Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Trip to Gettysburg - Third cross country and long night cross country

Yesterday Mike and I piled our gear into 684SP, our club's very plush Cessna 172SP decked out with leather seats, auto pilot, etc. All the stuff you love to see in a trainer... :-). This was to be my final long dual cross country and the trip back would be my night dual cross country. The trip from Zelienople (PJC) to Gettysburg (W05) measured 144nm weather looked very favorable, one of the nicest fall evenings in a long time with 10nm of visibility, winds 210@8 knots and zero turbulence. We took off about 4:30PM from Zeli and Mike showed me how to initiate flight following with ATC. Mike explained that "flight following" added a safety margin to the flight as ATC would warn us of traffic in the area, and should something go wrong, our whereabouts would be reasonably known. We started to tick off our check points passing by Butler Airport, over the Allegheny river, past Homer City, Johnstown (Murtha Airport), and on to Gettysburg. We also got some great shots of the windmills in Somerset as well as some of the stunning vistas of mountain ridges snaking their way along through Central PA.
<--- Mike Woods, CFI     Coming into W05 we needed to be very careful with respect to our position south of the airport due to a TFR related to the President's visit to Camp David. We touched down right about dusk after flying about a hour and fifteen minutes.

We caught the FBO owner right before he was leaving, and he let us fill up the plane and even gave us a ride into town to Mike's daughter's high school's football game. After watching Gettysburg High School clobber the team from Harrisburg, Mike and I walked back to the airport, fired up the plane, warmed up the plane (the temp was hovering at freezing at this point), and leaped into the dense air on takeoff.        Windmills Over Somerset--->

The return trip home at night turned out to be as uneventful as the flight out but interesting and packed with information as always. Mike put the foggles on me for half of the trip back and I got a chance to work on my IFR flying technique. ATC gave us the heads up that PJC was dead ahead of us, we
<--- Mountain Ridges Near Johnstown
thanked him for his help and signed off of flight following. We landed at a desolate PJC at about 1AM, fuel ed up in the freezing air at the depot, and taxied back to the hangar happy to be home again.

Flight Planning - preparing for a cross country

Just my notes for steps to prepare and plan for a cross country.
  • Draw course line
  • Draw 10 mile wide swath (5nm to each side)
  • Measure distance
  • Determine altitude
  • Determine checkpoints
  • Note emergency landing airports


  • Communications
  • Runways
  • Airport diagrams

Before Flight

  • Get weather briefing
  • Calculate heading/wind correction
  • Calculate total time and checkpoint time
  • Calculate fuel burn

  • Calculate weight and balance
  • Calculate performance metrics (takeoff distance, etc)

In Flight
  • File flight plan or initiate flight following with ATC
  • Check heading vs ground track adjust if necessary
  • Time first checkpoint

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2nd Dual Cross Country

Today we flew from our home base of Zelienople to Latrobe Airport (AKA Arnold Palmer Regional, LBE). Due to a maintenance snafu with our standing N89549 C152, we ended up taking the only plane available, our sweet 172SP with the oh-so-comfortable leather seats. Mike and I had flight planned the night before (I received the longest weather briefing in my short flying career, 15 minutes?), and today I would get some more experience with the VOR navigation, pilotage and talking to the control tower. I've heard there is a decent restaurant at LBE but we were in a bit of a rush to get the plane back for our club president. The tower did hold us for an inordinately long period of time at the hold-short area, and we could not figure out why, but after 10 minutes or so, she let us get on our way. I also got some experience with getting cut off by another plane in the pattern. We were doing a straight-in on 35 at Zeli and another plane dove down to a lower elevation to get in front of us on final saying over the radio that he had the right of way. I will say though, he was a good guy, coming over later to apologize and saying that he was incorrect an that we indeed did have the right of way.
Final on Runway 35 at Zeli (PJC)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Poker Run (and 1st Dual X-Country)

