Saturday, November 18, 2006

Blogs I read

November is my least favourite month. It's grey, cool and rainy. The glorious fall colours are done, the crisp clean snow has not yet fallen, and sunset is way too early.

So there is no flying after work. Because of the weather there may be no flying on the weekend.

But ground school has started (more on that later). And I read the blogs of others who are flying.

The first blog I found was Cockpit Conversation. I was googling for some information, found her blog, started reading, and went to bed at 4am. Not only is she is an excellent writer, she writes about diverse experiences, cultural encounters, and the technical aspects of flying. Very discreet of her Real Person, she writes of her experiences, not of herself. Like Pavlov's dog, I check her blog every day, and she rewards her readers pretty much each day. It was because of her blog that I decided to write of my experience in getting my own ticket. So blame it all on her, or give her the credit.

Blogs are inter-linked, so once I was hooked on this form of typographical voyeurism, I chased the links until I settled into a routine.

Sulako is a FO flying charter jets, based on Toronto. His experiences are about flying, technology, some cultural experiences, and a smattering of stories of his early days as a commercial pilot. Since he flies jets he can cover a great deal of geography in a short period of time, which gives rise to diverse and interesting stories. He also has one babe of a girlfriend, Lisa, who he wants to marry while dressed as a furry mammal (any woman who is willing to tolerate that idea is a keeper).

Sam, who blogs at Flight Level 250 (25,000 feet ASL) is a commercial pilot hailing from Washington State. More stories from a different geography. That he is a US-based pilot adds another dimension to my reading. He's at a smaller airline, so the flying involves much more up&down, which adds to the variety of the stories.

Land and Hold Short is a blog by another Ottawa-area pilot. Not a daily poster, he does share a number of stories about flying in the Ottawa area, and Ontario in general. Good fix for me, since he does discuss topics which are applicable to me (weather, local airports, Canadian aviation, and so forth).

Krista, another Pilot-in-Training, tells of her stories as she is working her way through the initial stages of getting her ticket. A very well-organized writer, and frequent poster. What she writes about is what I am going through.

Finally, I do read a good number of other blogs from time to time -- too many to mention here. Often, I'll go through the reader's comments on another's blog, see that a commentor's name is a hyperlink, and click on it to start an expedition down link-chasing alley (a sure way to consume a few hours).

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Set Rant On

After the crash or Cory Lidle's plane in NYC, the usual yahoos, who thrive when they get their name in the press even if they have nothing intelligent to say, started to rant about restricting general aviation flights over major cities. The primary reason cited has been "to protect against terrorists", not "they may fall out of the sky and hurt someone".

Of course, the majority of the uninformed I-must-be-seen-to be-a leader-and-say-intelligent-things corps are politicians - who have some amazing networking skills but otherwise are generally accepted to not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, not be aviation experts, or any more trustworthy than used car salesmen (with apologies to the used car salesmen of the world).

It seems that virtually anything can be proposed, and considered, as long as you tag it with the threat of terrorism. One wonders if these guys check under their beds for terrorists before going to sleep at night.

When I was in a software sales job in February 1993, one of my hot prospects went cold, because his offices were way up high in the WTC, and terrorists exploded a bomb in the parking garage, carried into the building using a panel truck. Well, if they want to ban a light aircraft which can carry perhaps 300 pounds of explosives (if you have no passenger), why not ban panel trucks? Or cube trucks? Or gasoline tanker trucks?

Or even mini-vans, which can carry a thousand pounds of a nasty substance, and are not tracked on radar? Whoops. Banning mini-vans from our cities would upset the soccer moms, and there are too many of them for a politican to risk upsetting, even if the proposal would make more sense.

Similarly, if the politicians wanted to improve the air security around Washington DC then they would close National Airport. But it would take them much longer to get to Dulles or BWI to fly home on Thursday, so there is no chance of that happenning. A politican will sacrifice your cow, but his are all sacred.

I never wrote my rant. Didn't need to. Read the following, from the AOPA website.



Mayor Daley's latest rants have sent me over the edge. He used the accident in New York to once again demand a no-fly zone over downtown Chicago for general aviation aircraft.

It was expected, of course. He has an irrational hatred for piston-engine aircraft, as evidenced by his illogical tirade this week. "They should not jeopardize, through intentionally or by accident, a single- or two-engine plane flying over our city [sic]," the Meigs Field destroyer exploded at a press conference. (I don't think he was including Boeing 737s, 757s, and 767s in his list of twin-engine aircraft.) "Remember: a single- or two-engine plane can kill as many people as possible if they want to."

And if it were just Daley, I'd ignore his ravings, just as the folks in the federal government in charge of security and airspace do.

But it's not just him. Other politicians (with the spectacular and notable exception of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and self-appointed "experts" are jumping on the tragic accident — repeat, accident — in New York to sound off again about the "danger" of light aircraft, and how they must be regulated, restricted, banned.

OK, for all of those ranting about "threats" from GA aircraft, we'll believe that you're really serious about controlling "threats" when you call for:

  • Banning all vans within cities. A small panel van was used in the first World Trade Center attack. The bomb, which weighed 1,500 pounds, killed six and injured 1,042.
  • Banning all box trucks from cities. Timothy McVeigh's rented Ryder truck carried a 5,000-pound bomb that killed 168 in Oklahoma City.
  • Banning all semi-trailer trucks. They can carry bombs weighing more than 50,000 pounds.
  • Banning newspapers on subways. That's how the terrorists hid packages of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. They killed 12.
  • Banning backpacks on all buses and subways. That's how the terrorists got the bombs into the London subway system. They killed 52.
  • Banning all cell phones on trains. That's how they detonated the bombs in backpacks placed on commuter trains in Madrid. They killed 191.
  • Banning all small pleasure boats on public waterways. That's how terrorists attacked the USS Cole, killing 17.
  • Banning all heavy or bulky clothing in all public places. That's how suicide bombers hide their murderous charges. Thousands killed.

Number of people killed by a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? Zero.

Number of people injured by a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? Zero.

Property damage from a terrorist attack using a GA aircraft? None.

So Mr. Mayor (and Mr. Governor, Ms. Senator, Mr. Congressman, and Mr. "Expert"), if you're truly serious about "protecting" the public, advocate all of the bans I've listed above. Using the "logic" you apply to general aviation aircraft, you're forced to conclude that newspapers, winter coats, cell phones, backpacks, trucks, and boats all pose much greater risks to the public.

So be consistent in your logic. If you are dead set on restricting a personal transportation system that carries more passengers than any single airline, reaches more American cities than all the airlines combined, provides employment for 1.3 million American citizens and $160 billion in business "to protect the public," then restrict or control every other transportation system that the terrorists have demonstrated they can use to kill.

If you're not willing to be consistent, then we might think that you're pandering to uninformed public fears, posturing from the soapbox of demagoguery, screaming security for your own political ends.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

How to recover from a spiral dive

Because this is a how-to posting, I've asked a few contacts to review it. It has been edited to reflect that feedback. To those reviewers: Thank you.

Yesterday's (Saturday) lesson was more slow flight, as will the next few. I'll post about the lesson itself separately. The new topic for this lesson was Spiral Dives.

In preparation, I read about spiral dives in both From the Ground Up, and in Transport Canada's Flight Training Manual. I was underwhelming by the explanations in both. So (since I'm blogging for me) I need to make notes about spiral dives. If I can explain it, I understand it.

A spiral dive is really quite simple, and this is why I was probably under-whelmed by the manuals. Entry is not as dramatic or as sudden as, for example, a spin. Recovery is simple. The only real drama is that, because speeds are high, there may be some interesting G-forces involved.

