Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Maneuvers made "easy"

The next day I went out to practice my Chandelles and Lazy 8s myself. These two maneuvers are at the commercial pilot (as opposed to the private pilot) level. I found some great resources on the AOPA website:
Chandelles In 60 Minutes: An Easy Way To Learn.

The Chandelle article starts out:
First understand that any complex maneuver must be broken down into simpler elements. Do each part in sequence, and then combine the parts into the whole. Step one: Have your student fly a 360-degree turn with a very shallow bank. Start with 10 degrees. Vary altitude around the turn very slightly, always returning to level. Vary the bank slightly, say increasing by 10 degrees, then decreasing by 10 degrees. The purpose of this exercise is to tune up bank and altitude control. You will be surprised by how much improvement you will witness in the way your student flies straight and level and performs turns. Coordination improves sharply. Don't knock it; try it.

The Lazy Eight one (In Five Easy Steps) is very similar.

These articles were very very helpful, though I got close to the full Chandelle maneuver, I didn’t get quite there (just above stall speed). However, as the article states, my flying skills got much MUCH better. Why are these maneuvers so tricky? Well, depends on how you’re taught. The first instructor I had trying to teach me to become a CFI had a preflight briefing that went pretty much like this: “Ready to go fly?” I’m a pretty visual person and in my informal poll find that a lot of other people feel they are too. I like to have an idea of what I’m going to do before I am up in the air trying to simultaneously keep the greasy side down while trying to figure out how to fly a maneuver. Especially when you're just starting out.

In fact, the day this instructor and I went out to do slow flight and stalls with me sitting in the right seat for the first time I almost cried I was SO frustrated. Yes, I’d been sitting in the right seat in the jet, but to be in a single engine airplane doing unfamiliar maneuvers, and then, oh, yeah, there are no gauges on my side so I also had to look left which delayed my scan... Arggh. I swore right then that was going to be the last time I flew with that guy. I had had an amazing revelation of how easily it would be to convince a student never to return to any kind of flying lesson again, he or she thinking they were incapable of learning to fly.

Later in my training I even thought I had this maneuver “down” when I knew to look out the right window, spot a visual reference, honk back on the yoke while banking, climb and somehow end up with that visual reference out of the left window. Yet I still didn’t really know what I was doing and the how’s of the maneuver don’t stick with you without the why’s. You can read about something in a book but your mind won’t develop the correct picture without some kind of reference. For example, instructors often have airplane models so they can give students a “big picture” view of what the airplane is doing while still in the classroom. Here’s a video of what a chandelle looks like from the outside.

CFI Note: The Aviation Instructor’s Handbook calls this the Cognitive Stage. The student carries out memorized steps , unaware of progress, fixating on one aspect of performance. The best way to prepare the student to perform a task is to provide a clear, step by step example….

Luckily, my flight instructors at Shoreline Aviation in Alabama were all about explaining things on the ground in a systematic way BEFORE we ever got into the airplane. For every maneuver there was 1. Safety: usually Clearing turns; picking an altitude/place/heading; mixture rich and gas on both. 2. Configuration: Airspeed and Flap position. 3. Execution: Bank, pitch, etc. 4. Recovery: Change pitch, bank, and/or add power (and right rudder!), rollout on heading, altitude, etc. If you can run through those steps in your mind, or even better, out loud (Sara, the instructor, calls this “singing.”).

Like I said, it also helps to know the why, and I was originally told that the chandelle was an escape maneuver in a dog fight. The idea is to reverse direction and gain altitude over someone chasing you in the shortest time and area. Later people have said it’s a good maneuver to know if you plan to fly into canyons. Many a reckless pilot has found himself face to face with a canyon wall and been unable to turn and climb out in time, with unfortunate consequences. Plus, it’s just a great coordination exercise.

I actually got to practice the Chandelles again the next day, except with a passenger. The background: on Saturday we had planned an “air to air” photography shoot. Actually, we’re trying to get a video of Dianna, the owner of the Calhoun Air Center, in her Waco for her upcoming article in Airplanista. Jasmine and I had received a Contour GPS camera to record her exploits in the AirRace Classic (go Racing Aces!) and so we mounted this camera to the dash of the 172 directed out to the front of the airplane. We also had a Hero Cam – often mounted on the helmet of crazy all terrain bike riders, mounted on the inside of the front windscreen to film Jasmine and I. Since neither of us had worked with cameras like this, we needed the test flight to see what would actually show up on film, uh, card.

