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February 10, 2019

Lesson 8: Sat Feb 9, 2019

Atlanta was invaded by the Super Bowl in early February. The ground invasion was more visible, but the effects extended to the Atlanta airspace as well. The FAA banned all flight training within 30+ miles of Atlanta from Tuesday Jan 29 until the following Tuesday Feb 5. I went out to PDK on that first Tuesday, and the flight ramp where Skybound parks it’s airplanes was completely empty. By the end of the week PDK had shutdown 2 of the 3 runways; traffic was only coming in and out on 3L/21R. The other two runways were full of expensive business jets. My instructor Steve noted there was probably a billion dollars worth of aircraft parked out there. It’s plausible: even that early there were 5 Gulfstream 550s on one of the runways. Google says those go for over 50 million. Oddly, there was less to see for visitors: fewer takeoffs and landings than normal. But this weekend PDK was back to business as usual.

Today we didn’t even leave PDK. It’s a day of “closed pattern work” -- taking off via 3L, at 700’ AGL turn left into the crosswind leg, then into the base leg, then turn final and back down to the field. Once again we’re flying “low and slow” -- not landing, but down close to the runway, just like we did in lesson 5 and lesson 6.

I’m back in 73924. The last time I was in 924 I could not keep it under control on the ground. I did better in the newer plane in lesson 7, so I was curious to see how I would do this time in the older plane. I did pretty well taxiing from the Skybound ramp, right turn on taxiway Alpha, then almost immediately a slight right turn on taxiway Bravo. But there were still some hiccups where Steve had to take over.

We’re in the run-up area just off 3L where we do final checks before takeoff. Peachtree ground clears us to taxi the short distance to 3L. I switch the radio over to the tower frequency and gingerly move out of the run-up area. Don’t get too close to that jet which is taxiing across 3L to take off on 3R. The jet throttles up as it is cleared onto 3R, and our control yoke moves back towards me on it’s own from the force of the jet’s blast.

We’re holding short of 3L waiting for inbound traffic to land. There it is ... it comes by us, but we’re still waiting. I saw it looked like it was going around, but now I can’t see it ...? Just wait.

“Cessna 73934, cleared for takeoff on 3 left.” Oh crap: showtime!

Left hand on the yoke, right hand on the throttle. Turn left onto the runway. I’m a little too far to the right, so line it up with the rudder pedals -- now we’re centered -- push the throttle in full. The torque of the propeller is trying to push us to the left of the runway, so push in on the right rudder pedal. We’re moving faster, faster ... 60 knots comes quick. Pull back on the yoke ... goodness, that’s a squirrelly takeoff, but we’re up. Don’t worry about how much to pitch up: try to make 79 knots. Too slow? Put the nose down a little. Too fast? Pull the nose up. We’re staying in the pattern to practice, so at 700’ above the ground, we start a 90’ left turn on our crosswind leg.

Today I’m in somewhat better overall control of the airplane in the air, but I still have problems. “You’re driving the airplane, not flying,” says Steve, meaning I forget to use the rudder pedals when I turn the yoke. If you don’t use the rudder pedals, your turns are uncoordinated, mushy. The airplane will turn, but it’s poor airmanship. We are pilots and can do better. (I’m not alone; it’s a very common problem among student pilots.)

Back when were initially practicing bigger slower turns, it was easier to remember to use the rudder: turn the yoke left, and push the left rudder pedal at the same time. When you’re banked into the turn sufficiently, bring the controls back to neutral until it’s time to move the yoke and rudder in the opposite direction. But in the pattern I’m having to make many small corrections to our direction. I’m using the yoke, but just about every time I’m forgetting the rudder. Or perhaps I’m even moving the rudder in the wrong direction? I’m not sure. We’ve been practicing slips down over the runway, and in a slip you move the rudder the opposite direction to the ailerons. I think that’s been messing with my memory of how to do a coordinated turn.

