Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mike's a Double I

Just a quick shout-out to my flight instructor Mike. He recently got his CFII certification. Congratulations Mike!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jason's 4th Birthday Flight

I've been meaning to post about this for a while, luckily my procrastination paid off, my sister beat me to it and did a much better job than I would have anyhow. I had a chance to take my sister and her son (my nephew) Jason up for a city tour and a fly-by of our parents house. We had just a great time and Jason did fantastic, a dream passenger. Jill handled herself pretty well too ;-). Here's the link to Jill's slideshow and blog post:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New CondorAero website

Our club members, namely Keith, did a fantastic job on the new website. A great improvement over the old one. If you get a chance please check it out:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Aviation Safety Magazine

I've been a subscriber to Aviation Safety Magazine for a bit over a year now and I thought I would give them a shout out as they continually are a stellar addition to my stack of aviation reading material. It is admittedly an expensive subscription but I have found it well worth the price. It is not laden with advertisements, the articles are well written and they have a definite GA bent to them. I've been keeping my back issues with dog-ears and tags on the better articles in a three ring binder (the issues come three hole punched) and they also have online access for the current issue with downloadable tools mentioned in the magazine. If you're not already a subscriber, and are looking for ways to stay fresh and up to date on general safety related issues that pertain to flying (there is not much for owners and operators), I highly recommend subscribing or checking out some of their sample articles. Safe flying.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Family Trip to Bedford for the Fall Foliage Festival

I have to hand it to my wife, Emel, she is a trooper, and she proved it again on our family flight to Bedford for their annual Fall Foliage Festival. We had a long day ahead of us when we woke up on Sunday. The weather was absolutely perfect for flying so that concern was off the table. One of the great things about GA is you are on your own timetable for the most part so there was minimal concern about rushing to get the kids ready, things packed, etc. We arrived at the airport around 10AM and began jamming all of our gear: stroller, car seats, diaper bags, etc, into the 172. Emel was in charge of securing car seats and getting the kids ready while I did the walk around.

Once the kids we settled in in the back, Emel and I got in and I fired up the Lycoming and taxied to the beginning of 35. Luckily no problems with the runup and we were off and climbing to 5,500. I radioed Pittsburgh approach for flight following and received it no problem at all. We were soon passed off the Cleveland center and I started to notice that the GPS was just not getting a signal, or at least it was not displaying any information. This reaffirmed why I'm glad I carry all the maps and do a VFR plan with checkpoints, noted VORs, etc. We ended up using VOR navigation for the whole route and while I was not as precise at I would have liked to have been we were pretty much on course.

After a beautiful flight over several mountain ridges and right past Johnstown airport we descended over the last ridge to pattern altitude for Bedford County (HMZ). Emel spotted the airport about 10 miles out and I made the radio calls entering a 45 downwind for runway 32. The approach is an interesting one as it calls for flying over top of a ridge just past abeam the numbers then final is coming back up through a gap between two ridges. It was not particularly challenging, but I wouldn't particularly want to do it in limited visibility conditions. The landing was a bit hurried so we had a little bounce, but we were on the ground safely, all that matters. Bedford County was a really nice little airport. The lineman greeted us and we even had access to the courtesy car for the day!

We had a fantastic day in Bedford. First Emel suggested we decompress a bit and have a relaxing lunch at Bedford Springs resort. It was just two miles outside of town and an amazing site to see tucked away in a valley. After a long lunch we packed the kids back up in the car and headed back to town to see the festival. It was much more crowded than I had expected, easily several hundred people there. We passed by lots of craft booths and decended down the hill to Fort Bedford. There they had the typical country fair things to do like face-painting, pony rides, a play that involved the audience and more. We watched the play for about an hour and then around 4PM we decided to call it a day. Back at Bedford County, we settled our account for the fuel, repacked the plane and headed out over the hills back to Zeli.

The kids did really well on the trip, particular kudos to Charlie who was a champ on both flights. Virginia actually fell asleep in the front seat, which was amazing considering all of the radio chatter going on from Cleveland center. It had been a long day for her. We once again navigated by VOR on the way back mostly using a spotty signal from EWC. Clevenland passed us back to Pittsburgh approach, and the controller dealing with us was awesome declining my flight following cancellation saying there were multiple targets in my area. He stayed with us all the way to Zeli which was nice becuase there was a fair amount of afternoon haze limiting visibility.

