Monday, August 03, 2009

First IFR cross country

After a long wait and many practice flights under the hood, the day finally arrived! I went on my first IFR flight with my instructor. While we didn't fly in actual weather (i.e. we were VFR all along), the fun of filing a flight plan, getting clearances and flying approaches under radar controller was an amazing experience.

The weather in this part of the country has been dicey this summer. Fronts seem to sweep this area like a dust mop :(. Some days are gorgeous and calm, while others are filled by spells of pouring rain. Saturday was questionable as well.

As per the plan, we were supposed to take off by 8am. Any later and we would have a long wait getting an IFR slot. So I woke up at 6:15am, checked the weather and then filed a flight plan from KCDW -> KTTN (SBJ V3 MAZIE, flight time 40 mins). The weather promised to be pretty good, with some concern for early morning fog. Luckily, no alternate was required to be filed.

Heading off to the airport, I had a funny feeling. I was going through the trip in my mind. What would I do on takeoff, how would my route look like? What if I was given a hold? After a quick preflight and weather check, we were ready to get our clearance. Goof up # 1. I had forgotten to get the clearance delivery frequency for CDW. For some reason I thought I would get my clearance from ground. Anywho, besides the snafu, the clearance went fine. A paper and pen in the cockpit is essential for any IFR flight. We got the following clearance:

"Cleared to TTN, turn left 180, vectors to SBJ, direct ARD direct trenton, maintain 2k, expect 4k 10 mins after departure, departure freq. 119.2, squawk on release". Pretty straightforward and close to what I had filed (actually I had looked up recent flight plans on and that may have helped, besides filing a TEC route).

We taxied to runway 22 and then waited for a release. Almost 15 mins later, we got our clearance (IFR in this part of the country means a lot of waiting on the ground!). Off we go. 800' and we turn left 180. The ride from there was pretty smooth. We soon got a clearance to climb to 4000 ft and interestingly the controller asked us to go direct to ARD before we reached SBJ.

We shot ILS 6 approach to TTN with circle to land on 24. This was the first time I actually circled to land. It was quite an experience seeing jets waiting on departure end of the runway as you land in your little cessna. Much better than waiting in line for departure behind a jet (as we did later on the way back!). After taxiing we got our clearance to head back to CDW and after a brief wait, we were back up in the air. The reverse route was similar, direct ARD, direct SBJ vectors to CDW.

The return flight was uneventful as well. I was under the hood the entire time. We shot the LOC 22 approach into caldwell. After a decent landing, we were taxiing back to the ramp. On the way back I finally got some time to reflect on the 2 hour flight of the day. It dawned on me how much it helps to keep planning and staying ahead of the plane. I remember constantly checking the DG, trying to figure out where we were, preparing for the next phase and so on.

The first thing I did when I got home was to check my flight on What a great site! :)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

What a day to fly!

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, a reprieve from the cold winter months. As the mercury read 65 farenheit, people flocked outside to enjoy this warm winter day. And what better day than like that to enjoy a flight. Even though there was a cold front just north of the area and an airmet in effect for moderate turbulence, people were not shying away from the idea of flying. The airport was filled with people, cars and planes and it was quite a sight to see a convertible roll down an uncontrolled taxiway towards a T-hangar. How I envy the guy :)

Yesterday was a good day to fly. I was running my flight to be in my head and what things I should watch out for. This made me more confident and I could see the result as I rolled down the taxiway towards the departure end of runway 28. There was a star-tech lined up in front of us about to depart. The aircraft looks quite small when seen up close.

The outburst in traffic meant we had quite some delays as we tried to get our take off clearance. About 20 minutes to be precise. The controllers word "8QZ, winds calm, runway 28, cleared for takeoff" sounded like honey. As I lined up on the runway, I saw another cessna land on runway 22 and I put throttle in and set us rolling.