We’re in the downwind leg with the airport off to our left. We’ve reached our pattern altitude of 2,000’, 1,000 field above the field, so we bring the throttle back from 100%. Watch for the traffic in front of us -- there it is. It’s another Cessna. Peachtree tower tells us we’re #2 to land.

Normally if there’s no traffic you’re supposed to continue in your downwind leg until you can look back and see the end of the runway at a 45’ angle over your shoulder. But most of the time at PDK you’re at the mercy of the airplane ahead of you. You don’t want to overtake them.

We’re now abeam the end of the runway. Throttle back to 1700 RPM, get the speed down to 90kts, and move the lever to bring in 10’ of flaps. Watch it, the plane wants to balloon up when the flaps come in. Steve says the first 10’ of flaps add the most lift; the remaining increments (20‘, 30’) mostly add drag to bring the airplane down faster.

Time to turn base - 90’ left again until you’re flying perpendicular to the end of the runway. Throttle back to 1500 and bring in 20’ of flaps. Steve is handling the throttle for me at this point so I can concentrate on my approach. He turns on the carburetor heat which drops the power a little. Carb heat prevents carburetor icing.

There’s a building south of PDK that looks like a black triangle. Steve tells me it’s a useful landmark to tell me when I should turn final and head for the runway. (I look it up later; it’s the GA Dept of Revenue building just off Century Blvd, 1.6 miles from the end of the runway.) I turn. Steve brings the throttle down more and puts in 30’ of flaps. We’re now doing about 60 knots, right were we should be.

We’re not that high at this point; maybe 300’ AGL and coming down. I’m pointed a little to the right of the runway heading and need to turn left a little more to line up properly with the runway.

We don’t want to touch down; once again we’re just practicing slips over the runway. Right aileron to slide right a little, lots of left rudder to hold the plane straight. Now a left slip - left aileron, right rudder.

All too soon it’s time to go up and around again. Throttle full forward, carb heat off, bring flaps back up in stages. Establish best rate of climb at 79 knots.

I have no idea exactly how many circuits we made around the pattern, but I’m guessing about 10 minutes per time, so probably 6 times around the pattern before we land. Today we’re actually back 45 minutes before the next flight, so Steve and I have some time to talk about what I didn’t do right. It’s clear I’m suffering from flying only every two weeks. Every thing I’ve read recommends you fly more frequently, and now I really start to see why: every lesson I have to relearn something of what I did before. But until we move into the new house in March, I want to keep my cash flow under control.

I’m now at 9.1 hours. I’m not really satisfied with my progress; before every lesson I’m pretty nervous, and I’m not fully in control of any aspect of my flying. Before Steve can sign me off to solo, he has to be confident that I’m safe to take the airplane out by myself, communicate on the radio while flying the plane, and get myself back safely. I’m not close to that goal.

On the other hand, not counting the first demo flight, I’ve had 7 lessons over 2 months. On Thanksgiving Day the world over the fence at PDK was foreign; now it’s becoming familiar. Flying is challenging, and I’m not used to anything being this difficult. Less than three months later, I’m on the other side of the fence and gaining altitude.

January 26, 2019

Flight Lessons #6/7

After a two week break, I flew twice in the last week: Lesson #6 on Mon Jan 21st (MLK Day holiday) and #7 today on Sat Jan 26. It's been a mixed bag.

Monday started off very cold: 25° at 8am. We had to bring out the jury-rigged heater to get the engine started. It's got a propane tank gadget that my CFI used to blow hot air to the engine. Steve, however, is a master of getting cold engines to start.