Once on the ground we all breathed a bit better, it had been a long day, maybe a bit too much to pack into one, but it was an adventure. Emel was really great about being patient with the kids when I admittedly was not and she helped hold the whole day together to make it a fun outing. We're looking forward to many more, right hon?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Short field practice - for real

Took some time to practice my short field techniques today. After a few practice short field takeoffs and landings at my home airport (with a 4000' x 75') I headed over to Butler Farm Show (3G9) to try it out for real, so to speak, on their 2580 x 38' monster runway. I have to admit, my first attempt to land on 18 ended with a go-around, just too much speed on final. Attempt number two was a little better, landed just beyond the numbers with minimal airspeed. Even so I had a little bounce and the numbers 36 (upside down) were rapidly coming into view. Still, managed to stop no problem, but the heart rate was up. Taxied back to 18 and took off again. Third time was a charm; minimal float, no bounce, full stall landing and minimal braking. Luckily there was no crosswind, which I sure with that 38' to play with would make this landing much more interesting. It was actually the first time I had landed on a short runway solo, so there was definitely a little pucker factor involved. At any rate, definitely recommend doing real short fields now and then after practicing at a longer one. There seems to be no substitute for the real McCoy.
(photo on right from AirNav)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Virginia's 4th Birthday Flight

VA wanted to take a trip up in the plane the see our house from above for her birthday, so of course I had to oblige her. We set off in the 152, it was a somewhat bumpy day, but then again it seems like the calmest days can be bumpy in the 152. We actually got drizzled on a little bit which made the flight a bit more interesting. Virginia did great this time with the turbulence however. I let her handle the controls a bit and showed her how to go up and down and she did a few turns as well. I think letting her fly helped her deal with the bumps as well. I'm pretty sure however that the best part of flying for her is that she gets to chew gum...

Finding the house was easy, we just tracked the radial from EWC that passed right over our house and looked for the Fox Chapel football field. We did a few turns and then flew over the Allegheny river doing a left 180 to make a pass by Grandma and Grampa's house. We then made a bee line back to Zeli, followed by an uneventful landing putting 0.9 on the Hobbs for the trip. Great way to spend time with the daughter, best $58 I've spent in a while!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Family Flight

This weekend was a milestone for our family as we had everyone up in the 172 together. "Co-pilot" Virginia chatted away in the right seat with her new Pilot Cadet headset (with the pink earcups of course). Mom and Charlie were in the backseat with Charlie content to sit on her lap for the most part. We had a beautiful sunny August afternoon, just a little bit of wind. The only small hiccup was having to shutdown on the taxiway right before the runup to kill an errant bee in the luggage compartment. Bee killed, engine instruments set, take off,... Everyone did great. We were a little worried about Charlie ( now just turned two years about a month ago) as he has been a little nervous around airplanes, or "ah-pains" as he calls them, but he was pretty happy for the most part. A little tip for pilots who may want to fly their small children. We purchased these junior ear muffs for Charlie. They were only $20 and he was actually totally fine with wearing them. I could not deny Virginia (about to turn four) the ability to talk, which she loves so much, so she lucked out with a boom mic...
Charlie pulling the airplane out

Charlie and Mommy are ready to go

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Condor Annual Picnic 2008

I took my two year old son Charlie up to Zeli to check out our club's annual corn roast/picnic shindig. I wasn't sure what to expect since I had taken him to the airport for a "warm up" about a month ago so he could just look at the airplanes, maybe sit in one, he ended up not even wanting to come within 30 feet of an airplane. So, this being his second trip to the airport, I was just hoping for the best.

I has also invited a good friend, Chris, who I'm hoping will get the aviation bug to come up the picnic and see what Condor had to offer. The picnic was in full swing when Charlie and I arrived with spot landing and flour drops galore. Charlie was immediately noticing all of the airplanes buzzing around and he was very excited about it. It could have been because they were taxing, flying low, and generally very visible.

I saw my AOPA mentor, Todd, and chatted with him about the trials of airplane ownership and then got a chance to talk for a bit with my fellow formed "classmate" Rod with his family (congrats on the new private pilot ticket Rod!). Also, a shout out to Ben, great to meet you in person today!

Chris showed up about 45 minutes later and he got a chance to take a look at some of the club's airplane, talk with Todd and Rod, as well as Mike. He also got the wonderful opportunity to help me chase Charlie, who at this point was running pretty much unchecked around the tarmac. I wanted to get Chris up in the air, and with the generous help of Rod et al to watch Charlie for 20 minutes (OK, 1/2 hour) I was able to take Chris up for a short flight over the lake in 549.

After landing, when I pulled up 549 to the fuel pumps, I could see Charlie charging across the grass, calling "Daddy", and pushing Rod's two year old in his stroller... The highlight of the day for me was when I was just putting the fuel hose back and Charlie said to me "I ride apane". I couldn't believe he actually wanted to get into the airplane, but Chris and I got back in, I put Charlie on my lap and fired it up. Amazingly, he was totally fine and "drove" us back to the hanger with a huge smile on his face. Simply awesome.

Friday, August 1, 2008

"Fly" Fishing

For my father's 61st birthday, I have him for his gift a flight to some of the best flyfishing in PA: Fisherman's Paradise on Spring Creek near State College. Of course, I was excited about getting a chance to fly to State College anyhow, so it was a two for one as far as presents go, one for him and one for me. We decided to give it a shot August 1st, a Friday morning. I had been fervently checking the weather the previous days and it looked like it was a go, however they were calling for isolated thunderstorms for the evening flight back.

