity due to controlled burns by the local paper companies, and gave me constant wind updates, since it was varying between many directions.  As I departed on my final leg, I was more concerned about my butt than the fact it was the longest leg of my trip at 314 miles, but through the smoke I climbed up to 7,500 feet.  The Gulf of Mexico appeared to my west, and the sun began to dip towards its blue waters.  

iPad on the left, flight plan on the right at 7,500 feet
Looking over at the Gulf of Mexico

Flying along, while listening to Tallahassee approach, I heard a pretty cool traffic advisory to another aircraft:
"Saratoga 9-2-Mike, traffic at your 2 o'clock, 2 miles.  You'll follow them in for final.  Flight of two F-22s.  Caution wake turbulence." 
 Damn I want THAT traffic call!

As I entered Orlando's airspace, I received a vector south to avoid the international airport.  On my iPad, I noticed my track was going to take me directly over Disney World.  Might sound cool, at first, but the FAA has a "permanent" Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) and I had no intentions of busting any airspace on my flight.  With my knowledge in-hand I queried Orlando about it, and was told I was cleared through it, so long as I was under their control.  Perfect!  Dusk was settling into night as I crossed over Disney World and was told to proceed direct to Vero Beach.  I made it back to KVRB at 9pm on the nose, 7.3 hours of flight later, and one step closer to my single-engine commercial license.

Today, I took my last flight (for a while) in the Cadet, and my last one with my current instructor, Chris.  The three of us have come a long way since I started here, but in that short time, I've gone from a recreational pilot, more concerned with my next tailwheel landing than checklists, to a pilot flying at a professional level, knowing every aspect of each flight I'm about to take.  Up next is the more-advanced and powerful Piper Arrow... Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm such a dork...

Well, by the absence of a post, you can guess my cross-country flight was a no-go.  The threat of bad weather in Georgia prevented my instructor from signing me off for the flight, and I concurred that it wasn't the BEST day to go.  Disappointing, yes, but the trip is planned and just waiting to be executed.

On the other hand, I've started ground school.  The commercial ground school is 4 hours every weekday and covers a plethora of topics, at a fairly fast pace.  When people describe flight training as "trying to drink from a fire-hose," I always thought it was a joke, something to laugh about and make it seem more intense than it was.  They weren't joking.  As I've tried to convey over the last few weeks, the training and amount of knowledge needed here is immense, but add a classroom setting, and it really is taken to 11.

But you know what?  I LOVE IT!!

The last two days have been discussing "Aircraft Systems."  Imagine if, before you were allowed to drive something other than a Kia, you had to know how every single system on your car worked.  I wonder how many people could describe how their engine ACTUALLY worked, or how the air conditioning kept you cool?  Or how many people would take the time to learn it?  In this class, I've had to learn how an electric landing gear is different from a hydraulic one.  Or how the differential pressure in a pressurized aircraft is closely monitored so you don't hurt the aircraft or make the passengers uncomfortable.  Some of this stuff I've learned before, both in my love of cars (the workings of a reciprocating engine) and my Instrument Rating training from a month prior.  Before that it was advanced aerodynamics, next is commercial navigation.

The amount of knowledge and data a professional pilot must be aware of is extraordinary.  To be a pilot, you have to be a doctor, knowing the aeromedical side of aviation, like what happens to your body at altitude for lack of oxygen; you have to be a physicist, knowing how the center of gravity of the airplane, with relation to the center of lift affects how it flies; and you have to be a meteorologist, knowing how weather patterns move, how thunderstorms, fog, and temperature inversions are formed.  It doesn't stop at this commercial class either.  Next is multi-engined aircraft, then flight instructing, then INSTRUMENT flight instruction, and so-on.

Then there's the written test.  While the Instrument rating is agreed to be the most difficult to get, the commercial test is the longest.  The FAA knowledge exam is a 100 question test where questions are randomly selected from a pool of over 560.  Its a LOT of information to take in.  As with everything else in aviation, it builds off what you have learned in the past, and adds more on top of the pile.  I'm sure I'll be complaining about how hard the flight instructor exam is once THAT time comes...

