Posts Tagged ‘cross-country’

You don’t always get what you want…but sometimes…you get what you need

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Jean Moule last wrote about African-American pilot Bessie Coleman for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Jean Moule smiles during a flight lesson.

Jean Moule smiles during a flight lesson.

I walked into the Salem Flight Training office to begin my 10 to 12 flight lesson. I was surprised to see Mark instead of Steve. “Steve had some work for the state,” Mark said when he saw my expression.

A bit surprised because I had let Steve know that, as my first instructor, I preferred him and he had simply cancelled or changed a flight before if he was not available.

Yet…my now flying addiction caused me to take a deep breath and go for it.

Since I have had two substitutes, at first I did not connect that, Ah ha…this is the guy that I almost flew with in February…when we did not even get off the ground…because of my poor taxiing…or  so I thought!

We talk about our plan for this time. Mark suggests that I fly to the Corvallis Airport because he knows I have not landed elsewhere. “I am not ready for that,” I say. It is empowering, in a way, to speak to someone who has not flown hours with me and needs my input to know my perceived skills.

Mark sends me to preflight the airplane and we begin the routine…the one that usually has me work myself into a snag at something I know fairly well.

I manage to misplace my radio call cheat sheet. I decide to take the high road, “Guess I will have to get this out of my head this time,” I say. And then, at least twice, instructor points to the N-number right before me above the instruments. That is one piece of information I do not need to have in my brain…of course I should know it after 12 hours in this airplane. Brain freeze and a live radio connection is an incredible eraser.

Preliminaries done, we taxi. I am getting better at taxiing because now I connect that a slight brake allows the wheels to rotate in the direction you want to go. “Like a Caterpillar tractor,” my husband explained. As if I had any experience with them either.

So, we head to the runway. I do the radio calls and take off with just a bit of voice control from Mark. We head south. I circle over Education Hall at Oregon State University. My, what a perspective of the place where I worked so long and seldom visit in my retirement schedule of classes.

Mark takes photos. I enjoy the views and then we head east. For the first time I take the airplane up to 5,000 feet so that we are above the 4,200-foot Snow Peak that marks the high point of the area where my husband worked as a forester for 36 years.

We circle the forest below. The old growth fir trees that we see taller than the others are what is called “The Park” on the 12,000-acre Avery Property. The trees are about 500 years old.

We head down toward the ridge that runs under our property. I delight in showing Mark things on the ground that I know and he does not: Richardson Gap and the towns of Mill City and Lyons. It is difficult to find my house within the square of tall firs that grow up around it.

Then we head toward highway 22, the known road that leads back toward the airport.

While I have learned how to better trim the airplane to keep from tense and unnecessary tightness on the controls, we have been in the air over an hour and I am a bit tired. I think of asking Mark to land the airplane. There is so much to do, or so it still seems to me: Call the tower once at 10 miles and again when requested. Make sure no radio traffic is directed at you. Think of your approach into the pattern. Begin to get lower and slower. Lower those flaps. Adjust to the winds. Watch for other traffic. Et cetera.

 While I know that Steve has some sense of what I can begin to handle with his help, I don’t know how my growing knowledge and skills will come together with Mark as we land with him doing some of the work. I decide to just ask him to do it all. But oh! Am I surprised! As Mark takes over the landing and I feel his hands and feet on the controls….I actually find anger rising up within me. Wait, I think, wait! I want to land this plane!  “Give me something to do,” I say with a rise in my voice. Mark releases the yoke to me and talks me down.

Wow, what did I learn from this different instructor besides to focus on the N number right in front of me when making a radio call? I learned that….I want to fly this airplane….myself…

Two weeks later…My flight instructor and I had exchanged emails and I said that, weather permitting, I would like to fly over the mountains to Sisters and back and my husband would go with me. Steve says, “Weather permitting, going to Sisters is fine with me. There is a disadvantage in that you will grow more as a pilot by working on pilot skills rather than doing cross-country flights.”

Weather was not permitting according to my standard briefing, and then Steve called because he was not even sure the low scattered clouds over the Salem field would allow for our flight at all. Since I had to drive through Salem anyway, on my way from an overnight and appointments in Portland, I stopped.

Steve decided it was perfect for touch and gos near the airport. We went over the pattern and the radio calls. I find out he has eight or nine in mind, and I have two or three! We discussed which parts of this I would do. There is so much to consider: radio calls to tower, elevation, airspeed, carburator heat, flaps up or down, turns, flight path, other planes, yipes! Take off, do a circle, touch down, and then put full power on and take off again! We did this four times and I told him it was enough for me though he had more in mind.