There sure was moderate turbulence in effect and we could feel it as we started to climb. The airplane was getting bumped up and down quite often. Soon I donned my foggles and it was IFR flight for me from there on. We climbed up to 2500, the airplane jolting up and down frequently. Then we intercepted and tracked the 340 radial inbound for the Sparta (SAX) VOR. The confidence was paying off. I had my scan going pretty well and I tracked the VOR pretty good, despite the turbulence. My instructors voice kept echoing in my ears "don't chase the needle, decide on a heading and follow it and see what the needle does". Sure enough a lil bit of patience helps. The needle jerked momentarily from side to side as the wind swayed us, but then settled back in its steady state. I could feel my scan improving, the airspeed looked good, the altitude looked great and the needle was close to the center.

We did a couple of trackings and holds and in one instance we literally passed over the station (needle centered the VOR indicator changed from TO to FROM). I haven't had that happen to me before. That sure got my mood in the upswing. I did goof up on the parallel entry a bit as I had read somewhere that after paralleling the radial inbound, you turn and fly direct to the VOR. My instructor didn't agree and he said that its better to turn 270 and try to intercept the radial inbound. So I tried that the next time on and it went pretty well.

I think the secret to IFR flying is just to keep the scan going. Everything else seems to fall in place if you are attentive to what the instruments are trying to tell you. I wasn't too worried (fixating) about what the needle was doing or where the airspeed was or where the VSI was headed. An occassional scan revealed their status and if something was not in place I was adjusting for the error. This seemed to work pretty well.

On our way in, my instructor asked me to follow the 270 bearing to an NDB and that overwhelmed me a bit. The needle is crazier than a VOR and I think the way to fly an NDB is to average out where the needle is pointing. Initially I turned twice 30 degrees to center the needle but it just kept moving, so I decided to turn back to 270 and verified with my instructor that I was doing OK. I think I need to brush up on NDB concepts before my next flight. I seem to be forgetting that stuff.

Coming in I did the entire traffic pattern under the hood (couldn't see outside). This time I was also given additional work of handling the radios with my instructor prompting me what to say (remember I couldn't look outside :) ). Turning final, we switched to a no-gyro style approach. This means when I hear "turn left" I immediately enter a half standard rate turn and same for "turn right". When I hear "Stop", I immediately stop. This allows a controller to keep you on the extended centerline just like an ILS needle does. The instructor also told me whether I was high or low on the glideslope and that meant I had to control my vertical descent.

About 500-600 feet above the runway, I got to remove my foggles and it was great to see the runway right ahead. I think I was pretty overwhelmed with what had just happened that I did a pretty bad job at landing the airplane. I need to remember that I shouldn't stop flying till I tie down the airplane. Basically I got the airplane quite slow, had a slight updraft and then settled a bit harder than what I wanted the landing to be. Luckily no damage done and an important lesson learnt (again!).

Overall both my instructor and I were quite impressed with my flight yesterday and I'm looking forward to many such flights soon. Till then blue skies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

IFR update

No no, I am not IFR rated yet. Still working on it... :)

This saturday was interesting. After a long hiatus, I drove back to the school for another IFR lesson. Arriving at the school I found that there had been some scheduling conflict with my Instructor and another student of his had also shown up for a lesson. To remedy the situation, the school offered me an upgrade to a 172SP and I flew with another instructor I knew (who also happened to be my Stage check instructor while doing the Sim). All in all, a great deal :) I feel that ts always good to fly with another instructor/pilot from time to time, just to avoid catching onto the habits of a single instructor.

The day was absolutely gorgeous. It was a bit windy aloft, but on the ground it was hardly anything. Due to the long break, I thought that on takeoff, I would probably goof stuff up, i.e. either pull the yoke too hard, or not manage the rudders properly. It was reassuring to find out that the takeoff was as smooth as ever.

Waiting for takeoff took forever. It was really very busy in the pattern and I am sure we were holding short of 28 for like 20 minutes (for a VFR flight!). I guess that's a good IFR patience practice, given the long delays IFR GA pilots experience here in the Northeast. The takeoff clearance was like a sweet melody to the ears. "Cleared for takeoff 28, 225 Juliet Victor" and off we went.

Ok! 600 feet AGL and I put on my foggles. These things annoy me sometimes. They tend to get fogged up a bit during wintry days! Anywayz, instrument scan it was from there on. We did the standard departure procedure and then headed out to the northwest.

