29R - Nothing but blue skies...

Weather: KBJC 242147Z 18008KT 60SM SKC 07/M13 A2997

There is a special joy you get when flying someone around. It may be the fun in sharing this amazing experience of flying. It may be the fun in exhibiting your newfound piloting skill. Whatever it is, it was great to get to take my parents up for a flight. They are the first family/friends I have had a chance to take in the sky. They came down from Seattle to visit for Thanksgiving weekend and we finally got the weather to cooperate on Saturday for a flight around the Boulder area.

Since the weather was bad on Friday, my usual instructor set me up with another instructor who was free and we flew out of BJC. We flew in 734QD which is a 180hp plane, but sadly doesn't have plugs for headsets in the back seat; so that made communications a bit more difficult and they didn't get to hear all the tower chatter and fun like that. Fortunately they were both good sports about it and didn't seem to mind.

Our flight took us north to the practice area for some steep turns. After we completed those, we did what most people seem to refer as the floating pencil trick. I don't know if there is a name for this move, but I described it in a previous post as being like the "vomit comet". We did 3-4 of these moves and I think my dad liked it, and I knew my mom probably wouldn't. I checked with her each time before we did the move, but I had a feeling she would have rather told me to stop.

After these moves, we headed to the Boulder airport to show my parents where I have been flying lately. We diverted to the west around the Longmont airport being that it was the weekend and there is heavy skydiving activity there. As we passed to the west, we heard them call on the radio that they were dropping some jumpers as we were passing by.

One stop and go at Boulder and we were on our way back to BJC. Outside of making my mom sick, which she told me after we were on the ground, I think they both really enjoyed the flight. I couldn't have been happier to take them up. I can't wait to do it again once I have my license.

Thanks for the flight Mom and Dad!

Solo #3

Weather: KBJC 152045Z VRB03KT 40SM SCT120 BKN200 14/M08 A3005

The feeling of flying with just me in the plane has yet to get old. Not even close. At certain moments during the flight I remember it's just me up there and get a quick swell of excitement. It is additionally satisfying to think for a second that you are the only one in the plane, have a brief moment of concern thinking that you don't have your instructor there to help you out, and then realize that you know what to do in most situations if something catches you by surprise. The feeling of (semi) self sufficiency is very satisfying.

I flew out of Metro this time since I was sneaking out of work in the afternoon to get a flight in, and BJC is only about 5 minutes from my work. The lack of sunlight these days makes it much more difficult to fly during the week. I was practicing maneuvers on this flight, so my plan was to practice some steep turns, power-off stalls and slow flight. I got up the practice area and started with some steep turns. Those went well for not having worked on them in a little bit and I don't think I busted PTS so that was good. PTS stands for Practical Test Standards and those standards are what you have to meet to pass the FAA check ride. My power off stalls left a bit to be desired. They weren't terrible and I think they were passing, but they weren't very crisp. Even though I wasn't planning on it, I did a power-on stall as well before working into some slow flight. My slow flight went really well getting into the dirty configuration and then I recovered well too.

I had about 20 extra minutes when I was done and had planned on landing at Boulder if I had a chance. So I headed back to BDU for one touch and go before going back to BJC. The pattern was quiet as I approached the airport, and after I made my first call I heard my instructor make a call that she was landing as well. She met me at BJC before I started my flight, but was returning a plane from maintenance and was flying back to BDU with the plane just as I was coming in. She landed right before I did which was slightly unfortunate because she got to watch me slightly bounce my landing as I came in for my touch and go. It was an otherwise good landing and I departed straight to the east and headed back to Metro. My landing at Metro was a bit better and of course it felt great to finish another solo flight.

When you are in the air, you know you can fly the plane, but no flight is complete without a successful landing. It's a great feeling to get the plane back on the ground in one piece so you can tell everyone about about your solo flight. It was then back to work to check my email and wrap up the day before heading home.

I have one night flight, and one more flight to practice my navigation before the first cross-country flight. I can't wait.

Solo #2

Weather: KBJC 151947Z 00000KT 60SM FEW150 BKN220 12/M08 A3007

Any nervousness that was present the first time I soloed, is completely gone now. I have two scheduled solos before beginning my cross-country work. The first is to accomplish two things, practicing flying by myself and getting in the required three solo takeoff and landings at a tower controlled airport. Before getting a private pilots license, FAR part 61.109 states that a pilot must have three solo takeoffs and landings at a tower controlled airport. The second is to practice some maneuvers before starting cross-country flying.

Flying out of Boulder is perfect for this solo flight. My plan was to fly from Boulder-BDU to Metro-BJC, make my three landings and return to Boulder. I got to practice my pattern work at Boulder, fly into class D airspace, and request my landings. When I flew into Metro, I requested stop and goes and was sent to land on 29R. The wind was variable and someone requested a wind check right as I was coming in for landing. It was 170 at 06KT was perfect for practicing my crosswind landings. I was exceptionally proud of my self after that landing because I executed the best crosswind landing I have yet flown, and on my solo none the less. After I departed my first stop, I was switched over to 29L for the other two stop and goes. My landings were overall pretty good, but on my 2nd landing my airspeed got way to low and that was by far my worst landing. After my third landing I requested one touch and go to make up for my bad second landing.

