May 20, 2019

Lesson #13: Sunday April 28th, 2019

With this lesson, I'm up to 14.5 hours in the plane. Technically, these are referred to as 'dual instruction received' hours. They count towards my license, but I think if you were to walk up to future me and ask how many hours I have in the air, I don't think these count.

Today's lesson was a change up from the last bunch of lessons where I've stayed in the pattern at PDK. We took off to the south on 21R and then headed up north a ways.

My takeoff was a bit rough. Just as I got off the runway it got a bit squirrelly. That's a phrase I'd never use about a car, but in this case it meant that the nose yawed a little to the right just after we took off. I'm saying that as if it just happened, but of course it was because of what I was doing, or likely not doing. There was definitely some turbulence as we climbed out.

Steve made an interesting observation later. When the wind is coming more or less straight across the north/south facing runways coming from the west (as it was today), the air hits the hangers first, and that disturbs the air. The same wind coming from the east has fewer obstacles, and would be smoother.

We focused on two things today. The first was steep coordinated turns: steep in this case meaning about 45' of bank. That's reasonably steep; your typical commercial aircraft tries to keep banks under 30'. As the turn gets steeper, you have to add some back pressure on the yoke to keep the aircraft from losing altitude.

We did a number of those: probably 3-4 big turns to the left and then back to the right. The first ones were not great, but as I did it more, they got better. Practice.

I also got a better feel for the fact that you need less rudder pressure when you're turning left than when you're turning right. There are at least three reasons for that, but they all center around the fact that you've got a propeller out in front of you. A propeller is actually a wing, and wings generate lift. As you look at the aircraft head-on, the propeller rotates right to left, and a downward-moving propeller generates more lift .. and that's more lift (or force) on the right side of the aircraft. Since the lift/force is a little less on the left side, the plane naturally wants turn left a little bit. Yeah, this is one place where words don't really cut it. And when you're learning to fly, it's just one of those things you learn to deal with.

The second major thing we did was gave me a little more time flying on instruments. When I get my license, I will only be allowed to fly in VFR (visual flight rules) conditions - meaning, basically, no clouds for me. Flying in clouds means you learn to fly without being able to look outside, meaning you can only use your instruments.

Getting an IFR rating is a big undertaking in itself, just as big as getting to a private pilot's lesson in the first place. The purpose of the instrument work I did today was to give me some tools if I do happen to fly into IFR conditions. The basic advice in that case is to make a 180' turn and go back the way you came.

To simulate what it would be like if you couldn't see outside the aircraft, you can use _foggles_ over you eyes. Foggles let you see the instrument panel without seeing outside the airplane. Steve took the aircraft, I put on the foggles, and then Steve turned control back over to me.

The first challenge is just trying to fly straight and level without losing or gaining altitude. The idea is to scan each of the primary flight instruments for no more than a second or so, see if there's anything you need to do, and then move your eyes to the next instrument. If you do need to do something, you want to use the advice Ellie Arroway's dad give her in the movie *Contact*: small moves. Make a small correction and continue your scan.

At first I was just watching vertical speed indicator and the heading - am I going up or down or wandering off course - but then I realized I needed to watch the artificial horizon as well. The artificial horizon tells you two things: are your wings level and are you climbing or descending. My wings had already started to bank.

Then Steve had me do some turns. Steve's told me not to focus on the heading indicator, because once you start a turn, you're going to be turning for a while. I did pretty well with those until Steve intentionally distracted me; we'd been out long enough that we needed to get a new ATIS (weather) report from PDK, so he asked me to change the radio back to the PDK ATIS frequency. Apparently my flying went all to hell while I tried to do that.

All in all, though, Steve says I did a pretty good job on both my turns and my instrument work. In the case of the instrument work, I think doing OK means I didn't end up a dive or going in the opposite direction.