The lesson started with my nemisis: taxiing. When you're on the ground, you steer the airplane with the rudder pedals at your feet. Those pedals are attached to springs which move the nose wheel: at least that's how it's supposed to work. I'm fairly sure last Monday when I was pressing left, gremlins were sitting under the floorboard and making the plane go right. That's got to be it, right? It's not just that I'm crappy at it? In any case, I'd try to taxi for a few seconds, the plane would go the opposite of where I wanted it to go, and my instructor would say "My airplane!" and take over. I tried again a couple of times, but somehow I just was not getting it. Even though I'd done a takeoff the previous lesson and should have done it again, I told Steve I didn't feel confident in my ability to keep the plane on the runway, and he agreed.

The rest of the lesson was uneventful. I think Steve decided I just needed to do some review, so we went out and did some steep (45°) turns, trying to maintain altitude. Steve showed me one, and as he came back around, the plane hit a bump - and Steve turned to me, excited, and said "We just hit our own wake! That's how you're supposed to do it!" Needless to say, I was in no danger of repeating his feat.

It was also very clear. Steve said he could see planes landing all the way down at Hartsfield. You'd think it would be cool to be 2,000 above the ground on a beautiful morning - just look at everything! But when you're up there, your attention is fully consumed, and you really don't have much time to enjoy the scenery. If you want to enjoy looking at all the cool stuff, take my advice: go up with someone else and enjoy the view.

Steve's summary of the lesson: "You're doing fine in the air but terribly on the ground!" disagree.

It's better for learning if you can fly more frequently. Several times a week would be ideal. But I made the improvident decision to start flight lessons right before we also decided to buy a house. So until we get into the house and the finances stabilize again, I'm trying to fly every two weeks. Those of you who live in Atlanta realize that next weekend we're going to have our very own no-fly zone called the Superbowl. And the FAA has decreed that no training flights will be allowed out of PDK between January 29th and February 5th. In fact, they're going to shut down runways at PDK and start parking plants right on the runways. I will come out to the airport next Saturday Feb 4th just to see all the crazy traffic flying in, but if I wanted to avoid waiting three weeks to fly, I had to schedule something this weekend.

For #7 this morning I was back in the much newer Cessna 172 N704RB. Fuel injection, baby. Yeah. But 11 points where you have to check the fuel. Ah, the smell of avgas in the morning; I can't say I love it.

Today was a mixed bag. On the plus side, I did far better with the taxiing. I think I was over-controlling the aircraft Monday; today I managed to keep it until control, and I even did the takeoff. Today's destination: KLZU: Gwinnett County Briscoe Field, better known as Lawrenceville. The idea is once again to practice being in the pattern (1,000' above the field), turning base and final, and then coming in low over the field, working on my ability to keep the plane aligned with the runway while the wind tries to blow the plane sideways off the runway center line.

It was a beautiful day, but it was pretty bumpy up there. My instructor's advice: don't try to chase the altitude: every time you get bumped up above your altitude you're gonna get another one pushing you down. Just ride it out.

Lawrenceville is a towered airport with a single runway. With the Superbowl coming up, all of Atlanta and their ferrets were up and flying today. At one point we were 5th in line for landing. I even heard the tower say "The pattern is full." to one pilot. (No Ghostrider, though.)

My flying was spotty today; there were times where I not in full control of the aircraft. You could feel it. Steve was always ready to take over and did so at a few points.

On one of the trips around the pattern, I finally relaxed a little and had just my left hand on the control yoke instead of gripping it in both hands. "That's better!" said Steve. "You need your right hand free for other things." Like controlling the throttle. I am getting more confident with using the throttle. In a car, you're always using the throttle: stopping, going, slowing down, speeding up. In an airplane, you tend to keep a constant throttle except to go up or down.

So all in all, bit of a mixed day. Some things I'm doing ok at it; some things could be better.

But it's still really cool. I've been sitting here at the Downwind Restaurant overlooking the field writing. It must be busy out there; I've been hearing aircraft buzzing every few minutes. While I'm at the airport I'm still feel like a pilot. I think I'll go out with my radio and listen and watch for a little while longer before I go home and back to earth.

