Back in the Saddle

It’s been too long since I’ve flown from the left seat, and even longer since I’ve written about it. That’s the way things have progressed, and I can only look forward. Right?

Since last post, I’ve done a lot of training, flown a few dual cross countries, soloed a few more times (not cross country), and had two significant learning experiences with Captain Glickman – an aborted takeoff on a wet grass strip that almost had us in the trees, and an IFR night flight into a thunderstorm. Yes, significant learning experiences.

At some point I may take the time to fill in the blanks (and share those two stories), but for now I need to focus on moving forward. And upward!

I hardly flew over the Winter, and then as Spring approached, it seemed like every time I had a lesson scheduled, the wind was 20 something, gusting to 30 something. For months, it had been like this. Then on a beautiful day, both planes at SCH didn’t pass my preflight inspection. Lovely. That was completely discouraging. So I just sat here waiting for something to happen. I don’t know what I was waiting for.

It seems that I’m at the point where a lot of aviation students stall (pun intended) in their training. Just at the point when it’s time to make that first solo cross country flight. For whatever reasons, hesitations, confidence issues, etc., it’s a stall.

No one pushed me to continue. My flying community has been quiet. My EAA boys telling me “you’ll finish up in the Spring”. I think I was waiting for someone to push me forward, even though I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I had to come around to my own approach to this endeavor. What do I really want to do?

I want to fly. I know that. I needed to remind myself that I want to fly from the left seat. Not just in the right seat of the N7292J. I want the left seat, and someday I want to land on the water. It’s a silly dream, but it’s my dream.

I’ve drawn a line in the sand, and I’m moving forward. I’m back over at 5B2 with my original instructor, who I think may be a better fit now that I have more experience behind the yoke. It’s time to fill in the blanks (I feel like I have a LOT of blanks), and I think he’s the best fit for doing just that. My tactic now is to just move forward as aggressively as I can afford (financially and work-time wise) – hoping to get into the training plane at least twice a week.

I took to the sky this morning in an older C172, with Dale, my original instructor at 5B2. Getting to know a new plane is fun, and I like the N3688L. Some of the instruments threw me off a bit (there’s no blue on the attitude indicator), but as Dale says, “there’s plenty of blue outside”. It’s a different type of training, and it’s what I need.

Yes, I’m still ground shy. Yes, I still have issues announcing in uncontrolled airspace (I think I’m one of the few students that prefers a towered airport). Yes, runway 23 seems so short and everything happens so fast at 5B2 for me. Dale worked really well with me on all of this.

There’s no GPS in the plane, so I need to rely on what I know about where I am.  I need to look outside more, and rely less on the instruments. Look at the map before I go anywhere. I see all of this as a good thing at this point of my training.

I had a great morning in the sky. A few power-off stalls, 360 turns, a nice flight over my favorite lake, and then touch and gos, focusing on the visual reference for the right pitch. It’s a different plane, so it’s a different picture, but my landings were just a bit bumpy. Oh, and yes, he pulled the throttle for a simulated engine out right over a grass strip that I couldn’t even make out as a runway. I would have picked any one of the many fields that we were over. Yes, time to learn all of this all over again.

Happy to be back behind the yoke. Happy to be in the cockpit with Dale. I think he’s the right man for the job right now. And the job is for me to move forward.

Happy landings!

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Island Hopping

Cape Cod, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Long Island. That’s what we’ve been up to this Summer!

Lots of flying in the Little Plane with Captain Glickman. What I’ve learned? With all of this island hopping, it’s really important to know where that life vest is. I’m thrilled that Captain Glickman is very safety conscious – and as soon as we near the water, he makes sure that the life vests are nearby.

Cape Cod

It as been a beautiful Summer of flying, and on every journey I learn something. We’ve been using the MyFlightBook app on the iPhone to track our flights, and I’ve been able to see where I’ve deviated from our course. Learning to stay on course has been one of the most fun parts of flying. I’ve been able to “fly” for a while now — it’s landing the plane that’s the hard part!