My flight lesson on that Wednesday keeps me smiling: scary, challenging, learning, and fun. It was like a roller coaster and merry-go-round combined. I just start to giggle every time I think about it! My adrenaline rush for at least two weeks.—Jean Moule

Lessons from my most recent cross-country

Monday, August 5th, 2013

TripFor some people, flying a cross-country trip is no big deal. Check the weather, file a flight plan, and off they go. Sometimes I envy those people.

For me it’s usually a huge production involving much gathering of gear, checking and re-checking the weather, and making sure I have contingency plans in place for every aspect of the flight.

And still things don’t always go as planned, and I come away with valuable lessons learned. Here are a few, gleaned from my most recent trip in my Cherokee 140 from Maryland to Wisconsin and back:

  • iPads don’t like heat. I knew enough not to put my iPad on the glareshield, but just having it sit in the right seat in a hot cockpit was enough to make the thing crap out.
  • Flight planning programs suck up a lot of battery on an iPad. A three-hour leg used up all the juice in my fully charged iPad, putting it out of commission for the second three-hour leg of the day. (I had paper charts for back-up.)
  • Noise fatigue is a real thing. Try flying two three-hour legs with a passive noise reduction headset, then come back and tell me it’s not.
  • Crosswind landing proficiency comes in handy when you least expect it. A planned fuel stop in Ohio presented a 15-knot direct crosswind. I coached myself through it and landed, but kept an alternate airport in mind just in case the winds proved too much of a challenge.
  • Watch the weather, always. At that same ground stop in Ohio, I spent an hour on the ground, just trying to rest and recharge a bit before launching on my second leg. A bit of bad weather was off to the north, but I didn’t think it would be a problem—until it reached the vicinity of the airport before I was ready to leave.
  • There’s nothing quite as satisfying as traveling the country by GA. All of these minor glitches aside, the planning and (eventual) successful execution of my flights was a fun and fulfilling experience, something that certainly can’t be matched in Seat 34A, Aisle 12 of a Boeing 737 or riding in the relative comfort of a car.—Jill W. Tallman

Which comes first: flying or ground school?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

It’s a classic aviation topic of discussion: Do you start with ground school or flying lessons?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Back in the day, pilots-to-be overwhelmingly sat in a classroom and learned the academic side of flying the same way they learned algebra, English, and history. Courses would run several weeks depending on how many days a week it met, and most students were flying concurrently. Nowadays, so many pilots engage in the self-paced home-study courses that it’s probably difficult to find a traditional ground school.

The advantage of starting with flying right away is that you have a much easier time keeping up your enthusiasm, and besides, flying is fun, so why not do it? The truth is that you can do both at the same time, but you need to learn how to do it efficiently and effectively.

The home-study courses available today are a far cry from what was available even 10 years ago, and they are light years ahead of where they were 20 years ago. Jeppesen used to charge a king’s ransom for a series of video tapes that accompanied the private pilot curriculum. Now, online classes and DVDs have replaced VHS, which means you can go right where you want to study, and better yet, it’s all interactive, which keeps you more engaged. The video quality is better as well. And Jepp being Jepp, they still charge a king’s ransom, but the Kings are still doing their thing as well.

There are some areas of study you should start with right away. Aerodynamics, the FARs, and weather are topics that you can’t get a jump on fast enough. Most people are more weather savvy today, thanks to the Weather Channel and the Internet, but aviation weather is still information intensive, so getting a leg up on it early is always a good idea.

But a few areas of study call for caution when it comes to getting too far ahead of where your training is. You should spend a lot of time reading, watching, and studying all of the maneuvers. However, don’t jump into trying to understand all of navigation until you are ready to do your cross-country flying. In more modern aircraft, you may already have a bit of proficiency with the GPS since you use it all the time. In older airplanes, it may just be you and your VOR indicators. I am a firm believer that you will be a better pilot—you’ll certainly be more knowledgeable—if you can do everything the old-fashioned way, and that includes using a manual E6B. After all, it doesn’t ever need to have batteries replaced. As for the panel-mount GPS, a good instructor will take the time to show you all the ins and outs you need to know as you need to know them.

When getting ready for your knowledge test, don’t do it by just memorizing all of the answers. Make sure that you understand the theory and the concepts discussed in each question. Be able to answer them using what you know, especially weight and balance and navigation questions. Some of them are indeed rote memorization (the FARs), but make sure you really know the material and know where to find it!