Postscript: I did go out and listen and watch. Just two months in, and I'm part of the club: I understand what I'm hearing. As I listen, I hear 704RB call Peachtree Tower, and I watch it land. There is a woman next to me taking pictures with a big Canon lens, and I want to say "704 Romeo Bravo! I flew that today!" But instead I watch it taxi back to the ramp and shut down.

Flying, man. Flying.

January 6, 2019

Flight Lesson #5

Lesson #5: 1/6/19. Cessna 172 "Nola" N703RB from Skybound Aviation. Last flight: 12/22.

I wanted to fly between Christmas and New Years, but the weather didn't cooperate. Today was beautiful, or as the automated information (ATIS) put it, "Winds 320' [~NW] at 8nm/hr, visiblity 10nm, temperature 15[C], dewpoint 3, visual approaches in use, Runway 3 right and 3 left. You have information November." (The information changes every so often, and every update gets a new letter: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.)

I spent money on two aviation things since my last lesson. I bought private pilot video course from King Schools with your hosts John and Martha King. Some people think the Kings are corny, but I'm a dad, so it works for me. The King Schools guarantee you will pass your FAA written exam or you'll get a full refund.

But the more fun thing is an Icom IC-A14 VHF Air Band transceiver - ie, a radio that tunes to the ground, tower, and automated weather frequencies that you need to use at a towered airport like PDK. The plane has radios, of course, but if you have your own radio, you can go out to the field and listen to the ground and tower personnel work with flights on the ground and in the air. Very fun. And you take it up in the plane, giving you a backup if the plane's radios go out.

I wasn't sure what to expect from today's lesson - more slow flight? More slips and stalls? Nope; said Steve, today we're going to practice emergency landings!

I haven't done any landings yet, emergency or otherwise, so this was new. And to do this, we flew up to Gainesville (aka KGVL), an "uncontrolled field" - one with no tower personnel - at Gainesville, aka KGVL, 39 miles to the NE of PDK.

In the end today was really just more about attempted landings than emergency landings. The emergency part turned out to being pulling the throttle back to idle a few times as we attempted to land. It turns out that a Cessna 172 glides pretty well, and doesn't feel at all out of control as it's sliding back down to the field with the engine throttled back.

We didn't actually do "full stop landings." Instead Steve demonstrated a few touch-and-gos, bringing the plane all the way down to touch on the runway and then throttling back up again for to takeoff.

We practiced using the traffic pattern for landing. You approach the field at pattern altitude, which is usually 1,000 feet above the field. (Gainesville is at 1,300', so you enter the pattern at 2,300'.) You fly parallel to the runway in the opposite direction from the direction you want to land, and about 1/2 - 1 mile away from the runway. This is known as your downwind leg, because usually you land into the wind (or up wind). Like most fields, Gainesville has a left-handed pattern, meaning you fly downwind past the end of the runway until you can see the runway behind you and to the left at about a 45' angle, and then you make a 90' turn to the left onto your base leg, and then finally you turn another 90' to the left to line up with the runway. You should be losing altitude as you make these turns, and if you've done it right, you want to be down to the altitude of the field just at the start of the runway.

It's hard to visualize. Google "airport traffic pattern" and you'll see what this looks like.

Today I didn't do the part where you make it all the way to the ground. Instead, I focused on trying to get down to the runway in an orderly fashion, and then trying to fly low over runway trying to keep the plane centered on the runway. That's a little tricky if there's any wind at all. As Steve said, if there were never any wind or just wind coming straight down the runway, all our landings would be fabulous, but that rarely happens. After flying low down over the runway, you throttle up, get back up to 500' below pattern altitude and make a 90' left turn to go around the pattern again.

So round and round we went - turn left, turn left, turn left, turn left - six passes over the runway in all, with Steve doing either two or three of them and me doing the balance. After that we made a beeline for PDK. I flew all the way back from Gainesville, getting it down to PDK's pattern altitude of 2000, getting it slowed down under Steve's direction, and sort of lined up with the runway. I was a bit off to the right, but Steve handled the last mile/minute of the flight and got us back on the ground safely.

