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Feb 14 2009

Solo Touch and Go Practice

Published by admin under Flight Lessons,Solo Flight

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  .7 hours

Total Hours: 18.4

At this stage in my flight training, I’m starting to take a close look at my progress and evaluate where I am in relationship to my lesson syllabus. Now that I’ve started to fly solo, I’m about to move into the cross country stage and I feel like I am right where I should be for how many hours I have under my belt. I’m comfortable with the controls, and I feel like I have a solid understanding of navigation. 

The area where I feel I need work, is landings, so yesterday, I scheduled myself a short block to get in some more practice. Now that I’m endorsed to fly solo at and around the airport, I can essentially take the plane up for unsupervised solo practice flights. I’ll actually need to do this a few times in order to reach the needed 40 hours before I can get my pilot license.

Figuring that a short but concentrated time of working on the landings would be helpful, I gave myself 45 minutes to practice. It was the end of the day and although it was still light enough to see, twilight was fast approaching. I watched all the lights start to come on around the city and got an introductory feel for what night flying will be like. It was neat to see the runway lights on either side of me as I did my landings. I did seven touch and go’s in that time and tried hard to really focus on making them smooth. They were not all smooth, and in fact a couple were not all that good, The first one was by far the best, and the last one was pretty good as well.

There was a bit of a crosswind, and without Mark in the plane to help talk me through it, I found myself starting to have a better understanding about how the breeze blows the plane across the runway during the flare. I would line up on final and concentrate really hard on keeping the aircraft straight with the rudder pedals, but then would find myself drifting. Looking back now, I think that at the time, I perceived this as that I wasn’t doing a good enough job with the rudders, when it was actually the wind blowing me sideways. I’d try to compensate with the rudder, but would end up side loading the gear a bit. Fortunately, the runway is covered with ice right now, which makes it easier on the landing gear, but I need to get this nailed down for when the ice melts.

I did have one landing where I dropped the wing just enough and brought the plane down on the upwind wheel to avoid drifting. It wasn’t the smoothest of touchdowns, but I had at least done that part right, so I felt good about the learning process. One area where I see definite improvement are my pattern descents. I’m doing a much better job of controlling my airspeed through my turns to base and final, and I’m using the trim wheel to keep the descents at a steady rate. I also feel like I’m doing a better job of looking down the runway when I level off, just need to keep practicing that and refine my feel for the touchdown.

I have my first night lesson tonight, and the weather forecast looks good for my cross country on Monday. It will be an exciting next few days!

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Feb 06 2009

Lesson 15: Instrument Flying, VOR Navigation, Short & Soft Field Takeoffs & Landings

Published by admin under Flight Lessons

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.1 hours

Total Hours: 16.7

My best landing yet! More on that in a bit.

More hood time today. For .5 hours, I wore the ‘foggles’ and flew the plane using only instrument reference. In addition to flying straight headings, Mark had me do climbing and descending turns and stall recovery, which is pretty interesting when you can’t see outside the plane. You use the attitude indicator, and a bit of your own body’s sense of direction to bring the plane back to level.

Next, Mark had me close my eyes while he took the controls and put the plane in an unusual flight attitude, such as banked and pointed upwards. I was to open them and bring the plane back to level as quickly and efficiently as possible. I seem to do well with the instrument maneuvers, probably because it’s like using the simulator.

Then we went over VOR radio navigation, using the Big Lake VOR to track our headings. Even though this was our second time talking about this in my flight lessons, I feel like I already have the skills to track to and from VOR stations and also to use two stations to triangulate my position on a sectional map. The simulator allows me to practice these techniques, and I’ve worked on them at home quite a bit.

Sights today include an AWACS jet flying an approach into Elmendorf, and a herd of about 25 moose hanging out in a clearing near a farm. I had never seen so many moose in one place and we flew over them at about 1,000′ to get a closer look.

Back at Merrill, Mark demonstrated short and soft field takeoffs and landings. Basically, short field landing mean flying a slower than normal final approach, so that when you hit the runway, you have minimal airspeed to bleed off during the level off. A good short field landing means putting touching the wheels down right at the end of the runway using as little of it as possible to stop. Short field takeoffs mean quickly accelerating to liftoff speed with one notch of flaps, then pulling back on the yoke and lifting the plane abruptly in the air at the proper speed. You climb quickly to clear any obstacles, which might be trees at the end of a gravel strip, for example, and then reduce pitch and climb as normal.