In a spiral dive the aircraft is flying "normally", meaning that the wings and control surfaces are all functioning, nothing is stalled, the aircraft is traveling pointy-end first, and so forth. The aircraft has a steep angle of bank, and is descending rapidly. The airplane is flying in a corkscrew pattern in rapid descent.

The issue is that an aircraft in a spiral dive, if left uncorrected or if corrected improperly, will very quickly overspeed, resulting in damage or destruction of the airplane (and occupants).

Because of the potential for airframe damage or destruction, Transport Canada states that it is not a permitted solo flying activity, and even when flying with an instructor it is the instructor who must put the aircraft into the spiral, and then transfer control to the student for recovery.

Recovery is simple:
  1. Recognize you are in a spiral dive.
  2. Close the throttle.
  3. Level the wings.
  4. While leveling the wings keep the nose down (it will want to rise due to the high airspeed).
  5. Once the wings are level, pull back on the stick/yoke. Expect to feel G-forces.

More details.

Recognizing you are in a spiral dive is the critical first step, and because of the risk of overspeed it must be done quickly. You know you are likely in a spiral dive when you are losing altitude, and airspeed is increasing. There is no need to detect the steep bank by referencing the Attitude Indicator (and it may be spinning/useless anyway).

Huh? (This was the first under-explained point in the manuals).

If you are going down (fast) then there are four possibilities:

  1. You're in a wings-level dive. Altitude is decreasing, and airspeed is increasing. But: Because the wings are level and the airspeed is increasing, the nose will want to come up, since a trimmed aerodynamically stable aircraft will want to fly in level flight at a constant speed, and will return to that attitude if left alone. So, left alone, the rate of descent, and the airspeed, will decrease as the aircraft levels and follows the trim.
  2. You're in a spin. Altitude is decreasing, but in a spin the airspeed isn't increasing (except due to the engine, but you're going to close the throttle).
  3. You're in a spiral dive. Altitude is decreasing, and the rate is increasing (you're going down faster and faster). Airspeed is also increasing and moving towards overspeed.
  4. There is one low-probability possibility.... The aircraft is in a wings-level dive, and being held there due to being badly out of trim (the trim is holding the aircraft in the dive). Or the control linkages have jammed. Worry about 1-3 first.

Close the throttle. In a spiral dive or a spin, closing the throttle is the first step in the recovery, so closing the throttle is done automatically (it also does not hurt the recovery options if you are in a wings-level dive, so there is no downside). As soon as there is a realization that you're rapidly descending, close the throttle, even if you are not sure whether you are in a spin or a spiral dive. Closing the throttle reduces the risk of airframe overspeed and engine overspeed.

Level the wings. Be aggressive. A spiral dive must be corrected quickly, so this is not the time for a lazy roll. Even with an excessive forward speed, rolling the aircraft level will not over-stress the airframe. Full airleron deflection is unwise (if faster than Vno), but fortunately it is also not necessary. Coordination using the rudder produces a roll which is both faster, and with no yaw (which means minimized airframe stress).

During the roll keep the nose down using forward stick/yoke. Because of the high airspeed the nose will want to pitch up as the wings level. Keep the nose down. The aircraft is at high speed, and rolling. If the nose is allowed to pitch up then the aircraft will both be pitching up and rolling, and at high airspeed the dual-axis translation results in higher airframe stress.

Pitch up (gently) to a climb attitude. My instruction has been to always return to a best-rate-of-climb attitude after any rapid descent (stall, spin, spiral). The thinking is that you know you have just lost significant altitude, and you may be at a dangerously low altitude. Rather than level off and then start thinking (and your first conclusion may well be "crap, look at those trees right in front of me, I need to get higher now!"), it is a better strategy to recover to a climbing attitude, trade the high airspeed for a rapid increase in altitude, and then apply power as airspeed decreases towards best rate of climb. Once stable in the climb, then there is time to think about other factors (heading, cloud base, etc.). It was pointed out to me that during the flight test it is important to listen to the examiner carefully, and make it clear what the recovery attitude will be. If the examiner insists on level flight, give him/her level flight, so recovery to a climb is not assessed as an error. Or pre-flight clarify that recovery will be to a climb.

What does not work (and what kills pilots): Because the aircraft is descending and in coordinated flight, the natural reaction from a pilot is to pitch up (pull back on the stick/yoke). However, because the aircraft is in a steep bank the effect of the elevator is to tighten the turn, not pitch-up the nose. The risk is that the pilot will panic and pull-back the elevators even harder, possibly damaging the control surfaces... but most certainly not correcting the rapid altitude loss. If no other action is taken the aircraft will auger-in with the the stick/yoke pulled back to the stops and the pilot screaming "WTF is happening? Why won't she pull out?".

In normal flight, entering a spiral dive is inadvertent, never a normal flight maneuver. The typical entry methods are:

  1. Disorientation when flying in clouds, night, or IFR conditions, with a pilot that is not instrument-experienced. In fact, the normal outcome of a non-instrument pilot flying in instrument conditions is a spiral or (sometimes) a spin. Usually within seconds or minutes.
  2. Flying in a steep turn, but allowing the nose to drop. Once the nose drops it is near-impossible to recover using the elevator, and a spiral dive will result unless the wings are leveled. NEVER do a steep turn when in the circuit for landing, as there may not be enough altitude for recovery.
  3. Trying to enter a spin, but the the wings don't stall and a spiral dive results instead.

The critical step in the recovery is recognition that the aircraft is, in fact, in a spiral dive and not just flying in a steep turn, or in level but severe nose-down flight.

The critical action in recovery is first getting the wings level, not first trying to pitch up.

The critical factor in the timing is recover quickly, before the airframe or control surfaces are at risk of damage from overspeed. "Quickly" refers to reaction time, not slamming the control surfaces to the stops.

The DA20 Eclipse can withstand 4.4G - that's a lot of force. Even then, the practical guideline on G forces is that they are limits when it is an expectation that the aircraft will be reused. If it looks like the aircraft is not going to be reused, there are no limits. Do what is required.

Note to self: Even after the reading, pre-flight instruction, recovering 10-15 spiral dives, and the post-flight debriefing, I still didn't understand all aspects of the maneuver. Which is why I tried to explain them on this blog. The benefit (to me) has been excellent. Lesson: Blog about other flight techniques and maneuvers, just to make sure I've learned them. You're welcome to come along for the ride.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Clogged up and staying down

Business trip last week, which meant a flight there&back, and three days in a meetin room with 30 other people. Somewhere along the way I must have been exposed to a rhinovirus, because I now suffering from a head cold.

Drugs are allowing me to sleep OK, but I know I am not mentally sharp, and my eustachian tubes are plugged.

No flying this weekend. Too bad, because while the weather yesterday was unacceptable (low cloud base and rain), today is not too bad.

I'll embark on a whirlwind of house-cleaning and leaf-raking instead. I'd rather be flying.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Twice in a weekend slowly

This Canadian thanksgiving weekend has been the best weather in a long time, my wife is off travelling, and I am going to be very busy at work in the next few weeks, so I went flying again yesterday (Sunday).

I did the pre-flight checkout under long-distance supervision... instead of the instructor shadowing me at my left shoulder, I did it "alone". I suspected and expected, and confirmed later, that he was watching from the office. Excellent teaching teachnique.

The new checklists work well. I led the pre-flight discussion on the take-off schenarios... speeds to maintain, flap retraction, what to do and where to go if the engine dies.

Take-off was a mixture of good&bad. We had a cross-wind from 9 o'clock, I got too fast before we rotated, the left wing lifted and so we were rolling along on the nose-wheel and right main. I got the nose-wheel up, the left wing lowered, and we somehow got off the ground.

Tracking out from the runway was great. I managed the yaw 100%, and we ended up right of the runway. The crosswind drift took me north.