I woke up around 6AM, looked outside and my heart sank as there was thick fog as far as the eye could see, or well, could not see. My Dad showed up in the truck, on time as usual, at 7AM and upon discussing the fog we decided to drive close to Zeli, and if the fog did not let up, we would fish somewhere close by. We were lucky however as we drove on the Turkpike and climbed up out of the Allegheny River valley, the fog began to dissapate. I had called WX-BRIEF on the drive and the briefer said correctly that most of the fog was around Pittsburgh and up north the AWOSes we saying there was none to be concerned with.

Arriving at PJC, we loaded the fishing gear into 573, preflighted, and departed runway 35. I recieved flight following from PIT approach, and they flipped me over to Cleveland Center after about 10 minutes. Looking to the south as we headed east we could see much of the ground and the city of Pittsburgh blanketed in fog (which was really cool to look at), and for much of the flight we were right on the edge of the fog bank. I was just hoping that the fog had burned off at University Park airport (UNV). The TAF has forecasted any mist at UNV to be dissapated by 9AM which was pretty close to our estimated arrival time. Luckily, as we crossed over the last mountain ridge and had UNV in sight, we could see there was nothing to worry about.

After a rather hard landing (not used to landing on runway's that wide), we taxied up to the beautiful UNV GA terminal. UNV is interesting in that there are four major airlines that have regular service there, however there is no control tower (the lineman said they are getting a tower next year, so I'm assuming UNV will be a class D airport in a year or so). There is a seperate GA terminal however and it is incredibly nice. In addition, the rental car agency over at the commercial terminal brought our car over so it was right outside the door in the parking lot. Great service.

After not even a 3 mile drive, we were on the water at Fisherman's Paradise. What would be about a 3 1/2 hour drive turned into a 40 minute drive and 50 minute flight to be in the water, fly rods in hand. Pretty cool.

We fished all day, but my eyes were on the sky, scanning for those projected t-storm clouds, of which I began to see some scary looking ones around 11AM. I knew we would be getting new TAFs at 2PM though, I figured I would wait for those and make a decision. After fishing in the morning we ran into Bellefonte and had a awesome lunch at the High Street Pub. After lunch we went back to the stream and I pulled up the new TAFs on my cellphone. As luck would have it the forecasted weather at Zeli greatly improved and they were now calling for the T-storms to hit around 10PM. With that relief I started to really enjoy the fishing more.

We called it a day around 6PM and headed back to the airport. The lineman did a great job topping of 573 and we basically just loaded up the plane again and headed west. After flying about 10 minutes to get back in the Cleveland Center's sector (look for the delinations on your IFR Low Level charts), I called up Center and received flight following for the trip back. It was incredibly hazy and I could see how one could lose a horizon even in what is technically VFR. No problems on the return however and I was able to impress my Dad with a greaser landing at Zeli. The day turned out perfect and it was fantastic to see how useful and fun GA can be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

IFR Lesson #1

Last Tuesday I began the road down to what will hopefully culminate in an IFR ticket. I'm teaming back up again with the 1-2 combination of Mike Woods and "my" trusty 152, N89549. Arriving at the airport, Mike already had the plane on the taxiway pretty much ready to go. Mike is basically living at the airport when he isn't doing his other job. After a quick brief of the flight and a taxi/run-up we were ready to roll. Mike immediately had me don the foggles for a zero zero takoff and then forgot I had them on during the takeoff roll and then started "wondering" out loud why I wandering off the runway... Ok, so the zero zero takeoff needs work.

Our plan was to do the VOR RWY 3 approach at Franklin (FKL). We decided we would fly direct to the V30 airway, proceed East to the PEREA intersection and turn left inbound on the 190 radial of the Franklin VOR. After that, follow the approach chart and land the sucker. On the way there we practiced climbs, both constant airspeed and vertical speed, turns to headings, and straight and level flight. Well of course I got busy and missed PEREA. So Mike showed me how to properly turn around and then we proceed inbound after a RIGHT turn from PEREA. On the approach now we decended through the FAF at FARGE and a bit further, Mike let me take the foggles off and I could see I was about 1/4 mile the right of the runway. Better luck next time.

On the way back to Zeli we did the GPS approach to runway 17. It was interesting to take off the foggles, it now being night time, even with the runway right in front of you, it makes for a challenging landing. Well, I can say I'm hooked on IFR, unfortunately, so that means more money and more time. But, hey, it keeps me off the streets...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Flying in Turkey

I recently took a vacation to visit with relatives in Istanbul, Turkey. Wouldn't you know it, my wonderful wife set me up with an opportunity to fly with my her cousin's son, Emre, who is training to become an airline pilot in Turkey. Of course, I'm never one to pass up a chance to get into a light airplane (after the plane ride to Turkey, I was keen to avoid the commercial ones however). Emre trains with an outfit near Istanbul call Ayjet. Through a bit of negotiating and skid-greasing with higher-ups, Emre mananged to convince his instructors that it was kosher to take me up with him on a couple of his training runs.