I departed back to the north into some heavy traffic. It was a great day to fly and people were out enjoying the weather. It was good practice scanning for traffic and ended up avoiding a few planes in the short flight back. My arrival back at Boulder was perfectly timed and I entered downwind in the pattern right behind a full stop landing and in front of a guy doing touch and goes. The flight went really well over all. I couldn't ask for a whole lot more on my second solo. I just need to make sure I'm vigilant watching my airspeed when I come in for landings.

I'm looking forward to my next solo to practice maneuvers. I think I'll work on steep turns, power off stalls and probably some slow flight. I'll keep you posted.

Weather: KBJC 082346Z 28012KT 60SM FEW080 FEW200 18/M12 A3008

My last flight was to review navigation strategies as I prepare for some cross country flights. Temporarily forgetting how early the sun sets now that we are back on Standard time, I scheduled the flight for late afternoon, which is now early evening. When I took off, the sun had already dipped behind the mountains. Flying out of Boulder, being so much closer to the mountains, the sun was already well below the horizon. I took off of runway 26 which can be a rarity for Boulder because the prevailing runway is 8, even with a moderate tailwind.

I departed north over the practice area heading towards Cheyenne and Fort Collins. I tuned their frequencies into the two VORs to practice some navigation. VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range. What you need to know about VOR is that it's used to find direction based on the position of a VOR checkpoint on the ground. That's not even a good basic explanation but... I used the Fort Collins VOR and tuned in the DME (very similar to a VOR) to Greeley. Using the 2 signals, you can calculate your position on a map. So I practiced working with navigation and flew around a bit. Then turned back to the south and practiced some unusual attitude flight recovery.

This is to simulate what happens if you accidentally fly into a situation where you lose visual flight reference (clouds, etc.). So I put the foggles on and closed my eyes as my instructor flew the plane and tried to disorient me. The idea being to put the plane into unusual attitudes and then have me safely recover the plane to straight and level flight. It worked because my body felt like the plane was in a turn and diving, but the instruments showed us in a climbing turn. A nice lesson to always trust your instruments. We repeated with two other scenarios and then I tried to orient the plane to the best of my ability to fly us back to Boulder using the navs.

I did a good job getting us close to the airport and then took the foggles off for the last section of the flight. This is when I got to have a little fun with the plane. If you haven't heard of the Vomit Comet look it up. That experience can be slightly replicated in Cessna over the course of a few seconds. The second time we tried it, my flight bag floated up out of the back seat and hit me in the head. We put a pen on the top of the dashboard of the airplane and watched as it floated in the air for a few seconds. It is a really fun experience to get to feel like you are floating for a second, even if you're being held in the seat by the seatbelts.

By this time it had been completely dark for the past 30 minutes. I spotted the Boulder airport beacon and clicked the radio a few times to turn on the runway lights. It was fun playing with the runway lights for a bit, just changing their intensity from medium to high, back to medium, using the radio. It was the first time I had truly flown at night and never had done it at an uncontrolled airport.

This landing was a bit different because we entered final at a 45 degree angle about 3 miles out. If you don't fly the approach pattern normally, it is much more difficult to judge altitude and when to add flaps. I kept the plane nicely on the glide path and flew it straight in for landing. It was only until we nearly crossed the runway threshold that the landing light provided any help with identifying the runway. I don't really know what happened next because it was difficult to see being so dark out, but somehow I managed to completely grease the landing. It was really amazing. Especially for my first night landing. It was a good flight.

Next: Solo flight #2 from BDU to BJC. 3 Stop and goes at BJC and then return to BDU. I'm looking forward to it.

Weather: KBJC 302153Z 27018G27KT 60SM SCT080 SCT150 23/M07 A2994

I'm going to try flying out of the Airport in Boulder, CO (BDU) for a while. My flight school just opened a new FBO there and they operate one of the older 172s out of there so it's perfect for me. It is nearly the same distance from my house to the airport, but the distance that matters more is the distance from the airplane parking area to the end of the runway. This distance matters because airplane rental time is determined by how long you have the engine running in an airplane. So the time it takes to taxi from the end of the parking spot to the end of the runway is time spent not flying, but still paying. The taxi time at Metro is a lot more than Boulder so I'm hoping that will help.

That is not the only reason I'm flying out of Boulder for now. One, I've always wanted to try flying out of there. Also, I want to get some experience flying out of an uncontrolled airport. Rocky Mountain Metro Airport, where I have been flying recently, is class D airspace and has a control tower. This means the radio calls are different and the flying is different. So this will be good experience for me. I don't think I'll be flying exclusively out of Boulder, but I'll try a few flights out of there.

So I have made one flight out of Boulder so far. The weather was perfect but it made for some interesting flying since I was doing touch and goes and there were a decent number of planes in the pattern. I was learning how to do short field and soft field takeoffs and landings. Short field means short runway. Practicing short field takeoffs means practicing getting the plane in the air quickly. Short field landings are the exact opposite, trying to get the plane on the runway and stopped as quickly as possible. They are used to land or take off on a short runway or one where you might have to clear some sort of obstacle at either end of the runway.