Soft field takeoffs and landings basically mean keeping the nose wheel off of the ground as much as possible. When taking off, you pull back on the yoke as soon as you start start rolling forward, climb into the air at minimal airspeed. You then level off and fly in the ground effect just above the runway while you build up your speed for the climbout. Short field landings mean landing on the mains and holding the nose up as you roll out until it drops to the runway on it’s own. 

I didn’t get a chance to practice these techniques today, maybe next time, but I did perform the final landing, which went exceptionally well. Even though I overshot the turn to final, I corrected and then remembered to round out smoothly and keep my eyes on the end of the runway as I bled off the airspeed. I quickly looked over my shoulder at the left wheel for a second to see it’s position in relation to the runway and touched down smoothly. Mark congratulated me on what was easily my best landing yet.

Finally getting it and feeling very postive. Now I start thinking forward towards my cross countries. Mark wants me to begin planning for two possible locations- Kenai and Talkeetna. Before then, though, I have one more one-hour dual lesson, and then a one-hour night dual; my first flying in the dark!

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Feb 05 2009

Lesson 14: Solo in the Practice Area

Published by admin under Flight Lessons,Solo Flight

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.3 hours 

Total Hours: 15.6

Today was my first solo flight away from the airport. My lesson plan was to fly over to the practice area and work on a specific list of maneuvers. It seemed simple enough, but due to the high volume of air traffic this morning, I got in a good deal of radio practice and looking for other planes as well, which kept things challenging during the entire flight.

Before leaving Merrill, the tower gave me a squawk code on my transponder so that Anchorage Control could have me on their screens for flight following and traffic management. I was directed to dial them up as soon as I was over the channel and I remained in contact with them during the whole time I was practicing my maneuvers. The woman kept alerting me to traffic in my area, and although I kept reading back, “654 looking,” I rarely saw the planes that she was referring to. When I did seem them, I let her know. I’ve found that other airplanes can be hard to spot, although I’m getting better at learning how and where to look.

Always keeping an eye out for traffic, I went through my list of maneuvers- slow flight, stalls, S-turns and turns around a point. Being the first time I’d practiced stalls on my own, it was indeed very exciting when the nose of the plane dropped. It took some concentration to remember to push the nose back over and add full power, while coordinating with the rudder so as not to have the left wing drop too much. 

I felt good about my ground reference maneuvers, and did turns around a small island on a frozen lake, and the S-turns along a straight section of powerlines. There was a bit of a crosswind, so I had to correct the bank angles to compensate accordingly. 

As I headed back to Merrill for touch and go’s, I was told to watch for two F-15′s that were coming in from the north. Eventually, I spotted them as they descended over Elmendorf. After switching back to the tower frequency, I began my descent, although since I maintained my 2,200′ altitude all the way across the channel, I ended up coming in pretty high and had to lose a lot of air in a hurry.  At one point I was considering bailing on the landing and just going around, but I made the decision to stick with it. I used up quite a bit of runway, but landed ok. 

My second landing was a floater and my third was a pretty bad bouncer. I made sure to stay focused and fly a good solid patter for my last one and did much better. Still not quite fine tuned to that point between pulling up too much too fast, and not enough too late. More often than not, I either float or land somewhat flat. That will just take practice and continued concentration and evaluation. One instructor suggested that I try glancing over my shoulder at the wheels as I’m leveling off, just to give me a feel for where they are in relation to the runway. 

All in all, it was a very good solo lesson and a big mental workout. I definitely learned alot about cockpit management, traffic alertness and how to stay focused when new situations evolve. At one point during my climbout, I had to make a correction when the ATC alerted me that I had crossed into Elmendorf airpace. Looking down, I realized that I had strayed to the right of Ship Creek, which is the airspace boundary.

My radio skills continued to improve, as I had to tune my two COM’s to five different frequencies, between ATIS, Merrill Ground, Merrill Tower, and two different frequencies for Anchorage Control during the course of my flight.

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Jan 27 2009

Lesson 12: Solo Touch and Go’s

Published by admin under Flight Lessons,Solo Flight

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.3 hours 

Total Hours: 13.2

I was thinking about how nice the weather was as I rode to Merrill for my next lesson, which I was expecting to be dual. When I walked in the door, Mark surprised me by asking, “Are you ready to go up by yourself again?” Since it was indeed such a great, clear calm day, he suggested that I go do my second supervised solo and practice takeoffs and landings for an hour by myself. When I said OK, he pretty much handed over the keys to the plane and turned me loose.

Essentially, this would be my first solo flight from start to finish. I was certainly a little nervous, but I took the combination of confidence that I had in myself and that Mark had in me and ran with it. 