"Intercept the 300 radial to Sparta and fly to the VOR" was my first task. Winds aloft were out of the south west (230) at 30 knots. So it took quite some wind correction to fly to intercept the radial and then track it inbound. Once at sparta, I tracked it outbound on 270 radial for a bit.

Then the instructor asked me to do slow flight, steep turns, power off and on stalls, all while under the hood. All of the manuevers, except the power on stall, went pretty well (we even caught our own wake on the steep turns :) ). It seemed that the 172SP doesn't want to stall at all. Then my instructor told me a neat trick. He said that to get the fastest stall, let the speed go down to 50-55 knots (I was adding power at 65) before adding power and don't be shy to pull up the nose. He showed me a stall and the next one went pretty well. See, it does help to fly with another instructor from time to time :)

After this we did some unusual attitudes and then did a hold or two. I goofed up on a parallel entry turn but other than that it went ok. I still need to practice a lot when it comes to holds and tracking radials. As my regular instructor says "When the needle stops, you stop!". The trouble is, I can't seem to realize when the needle stops! It seems to be in a persistent state of motion :(

Anywho, on reaching Sparta a second time I was pleasantly surprised. My instructor said, let's do an instrument approach into Caldwell. This was a first :) This way we could avoid the busy traffic pattern at caldwell and get in faster. A call to New York approach and we were approved for the localizer 22 approach but under VFR (he would just give us advisories).

I pulled out the approach plate, did a quick brief and then started setting up for the approach. We were flying outbound on the 120 radial of sparta. My instructor was giving me vectors for the localizer. I descended to 2000 feet and soon the needle came alive. It was time to wait for SNAFU, the Final Approach fix. We started our descend to 860' and once we identified KOLLI, got down to 540 feet. I was pretty impressed that I could maintain 540-560 feet without much trouble. My instructor said he would tell me when to remove my foggles and boy, when he did, the runway was right in front of us! Nothing compares to the feeling you get when you expect to see a runway right in front of you and its right there :)

I did do some major blunders on this little jaunt though. First off, I forgot to identify any of my Nav aids. Secondly I missed out on starting the timer for missed approach after crossing the FAF. Finally I let the needle slide past quite a bit on the localizer. The huge correction seemed to do the trick, but I shouldn't have let the needle slip in the first place. So these are things I need to keep in mind the next time on, esp identifying my nav aids.

The landing was pretty mundane compared to the approach :) Turning off on Delta, we taxied back to the ramp. They're building new T-hangars at the airport and it sure does look quite different now.

I am now scheduled to fly again this Saturday, weather permitting. Isn't it ironical that I need VFR weather for IFR training :) But very soon I am hoping to get actual IFR time with my instructor, so that's something I am eagerly waiting to experience and blog about! Till then adios and blue skies.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A lot has happened....

Wow, its been almost a year since I've updated the blog. A lot has happened during the last year. I got married last June to a wonderful person called Shreya (that should explain the lack of blogs :) ). I bought a GPS, then a car to put that GPS in .. hehe.. and finally took the next step towards my aviation dreams, i.e. started on my instrument rating! That's quite a handful...

So last June, I got married and Shreya and I honeymooned in Mauritius. It's a beautiful island paradise just east of Africa. Mauritius is one place where I would def. love to fly, but I don't think its as easy to rent a plane and fly out there :(. Anyway, after returning back to the U.S. I went for some practice flights (2 months is a loooong gap) and then once confident took Shreya up for a introductory flight. While she has flown on commercial airlines quite a lot, this was her first single engine experience. She's a brave little soldier (she's got motion sickness, but still she agreed to come along to share my passion). It wasn't the calmest of days (I should have chosen a better day) and so she was quite queasy and threw up. Thankfully we were carrying air sick bags.

We did a couple more flights over the next couple of months and things slowly turned out for better. I don't know if it was the ginger or slow acquaintance with the pleasure of flight, but she did better on each flight. Finally last month we did a flight where she enjoyed the flight without feeling queasy. A great achievement for both of us!