On Saturday I thought my my radio calls were mushy and lacked confidence. Sunday's radio calls were pretty good.

The flying time was all slow flight skills: entering slow flight, leaving slow flight, climbing turns, descending turns, with flaps, without flaps.

And stalls. One really has to work to make this airplane stall decisively. We stalled power-off, we stalled power-on. We stalled in climbing turns.

The "floating leaf" was fun. The quick explanation is that you reduce power to idle, then raise the nose until you are in a stall. Upon stalling you don't lower the nose and break the stall, but keep the stick hardback, keep the stick centred, and use the rudder to control the wing-drop and yaw. It feels like tap-dancing on the rudder pedals. It develops a light touch on the rudder, confidence in ability to control the airplane, and a sense of how to respond quickly to a changing attitude.

On my first try I lasted about 4-5 seconds (it seemed like a lot longer) before I failed to control some yaw, the left wing dropped, the nose dumped over and we entered a spin. Somehow, without analytic thinking, I centred the ailerons, pulled full opposite rudder, pitched down and stopped the spin before it was established, after about a quarter turn, then pulled nose up. In the midst of all this I applied engine power -- totally not required when you're already 80 degrees nose down and gravity is doing a wonderful job of providing more than enough acceleration.

The approach to the airport was simple, altitude control was constant in the approach and throughout the circuit. Much better than ballooning all over the sky a few lessons back.

The landing was OK... the wind pushed out my base leg and I was a little pear-shaped on the start of the final, but not extreme. The flare was my best yet -- we were straight and level about 4 feet off the runway. As the speed decreased the nose dropped faster than I raised the nose, and we made a somewhat fast three-point landing. We were going fast enough that Bendon took control and pulled the nose off the runway to show me the attitude for flying along in ground effect and shedding speed.

Taxi back (taxiing is getting routine), de-brief, pay the bill. I had nowhere to go and they had to wait for the C150 to return, so we pushed the Eclipse back into the hangar and closed out the day in idle chatter about flight in general.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lesson 4 - Slow flight

Today was all about slow flying... so much for screaming about the sky, white scarf flapping in the breeze behind me.

In the pre-flight we covered the theory of flying for range, flying for endurance, entry into and exit from slow flight, and took to the skies.

Pre-flighting was all mine. This instructor is good (or maybe they all do it). Before there was coaching, and this time he didn't say a word. I, on the otherhand, chatted my way through, telling him what I am looking at and what I am seeing. The silence is reassuring, and marks progress.

We have new checklists. Still compliant with the manufacturers' lists, but now slightly re-ordered to be more logical, and also with a few new entries. Early in the list there is a section where we ensure all of the non-flight controls move freely (cabin heat, etc) and I comment that there is no check to make sure the alternate air source is free. I check it anyway.

Startup, and taxi to the run-up area. When I look back at the earlier posts and read about taxiing like a drunken sailor I'm smiling, as my taxiing is much much better. Seat-time does that to you.

Today's take-off was smooth (see last post), I maintained rate of climb quite well, but I didn't counter-act the yaw from the climbing take-off power and so we ended up about 20 degrees left of the runway.

We covered entry into slow flight, turning, recovery from slow flight, flying clean, with take-off flaps and with landing flaps. We used the empirical method determining of determining best endurance speed (the Eclipse's manuals don't illustrate anything below 2400RPM, and under yesterday's conditions the best endurancespeed in this aircraft was about 1650RPM).

Turns without losing/gaining altitude are getting better. My trimming of the elevator was a bit ham-handed, and that was the biggest factor in my barely adequate altitude control.

Radio calls were OK, though clumsy from time to time.

But the weather was wonderful, the sunlight bright, the air quite clear (the brown smudge of smog in the distance was evident, but that barely affected looking down at the trees in their fall splendor).

We had some extra time and a partial fuel load, so the instructor demonstrated stall recovery and spin recovery. I really need to make a video of a spin recovery.

The circuit and setup for the landing went well. I flared a bit high and then didn't fight to keep the aircraft flying, so we landed well but it was a bit of a drop. I'll probably have 5-6-7 landings under my belt before we start circuits.

The bonus was following the lesson. After each lesson there is a de-briefing, which covers the core of today's exercises and takes 5-10 minutes. The next student was solo, and after he was dispatched, I had lots of time to discuss every phase of the flight with the instructor.

The weather is wonderful today, so I'm going to do a few hours of paperwork and yardwork, and then I have another lesson this afternoon.

Airports, airports, airports

Yesterday (Saturday) was airport day.

Up at 4AM, then off to CYOW to put my wife on a plane. She sings with a Sweet Adelines chorus, and they're off the Las Vegas to sing in the international competition. Most amusing part of the trip was when it was about 20 minutes to flight, we were at the front of the line-up, and someone (who happened to be from the same chorus) arrives in a panic for the same 6am flight. Give credit to the Air Canada staff -- they didn't roll their eyes at the time-challenged pax, or fall on the floor laughing. Then again, it was probably the first such occurence of the day, and most certainly the last.

While waiting at the airport the sun had come up, there was now a bit of a breeze, and the fog blew down from the Ottawa river to the 417. What was an idlyllic morning drive into the airport had turned into pea soup for the latter part of the drive home.

Wake up daughter, eat breakfast, and then drive back to the airport to catch a flight for a two-week vacation with her bro in Calgary. The lines at Air Canada were much shorter this time, so we had a chance to sit in the sunshine and chat, before seeing her through to security.

And then, in mid-afternoon, it was off to CYRP for a flight lesson. More about that next posting.

The weather yesterday and today is wonderful... minimal wind, wonderful fall colours, and bright warm sunshine. I'm torn between doing yardwork, or to go book another lesson. Or to drive down to the gliding club and say hello to my friends (and maybe go on a glider flight).

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A really awful takeoff

Apparently I am starting to get a handle on this thing called flying... I wasn't happy with today's (September 30th 2006) performance. Maybe that means I am starting to have a clue. Minimal skills, but at least a clue about what should be happening.

Once again, paperwork and pre-flight went fine. On the checklists I have to just relax and let the checklist do the work.. stop thinking ahead and do the item we're doing (different checklists will revisit the same item, and I get ahead of myself).

My taxiing was quite good. I followed the lines, didn't cut any corners, and was nice and smooth throughout. Very little drunken sailor wandering. The post-flight feedback was to trust the rudder, and touch the brake only if I'm not swinging the way I want to -- don't touch the brakes as the first step. At least I don't ride the brakes.

The wind was somewhat variable, pretty much 90 degrees abeam the runway. The instructor asked me to make the call whether to use runway 10 or 28. The wind made it a coin flip, but the last few flights had landed on runway 10, so I decided to go with the flow and called runway 10.

About halfway down on the backtrack the wind swung 30 degrees to tailwind and decided to stay there, so I decided to switch, made the radio call, backtracked, and setup for the takeoff on 28. So far, quite good. The runway is less than 4000 feet long so it requires only one windsock... but sheesh, there are two taxiways, put up two windsocks!

Previous takeoffs have resulted in a lot of veering to the left on application of full power, so I was ready this time. Too ready, too much rudder. On the takeoff roll I zigged and zagged all over the place, finally dragged the nose off the blacktop and prayed we'd be airborne before we were sideways. Clearly - circuits are not for a few more lessons. Once we were off the ground I got the ship stable and pointy-end first.

The climbout was pretty good. I swung about 10 degrees left, rather than my usual 30. But I maintained best rate of climb reasonably well on a day where we were bouncing through the thermals.

