Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Second solo x-country is done!

I finally got around to doing my second cross country solo.

After my last flight I wanted a day without an overcast, or at the very least, a high overcast. I didn't mind if it was a bit windy but I wanted better than 7 miles of visibility that I had during portions of my last cross country. My patience finally paid off and I got what I asked for, it turned out to be a beautiful cold clear day with visibility as far as the eye could see.

I took the morning off work and went out to the airport, I breezed through my preflight paperwork (nav calcs etc.) much faster this time. I called for a weather brief and was told exactly what I already knew, I then submitted my flight plan. I checked in with Dave then went out to the hanger to preflight Fern and add some oil. Marc (the school's owner) helped me get her out of the hanger by moving a few pieces of equipment and other aircraft, then I pushed her out to the pump and filled her fuel tanks in the -15c morning sun.

A few minutes later I taxied out to the runway and I was quickly off. During the run-up and taxi I had alot of frost form on the inside of the windscreen, but it soon cleared as I climbed up to my cruise attitude of 4,500 ft. I called tower and told them that I was clearing the zone and requested flight following , tower then gave me the frequency for Moncton center which I called next. Centre gave me a code to squak and then had me do a squak ident, which I did, then they asked me to confirm my altitude.

The flight to Moncton was slow and cold but uneventful, centre had me adjust my altimeter to that of Moncton's as I crossed over the Confederation Bridge. I fine tuned my heading indicator every fifteen minutes and enjoyed the scenery scrolling by underneath at 80 kts. I grabbed the ATIS about 20 minutes out, the active was very close to my current heading which meant that I'd likely have a straight in approach. About ten minutes out I thanked centre and then switched over to Moncton tower.

Flip flopping between frequencies and talking (and listening) on the radio is second nature to me now, no more "stage fright". I remember back to my first few calls on the radio and simply chuckle to myself about how nervous I was. I called tower and as expected was given a nice straight in approach behind some other traffic. I performed a nice touch and go then turned to my next leg's heading, using my heading indicator this time. I called clear of the zone and requested flight following, then switched over to the frequency I was given for centre. Interestingly, the frequency is not always the same, it must change based on my direction of travel or something, I'll have to remember to ask Dave about it sometime.

This 105 mile leg was done at 120 kts ground speed, gotta love a nice tail wind. The trip to Trenton was uneventful and cold, I was given a "heads up" a couple of times for other traffic in the area but no worries. I'm glad I took Marc's advice and left my heavy fall coat on for the flight, it was a wee chilly even with the sun. The 172's heater seems to be to better suited for more fair weather flying. Every few minutes I leaned over to make sure it stayed opened all the way, as it has a tendency to close over somewhat after a few minutes, (probably vibration related). I started noticing that my left knee/leg was getting pretty cold from a draft. I had plenty of time on my hands so I had a in-flight snack, then a few minutes later I bid centre farewell and switched over to Trenton unicom where I broadcasted my location and intentions.

I came in on final high but quickly brought it under control with some slip, my touch and go was decent. During my climb out I broadcasted my position and intentions, waited about 15 seconds for anyone to respond then started a lazy right turn to a heading that would bring me back home. A few minutes later I called clear of the zone then switched over to centre and requested flight following. I climbed up to my cruise altitude of 5,500 ft and I could easily see the Charlottetown harbour 50 miles distant. I brought up the airports VOR and then practised staying on the proper radial, which wasn't too hard.

About 15 miles out from Ch'town, centre called and asked me if I could see the airport, which I could, then they requested that I switch over to Ch'town radio for the rest of the flight. I thanked centre and did just that. Next I did some descent calculations in my head, which brought me down to circuit height as I entered the pattern. I still had some time left on my booking so I decided to do some touch and goes for practise, all of which went well.

All in all a perfect cross country flight of 3.1 hours, no problems, no issues and no mistakes.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Solo x-country done.