I caught a boat at 7AM to go across the amazingBosphorus and Emre picked me up at the ferry station. After experiencing some of Emre's high speed driving skills blasting to the airport on some country roads outside of Istanbul we reached his home base of Hezarfen. Besides pilot training, Hezarfen is home to an acrobatics pilot, a motocross track, a RC plane strip and a RC car race track. I could spend a week there...

Interesting things about flying in Turkey, all of the airports are towered, and there are far fewer airports than in the US, even comparitively depending on the metric used. It appears that even flying VFR requires a flight plan to be filed (not sure on that). Also, night flying in a single engine aircraft is not allowed as is overflying the city of Istanbul in a single-engine. They do use many of the same conventions that we use in the US, including altitudes and runways measured in feet, knots and nautical miles for speed and distance, similar looking VFR sectionals, etc, so it was not very hard to transition.

We perfomed a walk around and pre-flight prep and then saddled into one of the school's Diamond DA20's, TC-AYC. After running the cockpit checklist we closed the canopy and got ready to take-off. There was a nice 15 kt wind, however it was right down the runway and we were off with no issues. Our plan was to intercept the ILS at Corlu which was an airport about a 20 minute flight away. Emre did most of the communication with the Hezarfen in english so I could understand, but Corlu is a military airport so he had to communicate with them in Turkish. Emre did a fine job flying the glidepath and we landed at Corlu for a touch and go. The runway was 10,000' long and seemed about half as wide so we were a tiny speck in the middle of the runway in our DA20. We joked that we could easily take off and land a few times on this runway.

Back at Hezarfen, after an uneventful flight back and landing, we went out to grab lunch and get ready for our afternoon jaunt. About 3PM the school's Diamond DA42 landed from a day trip to Izmir and I got a chance to see up close and sit in one of the most beautiful light aircraft out there, in my humble opinion. The DA42 is an excellent trainer being a docile and easy to use advanced twin engine aircraft. Even more interesting the DA42 will cruise at about 150 KIAS burning a total of 8 gallons per hour! According to Wikipedia, it was also the first diesel powered aircraft to cross the North Atlantic. I must say, it seems to be a very comfortable and manageable cockpit. At 8 gallons per hour I would be interested in at least renting one someday, if not owning (although footing the bill for TWO engine overhauls would be scary).

Enough dreaming. Anyhow after drooling over the DA42 we were off again in our DA20. This time we just did some practice maneuvers in their practice area. After a couple of steep turns, fun with negative G's and a camera case, and some lazy eights, Emre turned over the controls. After a few minutes of getting used to the stick vs the yoke I was in love. The center stick is a much more natural feeling way to control an aircraft than a yoke for me. Also, I forgot to mention earlier, I was very impressed with how quiet the DA20 is, and Emre tells me the DA42 is even quieter. After our fun in the practice area, we flew down the coast of the Marmara sea for a bit, which was beautiful and then headed back to the airport. This time Emre had a nice gusty x-wind to handle, and the DA20's relatively large wings had us bouncing around quite a bit, but hey, he's going to be landing 767s someday...

I can't thank Emre enough for taking me flying, and Emel enough for arranging it! Can't wait till next time, perhaps it will be in a jet... Emre?

Sunday, May 25, 2008


My wife and I went up together for the first time for a nice tour of downtown Pittsburgh and a fly over our house. After putting up with me, and moreover, supporting me, throughout the whole training process, I was excited to show her a little of what general aviation is all about. It is so important to have a supportive spouse through this process and Emel was a true friend through the whole private pilot ordeal.

For the trip, we had an amazing combination of calm winds, clear skies, unlimited visibility and a setting sun, in other words, a picture perfect evening for flying. I had just been checked out by the club to use the 172s so I figured we would take 573, one of our club's training Skyhawks. We met the plane at the fuel pump as it had just been out with a great fellow club member, Larry Teal. After a preflight and a run-up we were off and headed south towards downtown. I called PIT approach and she was very pleasant, giving us a squawk code and some traffic information. Emel got a chance to see a lot of the area we go to in the North Hills from the air and helped me with avoiding some towers and traffic. I slowed down as we neared the city and we circled the skyscrapers a few hundred feet above them. We also got a great view of the new, just about completed, construction and renovation project at Point Park.

After snapping a few pictures, we headed up the Allegheny River toward out house. I dialed in two VORs to triangulate our house position and before we knew it, we saw the steeple of Fox Chaple Presbyterian and the Fox Chapel High School football field. We circled our house a few times, got some waves from our neighbors and we then headed off back up to Zeli with a wing waggle. After an easy landing, we tied down the plane and had a fantastic post-flight dinner at MadMex to cap the perfect evening.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