Todays lesson was turning, so we went through gentle/15, medium/30 and steep/45 turns. By the end of the lesson I was making the turns and losing (or gaining) less than 100 feet. And one turn I remained spot-on altitude. My gentle turns were fine, I tended to be cautious on the medium turns (perhaps 25 degrees from time to time), and the instructor said my steep turns were sometimes closer to 60 degrees rather than 45 -- I guess I wasn't shy on those. Flying the Eclipse one needs to add power for the steep turns only. Memo to self: Keep the eyes outside, straight ahead, and maintain the bank angle and the pitch (airspeed).

We did climbing and descending turns, (slow-speed) canyon turns, and collision avoidance turns. And we reviewed climbs and descents, and of course there was lots of practice of straight&level flight while we reviewed and planned. As usual, I did all the flying, except for the demonstrations.

The collision avoidance turn was something special.. since there was no imminent collision we dropped the speed to 100 kts to reduce stress on the airframe, and did a good lookout. When it is time to turn.... slam the power to idle, right rudder to the floorboards and stick to the right, a hard 60 degree bank turn, about 45 degrees through the turn pull back on the elevators to pull you through the turn and apply full power.. and come out at a 90 degree turn with minimal altitude loss. And don't be suprised if the stall warning horn goes off. It is a pretty exciting 2 seconds. First time I banged my way through it. The second time I was much more smooth, and came out having lost about 50 feet and was pretty much spot on a 90 degree rotation. So we did one more just to make sure. You know you've really slammed it through the avoidance technique when the Directional Gyro is spinning like a top when you're done. My wife had dinner-plate wide eyes when I described it to her when I got home. I hope to fly these in practice only.

Interesting observation: My turns at the start of the flight were mostly eye-out, but with a bit of instrument scanning to double-check. Then I was switched to correct technique, keeping the eyes out all the time. At the end of the flight, as we were resetting to our practice area after the collision avoidance turns, I was eyes-out, glancing the instruments from time to time just to find out where I was, and not to assist with the flying. My altitude stayed reasonable constant. It's coming.

We had one aircraft come scooting through the practice area unannounced, perhaps 500 feet below us and a half mile south. Everyone in the practice area was doing a good job announcing where they were and what altitudes they were working, and this guy zips through without a peep. S/he might have been on YOW's frequency, or NORDO, or monitoring and decided to keep quiet since they were a distance away. Or oblivious. I'm glad we were not doing stall and spin recovery (movements where there is a lot of altitude loss, in a short time).

And it got interesting on the approach into CYRP. We had four aircraft converging at once, as well as two for takeoff. We were coming from the north, a Katana from the southwest, one more from the northwest, and someone else wanted to land on runway 22 (the unpaved runway) and they were somewhere north of the airport but at a lower altitude, and wanting to fly through the left-hand circuit. We were first, so we flew over&back, ran the circuit, and led the parade. After the three of us got down, rwy 22 did their landing.

The wind was solid from the south now, and I did a decent job of aligning the runway and set up a crab of about 20 degrees to counter the wind. But I was wayyyyy high, and I wasn't sure I wanted to lose the crab and flare all at once when I hadn't managed a nice flare yet. So at about three hundred feet I just stated "no sense being a hero, you have control" and the instructor did the landing. Once we were stable on the ground the instructor handed control back to me and I finished up.

So where am I? Well, with no flying for 8 days I felt rusty in the seat.. the burn rate through my credit card hurts when you fly twice a week, but the frequent practice does prevent the rust. I did have a good chance to re-read the last few lessons and internalize the knowledge. And we put 1.5 more hours in my book, since we took the time to review everything (explicitly or implicitly) from the previous lessons (it is cheaper to take an extra half hour and review, than to book an extra 1 hour discrete lesson). I'm pretty ham-handed, but getting smoother and more "minimalist" in my control techniques.

This week will be a busy one at work, and the following week I am travelling, so (weather willing) I will book a lesson on a weeknight later this week. Probably 1.5 hours instead of 2 hours, due to the shorter days.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Things to improve on

Since I'm writing this blog for me not you, this is a list of the items I have noticed that I am doing poorly, clumsily, wrong or incomplete. I hope to look back in a few months time and laugh at today's amateur techniques.

It is amazing to watch a qualified pilot take the controls, and with economy of effort take the aircraft from my gyrations to smooth, level and coordinated flight. It must be amusing for an instructor to watch a student struggle to perform a skill which is, to them, as simple as walking. And to not cringe, asp or grab the stick.

My improvement list:
  • When taxiing, don't go from here to there just because it is an open path. Always track the yellow taxi line. It happens to not matter now, but in the winter when there could be ice, or snowbanks, or at a different airport where there could be a higher sign at the edge of the taxiway, it could matter.
  • Before leaving the run-up area and entering the taxiway, radio intentions ("will hold short of runway 28") so a landing aircraft does not get nervous that I might just go straight onto the runway (I'm at an uncontrolled airport).
  • Think-through my take-off contingency planning. Do this while in the run-up area when we'll be taking off on runway 28 (and there is only 30 second of backtracking). For runway 10 we have to backtrack the length, so there is lots of time for discussion during the positioning. I learned to do this in a glider ("if the tow-rope breaks now then we will ...."), I'm getting to the point in my learning curve where I have the capacity to do this in a powered aircraft.
  • When backtracking after landing, or making the turn at the end of the runway prior to takeoff, turn to the left for better visibility. I suppose that, if there is a meaningful crosswind, then you might turn to the right - I'll ask the instructor next lesson.
  • When applying power for takeoff apply right rudder to counter the yaw from the propwash. I tend to drift to the left and takeoff from there. I need to track the centreline on the takeoff roll.
  • On the takeoff climb, again, use the rudder. I tend to circle/fade to the left due to the uncontrolled yaw. Glance at the DG, since the nose blocks the external view.
  • In a glider the rudder is used to control yaw when in a turn. In the DA20 the rudder is generally not used in a gentle or medium turn, as the aircraft is coordinated. But it is used to control yaw when required (usually power changes, or high rates/angles of climb at full power). I need to re-learn when to use it (and to not use the aerlirons when I should be using rudder).
  • My altitude and directional control tends to be superior towards the end of a flight. Probably because I've settled in and am just flying the airplane using senses and peripheral vision, as opposed to watching the altimeter.
  • Keep working on developing the sense of flying the aircraft from eyes-outside (perspective to the horizon) instead of instrument-watching. Do some instrument-glancing, but not watching. When I drive down the highway I don't stare at the speedometer to maintain speed, I have a sense of how fast I am going just by looking at the surroundings. In an airplane this will come, with time.
  • Gentle movements on the stick. At all times, but especially when setting up for the landing.

So what is going well?

  • Situational awareness, and staying ahead of the aircraft. The saying is that no aircraft should arrive at a point that your brain has not been to five minutes earlier. My anticipation has been good, although my mental loading has not yet been stress-tested so I've had the bandwidth to do the thinking.
  • Eyes outside the airplane. My sky-scanning (for other aircraft) tends to be very good - good technique, good percentage of time with eyes outside.
  • Radio work: It has been good to work the radio and fly at the same time. I've gotten most of the calls right (or, at least, close). I have to think-through the call before I make it as it does not come naturally yet, but that's a good practice anyway, to conserve air time.
  • Paperwork, W+B, pre-flighting.
  • Taxiing is coming along nicely. I wander a bit, and I have not taxied much in a cross-wind, but it is getting better (this aircraft has rudder and differential brakes to steer - the nosewheel is castered and non-directional).
  • Straight-and-level flight continues to need work, but I see improvement. The directional control and yaw control is pretty good, though the altitude control is more corrective than managed. And I have not even tried to worry about managing the ground-track in a wind, I'm just correcting for the drift when I get too far from the road.
  • Gauge and instrument monitoring is good. I scan frequently, and remember to set the DG to the compass from time to time. I'm not getting any comments from the instructor reminding me to do this (he probably wouldn't remind me at this stage anyway, just to prevent mental overload).
  • Keeping my eyes outside the aircraft, and not gauge-watching. This is why post-it notes cover gauges during training. The sense at attitude and speed and bank angle comes with practice, and developing the "sense". More seat time is required, but it is coming along.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Up & Down

I had a great flight. Actually, the shine is still on and I'm wet behind the ears and I'm fulfilling a dream, so they're all great flights.