Hero Cam
This was so great in so many ways. Yes, we figured out the cameras, but since we recorded the whole thing, I actually watch my first “flight lesson.” I talked Jasmine – not a pilot – through most everything we were doing in the traffic patterns, answering her questions, too. But we also went out to go fly and get some footage from altitude. So I gave her the controls, and talked her through basic flying skills. I hadn’t planned on doing this, so I was a bit disorganized, but she did amazingly well. We worked on some turns, and I tried to show her the piece of pizza – the angle between the dash and the horizon. Bigger piece, larger bank. Then we did some climbs and descents. She only screamed, and only slightly, a few times because of the bumps. She also completely did not understand what the wind was doing to her, so every time we got bounced around she thought she had done something wrong. A very important lesson in talking about these things before you ever get up in the air with a student: the effects of the wind.

Contour GPS Camera
I also noticed, watching the video after wards that I use a lot of confusing terms (the Contour Camera records audio too). I spoke about changing power settings about five different ways. Sometimes I said “level out” meaning stop turning, sometimes I said it when I meant stop climbing. Jasmine also appreciated watching the video, because her relationship to the horizon was so much more obvious. At one point I had gone from 30' of bank, to 20, to 10, and she really got it back on the ground (again, because she wasn't trying so hard to keep the greasy side down at the same time).

When Jasmine had had enough flying, she read those instructions in the articles on the maneuvers to me, and was quick to point out my altitude fluctuations. I was quicker to point out it was obviously due to thermals. ;-)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sweating out every little bit of improvement

I’m writing this at 7pm on a Saturday night and I am no kidding considering going to bed in an hour or so. But I’ve got to keep up with these blog entries so I don’t get too behind. But I am completely exhausted. I know I will get no sympathy complaining about the heat and humidity here in Southeastern Texas, not from my friends up north who just suffered through a snowstorm in April, and not from folks down here that say, “You think this is bad, you should be here in August.”

Vents above my head & in front of mike
In a small single engine airplane, there is no airflow in the cockpit until you’re flying because of the highly advanced cooling system developed to scoop outside air and drop it inside. Yes, you can open a window, but there’s still no airflow before the engine starts, and after start the noise from the engine makes it less than an ideal solution.

Even in flight, the heat from the sun creating a greenhouse effect in the cabin cannot be overcome by directing the air vents full blast at my face (probably another reason my eyes are bloodshot). You get to know people pretty well in that small cockpit – and their, uh, “essence” even better. By the end of the day no one cares what you smell like. After a flight I often look like something the cat dragged in, and depending on the day’s flying I may even feel it!

Looking back at my blog and logbook, I see that I last posted after flying by myself - for the first time in ages. The next day I flew again by myself and practiced some maneuvers again. I tried to push my envelope just a little further. A few more stalls, some more slow flight, etc. I figure that if I keep pushing on the edge of my comfort zone I just have to make it bigger…. It seems to be working.

The next day I was back with the instructor at Calhoun Air Center, Eric. We had just about an hour before the plane was needed for something else, so we just went up and did Power Off 180s. This is a maneuver simulating a power failure so the pilot can learn to fly the airplane with the power at idle on the downwind (we don’t exactly turn the engine OFF, at least not on purpose) to become comfortable with the glide ratio of the airplane. Yes, an airplane can glide to safety if the engine should quit. A good rule of thumb in many airplanes is 2 miles for every 1000 feet of altitude. For example, if you’re 4,000 ft AGL (above ground level), you can likely glide for 8 miles. That is, if you immediately adjust your airspeed to the Best Glide Speed (to give you the longest RANGE over the ground), you are likely to be able to travel up to 8 miles. You also have to consider the wind (darnit, you have to consider the wind’s effects on everything when you’re flying!) and other factors. Like if there’s a suitable place to put the airplane down within 8 miles. Because eventually it’s going to come down. As they say, “Takeoffs are optional, but landings are mandatory.” I’ll get back to that in a later post….

