Monday, August 29, 2005

Vacation

I decided to take a couple days off, so now I'm sitting in North Carolina, relaxing at brewsmith's house. And finally updating the software on my laptop- it had only been a year since it was online.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Competition Heating Up

The competition for the MCS title is back underway. (Most Confused Student)

Mrs. Clueless-Wonder just scheduled for next week. (Where's that "beating my head against a brick wall" smiley again?)

So in the course of a few minutes, I knew I would have to start preparing myself for the big "you have a lot of studying to do" speech again. She's heard that speech from me a couple times before. Doesn't seem to do any good. This time, the issue is two-fold:
  1. She did her long solo cross-country yesterday. I didn't know anything about it, so obviously I didn't endorse it. She flies with another instructor sometimes too, so maybe she got the endorsement from him. I hope so, because if she flew without that at all, I will not be endorsing anything of hers again. Ever. She knows better.
  2. She flew this trip with an antenna missing from the exterior of the plane. She flies her husband's plane, and he doesn't know any better either. Neither of them knows anything about placarding the panel with an "inoperative" sticker on that instrument. She doesn't have the first clue what that does to the airworthiness without a minimum equipment list. (or even what an MEL is).
We've been over all these things before. I don't really know where to even begin with this now. She thinks that having finished her requirements per 14 CFR 61, that she must be ready for a checkride. Her lack of knowledge is not due to, but rather despite my efforts. Anyone who ever trained under me, or knows my type of instruction, knows I am a relatively difficult instructor. I stress the knowledge above all. She's gotten much better at the maneuvers, but no amount of flying skill will save her from the lack of understanding at this juncture.

And I have to find a way to explain this to her, in a manner that will get her to actually try to learn something. I don't care how many cross-country flights she does. If she can't grasp how to determine airworthiness, or know the rules that apply to her, then she can never be a pilot.

I seriously doubt I can change her convoluted ideas of how much knowledge is enough. That means she will likely find a different instructor, who doesn't mind pushing her through, just to get paid for it. Me, I just envision other pilots up there, flying with only a few hundred feet of vertical separation, and flying patterns, and really want them to have a clue. So I won't compromise there.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Photo to Drool Over

This one

I'm a little torn inside. I love instructing, but there are other things I have been wanting to do, and I recognize that it would not be possible to do both long-term. At least not here.

I admit to a strong dose of wanderlust in my system. Add to it the abysmal income that usually accompanies instructing, and I find myself revisiting in my mind, a career that I had long ago put on hold. Aerial spraying. Flying an Air Tractor holds a good bit of fascination for me. The lifestyle is the other draw. Spend a few months working your tail off, and make enough money to not need to work the rest of the year if you don't want to.

But that job would open up oportunities to do other interesting jobs. I'm not too far from a commercial helicopter license, if I spend a little more money. A good season of spraying would leave me time and money to add on the helicopter licensing. Other aerial seasonal work could then be found in helicopters.

The other benefit is travel. Most people figure travel to be a hassle. I get tired of staying in the same place so much. I keep getting the feeling that I have spent too much time living in states that border the Atlantic Ocean.

Some of these thoughts arise when I spend too much time flying with students locally, and not enough on cross-country flights. But to an extent, the thought of getting to see other parts of the country while working, has a lot of appeal.

I first thought about that kind of work several years ago. I was still fresh off my instructor license, and I put it to the back of my mind, figuring that I needed experience before I worried about any of that. Then I suddenly woke up the other day and realized I have nearly 1,800 hours, a little bit of time in turbine aircraft, and a whole lot of practical experience.

It makes me wonder. As much as I enjoy instructing, I would be that close to having a huge jump in income, getting to travel around a lot more, flying much bigger and more powerful aircraft.

The big concern about it would be my committment to this company. I will not leave them in a lurch. Whatever I have to do there, I'll do. I guess Im a little puzzled. I've long had the goal of eventually becoming a designated pilot examiner as a job for many years down the road. Somehow I thought this would be the best route, but I don't know.

The process of transition would be:
  1. Figure out how to transition from this business without hurting the owners or company.
  2. Get in touch with one of my tailwheel instructor friends to get that endorsement, then find the cheapest way to build 50-100 hours in a tailwheel plane.
  3. Contact a couple people who know the business, and dig for information.
  4. Spend some money for an agricultural spraying course. That would be the biggest cost of the whole process.
This is all very tempting, and something that I should have examined more closely a couple years ago, rather than putting it on the back burner. Often in the past, I've amused myself with thoughts of other types of work, but most of that had been frustrations with the current income. This is a little different, and must be wholly considered. I do like instructing, but I flew today with one of my students, and asked myself in the process, how many chandelles I've performed over the years.