So its time to hit the books again.  I'm sparing myself two days of R&R in Lakeland, FL this weekend for the annual Sun n' Fun fly-in and airshow.  Unfortunately, its already been marred by a tragedy, as some extreme weather in the form of a possible tornado, ripped across the airfield and destroyed dozens of aircraft.  Luckily no one seems to have been seriously injured, but the damage was extensive.  The organizers have decided "the show must go on" and things will be back on track tomorrow by the time I arrive.

Until the next post - Maintain flight-level 410!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going Solo

Well, a few more flights in the log book since my last post, all of them solo.  One of the requirements for the Commercial Pilots Certificate under Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 61.129 are 10 solo take-offs and landings at a controlled airfield (tower), at night.  Well, turns out, my first solo at FlightSafety was to complete this task.  The location for this completion was Melbourne International Airport, about 30 miles north of Vero Beach.  Did I mention this was at night?  A challenge, for sure, but a welcome one.  En-route to Melbourne (KMLB), I got to learn the Cadet all over again.  Without an extra person on-board, the little Piper leapt off the ground, and in-flight, it flew amazingly well.

As the sun set over Florida, I couldn't help but marvel at the beautiful things this carrer keeps showing me.  The golden hue of the sun shone bright on the horizon, highlighting the waters of the Indian River, and melting into the azul waters of the ocean below.

My thoughts could not linger on the beauty of the world around me for too long, as I had a job to do.  Before I could "legally" log the landings at night (one hour after sunset), I decided to do a few touch-and-gos at MLB to get used to the controllers and the airfield.  There was a lot of training activity there, especially from locally-based Florida Institute of Technology.  Among some of the more interesting aircraft on the ground were 2 Boeing 707s, a 747-400, and a US Air Force C-17.  Not bad for a regional airport!

Anyways, my landings went smoothly, and after 2.9 hours in the air, I finally landed back at Vero and put the plane to bed.

Since, I've made 2 more solo flights, both to practice my aforementioned commercial maneuvers, all of which are coming along very well.  Its hard to believe in the two weeks I've been training, I've already logged 10.7 flight hours towards the 18 I've been slated for in the Cadet.  Today's flight was especially rewarding.  Few students were in the air, and the weather was nearly perfect.  A light wind off the ocean kept my concentration, but didn't overwork my skills.  The sky was gorgeous, though.  Large puffy clouds dotted the sky, and the evening light shone through them like rays from heaven.

I returned to Vero Beach to find an unusually empty traffic patter, where I did 2 Touch-and-gos  on Runway 11L, and a final full-stop landing on 11R.

So that brings me to now.  Tomorrow, I am off on my longest flight yet.  Another requirement of the commercial certificate is a 3-leg long cross-country of over 300 miles, where one leg is at least 250 miles (straight line) from the start point.  My plan is to go from Vero Beach to St Augustine, FL (KSGJ), to Albany, GA (KABY) and back.  Total distance is over 660 miles and is calculated to yield about 6.6hours of flight time, easily my longest flight to-date.

So now, a night's rest and an early start tomorrow.  Stay tuned on Facebook for flight-tracking, and right here for a recap of the trip!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Getting to Work...

Pre-Maneuver Check - Fuel Pump, On; Landing Light, On; Recognition Light, On; Mixture, Rich.  Pre-Maneuver Check Complete

Sorry for the gap in posts, but training has really ramped up.  After my initial flight with Chris, we met with Nancy, and apparently, I was given top marks on my airmanship.  We agreed that I would shoot for the minimum amount of hours necessary to attain my Commercial Certificate.  This equated to 16 hours in the Cadet and 20 hours in the Arrow.  So, here we go!