Just the same as short field, soft field means soft runway. Maybe landing on grass, dirt or a potentially rough surface. The point of these is to keep the plane moving at all times in case the wheels might sink, and to land gently and keep the nose wheel raised as much as possible to prevent damage to the landing gear.

So nothing too special on this past flight but landing at Boulder means you have to make a call on the radios announcing each action that you take to keep all other aircraft informed of your location and intentions. This wasn't difficult but did take some discipline in remembering to announce everything.

Otherwise, Boulder is another beautiful airport to fly out of. The town of Boulder is known for it's beauty and flying there is no exception. Seeing the mountains and flatirons below is spectacular, in addition to all the fall color this time of year it's nothing short of amazing.

Weather: KBJC 282148Z 12004KT 15SM FEW200 22/M03 A3040

So my lack of recent posts is only an indication that I haven't been flying recently. I have made two flights since my last post. One more practice flight to get ready for my Stage 1 check and then finally the stage check.

The weather hasn't been conducive to flying, as anyone on the front range in Colorado will have noticed. The winds have been working recently and, of course, it snowed a week ago Sunday. But the past week has been very nice. I scheduled my practice flight on Monday and got a good hour in the air practicing slow flight, power on and off stalls and steep turns. I flew decently for not having flown in over 10 days and when I was done, I felt ready for my stage check.

Skip ahead two days and I have my stage check planned for that afternoon. The winds are calm and the sky is perfectly clear. I head into the office of the chief flight instructor and ace the oral portion of the check. So I'm starting on the right foot already for this check.

Now for some flying. I pre-flight the plane and we are scheduled for a northbound departure to the practice area. We get to the practice area and start with a power-off stall. I almost forgot to do my clearing turns before starting the maneuvers but remembered just in time. Fortunately that was the only thing I almost forgot to do. My stall went well and I set up for a power-on stall after that. I have been having trouble actually stalling the plane in the power-on stall, but for this one, I pitched the nose up aggressively and made sure I stalled it quickly. Power-on stalls are always kind of fun because they are easy to recover from, and the nose of the plane is pointed so high, all you see is blue sky out of the cockpit windows.

After that I completed slow flight and steep turns without problems and we were ready to head back to the airport. On the flight back we practice a simulated engine failure. There wasn't anything special about practicing this one, except we recovered the plane at what felt like well below 500' above the ground. General aviation planes are supposed to stay above 500' AGL when flying in the airspace we were in, so it was fun to fly lower than I normally get to. Although I didn't look at my altimeter specifically, we may have been close to 500' but I'm pretty sure we were below.

Anyhow, we came back to the airport, landed, and that was it. All in all a decent flight, but I felt good about knowing I was going to pass this check before the chief flight instructor had to tell me.

Weather: KBJC 171746Z 28020G27KT 30SM OVC070 15/M01 A2952

I’m in the process of
flying and studying to pass my stage one check. I can do the maneuvers and I know most of the knowledge, so as long as I don’t make any stupid mistakes, I should be fine. I have one more practice flight before setting up my stage check. That flight is scheduled for tonight but the weather doesn’t look like it’s going to work with me so I’m not to sure it’s going to happen.

Another note, I got to fly with another aspiring career pilot, Josh, last week. He flies with a different flight school out of the same airport (BJC) as I do. He’s working on completing his single engine commercial and so I got to ride along while he flew some lazy eights, chandelles, eights on pylons, and steep spirals. Besides getting to know what each of those maneuvers are, it was fun to sit in the right seat a just enjoy the flight. It made me realize how focused I am in cockpit when I’m flying. This is often due to the fact that I am always working on a maneuver when I’m flying, so I really don’t have time to just look out the window and enjoy. But I’m still at a stage where everything I do requires a great deal of focus, so I rarely spend my time looking out the window just for the sake of enjoying the view. I’m looking forward to getting to the point where some of the constant vigilance required to fly, has shifted into my subconscious. Not that I’ll stop paying attention, but it won’t require as much thought, I’ll just do it.

Anyhow, it was a good learning experience and fun to get to fly along with Josh. I really appreciate him letting me ride along and teaching me a few things.

I’ll let you know how the stage one check goes when I get there. In the mean time, keep your fingers crossed for blue skies and calm winds.


Weather: KBJC 051255Z 25004KT 60SM FEW080 SCT120 12/03 A2983

This is going to be very hard to describe to you, but I have completed my first solo flight. Amazing and incredible are two words that quickly come to mind. It was just such a fantastic feeling to be alone in the airplane, flying by yourself.

I scheduled the plane from 6.30 am to 8.30 for another morning flight. The weather was supposed to be good again so I was hopeful I would get to solo. I got to the airport early and preflighted the plane before my instructor got there. We quickly checked the weather, and although the winds weren't calm, it wasn't too bad. There was 4 knot crosswind reported, but it looked more calm than that.

The first part of the flight was business as usual. I was required to fly a few touch and goes to make sure the winds were alright and my instructor felt comfortable with me flying solo in the current conditions. There was a decent crosswind on the first touch and go but I flew it pretty well. My instructor even commented how well I adjusted to the winds and that was a nice vote of confidence if I was going to have to fly my solo with some wind. All three touch and goes were relatively uneventful and I flew them pretty well. So we landed the third time and I taxied back to parking to drop off my instructor.