So far I haven't been able to accumulate any cross country time after my check ride (what a shame!), but I am sure I'll get to it. This leads me to my instrument rating. Every time Shreya and I planned a cross country, the weather went bad. More often than not, it was the low ceilings. Since I wasn't getting much airtime, what better way to put myself on a schedule than to enroll in the instrument course. (For those of you curious, I am doing the part 141 course since I don't have the pre-requisite cross country hours for part 61). So after a couple of ground lessons and hitting the books for a couple of months, last week I finally cleared my FAA instrument written (93%). Boy, was I surprised? I hadn't studied that much, but then the instrument written is a lot like the private albeit a lot more regulation and chart details.

With the instrument written out of the way, I am now up for the simulator. Today was the first day of my Sim training. I chose the AST-300 as my FTD. It's a nice little device, and a good procedure trainer, but the feel isn't even close to the real thing :)

The lesson went alright and for most of the time I was able to do the maneuvers (straight and level, level turns, climbs, descents and stalls) within the tolerances. My instructor, a pretty strict guy, was pretty happy. So far, so good. Its amazing to see how soon the simulated aircraft starts drifting if you don't have it properly trimmed and your attention gets diverted. Surely, I'll have to do a much better job on the trim and oh yea also on those headings. Is there an easier way to tame headings?

Well, next lesson gets more spicy with partial panel and all. I can't wait to get done with the Sim and enter actual IMC.. Oh mysterious clouds, here I come, well after all the stage checks and check rides are done ! :)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The day I had been waiting for !!!

A lot has happened since my last post. I got engaged and about to get married. Had a change of instructor and yes, a very important thing, I appeared for my checkride !!! Did I make it? Well, read on :)

After a change of instructor I flew out with my new instructor for about a month (on weekends) till he got comfortable to sign me off. My first attempt at scheduling a checkride was for last Sunday, Jun 10. However a strong stationary front over the area meant bad weather and low ceilings so had to postpone the checkride. The checkride was then deferred till the following Tuesday morning.

After getting all the paperwork reorganized on Mon, I checked the weather. The forecast seemed reasonable with ceilings as 4-5000 getting worse towards late afternoon. So I decided to go ahead with it.

The day of the checkride I woke up at like 4:30 in the morning. Got the weather, did the wind/speed/time/fuel calculations. The DPE had given me a theoretical weight/balance problem, so completed that and by 6:30 was ready to leave. Mostly the weather was fine (most of the ceilings were to our east staying there till afternoon). The only path that concerned me was an IFR over sussex and somerset due to fog. I decided to check up on them before going for the actual flight.

After reaching the flight school at about 8:30, I gathered the maintenance logs for N5353K, the plane I would do my checkride in :) Went over the logbook and my paperwork to ensure that everything was in order. Checked the weather once more to see the progress and met the DPE at about 9 am. As I had read before, DPEs seem to have an ability to put candidates at ease pretty soon. My DPE, didn't seem to be an exception.

We started out by getting the paperwork in order. Since he uses the IACRA site, it was a matter of couple of clicks before we were done. He went over my logbook and my flight folder (part 141) to make sure I was ready for the checkride. He then briefed me on how the checkride would proceed. We took a 5 minute break and moved to a different room.

Next up on the list was the oral portion of the exam. He started out with airworthiness, PPL requirements, maintenance logbook etc and then went over the flight plan, navigation, stalls spins and a plethora of other questions covering the aspects mentioned in the PTS. Every single time before answering a question I reminded myself "stay to the point!". Surprisingly I did pretty well and answered his questions with confidence. I guess that did the trick and we were done pretty soon.

He then briefed me on how the checkride flight would proceed and told me exactly what to expect during the flight. He also told me what he was looking for in my flying skills. No surprises, no tricks. Wow, what a relief. Now I knew exactly what all I had to do and so I could mentally prepare for it.

Before starting on the preflight I called up the weather briefer again and the weather seemed to have gotten a lot better by now. The IFR had cleared en route and the ceilings had moved up to 8-9000 scattered. The forecast for the weather going bad in the afternoon was still there though. So I went ahead and did the preflight. Walking up to the plane I noticed Josh (who works at the school and had given me a ride to the school this morning) had left me a post it note on the attitude indicator wishing me Good Luck :) How sweet.

I did the preflight reminding myself to stay calm. The DPE was meanwhile on the phone at a distance perhaps occasionally observing what I was doing. I did the preflight as I normally do, and by the time I was done, the DPE was also there.