Target the "Aiming Point Markings" or 1000ft markers
Oh, I forgot to give you the whole title for this maneuver: Power-Off 180’ Accuracy Approach and Landing. This means that you have to state where you intend to land (on the runway – we’re not crazy enough here to actually practice putting it down into a farmer’s field) and then touch down there. That point, minus 0 feet, plus 100 feet. You gotta be accurate for that. The crazy thing is I don’t mind this maneuver because it reminds me of helicopter flying. You just kind of maintain the same attitude all the way around. I also learned so much about the flaps. When you can add and subtract power as necessary, you’re less concerned about what the flaps will do to the aiplane’s horizontal and vertical speed. Take away the power option, and all of a sudden you realize that a little flaps increase your lift and a lot of flaps increase your drag means a whole lot more. An option on this approach is to wait until you’re in ground effect (discussed previously) to add flaps to give yourself just a little lift – if it looks like you’re going to land short. Again. Minus 0 feet. Plus 100.

Amazingly enough, practicing this maneuver also greatly helped my landings. Remember how I said I always landed flat? Well, finally, in trying to streeeetch out my landing, I got that round out started higher and kept pitching that nose up to help me fly it on out. Eureka, I think she’s got it!

CFI Note: The Aviation Instructor's Handbook calls this  "Transfer of Learning," the ability to apply knowledge or procedures learned in one context to new contexts. A "positive transfer" occurs when the learning of skill A helps to learn skill B.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Getting a little alone time in an airplane

Autumn (Post flight wind 050/14)

Remember how in the last post I said we had a very small window with which to have calm winds here at Calhoun County? I guess I should have listened to myself and Autumn, the administrative assistant here at KPKV (folks that work at airports learn a lot about flying – even if they’re not pilots). Winds at 8:15am were from 090 (east) at 6 knots. Twenty minutes later they were 080 at 7k. Another half hour later, 8kts. Noticing the trend? Even though I had reserved the airplane from 10am - 12pm, Autumn said I should get up there and fly before the winds picked up. I knew I should have as well. But I was so nervous because today, I was going to fly all by myself.

The vast majority of you will wonder why that would make me nervous. Most of you would assume that an 18 year, nearly 5000 hour pilot would be over any nervousness by now. Others of you scoff, well, I fly by myself all the time. Again, I went from helicopters to multiengine aircraft, most recently jets. Flying a small single engine airplane is still relatively new to me. Total, I still have less than 100 hrs in them. Additionally, I’ve mostly been flying with instructors sitting next to me. You know, people who are very familiar with the airplane and can handle any emergency, especially the ones that I create.

Flying By Myself means that there’s no instructor, no safety pilot, no backup. Just me. Anything that could go wrong would be up to me to fix. My preflight took forever. I asked Autumn a million questions, like, can you watch me pull the plane out of the hangar? She said she’d do it, but I figured it was high time I did it myself.

I took forever to taxi (during which I announced my action on the UNICOM frequency, using the wrong airport name), forever to do my runup, mostly because I did everything twice (or at least read the step twice out of the checklist). An aircraft announced his intent to land here while he was still over 5 miles away while I was holding short of the runway and still I decided to wait til he landed. I didn’t want to get lined up for takeoff and feel pressure to go, go, go!

He landed and left the runway for parking. I lined up on the runway and “sang like a bird” like my instructor Sara had taught me: “Windsock check, Runway numbers check with Magnetic Compass and Heading, Mixture rich.” Ok, let’s do this! I pushed the throttle full forward and sang, “Check takeoff power set (back on the centerline), Oil pressure and temp check (centerline), airspeed alive (centerline), waiting on 55knots (centerline), rotate, pitch to Vy (best rate of climb – 74knots).”

I did three traffic patterns first, just to warm myself up. The wind increased a couple more knots, but not too bad still, so I left the pattern and flew to the practice area. I took this time to get comfortable sitting in the left seat again, and looking at the sight picture (argh, staring too much at that fancy G1000!). I did some clearing turns and then some steep turns. Steep turns are simply turns done at an increased bank angle while maintaining constant altitude and airspeed. I started out seeing if I could do the 45’ ones (standard bank angle is 30'), which are the private pilot standard. Winds out here were kicking up to 16-25knots, depending on my altitude, which meant that I was getting bounced around again. When I was pretty good with those I did the 50’ ones which are required for commercial pilots. That was a bit harder. I was all over the sky.

Ok, so let’s stretch the comfort zone.