As we were approaching PDK, we had incident. Peachtree Tower advised us there there was traffic "at our 12 o'clock 1 mile away". When ATC tells you something like that, what they want to hear is that you've spotted the traffic, because then it's your job to avoid them. We looked, and spotted an aircraft at our one o'clock cutting right across our path at about our altitude. It looked relatively close to me - Steve said afterwards it was perhaps 1/2 mile away. We were doing perhaps 80 knots or less at the time - that's about 135 feet per second. At that speed it would have taken us 20 seconds to cover that distance, and the other aircraft was cutting across our path going faster than that. So not an imminent danger, but *much* closer than we normally get. I think it gave the controller a bit of a scare, though. In Steve's opinion, the tower was to blame for the closeness: they should have told one of us to do something.

Steve had already decided that because there the winds were too gusty for me to fly any approaches, so took the aircraft and landed.

One more weird note about this lesson. I got in an email Monday morning that saying that the next pilot to fly N73924 had found the master switch was on. Turning on the master switch is a little like turning your car ignition to accessory: when the master switch is on, the light on the airside work and some of gyroscopes inside several the instruments spin up. The gyroscopes have a distinct whine that is hard to miss - so it's unlikely you'll just forget it.

One of the things Steve likes to do is leave the beacon light at the top of the tail switched on so that if you leave the aircraft with the master switch on, you'll see the beacon light blinking.

Neither Steve nor I can think of how this might have happened. He has no memory of the master switch being on, and he says as he walked away from the aircraft, he turned back to make sure the beacon light wasn't on.

The lock on the door to 73924 doesn't work, so it's possible that someone could have opened it up after we left - but to do so, they would have had to take the cover off, because we put that on when we were done flying the aircraft.

Anyway, it's a mystery. Occam's razor suggests we just left it on and didn't notice it. I'll be more diligent in the future.

April 20, 2019

Lesson #12: Saturday April 13. Cessna N73924.

I haven't been spending enough time doing study on the ground between lessons, but this week I spent a good 3 hours or so completing my flight school's pre-solo test.

It's an open-book/open-internet kind of test. The point is to get you to be aware of of the things you'll need to know when you start taking the airplane up by yourself. And though it's open book, all answers needed to be backed up with a source: "on the internet" is not sufficient.

A few sample questions:

What distance from your "home" airport can you fly without a cross-country endorsement?

This refers to how far I can fly on my student's pilot license when I go up by myself. The answer: 25 nautical miles. From PDK, that's as far north as the southern half of Lake Lanier. You don't really want to go towards the South and West too much--that's Hartsfield. The "cross-country" part refers to the fact that I will need to do a cross-country flight of at least 150nm total where I do three full-stop landings, which means a flight with multiple segments. One of those segments will need be at least 50nm between takeoff and landing. I'm allowed to do that training, but I will need a specific "endorsement," meaning my instructor will have to sign off in my logbook approving the specific cross country I'm doing. Then and only then am I allowed to fly more than 25nm away from my home airport.

Source: Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) § 61.93.

When are you permitted to deviate from an ATC instruction or an operating rule of the Federal Aviation Regulations (14 CFR Part 91)?

It's legal for the pilot-in-command to do /anything/ in the name of safety, including break any other rules in the Federal Aviation Regulations. "(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency." Of course, you may be called upon to explain to the FAA just exactly why you needed to violate the rules, and you can still get in trouble if it was your actions that got you into that emergency. Source: FAR § 91.3

What is the altitude of the Atlanta Class B airspace in relation to KPDK?

The notion of airspace is an entire topic itself. But put simply, Class B airspace is what surrounds the busiest airports in this country. Class B airspace extends out 30 miles from Hartsfield, and PDK is within that 30 miles. Inside class B airspace, you must be in contact with air traffic control at all times to be kept away from all the traffic going to and from the airport. But since we're talking about the sky, that concept of airspace encompasses a vertical dimension as well. If you're high up--over 12,500'--you're not going to interfere with traffic around the airport, so if you're about that height, you're not inside ATL's Class B. If you're low and close to the airport, there could be lots of traffic, and obviously you're inside the class B. But if you're where PDK is--about 16nm miles from ATL--you have to get up to 7000' before you're in the class B airspace, so it's not much of a worry. If you're within 4nm of PDK, you're in PDK's Class D airspace, which goes from the ground to 3,600'. So if you're right over the top of PDK, if you're below 3,600 you're in the PDK Class D, and if you're above 7,000 but below 12,500 you're in ATL's Class B. (I'm not entirely sure what you're in if you're between 3,600 and 7,000 feet. I think that's Class E airspace.) Source: Atlanta Area VFR sectional chart.