Finally the weather and my schedule looked like they were going to cooperate so I booked a time slot for Sunday morning. A couple of days out it looked like it would be nothing but blue sky, but by the time Sunday actually arrived it was scattered with an overcast over the island at about 6,000 feet, and worse at the other two airports located on the mainland.

Basically my cross country looks like a triangle. Charlottetown to Moncton - 75 miles, Moncton to Trenton - 105 miles and finally Trenton to Charlottetown - 55 miles.

I went out to the airport early and did all my paperwork, nav calculations, checked the weather, metars and notams etc. Next I called the weather briefer and got a briefing, then I checked with Dave to discuss my options. It looked like the cloud layer on the mainland might drop down enough to prevent me from completing my last leg (Trenton to Charlottetown). I decided to proceed anyways and if the overcast on the mainland looked like it was getting worse I'd return to Ch'town early. I called my flight plan in and then I was off a few minutes later.

My cruise altitude to Moncton was 4,500 feet, the overcast above the island was about 6,000 feet. It stayed like this until I crossed over the Confederation Bridge, on the mainland the overcast got lower and lower until I was found myself at only 2,000 ft ten minutes out from the airport. On the trip over I took note that the cloud was lower to the south so I decided to get a touch and go in at Moncton and return home. I contacted Moncton tower and told them of my intentions, there were quite a few other aircraft in the circuit. At this point forward visibility directly ahead sucked, I could barely see maybe 7 miles distant as I looked down at the ground at an angle. Bouncing around in the soup with other aircraft nearby was not fun.

I told tower that my visibility sucked and that I did not have them in sight, tower gave me a vector and said that I'd see the runway it in a minute or two, which I did. I was lined up perfectly to join the base leg of runway 24, damn that guy in the tower was good. I started getting everything setup for landing and then did a quick calculation in my head as to what I'd needed to fly in order to return home. (This was something that I realized after the fact that I should have done before hand).

I did my touch and go and during climb out I started getting jostled around pretty good, it was difficult to read the compass and I had not adjusted my heading indicator for some time (forgot). Visibility really sucked, it was difficult to see anything directly ahead of me and I could only see the ground out for maybe five miles. I called clear of the zone and then requested flight following, next I checked in with Moncton centre and told them that I was returning to Charlottetown instead of Trenton. I knew that the weather would get better as I got closer to the coast.

I continued on my course for a few more minutes, with my thirty knot tailwind my ground speed was about 130 kts, then I saw a landmark that I did not expect to see. After referring to the map a couple of times and then my course, which I admit that I wasn't really keeping a close eye on , I determined that I was about 30 degrees off course! WTF! I connected the dots and decided what needed to be done to fix things, a 45 degree turn to the left would get back home and out of this damn soup. Not having 50 miles visibility sucks.

I had just completed my course correction when Moncton centre called to ask me if I knew where I was. Oh the embarrassment... I think that I actually hung my head in shame. I replied that I did, mentioned that I was over a known landmark and then admitted that I was much farther south then I wanted to be, and that I had just made a large course correction to the east. Moncton asked for a pirep, which I gave them back as heavy haze at 2,000 ft with about 7 miles ground visibility. They told me according to another pirap that it should get much better as I get closer to the coast. At this point I was over the main highway that leads to the bridge, so I told them that I was simply was going to follow it, thanked them and signed off.

It was certainly nice knowing that I had someone looking out for me and all I really had to do if I got lost was to give them a call. On the other hand my pride to a hit with me being so far off course. I muttered less than nice things to myself for the next ten minutes until the coast came into view, visibility was getting much better now.

I called Moncton centre to tell them that I was climbing to 4,500 to cross the straight, it was difficult for me to tell just how close to the overcast I was. I had to dodge a low flying cloud as I crossed the straight, then a minute later everything went completed white! Visibility outside went from good to nil, that fast, this is not good I thought to myself. I must have either drifted up into the overcast (I was now at 4,600 ft) or the overcast had come down to me. Either way I could no longer see the ground! I knew that I had not flown into a cloud ahead of me so I only had to descend to get back to where I needed to be, my eyes went immediately down to my instruments.