I took my daughter flying today. I learned an important rule with new passengers: strive for zero turbulence... Our goal was to make it to Carroll Co (TSO) for lunch. It was a beautiful day, the wind was a bit strong at 10kts but was right down the runway from the north. The sky was dotted with some small, puffy, cumulus clouds at about 4,000 feet. After strapping her car seat into the passenger seat of the 152, we got settled in and departed 35 at Zeli. Virginia was very happy and excited looking out the window and asking questions as always. It was a bit bumpy but not particularly noticable. I soon learned however that what may not be noticable for the pilot is very apparent to the passengers. I called Beaver tower to request clearance to transit their airspace and was granted with a request to report over the airport. 10 minutes into the flight and over the airport I realized Virginia had gotten quiet. I looked over and her face was scrunched up and she said her tummy hurt. I immediately called Beaver tower and said I was doing a 180 and heading back to the east. By the time I was on downwind at Zeli, she was wailing. I kept trying to calm her, but realized I had to fly the plane first, get us down and then deal with that part of the situation. I put the the audio panel on isolate to reduce the noise in my headset, and upon listening to the AWOS realized the wind had picked up and was gusting to 20 kts. It was still down the runway luckily and the landing was not particularly hairy. Virginia calmed down on the ground, we fueled up and put the plane back in the hanger. She is now still interested in flying but I will pick my days carefully from now on.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

First Passenger

My family members drew straws and my mom ended up with the short one, but she bravely suited up and got the the car with me for ride to Zeli, and for the "honor" of being my first passenger. Arriving at the airport, my mom took a look at the trusty 152 that had gotten me through thick and thin and said "we're going up in that?!". Ok, so it was an inauspicious start, but once we did the preflight together and answering every question along the way, she got past her tin can fears and legged up into the passenger seat. Once in the plane and taxing to the end of the runway, she was a picture of calm. Luckily, we had the perfect evening. Interestingly, the day had been rather rainly and stormy, but the current conditions were calm winds and forecasted to be that way though the night. After doing the run-up and checklists, I called our departure for 35 and we were off.

We took off to the north and I was able to find the Mill at McConnell's Mills which she got a kick out of. Then we flew over Lake Moraine and we reminisced about riding our bikes there when I was a kid. We then headed over to Beaver County Airport for fuel as our pump at Zeli was down. My mom was the first to spot the glider off to our right and up about a 500'. It was the first glider I had seen in the air and I give her kudos for even seeing it. Good thing she did however as he was headed to Beaver as well and when I talked to Beaver tower they advised me of the traffic and I was able to respond that the glider was in sight.

I followed the glider in on final, negotiated a decent 5-7kt x-wind landing, and taxied to the fuel pumps. After getting our fuel we headed back out and took off with a beautiful sunset behind us. By the way, whichever controller was on that night, he was a really nice and engaging guy. After a short flight back to Zeli, I planted a greaser and received a nice compliment from Mom. She had been a great first passenger and I wanted to show her how much I appreciated it!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Congratulations, you’re now a Private Pilot"

Those were the words I heard at the end of my checkride, this past wednesday's evening! Here's my recount of the day: I arrived at my home airport of Zelienople (PJC) , or the Pittsburgh Jet Center as I suppose it is supposed to be known now, about one and a half hours before I was to be meeting the examiner. I wanted to have plenty of time to get the weather briefing, plug the winds into my flight plan, eat a snack, review the POH and preflight the airplane. In actuality by the time I got everything done and was pulling 549 out onto the ramp I was a bit more rushed than I wanted to be. I jumped in the plane and fired it up. As I was taxing I noticed that the LEDs on COM1 were bad, showing only part of the frequencies. "This is great", I thought, "my checkride is about to begin and the radio goes haywire". Not a huge problem as there is a COM2 in the airplane, however COM2 does not have flipflops and it was always nice to have two radios to have one tuned into the ASOS, etc. and the other to the current CTAF. I would have to make due it seemed however and I hoped that this would constitute the extent of the bad luck for the day.

I took off for the DE's airport of New Castle Municipal (UCP) and made it there without incident in about 4 tenths on the hobbs. I parked the plane on the ramp and headed into the FBO. After waiting a few minutes in the lobby, the DE who would be administering my exam came out and asked me to come back to his office. I had heard that Mr. Haski of Haski Aviation was challenging but fair, and I had met him a few times earlier before this meeting. I found him as engaging and cordial as ever. In his office we first looked up the IACRA application that my instructor and I had set up earlier. Everthing seemed in order except for the fact that on my student certificate I had used my middle name and on IACRA just my initial. He seemed to think that would not be a problem. After getting through some of the formal things like examining my certificate and a few other documents the oral portion of the exam began.

Marty basically went right down the PTS categories: the limitations of private pilot, airspace – types, ceilings, requirements (clearance, communication, etc), visibility/clouds, went through my weather breifing, weight and balance (I covered all scenarios such as the W&B for when I departed PJC, for when we would begin the flight portion of the test, and for when we would return assuming we actually completed the cross country). In addition we discussed other items such as aeromedical factors and even factors related to scuba diving! There were two questions I did not give a satifactory answer on: Difference between a 100 hour and annual? – there is none, and what is a special flight certificate? –issued by FAA to allow a plane to be flown if not currently “airworthy". Marty was satisfied overall however that I understood the applicable regulations and all the other items on the PTS and he told me to head out and pre-flight the plan, and that he would see me in about five minutes. The whole oral portion took approximately one hour and a half.