Enough questions: let's get back to flying. Today was similar to lesson #11: more work around PDK practicing approaches and flying over the runway.

We were using the south-facing runway 21R, which meant we had a "right pattern"--you keep turning right to stay in the pattern. There was a modest crosswind blowing from the east, so L to R across the runway. That crosswind pushes the aircraft off the centerline of the runway, so to counteract that when you're coming down to the runway you need to do a slip: turn the yoke slightly to put the wing into the wind, and push the opposite rudder pedal to keep the airplane from actually turning. When done properly, the aircraft should fly straight down the runway. At the end of the runway, put the power back to full. Once you're back up to 700', you make a right turn.

But because there was a crosswind from the left, as I'm turning right the wind is pushing the airplane, and by the time I made another right turn to fly my downwind leg (parallel to the runway), I'm further away from the airport than I wanted. You're supposed to stay within a certain distance of the airport as you fly in the pattern. It's not an exact distance, but you can tell when you're too far out. In the 4-5 times we went around the airport, I kept trying to make tighter turns to stay close to the airport, but every time I ended up a little too far out. That's not terrible; it just meant I had to work harder to get back to the runway.

With every lesson, Steve is providing less and less guidance. At one point I asked "Am I too high?" and he replied "You're the pilot. You tell me." It's my job to figure out if we're too high or low and take appropriate measures.

But back to the test: Steve only had one thing he thought I got wrong--how many quarts of oil does the 172 hold--Steve said 6, and that's really right--but I found a place in the 172 POH (Pilot Operating Handbook) that said it had a 7 quart maximum capacity, but with 6 quarts usable. So I said 7, and I was able to point in the book where it said that, so ok. Steve had no other comments, so I guess I passed.

So I have my FAA-issued student pilot's license, and I've passed my pre-solo test. That leaves three things I need before I can solo:

  • My medical certificate, which the FAA is /still/ reviewing. I went to an aviation medical examiner in early November, and I've been stuck in the bureaucracy since. The hell of it is that once I signed off, the approval will probably only be good until November. I asked Steve if I was going to have to start working on my renewal in August (or earlier!) and he said "Yes." Everyone who gets a pilot's license has to deal with this kind of hassle.

  • Renter's insurance for the aircraft. I need to carry $5,000 coverage; the school's insurance covers the rest. There's no point paying for this until I'm ready to solo, though.

  • Most importantly, my instructor has to believe I'm not at any risk of hurting the airplane or myself. I'm not there yet; landing consistently is a necessary precursor.

April 18, 2019

Lesson #11: Sun Apr 7 2019

Cessna 172 N73924 Daisy.

I've managed to keep up flying every weekend since I moved, and it's helping. I'm doing better, and I can tell that every time I fly.

Still, it's slow progress. The main thing that's improving is my confidence-at least in some areas. I'm no longer nervous when it comes to starting the engine and getting rolling. (Part of that is my new-found confidence in taxiing, which not that long ago was a serious problem for me.) Take-offs are also somewhat easier, despite the fact that I've practiced them much less than landings.

The most recent lessons have basically been the same: staying in the pattern at PDK, going around and around practicing approaches. I was going to say practicing landings, but we haven't got down the ground yet. Before we get to the ground, I have to be able to hold the aircraft straight down the runway in the presence of a crosswind.

After doing some deliberate ground practice in lesson 9, my taxiing is going much better. Steve was planning to have me do some more ground work at the end of this lesson, but my taxiing was good enough that we were able to skip the extra practice. I'm still moving slowly on the ground, but Steve made a point of saying I should taxi only as fast as I feel comfortable. If you need to go slow, go slow, because going slow gives you time to recover from any issues. Don't worry about anyone behind you.