Any pilots out there who can give me good first-hand information, please let me know.

Crash Narrative

I'd been checking the website for the National Transportation Safety Board, lately, looking for the report on our crash. I was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to show up. It finally did though. Read the quick summary, and the full narrative.

A couple interesting things stick out to me. They listed the accident as "factual" not "preliminary." I'm not an expert, but that seems to indicate to me that they are going with my narrative as the finalized version. That's good.

That probably means that the report that the original FAA inspector filed will be ignored. Another good thing. So when the district office in Richmond decides what to do about it, they will have my report to work from. My sense from talking to the head honcho in Richmond is that he would be amenable to the idea of just letting it all go with no administrative action. A very good thing. I'd have no qualms about taking a 709 ride, but it would just be a pain.

Of course, whenever the government gets involved in anything, you can't over-estimate how badly they can mess things up.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Teaching a Brick Wall

I slept in this morning. Til 8. I think that's my record for the last 7-8 weeks. I was wound up enough about last night's flight, that I wasn't really ready to get to bed until about 1am.

Things like that tend to bug me. On some level, I believe I can get through to 99% of people, and I only have to figure out how. The real struggle I have though, is that my brain tends to work from within a basic logic structure. So my inclination- which is often completely wrong- is to appeal to logic and reason in order to engender a desired response from someone.

Mr. C- as I keep calling him- seems to always be in a hurry. When he set out to learn flying, he wanted to do everything as fast as possible, which simply doesn't work all the time. From the moment he arrives until the moment he leaves, he wants to cram as much as possible into the flight. That's fine, but he bases his assessment of how much we accomplished on the amount of time we flew.

Anyway, I spent a couple hours late last night trying to decide how to create the desired change in his behavior and thinking process. Frankly, I'm still at a loss. I can't be any more clear about what I want from him than I am already.

So I am beginning to wonder if we can even bother to move forward. We are stuck in a rut of flying around the local area, and practicing the same maneuvers over and over. I can't take him to Charlottesville to work on operations in a control tower environment, because he still doesn't understand the basics. Everything I say to the tower would go right over his head. We can't spend any significant time on navigation and practice landings at other airports, because he hasn't mastered the concept of the normal landing. He wouldn't have to be amazingly good at them, but he would have to have a grasp of how to do a pattern. We've been to a couple other airports already, and the entire idea is still beyond him.

I almost gave up on a student once before. I had conducted his introductory flight, then someone else flew with him from then on, for a long time. Several months later, I remember doing a ground instruction lesson with him on instrument navigation concepts. That was the last thing I taught before leaving the area to go pursue a helicopter license. A year later, I returned to teaching fixed-wing, and the first lesson I gave was to the same guy, doing the very same ground lesson we'd done a year before. In that year, he had learned nothing.

The other instructors had mostly already given up, and those that would fly with him didn't really hold much hope. I still did, but knew it would be a long trip. He had a couple things working against him. The former owner of the school, who still hung around as an instructor, was always telling him he was ok. Sugar-coating everything, and generally telling him he was doing fine. This was absolutely not true, and was one of the worst things he could have done to the guy.

The man could not navigate. At all. I'd watched in amazement, as he would get lost in perfect visibility, five miles from the airport where he had done all his training. No idea where he was. No sense of direction or distance. I thought we could work to overcome it, and told him what I expected of him. I put huge amounts of effort into him. I saw it as a project. If I could turn him into a proficient pilot, then I knew I would be accomplishing something. The former owner would go behind my back and mess up everything I was trying to accomplish. I was not about to endorse the guy for a solo cross-country flight, having watched him get lost every time we had ever left the traffic pattern.

He did eventually get a private license. I had already left the school by then. I was told by several people that he'd had a lucky day on the checkride, and somehow managed through, but he had never improved. In the months since then, I've spoken to him a little, and I think he is slowly learning. I don't know for sure, but maybe there is hope for him to become truly proficient.

Mr C. struggles for entirely different reasons. It isn't for lack of evaluation or consistent instruction that he struggles. I have to wonder how much of this stuff actually gets into his head on each lesson. It is far too early to give up on him though. I just hope to find some way to get through.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Smilies That Yahoo Doesn't Make

As cheesy as they are, I have to admit I am somewhat fond of the smilies on Yahoo's Instant Messenger. There is a practical limit to the level of expressiveness one can provide in written text, without becoming overly verbose. Written text simply doesn't carry the connotations that accompany specific inflections of spoken word, or a simple gesticulation that is pregnant with meaning.