Landing really is a whole bunch of things you have to do correctly. We're taking them a step at a time.

One interesting thing: as we're coming into Gainesville the first time, I noticed several birds ahead of us. And as we went around the field, several times there were more birds - including an entire flock of them under us. Birds! They're the real owners of the sky; we're lucky to get to share in their realm.

December 22, 2018

Flight Lesson #4

Lesson #4 at PDK: 12/22/18. Cessna 172 "Daisy" N73924 from Skybound Aviation.

Clear skies for my 4th lesson. Pretty chilly, though - temps in the 30s around 10:30am when we went out to the aircraft.

CFI Steve Hurst's finger is better from his cut a week ago just before my 3rd lesson, but it still hurts.

The first thing in the checklist is to turn on the master switch and check the fuel gauges. But given that you can't just pull over in the air, another part of the preflight check is to get up on the wing, open the fuel tank cap on each side, and use a clear plastic tube to physically check the level. Today we didn't have as much as we wanted, so Steve had to call a fuel truck. I got on with the rest of the preflight.

And promptly got told by Steve to go back and look at the checklist, because I missed extending the flaps first. Lesson: always look at the checklist first. I got through the rest of the checklist ok.

This particular plane really doesn't like getting started when it's cold. Steve had us pull out all tricks: prime it multiple times, pumping the throttle, and after about 5 minutes, it started.

Once in the air, I was introduced to the "Foggles": Foggles look like safety glasses with the top half frosted over so you can't see out the windshield. My task was to fly straight and level with reference only to the instruments, and then do a slight turn to the left. Spoiler: it's hard to do. I had trouble holding a consistent altitude. Steve was reasonably satisfied: "You didn't turn the aircraft upside down. Good work."

The first ground manuver was turning about a point: keeping a consistent direction from a fixed point on the ground as you make basically a square around it. We found a water tower to use, went down to 1500' AGL, and Steve demonstrated. Then I tried it, and did a reasonable job: I made left turns and went around said water tower twice, trying to keep the altitude steady and the water tower a consistent distance off my left side. (Side note: 1500' above the ground is not as high as you might think. If you're used to flying in jets that are only low on landings and takeoffs, it's striking how low it looks.

The second thing we practiced is the "forward slip". The point of the forward slip is to lose altitude and/or air speed more rapidly than normal, which is useful when you're landing. Put in left aileron which wants to make the airplane turn left, but full right rudder which keeps the aircraft instead going straight ahead. The result: the descent rate doubles.

The last manuver of the days: stalls! Stalls get lots of attention when you're learning to fly, and understandably so: a stall happens when you raise the nose so high that the wing basically stops flying. The Cessna 172 is a training aircraft, and she really doesn't want to stall. We did the first stall "clean" with flaps up. Pull the throttle back to idle, trim the airplane to fly at 65kts, and then start pulling the nose up, and the airplane slows. And slows. Somewhere below 40kts there's a slight disturbence in the controls, and you lose lift, and then you just lower the nose and you're back flying. Easy peasy.

Next up, stalling with flaps down. Flaps increase the area of the wing, so Daisy can fly even slower. As before, gliding, then pull back .. and back .. AND BACK .. it takes a lot of back pressure on the yoke, and airplane is going slower and slower. (Steve noted our ground speed was 25kts before she finally stalled.) Push the nose back down .. coming back .. and wait, what's that? The plane starts to drop again - we got into a secondary stall! Steve did the recovery on that one. We didn't talk about that again, so I'm going to have to bring that up next time, and look it up in my books.

Instead of following a highway back, Steve dialed in PDK in the GPS, which give me a heading to follow back to the airport: 238 most of the way, I think. I liked this part of the flight best: all the hard parts done, just flying along.