I turned off the plane and started everything from the top with just me in the plane. My instructor had asked earlier if I was nervous. At the time I said no, but that I was sure I would be when I started the solo. The second I started to taxi, I could tell I was slightly nervous. To apply the brakes in most small planes, you press the top of the rudder pedal with the ball of your foot and toes. I could tell I was nervous, because although I was still relatively relaxed, when I applied some right brake to make a turn, my leg started shaking when I applied the pressure.

Being nervous but still relaxed apparently wasn't a bad combination. After I taxed to the runway and finished my run-up, I didn't notice any nerves after that. My first take-off was smooth, I flew the pattern without any problems and there wasn't very much wind on my first approach. The only problem with my first landing was a slow airspeed. I came in about 5 knots under recommended speed. The landing was nice though and by the time I came around for my second landing, the winds were calm with little to no crosswind.

You would expect that to result in a better landing but on my second landing, my airspeed was a little slower than the first time and when I flared, I set it down pretty hard. Not good. I've had worse landings, but that's when I decided to make four landings instead of just three. My third and fourth landings were much better, and my fourth was probably the best of the day. A great way to end my first solo. I taxied back to parking and I'm pretty sure I couldn't have had a bigger smile on my face.

I really wish there was a way I could describe the feeling of successfully completing your first solo. It is a major sense of accomplishment and leaves you with this euphoric feeling that is indescribable for me. Anyhow, thanks for listening.

Weather: KBJC 041249Z 26005KT 75SM SKC 12/M04 A2993

So I finally got the sign-off for flying my solo. I was scheduled for a morning flight at 7 am for my check ride. This is usually a good sign for calm winds and clear skies, but as we get further away from the summer, this isn't the case. This morning, the skies were beautifully clear, but the wind was up at 6.30 already. I was nervous, yet somehow remained surprisingly relaxed. This ended up translating into moderate flying. The crosswind was noticeable but not too strong. Unfortunately it was slightly erratic, although wasn't bad enough to change anything significantly.

My flying was just moderate. I really didn't fly that well, which made it sort of bittersweet, because I wish I was flying my best during the check ride. But a pass is a pass, and I'll take it at this point. I think the chief flight instructor just couldn't stand the thought of giving me another pre-solo and I don’t know what I would have done if I had to do it one more time. It took so long to get past this one.

My flying really wasn't that bad, but it definitely wasn't great either. I think he took a cumulative score over our last 3 flights. Anyhow, at this point, I'm just too excited about the thought of flying my solo that nothing is affecting me that much.

Weather: KBJC 272045Z 09007KT 50SM FEW080 23/M03 A3023

When people say that, how long do they mean? Today I was scheduled for my pre-solo. It was at 4 pm. It's now 4.50 pm. You're thinking I should be in the air flying right now and you're right. The plane I was scheduled in today, 5222D is overdue for some engine oil additive and because it doesn't have it, is non-complaint with some FAA Airworthiness Directive for Cessna 172N models. Other planes are out flying. I waited around for another plane that was scheduled to come back at 4.30, but it was still out when I left the airport. On top of that, the chief flight instructor's wife is very late term in a slightly at risk pregnancy and she had called minutes before saying something might happen with that. So he either had to leave at any second when the phone rang, or get in the air so he could come home as soon as he could. All signs basically telling me to wait for it. I'll keep you posted.

Weather: KBJC 182250Z 00000KT 30SM SCT070 25/M04 A3004

So this is just making me tired now. Another pre-solo down (kind of) and no closer to any a completion. Keep in mind I have really only flown in a slight crosswind once. Not that I haven’t been trying to schedule a flight when I would get one, but it just hasn’t worked out yet. I was scheduled again for yesterday at 5. Check the weather, things look good. Wind at 7 KTS but it’s straight down the runway. That works. Check ATIS before we start to taxi and the winds are calm. Even better. Get in the air, fly the pattern, kind of nervous but things are good. Flying final I feel a bit of a crosswind so I have to crab a bit but not much. Straighten back out with a few hundred yards to go. Right as cross over the top of the numbers, crosswind gust, I set the pane down and side load it pretty good. Crap. Not good.

We takeoff again and right as we do the tower comes on frequency and announces the latest weather. Of course the winds are now out of student range. So basically, we just practiced a few times in the pattern and some crosswind landings. The pre-solo part was basically instantly over. It was really good practice and I’m glad I finally got to fly in those conditions. But seriously, I need to get past this pre-solo. Basically right after I’m done I have the Stage 1 check. I know I can’t control the weather, but if I can get a flight scheduled in the morning when the winds are usually calm, I would be just fine. So you may not hear much until I pass this damn pre-solo. Could be months. I’ll let you know.

Wait for it

Weather: KBJC 172316Z 26014G20 60SM BKN060 BKN110 22/10 A2992

Basically the weather line above just says "no flying for Pete." If you calculate out the crosswind component for runway 29R/L, you get about a 7 KTS crosswind. 5 KTS is the most I can fly in. So no flight last night. I got a call from the chief flight instructor on my way to the airport. We rescheduled for today at 5 again. The winds are still a bit crazy this morning and they are expected to change by this afternoon, but are supposed to be a bit unpredictable. So we'll see.