Though I like those smilies, I think whoever coded them forgot some of the more useful ones. For instance, the "projectile-vomiting" smiley. I find I occasionally need that one, when the green nauseated one just doesn't work. There's also the "get away from me before I have to smack you upside the head repeatedly" smiley. Or the "I'm going to go now, and beat my head against this brick wall" smiley.

Those last two are the ones I wish I could use right now. My favorite student flew again today. If you heard me speaking that last sentence, it would be while rolling my eyes and letting out a loud sigh. Since there is no "I can't express this level of frustration" smiley, you'll just have to infer the vocal inflection.

Mr. Confusion himself is back from vacation, and quickly working to make me need one. Anyone who flies knows how far downhill a student's flight skills can go after even just a week or two away. So I expected some seriously impressive actions from him, and he did not disappoint.

We had to do the entire post-flight debriefing on the subject of "why he should be listening when I make suggestions." First things first: footwear. Current and aspiring student pilots take note, footwear is important. Wearing cowboy boots because you like them, can hinder the learning. I told him this before our intro lesson. I told him during the second lesson. I told him again several lessons in. I had to say it again tonight, after it was obvious that he couldn't hold the toe-brakes, or properly set the parking brake at all. He can't feel the rudder pedals beneath the hard sole, which means he can't sense what the proper controls are, much less pick up on any of the subtleties. So startup and taxi were both an adventure. The intro student I flew with earlier in the afternoon controlled it much better on his first try.

Bringing a camera on every flight, and wanting to photograph or fly over various work sites of his, are not helping. It costs him at least 20 minutes of useful training every time. I'm entirely in favor of enjoying the scenery, and snapping a few shots. But that is not our purpose there, and shouldn't comprise a third of every lesson. He's a 14-hour student with the experience of a 5-hour student. Maybe.

Communications. It is of paramount importance to learn how to communicate. 14 hours into the training, I would expect him to remember the radio frequency that we use at this specific airport. Or at least recognize it when he sees it. Or maybe even know how to speak a simple phrase over the radio. It really is simple. A few simple phrases, push the button, and speak. Speaking should be second nature after 45 years of residing in a populated portion of the world.

Checklists. These exist for a reason. Use them. In the proper order. There is no sense following the pre-takeoff checklist if we haven't started the engine yet. It doesn't work. There is also no sense trying to turn the starter key if the battery has not been turned on. We need that electricity for a reason. We also have to introduce fuel to the engine before it will start. Checklists are meant to be done in order, without skipping entire sections.

I could go on for another ten paragraphs there, but I won't. What really amazes me is not that he manages to get messed up so badly, but that when he does focus, he flies very well. His takeoff today was incredibly smooth. His steep turns were among the best I've ever seen from a student with his experience. He was focused at those times. Everything else was just amazingly bad, and only getting worse until I fixed it. Losing 1,000 feet of altitude while trying to figure out how to stay level in slow flight. Not doing any of the actual procedures necessary for landing, resulting in zooming across the threshold 400 feet too high and 35 knots too fast.

I'm actually wondering if there is something mental, that is preventing him from keeping his focus. Often, a student can perform an action perfectly, only to mess up when given just one extra thing to do. But I've never seen that disorganization occur to nearly the extent he creates.

If I hadn't been beating my head enough for the day, I found out during the post-flight debriefing that he had been studying the wrong things entirely. I tend to spend a little time with students right from the beginning, exploring what their best method of learning book knowledge is. If they can study on their own, I give guidance and let them save some of the instructor time. My initial assessment was that he would be capable, and I would have only to direct the studying, and prod him to make sure he kept up with it. I gave him explicit directions on how and what to be studying. Yet he managed to completely ignore the basic knowledge he needs, and spent what little study time he had, focused on cross-country navigation and performance calculations. Chances are, at the current pace, it may be next spring before we actually get to that. Now, despite what I know will be loud protestations, I'm going to have to lead him by the hand through 95% of the book material.

It really has been a long day. I was here at 7:15 this morning, and 14 hours later, finished up. I suppose now, after another hour has passed, I am relaxed enough to get off the computer and head home.

Tomorrow morning, I need to email someone at Yahoo, and convince them to create a "tearing my hair out in excessive frustration" smiley. Then I'll come back and put about five of them right here at the end of this post.