I concentrated on keeping my scan going while I turned carb heat on and then reduce my throttle for a nice 500 ft per minute descent. This was not practise anymore, this was real, mistakes like this kill people. Every few seconds I'd take a very quick peek out the window and then back down to my instruments. I keep remembering Dave telling me to keep my scan going, don't fixate on one instrument. After what seemed like an hour, but was actually less then 20 seconds, I broke down out of the overcast and could once again could see the coastline below me. I maintained my descent and turned for Charlottetown, twenty minutes later I made a decent landing and taxied Fern back to the apron and shut her down. I felt like a stupid student pilot, tired as well.

I really thought long and hard about not including my off course excursion to the south and then my accidental flight into overcast while crossing the straight. I finally decided to include both of these events so that you could learn from my mistakes.

I was able to determine after the fact why I was so far off course. I made a couple of simple mistakes, I subtracted 180 degrees from my original heading but didn't factor in the winds then became fixated on scanning for other traffic in the area, to the determent of maintaining an accurate heading. (Just because it feels like you going in the right direction doesn't mean that you are). I had also flown into the overcast and survived. I have to say that the instrument training that I received paid off in spades. I immediately determined what needed to be done and then I relied on my instruments and training to get me out of a difficult situation.

This flight was very frustrating for me... mistakes were made. Flying in the soup far from home is no fun at all.

I have learned much from my experiences today, hopefully they will make me a better pilot.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dual x-country done!

Sorry for the delay in posting the details of this entry, I've been really busy.

My first dual cross country was booked for Wednesday Jan. 10 at 8 AM. I arrived at the airport an hour early and checked the METERs, TAFs, NOTAMS for all three airports, then I checked the GFA and upper winds. Next I did my navigation calculations based on the forecasted winds, all this took about an hour as it was the first time that I had done all of this since ground school, I double checked everything.

Dave arrived and filed a flight plan for us, I did my exterior preflight as the previous student topped up the tanks for me, I thanked him then got in and started my interior preflight. Dave arrived, I did our runup and contacted tower for the airport and traffic advisory. I informed tower that we were on a VFR flight plan to Moncton and a few minutes later we were off.

The weather was perfect, sunny and visibility as far as the eye could see, the air was perfectly smooth. With the visibility so good I knew within a couple of minutes that my initial heading was off by about ten degrees. My navigation calculations were good, it's just that the winds where we were slightly different than at the recording station, 70 miles away. We had a stiff headwind so our ground speed was just 80 kts.

Over the next hour Dave had me plot our progress and revise our ETA, I revised our heading again slightly. Dave then did a position report over the Confederation Bridge which was fairly simple. Twenty minutes out we grabbed the ATIS for Moncton, which told me what the winds were and the active runway. I maintained my heading and spotted the airport about 15 miles out, right where the map said it would be. I called tower, YQM was very busy, tower told me that we were third and that I could continue straight in on our current heading for the active, which was runway 29.

The local flight school has received a huge contract from China to train pilots, and as such it now has alot of English speaking Chinese students. I don't mean to be rude, but we could barely understand what they were saying in English on the radio. I commented to Dave that the tower must get use to their very thick accents.

Some of the aircraft that this flight school trains on are small two seat Diamond Eclipses, I had to look carefully to spot them from a few miles out. We saw number two land just about the time I had Fern all setup for landing, 20 degrees of flaps and trimmed for 75 mph. Tower called to tell us that we were now number one and asked us to expedite our approach. I resisted the temptation to reply that the whip would be applied to the hamster, instead I replied with a professional "will do, fox romeo november". I left everything as is and adjusted the throttle to increase our speed to 95 mph, with the added power I had to hold the nose down and fly her down all the way to the threshold. A normal approach would have me adjusting our glideslope with power, so it was fun to actually "fly" down the glideslope.