Captain Glickman is a stickler with the instruments — stay on course, stay at altitude, stay level. I must say that it’s good practice, and I’m so lucky to have all of this extra time (even if I can’t log it) flying.

Flying over the water has been an interesting learning experience. As the weather has varied, I’ve been able to see the difference in the difficulty in keeping wings level out over the open water. Flying where JFK Jr went down, it was easy to see how he ended up going down. Yes, it makes me want to get my IFR certification when the time comes.

The Lighthouse at Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard

One highlight of the recent island hopping was flying left seat from 5B2 to KALB, handling the radio for the first time in the Little Plane, and flying into Class C airspace and landing at Albany INTERNATIONAL Airport! Once we landed on the runway, the tower remarked “no delay”, which Captain Glickman had to reiterate so that I’d taxi faster and get us off the active runway. Yes, that was a commercial jet coming in behind us!

With all of these journeys, I become more comfortable with longer flights, and staying level and on course. I’ve also taken advantage of the time to hone my pilotage skills. Using the charts and following along with the landscape below. That’s going to become extremely important in the next month, as I’m going to have to start leaving the pattern, and flying solo cross countries. I want to be the kind of pilot that can rely on pilotage, not just a GPS. I want to be as safe and aware as I possibly can be.

Captain Glickman and the N7292J at Katama Beach, MV

I am so lucky to have a magnificent mentor, who has taken the time to teach me so many things. Even when it’s just because we’re flying to Block Island for dinner. Yes, I finally made it to Block Island.

Thank you, Captain Glickman, for teaching me something new every time we take a trip in the N729J! I can’t think of a better way to spend my Summer! Maybe next Summer I can island hop in my own plane? Maybe even a splash and dash? Yes!

Happy landings!

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Stage I Check Ride(s)

If you’ve worked on getting your private pilot license, you know all about those check rides. Well, I had one – two, actually. Stage I check rides.

I had soloed, and the next lesson was to be a stage check with another instructor. Choosing Dave Willig – another seasoned pilot – I took to the skies. Nervous. Me. Very nervous. I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t know Dave at all, because it was a check ride, or because the winds were a bit squirrelly, but I was a bit out of sorts. Take offs are always good with me, but having Dave correct my radio announcements (his methods were different than my instructor’s) made me even more skittish. Yes. Me skittish.

Up in the sky and going through maneuvers. Power on and power off stalls. As many times as I went through them in my head and wrote down the procedure, as soon as we got up there I needed reminders. Not going well.

Then, as the wind was blowing us around, and it was time to do steep turns, I got extremely dizzy and even more out of sorts. This check ride was NOT going well. I let Dave know that I wasn’t feeling well, and asked if we could head back to the airport, and finish the second half of the check ride in another lesson.

Heading back to the airport, there’s a strong crosswind and I’m feeling incompetent and miserably nauseated. Great. Brought the plane in, but just felt like crap about the entire check. So … it’s back to Steve for another lesson before I do another check ride. Up and out in the practice area doing stalls, and then lots of landings. Feeling better about everything. Much better.

Scheduled another check ride with Dave and then took the time to find and review power-on and power-off stall videos on YouTube. Found the perfect videos and watched them over and over and over again. Thanks, I needed that! I went through those maneuvers in my sleep too – like an athlete. When I felt it in my imagination, I knew I had them down.

The next check ride with Dave went perfectly, and I felt comfortable throughout the maneuvers as well as the takeoffs and landings. It’s going to take a lot of visualizations throughout the rest of my training to get me through these stage checks. But they work. Thanks to ExpertVillage for hosting those videos! Huge help.

Stage II, here I come!

Happy landings!

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First Solo Flight in the N55422

In the words of Captain Glickman, “A year ago she came to me and said, “I’m afraid of flying”, and look at her now!”

Those very words caught on video, as he approached the N55422 on Friday afternoon, June 10th, alongside my instructor, Captain Davies. Where was I? In the plane. By myself.

Yes. I soloed!