Slow flight is a maneuver to demonstrate the handling characteristics of the airplane at speeds just above a stall, without actually stalling. I set myself up, and started doing some turns, at which time you’re supposed to get the stall horn because of the increased load on the airplane which increases stall speed. But my airspeed indicator was bouncing all over the place so I recovered.

All right, since it’s such a strong wind, how about some S Turns. These are 180’ turns done to either side of a road with the wind perpendicular to the road so that its effect can be seen in the rate of turn that you’d need to make equal semicircles on each side. For example, if you have a tailwind, your ground speed is higher, so you need a steeper turn so you don’t get blown away from the road. With a headwind, your ground speed is slower, so you have to draaaag out the turn so you’ll go an equal distance on the other side.

I tried to do 8’s on pylons, but hadn’t done the math to figure out the pivotal altitude, so I could tell it was a waste of time. Next time.

All right, now I was really getting a ride. The winds were clearly gusting and working against me. However, there was one thing I really needed to do before I went back. Can you guess? A stall.

So I did a power off stall, where you simulate that you’re on final for landing and you let the airplane get too slow as you continue to pitch up and run out of enough airspeed to maintain lift. Done. (Yay!) Time to go back.

What’s so great about the G1000 is the direct button. Press this and it shows you were home is. No one was in the pattern when I returned back to PKV, so I entered the pattern and did a pretty good short field landing. The next time I came around and did a go-around for practice. Then the last time the winds were now 070 at 14 gusting to 17. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I taxied back in, and believe it or not, my post flight showed no damage to the airplane. I couldn’t believe that I had logged 1.3 hrs. In a way, it seemed like a very long flight, but I didn’t do a whole heck of a lot. Couple more flights, with a lot more preparation and I think it’ll show a difference. I’m very impatient with myself to get this done, but I have to remind myself that I am basically completing the private, commercial and CFI training simultaneously. Although I’m progressing quickly, there are some things I just have to work on and through!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lest I get too cocky…

Old style steam gauges
For three days I’ve been practicing in the flight school’s 172SPs. It is probably the newest airplane I’ve ever flown in – a 2008 model with Garmin 1000. If you’re not familiar with general aviation aircraft, you might not know what a big deal this is. Even I, who has been flying “glass” for years, had a transition from the steam gauges to the fancy new avionics.

Training courtesy of the Kings
I even kind of pooh-poohed the suggestion that I complete a computer training course before using it. How hard could it be? Well, first there are some really handy tricks to this thing (dare I say that even the Citation X didn’t have?) and I’m just not used to flying glass. What little flying I’ve been doing has been in round gauges. Main benefit to that, my new instructor Eric says, no parallax. In other words, the instruments are in front of the person in the left seat. As an instructor I’ll sit in the right. Looking over to the gauges means that for me to fly at 80 knots, the gauge should look to me as if it’s reading 83. Not that big of a deal, but I like not having to worry about it. Of course I’ll get spoiled flying these and have to revert once I start flying other airplanes without the geewhiz avionics.

Barry and I being silly
Main disadvantage to it? Distraction. I went out to fly in the 172 on a windy afternoon in South Texas. It was bumpy and gusty and I kept having to spend a long time looking inside to confirm information – like my altitude. So here I am doing a steep turn – supposed to be a visual maneuver, yet I was leaning inside (to block out the sun – don’t see that in Cleveland) and then peering back outside. Inside, outside. Inside, outside. Inside…. Out….side…. Ugh. Made myself sick. Not a very productive first day. And embarrassing. But thanks to Barry's aerobatic instructionat AcroCamp, I knew what the signs were for impending upchucking and stopped the training before I actually did so.

Day 2. Better. This time I went over to Victoria Airport and flew their other 182. This airport has, gosh, a tower. It’s funny how you get used to your environment so quickly in some things, and not so much in others. For example, I’ve been flying around non-towered airports so much I’ve gotten used to just making calls in the blind – or to self announce. For example, “Calhoun County Airport, Skyhawk 578AC taxiing from parking to the departure end of 32 for right closed traffic, Calhoun County.” Saying the airport name twice lets everyone on the frequency know to which airport you refer, in case they missed it the first time. Many airports in the same area use the same UNICOM (Universal Communication) frequency, because there are only a few:
  • 122.700 MHz
  • 122.725 MHz
  • 122.800 MHz
  • 122.950 MHz
  • 122.975 MHz
  • 123.000 MHz
  • 123.050 MHz
  • 123.075 MHz