Our next flight was an introduction to commercial maneuvers, as well as more of the local practice areas.  One thing I've noticed about Vero Beach, is the winds during the day are quite strong and gusty.  This makes landings interesting, and low-level maneuvers difficult (at best) to get as accurate as possible.  We started the lesson with Lazy-8s.  A lazy 8 requires a fine touch to complete correctly, as it involves near constant change in bank and pitch, though the whole maneuver.  Essentially, without changing the power setting, you begin a slow roll (left or right) and pull up at the same time.  By the time you reach 90 degrees from the beginning of the maneuver, the aircraft should be about 20 degrees, nose up, with 30 degrees of bank.  As the nose falls through the horizon, the bank angle gets taken out, and the airspeed rises.  At the end, the aircraft is 180° from the beginning heading, at the same altitude, at the same airspeed.

I nailed the very first one.

We moved on to Chandelles.  Roll 30 degrees, smooth pull-up 20-22 degrees and hold it.  As the airspeed falls, and the aircraft passes 90°, the bank angle is slowly taken out, but the pitch stays the same.  The second half of the maneuver is much slower than the first, due to the high pitch-angle and slow airspeed, but at the end, the aircraft should be about 500 feet higher than the starting altitude, 5-knots below stall, and 180° from the start heading.  These went well, as I had a good concept of how to perform the maneuver to begin with, but weren't perfect.

As we continued the Chandelles to gain altitude, we also made our way towards Valkaria Airport (X59).  At around 5,500 feet, Chris pulled the engine and asked me to perform a steep spiral maneuver into a power-off landing at the airfield.  To add that extra bit of challenge, Chris told me to make it a spot landing at the 1,000' markings on the runway.  All those glider flights and spot-landing contests with JJ came in handy, as I had a nice smooth touchdown within 50 feet of the mark.

We finished up with Eights on Pylons, a low-level, horizontal figure-of-eight with varying altitude.  I had the most difficult with this one, but after the third attempt, I started to get it.  The winds were around 12-15 knots and quite gusty, so my difficulty with the maneuver wasn't entirely my fault.  With a bit more practice, I feel I can get this one down too, no matter the conditions.

Our next flight was in the late evening, the next day.  Chris wanted me to go solo, but I wanted to get one final feel for the area, with him there, and a few more dual-looks at the maneuvers I had been practicing.  We took a look at the southern practice areas, and practiced some proceeders, followed by some more Chandelles.  We finished off the quick lesson with some touch-and-gos at Fort Pierce (KFPR) and headed back to Vero Beach.

Next post will be about my first solo flight, at night, and at an unfamiliar airport... Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Flight

"Cherokee 9213D, cleared for takeoff, Runway 11R."
The words sent a jolt of adrenaline through my body as I pushed the power forward and taxied past the hold-short line and onto the runway.
"Pilot window, Closed; Fuel pump, On; Landing and Recognition Light, On; Door, Closed and Locked - Lineup Check Complete"
The studying came in handy as I went through the checklist by memory, as is required for many of the critical checklist items at FlightSafety.  No comments from the instructor meant I was doing well as I double checked my heading (making sure I was on the correct runway) and pushed the throttle to its forward stop.  I rotated at 55kts and took to the sky on my first flight at my new school.  The flight was a cross-country (over 50 miles, straight line) flight to Kissimmee (KISM) as an evaluation of my piloting skills.  I would be tested on my pre-planning, preflight, navigation, diversion, decision making, and stick-and-rudder skills over the next 2 1/2 hours, above the barren and hot interior of Florida.

Navigating to Kissimmee is fairly straight-forward in a plane like those I flew back in Frederick.  The one I was flying was a bit different.  In Frederick, the Cessna 172Rs had two navigation radios (NAV-COM), GPS, moving map display, and (in N26499) an ADF.  The Piper PA-28-160 Cherokee Cadet had a single NAV-COM.  And a compass.  And a DG - without a heading bug on it.  It doesn't get any simpler in general aviation these days.  In fact, I'm fairly certain you'd have to CUSTOM ORDER a plane that simple if you bought one today!  This sort of navigation really tested my pilotage skills, otherwise known as dead-reckoning.  Simply put, it was looking out the damn window and finding where you are on a map!