Because my employer expects me to actually work for a living, I'm not available during the business day. Because of my volunteer work with soccer, this week and all of this weekend are fully consumed, meaning a long gap between lessons. And so I asked the instructor if he could start a lesson at 7AM. No problem. I like this guy, and this school.

The phone rang at 6:10. Brendon was up, had checked the weather, and we might have a problem. At this time of the year there is a good chance of fog first thing in the morning, and there was patchy fog reported in the area. Everything looked good out the window, but Carp Airport is closer to the Ottawa River, so there may be local fog.

I arrived at 6:55. Today was climbs and descents (exercises 7&8).

The chalk-talk, paperwork and pre-flight took an hour. One would think that ascents and descents are simple - point the nose where you want to go, and go there. Like seemingly everything in flying, if you do it right it looks simple, but behind the simple is a lot of knowledge, technique and practice. Most of which I don't know - yet.

But you'll read all about that stuff in just about blog and student manual. I'm Canadian. I want to talk about the weather.

This morning was simply wonderful. The air was cool and crisp. No haze, no smog, bright sun, few clouds, no wind, no chop, no traffic. We bobbed up and down (we were practicing ascent&descent, remember?) and enjoyed the bright sun and the changing tree colours. It was a joyful day to be up and around.

Oh yeah - I did the landing too. Setup was good, the flare was a bit clumsy, but we got on the ground with only one minor bounce.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I am having far too much fun at work. The guy in the next cubicle has a great a love of flight as I do. He's taken several fam flights, groundschool (twice), as well as some lessons.

But, for a wide variety of reasons, he hasn't followed through.

Of course, I am only too pleased to keep him updated on my progress.

His response: "Bastage". Itappeers his speeling isn't tu gud.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Great Landing

Today's lesson was scheduled for 8-10am. The long-range weather forecast said yesterday and today were going to be bright&sunny. Yesterday was. But the overnight temperature met the dew point, there was overnight fog, and today dawned cloudy with a base of 3100'

We started with the paperwork, with a photocopy of my birth certificate and my radio operator (restricted) permit, which I had received as the result of successfully passing the test during gliding ground school. I suspect not many students show up at lesson#1 with that permit in hand!!

I did the weight&balance calculations. Note to self: Lose 30 pounds. With a full tank we were 36 pounds under maximum weight.

We reviewed exercises #5 and #6, and headed to the aircraft.

I did the pre-flight inspection under the instructor's watchful eye, pushed the ship out of the hangar and to the apron, climbed aboard and started the checklists.

The checklists are getting easier. In some cases they are not very specific. For example, the checklist will say "Avionics", and I have to remember that what we are checking is that after landing the transponder has switched itself from ALT (transmit altitude) to STBY (standby).

Rather than watch a flurry of button-pushing, I set up the GPS unit. Apparently the Garmin website has a simulator that you can download, which I will do this afternoon.

As for the flying: the instructor demonstrated a few things (aerliron yaw), and up some odd attitudes from which I had to recover, but of the 1.2 Hobbs hours it was my hand on the stick for at least 1.1.

I did the takeoff (needed a reminder on when to rotate, I need to scan the AI during the roll, until I develop the speed sense).

I made all of the radio calls (mistake on one, where there was some ambiguity).

And I did the landing!!! I was a bit lower and slower in the final than I should have been so I had to add a bit of power. I started my rotation a bit early (quite normal, I am told), and the instructor corrected. And we ended up on the runway so I didn't have a chance to fly along at a foot or two and bleed off airspeed. No bounce, though it was a bit hard.

Humour: The definition of a good landing is one you can walk away from. The definition of a great landing is one where the airplane can be used again.

All in all, a pretty good day at school. Now it time for homework and review.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading ahead

My first official lesson is tomorrow morning.

As I enter my pilot training, I have been doing some reading up on the different methods of learning, other student's experiences, and tales from pilots as posted on blogs, chat boards, etc. Regardless of what I read or where I read it, the one trend which shows, again and again, is preparation.

Pilots of things that go fast talk about staying ahead of the airplane - basically, they go so fast that by the time they realize they must turn, it's too late - they needed to be ahead of the aircraft and start reacting to something before the ship gets to that point.

Pilot training is all about preparation. Weather training is about preparing for the flight - getting forecasts, determing what is waiting enroute and at the destination, and how it will change by the time you get there. Managing the hardware is all about preventing things from going wrong (pre-flight inspections, checking the oil, etc.), and detecting what is happening as they go wrong (hmmm, RPM drop might indicate carb icing - you don't wait for the engine to stop before responding). And so forth. In my university undergrad days the norm was to show up at class cold and perhaps hung-over, be taught, then go home and read the chapters, do the assignments, and repeat. Pre-reading was rare. [Though, for my graduate studies, the opposite was true - there was always preparation to be done, and there were only two classes where I arrived unprepared].

For pilot training, you come prepared. For my lessons, the lesson plan is laid out, the reading is assigned, and I usually do some extra Internet reading as well. Aside from allowing me to maximize the actual lesson time (and therefore maximize my dollars), it teaches the flying culture: Be prepared. Unlike driving, where you you hop into the vehicle and go.

And so I'm reading the manuals. Start at page one, do the required reading, go a chapter or two ahead (in case we achieve the lesson goals quickly and do something extra), review, do the lesson, then go home and review the reading and internalize everything. Repeat.

This is fun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fam Flight #2, Takeoff #1

I booked a second familiarization flight with Flight School #2. There was nothing highly analytic about it - it turns out that I know the husband of the owner quite well. They have new aircraft, not 34 year old Cessnas. And they hangar their aircraft every evening, which is really going to matter when the winter arrives and there is overnight precip, and student#1 gets to remove the accumulation on any aircraft left outside.

But I had not flown with the other instructor, and so I booked the second fam flight.

My capabilities have progressed since the last flight. I did the pre-flight inspection, and I asked about what and why and interactions (all instructors can fly, I wanted to see how this instructor instructs). Very sharing, but also very perceptive to the level of my interrogation, he gives the right level of detail.

I did the checklists and the start. After my clumsiness taxiing last time I asked him to do the taxi from the apron to the run-up area (no sense bending anything in a crowded area). I then did all the driving and stickwork from that point onwards, including backtracking to the end of the runway, the takeoff, all flying, and aligning for the landing (I would have followed through and done the landing, and he was willing, but I didn't feel that I had stabilized the approach well enough so I asked him to take control at about 150'). He did the landing, I did the run-out and all taxiing until power-off.

All the checklists, pre, post and during, were mine - item by item I wanted to know what we were checking, what it was supposed to be, and any inter-relationships.

And I got the Transport Canada student flight manual. I'm committed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Decisions, decisions

A detailed search for flight training centres in southern Ontario (thanks COPA!) reveals 5 flight schools (at the introductory level) in the city of Ottawa, with another two in nearby small towns (one is a 45 minute drive from where I live, the other 30 minutes). This gives me 7 credible choices, since three of the in-city choices are more than 45 minutes away. So all 7 are candidates.

A quick Internet search reveals that they all basically charge the same unit amount. All websites estimate the cost of getting a ticket based on Transport Canada minimums, some live in the real world and state what the realistic cost will be (this was my first filter on which school I would choose). Some are club-based, some not, but the club membership fees are small so this is not a factor.