But now I had to figure out how to talk to Air Traffic Controllers without sounding like a total noob. I mean, I’ve been talking plenty to towers over the last decades, but not as a VFR pilot. “Victoria Ground, Cessna 248AC at Victoria Flyers with information Xray, requesting taxi for VFR departure (I forgot the direction mid stream, so I just said) to the practice area.” Luckily, or maybe not always so, the controllers learn what tail numbers are used for the tenant flight school and so are willing to cut a little slack. Then I had multiple runways to deal with, so I had to find my way to the correct one and call tower when I was ready. Additionally, this airport has no radar, so I had to call clear of the Class D airspace. Whew. I mean, I AM a pilot, right?

This time we went out and practiced some of the commercial maneuvers, like chandelles and lazy eights. Even though these are ground reference maneuvers, I still spent a lot of time inside because of 1. Haze and clouds obstructing the horizon, and 2. Lack of section lines.
Section lines in the United States are one mile (1.6 km) apart. When surveyors originally mapped an area, for instance a township, it was their custom to divide the new township into 36 1-square-mile sections. Property ownership often followed this layout. A section is a 1 by 1-mile (1.6 km) area. A half section is a 1/2-mile by 1-mile (1.6 km) area. Besides property ownership, roads often followed the section lines, and one can often still see them in modern maps, even in urban areas. In rural areas, these roads are called section roads, and often exist primarily so that farmers can access their land.
But this applies to us pilots in that usually these section lines are north-south and east-west. So you can align yourself with a cardinal heading and follow a section line so you don’t have to keep checking your compass to see if you’re on your heading. And since many maneuvers involve 180’ or 360’ turns, the section lines are a great guide. Unfortunately, they’re more common in Ohio than they are in this part of Texas.

Today, I flew back at Calhoun County. Not so early that we had to fight the morning fog, but before the clouds and wind kicked up. We flew 1.1hrs. That’s how big that window is. It was dead calm, so my landings, for a change, could become consistent. Remember how I said something were not so easy to get over? Landing a Citation X, for me anyway, was a challenge of restraint. I SO wanted to pull the nose up to flare, but you just don’t in the Ten (my most recent aircraft). All the way down I had to talk to myself and make my muscles keep the airplane in that same landing attitude all the way down to the ground.

Grass strip above hangars and to left of taxiway
This is not the way to land a 172. The idea is to flare such that you’re raising the nose of the aircraft gradually to slow the rate of descent. At this time the nose should be continuously raised until the airspeed bleeds off and the airplane touches down just above stall speed. I don’t do this easily. I even tell myself during the roundout, pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up… and still land a little flat. But after a few landings, I'd like to think I'd cured that residual habit. Previous flight instructors have let me get away with it, but Eric isn't going to because it gives me a smaller margin of error in cases of (which happens here a lot) a gust of wind drops you into the ground.

Why is this important? Well, today I landed on a grass strip for the first time. One of the maneuvers I’ve been practicing is a soft field landing, to be used anytime the runway is contaminated, or less that what you’d expect on a paved surface. I’ve also been practicing a short field landing, for when the runway is, you guessed it, short.

Soft field landings mean you keep the nose up even longer to prevent it from sinking into the mud, snow, whatever (as to not become a wheelbarrow), and short field means you keep your approach slower and get the airplane stopped sooner. It was a handful. "Simulating" these maneuvers to a regular runway is not the same as actually landing on a actual grass strip. The airplane really bounces around on the lumpy dirt. By then the wind had picked up, so I there was a kicking crosswind, too. By my sixth landing I’d pretty much gotten it down, so we taxied back onto the ramp, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

Eric got out and mentioned that we’d picked up a nice bouquet of weeds in the left gear, so I came around to take a picture. Unfortunately, as I fumbled for my phone, I forgot about the strut, and hit my forehead so hard I literally fell back on my rump. Oh, my fragile ego. So much for the grass strip victory. [Eric was very kind to share all of his head bumping stories with me while the redness left my face.] The weeds were blown away before I could take the picture but as you can see, even all of that bouncing on the grass strip didn't damage the gear.

So I guess tomorrow I'll try this flying thing again. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Today I fed a camel a bottle

Pinch me. Ouch. Okay, okay. I know this isn’t my life that I’m living right now, just someone who is sharing hers with me. For me it is so far removed from my normal existence it is kind of like a dream.