I went out to 654, sat in the cockpit for a minute to visualize what I’d be doing, and then very methodically went through the checklist as I did my preflight inspection and started up the plane. I found myself putting alot of attention towards little things that were more peripheral to the process of actually flying the plane, such as where I’d put my notebook and my pen, how I’d keep track of the time, should I put this here or here… probably because it was my attempt to begin establishing a system of how to handle those things for the future.

I got a bit nervous when I noticed that the traffic was using runway 25. Although it’s the same runway as 7, and follows the same pattern, just backwards, I’d never done touch and go’s in that direction. I reassured myself that I knew the visual reference points to follow, I’d just be doing everything in reverse. When I was ready, I called for clearance, taxied up to the runway and took off. 

The view on climbout was incredible. Flying west, I could see the huge coastal mountains off in the distance straight ahead standing out against the clear blue sky. In fact, all the mountains were out- Denali, Foraker, Hunter, the Talkeetnas and the Chugach. It was truly a beautiful day for flying. I could also see the 747′s taking off from Anchorage airport, which is always a pretty cool sight.

I was also a little nervous when I came in on my first final, “would I remember how to do this?” I though to myself. Of course, there was really no time to answer, I just went through the motion and landed 654 like I had been taught. It’s starting to become trained muscle memory now, and more practice will only increase my skill at landing and handling the airplane.

The first one went well, as did most of my landings. Some were certainly better than others. Sometimes I floated a bit too long or ballooned up a bit, but I always remembered to add power and bring it back down gently. Other times I had trouble keeping straight with the rudder on the icy runway. It can be tricky to manage the torque effects on the ice, when there is little to no friction for the wheels to help steer it from going left. It seems like the snow and ice make things worse if you don’t have the rudder well under control when you first touch down.  Also, with snow covering about two thirds of the entire runway width right now, there is only about a 30 foot wide strip of clear, icy asphalt, which looks pretty narrow when you’re on final approach. Flying lessons in Alaska in the wintertime- very exciting.

I did 12 touch and go’s in all, and I tried to evaluate each landing individually during the next climbout, hoping to improve on the next go around. I definitely need to make sure I’m holding off when I level out so that I bleed off the excess airspeed without floating back up before I start raising the nose. Being the most precise action of the landing process, this just will take more practice. Also, I need to make sure I’m looking down towards the end of the runway when I begin the flare.

I’m getting much more used to adjusting the trim wheel everytime I make a change, and my ATC listening and communication skills are improving. A couple of times I had to extend my downwind, and on one lap I had to come in for a very long final, which forced me to not just rely on the regular pattern cues and visual checkpoints as I did my approach. 

When the hour was done, I requested a full stop, did my last landing and rolled out easily on the snow before braking and turning off and taxing back to the hangar to secure the plane. My excitement level is growing, now that I’m experiencing solo flying – I equate it to leading your first rock climb, and I would say that the feeling is very similar. There are actually a few parallels with flying and climbing, which is probably why I’m enjoying this so much.

After today’s lesson and 15 solo landings and under my belt, I feel like it’s really coming together for me now.

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Jan 13 2009

Lesson 10: A Little out of Practice

Published by admin under Flight Lessons

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.3 hours

Total Hours: 10.6

With the end of the year holidays and numerous lessons cancelled because sub zero weather, I hadn’t flown in over three weeks. I tried not to dwell on the mindset of being out of practice, but when things weren’t going as well as I had hoped, I begun to realize that there might be some truth to that. My last lesson had gone so well and it seemed as if I was finally getting landings down, but yesterday I really struggled. My pattern work and general airplane handling skills were good, but nearly every time I got over the numbers on final, I blew the flare. If I was not ballooning back into the air, I was coming down too hard and flat and bouncing the plane back up off the runway.

And that wasn’t all. One pass I forgot to apply carb heat, another I lowered too many degrees of flaps on the downwind, while at least a couple times I had too much airspeed on the base leg. And, I still seemed to struggle with the rudder and keeping the plane straight on the runway. I tried not to get discouraged, because I know that in any learning process, there are times when you take one step forward and two steps back. This was just one of those times.

One thing that may not have helped, though, was that I couldn’t seem to get my seat adjusted properly. I was sitting too low and felt like I was struggling to see over the panel and out around me. Twice during climbout, I had Mark take the flight controls so that I could try and crank my seat up, but I couldn’t get it any higher. As the lesson went on, I begun to think that this was a major part of the problem, because since I couldn’t even see the engine cowl out the front window, I wasn’t getting a good view, or at least the view that I was used to of the runway as I came down to begin my flare. I found that I couldn’t even discern for myself the times that we were ballooning up without Mark informing me of the fact.