My main problem this lesson was that I couldn't hear Steve in my headset when there was radio traffic. And there's always radio traffic when you're near the second busiest airport in Georgia. The result was that as we were getting down close to the runway, I could hear the tower fine, but not my instructor. That's worrisome.

One thing you learn about rental aircraft is that people fiddle with the settings. Someone had messed with the squelch settings on the passenger side, meaning Steve was hearing a persistent static. Once we landed we figured out that the volume from the passenger headset to me was turned way down. I'll know better in the future.

I'm still working on coordinating my turns, that is, pressing my feet down on the rudder pedals an appropriate amount as I turn the control yoke left and right. "An appropriate amount" is a vague phrase, and yet what needs to be done is precise in that you can feel when you've got it wrong. Remember learning to drive and how you had to feel your way through everything? Yeah, like that, but 1,000 feet in the air.

The basic idea is that you're going to be at 1,000 feet AGL (above ground level) when you're in your downwind leg going the opposite direction of the runway. Just as you pass the end of the runway out your window, you want to reduce speed and start losing altitude so that you eventually reach the runway. And you want to do this smoothly.

Actually getting yourself lined up with the runway is pretty doable - that's the left/right dimension as you approach. That's reasonably easy to see what you need to do.

You have two things you typically adjust to make sure you're on track for the runway. The first is your speed.

Steve likes to keep the speed at 70kts on final approach. He doesn't like to go down to 60-65kts until you're over the numbers that mark the end of the runway. The lower limit is the stall speed, which for the Cessna 172N is around 49kts. If you go slower than that, the airplane won't have enough lift to keep you in the air. But by the same token, you don't want to land fast. If you're fast, the plane will take longer to stop. That's not a huge deal on a long runway like PDK, but there will be times when you have to do a "short field landing". The second is more subtle: if the plane stops flying at stall speed, down at 49kts, then if you're faster that, the plane is still flying. That is, you'll put it down on the runway, but the plane is essentially weightless: it can bounce back up again. You can end up bouncing down the runway, and at some point, your propeller can end up hitting the runway and costing a lot of money.

So you use your pitch to control your speed. Going too fast? Pull back on the yoke to raise the nose a little. Too slow? Push forward a little.

Next, you use the throttle to control whether you go up or down. Generally on approach you're going to have the power "pulled back" -- the engine running at a slower speed - perhaps 1500-1700 RPM. If you look like you're not going to make it to the runway, push in the throttle a little and add some power. Cut the power a little more if you're too high or going to overshoot the runway.

And of course at any point you have the option to "go around" - push in the throttle to full power, bring the flaps back up.

And that was it for the flying. After we landed, we did an hour of ground instruction, going over everything again. Steve also handed me the "pre-solo written test," which fortunately is entirely open book. "Work on that this week, and we'll go over anything you got wrong next week."

April 8, 2019

Lesson # 10: Sat Mar 30 2019

Cessna 172 N73924 Daisy.

Back in lesson 6 my instructor told me that though I was doing ok in the air, but I was doing terrible on the ground, and I could not disagree. I just could not seem to get the hang of getting the airplane to turn the way I wanted while taxiing.

So today instead of calling ground to get a clearance to a runway, we told them we were headed for the northwest ramp. I added "for taxiing practice," but Steve said they didn't need that information: the ramp areas are outside of the controlled space on the airport, so by going up there and getting off the taxiways, we could do whatever we wanted. The NW ramp was big enough for us to taxi up and down and turn around.

And so over to the NW ramp we went. Among other things, I learned that the 172 turns much better with the judicious use of the brakes. If you want to make a tight left turn, you have to press down hard on the left rudder, but if you also lightly press your toe against the top of the left rudder, that brakes just the left wheel, and the airplane turns much more quickly.

Taxiing in the 172 is tiring work. I'm on the shorter side, and even with my seat scooted all the way forward it's a bit of stretch to push those rudder pedals all the way down. After 10-15 minutes of turning, stopping, and staying on track, we called for a clearance to runway 3R. More taxiing to get there. At the end Steve pronounced himself much happier with my ground work.