Learning all that you need to know can seem daunting, but if you break it down into chunks, it is much more manageable. Yes, you can fly before you open a book, but if you combine the two, you will have more effective learning and have a more enjoyable training experience.—By Chip Wright

Pilot dad memories

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Such wonderful stories about pilot dads came to me last week! From an airline pilot dad who taught his daughter to fly to a helicopter pilot dad who took his young son flight-seeing, these flying fathers–and some dads who didn’t fly themselves but nonetheless nurtured the flying passion within their sons and daughters–get our spotlight this week.

  • Molly Flanagan Littlefield learned to fly as a teenager, and her father, Tom Flanagan of Merced, Calif., was her flight instructor. “I remember watching his face in the mirror and seeing the peace he felt while airborne. He would say that flying assured them there was a God,” she writes. In 1979, when she was hired as a pilot for United Airlines, she was certain she wouldn’t make the cut and wanted to quit before she was asked to leave. She called home and talked to her parents. “There was a very long silence on the other end of the phone. Finally Daddy said words that carry me still…’I wouldn’t have let you go if I didn’t think you could do it.’”
  • Meredith Randazzo

    Meredith Randazzo’s father, Ernest R. Dixon, has had a lifelong love of flying, she says. (That’s Meredith at age 5 strapped in a safety seat, getting ready to participate in a flour bombing competition.) Meredith’s dad no longer flies, but she caught the bug and became a naval aviator and served more than eight years with the U.S. Marines as a CH-46E helicopter pilot. “Today my dad’s interest in aviation is as strong as ever and he regularly takes my niece to watch the airplanes take off and land, as he did with me decades ago!”

  • Jay Fleming remembers flying in a helicopter with his father, Jack, as a youngster. “One day, when I was about 5 years old, my dad flew a Robinson R22 from Wiley Post Airport to my grandparents’ property and picked me up to fly back to PWA, where he worked. Many of the neighbors thought my grandpa was being medi-flighted since he had had some health trouble recently.” On another flight when Jay was 14, his dad flew him from Torrance to Malibu and back, pointing out celebrity homes en route. “Thanks to him, I have the desire–not necessarily time or money though–to get a helicopter private pilot certificate.
  • Dr. Harold Brown

    That’s Flight Training Contributor Greg Brown’s father, Dr. Harold Brown, in the photo. He’s kissing the good engine of his Cessna 310 at Santa Maria, Azores Islands, after losing the other one over the Atlantic Ocean in 1962. Greg wrote about the experience in his November 2001 Flying Carpet, “Made My Dad Proud.” If you read the column you’ll find out about the last memorable flight Greg flew with his dad. His upcoming September column will be devoted to a memory of annual family trips in his father’s airplane to visit an uncle who lived on an island in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

  • Jim Mauro flew with his dad, Ben, from age 8 until his college years. “I had the great experiences of flying in Taylorcrafts, Bellancas, Sea-Bee, Grumman Widgeon, and Bonanza. I even flew in an airplane that I think was branded Amphicar, but I’m not sure.”[Editor's note: Paging Al Marsh! He's the in-house expert on car-airplane hybrids.] Jim’s dad had a grass strip in Conway, Penn., and was president of the Taylorcraft Corporation during the 1950s and early 1960s, so the aviation force is strong there, as you can see.
  • And finally, Andy Matthews, the co-founder of iFlightPlanner, wrote to pay tribute to his nonpilot dad, Jerry. Andy grew up in a golf-playing family. “A weekend pastime with my parents turned into summer golf camps, junior tournaments, a college golf scholarship, and now I’m humbled to be in my ninth season as a professional golfer who has competed with the best players in the game, all over the world.” So where does flying figure into all this? Well, Andy injured his back a few years ago, and golfing had to be put on the back burner while he recovered. In the meantime, his father suggested that this might be the time to start taking flight lessons. “He was there for my first solo, and he was also in the right seat as my first passenger soon after I got my license,” Andy says. Jerry also noticed all the work that went into planning a cross-country flight–the charts spread out on tables, manuals, notes, and a laptop computer–and “hinted that I needed a more efficient way to plan my flights. That spurred an idea, and with the help of my college roommate from the University of Michigan, we began to lay the foundation for what is now iFlightPlanner.”

Thanks to all who submitted these great stories. If you’d like to salute your dad in the Comments section, please do. I hope everyone had a happy Father’s Day!–Jill W. Tallman

Did you know? Opening your flight plan

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Opening a flight plan should be the easiest part of your cross-country. Tune in the nearest Flight Service Station on your radio, call ‘em up, request that the plan be opened, give your departure time, and on you go.