So far so good. I climbed into the cockpit and started going through the preflight checklist. I asked him if he wanted me to give him a passenger briefing and he said "Nah, its fine" So I went over doing my checklist. With the engine started, I did the brake check and off we went taxiing. I was constantly reminding myself to talk aloud what I was doing, so he could have a better idea of what my plan was and in case I goofed up somewhere, he would still know that I knew what to do, just that I perhaps didn't do it right.

The winds were variable at 6 knots and we got cleared to taxi to rwy 4. Being a Tuesday morning, there was hardly any traffic at caldwell and so the radios were pretty silent. While taxiing he asked me a question or two, otherwise he left me to do what I was doing.

Holding short of the runway, I did the run up. He gave me a couple of tips as I went along. Everything was fine till I checked the magnetos. As I checked the right magneto, the engine shuddered a lot. I hadn't seen this one before. So I said there seemed something wrong with the right magneto and it definitely was not right. He asked me what to do and I said I would taxi back and get it checked. He said good and then told me that this could also be caused because of carbon deposit. So he put full throttle, leaned the mixture and let the engine run for about a minute. Then brought back the power to 1700. He then asked me to check the magnetos again and this time all was clear :) Wow, already learnt quite some things even before the checkride had begun.

With the run up done, I did the departure briefing (including how I would get to my first checkpoint). I requested a downwind departure and we were then cleared for takeoff. "Lights, camera, action" and off we went. As I was about to turn crosswind I remembered that I had not tuned morristown tower in COM1, shucks. I immediately tuned it and said aloud that I should have done it before we took off. On the downwind, I requested a frequency change to morristown and then we got a clearance to transition to the west/south-west at 2500.

The wind was pretty steady so it was pretty to keep the plane steadily climbing on course. I identified my first way point and then flew towards it. Coming over the first checkpoint I reset the timer and then set myself up on the course I had planned for the day.

Things went pretty smooth and surprisingly I didn't feel lost at all. Maybe I was too cautious. Even more interestingly I was able to spot my second checkpoint, with which generally I've had difficulty in the past. As we came over our second checkpoint, the examiner asked me to diver to sussex. So I immediately put the plane in a bank circling my checkpoint and started planning for sussex. Luckily the heading turned out to be 15 degrees and when I checked the heading indicator we were on heading 090 turning left. So all I had to do was turn to the heading and we were on course to sussex in almost one turn :)

Next up on my list was to do the time/speed/distance calculation and give him an ETA for arrival at sussex. I picked a point just ahead on the sectional on course, measured it and then reset the timer. Coming up over the point I found that we were doing about 104 knots and so I estimated that it would take us 16 minutes to reach sussex. The rest of the diversion went smooth and I was pretty much on course with minor deviations. The part that surprised me was that I had sussex in sight at about 14 minutes so we would have been there pretty much around 16 minutes.. wow.. the day sure was working out good for me.. I already had a grin on my face..

We then did some uncontrolled field operations at sussex, and did a normal landing at sussex. My airspeed on final was a bit too fast so we had quite some floating to do over the runway and then eventually landed. He asked me why we floated so much and I said, too much airspeed :(. Cleared of the runway we taxied back to the runway. en route he told me about sussex airport and his experiences there. This time around we did a short field takeoff. On climb out he cut out my power and we did simulated engine failure on takeoff and then on the downwind he again cut out the power and I did a simulated power out emergency landing at sussex. This time around my landing was much better (although not as great as I would have liked it to be).

We again took off sussex (soft field takeoff) and then started heading back to caldwell. En route we did steep turns, stalls, hood work and the goodies. I had some trouble with unusual attitude. The highlight was perhaps the steep turns which had given me some trouble in the past. I pretty much nailed the turn at 45 degrees and altitude at 2500. The grin was getting wider. But then I goofed up a little bit on unusual attitudes, so I guess there is always a party pooper :) He gave me some tips and asked me to do it again and this time around much better.