At the end of March I made what I considered my “last ditch” effort at getting my CFI rating. I know, I know, I’ve been working on this for months --- Remember, back in late 2009, early 2010, I had aspirations of having my CFI, CFII, MEI, and heck, even my helicopter instructor ratings by now? Ha. Life, unfortunately, kept getting in the way. So did weather.

As did reality. I will blog shortly with that whole story, but I wanted to update you with what’s going on right now. Only because I can more put it into context now that I’ve had a year’s experience with General Aviation (GA). Or, at least, six months. This next month is going to be an immersion effort. So now that I’m on my very last LAST ditch effort, I hope to share with you a bit more about it now that I’m gaining familiarity with GA. I got to see a whole ‘nother side to GA today. Seriously. A week ago today I was recovering from my long drive back from Florida, where I attended Sun n Fun. A day later I got a phone call from Dianna Stanger, a Girls With Wings role model featured in this month’s newsletter.

A lot of the bios I get for the website are for women I’ve never met, including Dianna. She wrote a great bio (you should read it!), but we’ve only communicated via email and a few phone calls as she has promoted GWW at her events introducing people in the community (especially kids) to aviation. Recently she introduced 98 girls and women to flying in her Eurocopter EC120 and won the “Most Dedicated Female Pilot in the World” title in the 2011 Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week.

BTW I’m meeting her friend Jasmine tomorrow. She invited volunteers of local non-profit organizations to come to the airport for a flight. She won the “Most Creative Aviation Advocate” title from WOAW. We’re going to work on getting sponsors for the Racing Aces, the AirRace Classic team Dianna has formed to help raise money for Girls With Wings.

Dianna's Husky
Back to the phone call. Dianna asked me if I was able to complete my CFI, as I had sworn to do before I left Alabama and Florida to come back to Cleveland. No, I hadn’t, and looking at Cleveland's 10 day weather forecast for practicing what I had learned in Jasper, AL, did not look encouraging. Rain, more rain, and for a change of pace, thunderstorms. So, she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“Come down here (to Port Lavaca, TX) and I give you a place to stay. You can fly my airplanes, teach at my flight school (with that brand new Advanced Ground Instructor certificate in my pocket) and get that CFI knocked out.” I was literally speechless.

I called my friend Sara in Alabama, who had been teaching me at her flight school and who I had expected to go back to. She said, “Do it, girl! You know the maneuvers (she and her husband Glen taught me well); all you need to do is get out there and practice them! And the best way to learn that CFI stuff is to teach it! What a great opportunity!” Sara talks in exclamation points, especially about aviation.

All I needed to do, in a few days time, was to prepare myself to leave town for a month. Not easy when you’ve just been gone for more than two weeks, and have a small business to run. Besides rescheduling pretty much the whole month of April (and some of May), I had a day long Girl Scout/NASA event to attend. And a car to unpack and repack. And two cats who I will miss terribly needed a home. But I made it happen. Two loooong driving days later…

I show up at the Wolf Point Ranch. I had received instructions on how to enter the ranch and park in their garage, but it still came as a surprise when I pulled up to a hangar and pulled in behind a sweet Benz, which was parked behind said Eurocopter mentioned above. Any doubts I might have had about this being a “real deal” quickly evaporated. My place to stay is an apartment in the hangar with a full gym next door (I’ve been needing an excuse to get back into shape).

They're really quite friendly
This morning I met Dianna and her husband Al for a walk. For the record, their two Giant Schnauzers make horrible guard dogs. We strolled past their newest camel (they have three), the rabbit cages and the Watusi Cattle, sheep and horses. Lots and lots of horses. This is an amazing place to stroll around in the early morning hours.

Rhinos prevent hot cyclics
The walk was nice, but it was even better when Dianna told me to meet her in an hour on the helicopter pad. She ran her errands today. In. Her. Helicopter. Being a helicopter pilot myself, I was amazed at how fast the before start checklist was on this thing. The blades were turning within a couple of minutes. The interior hardly resembled the Huey I was used to. Heck, Dianna was wearing white shorts and sandals so I had a feeling this was not going to be reliving my Viet-Nam-era-aircraft-flying, army-green-nomex-flight-suit-wearing experience. It was a beautiful day for flying.