Further, I was required to know every performance calculation relating to the aircraft:  

Runway headwind component; 
Runway Cross-wind component; 
Pressure altitude; 
Density Altitude; 
Weight and Balance; 
Ramp weight; 
Takeoff weight; 
Landing weight; 
Takeoff roll distance (0° and 25° flaps); 
Takeoff distance over a 50' obstacle (0° and 25° flaps); 
Best angle of climb; 
Best rate of climb;
Landing distance over a 50' obstacle;
Time, distance, and fuel used to top-of-climb; 
Fuel consumption; 
Engine performance and setting at cruise; 
Top-of-descent point, including fuel used, and time of descent; 
PLUS, all of the standard cross-country calculations!

Holy hell...

And here's the kicker, I have to do the first 13 calculations, EVERY TIME I go flying!  Never before had preflight planning been SO thorough, but this is professional aviation.  Yes, in modern commercial aircraft there are computers calculating all of this for you automatically (with just a few inputs), but here, they want you to know every aspect of your craft, INSIDE AND OUT.  Its amazing, to be honest, and very humbling.

Long story short, my flight went amazingly.  He had only 2 or 3 items on my pre-flight planning to comment on and my landings were pretty good, especially considering it was my first time in the aircraft, and it was after working my brain on a challenging first cross-country (a LOT of thermal activity en-route made it difficult to hold heading/altitude).  On the way back, he simulated a diversion for me, to which I had to calculate my initial heading, distance, time en-route, and fuel consumption on the fly.  While I got the right answer, it took a little longer than I felt I am capable, and feel need to practice it more.  We did a touch-and-go at Sebastian Airport (my roommate was in a different aircraft doing them at the same time) and headed out over the ocean for some basic maneuvers.  We did slow-flight, power-on and -off stalls, and steep turns.  All of them went very well, with minimum coaching on the critical speeds and checklists.  Chris was especially happy that on my steep-turns, I only had about 10 feet of deviation in altitude!

After the flight, Chris had to leave to another lesson, but in the debrief, he told me my flying ability was more than acceptable for FlightSafety's standards, and he'd have no issue soloing me in their aircraft the next day.  We need another flight to practice emergency procedures, but I'm confident after a few more hours and landings in the Cadet, I'll be more than comfortable to go it alone.

Next step is a meeting with the Chief Flight Instructor, Nancy, on Monday to discuss what I have to meet the FAA requirements for my Commercial Pilot's Certificate.  I'll be back to post about that, following the meeting.

For now, a picture:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Like Taunting a Dog with a Ball

Man I am really itching to go flying!  The last few days have given me a taste of what life is going to be like in school, and I just want to get it started.  Lets rewind to Sunday and get a full taste of what's been happening.

My roommate, Mike, just recently got his CFI from FlightSafety and is working on his MEI and CFI-I.  He's doing this training at Ft Pierce (KFPR) in a Piper Seneca (as opposed to the Seminoles at FlightSafety) as its a bit cheaper.  Anyways, he invited me flying with him and his instructor for a lesson in the area, and itching to get a view from the air, I totally went along.  As we lifted off and climbed up over the Indian River, I couldn't help but noticing the beauty Florida has to offer, completely unnoticed from the ground.  The water of the river was clear enough to see the bottom from shore to shore, and tiny islands dot the interior of the river.  

In the Seneca over the ocean
The ocean was a completely different view altogether.  As we continued to climb, I was taken aback by the sight of the ocean.  The white shorelines contrasted against the beautiful turquoise waters and the Atlantic was spread out into oblivion as I looked east.  The sky above and around us was cloudless and there was barely a hint of turbulence as we leveled off.  From the backseat, I watched as Mike and his instructor (in the left seat to simulate a student) went through a ton of maneuvers and procedures - a great experience since I'll be tasked with the same things in a few weeks.  When we landed I was as invigorated as ever to get my training under way...