On the way back the DPE said that he was surprised that I did so nice on the instrument work since I hadn't done much instrument training in the quite some time. The grin was getting back. The approach into caldwell was pretty uneventful and he asked me to do a soft field landing into caldwell. Again, soft field landings have been a pain point for me and this one wasn't fun either. And especially with winds variable (mostly flowing down the runway), its a bit difficult to judge what type of correction I need. So I landed a bit crooked and he said what I should have done to correct for it. I sheepishly said left aileron down and right rudder. Taxiing back to the ramp he said that there were still some things I needed to polish up and this was a license to learn, but a license I deserved to have :) I could feel the grin spreading from side to side on my face !

Walking back to the front desk I didn't have to say a word before the person at the desk congratulated me. I guess it was the grin that gave me off :)

A few minutes later I walked out of the flight school with a temporary private pilot certificate in hand and a world of aviation before me. Wow, what a day ! And as for the weather it did get pretty bad by evening and we had thunderstorms.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Trip to Groton

Nothing beats the feeling of completing a well planned cross country. I had read about it on blogs earlier, but experiencing the feeling yourself is a whole different pleasure !

So this morning I flew a long cross country with my instructor. 105 nm from caldwell, located along the coast of Connecticut, Groton (GON) provides for a really scenic flight. So the journey really began yesterday night with the cross country planning. Winds were forecast to be 12 gusting to 18. There was a strong tailwind expected enroute to Groton and a strong headwind on the way back. Other than that the weather looked pretty nice. After 2 hours of going over maps, weather data, fiddling with E6B I had a flight plan (to and from) finally charted out.

Since I had an 8-12 morning slot booked with my instructor, today was one of those days when I actually got to see the sunrise (well not actually, cause apparently the sun likes to get up much earlier this time of the year). The first thing I did was to check up on the weather and see that things did actually look as forecasted. Called up the weather briefers and got a rapid fire rundown on the weather. Things looked good and winds aloft were as forecasted. So far so good.

Once at the airport and preflight done, I went over the flight plan with my instructor quickly. I was worried that I had chosen check points too far apart, but I guess not really. As per the flight plan we were planning to try and get clearance to transition through the NY class Bravo airspace. The flight to Groton was expected to take 50 minutes. Everything set up, I started taxiing. The sense of adventure was high as I had never gone east of the airport esp. close to the class Bravo inner circles.

Since there was no traffic, we got an immediate takeoff clearance and a downwind departure. The weather was awesome, light winds, 10+ SM visibility and clear skies. Once downwind I started looking out for my first checkpoint while climbing to my first altitude.

After leaving the caldwell airspace, we dialled in NY Approach and tried to contact them for transition. Apparently they were too busy so we couldn't get through to them. Ok, time to deviate from the plan. We turned left to keep out of Bravo and avoid other airspaces around. My instructor guided me on how to keep clear of airspaces so that we wouldn't get yelled at by anyone and would still be able to get to our route. We passed the hudson between the Tapenzee and the GWB bridges. What an awesome sight. The city does look awesome from up there. From over hudson we headed for the coast line close to HPN. From there we intersected the planned route back and the rest of flight was uneventful but scenic. Flying over the coastline has a lot of advantages. The coastline provides a nice profile using which you can easil y locate your position. The awesome scenery is definitely an added bonus. Further off towards the horizon we could see the tip of long island.

I had planned for a cruising altitude of 5500 but since we had done most of the flight at 2500 to avoid airspaces we decided to climb up only to 3500. I guess I did a pretty good job of locating my checkpoints (well we didn't get lost at any point, if that helps :) ). On the way my instructor asked me to do quite some E6B work. "What's our ground speed", "How much time to destination", "How much fuel will be burn" were some typical questions. I guess I am also getting more used to using the E6B since the calculations are becoming more clockwork.

The ATIS at Groton was out as per the NOTAMs I had got in the morning. So we called up tower with negative ATIS and requested touch and go with west departure. As there was no traffic we got a right downwind entry for 23. Groton, what an airport? Wide runway with land on one end and water close to the other. The touch and go was pretty uneventful and thankfully to the winds (or absence thereof), it was pretty smooth too. Good thing I had read up on the airport information again in the morning as I remembered that the departure procedure for Rwy 23 calls for a turn to 210 till reaching 1000 feet. So I followed that and got clearance from tower to turn right. Back on route we were expected to have slower groundspeed and thus the journey back was expected to take 77 minutes. But luckily the winds weren't as strong so we had a higher groundspeed.