Dianna's Premier Jet
First we flew to the airport, KPVK. She had ordered wheel pants for the Husky she’s flying in the AirRace Classic which we were picking up to fly over to her mechanic. But first I met the crowd, including Eric, my new flight instructor. I also got a peek at her WACO and her Premier. Yes, hers. And a really sweet Airstream Camper that she had customized for her when she did her horse shows (well, I'm into camping, too, you know!). At this point, I don’t care who you are. You can play it as cool as you want but you, even you, would be green with envy at this point.

Note the GWW Keychain!
We got back in the helicopter and flew across to the mechanic’s place. He’s got a 2600 foot grass strip where he hosts fly-ins every summer and restores Stearmans (I have a not so secret goal of getting rides in ALL of these other aircraft before I leave). Here I saw Dianna’s Husky with its amazing panel. I've seen jets without all of these toys. And this is a taildragger! Fellow racers: you should be nervous. Dianna aims to win. I’ve only just met her and she seems the determined kind.

Helicopter Parking in the Grass
Then we flew on over for lunch. Embarrassed, I told Dianna that I hadn’t brought my wallet for us to eat out, but she said if we ate at the Shellfish that would be ok. As we approached the restaurant, she said “our” restaurant. Yup. Our. We landed right outside the parking lot, and again, I don’t care who you are. You get out of a HELICOPTER and walk toward a restaurant with a crowd on the deck watching your arrival and not strut your stuff. Go ahead, just try. As one of the observers remarked, “THAT’S the way to make an entrance.”

Wolf Point Ranch
And we flew back to the ranch. I was SO impressed with that helicopter. And Dianna’s flying skills. [She flies that helicopter with a comfort level similar to that which most folks drive cars.] And especially her generosity. Part of my deal with her is that I’ll be flying discovery flights for her – which I am so excited about. This is my chance to totally immerse myself in General Aviation. It’s sometimes hard for folks to understand that I have gone from the military to the airlines with so little exposure to flight schools, and flying for fun, flying different aircraft and introducing people to aviation – by flying them – that I expect this to be an amazing month. And challenging. I’ve still got a lot to learn. And a checkride to take!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sun n Fun n Fun n More Fun

Well, I'm back in town, if only for a little while. I drove back from Florida on Sunday and Monday - did you know that Lakeland, FL, to Lakewood, OH, is over 1000 miles and more than 18 hours of driving time? Yikes. I was so ready to get out of that car!

I was returning from the Sun n Fun Fly-in, also known as "Spring Break for Pilots." I first went to this airshow (founded in 1974) two years ago which I blogged about - mostly about Arty's journey there - and also about the folks I got to meet there. That's always the best part of this event, getting to know people that I have met and/or stay in touch with only via cyberspace. Though the Lakeland Airport is open year round, the most activity at this airport is definitely seen during the Fly-in taking place in either March or April.

Although I could barely afford the time or the money to attend the event, I was urged by several people behind the scenes that I should go to reconnect with folks I don't touch base with at Oshkosh (EAA AirVenture) in Wisconsin. Like Dave Allen, or @DaveFlys on twitter. Dave terms himself "The most underutilized guy in aviation social media," but I just think of him as one of the most helpful and knowledgeable guy about aviation, [being] social, and media. He urged me to come on down months ago, and then as circumstances were conspiring against me, convinced me again. As I tweeted a few days before the show: "I think the gods are telling me to take off my calendar." Dave tweeted back "@ Well I'm telling you to leave it there. That is all."

I was in Alabama training for my CFI - Certified Flight Instructor - and hoped that I could knock it out before SnF. Weather, however, was not cooperating. I didn't get to fly as much as hoped and it soon became clear that I would need to return, either after SnF or even later in the month. Additionally, my 13 year old car was making this odd noise. It almost sounded as though I needed to shift but I drive an automatic. It was some noise that increased in pitch as I accelerated, though I was at a loss to know what it was. Luckily, the friends doing my flight training also knew a reliable mechanic, who agreed to bring my car in and check it out. His determination, the right front wheel bearings. He worked on it til 7pm the night before I'd hoped to leave. Third, the friend I was going to stay with in Tampa, not far from Lakeland, received orders to deploy to Bahrain. Sigh. But then Dave offered his spare tent. Problems solved!