After we had parked the plane, I fiddled with the seat and discovered that I had been trying to turn the seat handle the wrong way. I cranked it all the way up and sat the cockpit again to see the difference, and instantly it seemed much more familiar. This might not have been the only reason for my difficulties yesterday, but it had to be at least a major factor, and a good lesson to learn. 

I’ll get back on the horse- I’m scheduled again for this afternoon. I’ll make sure the seat is all the way up before we leave the ground and approach things with confidence, and hopefully my next lesson will go a whole lot better.

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Dec 19 2008

Lesson 9: Landing the Airplane

Published by admin under Flight Lessons

Aircraft: C172 N52654

Flight  Time:  1.0 hours

Total Hours: 9.3

A breakthrough lesson for me today, I’m finally getting a feel for landing the airplane! We did 10 more touch and go’s, and aside from one go around, I performed really well and brought 654 down safely and relatively softly each time. Mark still helped me out with advice and tips as we flew around the pattern each time, but for the most part, he kept his hands off of the yoke during just about all of the landings.

I’d spent quite a bit of time during the past couple of days visualizing what I knew I needed to do, and running through the procedure over and over in my head. It must have helped, because whereas last lesson, I really struggled with controlling my airspeed through the turns to base and final, which had me coming in too fast, this time I did a solid job of keeping my speed and rate of descent where they needed to be. Also, I seem to be getting a good feel for the level off and flare.

There was one exciting moment, though, when we came in for our final landing and full stop. After touchdown, I applied the brakes, but things felt a little off. We weren’t really stopping, because the airplane was skidding on the ice. I let off and pumped them gently until we were able to slow down and exit from the runway. Yet another experience of learning to fly in the wintertime in Alaska.

Overall, I felt calm and totally in control, even during the times when my approach or flare wasn’t as good as it could have been. My confidence seems to have grown considerably and I could tell that my general airplane handling skills are quickly becoming very comfortable.

We’ll see what Mark has in store for me next time…!

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Dec 15 2008

Lesson 8: More Touch and Go Practice

Published by admin under Flight Lessons

Aircraft: C172 N13205

Flight  Time:  1.0 hours

Total Hours: 8.3

 

N13205 at Merrill Field with the Chugach Mountains in the background.

N13205 at Merrill Field with the Chugach Mountains in the background.

I had to cancel a lesson last week due to fog, and as of this morning it seemed as if the same would happen for today’s lesson. As good fortune would have it, though, the cloud ceiling rose from 500 feet to 2,500 as I was riding over to the field, so we were on. That is, we were on as soon as I cleared off all the snow and rhyme ice off of the plane. Such is the way of learning to fly in the wintertime in Alaska. Fortunately, it wasn’t as big a project as it’s going to be for the guy who owns this plane. (see below)

More touch and go’s today. After last week, I was eager to get pack into the plane and try some landings without the added challenge of 17 mile per hour winds. We flew for an hour in the pattern and got in 9 landings. I found that it took me awhile to get into the swing of things, and I was even maybe a little disappointed that my touch downs didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. Nonetheless, I did pull off at least one pretty good one near the end, and I know that overall I’m showing improvement with each lesson. I continue to become more comfortable with my ATC communication, which was crucial today, since there were quite a few planes in the air today. Numerous times, the tower asked us to extend our climbout and/or downwind legs, and I had to keep my eyes alert looking for the other traffic in the pattern.

My main learning curve today was that I kept coming in too fast on final, which meant that had to lose alot of airspeed during the last half mile. I need to watch the airspeed indicator as I descend though my turns to make sure that I’m hitting the right speeds on each leg: 90 on downwind, 80 on base and 70 on final. I did get much better at keeping my right hand on the throttle and my left hand on the yoke, even through the touchdown, I just need to refine my throttle control all the way through my descent. Also, still pulling up a bit too much on the flare. Getting better, though, just don’t quite have it down yet.

It’s all a huge learning process, this whole flying thing, and landing is by far the hardest part. I recognize that it’s all slowly and steadily coming together, one piece at a time, and it will just take more practice to get comfortable with all the procedures of handling an aircraft. To put things into perspective, I didn’t become a good mountain biker or rock climber in just one month. I’m in this for the long haul, and the learning part is an essential, important part of this process. I just need to keep that in the forefront of my mind as I move forward.

