It’s good to be back

Today I finally got back to the airport. It’s been more than half of the year since I flew last time. And it was time to get back in the air.

The original plan was to take the Skyhawk up but it turned out to be rented so I’ve decided to fly the Arrow. After pulling it out from the hangar I did the regular preflight and got into the cockpit. But before I’ve started the engine I have pulled out all the checklists for that airplane and went through them one by one.not flying for 6 months left some holes in my memory, refreshing was very much needed.

After about 10 minutes of studying cockpit layout, procedures and checklist I’ve started the engine and taxied down to the runway. Quick runup and within few minutes I was ready to take off.

I am a very fresh pilot with mere 150h on the clock. Every take off makes me a little nervous. The moment where you push the throttle and commit to the flight. I know, there is always time to abort and the really important moment is when the airplane actually leaves the ground, but for me it’s the initial throttle push that rattles me. This time was even worse, I’ve never had such a long break before after which I would go out and fly solo. I needed not to worry though. Everything (at least it seemed so) snapped right back into place and take off was very uneventful.

After checking in with Cedar Rapids Approach I headed to the practice area. Having not flown for more than 6 months left me more than rusty. Weather was perfect for some basic air work. I tracked some road, played some roll/coordination game. Tried some slow flying and stalls. Then when I started feeling a little more comfortable with the plane I upped game a little bit and started reviewing a little more advanced things. Tracked some radials, tried some autopilot work and all that stuff that I almost all forgotten since my last flight in Arrow.

After about 45 minutes of play I headed back to the airport. And here the hard part started. Do I really need to land this thing? I guess I do. First approach happened to be straight in. Power settings, flaps, all checklists done. 80mph over the numbers and one smooth landing. Not bad if I may say so. Not the best one I’ve done over the years but far away from the worst ones as well. After that I did two more to regain currency.

After all that I’m now officially current for day VFR flights. But the real opinion? Boy I’m rusty. To be honest with myself I need to do it at least once more to get all numbers memorized again and remind myself all the feelings and inputs that the Arrow is giving me. And then I need to regain IFR currency again.

Looks like more flying time in the future for me.

Flying (through) Cloud

At this moment in my training basically the only thing that was left to do was the dual cross country. As it happened Nick had a n unplanned day off so he called me and offered his services for the whole day. Quick vacation arrangements done and I could go as well.

I asked him where he would like to go, knowing that the ‘regular’ route for instrument rating XC is IA24-KALO-KMCW-KIKV-IA24, to which he responded ‘Surprise me’. You don’t have to tell me that twice. Keeping in mind his desire to expose students to class Bravo I’ve fired up my iPad and looked around. I’ve been to St. Louis class B two weeks ago, so let’s pick Minneapolis.

Few minutes later I had planned route. IA24 – Waterloo/KALO (with LOC BC 30 approach) – Mason City/KMCW (with VOR/DME 18 approach) – Flying Cloud Minneapolis/KFMC (with ILS 10R approach. For the return trip I’ve decided that we either reverse trip up (which would give me another 3 approaches) or in case we needed to get down faster we could go direct (as direct as airways allow, but still pretty direct).

Now the biggest problem, weather. When we met in the airport office at 8 am I saw from his face that he doesn’t like what he sees outside. Visibility was around 1 mile with mist and patches of fog. Both of us were concerned about icing possibility. It’s late November after all. But checking all available charts and PIREPS suggested that there will be no icing in the clouds. RUC soundings suggested that cloud tops will be around 3000ft and that there is strong low level temperature inversion that will keep us safe once we get airborne.

We have analyzed our possible options and alternatives and decided that it’s a go. Few minutes later we were airborn. It turned out that skewT diagram was absolutely right. The lowest temperatures we saw wat +1C and it was on the ground at Green Castle. The higher we went, the higher the temperature was topping at about +10C at 4000ft.

It was my first “real” IMC flight. By real I mean that I did not have to use foggles even for a minute. Shortly after taking off we went into clouds. Strange feeling not seeing anything outside. But short few minutes later we emerged from the clouds and for next 40 minutes everything around looked like on this picture:

Nice uh? Anyway, flying on top of solid overcast is even harder than I expected. Your theoretically see, but you still have to fly precisely and you can’t really trust what you see because cloud layers tend to be sloped and create false horizons. Anyway, what seemed to be just minutes later, it was time to prepare for my first approach of the day. I flew this particular one four times before already so it wasn’t anything new except of two things. First – strange feeling when ‘diving into cloud’ and very warm experience when I saw runway lights exactly were they were supposed to be when we came down from the clouds. So that’s what the whole instrument flying is all about! You spent hour(s) up there baking your face in the sun alone, then you dive through the clouds and the runway is exactly where it’s supposed to be.