The flight ended on a bit of down note when I had some trouble taxiing. Taxiing is tricky because you do it all with the rudder pedals at your feet: the yoke does nothing. Plus, the pedals are dual purpose: press on the tops to brake, on the bottom to move the rudder. At the same time, I'm having some trouble nailing down which way things move correctly. Take the throttle: push in to go, pull out for slow. Don't be like me: when your instructor tells you to throttle the engine back, don't push in the throttle and suddenly have the airplane speed up and make your instructor suddenly have to take control.

But all in all, a good flight. More progress. Total hours to date: 4.5.

December 15, 2018

Flight Lesson #3

Lesson 3 today. First flight in two weeks. Last weekend the weather was bad both day.

Today was a longer lesson; 1.4 hours from engine start to shut down. I was with my instructor Steve Hurst for about 3 hours in total.

Today's accomplishments:

  • Applied for my student pilot's license. I'll get a card from the government in a few weeks.

  • Didn't freak out when Steve managed to cut his finger badly. I found a first aid kit. (Three, actually, but only one had bandaids.)

  • I did the initial call to ground to get our clearance to leave the ramp. I had to rehearse it like 3 times: "Cessna November 73924 at the Skybound ramp with information Tango; we're VFR to the North." CFI copied down the information from ground and did the readback of the information. One thing at a time.

  • Flying up above the cloud layer which was about 4,000'. We're allowed to fly above clouds so long as we can get back down without going through a cloud. We made it up to about 6,000'. (Altitude at PDK is 998', so that's around 5,000' AGL - above ground level.)

  • Lots of turns again. Left, right, 180, 360, climbing turns, descending turns. I'm doing better with direction, but doing not quite as good with altitude. That tends to drift 100-200 feet off if I'm not paying attention. I'm getting better as I go along.

  • Slow flight. Normal cruise speed is something over 110 knots, or about 126mph. In slow flight we were down between 55-65 knots, or 63-75mph with our flaps fully extended. When we were up around 6000, he pulled throttle back to idle and we were gliding down. It was so much quieter at idle! We flew around for quite a while in slow flight. You need to move the controls further when the plane is slower, and the plane tended to mush around a bit more.

My favorite part: my CFI pointed out 400, and said "Let's follow that back towards the field." I found it much easier fly just trying to follow the road. I'm pretty sure we flew right over Avalon in Alpharetta, so right near work. Then we aimed for the King and Queen buildings. We were around 2800' the whole way down.

Steve called the tower and got our clearance - straight in to runway 21R. We turned towards the east and descended towards pattern altitude - 2000'. Steve adjusted the throttles and trim to get us into the right glide. He had me turn towards the runway. He took over the landing, but I got reasonable close - maybe less than a mile? Wow. Wow.

I taxied back. You steer the airplane on the ground with rudder pedals at your feet, not with the yoke. At some point Steve was going to have me call ground for taxi instructions, but that point I was just .. well, see above. Wow. Wow.

At some point when we went into slow flight I told Steve "I'm having a lot more fun this time." And I was. My biggest problem so far is getting a little too focused on each thing and not being aware of all of what's going on. That will come with time as I don't have to concentrate on just controlling the aircraft.

I still can't believe I'm doing this. Trippy! (Forgive me, I'm a 70s kid.)

December 2, 2018

Flight lesson #2

No cool pictures today, but very good first real flight lesson: one full hour in the aircraft.

We did 30/45° left and right turns of all kinds (90, 180, 360°. Climbing and descending. Descending and turning. Dutch rolls (roll the aircraft 30° to the left, then 30° to the right.)

I'm not a natural at this - there were a number of times where I was struggling to keep track and do everything. At the beginning of the lessons my turns were very sloppy: losing altitude, not using rudder properly. By the end I was doing much better with holding altitude and using rudder. It was good to make progress.

Bottom line: this was much more fun than the first one. So much to learn, but I'm doing fine.