After takeoff we headed up north to do some coordinated turns: going left and then right and the left again so I could practice using my aileron and rudder together. After that, we headed back to PDK to do a couple of approaches in the pattern.

As we were coming back to PDK from the North, I noticed that it looked kind of .. hazy? Smoky? But shortly we realized just exactly what we were seeing: clouds of pollen; pollen in every direction. It was an astonishing sight. Steve took the first approach to show me what he wanted me to work on, and since he had the controls, I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures of the pollen, but what I managed to grab was not as impressive as what I saw as I was flying towards the field.

Before we went up, the winds were calm. But the winds built up after we took off, and when we got back to PDK the air was turbulent. Despite my practice with coordinating turns, I had trouble again keeping my turns coordinated as we went around the pattern. After we landed, Steve's advice was to try to ignore the turbulence: it pushes you around, but on balance the net effect is not much change. If you concentrate on making your turns as you would when the winds are calm, you'll do better.

The field was busy, and that interfered with my practice. I'm trying to get used to going around and doing the landing the same way every time, but there were lots of other planes trying to get in and out of PDK, so a couple of times we were asked to "extend our upwind" or "extend our downwind". That basically means that there's other traffic that the tower is trying to fit in, and they need us to stay out of the way. That's the tower's job, and they're keeping us safe, but it makes it hard for me to get that standard approach nailed down in my head.

On our last approach I was planning to try to take it all the way down to a landing, but when we got close to the runway, suddenly the Cessna heeled over into a 20' bank. Steve yelped "My airplane!" and got us down onto the ground. It happened so fast I wasn't even clear on what happened, but afterwards Steve said one of those 20kt gusts had pushed the wing over. Without quick action, we could have been in trouble. Steve said if I'd been in the airplane alone, the right action would have been to go to full power and go around. (I'm in no way ready for that yet.)

It was a challenging lesson; I was happy to get back on the ground. But I had one last success: I parked the plane at the ramp next to the other Skybound planes. It's the equivalent of parking a car in a parking space, and it was the first time I managed to do that. Huzzah!

A postscript: I like flying on Saturday mornings because afterwards I can go up to the Downwind restaurant at PDK and mentally come down from the flight over lunch. While I was there,my friend Jonathan texted me that his spouse and their 3 year old son were at PDK. I turned and found them waiting for a table, and I went over to chat for a few minutes. (Unfortunately, the 3 year old is just too young to be at all impressed that this guy standing here flies airplanes.)

On my way back to my table, I got another text: "Hey. Are you at PDK's Downwind Cafe? If you're not it's your twin." It was Joey, a guy I'd worked with ages ago at CNN. He was there with his entire family. After lunch they went down to the observation area to watch the planes, and I brought out my binoculars and my radio so we could listen to the ground and tower frequencies. Joey and his family had lots of questions, and I was delighted to be able to share my new-found knowledge. Aviation is full of intricate systems, and learning how everything works is one of my primary motivations for learning to fly. I've always been fascinated by everything to do with airplanes, and even though I'm still learning, I'm now part of that community. I love it!

March 23, 2019

Lesson 9: Sat Mar 23

Lesson 9: Sat March 9, 2019. Cessna 172 N73924 Daisy.

It's been 6 weeks since I've been in a plane. I had two lessons cancelled for bad weather in that time, and after that I was just too busy with moving.

But we moved in on March 15th, and though the house is still a maze of boxes, it's time to get back in the air and go back to flying every week. Flying every other week was just not enough to keep me progressing the way I'd like.

In our old apartment at N. Shallowford off 285, we were frequently under the PDK flight path. I'd frequently hear an airplane over the freeway noise, call out "Airplane!" and pull out FlightRadar24 to see if I could identify it. Fortunately, in our new house I can still hear airplanes coming in and out of PDK on occasion. (I've also heard commercial flights coming east and then north out of Hartsfield; those planes are at 10,000 feet when they get over our place, but you can hear them when the conditions are right.)