Mike has talked me into doing the Condor Poker Run (actually it's run by our venerable mechanic, so I think officially it's Jason's Aircraft Repair 4th Annual Poker Run). Anyway, I drove to the airport arriving about 8:55AM to attend the Condor Winter Seminar which focused on policies and procedures for handing, storing and using the airplanes in the wintertime. As usual, it was well organized, well run and informative. Kieth, the instructor giving the seminar, was even generous enough to bring donuts! After the seminar, Mike hustled me into our C152 (is there ever a relaxing moment?? :) as it was our duty to drop off the cards at the respective airports. In addition, we would hit Port Meadville to make it officially 50nm away from PJC so it would count as a cross country. The plan was KPJC to KUCP to 4G1 to KGKJ to KFKL to KBTP and back to KPJC.

The first thing I noticed after we took off runway 17 from Zelienople, was that it was windy, DAMN windy. The AWOS at Zeli was calling for 16 knot winds gusting to 25. The first leg to New Castle (UCP) was bouncy but we found the airport with just a little fussing around. Then came my first seriously x-winded and gusty landing. I have to admit, that it was hairy and truthfully Mike did most of the work at the end, it was bad. We popped in to say hi to Marty, the FAA examiner who will likely perform my checkride in the future, and dropped off the first batch of cards. We took off and headed to Greenville (4G1).

We found 4G1 fairly easily and landed on the grass airstrip that rolled over the paved runway. Dropped our cards off, took a bathroom break, said bye to the Civil Air Patrol guys and headed out to the runway. Here is where things got real interesting. Again with 16-20 knot winds and now gusting to 30, we gunned the 152, using all of the runway, with a direct crosswind. The problem however was the wind shifted into a tail wind about halfway down the runway with the airspeed indicator showing about 55. At this point the end of the runway was rapidly approaching and we were having trouble generating lift. Mike took over at this point and after a wheel bounce on the left, a wheel bounce on the right, he got the thing airborne, barely. I swear I could see the veins on the leaves as we just cleared the trees at the end of the runway.

So now we headed off to Port Meadville (GKJ) which a quick stop without shutting down as we did not need to deposit cards there. The we left for Franklin (FKL) for another very interesting experience. Franklin is, or was, used by USAir for I believe a flight a day, so the runway is fairly long, wide and has a PAPI. Coming in on final we were high with the PAPI showing four white. About 1/4M from the end of the runway, we were hit by a low level wind shear event which immediately to us to four red. Mike jammed in the throttle and for a few seconds it seemed like we were standing still. Luckily with Mike's quick reaction on the throttle we were able to squeak on to the end of the runway. A little shaken, but undeterred in our mission, we dutifully dropped off the Franklin box of cards, checked out the decent looking Italian restaurant there and headed out to Butler (BTP).

The trip to Butler and then on the Zelienople were relatively uneventful considering the rest of the day, and upon landing at Zeli we traipsed into Jason's repair shop for some much needed decompressing. Needless to say, I head learned a few good lessons today about flying in winds such as what we experienced, but the most important lesson being, until I've got several hundred hours under my belt, I'll stay home on days like today, and maybe even after several hundred hours...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

1st Solo

just had to post about my first solo last night as it was just such an awesome experience. Got to the airport about 5:45PM (and sunset is now about 7PM). Usually I'm early to get the plane prepped and preflighted, but today I was running late. My instructor (who rocks) got my back and had the plane ready to go (for which I thanked him profusely). Not being sure if this was solo day or not, we hopped in and did a few T/Os and landings. We had a decent x-wind which was cool because I finally had gotten the hang on them and was enjoying it. First two landings were pretty solid and right as I was getting ready to go after the touch, my instructor pulled the throttle back, and said "_____ it, I'm getting out!". So we taxied off the runway over onto the tarmac next to the jet hangar, shutdown, he signed my book, grabbed his stuff, and said good luck.