Out on the ramp, I did another preflight mainly checking the fuel in the tanks, the oil level and generally making sure nothing changed from the two hours before I preflighted in Zeli. While waiting for Marty I reviewed the flight plan and the map making mental notes of frequencies, checkpoints, and locations of potential airports I could be diverted to. Marty came out and asked if I was ready, and of course I said I was. We got in the plane, I went through the checklists (asked him if he would like me to brief him on how to fasten his seatbelt...) and I started to turn the prop, only to look up and see the fuel cup sitting on the cowling, doh! I unfastened my seat belt, backed up the seat, open the door and got back out the retrieve the cup. "Ok, must calm self down", I thought. A few seconds later, fuel strainer back in the glove box, I was back to cranking the airplane, only in my haste I forgot to prime. So I spent the next embarrassing minute struggling to get the engine to fire, which it did eventually, and painfully. Now I'm really starting to sweat, when did it get so hot in the cockpit?

We taxied at a brisk walking speed to the end of the runway and I started to get back in the swing of things, thanks to the checklists. A no-issue runup, and Marty requests a short-field takeoff. Luckily, it was one of my better short-field TOs and I proceeded to climb in the pattern turning crosswind and downwind and then calling my departure flying over the airport to the north-west at 2500 feet. I started my timer.

The conditions were partly cloudy with winds about 5 knots out of the west at the surface and 7 from the north-west at 3,000, however it was incredibly bumpy making holding altitude a bit more of a challenge than usual. I turned onto my heading and started looking feverishly for the first checkpoint. I was glancing around for traffic, at the altimeter, heading indicator, etc when Marty says "how are you doing on your checkpoint". I replied, "Good, here's that lake on the map,..." etc, etc, but then I look right and see the prominent tower that was my first checkpoint about 30 degrees off to my right. "It helps to look around" Marty said and I immediately corrected to get back on course. Apparently the winds were not was the briefer gave me and consequently the heading that I had calculated was erroneous. All was not lost however and I was able to quickly get back on track.

Marty had me keep flying until I could point out my next checkpoint and when I did so he took the sectional, pointed to Youngstown Elser (4G4), and said "Take us to this airport. Where are you on the map?". I showed him where we were and said that a heading of approximately due south would take us in the vicinity. I turned about 110 degrees left and started scanning for identifiable items on the ground and the map. I started to make sense out of the lakes and the roads and thought that the airport should be very close by for now. After was seems like an eternity, I looked down out the right side window and lo and behold there was 4G4 almost right underneath us. I told Marty that I believe we had found it, he smiled and said "Indeed we have."

He then had me take a left turn for a clearing turn and had me perform a steep turn to the left. Then we went right into slow flight, a power off stall, a power on stall, and some VOR tracking. There were some other maneuver tests but honestly they were all so quick and mashed together I'm probably leaving out a few. He then pulled the power for the emergency landing. I exercised CRM asking Marty for help and received no response. I looked over my shoulder, found a suitable farmer’s field (which almost looked like a grass strip, and may have been) turned base and final, slipped it in, and at about 100’ AGL Marty says to climb back out to 2500.

Now the foggles go on and we do some turns and headings under the hood and unusual attitudes. The foggles come back off and we are magically back at UCP. He asked me to turn into the pattern and do a short-field landing. The winds were still rather light, but changed around a lot and were somewhat gusty. I managed to nail a sweet short-field landing. He then asked for a soft-field TO which was one of my better ones too. In the pattern again he asked for a soft-field landing. Truth be told, I came in a bit high. I told him I should go around but he suggested we had a lot of runway left and to put it down. I did, and the landing left a lot to be desired, but we were back on the ground safe and sound.

He told me to taxi back to the ramp and at this point I was beginning to thing I may have actually passed this thing. After shut down he looked straight ahead and said "Congratulations, you’re now a Private Pilot". and then turned to me for the handshake. After the nine and a half month, 55.2 hours of flight, and countless nights studying, the whole effort had paid off. The privilege of flight had finally arrived! We went back to his office to complete the paperwork and about 15 minutes later I was walking back to 549 on cloud nine.

The flight back to Zeli was the most enjoyable one I have ever had. Even COM1 started to work a little better (2 of the LEDs turned back on...). I watched the shadow of my airplane cross over the trees, valleys, fields and houses below and that is when it really hit me that I was now actually a pilot. In reality the journey has just begun, but I'm looking forward to many years of flight and continuing the process of learning.