Since I had decided to use the same checkpoints on the way back, the return journey was much easier. Again the same exercise of carefully avoiding the airspace as we flew under the Bravo. Coming over yonkers we hit some turbulence, but nothing that I can't manage by now. Coming closer to caldwell, my instructor asked me to use the NDB for paterson and I did a fair job at tuning it in. Oh yea, note to Cessna, please angle the ADF channel display as 13 looks like 3 :). I had dialled 1347 instead of 347 without realizing that I couldn't see the 1.

We got a straight in for rwy 27 and there was hardly any traffic. My approach and landing were pretty ok, not the best but then I have done much worse !!

All in all, the cross country pretty much went as planned, around 2.4 hours flight time, almost as planned. Since I am going on vacation for a month, won't be flying for the next month. But after coming back I definitely do look forward to doing some more cross countries with my Instructor and hopefully I'll be able to pick some more interesting and scenic locations to go to.

Till then, Blue skies.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Yay baby, I soloed !!!

The title says it all, doesn't it? This Sat. I went on the most amazing ride of my life.. I soloed :)
As one of the instructor at the flight school said, its just another milestone, but a milestone nonetheless....

I had been trying to solo for the last couple of flights but sometimes the weather was bad, at other times I was :( Anywho, this sat. I had my mind set on giving my best shot. So after a week of rains, this saturday it cleared up. The winds were light. I was out partying fri. night and so stayed in NJ overnight.

While waiting at the bus stop I ran through my previous flights and what I had done wrong and what I could have done differently. When I got to the flight school, the weather had got pretty nice, so I had my hopes up.

Preflight done, me and my instructor got out to the runway. Apparently there was a lot of traffic (saturdays sometimes get quite busy at the airport). And to top it all the winds were 110 @8 which meant that caldwell was using Runway 9. In my 5 months of training there, I have never seen runway 9 being used. So this was all different. Anyway, after waiting for 5-7 minutes at the holdshort line, we got cleared for takeoff left closed traffic.

I lined up, transponder, lights and off we go. The takeoff was good and I flew up at Vy. It was crazy up there. Everyone trying to get in the pattern or contact the tower. When we were downwind tower had to ask everyone to standby. This meant we had to extend our downwind. We almost went out over lake boonton, when tower called queued us in. I started planning for descent, but never having gone so far on downwind I didn't have a good idea of descent. So I put in my flaps a bit early and then had to add power to arrest the descent. Runway 9 has a tree right before the runway and the threshold doesn't seem displaced enough (or maybe I was just too high), but that does add to a level of uneasiness. Anywayz, I managed to do a decent landing. Off the runway, we taxi back to the hold short line. Again after some wait, we do a second and third pattern. Each time as I got more familiar with this setting I got more comfortable and had a better approach. It was almost 4 pm, the end of my slot. After getting off the runway, my instructor took over the flight controls.

I had a sunken feeling that I wasn't going to solo today. As we taxied back, my instructor started talking about what I should be doing when I get back out here. At first I was like "Yay!!" then "uh.. oh !!". Sheepishly I asked, "so does this mean I solo??". His reply, "Yea, sure :)"

So we came back to the ramp, he got out, endorsed my logbook and then with a few words of wisdom and the time by when I should be back, he left. I was nervous as hell, but then as I started going through the checklist, everything fell into place and I had the thought "Hey, I've done this before so many times, what's the worry". So I did the engine startup and started taxiing. I called up ground telling them it was my first solo flight. The ground controller told me that I had quite some work cut out for me as it was pretty busy up there and asked me to be careful. Remembering the crowded skies some time back, I responded with a slight laugh "roger". Turning onto the taxiway I saw another plane further down on the taxiway coming up. For a moment I wasn't sure what to do (another first and one of my mistakes for not seeing far enough down). Then I saw the space on the right between two hangars and taxiied to the right into the space. The other cessna, passed my left and I taxiied back onto the centerline.

After taxiing back to the hold short line and doing the engine run-up, I called up tower. This time around, traffic didn't seem that heavy and I was cleared right after two cessna's made their landings for the day.