Since I last flew, however, I do have one piece of official evidence of my flying status: I got my student's pilot's license from the FAA. I don't actually need it until I solo, but it's a necessary step. I'm still waiting on my medical certificate. The FAA needed current blood work, and though it was current when I submitted it, I'm gonna blame the government shutdown for delaying it to the point where they wanted a more current test. Thanks, Trump.

Before I actually solo, I need three things: the medical certificate, proof of aircraft renter's insurance (I have to be able to cover the $5,000 deductible on the flight school's aircraft insurance), and I have to pass a pre-solo test given by my instructor. And, of course, I actually have to be competent to get the airplane into the air and back onto the ground reliably without my flight instructor's help. I'm not there yet, but today I stepped back into that process in earnest.

It's surprising how much you forget in six weeks of not flying and not studying. I had to be reminded where to check the fuel. I had to carefully rehearse calling up ground for my clearance. I had to fight with my old nemesis: taxiing. And my takeoff was pretty squirrely after 6 weeks away.

As for the flying, this was basically a mirror of lesson 8 back on 2/9: pattern work at PDK on 3L. Take off. Turn left at 700 feet. Level off at 1,000 feet, turn on the downwind leg. At some point, the tower calls: "Cessna 73924, cleared for the option." (We have options: fly low and slow over the runway like we've doing, do a touch and go, or make a full-stop landing.) Abeam the numbers (lined up with the end of the runway), turn on the carb heat, reduce the power and start descending. Bring the speed down "into the white" (basically below 90 knots) and bring in 10' of flaps. (The flaps increase the lift and let the plane fly slower.) When you can see the runway at 45' over your left shoulder, make a 90' left turn onto your base leg. Bring in the second notch of flaps. My instructor is controlling the throttle at this point so I can focus on everything else. Keep the speed around 70kts; control that with your pitch. Too slow: push forward slight on the yoke to push the nose down and increase the speed. Do the opposite to slow down. There's a little wind from the left, so we use left aileron (rolling into the wind slightly) and right rudder to keep us centered over the runway. Down the runway, down the runway ... now we've run out of runway, so time to go around. Full power: push the throttle all the way forward. Push the carb heat back off. Flying level, bring your speed up around to 79 kts, then raise the nose and climb out at about 76kts. Bring up the flaps a notch at a time: if you bring the flaps up all at once, you lose lift and settle back down onto the runway. And that's no good because all the runway is behind us.

I'm not sure how many times we went around. Steve took two of the passes over the runway to demonstrate what I should be doing.

My initial passes were rough. I had trouble last lesson with uncoordinated turns int the pattern, which means I was not using the rudder properly; this time I worked to use make better use of the rudder. Each time around I did a little better. I'm also taking more of the steps from Steve: I did responded to most of the calls back to the tower, and this lesson I put the carb heat in, which I didn't do last time. Steve is still handling the throttle down near the runway, but that's understandable - down that low, the main thing you need to get you out of trouble is power, and I'm still quite capable of getting us in trouble.

The last time around as we were going to land, I expected Steve to call "my airplane", but he didn't, so I landed. Sort of landed. It was not quite straight, and Steve took control immediately after we touched down, but it was my first time taking the airplane all the way down to the ground. Mentally I'm not counting it as my first landing; I need to be able to get it all the way down the runway safely before I'll count it. But it's progress!

Afterwards we sat in the Skybound office and talked about the flight. We discussed crosswind landings, takeoffs, and taxiing. While taking with Steve, I had an insight about taxiing the Cessna. Unlike a car, the there is no direct linkage between the flight controls and the nose wheel. The rudder pedals are connected to springs, and when you push on one of the pedals, it pulls the spring which pulls the wheel in that direction. Today's insight - Steve always pushes the pedal to the floor when he wants to make a turn, and then backs off as necessary. I've been treating the pedals like I would a steering wheel: little turn, little push - and little result. I'll give that a shot next time.

I'm at 10.2 hours now, but I've got three more lessons in the nexts three weeks already booked, so weather permitting, I should be racking up the hours. Onwards and upwards!

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.)

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