I have to give a shout out my awesome instructor Mike Woods, without whom none of this would have happened. Mike is incredibly patient, a wonderful teacher and has the ability to know when you need help and when it's best to let the student try it out for himself. Mike also did a great job with keeping me on track throughout the whole process with no superfluous training. He had the goal of getting me to the private pilot certification with maximizing our training time and safety being the main goal at every step. Also, I can't stress how important and efficient it was, for me at least, to have the same instructor the entire time. I believe finding the non-transient instructor should be a goal for every student. Thank you Mike!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stage check for PPL checkride

Today I had a chance to fly with our chief instructor today to get his sign-off and blessing to take the private pilot checkride. We did short and soft field take-off and landings, flew over to the practice area for some steep turns (he should me a cool, hands-off-the-yoke, steep turn using trim), then did some slow flight and stalls, power-off and power-on. He then demostrated a steep spiral to simulate what the sight picture would be like in a spin and how to get out using opposite rudder. We then headed down to 1000' agl to perform some turns across a road and around a point. Lastly, we went back to Zeli to simulate and engine out 2000' above the aiport and the subsequent spiral down to a dead stick landing. Overall he was happy with the performance and I received the thumbs up to get on with the checkride.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Passed the written

The probability of randomly choosing the correct answer in a multiple choice question with three potential answers is 1 in 3. The chance of randomly choosing correct answers for 60 such questions in a row is approximately 1 in 42,391,150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 42 octillion. I guess the improbable happened yesterday.

edit: one of our company CEOs, with a PhD in computer engineering, had this comment on the above: "This means that if you had a computer that could take the test 1 billion times per second, it would likely take the computer 100 times longer than the age of the universe for the computer to match your score just once."

Hopefully it won't take me that long to pass the checkride...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

3rd and Long Cross Country

I got lucky again with another solid sunny day in February to complete my 150 nm cross-country. The plan was Zelienople (PJC), as usual, to an interesting one, Punxsutawney (N35), down to Arnie Palmer Latrobe (LBE), to Butler (BTP) and then back home to PJC. This trip proved to be less "eventful" than the last one, with no problems (like getting lost) along the way.

Took off from PJC at ~3:30PM and climbed to 5,500 for the leg to N35, turned out to be a little hazier than expected but did not prove to be a real issue. Made the checkpoints with some augmentation from the cross checking VOR radials. I managed to locate the airport by first locating the town and noting that the airport was north-east on the map, it didn't exactly jump out but not too hard to find. When I did find it though, I guess I should have paid more attention to the Airport/Facility directory, I had forgotten how narrow 50ft wide looks, at least it wasn't Farm Show (38 ft). I did a quick touch and go, mainly because there were no turn-offs and there were snow banks 5 ft high on each side of the runway. Said bye to Punxsy Phil and was on my way over the town climbing to 4,500.

Next stop was Latrobe. I was a little nervous because this was my first solo to a towered airport. Being that, I was not as diligent in my checkpoint navigation and ended up checking the GPS to correct some errors in my track. It's hard to get too off track thought since you fly right by Homer City and their giant reactor cooling towers with steam billowing out of them. There is also a nice high ridge to the southwest that guides you into LBE. Luckily I successfully retieved the ATIS, my calls to the tower were no problem and the controller gave me a straight in on 23. Actually finding the airport while staring into the setting sun through the haze proved a challenge and I was grateful for the GPS to keep me on track. After landing at LBE, where the runway seemed about as wide as N35 was long, I asked the tower to stay in the pattern to perform my two more required landings to a full-stop at a towered airport, to which she happily obliged. The only "interesting" part was when I was on downwind for my second landing and the tower controller told me "you have the option." To which, wanting to sound like I knew what I was talking about, confirmed with a read back. Twenty seconds later, I felt I probably should find out what
the heck that means, and I radioed back, "student pilot, to be honest with you, I do not know what 'you have the option' means." She laughed and was extremely pleasant in explaining it meant I could do a touch-and-go, full-stop, etc.

The rest of the trip ended with a touch and go at Butler and then back to Zeli, touching down as the sun was setting. Logged 2.4 hours of hobbs time for the trip. I was a great feeling to have accomplished my solo cross countries and I am really starting to feel more comfortable on these trips. It also taught me there is nothing to fear with regard to talking to the tower, and it's ok to ask questions.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Whatever I feel like doing

Yesterday I got my first chance to take the plane up solo with no agenda in mind. What a blast! I ended up doing a little site seeing over Lake Moraine, practiced my turns across a road, worked on tracking the Ellwood City VOR, and did some pattern and landing work. The pattern was very busy at PJC. A bunch of club planes, a couple of twin engine Barons, and even a WWII restoration/replica. I hung around the pattern for five landings trying to get that perfect greaser with the stall horn whining, on the centerline. Getting there...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

2nd Solo Cross Country

Courtesy of
I suppose if January is going to give you a day as nice as it was this morning, you gotta go, Thursday or no Thursday. It was ice cold, about 15 degrees F when I arrived at the airport at 8AM, but sunny and calm. The airplanes were plugged into their block heaters which kick on at 6AM but I had the feeling that might not be quite enough. I went through the preflight in my down jacket, hat and gloves and everything seemed in order except that the engine needed a quart and the last guy to fly didn't fill the tanks... doh! At any rate, the plan today was to fly to a tiny podunk airport near Ravenna, Ohio called Portage County (29G). This would be somewhat of a two-legger as I planned to fly roughly a 300 heading, overfly the Akron VOR and, then head nearly north to 29G. I pulled the plane out of its hangar, got everything situated as far as the map, timer, E6B, etc, went through the pre-ignition checklist, turned the key and.... not much happened. The prop on 549, my 152 trainer, spun around a few times but it was clear the battery was pretty much frozen.