Weather: KBJC 171654Z VRB05KT 15SM FEW030 BKN070 BKN100 15/12 A3000

So I don’t know if this is a sign of anything other than an awesome cake, but here it is.
This cake is amazing. It even has the tail number of the plane I usually fly. As a huge fan of most everything airplanes, this is great. A coworker made this for me. She is notorious for baking a lot. Recently there has been cookies or cake once a week for the past month or so. Everyone gets something on there birthday. This is a going away cake for me. I’m making a transfer within the company to become a project manager. Read: making a transfer to a hopefully temporary job before I get to start flying full time. Not that I’m not excited about this new job. I am. It’s just my real goal is to fly full time. It kind of reminds me of the Food Network show “Ace of Cakes”. Funny show if you haven’t seen it. Anyhow, awesome cake!

Weather: KBJC 171654Z VRB05KT 15SM FEW030 BKN070 BKN100 15/12 A3000

Have I mentioned that I’ve been doing a lot of landings lately? Yeah. I like landings. I actually like just flying the pattern. I’m flying, practicing, having fun. It’s good. I still want to progress though. So that brings me to last Friday. I’ve got a pre-solo scheduled for 5pm. I’ve also got a practice flight scheduled from 3-5. We do some touch and goes to get the feeling. The biggest thing the chief flight instructor is looking for is keeping the plane at 65 KTS and on the glide path on final. I can nail the 65 when I’m flying well. No problem. I can fly a great final approach too. The only thing I hate is the landing lights. On runway 29L/11R there are only two landing lights. Let me quickly explain.

There are two lights side by side. When your plane is on the glide path, the left light is white and the right one is red. When your plane is too high, you get two whites. Too low, two reds. The thing about these lights, is getting one white and one red is nearly impossible. You basically have to be within about plus or minus 5 feet of the exact glide path. So back to the pre-solo.

The chief instructor doesn’t care too much about your actual approach if the lights look good. I say it’s harder to land without the lights because you have to judge the right flight path on your own. If you can land it well, who cares what the lights say. But he wants you to fight for that glide path until you land it. So for me that means instead of landing just slightly low or high of the glide path, but landing really well, I have to fight hard to stay on the glide path. He wants immediate corrective action to get back on the path. So if I get too far off the glide path from the beginning, it’s a constant struggle to land it within his standards.

My landings can be great, and can still kind of suck. My only problem is constancy. I’m hoping that will come soon. I’m kind of getting tired of being so erratic. Not that I’m not having fun, I just don’t want to screw up another pre-solo. So it’s Friday afternoon at 3. We’ve got variable winds at about 3 knots. This is actually good. I’ll get some practice in some crosswinds finally. Touch and goes. Things look good. Not landing anything great, but due to the winds I still feel pretty good. So we get down at about 4.30. Tie down the plane, get back inside and it’s 4.45. The winds are picking up a bit and I’m getting a bit uncomfortable. I’m only allowed to fly in a 5 knot direct crosswind as a student at my stage. Since my only major crosswind experience was about 1 hour ago and we only got about a 5 knot gust, I’m hoping things don’t get worse.

I check the weather. Things are getting worse. Now I’m really worried. I’m hoping things get really worse. Fast please. So it’s time to go. Check the weather. Things are worse. The winds are right on the threshold of what I can fly. 9 knot winds out of 330. 5 knot direct crosswind. Things are expect to only get worse after that. I get to make the call whether or not we go. I pretend to be more disappointed than I really am, but I cancel. Inside I’m a bit relieved. I’m disappointed too though. Still one flight away from my solo.

So I’m still a bit nervous, which brings me to today. My pre-solo is now scheduled for this afternoon. 5 hours and 16 minutes to be exact. I really want to pass this thing and get it over with. It’s time to move on. I’m even apprehensive writing this now as I don’t want to follow up this post with another one saying I busted again. I know I can do it. It’s just getting it right for this guy. As long as I fly like I have been recently, I’ll be fine. I hope I can do that today. On the down side, it’s raining right now and the weather conditions by the time I fly are supposed to be below standard, so it still may not happen.

Regardless, I’ll keep trying. Weather or my own performance, I’ll keep trying.


Weather: KBJC 102245Z 21008KT 12SM SCT030 16/08 A3037

So I’ve been slacking lately. I haven’t been writing much (obviously), I haven’t been flying as much (a few busy weekends), and I have been a bit discouraged. So I’ll step back for a minute and take it from the top. This is going to be a long one so you may want to refill that coffee cup now. I’ll wait for you… Ok?

Landings, landings, landings

Lately, it seems like all I’ve been doing is landings. Really, that’s all I have been doing. Not that it’s bad. I really enjoy the landings. I’m ready for something new though, which is tough, because I’ve got to get my landings down before I can move on. So finally, 2 weeks ago, I got the signoff from my instructor to go on my pre-solo check. I’ll fly with a lead flight instructor after about an hour of testing on the ground. Then we’ll just go up, do some touch and goes, a go around or two and then a full stop. As long as I don’t screw it up too badly, I’ll be flying my solo next time.