Unfortunately, the day that I was driving the 600mi/12 hr trip from Jasper, AL, to SnF was the day that Lakeland was hit by a tornado. According to this article, "Tornado sweeps through Sun 'n Fun and leaves destruction in its wake" on, battering the exhibition site and causing damage to around 70 aircraft - many of which were written off.

A Cessna 172 dumped on top of a Beech Bonanza by the tornado.
Anything loose was whipped in to the air, tie-downs were largely ineffectual, the sandy soil moistened - about 6in of rain fell in several hours. Flooding occurred in some parts, with hail and torrential precipitation hitting the area.

Aircraft large and small were affected. A Cessna Grand Caravan was dumped on its back, a Douglas DC-3 moved about 30m (100ft), Lockwoods and Rans display exhibitions were annihilated, and had there been more visiting aircraft on the field, the devastation would have been far worse. 

On that day I had stopped about four hours out and called Dave, who assured me the weather would clear up by the time I got there. But as I got closer I saw storm damage, it was still raining, and frankly, it was starting to get dark. I was not looking forward to stumbling around in the mud trying to set up a tent (frankly, I was a little grumpy after a 4am wakeup). Thankfully, the next hotel I saw was a Hampton Inn. And they had rooms! So I got a good night's sleep in preparation for going in early for the cleanup.

But alas, my car had other plans. Now, whatever was making the noise in my car was not fixed by the mechanic. He repacked the wheel bearings but the sound was still there. I took comfort in the fact that he searched high and low to find the source and couldn't. So I reasonably sure I was safe. Then, as I was departing the hotel in the early morning hours I heard that screeching noise your brakes make when the pads are gone. Just in case, I got out and looked around the car to see if, I don't know, I was dragging a piece of aluminum siding. Nope. So at the next light, the sound stopped as I braked. Then it came back. And went away. Finally, it didn't go away and I started contemplating the damage I could be doing to my car as I practiced the "denial method" of car repair. Warped rotors, maybe fire, etc. I looked to my right and saw a Midas offering free brake inspections. Four hours and four hundred dollars later I was back on my way to SnF. Boy, was I thankful this hadn't happened on all of those back country roads I had been on the last couple of weeks!

So Dave marshaled me in to the camping area, where I got to meet his wife, Heather, and their four beautiful children. A woman in the campsite next to them looked at my GWW t-shirt and said, "hey, I just bought something for my granddaughter with that logo!" So I got to pitch the company to a bunch of folks there, showing off the Penelope Pilot book and other offerings from the Pilot Shop. One of the first people I hooked up with on the airshow grounds was Rob Riggen, owner of Flying High Coffee, who is donating a portion of his profits to the Girls With Wings Scholarship.

I spent a lot of time at Sun n Fun Radio, hanging with @SnFRadioDave, who interviews a variety of interesting pilots, builders, aviation enthusiasts, and SUN 'n FUN exhibitors, sponsors & advertisers, as well as weather updates, traffic reports and major news stories, streamed live on Also there, Rod Rakic of myTransponder, which makes aviation more social: "Join the community and connect with fellow pilots, aircrews, maintainers, controllers, instructors, owners, and enthusiasts."

Plus, I spent time with @Juliewillfly, @TwiliteFlyer, @PilotDamon, @SASadvantage, @Holdridge, @Pilot2b, @AceAirSpeed, @efha_president, @larryoverstreet, @davidfieldsNWA and more (please forgive me if I've neglected to mention you personally)!  Everything from the morning balloon launch from the nighttime airshow as seen from the announcer's stand (thank you, Walt!) was just top notch. I am so glad I was talked into going. What an amazing trip.

And of course, all of this originated with a presentation I did in Mobile, AL, which will be the terminus of this year's AirRace Classic. The picture here is two girls who chose to do their collage with the photo from the AOPA article on Girls With Wings taking center stage (the logo is in the lower left and Penelope is in the lower right!). Terry Carbonell, the organizer of a series of events for the Girls Club of Mobile leading up to the AirRace, has done an incredible job educating these girls about flying. I am proud to take part in her efforts.

Clearly, at the end of this 3000 mile trip, I am exhausted and overwhelmed with unanswered emails and snail mail. My main priority has to be getting back into the air so I can finish my rating. Problem is, I live in Cleveland. Did I really think the weather was going to be any more cooperative here?!?