Oh well, I called Mike and let him know what happened, and proceeded to tell him I was going to head to work. "But hang on", Mike said, "we have another trainer!". "But Mike, 45M only has one radio, one OBS and no GPS!". "Well then it will be good practice for you"... So ok, I was planning on using ded reckoning and VORs for navigation anyhow but the GPS in 549 is certainly comforting to have. Besides, I was familiar with 549, as I had done just about all of my training in it. But before I could talk myself out of it I had preflighted 45M and pulled it out on the ramp. Don't get me wrong, 45M is a great 152, in fact to me it feels like the motor pulls a little harder than 549, but lets just say the cockpit is a little lacking in the avionics department, at least comparatively. Of course 45M fires right up, so no more chance for an excuse, and I'm off departing runway 35. I played it super safe by flying around the pattern, climbing above pattern altitude, and then overflew PJC to mark my time and get my heading correct.

Well it wasn't long before I realized something wasn't right, I hit Ellwood City as planned, but I soon realized that my checkpoints were not appearing. I did not know it at the time but Mike and I deduced later that the winds aloft had swung from being nearly from the west when I called the briefer and did my planning, to north-north east. Where I was holding a bearing of 300, my aircraft was heading more like 270 due to a lack of proper wind correction. I did get a little panicky particularly because I knew I was flying close to Pittsburgh International class Bravo airspace. I dialed in the Akron VOR and much to my surprise it was telling me to fly a much more northerly heading that I expected. This did not sit well with me as I had still not thought I was so far south of my plotted course. I was about to turn around not wanting to continue further without finding a recognizable landmark when I just happened to look straight down, and lo and behold, out of sheer luck, I was directly over Youngstown Elser airport (4G4) and one of my checkpoints! I immediately course corrected and dialed in my 300 radial on the ACO VOR and then, seeing how the needle was moving away I finally realized something was up with the wind. I course corrected and held the VOR heading and eventually overflew the VOR (my first TO-FROM flip experience) and then headed the last 7 miles up to 29G.

The airport was deserted and the runway in need of repair, but I swung the plane around after landing and navigated back home much more confidently using the landmarks and ded reckoning primarily with the VOR for backup. I would say all-in-all it was a great experience not to have the GPS on board as it showed me 1) how important it is to stay on your checkpoints and 2) I do have the capability to fly a fairly minimally equipped airplane X-country. I would recommend that every student perform their cross countries, at least one of them, with a heading change and ditch the GPS!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First Solo X-Country

Courtesy of Skyvector.comJust had my first solo cross-country, and while everything went very smoothly and to plan, it was an incredibly exhilarating experience to fly by oneself to another airport and return safely back home. My instructor and I chose Port Meadville (GKJ) as it is almost a direct north heading and you can practically follow Route 79 all of the way from Zelienople to GKJ. The weather was a balmy 37 degrees F with virtually no wind to speak of but a rather low ceiling around 2,500 to 3,000 feet AGL.

I got to the airport around 9AM performed a very thorough preflight, called in for a briefing and calculated my wind correction angle and heading from the winds aloft the briefer gave me. I pulled the plane out and went through the checklists which always do a good job of smoothing out the butterflies. Before I knew if I was calling my departure and enjoying the great lift the cold air provided. The trip was rather uneventful and I was able to hit my checkpoints within 10-30 seconds or so. I also shot some radials from a few VORs to double check but with 79 off to my right, it was pretty easy to feel comfortable with the navigation.

Approaching Port Meadville, I left the view of 79 and followed Route 19 which according to the map would take me straight to GKJ. The airport is actually hidden from view from the south by a ridge but faith in the map proved to serve me well and the airport popped into view on time. I had check the ATIS, there was no local traffic announcing a runway so I chose runway 25 and announced my intentions. Downwind for 25 at GKJ is interesting in that you basically are heading into a mountainside and then parallel that on base right over Route 79, pretty cool. The landing was relatively decent and soon I was taxing back for the takeoff.

The trip back was just as uneventful as before and I played the "what-if-my-engine-were-to-quit-now" game a fair amount. Soon Lake Moraine was in view, I announced on the PJC frequency that I was landing and Mike chirped on his handheld to check in on me, he was there getting ready for a lesson with another student. After landing, filling up and shutdown, I joined Mike for a debrief and a taco at the local Mexican restaurant right on the airport. I wasn't able to dally long as I was scheduled to join the CEO of BitArmor and the wives for a little R&R at the Pitt-Seton Hall hoops game. A pretty darn good way to spend a Saturday!