DAY 1 - Orientation
Pilot window - Closed and Locked, Fuel Pump - On, Recognition Lights - On, Landing Light - On, Transponder - XMIT, Door - Closed and Locked... Hold the Brakes, Full Power, Engine Instruments looking good - Hit it...
 Okay, so we're off and running.  Orientation started with filling out the obligatory forms and making the first payment onto my account.  Afterwards, they sent me off to take a drug test and get fitted for my uniforms, which I should be getting by the end of the week.  I reported back to the administrative building, where they walked me over to the Pilot Shop and bought my textbooks and required equipment, including a nice new Jeppesen Flight Bag, Manuals out the demon-hole, and a few VFR charts.  (Side Note - my roommate who had gone through the commercial program was able to give me his old books, allowing me to return a few and save some money)

I then met with the Chief Flight Instructor, Nancy Ritter.  Nancy has been very helpful thus far in my journey and I was very happy to talk with her again.  She gave me my flight instructor's contact information, and told me to take a few GEMINI flights by Thursday, when I'll be taking my first flight.  GEMINI flights are a free service allowed to FlightSafety students, which allows them to sit in the backseat of nearly any dual lesson (flight instructor and student) and observe.  I immediately called my instructor, Chris, and found out he had a lesson scheduled that afternoon.

The flight went well, considering it was a pre-Private student practicing landings the whole time.  Because of work being done to the primary runway at Vero, 11R, we initially used Rwy 4, and switched to 11L to favor the prevailing winds.  Unfortunately, because of the student's low time, not all the landings were what I would call "silky."  Still, he did a great job, and Chris coached him very well, giving me a good sense of confidence in his abilities to teach me.

My instructor Chris, after my first GEMINI flight
I ended the day with an hour of studying the Piper Cadet training manual on the beach, followed by a brief workout in the gym here at the condo complex.


Today was a little easier.  I went up on another GEMINI flight with a different instructor.  His student had his Private Pilots License, and was working on some commercial flight maneuvers in the various practice areas.  Since I know I'll be spending some time out there, I definitely didn't want to miss this one.  I got a better feel for operations at KVRB as well as how things work inside the cockpit.  We did Chandelles, lazy-8s, Steep turns, 8s-on-Pylons, and Power-off 180s, along with several touch-and-gos and some "hood" (instruments only) work.  I could follow what was going on pretty easily in and around the plane, and feel I can merge right into the swing of operations within a few flights.

The Indian River
The Atlantic Ocean and its gorgeous waters
On my second GEMINI flight
One thing I DID find out, was dispatch will allow me to go out to a plane and sit in it for practice, (again, free of charge) so I can go through the motions of the checklists, procedures.  That'll be tomorrow, in preparation for my first flight (at the controls) on Thursday.  My instructor asked me to plan a cross-country flight to Kissimmee (KISM) where we will do some maneuvers along the way, in order for him to get a good feel for where I am in my training. 

Stay tuned for reports of my first flight!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Apartment Hunter

NOTE:  I'll add pictures as soon as I can find the cable to plug my camera into my computer...

Well I'm happy to say the train got Dan and I here safely.  In fact, we arrived a whole hour early - a rarity in modern US train travel!  After de-training, Dan and I headed over to Sanford-Orlando International Airport to visit long time college friend, and a protege of mine, Jeff Russell.  Jeff attended and is now a flight instructor for AeroSim Aviation, formerly the Delta Connection Academy.  

Arrived in Sanford!
We eventually checked me into the on-campus housing FlightSafety offers its students.  FlightSafety offers 4 options for housing: the Bungalow, a single room studio; a 3-Bedroom Apartment; the 2815 Dormitory, a two-bed version of the Bungalow; and the Landing Strip, a single or two-bed apartment (depending on layout).  I was lucky enough to get a single-bed landing strip, but at $39 per night, it wasn't financially viable for me in the long run.  