After quick touch and go off we went to our second destination. Nothing different here. The controller cut us loose about 20 miles from the airport with ask to report back on the frequency after missed approach. Which we did few minutes later and were kindly greeted with N7717U Minneapolis Center, report reaching 4000ft and established on V505. Uh? Short glance ant the map told us what was going on. Mason City is in the area where minimum radar altitude is around 4500ft so controller could not see us. Few minutes later he started reporting us to an airliner going the opposite way. To make his work easier we requested climb to 6000ft and shortly after started blinking on his radar. That made his (and ours) work much easier and the rest of the flight went uneventful.

Minneapolis Approach was a little busier than St. Louis’ one but nothing really bad. I’ve heard Cedar Rapids as busy as this one was at times. I understand that they have plethora of frequencies so I probably did not hear half of it but I did not care as long as I could understand what they wanted from me to do and could comply.

2011.11.23 IR lesson a

Looking at the time we’ve decided to head back directly to KCID. Quick weather check revealed that conditions did not improve and that we may need to land in KCID. Again quick file and off we went. I’ve flew quite a lot to and from class C airports so nothing new here other than one thing – I got instructed to line up and wait. There was a lot of buzz about that phrase recently so I should be familiar with it, but I’ve never received it in real life so my brain did not record it properly (yes, I was expecting ‘clear for takeoff’) and it took me a second to process it. After that everything else was easy. We took off and headed down south. With a little bit of tailwind, which made our mighty Skyhawk to break the barrier of 100knots ground speed, it took us just above 2h to get down to Cedar Rapids.

Weather check revealed that conditions in Cedar Rapids did not improve much. Visibility was 1 1/2 miles and ceiling was 800ft overcast. Sounds bad? Not really. If I was a VFR pilot it was definitely ‘stay on the ground’ day. But for an IFR practice/training flight – perfect weather. Which was promptly confirmed on the frequency. The air was busy with all kind of airplanes shooting approaches one after one. After all not every day you get 800feet solid overcast with tops at 3000ft and completely no icing hazard in late November.

I shot ILS 27 approach and then requested special VFR back to Green Castle which was promptly granted. As it turned out there was also another club member waiting impatiently on the ground for the Skyhawk to return so he could get some real IMC time before his instrument checkride. That’s airplane utilization – it was less than 15 minutes on the ground!

2011.11.23 IR lesson b

With this flight I fulfilled almost all experience requirements for my training. At this moment I have 1.2h required instrument time lest which I’m going to use to brush up my maneuvering and partial panel skills.

5.7h (5.5h inst) : 6 to/ldg logged
150.5h (38.8h inst): 476 to/ldg total

B like Busy….

According to my instructor, at this moment in my IFR training I have seen it all, I have learned all the procedures I ca do in my airplane and now all is left is to practice, practice, practice, fulfill the experience requirements and go for the checkride. After going through my logbook it looks like I need 15.2h IFR time and 9.8h cross country time. I still haven’t done my required IFR XC and it usually takes about 5h to complete. So subtracting that I needed ~10.5h instrument time and about 5h of XC time.

Today looked like everything aligned properly to get cut big chunk of those remaining things off. I had a day off, the weather was perfect as far as I could fly in my Skyhawk and to top things off Mark was in town and available. Mark in his day job is a first officer flying B777 cargo all over the place. He has plenty of experience flying in the system as well as in any kind of weather. I’m very grateful that I could tap into his experience and I’m using him whenever I can.

Initially I’ve just planned round robin route through 5 or 6 airports trying to pick different approach at each one of them. But when Nick (my CFII) saw it plotted on the map he suggested – ‘Hey, why don’t you take Mark and head to one of the class B airspaces around here? Have you ever been in one?’. No I was not and I was eager to try, so I quickly revised the route and came up with IA24 IOW BRL UIN STL KSUS. In addition to that I have planned one instrument approach at Burlington, IA and another one in Quincy, IL which with addition to approach at Spirit of At. Louis would give me 3 different approaches on my way down here.

Here is the kicker. When Mark came to the office and saw what I was cooking he said ‘hola, you’ve got to file IFR for that one, otherwise we’ll be hovering outside Bravo forever’. Again, you don’t have to tell me twice before that, I’m eager to lear the system so I grabbed the phone called 1-800-WXBRIEF and filed. I was a little bit surprised when I’ve heard that clearance will be ready the moment it’s typed in. All materials I’ve read so far suggested that you should file at least 30 minutes before planned departure and here the briefer says ‘I can give you your clearance right now but void time will be 10 minutes so I’d rather have you call me again when you’re ready or pick it up in the air’. I’ve decided not to rush things and put planned departure time in 20 minutes with the intention of picking clearance up in the air.