Another Intro

I flew another introductory lesson today. I'm fond of those. This one developed in an unusual way. A couple months ago I received a call from a guy in California who had found our website. He had a brother who lives near here, and wanted to pay for an intro lesson for him. I took all the information, and waited for a call that never came in.

Finally, I got that call yesterday, and we scheduled the flight for today. After talking to him a bit, I found out that he had already been in the plane we were going to fly. He owns a paving company, and does a fair share of business with one of the owners here, who works for Carter Machinery. He had flown along, just for the enjoyment of it. I'm glad he told me that, because I would have been rather surprised if I hadn't known it before.

I have a relatively unique view on intro flights, which the owners of the airplanes thankfully share. Most schools I've known of, try to minimize the cost, providing about 20 minutes of time in the plane. Rush them in, rush them out, to save a few bucks. Our view is to take a small financial loss if necessary for a good prospect, because if that prospect becomes a customer, we will get that back, and then some. There's no good reason to skimp on the one thing that may bring the customer back to your door.

Sometimes, as a result, we will give a introductory flight for free. I always try to give something extra though. Usually that means just taking the time to ask a few questions and let their responses dictate the rest. Then, I will always give about 20-30 minutes of ground instruction for free, on the preflight inspection, and any other thing that comes up. I don't want the customer feeling like I am hurrying him through.

Anyway, this guy showed up, and we went through my normal type of intro. Except that he seemed to pick up on the concepts quickly. He managed to taxi without much help. He helped with the takeoff, then I didn't really need to do anything from there. I showed him the basics of how to control the plane, and just told him what to do. He handled it beautifully. I would have suspected he already had several lessons under his belt.

He also seemed genuinely interested in learning, so I may have a new student in the next week or two.

Coffee, & a Good Forecast

It was one of those mornings that requires coffee before the brain will start processing information. A few days recently, we've experienced very mild weather- a welcome and early respite from the mugginess of July. I think that is contributing to my continuing desire to sleep in. I don't have air conditioning where I'm living right now, so I keep a fan going. Last month, morning temperatures were up in the 70's, but all of a sudden we are getting low 60's. There is a critical point there for me, when the temperature drops below the mid 60's, that my body likes to go into hibernation mode while sleeping. I absolutely love that kind of sleep, but it does nothing for my ability to get up in the morning. All this contributed to my driving to the airport, still in a sleepy daze. I only had a few minutes before Joe was to arrive, but I wisely used it to slam down two cups of my preferred caffeinated beverage, which seemed to help.

Joe was ready to go by the time I returned from the FBO. I don't know how much of their coffee I have consumed over the years. But free coffee always tastes the best, so I keep drinking it.

We didn't really do a pre-flight briefing this morning, because we already knew what we had to do. Yesterday was a test, to see if he could get back to it in reasonable fashion. Today, we needed to see some progress. I was curious if my assessment of his difficulties would prove to be the defining key to getting him proficient. Sometimes you have to try several different approaches to find the one that works. I was confident I had him figured out, but only a flight would show the result.

First, I wanted to see a couple landings, and try to get him back to flaring at the right time. The psychological side of flying is more a factor than most people give credit for. I can tell when a student begins to tense up. Most right-handed students will tense the left side of their bodies. That usually ends up causing their left-hand traffic patterns to be flown too tight, as they unconsciously apply left aileron. Joe does a bit of that. He was nice and relaxed today for the most part though, and that proved to be a major help. During landings, the natural human instinct has to be fought. You see yourself approaching the ground at five hundred feet per minute, and want to arrest the fall before hitting.

The normal landing requires getting close to the ground before raising the nose. You don't want to stall ten or twenty feet up. Joe's problems there arose from the reaction of seeing the ground get close, so he would instinctively start raising the nose fifty feet up, fighting it all the way down, until he was forced to use power to soften the touchdown. So todays first task was to get him down within a foot of the ground before letting him get slow. After a couple tries, he reacquired the feel.

Then we headed out of the airport area to try what has always been the most difficult thing for him: simulated instrument flying. I had been ready to let him have an easy flight, just to keep him from getting stressed. But he wanted to charge ahead. He did better than usual. He knew what he needed to do, and did ok with it, except for one thing, which is often the student's biggest issue: the instant he looked away from the instruments to try to dial a radio frequency, he'd start into a soft bank or pitch, and get 20-30 degrees off heading, or 100-200 feet off the assigned altitude.

I could tell he had been armchair flying though. That is perhaps the most under-rated study activity there is. It is when you sit back in your comfy chair at home, in a nice quiet room with no distractions, and close your eyes, pretending to be flying. Going through the motions in that environment leads to a much faster than normal learning curve.