Fast forward a few days. It took a while to get my pre-solo flight scheduled. Once the day came to fly, someone had flown my plane to New Mexico the night before, got stuck there due to weather, and I didn’t have a plane. Unfortunately, the lead flight instructor found a plane for me to fly. It’s unfortunate because it was a slightly different model plane than I am used to. I fly a Cessna 172 N or P model. This was a R model. One later than P, shouldn’t be a big deal right? Probably not. There are a few bigger differences. The R is fuel injected, doesn’t matter much once you are flying. Otherwise not so different. But every plane is a bit different regardless, and I probably shouldn’t have gotten into a completely new plane when I’m a bit nervous already and I have to show that I’m completely proficient. First mistake. Now any pilot out there with some experience is going to say that they are really the same plane. Anyone with a decent bit of experience really isn’t going to notice a difference in that plane. When you are only flying with about 12 hours of experience, it does end up making enough difference to throw you off your game a bit.

So then I just didn’t fly well. I was thrown off a bit from the beginning, but also the first thing I do when I start to fly my pattern is pull the carb heat on. Ok, looking for the carb heat, looking, can’t find it. Oh yeah. Fuel injected, no carb heat. Ok. Now I’m a few seconds behind on flying my pattern. Have to make a call to ATC. Wait a few seconds for other traffic to clear the radio. Wait for it. Wait. 20 seconds later. Ok finally my turn, “Metro tower, Cessna 2ES midfield… wait, no, abeam the numbers for 29L touch and goes.” Now I’m about 15 seconds behind. Anyhow, I’ll spare you the details. Really I just don’t want to rehash it all. But it was a bad day. Don’t get me started on my feelings about the lead flight instructor. I just don’t like that guy. Anyhow. Busted the pre-solo.

The pre-solo experience on the whole was pretty discouraging. I had a flight that night that I was supposed to be soloing on and I just didn’t want to go fly. It was the first time that I had no interest in flying. It was pretty depressing. It was a mixture of disappointment, being mad at myself for flying the new plane in the first place, then just flying poorly, and anger at the lead flight instructor. All that rolled into one was just a bad mix. It got me down for a few days.

So now I’m back doing more landings. Just have to get the landings right. So I’ll go up for a lesson, do about 7-12 touch and goes and then a full stop landing. And that’s a day. 3 lessons like that and now I’m really getting ready to try something new.

Yesterday evening I went up to brush up on my maneuvers because it’s been so long. So I did some power on turning stalls, some slow flight, a power off stall, a simulated engine failure, 1 stop and go, 1 touch and go, a power off 180 touch and go, and then called it a night. I started flying at about 6.15 or so. The sun was starting to set, and by the time we were flying back from the practice area the sun had set completely. It was an absolutely beautiful Colorado evening at the base of the Rockies and the view from 7,500 ft (2,000 ft MSL) was amazing. Since traffic was light at the airport we requested a few touch and goes. By the time I was flying my last 2 landings, it was getting dark and the runway lights were on. With the silhouette of the mountains in the background, the runway lights and the sunset, it was one of the best times to fly. I wish I could describe it to you in more detail, but I can’t. Instead, drop me note and I’ll take anyone interested up to see it first hand.

Alright. I’m going to end this post right here. Thanks for staying with me. Probably time to refill that coffee again.

Weather: KBJC 211150Z 00000KT 20SM SKC 21/03 A3008

Today was a day to practice pattern work, takeoffs and landings, and get ready for my solo flight. Right now I am really good from the parking spot, to the ramp, to takeoff, through final (and all my maneuvers in between). That takes me to about the flare. I am even getting good at reading when to flare. But at this point, I flare a bit too hard, so instead of holding it and gently drifting down, I apply too much back pressure and come up a bit. I might still be flaring a bit high too. Then I get the addition of the ground effect and that keeps me a bit high. So I end up gliding over the runway longer than I intend. But then instead of holding the controls, I try to relax them, to get the plane down. That’s when I bounce. Now I’m back in the air again. So I work the controls again to come down easy, and end up over correcting and over controlling the plane. That’s when I bounce. Again. Repeat steps 1 -3. Bounce. Again. Rinse. Repeat.

That gets a bit tedious after 10 landings in one day. I didn’t bounce all of them. Just most of them. The positives: my pattern work is very good. I’m very good with the radios. My approach is getting really good. My takeoffs are really good. I think I just needed to get today out of my system. I did have a couple good landings. Not everything went bad today. I was just hoping to really nail a few so I could be one lesson closer to my solo.

While drinking (responsibly) this weekend, I came across a wonderfully inspirational item. I was sipping on the delicious Full Sail - LTD 02 beer. After removing the bottle cap, on the underside of the cap, I noticed that “LIVE THE DREAM” was printed. Such a prodding inspirational directive while sipping on a delicious brew is quite wonderful in and of itself, however it got me to thinking for a quick second. Now that I have started flying, I am working my way towards living my dream. Of course that is the entire reason I started flying, but to realize in clear moment, that I am truly working towards living a dream that I have had since I was scarcely 3 feet tall, is great. It really made me feel good about what I am doing. Living the dream is something that people often talk about, but mostly talk about how they wish they were doing it, not how they are doing it, or are working towards doing it. So to realize that I’m working towards living my dream makes me feel pretty good.