I chopped the power at about 100 feet, let the excess speed bleed off, then topped off this unusual (for me) approach with a nice landing as six other training aircraft watched from the taxiway beside the runway. This was the first time I did a expedited approach and I was able to pull it off without any help from Dave. I quickly cleaned up the aircraft as we rolled down the runway, a few minutes later we arrived at our cruising altitude on a heading that would take us to our next airport.

Within a few minutes I had to tweak our heading to keep us on our proper track. With a stiff 32 kt tail-wind pushing us along, the 105 kt mile leg went quick. I made the required calls to Trenton unicom and reported our position and intentions to the local traffic, eventually someone replied from the airport with the winds. I thanked them and joined the downwind for the active at midfield. I found myself high on final so I used a full slip to bring us down. I reached over to ensure that I had full carb heat on, (something I alway double check) but I accidentally grabbed the mixture knob instead. My brain immediately caught the error but not before my hand had started to move, by the time the engine coughed I had already started pushing it back in. Dave gave me a look and I returned it, after a couple of seconds I said "I know".

I had taken my hand off the throttle for some reason, the carb heat is to the left of the throttle and the mixture control is to the right. I know this with my eyes closed, but when I reached over I grabbed the wrong one, (something that would not have happened if I had not taken my hands off the throttle in the first place). Note to self, keep your damn hand on the throttle while on final.

This runway was different from what I am used to as it slopes downward at the western end, the runway and the land past threshold seemed to fall away abrubtly as we climbed out. Everything different is new and exciting.

We climbed to 6,500 ft in order to ensure that we could cross the Northumberland Straight safely, as it is much wider at this point. At this height we could easily see the Charlottetown harbour, 50 miles distant, and we could just make out the Summerside harbour as well, which must have been at least 75 miles. The visibility was the best I've ever seen, Dave commented that the air can be much clearer in the winter.

Thirty minutes later l finished my dual cross country with a nice straight in crosswind landing in Charlottetown on the inactive. My often delayed dual cross country was finally done, three different provinces, three different airports in 2.7 hours.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cross Country?

I wish I could write about such a thing, but alas, it was a no go this morning.

It was a beuatiful day... except for the 25G39 winds. Dave did eventually call to confirm after the fact what we both already knew. I also booked tomorrow morning as a back up, so it's no surprise that the forcast is calling for cloud and rain/snow.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Blogging Pilot World 2007

I, and many others have recently received an Email from IFRpilot, he suggests that we "Blogging Pilots" should have some kind of fly-in/get together this summer. An opportunity to put some faces and names to some of the blogging pilots out there in the cyberspace community. The details are still being finalized, suggested and voted on.

Paul over at Rants and Revelations has taken the time and effort and put together a Pilot Blogger mailing list for this event.

I can tell you that the initial response has been very positive. If you're a blogging pilot and have somehow been left off the initial mailout, you can use the link above to sign yourself up to the event mailing list to get all the additional details and provide your two cents worth.

Whenever and wherever it is, I hope to see you there!

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's resolutions

Alright, first things first, tourney update.

My son's hockey team, whom I help coach, came in first this past week in the tourney that I mentioned in my last post. Our record was five wins and no losses, my son scored 19 goals... that's my boy! I can't tell you how proud I am of all the kids on the team, they played their little hearts out.

2007 resolutions.

I usually never do this kind of stuff, but this year I think I'll set some reachable goals for myself.

1 - get my pilots licence.... that's obvious.
2 - takes my friends and family flying.
3 - get back into shape, get back to the gym and start jogging again.
4 - continue working on my french

I can tell you that 1 and 2 will happen for sure, 3 and 4 will be a best attempt kind of thing.

Hope all of you have a safe and happy 2007.

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