I’m finding it hard to find the right words to express the experience. Part of me doesn’t want to find the words. Part of me doesn’t want to share this.

All day on Thursday, I was checking the TAFs, and the weather was looking good. First thing Friday morning, I checked Aeroweather on my phone, and rejoiced. Winds and cloud cover looked good. The skies weren’t clear, but I kept peeking at the radar and it looked like things were going to clear up.

Me and my instructor, Captain Davies

As the day progressed, the skies cleared. As I was driving to the airport, I checked the AWOS and where was that 5 knot wind heading? Right down the runway. Yes. Perfect conditions. Well, this might be it, I thought.

As I arrived at SCH, I saw the N7292J taxiing to the FBO. Here was Captain Glickman to watch and listen, just in case today was the day. Lovely to have you here, sir!

He joined me as I headed out to preflight the N55422. Lucky he was with me, as he noticed first the bright green tape over the engine compartment (where I’d need to get in and check the oil). Great. What was this? He got assistance from the ground crew, who came out and tried to screw the hatch closed without success, and they ended up removing the cowl cover completely. This was

A delay turns into a lesson

actually very cool, and as we were waiting, my instructor gave me a tour of the powerplant. All this time I’m thinking, “yeah, it figures I want to get out there and solo and something is standing in the way”. Crap.

Hallelujah in my head when the guys come back out with the cowl cover and attach it back to the plane. Yes, the oil was checked, and the sump drained. And then it was time to go. Yes, there’s still enough time in the day to solo. I hope …

At least two other aircraft in the pattern as we go up and we are sent RIGHT to avoid the traffic. No! Not right! I want to go left! Coming in for the landing, I’ve got the controls. Trying to get over that center line (I tend to drift to the left of center), and we’re down and back up again. Captain Davies getting me to aim to the right of the center line so that I might just land on the center line. Yes. Brilliant!

5 takeoffs and landings and somewhere in there, Captain Davies has me exit the active runway and go around via the taxiway. Explaining to me that if/when I solo, I’ll need to exit the active runway and use the taxiway to go back. Well, after those 5 takeoffs and landings, Captain Davies requests clearance to taxi to base of the tower. Oh, dear. We’ve never done that before.

Once we’re there, he says “you don’t need me anymore” or something along those lines, and opens the door – giving me minimal instruction regarding how many times I should be landing, and what to do if I bounce more than once.  If the second bounce is worse than the first, do a go-around. And if I need him, he’ll be in the tower. “What if I have questions?”, I ask. “You can ask them when you get back”, he says. Suddenly my endorsement is on my paperwork, he has my log book in hand, and he’s heading out the door. “No need to do another runup”, were the last words I heard. Door closed and latched.

Taking off in the N55422 from SCH

“Schenectady Ground, this is N55422 at the base of the Tower, ready to taxi”. There wasn’t a bit of nervousness. It was just me and the plane. Taxied out there with confidence, held at the hold short line, switched over to the Tower frequency. “Schenectady Tower, this is 55422 ready for takeoff”. Handled the radio perfectly, turned on to runway 4 and gave her full power. Yes, she lifted sooner without my instructor in the right seat. Yes, I laughed out loud. Yes, it was thrilling. I was in complete control, and felt so comfortable in every way. Everything felt right, and I was right where I was meant to be.

Climbed very quickly and turned a bit too soon (before the end of the runway), but found my place in the pattern just fine. Every step of the way, every move was just natural. Every checklist just going through my head like it was supposed to.

First attempt at landing: Approach was perfect, but I bounced once, and then the second bounce was bigger than the next, so full power immediately, 10 degrees of flaps up, carb heat in, and level flight until the speed is there and then climb and do it again. Not a good start, but that didn’t bother me at all. I knew I could do this. Just keep going and feel it more next time.

First landing: Approach was good – a bit to the left of center as usual, but the landing was perfect. I didn’t think too much, I just felt it. Found the right moment to change my focus from where I was landing to down the runway. And it felt so magnificently beautiful to land that plane for the first time on my own. Made my heart sing.