Lined up with the runway centerline, I spoke those eternal words that probably every solo flight student utters: "This is it !! There is no turning back". transponder and landing lights on, full power, track the centerline, and off I go. A little right rudder and I am climbing at Vy. I have another guy turning crosswind. So I wait for him to turn downwind and clear my wing, after which I turn crosswind. I see myself coming up at 1000AGL. Which means time to pitch the nose down to maintain altitude and as speed comes up at 90-95 knots. Scanning for traffic, I turn downwind and trim the aircraft to maintain level flight. I call up the tower as soon as I get a chance, and he tells me there is a guy on downwind. I spot the traffic and say "traffic in sight", so he clears me "no 3 to land". I fly to my point, start configuring for landing. Looking over my left wing I see that I've passed the numbers... hmm.. next time I need to configure as I pass over the numbers. Anywayz, no problem, I'll just extend my downwind a bit. I turn base, once the aircraft I am following clears my left wing. ok.. onto base, approaching the turn to final, next set of flaps in, final approach clear and I turn final, rolling out almost on the centerline. ok, final flaps in. Now to start correcting for the wind. Keeping the runway ahed of me I crab so that I can maintain the ground track to the centerline. The descent rate looks good, the speed is also good. need to get it to 70 knots for the slight chops on short final. I pass over the tree and then slowly walk the power out as I pass over the numbers for runway 9. I fly the plane down to the runway, roundout and flare. This is the part where I need some work. I try to maintain the ceterline but am a little off. The touchdown is pretty nice. I didn't grease it but then I also didn't just thud and bump :)

Getting off the runway, I taxi back to the hold short line. As I am taxiing I can't stop grinning. I have finally done it. I have soloed :)

I looked at the right seat and for a moment it felt strange to find it empty. I knew that if my instructor had been with me, he would have been proud. Well, I couldn't wait to get up in the air again. Again the departure was quick and nice. As I turned downwind, tower asked me to do a right 360 for spacing. Ok, no problem. I've done that before. I did a nice 360 to the right and notice a mooney joining the downwind. The tower then called me up and said "As you might have seen, there's a mooney who passed under your left and would be at your 1 o clock as you roll out, follow him, number 2 to land". I acknowledged, rolled out back on the down-wind and spotted the mooney, well not exactly at my 1 o clock , but around 11-12 o clock. Anywayz, I configured the plane a little after passing the numbers and started setting up the descent. The descent was nice and I crossed the tree at a much better altitude. I walked the power out and tried to maintain the centerline. I levelled off above the runway and then started flaring. I guess I didn't apply enough correction to maintain the centerline and off the side of my eye I could see the runway edge approaching closer.

This doesn't look good !!! I immediately appllied right rudder and a little bit of right aileron. The plane still seemed to be floating left. I resisted the urge to tip the nose down and applied more right rudder. Then the plane settled down on the runway and I saw that I had landed way off the centerline almost at the edge of the runway. Not good at all. I cursed myself all I could, but then was glad, I had seen and corrected it in time, not to land on the grass.

By then it was getting dark and my instructor had called up the tower to let me know that it was time to get back, although it was before the time he had mentioned. The following were the tower's words, verbatim... "3CL, your base has said this is the last one which sounded like to me you knew, cross rwy 22, turn right at papa and contact ground point niner, and dont know what's its worth, you did a really nice job today sir, it looked good from up here.."

That felt good and I wondered if they had seen my horrible second landing. Anywayz, it was getting hazy and dark and it definitely was a wise choice to head back. I taxiied back to the ramp and did the engine shutdown checklist. The fueller helped me tow back the plane and then he got busy fuelling the plane. With the plane secured I walked back to the school. I was felling happy and sad at the same time, but I couldn't stop grinning... :D

The first big milestone had been achieved. 5 months of training had paid off and I was back a more confident pilot. As I had read on some other student pilots blog, I did the checklist... 2 feet, check, 2 arms check, 1 secured airplane, check and 1 insanely crazy head.. checked.. :)

Now its time for stage checks and cross country and as my instructor says, its all downhill from here. Let's hope its that way ....... can't wait to get to the fun stuff.. now :)