After that we got in the plane, did run-up check and took off. Picking up clearance in the air was quick and easy although I can understand why it’s not advisable – the amount of information the controle needs to relay blocks him for some time. Next time I’ll try to do it on the ground. Flight down south was uneventful. Being used to using flight following there wasn’t really that much difference and everything went smoothly. Center controllers were very accommodating and did not object when I asked for practice approaches to Burlington and Quincy.

Class B? Complete non event. The controller was busy but not that busy. He was very helpful not only to me but to other airplanes in the area and tried to let them into class Bravo as much as he could. But I got real life example of IFR flight plan usefulness – while we were humming along straight into class B airspace without as much as noticing it’s boundary on the map there was a Cirrus behind us that got hit bey dreaded ‘stay clear of class B airspace, expect further clearance in 10 minutes’. That’s exactly the situation Mark wanted to avoid on for that very reason it was worth to file.

Here is our path on the way down:

2011.11.11 IR practice a

After arriving at Aero Charter FBO we were greeted with smile and keys to crew car so we ordered some fuel and headed for lunch. While planning our route back we have decided to pretty much fly it the same way back skipping this time Quincy and Burlington making an approach to iowa City instead. Quick file and clearance was again ready within 10 minutes. Flight back was even more uneventful than the one down south. Strong headwinds made it very long though, there were times where our groundspeed was in 60kt range. Ouch!

Here is our return path:

2011.11.11 IR practice b

All in al it was very productive flight. I got 5.8h simulated instrument time, shot four different approaches (DME arc, LOC BC, ILS and VOR) and went through quite a chunk of country:

And did all of that before 5pm!

6.0h (5.8h inst) : 2 to/ldg logged
142.1h (30.8h inst): 460 to/ldg total

Cross country VOR work

IR lesson #4

This lesson was a continuation of VOR/DME work I’ve started last time. Looking at my total record sheet we have decided that another 50nm cross country flight is in order. Trying to pick reasonably complicated route without overloading my senses we came up with:

IA24-CID-ALO-KALO-INDET-CID-IA24

The original idea was to introduce intersection (INDET) and try working two VORs. Unfortunately it turned out that NAV part of display on second radio in our Skyhawk is dying and became completely unreliable. But treating it as only slight inconvenience we’ve decided to play with DME. INDET intersection is defined as ALO VOR 090 DME 23. and as it turned out during the flight it was an easy find.

Another good outcome of picking KCID-KALO routes is that I was within TRACONs’ range during whole flight and it gave me nice opportunity to add radio communication into instrument flight mix. My ability to multitask it still somewhat limited by instrument flying load factor but I’m finally getting ahold of things and it’s high time to throw radio in the mix before I start working on approaches.

Post flight briefing notes:
As you may see on the track there is a very pronounced change of course in the middle between CID and ALO despite the fact that tracking this airway should be simple frequency switch. But when I switched frequencies the needle immediately went way to the left and instead of waiting patiently few seconds I started fiddling with CDI and turning left. Nick pointed to me that being so far out from VOR means that slight left/right deviation may actually mean several miles and cause those seemingly big CDI changes, but if I waited a bit longer the needle should come back at least in the vicinity of zero and my track would look much nicer

2011.09.22 IR lesson 4

Uh that’s steep

Today was my second IR lesson with Nick. This time we took Skyhawk. I’m a Cherokee kind of guy, I don’t like flying Cessnas, but I can do this if I have to. And $25/h difference between Skyhawk and Arrow is quite convincing. One thing I do not like in Skyhawk is it’s instability, it’s like a weathervane, every single bump in the air bounces it around the sky. But despite all this I can fly them. No big deal. Unless I have to do this under the hood and do steep turns and stalls in that configuration.

Generally steep turns and stalls weren’t a maneuvers I loved. Not because they scared me, but because I don’t feel proficient enough in them even in VFR to be comfortable doing them under the hood when I have no visual reference to the horizon to help me executing them. Nothing that practice can’t take care of. First two steep turns were ugly, but then with a little bit of coaching from Nick on how to enter steep turn and how Skyhawks differ from Cherokees (you actually have to use rudders, you know?) next two were quite decent, no worse than any on my VFR ones. Stalls were even more non event as I’ve practiced them recently in VFR conditions just to make sure I’m proficient in them.

During our return to the airport Nick wanted me to execute nice, tight pattern within 1NM distance from the runway at all time. Not a problem at all… with the exception that Skyhawk is no Cherokee and you can’t really execute crowbar type of approaches Cherokees are famous for. Still managed to get it safely on the ground and stop before the end of the runway.

See the pattern? Looks like the hardest thing to do will be to break my Cherokee habits and learn how to fly Skyhawk, under the hood or not.

All in all – full hour of hard work but I’m happy with the results. Controlling airplane under the hood becomes easier and easier, and it turns out that Skyhawks don’t bite (but I still don’t like flying Cessnas 🙂 )

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