Except it isn’t, sometimes. You forget to call up flight service. Or you call them up and nobody’s home because you copied down the wrong frequency. Or you call them up and they hear you, but for some mysterious reason the flight plan you filed is not actually on file, so you have to give them all the details while trying to keep the airplane upright.

Last week, pending a VFR flight from Maryland to Tennessee, I called Lockheed Martin to get a standard weather briefing. (I don’t usually file by computer.) After the briefer and I had gone over all the weather and notams, he offered to have the flight plan opened at the specified time without my having to contact flight service. I was pleasantly surprised–I hadn’t known this option was available. And it worked! How do I know? Because I was a few minutes late closing the flight plan, and flight service called me to check up on my whereabouts.

When I called for a briefing on the return trip, no such offer was made. So if you want to take advantage of this service, you might have to ask. And make sure you make a realistic prediction of when you’ll be wheels up–because when you say you’re in the air, the clock is ticking.–Jill W. Tallman

What I miss about GA

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I recently did a flight from DTW to Kalamazoo (AZO). We had some time on the ground to kill, and our gate’s location gave us a great view of the approach end of Runway 17. Several airplanes were doing pattern work, including a Cessna 172 (with a horribly ugly paint scheme, I might add), a Piper Cherokee, and one or two others. A couple were flown by students, as evidenced by the hesitant radio transmissions and the near-misses of nosewheel-first landings. Others were likely someone out just practicing, taking advantage of the clear sky and summer-like March weather.

My first officer and I began chatting about how nice it would be to trade places for a day with these pilots.

The truth is, I can’t tell you how much I miss general aviation flying. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like because of the cost, and when it comes to travel, you can’t beat the free flight benefits of the airline.

But I miss everything about GA—getting dirty on a preflight, being able to turn the radio off, tracing my flight on a sectional (not easy at 400 knots true while in the flight levels), or just taking the airplane around the patch one more time because I didn’t like my landing. If I tried that at my day job, I’d have more than a little explaining to do. They might even deduct the cost of the extra fuel from my paycheck. And I especially miss doing primary flight instruction. I’ve long maintained that if I could make the same income as an instructor as I do now, I’d trade my uniform for shorts in a heartbeat.

On occasion, we will see a 172 or a Cherokee on our TCAS that is flying at or below 1,000 feet just sightseeing or slowly going from place to place, or maybe even nowhere in particular. Once in a while we see those airplanes doing ground reference maneuvers or lazy 8s. It’s hard not to think about how far my own career has come watching somebody else go through those maneuvers that I too had to master.

If you are pursuing a professional career, take the time to enjoy the steps along the way, and if you can pull it off, stay involved in your GA roots. You will miss it more than you ever will imagine. I fly whenever I can, and I keep my CFI certificate active; I worked way too hard to ever let it expire.

There may be a thing or two about GA that I don’t miss—the broken orange juice cans in the Cessnas, not having a weather radar, bouncy fuel gauges, and I’d like to have an autopilot—but the benefits way outweigh the cons. I think I’d like more than anything to be able to fly a cross-country and substitute my iPod for ATC…just once.—By Chip Wright

Savor the moment

Friday, May 4th, 2012

If someone tells me they just soloed, or completed a cross-country, or finished the checkride, I’m happy for that person–and I say so. I congratulate him or her and ask for details of the event. (I really do want to hear all the gory details. It reminds me of my student days and keeps me humble.)

If someone says she just soloed, what you won’t hear me say is, “That’s great–when’s the cross-country?” Or, if she completed her checkride, “Way to go! Now on to the instrument rating.”

Whenever we achieve a goal in our flying, we need to take at least a couple moments to savor that accomplishment. From the day you walk into a flight school to schedule an introductory ride to the moment your designated pilot examiner signs your new temporary certificate, you’re on a journey that is rigorous and challenging. It will be incredibly rewarding, too–especially if we realize what we’ve achieved.

Take the solo, for example. You just flew an airplane all by yourself–something only about 628,000 other people in the United States have done. And if you’re 16 years old and soloing, consider that you’re likely flying an airplane at an age when your friends are driving a car. (On second thought, don’t remind your parents of that.)

That’s why we celebrate a solo with a cut shirt-tail. It’s why some of us still ask for a signature in the logbook at the airport on our solo cross-country–even though we’re not required to do that any more. It’s why AOPA’s MyFlightTraining website shares photos of milestones and “attaboys”. Those tangible expressions of our accomplishments bolster us and keep us going on what can seem like a very long road to the ultimate prize: our ticket.

So if you’re a student pilot, keep up the good work! Tell me about your milestones (Twitter: @jtallman1959) because I love to hear about them. Oh, and… congratulations!–Jill W. Tallman