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Dec 09 2008

Lesson 7: Touch and Go’s in Gusty Conditions

Published by admin under Flight Lessons

Aircraft: C172 N13205

Flight  Time:  1.2 hours

Total Hours: 7.3

It was so windy this morning that I wasn’t even sure that I’d have my lesson. I called the Merrill Field AWOS before heading out there and it was saying 17 mph winds with gusts up to 24 mph. Right before leaving, I read up again on crosswind taxi techniques in my flight maneuvers book, figuring that I’d need to be on top of that knowledge today.

We started up the plane and taxied over to runway 34, since the wind was coming from the north. The crosswinds were not too bad on taxi, although we did get blown around a little bit as we crossed through the space between hangars. It wasn’t until we got up into the sky when I discovered just how difficult high winds can be for a novice pilot.

We spent the entire lesson in the pattern doing touch and go’s, ten in all. Although it was extremely challenging and a bit overwhelming at first, it was a great learning experience for me. I got lots of practice using crabs, wind correction techniques, and using different bank angles when turning into and against the wind.

We’d climb out against the wind on takeoff, and then, when making the first crosswind turn, I quickly learned how to roll out the turn a bit early so that plane points at an angle to your course. This allows you to keep flying the same heading with the wind effectively blowing you sideways. When making the downwind turn, we’d get blown south like a sail, so I had to make the turn with a higher bank angle to get us quickly on course out once of the turn. Very quickly, I had to run though my approach checklist, so that I could apply carb heat, lower the flaps, begin my descent, and confirm my approach with the tower.

When turning to base, I had to roll out late and fly on a crab angle that is opposite of the one I flew on the initial crosswind leg. That left a shallow turn to line the plane up on final, and this is where the real challenge came. I’d line the plane up on a heading towards the runway and try to control my descent rate, but the wind blew us around so much that it took constant corrections all the way down. I got lots of rudder pedal practice today.

I wouldn’t say that any of the landings were very good, and Mark had to help with every one. We even had to make a couple of go arounds. One time we came down pretty hard, although Mark assured me that he wouldn’t put me or the plane in danger, however he did let me bring it down that hard on purpose so that I could experience firsthand what can happen in those circumstances. That said, I wouldn’t even be allowed up on my own in this kind of weather until I had much more experience.

Overall, he said that I did well, and that I certainly make some good improvement, especially with the wind corrections, general aircraft handling and with my ATC/tower communication. I got better at listening for my tail number and trying to respond to every command or clearance that they gave me. I wouldn’t say that I did it perfectly, especially when I was trying to concentrate on something else, but that’s all part of it and I’m definitely getting more comfortable in that area.

We’ll do more touch and go’s next lesson, and after having deal with the wind today, I’m curious to see how it will go the next time with little to no wind. Friday is forecasted to be much more calm. In the meantime, I’ve been told to complete and bring in my Presolo Written Exam… :)

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Dec 05 2008

Touch and Go Practice

Published by admin under Flight Lessons

Aircraft: C172 N13205

Flight  Time:  .3 hours

Total Hours: 6.1

Short and sweet was the name of the game for today. An hour before my lesson, it was overcast at 500 feet. An hour later, the overcast layer had lifted, but a low scattered layer still hung over Merrill Field. We figured that we had enough ceiling to at least fly the pattern and practice takeoffs and landings, so we went for it. I had to scrape some thin ice off of the plane’s surfaces during my preflight, not enough to cause a problem, but nonetheless, good to see what can happen to an aircraft in the cold. The wings and engine had been covered, so all the control surfaces were good to go.

Very good takeoff for me, and I’m really getting the hang of the radio now and talking with Merrill Tower. Unfortunately, as we were climbing off of runway 7, we hit the bottom of the clouds at around 600 feet and were forced to fly the pattern lower than the normal 900 feet.

The first landing went exceptionally well. I had been previsualizing all week about how much to pull up on the flare, and this time I really nailed it. We skimmed over the runway, bleeding off the airspeed, and then with Mark’s coaching, I gradually pulled back on the yoke and waited for plane to touch down. The wheels practically kissed the asphalt as we landed, it was so smooth. I was very excited, as this was by far my best and most in control landing yet. Mark commended me, and then coached me through the next takeoff. Flaps up, carb heat in, throttle back to full, pull back on the yoke, and within seconds, we were in the air again.

This time, the tower advised us to try a left hand pattern, in hopes that the clouds were higher over that side of the airport. It was not to be, and as we made our first turn, we realized that this would be it. We came around for one more landing, which was not quite as smooth as the first, but still very good. After taxing off the runway, we parked the airplane and called it a day. Short but very sweet indeed.

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