However, 2 of the schools are at the GA airport which is a 10-minute drive from home. Even better, it is only a 5-minute diversion from my driving route to/from work (I am a 12 minute drive from work nyaa nyaa nyaa). These are my primary candidates, and are the ones I visited last Friday.

What to ask? How to decide? With questions in hand, I visited the two schools.

At the first school (FS#1) I was greeted by the mechanic, who came out of the maintenance hanger. Youngish, but gave a strong impression that he cared about his job and customer service. Carried a big wrench with him as he showed me the office, explained that the owner had gone out for a sandwich, and took me to the rack of information about the RPP, PPL, etc. There were for-sale ads on the bulletin board, and a whiteboard on the wall in the office had each aircraft's total time and the next scheduled maintenance time. A couple came in with a young boy ("time to go watch the airplanes") and asked if they could use the washroom - no problem. The owner came back and I chatted with him for nearly half an hour, getting answers to all my questions. The training aircraft are a 1972 C172, a 1972 C150, and another C150 that is coming up for a major overhaul so they are probably going to replace with a C172. They had four part-time instructors, and a dozen students for the two aircraft. Overall impression: Very customer oriented, comfortable, laid-back yet professional.

The second school (FS#2) is a new one. They have two full-time instructors, one of which greeted me in the office. He was wearing a name badge and a tie. They have three training aircraft, two new Diamond Eclipse DA-20, and they still had the "new" smell. And one C150. They have brochures for the aircraft, well-printed handouts, and a computerized, web-enabled reservation system. For the two trainers they had 30 active students. Overall impression: This is a crisply-run organization that wants my business.

I booked a familiarization flight with FS#2, for Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning I arrive 15 minutes before my 10AM booking. At 9:55 the other instructor (who is the CFI) arrive from the previous lession. My fam-flight starts 10 minutes late. After introductions we head out to the aircraft and do the pre-flight inspection, then climb in, do the checklists, start up, and head out to the run-up pad. More checklists, with the instructor reaching across in front of me and flipping switches and setting the dials. So I back-tracked down the runway like a drunken sailor, generally to the left of the centre-line, but arriving at the the western end without any great excitement. We're moving so slow the rudder is not very effective, I didn't use differential braking, and the nosewheel is free-wheeling.

The instructor performed the take-off - this puppy lept into the air!!! We cleared the runway, climbed and turned to our heading, levelled off, and headed for the practice area (about a 3 minute flight). I took the stick and flew the rest of the fam-flight. We flew the usual - straight&level flight, coordinated turns (shallow and medium), holding a heading, holding altitute, some throttle work, flying the circuit, base and final and lining up on the centre line for the landing. He took control at about 200' and greased it. Total engine time was a bit more than 30 minutes.

One MAJOR irritation - when I had control this instructor always had his feet on the rudder pedals. His hands hovered near the stick at first, but then relaxed when I was flying straight and level rather than porpoising all over the sky. He got the clue that I had an idea about what I was doing when I started adjusting the trim (electric elevator trim - gotta love it!) so we could fly level hands-free - then there were no more hands hovering near the stick. But it felt like I had to punch the pedal through the floor to get any rudder movement (perhaps this was a factor in why my taxiing was so poor?).

What's next?
  • I'm going to book a fam-flight with FS#1. When it comes down to it, what really matters is safety and quality of instruction, not the shiny new airplanes (thought that's really nice too!). So I need to look past the shine, and measure the substance.
  • I may book a second fam-flight with FS#2, but with the *other* instructor. I also need to talk to the owner of FS#2 about a few more questions.
  • If I take my instruction on the Eclipse, I'll have to budget for eventually getting type-certified on the C150 and C172. Not being made of money, I'll be renting.... and the C150 and C172 are the commonly available types.
  • There is another school about 20 minutes north of here, I *may* further investigate them.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No soaring this year

As you may have noticed, I have not posted anything this summer. That's because I have not been flying.

Turns out I've had limited time, and no weather when I have had time. And isn't it amazing that expenses seem to expand to consume all available income (the house really needed the new roof, the oldest car needed replacing, etc etc etc). But I still have permission.

Actually, the weather in Ottawa has not been too bad in the latter half of the summer, but weather and my availability never seemed to coincide.

The club I frequented last year has a mailing list, and so there are frequent emails (on weekdays) asking if there was an available tow pilot, someone wanted to play hookey from work, and off they went. While I was chained to a desk. Some days they went off gliding for a 7.5 hour flight, covering hundreds of km.

Soaring (gliding) wasn't working for me.

The skills for power pilot and glider pilot are similar and different. But power pilots can fly year-round, so maybe I should go the power route.

I need to do more than live vicariously through Aviatrix's blog.

There is a GA airport about 10km from where I live. There are two flying schools there. So Friday, after work, I dropped in on both of them.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Income > Outgo

To fly this summer I needed three things: Time, Money, Weather.

And I've made great progress on all three (but can only claim credit for two).

Money: I've just turned a financial corner... I now have a fulltime, real-money-paying job offer, starting June 1st. No more 60-hour weeks volunteering, I'm going to once again have the opportunity to work and get paid for it (the last few years have not been kind to high-tech workers in Ottawa). Soaring is a lot less expensive than powered flight, but it isn't free.

Time: In the absence of a job, I've spent a lot of time doing volunteer work, giving my time and expertise in the operation of a few local non-profit organizations. At peak times of the year, it meant 60-hour weeks for a few months running. But I've been winding this down for a year now, with the hiring of an administrator, and with divesting work to other individuals. I'll still keep some of the workload, but the time demands will be much more balanced.

Weather: The last 3-4 weeks here in Ottawa have been wet. Great flying weather if you're a duck. However, in a sport which depends on the sun to generate thermals, and therefore transform gliding into soaring, the last few weeks have been a washout. This weekend looks like the weather will be terrific, but I'm going to spend it at home doing all the spring-time things that a homeowner must do.... Thus freeing-up future weekends. Let's call it an investment.

Permission: Oops, four things. Soaring is something that I'll be off doing alone, without wife or child (it's no fun hanging around an aerodrome feeding skeeters and killing time while waiting for daddy/hubby to land). For that to happen, I need the support of my family. And for the support to happen, I'll need the money without causing hardship at home (done), and enough tasks done here at the homestead so they don't feel abandoned (working on it).

And now the "Which Club to Join" question has percolated back to the top of my list.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Which club to join?

There are two soaring clubs within an easy drive of where I live -- one of which is the one I flew with five times last summer.

My decision for the coming summer is "Which club shall I join?". Both clubs co-operated in presenting last winter's ground school, so I had a glimpse of the other club.

For last summer's club, I very much enjoyed meeting the pilots there, the location is the closest, and would be quite happy to continue flying out of that club. The runway is grass, which means they start flying in May, weather permitting, once the runway dries out enough to support the aircraft (the water table is quite high in that area). All basic training is done on the rock-solid 2-33 -- one moves to the Grob or Puchacz once spin recovery training is required, since it is quite difficult to make the 2-33 spin.

The other club is further away, and is a larger club with about three times the members. They have two towplanes, and training is offered on different ships. The location dates back to WW2 when it was an RCAF training base, so the runway is paved (though I have heard through the grapevine that 60+ years of use, and the Canadian winter, have seriously degraded the surface, so one runway is unusable, and one has been re-paved down the centre only). But the presentations made by the club representatives at the ground school were first-rate, and a visit to their website indicates that they are very well-organized. This club is slightly more expensive than the first, but not by a meaningful amount.

There is no commitment, in that I can fly with one club this year, and move along to the other in future year(s) if I choose to switch. At my level of pilot development there is no meaningful difference in their airspaces.

I am going to take the easy way out... I'll go to club #2 for a package of 5 flights, which will (a) allow me to see enough of the club to make a decision, and (b) get me flying a month earlier than if I simply went back to club #1.