Pilots talk about how they are one with their aircraft. I know what they mean now. I felt it.

Second landing: At this point, I was just so happy. I know I was laughing out loud, and feeling the joy of the moment – all the time paying careful attention to my duties as PIC. It was my plane and I was flying and I was happy and it was glorious. Approach was good – getting closer to the center line, but then came the bounce. Let her settle and keep calm, and she just settled down on the runway and we were good. We. Yes, I felt it.

Climbing into the pattern at SCH

At some point there was another aircraft in the pattern, and I alerted the tower when I had the other traffic in sight. Took great care to leave enough space between us.

Third landing: All I could think was that if I nail this one, I’ll have to

taxi back over to the tower and call it a day. Oh, I didn’t want it to end! Coming in on final and everything looking good. Setting up for a good landing and yes, it was perfect. Even closer to the center line. Slow on the brakes and exit the active runway and hold for instructions. Clear to taxi back to the parking area. My work was done.

Post-solo portrait with the N55422

Brought the N55422 back to her parking spot and was greeted by Captains Glickman and Davies, who filmed a little post-solo video (watch the video). Watching it now, it seems that I wasn’t that excited – a quiet thrill, perhaps.

It didn’t really hit me until a bit later that evening. Worth springing for a damn good bottle of champagne. The chance to celebrate with friends and family. A gorgeous flower arrangement from Captain Glickman.

All weekend I’ve held on to these feelings. Going through different stages. Even after all of these words, I don’t feel like I have the right words.

This is just one part of this journey. I feel like yes, I can be a pilot. And, I can make this dream come true.

Thank you to everyone who has wished me well along my way, and who gets as excited as I do about my achievements on my journey to become a pilot.

Special thanks to my co-pilot Captain Glickman, my instructor Captain Davies, my EAA602 boys (especially Captains Sterling, Devine and Cowper), my 99s women, Captains Haddad, Taber, Cusack, Powell, Amedan, Hamilton, and every other pilot who has inspired me!

Most special thanks to my sister. She was the start of all of this. And her shirt was the one they cut for my wings.

Happy landings!

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10 Takeoffs, 10 Landings

Yes, it’s always good when the number of takeoffs equal the number of landings.

On Tuesday, June 7th, I logged 1.1 hours and 10 takeoffs and landings. Over and over again. In the pattern, getting used to every checklist, every maneuver, and trying to manage the crosswind. I was extremely nervous that Tuesday was going to be the big day (that solo was right around the corner), and the wind just wasn’t in my favor.

I was grateful for that wind. I needed the lesson to land over and over and over again. Needed to learn to handle everything at once – heading, altitude, airspeed, other traffic, radio, pitch, carb heat, flaps, descent rate. After 10 times I felt like maybe I was ready to solo now.

As I was heading out to my car after that lesson, I phoned Captain Glickman to let him know how the lesson was. Unbeknownst to me, he was at the airport watching the entire time! Thinking that it might have been the big day, he showed up and tucked the Little Plane off to the side so I wouldn’t know he was there. Surprising me by my car after my lesson, he let me know that he had watched everything, and listened in on his hand-held radio. It was so nice to know that he was as excited about the possibility as I was, and that he was there to support me.

From that moment on, every dream I had I was flying by myself in the N55422. Taking off and flying to wherever I wanted to go. Every leg of the pattern was replayed over, and over again in my dreams. Every setting, everything. It’s like I had the plane right there with me every night.

I know that athletes play their sports in their dreams and hone their skills. I was honing mine for sure!

Happy landings!

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5B2:NY1:MVY and Back Home Again!

Pancake breakfast at NY1

What a weekend!

First, we had pancake breakfast with the Northeast Pilots Group at NY1. I flew the N7292J there (from the right seat), but Captain Glickman had to take over when we got close to the airport. No tower and a TON of traffic made me very nervous. That, and the grass strip.

Beautiful landing, of course, by Captain Glickman, and then a fantastic show of 2 vintage warbirds taking off one right after the next – and one with smoke ON! Gorgeous!