Here is where I have to give huge thanks to my wonderful wife. Without her support in this, I wouldn’t be working towards this right now. The time it takes to learn how to fly, coupled with working my current job, really takes away from the time I have to do other things. The time commitment is a big thing right there. The other really big thing is money. Flying is not cheap. Let me say that again. Flying is not cheap. (I’ll write and post more about that someday.) So even though I am still working, the amount of money required to fly is ridiculous. Her decision to support me working (and spending) my way towards living my dream is a huge commitment by her. I’m sure it’s hard enough living with me normally, but the extra pressures that this kind of thing puts on a relationship is no fun. But she’s great and I can’t thank her enough for supporting me.

Weather: KDEN 141153Z 22003KT 10SM FEW090 BKN140 BKN200 22/11 A3016

Nothing of great interest after today’s lesson. More practice and I’m definitely seeing improvement in my flying. Wait, there is one thing. Definitely the greatest flying day I’ve yet had.

Today, I landed. All by myself. Let me tell you about it.

After practicing go-arounds and pattern work up at LMO (Longmont’s Airport), I was getting very comfortable with flying the pattern and basically flying it all the way in until the flare. So on our way back to BJC I was making all the radio calls (which I was pretty proud of, especially since there was a lot of traffic), and getting into the pattern. Nothing was perfectly flown after I completed my downwind. The base leg wasn’t great, but not terrible. The final wasn’t too bad. I was able to keep us lined up with the runway (mostly), I kept the airspeed at 65. When she said we were a bit high, I dropped some power. When we got a bit low, I added some. About 100 yards or so from the end of the runway, I heard her call that we were “landing assured”. That means that you are going to be landing on the runway as long as you don’t make any drastic moves. So I cut the throttle to idle after that and watched us approach the runway. That’s when I dropped that plane like a rock. I flared a bit high, so we glided beautifully across the runway about 3 feet too high. My instructor called to add a bit of power, but I was too focused. Too many things going on at once. Once the plane finished flaring, the last 3 feet of runway came really fast. The plane slammed down, bounced and then settled on the runway.

Now you might be thinking, “Pete, don’t be so hard on yourself for the first landing. It probably wasn’t that bad.” First of all, I’m very proud of that landing. But second, it was pretty bad. It was hard enough that once we were taxiing my instructor checked to see that our ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) was going off. See if you land hard enough, it thinks you’ve crashed, and it will automatically send an emergency signal to rescue crews. So it was hard enough that she wanted to make sure it wasn’t going off. But knowing that now, I can takeoff, fly, and land, it feels like quite an accomplishment.

Weather: KBJC 121350Z 32006KT 60SM SCT080 23/09 A3029

Fear is a necessity. Without a bit of fear every now and again, I seem to develop an unhealthy hubris; a comfort that takes away my concentration. I relax my guard too much. Due diligence takes a back seat in situations where it should always stay in the forefront. I have not yet lost my fear while flying, however I did plan on writing a quick note about how easy it seams to fly. Generally this is true too. In the right conditions, the plane flies itself. It’s designed to fly. But I have to concentrate a great deal while flying to make sure everything is going well. I don’t want to lose that concentration. A bit of fear every now and again helps.

Today I was practicing a power on stall (I have done this before). With full power, I have to add quite a bit of right rudder to keep the plane straight. So I nose up and finally get the plane to stall. The controls get soft and the plane starts to fall. I relax the back pressure to level out and I’m not paying attention to how much right rudder I have in. So as the plane starts to level, the rudder puts us into a hard right turn and it feels like the plane is basically slipping sideways out of the sky. I got that great feeling you get when you’re falling on a roller coaster, where your stomach drops out. But it was much more disconcerting because I wasn’t sure what was going on. I quickly recovered from both the stall and the right turn, but for a moment, there was a definite moment of fear.

It’s good to know that you can recover from something like that, and that I was able to do it successfully. It really wasn’t very dangerous, just a bit shocking. Moments like that keep my over-confidence in check but also help me affirm my skill. So I practiced one more stall to PTS and gave myself a quick pat on the back.

My goal while flying should be constant vigilance.

Weather: KBJC 091258Z 00000KT 60SM BKN120 19/08 A3018

Wow! I still can’t believe I’m actually learning how to fly. Wait. I can fly already. I just can’t really fly well… or land. Anyhow, learning how to fly well. Things are great. There is little better way to remedy waking up at 5 am, than going flying at 6 am. I can’t think of a better way to start my morning. I can ride this high halfway through the day before I realize how much my current job sucks.

Today’s takeoff, another good one, unassisted. Today’s landing was much improved. I only had to operate the control wheel, instructor on the throttle. My main focus was keeping the airspeed at 65 KTS while keeping us lined up with the runway. It seems relatively simple. It should be relatively simple. I didn’t screw it up too badly. Nice work, Pete.