Besides, it will give me a chance to fly in a few different types of gliders.

OK, it's not a decision, but a deferment for a month. But most decisions in real life are like that - not a destination, but a progression.

I'll re-evaluate in a month.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Inter-season lull

Ground school finished last week - I made 9 of the 10 sessions (which is simply amazing given how busy my calendar is at this time of year - lucky for me the sessions were on Mondays).

Some of the sessions were amazing, some were pretty dull - it was either the topic, the presenter, or both. And I did pass my radio operator's exam during the last session. Actually, the exam was frighteningly easy.

So now ground school is done, and we're not yet soaring because there are no thermals -- it's still too cold (we had snow this morning - yuck). However, we can go gliding. I should go do a bunch of flights anyway, since it's easier to practice precision flying (holding altitude, heading and speed) when rising air isn't bouncing you all over the sky.

And flying under tow, which I currently find to be one of the toughest parts of gliding, can be learned at this time as well.

And so that's why I have not been posting -- I'm in the inter-season lull. Which, for a blog, is the kiss of death. So more posts to come RSN (real soon now).

In the meantime, I bought my lottery tickets. Lotteries are a tax on the mathematically challenged, but one can always dream. Gliding lessons are much less expensive than powered flight, but still are not pocket change.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Flights 2 & 3

Since I had started in late July, and the soaring season fades away in September, I thought I would stretch out my 5-pack over the rest of the summer, then go at it in earnest in 2006.

I arrived at the club nice and early for my second flight. John taught me how to do the Daily Inspection on the 2-33 (actually, John did the DI, but we both did the looking in all the nooks and crannies). We pulled out the tractor, towed the gliders to the flight line, got out the tow ropes, and generally got things ready for the day. Because I was first there, I was first to fly.

As a new student, flying early in the morning is a Good Thing. There is a lack of thermals, as the sun has not yet warmed the earth sufficiently, so the flights are smoother, and you can understand the effect of the controls without bouncing all over the sky in rough air. Straight and level flight is possible, even with a rookie on the stick.

So up we went, where we glided back to earth over a too-short period of time. While up there I tried to figure out how to manage the ship in three dimensions: Control speed using pitch, and control yaw using the rudder. I did much better than on my first flight.

We approached 1000' AGL, and headed for home, entering the circuit at about 850' AGL, through the circuit, and John brought us in for a landing.

Then the surprise. We towed the 2-33 back to the flight line, and I took my second flight of the day immediately, even though there were others waiting. I heard later that this was an encouragement for the students to come out early in the day... two flights before noon guaranteed, no waiting. Personally, I would have liked to have waited a little longer so maybe there would have been a few thermals up there.....

The two flights in succession made a big difference... by the end of the second flight of the day I was doing coordinated turns (shallow and medium bank), flying in an almost-straight line, recovered from a slow stall from straight flight, and while trying to fly a constant speed I wasn't yo-yo-ing through sky in Pilot-Induced-Oscillation (that's a fancy phrase for over-correction, going to fast, then over-correcting and going too slow, then nose down and too fast, and so forth).

Clearly, if one is going to get better, time on the stick was going to be the big factor.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Look, then launch

This is old hat to any pilot, but for an ab initio such as myself the business of a daily inspection and the pre-flight was a new concept.

When I drive a car, I walk out of the house, lock the door, unlock the car, get in, fasten seatbelt, start, and drive off. Check the oil? If the light doesn't go off after the engine starts I'll worry about it then. Flat tire? The thumping noise will alert me.

But when you fly, before every day's flight there is a Daily Inspection. And before every flight the ship gets pre-flighted.

Daily Inspection follows a checklist, and at my club we keep the book (one page per day) in a ziplock baggie under the pilot's seat. The day of my second flight I showed up at the field rather early, and John (my instructor from my first flight) was already there. His first comment was "hi, glad you're here, let's put you to work." And so we walked over the 2-33 and we went through the DI. First the canopy cover and tie-downs are removed, and we go over every inch of the aircraft. Every hinge, every support, every cable, every pin is examined to make sure everything that should be present, is present.

If interupted, you go back to where you know have checked, and restart from the checkpoint. Checking something twice is much preferable to missing something.

We finish by giving the end of the wing a good shake and bouncing things around, just to see if everything bounces in syncronization. Hook up the tractor and pull it out to the flightline.

If you're not happy about anything, you get a second opinion. The ship does not fly until it passes the DI.

In addition, before every flight the Pilot In Command (PIC) is responsible for giving the aircraft the quick once-over before the flight. During the DI we remove inspection panels and peek in the corners -- the pre-flight is a quick once-over in comparison, just to ensure there was no damage resulting from the previous flight.

More learning lessons from the flightline. I must check my tire pressure and engine oil more often than quarterly.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Uniform or Umbrella?

I'm writing this in February (when I'm taking the ground school), and my first 5 flights were last summer, so the first blog entries are going to involve a little bit of time-warping until I finally get caught up.

In last week's ground school we covered radio work. The aerodrome where I've flown is uncontrolled, so there is no chatter to the tower because there is no tower. However, we have a radio in each glider, in the tow plane, and one at the shack where we do the paperwork and figure out who is going up next, so the radio is in active use. Each glider announces when they enter the circuit, as does the towplane when entering the circuit, backtracking on the runway, etc.

The other use of the radio is to call the shack when you've been up for an hour in one of the club-owned gliders.... if there is someone waiting for the ship then you have to come down (club rule), but if there is no waiting list then you can continue flying.

And so we learned about nine vs. niner, and the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc). Constant practice is necessary... I find that expressing car license plates works well when stuck in rush hour. allows you to listen to ATC - someone living near an airport has hooked up a radio scanner to their computer and fed the audio to this website, who then feed it to you. You'll notice there is no idle chatter, and the efficiency of the communication.

Back to reading license plates. And trying to remember that it's Uniform, not Umbrella.

The radio operator's exam is at the last night of the ground school.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pilot Decision Making

On my first flight I realized how much I didn't know (it doesn't matter how much Flight Simulator you fly, it isn't the Real Thing). Pilot Decision Making was the most surprising eye-opener.

As we started the takeoff roll, John started talking about "if we abort the takeoff now, we'll just land on the runway ahead of us".

Then that changed to "if we have to release now we'd ditch in the river". Can't we make it to the other side? "Nope, we're going to get wet".

Then "we'd land straight ahead on the grass at the sod farm". And finally "we'd turn around and land downwind". Finally, "we'd find a thermal and try to stay up here, otherwise we'll join the pattern and land".

This is Pilot Decision Making: the constant evaluation of where you are, what your situation is or could become, and what your options might be. It is also the "O" in CISTRSCO -- what are my Options?

I've had my driver's license for about 34 years. When I took driver's ed way back in my teens one of the lessons was "always leave yourself an out": Don't get boxed into a situation where, if something goes wrong, you have no options except to have a Really Bad Day.

Thanks to Lesson#1 (and lots of subsequent reading) I realized that I now drive in an empty-headed manner... I get in the car, point it where I want to go, disengage brain, and somehow we get to the destination. If something looks strange then I re-engage, analyze and (if necessary) react. Merging traffic from the right? Oh. Maybe I should move over a lane.

And sometimes I arrive at my destination convinced that the car drove itself, because I sure wasn't around for the trip.

Part of this is very good, and I will achieve flying in this manner: Rather than using a front-of-mind thinking analyzing method of driving/flying (which leads to overcontrol, and doesn't leave a lot of bandwidth for any other processing), driving/flying becomes second nature, and you "wear" the aircraft from here to there. Rather than thinking "OK, I'm turning left, I need to do this with the rudder pedals, and this with the stick, and do my visual checking for traffic starting here, and what's my airspeed, and from which direction is the wind blowing", you Just Do It.