So at this point, I had a little butt clench going on, but then I just grabbed the checklist from inbetween the seats and started going over it. After that things just fell into place. Did the startup, and runup sequence, announced my intentions to takeoff runway 35 and did it. Boy did that 152 leap into the air without Mike on board! The sun was now getting pretty low in the sky, visibility was great, which made for a really unbelievable evening.

Came in, stuck the first landing pretty good, a little to the left, but overall one of my better ones. Mike crackled over the radio "Niiiice". Full stop, taxied back and took off for the second trip around the pattern. Radio had been very quiet as it had stormed a bit around 4PM, which I think keep a lot of GA planes in their houses, but right at the beginning of downwind, I heard a very professional "____Hotel Hotel Citation 20 miles out straight in for runway 35" and I thought, "hey that's my runway, but he's 20 miles away so I'm good." At the end of downwind, less than one minute later, I hear "____Hotel Hotel Citation 10 miles out straight in for runway 35" and I was like "holy crap, 10 miles in under a minute, he's going over 600 miles an hour!, and I'm going at the speed of smell". I turned base and announced very clearly to make sure I didn't get run over, kept checking out my right window to see if I could see him, but nothing yet. Turned final and heard him say he was 5 miles out. Stuck another halfway decent landing all things considered and taxied off announcing I was clear of the active. Sure enough, as I was taxing back to the end of the runway for one more, that big 'ol Citation landing in our little podunk airport, pretty cool sight to see up close.

So he clears out, one more once around the pattern and I was done. My instructor was fired up, I was fired up, it was pretty damn cool. We took off again to go fuel up at a local FBO, and he comes over with a pair of scissors innocently asking what it said on the back of my t-shirt. Next thing I know, there's a cool breeze across the bottom of my back and Mike is standing there holding his "scalp". So I got clipped. We flew back to base and our club mech (who also rocks) handed me a 1pt Straub. Beer never tasted so good....

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Pre Solo Check Ride Check

Last flight today with Mike before my pre-solo check with Keith. Landings are getting there, no quite there, but getting there. My right thumb is now permanently glued to the throttle.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lesson Nine

So before the start of the lesson, I walk up to Mike and share with him my newfound wisdom from reading an article in AOPA Flight Training. There was an article in the July issue about the important of learning short and soft field takoffs and landings, not only training for them on your standard paved runway, but actually trying them for real. Mike responded by saying, you just ruined your surprise! :-). Today he planned for us to land at the "Butler Farm Show" airport for our short field exploration and at his friends house, the McDonald grass airstrip. Well, I'm not sure if I would call the Farm Show airport a runway, it was more like a sidewalk, and to land you have to cross over some fairly high powerlines right before the beginning of the runway. But Mike showed me how it was done and we somehow managed to squeeze the airplane onto the middle of the runway. We parked the plane in the grass and ran across the street for a little break at a family fun place. After racing the go-karts there (I came in first after ducking under some dude in the final turn... :-), we hustled back the trusty trainer to do our short field takeoff (for real this time). We then cruised over to his buddy's house to try out a little grass field landing action. How cool that was! I really enjoyed the thrill of landing on grass, and in particular the thrill of the takeoff, having to lift off at the lowest speed possible and then accelerating in ground effect. That landing and take off is not one I will forget for quite a while. I can't wait to do another one! (Photo credit go to Mike, sorry Mike I stole your pics!)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Condor Picnic 2007

The Condors apparently have a great tradition of having a summer picnic for all members with the usual accouterments and some flying contests. This year the contests were the "accurate landing" and "flour bomb drop". I cajoled my wife and not-quite-three year old daughter into joining me for the festivities. The highlight was a couple of trips in the pattern with Mike, my instructor where he let my wife, Emel, fly the plane and I got to try a few flour bombs from the back seat with my daughter. All in all a great day, I think Emel got a kick out of flying and my daughter had great fun talking on the headset. Looking forward to next year's one.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Lesson Seven

Today we took a bit of a breather from working on fundamentals, slow flight, stalls and emergency procedures and had a bit of fun by flying around my house and the city of Pittsburgh. I also learned a bit about communicating with ATC and how to navigate with a map and reference to visible landmarks (pilotage). Oh yeah, and my door popped open again in flight, I really need to make sure that thing is secure... Here's some photos of the house and Pittsburgh!