My bedroom on campus - Fully furnished! (Dirty jeans on the bed not included)
My hunt for somewhere a little cheaper started on Craigslist.  Since the economic downturn in 2009, the housing market in Florida has collapsed pretty hard.  Rental prices range from $450/month for a studio apartment to $1200 for a 3-bedroom condominium, and typically, utilities are included.  One thing I quickly found were some of the "special conditions" many of these places have:
2 Bedroom, 2 Bath condo with very private garden view of lush landscape. FIRST FLOOR, no stairs, reserved parking space & guest parking.
Very large living room - dining room combination with pass-through from the kitchen. All appliances and window treatments are included.
Water, Sewer and Trash as well as the Condo Maintenance fee is paid by the owner.
This condo is spacious and very attractively priced for an Unfurnished Annual Rental at $560/month.
The condo association does not allow pets. The owner does not allow smoking.
$560/month!!??!  Hell yeah! Find me a roommate and...
Age 55+ condo community...

After sifting through these age-restricted landmines, (the motto down here is "newly-wed, or nearly-dead") Craigslist turned up a few results, which I visited and looked nice.  My eventual crash-pad came to me in the form of a flyer on a bulletin board at FlightSafety.

I'm settled into a wonderful 3-bedroom apartment in a gated apartment community for only $400/month.  Save for my bedroom, the apartment is fully furnished and utilities are included.  The complex has a full gym, pool, game-room, tons of jogging paths, and is only a few miles from the airport.  To top it all off, I'm living with two FlightSafety students.  One just finished the CFI course and is working on his CFI-I and MEI ratings, the other about to enter his training for his instrument rating.  Having a student ahead of me and one behind will offer unique opportunities to not only learn from both of them, but also to help teach from some of my experiences.

So I have a futon mattress to sleep on for now until I finalize my furniture situation, but my computer is set up, and I have a pantry full of food.  The weather for the next 7 days is sunny and in the mid-to-upper 70s, so I guess I'll hang out at the beach for the majority of the day tomorrow, for Monday is when the real work begins...
Vero Ground, ready to taxi...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cleared for Departure

Cleared for departure to the Vero Beach Airport.  Upon entering controlled airspace, radar vectors to Commercial Single/Multi-Engine Land, CFI, CFII, then as Filed.  Maintain 3000, expect One-Zero Thousand, 10 minutes after departure.  Contact Miami Center on 132.250.  Squawk 0720.

Yeah its cheesy, but its appropriate considering my departure today.  I sit here in my parent's house, in my somewhat empty room, filled with more emotion than one person should be allowed to have.  Excitement, anxiety, fear, happiness, nostalgia - I could go through a whole list of thoughts racing through my head right now.  But that time has come and gone.  Right now, I have the task ahead of me, for this is the beginning of my great adventure.  My career.  My life.

Let me give you a little background of who I am and why I am writing this blog.  For as long as I can remember, I've had an inexplicable obsession with aviation.  According to my parents, my first word was "airplane" and my first phrase "airplane go bye-bye."  Having been born on Maui (hence "Flyin Hawaiian), we would have to fly everywhere to visit friends and family.  If you've ever been on an airliner, there's always that ONE person who thought it would be a good idea to bring their 6-month old child with them, which ends up crying from startup to shutdown.  Not me.  On my first trip from Hawaii to the mainland, aboard a United DC-10, I was not only quiet as can be, but I sat up in the bassinet, and looked around, fascinated by my new airborne world.

Maybe that is what hooked me on aviation.  Or maybe it was my dad, taking me to the runway ends of Gaithersburg Airpark (KGAI), Gravely Point in Washington DC (KDCA), watching F-14s at the end of NAS Miramar (KNKX), helping John Davis - captain for American Airlines - do a walk-around on an MD-82 (pre 9/11 of course), or any of the dozens of airshows my parents took me to as a baby.  In fact, at the 1988 Air Expo at NAS Patuxent River (KNHK), during Dale Snodgrass' F-14 demo, I took my very first steps.  There have been many instances, which can point to my love of aviation, but I just think its in my blood.  Like most pilots, I know I was meant to be up there not down here.