But: When driving I need to be constantly engaging my mind regarding the situation, the issues, the options, and what the preferred action would be. I've become far too lazy when driving - the autopilot is on, and the brain is off. This is all proportional: on a long-distance drive on a limited-access highway with limited traffic, you relax and go with the flow. In stop&go traffic, or a congested city street, you stay very engaged.

On the ground you can get away with a lower level of attention: There is only one degree of freedom (left/right), and one translation (forward speed). In case of engine failure the worst that will immediately happen is that you're going to slow down and stop on the side of the road.

I thought I was going to learn to fly. I didn't expect lessons to carry-over into the rest of my life. Neat.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wear Sunscreen: Flight 1

July 24 2005

Nearly all Soaring Schools (Gliding Clubs) offer introductory flight packages. The most common options are a single flight (up you go, you get to hold the stick and fly around until the air runs out), or a 5-pack (which counts as your first five flying lessons). The introductory flight is usually offered in one of the snazzy modern-looking gliders, and the 5-pack is offered in the rugged trainer that everyone starts learning in.

And this was the decision I was offered when I showed up at the club. In effect, am I going up as a one-hit wonder, and see if I like it? Or am I going to start taking lessons and working towards getting my license? I'm an analytic, and I've had no time to analyze.... two hours ago I was having lunch on the patio and thinking I'd be at home cutting the grass this afternoon.

I went with the heart, and I signed up for the 5-pack. Money paid, and (of course) the legal releases were signed.

Nancy (my wife) had done her homework, and out of the back of the car came a bottle of SPF-45, a hat, and a few bottles of water. And a book for her to read in the shade.

When you're in a glider, you're sitting under a plexiglas canopy with a terrific view in every direction (the better to see other aircraft), and there is zero shade. Zilch. Nada. I'm a redhead, and under a July sun it takes me about 10 minutes to start burning.

And so sunscreen is mandatory. Wearing a hat (no baseball caps, please, they cut off your view of part of the sky) is strongly urged. And the field is hot, and failing to stay hydrated significantly affects your reflexes and alertness (I'll speak about this more after I complete the ground-school session on the medical factors of flight).

John, the instructor for the day, coached me as I did the pre-flight (CISTRSCO -- more about that later). I had no idea what I was doing, or why, but under John's very detailed supervision a proper pre-flight was done. The tow plane applied power, we headed down runway 08, and within a very short distance we were flying at an altitude of a few feet as we waited for the towplane to get enough speed to get off the ground.

I released at about 2300 feet (2,000 AGL), and we dipsy-doodled around the sky upwind of the runway, found a few mild thermals, and I was introduced to some gliding basics.

The first flying lesson was limited to the very basic elements of gliding: flying straight, adjusting pitch to maintain a constant speed, gentle turns, learning to scan the sky in a thorough and methodical manner, and constantly exercising Pilot Decision Making. We did a gentle stall (the 2-33 did the recovery for us by dropping the nose as the stall approached), and an abrupt stall (pull back the stick sharply, lose speed, drop like a stone, and the pilot does the recovery).

When driving a car you manage two factors: how fast are you going (presumably forward) and direction (left/right). When flying you manage six factors, consisting of three rotary motions (pitch, roll and yaw), and three translations (logitudinal speed, lateral speed, and vertical speed). Which is a long-winded way of saying that I completely forgot to use the rudder, so I flew the stick and John managed the yaw by working the rudder pedal. If there were any coordinated turns while I had control, it was the result of John's dexterity, not mine.

Then, as we approached minimum altitude we entered the circuit. The radio is in the front seat so I did the radio call: John calling out a phrase, I echoed into the microphone, repeat.

A sideslip or two to lose some altitude, half-spoilers, onrushing ground (I don't think I lifted up my feet as we got closer), touchdown and rollout.

Lesson #1 complete. More on the details in the next postings.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

I used to have a boss, early in my career, who never had a birthday -- he had a birthweek. By the end of the week he looked like he would bleed to death through his eyeballs.

I also have problems getting my annual celebrations completed in one day: now that my kids are not all living at home the birthday celebration seems to move to the nearest free date, and sometimes there are multiple celebrations (usually a dinner somewhere) depending on when/if they come to visit.

On the day of my 50th, my wife organized a surprise party for me. We were supposed to have one couple over for a BBQ and a swim, but an hour later the doorbell started ringing. Fooled me completely. Good on her.

Two days later (July 24th 2005) my wife, my at-home daughter, and my no-longer-at-home daughter (and her boyfriend) had lunch with me at the Ritz on the Canal. It was a hot and sunny summer day, and we enjoyed lunch sitting on the patio in the sun with the boats floating by on the Rideau Canal. Then came the little cake with the sparkler in it, and daughter K gave me a computer-generated birthday card with a really weird poem. Mega weird. Ummm, thanks. I didn't want to say something like "this looks like what you used to write when you were in grade 2."

Then she gave me the "gift certificate". The Soaring School doesn't sell gift certificates per se, so K generated her own, telling me I could redeem it by going to the Soaring School and signing up for a glider flight.

I was gobsmacked.

When picking a birthday present, sometimes you hit a foul, usually you connect for a single or a double. My family had tagged this one out of the park.

The "gift certificate" basically said I was to go to the School and pay my own money for my own present, so the monetary value of the piece of paper in my hand was nil. But they gave me what I really needed to start on my journey into flight: a kick in the pants and the command to go do something.

I guess they got tired of hearing me talk about flying, and decided that it was time to stop talking and start flying.

Over 40+ years I never gave myself permission to take the first step. In my 50th year, my family did.

And so it begins.......

Start of the journey

I'm a just-over-50 MWM with a (so-far) unfulfilled dream -- to be a pilot.

There never seemed to be a good time to get started on my ticket. There was always a different priority, or not enough money, or too much busy-ness elsewhere in my life. Or something. But I never stopped thinking about taking those steps and getting my license.

I was one of those nerdy kids growing up in the early 60's who loved anything to do with aviation, flying, airplanes, spacecraft, science fiction, astronauts, and anything else with (or without) wings, as long as it was off the ground. TV shows included Star Trek, Lost in Space ("danger Will Robinson"), My Favorite [sic] Martian, It's About Time, The Jetson's. I had posters on my bedroom walls of Gemini/Titan rockets blasting off the pad, group photos of the original seven, and a poster of the cockpit of an aircraft with thousands of knobs, buttons, dials and (steam) guages. I wanted to fly, and I talked about it, but it remained an interest and I never managed to turn talk into action.

Through the teen years there were many distractions, including sports, academics, girls. And no knowledge - I had no idea how to turn an idea into an action.

In the university years there was no money. And it would have been difficult to manage the "8 hours from bottle to throttle" while living in residence.

Then came marriage, with a wife that I loved spending time with, who had not the slightest interest in flying, so I could either be with her or be off doing something alone. Hmmm, maybe later.

And then came a career doing work that I loved, with the hours required.

Then children, with the attendent responsibilities, and a feeling that the timing was not right to start an expensive and riskier-than-average hobby.

Many years passed, but I never stopped talking about flying, and reading about flying. My kids thought I was the smartest man around when we'd be fishing from the shore of a lake, and a plane would fly overhead and I'd look up and say "that's a Boeing 727". When we were flying somewhere on vacation and a clunk came from somewhere under the aircraft they'd look to dad wondering what fell off, and I'd re-assure them it was just the normal sound of the landing gear lowering.

Excuses or reasons or procrastination or a failure to make a dream come true? All of the above, I guess. But the years were busy and productive, so I'd like to think that flying just never managed to percolate to the top of the to-do list.

That ended two days after my fiftieth birthday, courtesy of my son in particular, and my family in general. But that's the next post.