If you look close you can spot the wife and daughter on the back deck.

The Steel City

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lesson Three

Wow, this was an exciting lesson. We did mostly slow flight today and practiced stalls. The really interesting part was when we were practicing the power-on stall. I knew from my readying, and what Mike had told me that, as the angle of attack increased, and with the really slow airspeed I would need quite a bit of right rudder to counteract the p-factor, gyroscopic effect, corkscrewing slipstream, and torque reaction. What I didn't know, or rather forgot, was that it is important to release that right rudder once the break happens. Well of course with the right rudder, and then I inadvertently turned the ailerons into the direction of our dropping wing, we started to spin. The caused a lot of pucker factor in my case and started saying, "mike, Mike, MIKE!". Of course, he calmly recovered from the spin I put us into, but he did say "that was the first for me with a student!". I think it was only 1/2 a spin but it got my attention at any rate. At least I better know what to do in a stall now, use the rudder to keep the wings level.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

First Lesson

I had my first flying lesson today with Mike. It went very smoothly although the ride was a little bumpy. We covered the basics, four fundamentals of flight, best rate & angle of climb, cruise decent, and what it means to be in the pattern., Mike also showed me how to tune in the VOR and we even flew over it to see what a VOR looks like. More to come!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Condor Aero Flying Club

Thanks to a new friend I made on a recent dirt bike riding trip, who just so happens to be a private pilot as well as an excellent rider, I have now signed on as a member of the Condor Aero Club. After looking around at some of the other schools in the area, this one appealed to me the most, mainly because:
  • one of the few flying clubs around (maybe the only one?)
  • club has been in operation since 1957
  • as a member, you actually become a part owner of the airplanes
  • top notch CFIs and maintenance
  • lower rental rates than any school I've seen
  • 2 Cessna 152 trainers, 4 Cessna 172s, and 1 Piper Arrow - should be no shortage of planes to rent
I just went to the first meeting where I had my first reading as a prospective member. I also met my future CFI for the first time, Mike Woods. Very different guy from the CFI I flew with at Airquest, for one he talks. I think we'll get along fine.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

First ride

My wonderful wife bought me quite the unique Christmas present in '06, an introductory flight ride out at Butler Airport. So I head out there with my gift certificate for a airplane ride and pull into the parking lot forAirquest Aviation. Walk right up to the desk, present my certificate and there just happens to be an instructor just hanging out in the lounge who agrees to take me up. We walk out onto the tarmac and up to a pretty nice looking red and white Piper Warrior N624AQ, (he informed me of the make and model, I had no clue). We did the walk around, but unfortunately, this guy was about as talkative as a rock. So after pulling some info out of him (I tend to ask a lot of questions), we got loaded into the plane and off we taxied. Out to the end of the runway, he performed the "runup" after repeatedly slamming the door of this contraption to get it closed (worry?). The plane accelerated better than I thought it would and off we went for a trip over Lake Moraine. It was my first time in a long time in a GA airplane and I didn't recall how light they seemed, but we were certainly getting bounced around a lot from the turbulence. He let me feel out the controls a bit, and I really enjoyed being able to turn the plane this way and that, even though I'm sure he was doing most of the work. After about a 1/2 hr, we turned back and he had me follow the line on the GPS back to the airport. We got in the pattern and he executed an rather "interesting" landing in some very gusty conditions. So to make a long story short, I was totally hooked, I loved it, and am going to start looking into options as to how I can learn to fly!