Fast forward 12 years, and my parents made me a deal:  Make honor roll for the entire school year, and I get flying lessons.  Take a guess what I did?  I took my first flight lesson on June 26, 1999 with Greg French, in a TB09 Tampico N55372.  It was amazing.  Me, doing what I've known to be destined to do, and doing like a champ.  I could hold straight and level, make turns, even hold a heading.  I could even handle unusual situations such as a vacuum failure, as I pointed out the gyrating DG to Greg.  I didn't freak out, I didn't panic, I just pointed it out to him, and thought "don't tell mom."

Through my involvement in the Civil Air Patrol, I attended the 2000 Maryland Wing Glider Academy, where we immersed ourselves into aviation and were guaranteed TWO rides in a sailplane.  Dave Pixton took me up in a Grob 103 sailplane for 30 minutes, and I was HOOKED.  Not only was glider flying within my parent's budget, (I was only flying powered once a month) but it was so much fun.  In a glider, everything slows down, and you truly feel like you're flying.  All you hear is the air rushing by, the sailplane rattling as if it were speaking to you, and your heart beating in your ears.  Sailplanes challenge a pilot in every aspect of VFR aviation:  Formation flying on tow, energy management aloft, dead-reckoning navigation, spatial orientation, situational awareness, stick and rudder skills, and dead-stick landings.  I soloed on July 2, 2001, 18 days before my 15th birthday. It was one of the greatest feelings of my life.  As I released that tow cable, knowing I was up there, alone for the first time, I knew I was a PILOT.  I'm not afraid to admit I wept in joy.  To this day, thinking about that feeling gets me choked up.  Granted, my next thought was how silly it would be if I ran into something (like the ground) because I was all teary-eyed, so I got it together and focused on the task at hand.

A year and 18 days later, in front of many friends and family members, I soloed Cessna 172R N172WG on my 16th birthday.  The following year, I was a licensed glider pilot.  Unfortunately, my departure to Penn State (from which I graduated) put my Single Engine - Land rating on hold, but not indefinitely.  In the Fall of 2006, my mom introduced me to my friend and mentor, JJ Greenway, and by introduced me, I mean he came and picked me up from school in his Cessna 172 - N20336 - and told me to fly us home.  Talk about a meeting!  This was the beginning of a wonderful friendship, and a turning point for my aviation career.  JJ helped me through my SEL Private Pilots Certificate (August 8, 2007), high-performance, complex, and tailwheel endorsements, as well as much of my instrument flying, and introduction to professional-style aviation.  I've logged more hours with him than any other person, and owe a lot of my attention to detail and knowledge to his expertise.

So here we are now.  I passed my Instrument rating checkride on February 9, 2011, and am about to leave for Vero Beach.  My Mazda is packed to the gills (minus my laptop - obviously), and the Auto Train leaves Lorton, VA at around 3:30pm - myself and my best friend Dan on board.  But why am I going to Vero, you might ask.  Simple - I am enrolled in the Commercial Single/Multi-Engine Land, Certificated Flight Instructor, and CFI-Instrument courses at Flight Safety International's Flight Safety Academy.  This blog is going to be a venue to share my experiences with my friends, family, and the world.  I will be posting updates as often as my schedule allows, and hope to continue it beyond this chapter, and into my career.

I apologize for the wall of text, but if you've continued this far, allow me to share with you a passage, which has sustained me through my challenges, and desire to accomplish my dreams:

"A career in flying was like climbing one of those ancient Babylonian pyramids made up of a dizzy progression of steps and ledges, a ziggurat, a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were the one of the elected and anointed ones who had "the right stuff" and could move higher and higher and even--ultimately, God willing, one day--that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite... the very brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself."

-From: The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe