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Cumberland Shmumberland

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Had a nice juicy long solo today to Cumberland MD, KCBE, which is way out in the far western part of Maryland. The short story: no major incidents, a smooth flight there and back via slightly different routes, great weather!

The long gory story:
When I arrive to get the plane N52632 I was scheduled to take, the guy at the school tells me the plane is grounded and that the instructor who flew it a couple of hours earlier had some FAA helicopters escort him down! The transponder wasn’t functioning. This is the same plane with the same transponder that I had issues with on my Atlantic City flight, most amusing!

So word comes down that the plane has a replacement transponder and should be fine. The routine at this school for solo’s is that your instructor first does one pattern with you he hops out and then you take off for the solo. While doing the pattern with the instructor we talk to Potomac Control while in the pattern, something we don’t usually do, and ask to confirm that he sees the transponder. He does and all is fine. So my instructor gets out and I’m off for the solo. During preflight and setting the instruments I set up the GPS, all is well and the little magenta line is waiting for me.

I set up my route to avoid a class D airport called Martinsburg (which is on a straight line from KGAI to KCBE) because I thought it would be fun, not because I was avoiding overflying Martinsburg.

For a change I also took pictures! You can see them at Cumberland Solo Pictures. It was a little amusing trying to grab the camera at various parts of the trip and click a photo. Not real happy having to take my hand off the throttle, but the nothing happened. The trip out west involved going over some higher terrain so I decided that as soon I was finished with the SFRA space (and class Bravo) I would travel at 4500MSL, not that high but not what I’m used to. There was no problem and it was fun, but at a few points it seems a little hazy and some cloud cover was a little close.  Cumberland is a very small uncontrolled airport and I listen to the AWOS and figure out which runway I will use, 23.   I have a pretty good view of the airport from a height of about 3500 and join the 45 for runway 23 downwind just fine, how novel!

Although my merging into the downwind was fine I was a tad low and overcompensated going a bit too high. I was warned that the runway was a bit high and had trees in front. It sorta did and was just sticking out on what seems to be a large mound. I was a high on the turn to final but didn’t want to drop too fast cause I was concerned about obstacles.  So I decided to somewhat force the landing partially to see what would happen and because I’ll be damned if I’m going to do a go around! The landing was kinda bumpy and took up more of the runway than normal but I had plenty of breathing room and since no one else was in the plane for the bounces…no harm done.

I got out to stretch my legs and take in the sights of the Cumberland terminal and pilot lounge…well that took about 3 seconds 😉 I preflight, setup the GPS for the return trip, run up the plane in front of the terminal taxi out to the runway and zoom to take off. OOPS! I’m on the runway with full throttle gaining speed when I realize I didn’t do a proper pre takeoff checklist and notice that my transponder was on standby! Unbelievable bozo. I wait till I get airborn and turn it on, not to mention turning on the strobes also. Yes those checklists are there for a reason! Not to mention you have to use them.

I take a slightly different route back flying over a little airstrip called Potomac that originally I thought I might land on. However the description and a friend of mine whose been there say it’s a crappy strip with lots of rocks and not that pleasant so I decided even before taking off that I would just fly over it. I did, it looked very scenic and that’s it. I flew back at 3500 ft, and wanted to be sure that just after the SFRA when entering class Bravo space I descend to below 3000 to avoid Bravo completely. That’s not a decision of mine it’s something you must do, stay out of Bravo airspace…the SFRA people always inform you of that.

I talk to Potomac Approach get the SFRA code they respond fine and see the transponder. Really glad it’s fixed. I keep on heading home to KGAI at about 10 miles out I tell Potomac I see Gaithersburg, which I think I do. They release me, I inform KGAI I’m on the 45 for runway 14. I keep flying in and eventually notice I am totally in the wrong position relative to the runway! Oy. I was on the wrong side of the runway by the base which was good but I give the airport a wide swing around and eventually correctly join the base rather then the downwind. Totally annoying, spotting these damn airports it way trickier then it seems. I have a nice landing and that’s it for now.

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150 Nautical Mile Solo

August 22, 2011 1 comment

This morning I completed another major milestone in this quest for a private pilot license. I conquered the 150NM cross country trip landing at three airports. The short story: everything went well and I arrive back home intact…as did the airplane.

Now the long story: The plan was to go to Lancaster (KLNS), Fredrick (KFDK) and back home to Gaithersburg (KGAI). No great surprise I followed the plan no problems. The thing to keep in mind is that the airspace above Gaithersburg is the Washington DC SFRA space and it’s “carefully watched”. As I’ve explained in the past this means you must squawk a unique transponder code both for the inbound and outbound trips and never ever squawk 1200 the usual VFR code.

It was an incredibly beautiful day must have had 15-20 miles visibility with very few clouds in the sky, more like a nice fall day rather then the usual summer haze. The trip to KLNS was totally uneventful, everything was just hunky dory. I reach the Susquehanna River and get ready to talk to Lancaster Tower. I had already dialed up and listened to Lancaster ATIS and the weather was clear and wind from 340 with 12-15kts. Quite breezy. I figure that ATC will take me in via runway 31. I call in to the tower at about 10 miles out with “Lancaster Tower 911 alpha tango student pilot inbound 10 miles to the southwest with information Delta”. They say something like use runway 31 and left base contact when 3 miles out. Well I don’t exactly know what happened but I had a hard time figuring out which of the two runways was correct and I just wound up traveling parallel to runway 31 kinda like on the downwind but it was the wrong side of the runway! I just continue for a bit and the control tower asks where I was and I try to describe it to which he says: “you sure you’re looking at Lancaster airport”? I reply, “yes definitely Lancaster now about 4 miles from base to runway 31. He tells me to extend the downwind (although I’m pretty sure this is not the real downwind) and to be number 2 for the runway, there is some traffic. At about 6 miles out he says I’m approved to make the turn to base and clear to land on runway 31. I turn and wind up with a freaking 7 mile final which is kinda ridiculous. Another plane has time to take off while I”m on this approach. I come in with no further problems but it was clear to the tower that I was a student 😉

I get to the ground and ask the tower if I can do a pattern and he says in a rather annoyed tone “contact ground”. I do that and every thing was pretty much fine he leads me to the runup ramp for runway 31 I contact the tower one more time and he approved clearance to do a pattern on runway 31. I do the pattern just fine, land and contact ground about where to go to which the tower says “clear the runway! you should know to always clear before anything” and I say “got it”, so then I contact ground when on the ramp and go to the pilot shop where I purchase my obligatory box of Wilbur chocolate. I definitely have issues approaching airports and this is just the first of three today.

I prep the plane and take off again on runway 31 this time headed for KFDK. There are two runways at KFDK and I hadn’t quite made up my mind yet which one to use when I hear on the KFDK CTAF…”911AT are you on this frequency?” It’s my instructor! I say hi and he asks how’s it going and says “I assume you’re using runway 30 because of the wind” and I say I wasn’t sure yet I hadn’t heard the AWOS yet but that sounds fine. Was very amusing hearing him call out from the airport’s CTAF. In short order I’m getting close to KFDK and thankfully there is MUCH less traffic then yesterday. I am unclear (again!) which runway is 30 although it should be obvious based on the heading. I kinda circle around KFDK until I have a clear visual of runway 30 loop around until I am correctly entering the base do all the usual radio calls to let people know what I’m doing and then come in for a landing. I wind up (thanks to some useful instructor advice before I took off) landing with only 20 degrees of flaps and a little fast which improves the control in gusty conditions. I landed fine nothing great but hit the ground at a little to much of an angle but nothing horrible, there was quite a bit of wind.

All done with KFDK so I just taxi on over to runway 30 and take off. It’s not too far from the SFRA border so my main concern is to get in touch with Potomac Approach and get the new squawk code. I climb to about 2200 and continue climbing when I start contact with Potomac Approach. They respond fine but tell me to switch to another frequency which I don’t quite hear. The radio with Potomac had lots of static, perhaps because of my relatively low altitude, but I didn’t ask to repeat the frequency cause I could barely hear them. I switch instead to one of the two published frequencies I had and they were OK. They just asked me to ident and asked if I had filed an SFRA plan. They give me a code and say “stay out of the SFRA” which I now know they always say, until they see the transponder code. I was however about to break the SFRA line so I turned away from it. In a few seconds after the turn they contact me and say the transponder was observed continue on course and stay out of Bravo airspace. Great I think…so I turn back to the correct heading for KGAI and then look at the altimeter only to see that it says 3700 ft!!! I’m like oh shit this whole time that I had been futzing with Potomac I had the throttle on full and was climbing! The boundary for Bravo air space right about where I was, is 3500! Not good…I reduce the throttle back immediately and pitch the nose down for a rather rapid decent. Potomac Approach calls and reminds me not to break Bravo airspace, I suspect I came real close 😉

Well all that’s left is to go home to KGAI. I see the airport probably 12 or more miles away and wait until about 6 miles to tell Potomac Approach they say fine go in and keep the transponder code as usual. Off to my right I see my place of employment (a large campus area) and start to turn there but decide that I”m not sure if that is kosher with the SFRA folks or not. So I just head on over to the airport. I wind up again doing a large loop around to get positioned correctly to enter the base, and this time it was more deliberate as it was a gorgeous day and great for sightseeing. I enter the base and land with no incidents and that’s all for today folks!

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Lancaster Lunch and SOLO!!

August 18, 2011 Leave a comment

All the prep work finally paid off, and I actually flew to Lancaster for lunch today…all by myself!

This was my first official “cross country” solo and it all wound up perfect, aside from a couple of amusing nits. To start things off I decide to leave work even earlier than usual figuring I might get to the airpark early and get up in the air early. I manage to get lost on the way to the freaking airpark!! Well not actually lost but I missed a turn and got onto this new highway (the ICC Inter County Connector) which forces me down this superhighway about 7 or 8 miles until I can turn around. Genius. My head is now filled with images of me up in the air “accidentally” turning the wrong way winding up over downtown Washington DC accompanied by a couple of F15’s.

I was just annoyed got to the airpark on time but we rusehd a tad to get up in the air which I wanted to avoid. My head wasn’t all wacked out and I was fine. The routine for this solo was to go up with my instructor and do one pattern, then assuming it was good drop him off then go off to Lancaster. The pattern was fine I dropped him off and then faced the prospect of a trip all by myself. No more circling the airport by myself doing traffic pattern work, this was an actual trip going somewhere!

I set up the instruments and the GPS to fly direct to KLNS (Lancaster) get up in the air and just follow the magenta line on the GPS. It’s really pretty difficult to screw it up. You just follow the bright line and it even has  exact numeric readouts for the desired track (DTK) versus the actual track (ATK). All you have to do is keep the plane pointed to the desired track value. Given a functioning GPS and of course the ability to use the device you would have to be an idiot to get lost (which is perfect for me given my traditionally amazing lack of sense of direction). I was a tad concerned about doing something with the device to put it into some odd mode, so I did very little futzing with it, however I did do a bunch of map zooming in and out and did play with the cursor input which let’s you look at what items on the screen mean, such as the circles defining class B space (around BWI which I pass) and boundaries of the SFRA.

Once up in the air I contact the Potomac Approach people (the SFRA folks) and they say the have me on radar. All is well they see my transponder, a good thing as this is the same plane 52632 that had transponder and PTT (push to talk) button issues on my previous trip to Atlantic City (not a solo). My instructor said nothing was changed in the plane but it was working fine…it was (wheewwwww).

I keep the plane at 2500MSL and just move on over the ground everything was fine no issues. I dial up Lancaster Tower, Lancaster Ground and the Lancaster ATIS and pretty soon I’m just moving along with not much going on.  I even lean the fuel mixture which get’s me a bit nervous as that’s the same control to shut the engine off and I of course imagine pulling out the mixture control too much resulting in an engine shut off (not clear to me if that could happen at cruising speed have to find out!).

Around 15 or so miles from Lancaster (the total distance is around 90NM) you cross the Susquehanna river which is a great landmark and you know that very soon you have to start talking to Lancaster Tower. So I dial them up and say “Lancaster Tower 52632 student pilot 10 miles south east inbound with information Foxtrot”. Call me Captain Sulley 😉

I threw in the “student pilot” as my instructor said I should do that as the controllers will be more patient, and I figured what the hell why not. The controller was definitely slower and seemed to be more friendly, or perhaps I was just imagining that but he tells me to go for runway 8 and enter “right base”. I am of course a bit confused about what is left or right base but figure it out….just not used to using the terminology.  Initially I wound up aiming for what I thought was the runway but it turned out to be a road passing next to the airport….oops. I see runway 8 in plenty of time turn to base for a fairly short final touch down just peachy and I made it!!

The tower asks me my destination and I say the restaurant and he tells me to take ramp “Golf” and taxiway Delta cross the runway to the restaurant. I pretty much knew which way to go but didn’t quite catch that it was ok to cross the runway to get to the restaurant so double checked when I got there he said yes and then proceeded to talk me to a parking spot on the “west ramp” area. I was going to park in front of the restaurant where I saw another plane but he said turn right you can’t park there…I’m still unclear about where he was talking about but I saw a whole bunch of T shaped parking spots in an area to the right. The only confusing aspect is that there was no one else parked there so I wasn’t sure that was correct….but I guess it was as I just pulled up to a spot, shut down and breathed a huge sigh of relief actually getting there in one piece and not making a fool of myself to the tower, always a concern 😉

I had a wonderful Philly cheese steak sandwich that was amazingly fresh and inexpensive. I highly recommend the place. After lunch I climb back in for the return trip. I decide to see how much fuel was left and there was plenty. I do the usual airplane prep get in and even do the runup right there where I was parked as there was no one anywhere around and it seemed like a reasonable place. I set up the GPS for KGAI and after everything checks out I contact Lancaster Ground asking for permission to depart to the south west. They point me right to runway 31 and I head off. Definitely useful having the airport diagram handy it certainly helps keep one turning to the correct places (duhhh). I pull off to the run up ramp area just next to runway 31 tell Lancaster Ground that I’m ready to depart, they say switch to the tower frequency which I do and then ask again to depart. They clear me right away so I just taxi on over look to be extra sure no one is coming and take off.

I’m up in the air and turn pretty much 180 around to get on track and start following the magenta line on the GPS back home. It’s probably a good 50 miles until you need to start dealing with Potomac Approach so I just fly along keeping a very careful eye on the engine readouts, temperature, altitude, RPM,  and all that. I lean the engine again and still think I doing that somewhat half assed as I don’t have a good feel for it and don’t want to muck with the mixture too much.

The time arrives and I contact Potomac Approach with “Potomac Approach 52632 with you” he responds with “52632 squawk 0001 and stay outside of the SFRA”. I readback the squawk but think to myself what the fuck do you mean “stay out of the SFRA” !! And what is this 0001 squawk number is that something special?? I want to go home….but I quickly realize that they might do that until they see me on radar. Pretty soon he says he sees me on radar and I think he said stay out of SFRA space again (but I’m not sure). In another minute I talk to Potomac Approach again and say “Potomac Approach 52632 I’d like to go to Gaithersburg” he says “clear to Gaithersburg maintain code”. I guess I misheard that second stay out of SFRA call. Everything was fine and I just kept on going.

Pretty soon I was getting close to Gaithersburg and today I made sure to stay at 2500MSL as yesterday I was at about 2000MSL and had a hard time spotting the airport. I was pretty sure I saw Gaithersburg at about 7 miles out so I tell Potomac “Potomac Approach I have Gaithersburg in sight” he responds with “change frequency and keep the code” or something else unintelligible but I knew that all was ok and I just kept on going and switched to the Gaithersburg CTAF. Previously I had dialed up the Gaitherburg AWOS and determined I should use runway 14.  At about 4 or 5 miles out I call to the CTAF “Montgomery Traffic 52632 on the 45 to downwind runway 14 montgomery”. At about the same time a Citation calls in that he was on the downwind to runway 14 and asked about traffic. I tell him I was on the 45 to downwind and gave him my position as 4 miles out to the north east. After another 30 seconds or so he asks again for my position we talk and after not too long he says he has me in sight and says “I’m doing 190 knots so I’ll be out of your way”. (translation: I’m a shit load faster then you just stay out of my way) I also see him about 200 ft higher then me and at around 10 o’clock to my left. He does just zip on in. I wind up following him on the downwind and I call out  “Montgomery Traffic 632  extending the downwind and  number 2 on runway 14”. I do the usual landing maneuvers and of course did the checklist first (I set the mixture to full a while ago to be sure I wouldn’t forget that.) I had a long final since I wanted to give the Citation room and had a real greaser of a landing with was a nice way to end the flight.

But wait there one more thing.

I pull off to the first exit hold where I’m supposed to and start the after landing checklist. I shut off the lights, lean the mixture for taxi and WHOOPS…I manage to pull the mixture too far and actually shut the damn engine off!! I was glad my instructor wasn’t there to see that bozo move 😉  I turn the ignition to restart and it comes back to life quickly (whewwww). I taxi on in and that’s all for my first real solo adventure!
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Second Solo Same as the First

July 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Had my second solo today…basically same as the first. Started an hour later then usual (8AM) expected more traffic, turned out pretty quiet initially then it did pick up a little bit. First I did 3 patterns with my instructor.  Had a pretty awful bouncy landing on one, “Sandy FLAIR FLAIR” he cried …oh well I still tend to wait a tad too long…it wasn’t that bad but I was annoyed at myself. I want to grease em all of course.

So after the 3 patterns I drop him off on the taxi way and I’m off all alone again…fun fun. Didn’t have to switch runways at all the whole day was on runway 32. Another student was also in the pattern we never got close or interfered, we were both doing full stops so there was plenty of time to get good spacing. My landing were not bad and not great, the 2nd one by myself was pretty good. The third one a little bouncy and almost turned too quickly to the cutoff for the taxi way, it lifted the right wheel off the runway a tad…not good so I just corrected and waited to slow down, all was good. Got life stuff to do so no more lessons for a bit over a week! Hope I remember it all the next time 😉

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SOLO, SOLO SOLO!!

June 30, 2011 1 comment

Well it finally happened, had my first solo today!

Now the long story 😉 We started out as usual, doing pattern work did a couple of good landings, then we did a no flap and a no engine landing. My instructor says, “do you think you’re ready for a solo”. I said, “yes, definitely”. He asks if I have my medical certificate and log book, which I always do, but as this was the first time he ever asked, I realized hey this is really going to happen!

So we land park the plane, he signs my medical certificate, checks with the plane’s owner (the guy who decided a couple of weeks ago that I wasn’t ready…bastard was correct!) and we’re all set. My instructor kindly files a new SFRA plan while I go out and get the plane ready for the big event. All is well, the planes have been using runway 14, but there is a slight breeze so I might have to switch later. To my surprise I was told to do 3 take offs and landings coming to a full stop each time. I was not aware that student pilots are not allowed to do touch and go’s, probably a wise rule. Anyway I go out to the holding area next to runway 14 do the engine run-up stuff and contact Potomac Control to get the new SFRA transponder code. They are confused at first, probably the new plan hadn’t hit their system, but after a minute the controller give me a new code and a departure frequency. I have no idea what the departure frequency is for, but I take it and ignore for the rest of the flight.

There is another student in the pattern, I wait for him to land or do a touch and go, turns out that he did neither, just appeared to want to land, porpoised the plane a lot and did a go round. I was smiling from ear to ear at his screwy flying, thinking, been there,  done that. I wait for him to turn to crosswind before I take off and then I just take off as usual. No problems all is fine I give the plane ahead of me in the pattern plenty of room and let me know I have him in sight. I turn from downwind to base then to final fine all hitting the correct speeds and at a good altitude and glide slope. When I get to the end of final and am about to land the plane yaws a little bit and I manage to break the glide and flair quite well but the damn plane is yaw’d a few degrees and the wheels do a nice skidding on the runway. The plane is also left of the center line, moving rapidly left, to which I think, “oh great, first solo landing and I wind up in the grass!”, but I quickly corrected and did NOT get too close to the grass, but I was simultaneously happy to do my first solo landing and pissed off that it was probably the worst landing in my last 50 or so landings.

One down, two more to go.

After stopping to taxi I listen to the AWOS and looking at the wind sock I see that the wind has picked up a little bit and it’s time to switch to runway 32.  I taxi to the short hold at 32 and listen to the other traffic which is still using runway 14. This was another student pilot and he comes in on final and never quite touches down, goes around and I ask if he’s staying on runway 14. He replies “Yep”. Soooo I figure I need to taxi back to runway 14, but my instructor who was listening in on the CTAF says “you mind switching to 32” and he says, “fine what ever you want, I’ll do a 360 on the downwind leg and switch”. I say thanks and take off, giving him plenty of room. The pattern is uneventful but I go long on the crosswind to give the other traffic time to turn around and switch runways. All was fine and I finish off just peachy coming again to a full stop. The landing was a little bumpy, didn’t quite flair enough but not bad.

Two down, one to go.

One more loop using runway 32. Totally uneventful. I do the pattern fine, turn to final and some other guy does a quick take off, still plenty of distance. I land just fine a pretty good greaser, hitting the centerline (best landing yet) and that’s it! All done the first solo!

I bring the plane to the hanger they told me this before, it needed oil. I get summarily doused with the traditional bucket of water and I’m one big step closer to being an actual private pilot. YAY!

 

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