Had a lovely breakfast and had the opportunity to chat with some of my favorite pilots, including Captain Taber, Roger and his family from my EAA602 chapter, and Barbara (who has a Lake!) from my 99s chapter. Poking around the planes lined up on the grass, I fell in love with the Piper Tri Pacer. It just looked like the perfect plane for me. Suddenly I could see myself in this plane. Yes, my kid is starting college in September, and I’m thinking about buying myself a plane. Oh, dear.

After much contemplation, I decided that I would fly left seat in the N7292J on our flight to Martha’s Vineyard (our little weekend getaway), and I climbed in. Ready to go. My very first soft field taxi, and very first soft field take-off! It’s a shame that Captain Glickman is not a CFI, because he’s the best instructor that I’ve had. It was great fun taking off from the field, and although I didn’t do a perfect takeoff (I didn’t fly level long enough), I got us up and out, and know exactly what to do next time!

Martha's Vineyard

Wonderful flight to MVY, and glorious views. I held altitude most of the time, and the Captain was confident in my flying abilities. Made me feel good. I didn’t work the radio at all (he needs to get that button fixed!), and I still need to do that at some point on one of our trips. Soon.

When it came time to land, he had to help me out. Bit of a crosswind, and I just don’t have enough experience landing the Cherokee. It doesn’t get to the ground the same way as the C172. But I should know that by now and compensate. I will. I’ll get there!

Me and Captain Glickman on the swing at Alley's

Gorgeous weekend on the island, and just what I needed. A rest away from home. We spent a bit too much time in the sun on Sunday, and flew home a bit like lobsters, but home all the same. I flew right seat on the way home, but Captain Glickman told me I was landing the plane. Same issues as before, and not flaring at the right time. He had to come to my rescue and rescue his little plane. Thank you, Captain. I’ll get there.

I need an hour of instruction in the pattern with the N7292J, and Captain Glickman. And I need a ton of aloe for this sunburn.

All in all, a glorious weekend of flying in the Little Plane. Even if she’s not a Tri Pacer …

Happy landings!

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Requesting the Option: SCH

The N55422 on the ground at SCH

On Friday, June 3rd, I took to the sky with Captain Davies out of SCH to practice takeoffs and landings. Winds gusting to 23 knots or so, I was still going up and getting instruction and landing, landing, landing!

It was a beautiful day, although windy, and I completed my pre-flight, got the plane fueled up, and got into my baby with a little bit of confidence. Yes. Back in the left seat. A good day.

Taxied her out and did the runup, and was feeling good. Lined up on the runway (after holding for two planes coming in), and ready to go. Still a bit uncomfortable on the radio, but I’m getting better.

Nice takeoff, and right (well, left actually) into the pattern. Around and land, around and land, around and land. Yeah. Very gusty, and Captain Davies helped me out a few times setting up for a few good slips into landing. Getting a feel for the right speeds, the right pitch, the right time to flare on the landing.

N55422 on final requesting the option. Taking the option and taking to the skies again! At one point we switched runways (the wind was variable) and came in right pattern to runway 4. At that point, my tummy was doing too many flips from being bounced around – a bit of wind shear – and I called it a day. 7 takeoffs and 7 landings.

Using MyFightBook on my iPhone, I managed to track my flight and upload it here. Something funky happened and it didn’t capture all 7 landings, but I could see my pattern work (and laugh at how off I was).

As we were going over the flight back in the office, Captain Davies noted that we had successfully completed the “aviation decision making” check box, as we made the decision not to solo on a day that was that windy. WHAT? I was going to SOLO? Are you kidding me?

Apparently it is time. I don’t know when exactly, but sometime soon is my guess. I completed the pre-solo written exam last month, so I suppose it’s inevitable, right?

I’m not sure I’m ready. Worried about the radio more than anything else. But I think I can bring that bird back down to the ground safely. I think I can.

Captain Davies told me to bring that shirt with me from now on. You know what that means …

Happy landings!

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