It wasn’t a smooth approach, so that didn’t help me keep things in line, but I did a good job staying on course and keeping airspeed constant. Always nice to see improvement. I’m still trying to ingrain my understanding of controlling airspeed with pitch, and altitude with throttle. I think my approaches will greatly improve once that is more reactionary than conscious. I take too long to put it all together and by that time I’ve already screwed another landing.

One more thing. Steep turns = Fun!

Weather: KBJC 071155Z 33010KT 25SM SCT150 BKN250 19/13 A3002

Another beautiful day in the air. The flight started off wonderfully as I had full control of the plane from it’s parking spot at the school to until we were cruising. As this was my first unassisted take-off, it felt pretty good. It’s nice to know you can fly a plane all by yourself if you had to, (we’ll get to that landing part later.) I did some quick flying with the “foggles” on. They are just glasses that obscure the windows, leaving only the instruments visible. Basic instrument flying wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t as fun as getting to look around and it’s definitely a different kind of flying. Fortunately that was quick and I got to get into the good part of the lesson, some more slow flight and some stalls.

Stalling an airplane has a very bad connotation to me. It has always sounded dangerous and something that should only be practiced under extreme supervision, so I was very interested to see what this lesson was going to be about. Turns out, stalling the airplane in the conditions I was flying is actually pretty difficult in the first place, and a lot easier to recover from that I thought (at least a basic stall.) So power-on and off stalls complete, it was time for me to head back to the airport. Time to land the plane.

I felt comfortable flying the approach before I got into the pattern and flew the entrance and downwind well. The base leg was a bit off (not quite sure what went wrong, it felt good) and set me up for a rough final. I think I came into final a bit high and wide. I should have gotten lined up with the center of the runway first, and then dealt with my altitude and airspeed, but I was trying to fix everything at once and the path of my plane probably looked like a corkscrew as I brought it in. With about 100 yards to go, my instructor took the controls and brought it in for a hard landing. The landing wasn’t that hard by my standards (I’m sure I can do worse), but was by hers. I think she probably could have landed better given the flight path, but I definitely have to take my share of the credit for setting us for a less than perfect approach.

Next time I’ll work on taking the controls for the duration of the flight. We still have some work to do on the landings. Let’s not introduce a crosswind just yet.

Lesson #2

Weather: 021053Z 16005KT 10SM FEW040 SCT090 BKN120 16/13

Today’s lesson was much better than the first. The flying is still great. The feeling of flying is so different than anything else, and when you get to fly from the front seat, it’s really amazing. Flying commercially, looking out the side window of an airplane is enjoyable to me, but sitting in the front seat, watching ground disappear below the nose of the plane and the sky rise in front of you, that is just fantastic.

This lesson was noticeable more relaxing than the first. I tried to focus more, but found it easier to focus realizing how much I had learned and retained from my first lesson. Everything came easier but I wasn’t stressed about needing to remember and get it right the first time.

Again more turns, climbs and descents. Also in this lesson, learning how to fly the plane with the flaps down and the effects it has on the plane. When the lesson was over this time, all I wanted to do was get back in the plane and keep practicing. It’s just too much fun flying. An hour in the plane feels like only 15 minutes.

Now is probably also a good time to compare flying and driving. After my lessons it’s pretty quick between flying and getting in the car to go to work. Driving is such a different experience than flying. You are so focused on the external factors while driving (traffic, traffic lights, where the road is going, etc.) Right now when I fly, I’m so focused on altitude, attitude, trim, direction, etc. It’s very cockpit centric right now. Not that I’m not looking for other planes and outside, but it is very different.

And I did get a bit more sleep last night than before my first flight, but not too much. Hopefully I’ll start getting full nights of sleep before I fly, this is getting pretty exhausting when the afternoon rolls around.

KBJC 311150Z 36006KT 15SM FEW150 18/10

As I expected, last nights sleep was bad. Constant thoughts of everything flying kept me in a very restless sleep all night. It’s difficult to just relax and sleep when your mind is trying to focus on multiple things at the same time.

I took a discovery flight 6 months ago and it was an amazing experience. Just flying for the joy and entertainment of it made the flight relaxing and fun. My only goal was to find out if I enjoyed flying enough to pursue it as a career. Yes. Check that off the list, enjoy the flight.

Fast forward to today. First flying lesson. The lesson part of things implies some learning taking place. As a part of my goal to be a great pilot, yet keep the cost of getting my license down, I want to learn as much as possible, as fast as possible. The first lesson was fun, full of new things, and nearly overwhelming. The pace was good and the right amount of material was introduced, but I think I over exerted myself. With so much new information, it’s basically impossible to take it all in and internalize it in the first lesson, but that’s what I was trying to do. I didn’t consciously realize that’s what I was doing until I was on the ground again. I was nearly exhausted and realized I wasn’t relaxed the entire time I was flying (not to say it wasn’t fun, or that I didn’t learn a whole lot). It’s difficult to just relax and fly when your mind is trying to focus on multiple things at the same time.

The flight went well though. Perfectly clear skies and no turbulence. Practiced basic turning, level flight, climbs and descents (with turns and without), take-offs and landings. Did a touch and go, that was fun. The biggest lesson learned though is that I need to focus on learning one thing at a time. It will all come eventually, but without that focus, I don’t end up learning anything well. Lesson #2 on Thursday.



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