Still, I found it vexing that he kept losing track of the flight instruments. The key to remember is that the plane does not know you can't see outside. It keeps flying. If you have it trimmed properly, you can take your hands off the controls and it still flies. After reminding him of that, he got a little better.

The steep turns were the biggest improvement though. His last few had been absolutely wretched. Bad enough that I was beginning to wonder about him. But today he started flying them amazingly well. He finally got to experience flying through his own wake turbulence, after flying a perfect turn, with no altitude change and no sudden need for adjustments.. That gave him the confidence to continue improving.

Now, I am reassured that we are back on track, and ready to proceed. After these last two flights, he is ready to fly solo again. Then, a few more prep lessons, and he will hopefully get to take his checkride.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Reading Between the Lines

Flew with Joe again, finally. We were both concerned that he would have a repeat of his previous terrible flights. We had great visibility today, unlike the entire previous month. Around here, July is absolutely the worst month for haze. We chatted away during the preflight, as if there was no issue, but we both knew that today would signal whether or not he might be able to get his license anytime in the next couple months.

His struggles have been a little bit on the unusual side. Most student difficulties tend to fall into several neat little categories, which the FAA-required study material for CFI applicants tends to cover. But there are always the occasional troubles which standard instructor methodology doesn't really help. Sometimes you can't simply tell the student what to do, you have to read between the lines and figure out why he's making mistakes, when he knows perfectly well what he ought to be doing.

I've noticed something in him that I've seen before, but never really put to words: he tends to get off his assigned altitude and heading in between maneuvers. Not terribly uncommon there, but it always involved getting slow. I thought at first that perhaps he was compensating with the trim for a perceived difficulty holding altitude. But that theory went out the window today.

Then it occurred to me. His mistakes there were a result of having learned a certain lesson too well, and applied it in the wrong place. Slow flight is one of the more troublesome maneuvers for many students (and experienced pilots- but they'll never admit it). The thinking is perhaps a bit counter-intuitive. In the very beginning stages of flight training, while a student is trying to master straight and level flight both at the same time, the primary instrument for pitch information is the altimeter. Rather intuitive. If you are descending and don't want to be, pull back on the stick, and the descent will stop.

That method is fine for normal flight speeds, but in slow flight, when the wings are right on the edge of stall, pulling up won't help. This is one of the areas that I fear too many instructors don't understand as well as they ought to. An understanding of slow flight is critical for every level of flying a pilot will ever do. A pilot that doesn't truly understand it, doesn't know how to fly. He only thinks he does. Poor understanding of slow flight results in bad landings, inability to consistently do spot-landings, and many other minor flaws that may go unnoticed. Not to mention all the stall-spin accidents that happen year after year.

The important thing to remember about slow flight is that your control of the pitch affects airspeed, not altitude. Controlling altitude requires power. For that reason, books often refer to slow flight as a flight regime of "reversed command." The truth is, that is how airplanes fly. Always. The pilot's ability to cheat on control inputs during faster flight, is what tricks so many into believing otherwise. But factually, no matter what speed you fly, adding power is what makes you climb, and reducing it makes you descend. The elevator is only there to let you control the airspeed.

At this point, I would be remiss not to strongly recommend the old classic book Stick & Rudder. It is perhaps one of the poorest examples of writing I've ever seen, but the subject matter is indispensable.

Now, something to remember about the basic control in slow flight: while it may apply to all flight regimes, it is not always the easiest thing to do. Joe's steep turns have been a struggle, partly because he was using the wrong instruments to try to fix it when the attempts went wrong. In a bit of frustration with him today, I covered up the entire instrument panel for the maneuver, and he completed the steep turn well within the standards. He gained only 30 of an allowed 100 feet. Why? Because he was forced to rely on the more important things in that maneuver: the sensory, seat-of-your-pants assessment of angle of attack and bank. I didn't know at the time what exactly he was focusing on, but I knew it was the wrong thing. During the debriefing, he said he was using the artificial horizon for most of it, which I explained, distracts him from the more important parts.

Now, back to his post-maneuver tendency to climb. I've hammered into his head the basic control of slow flight, and got him taking it too far. Rolling out of a steep turn, he was climbing. At that point, he was relying on airspeed for pitch information, just like in slow flight. But airspeed is only an approximation of angle of attack, and it isn't accurate in banked flight. So right when he should have been pitching the nose down, he was distracted with the desire to keep his airspeed constant. By doing that, the excess power needed during the turn started us climbing. All he really needed to do- in lieu of quick, seat-of-the-pants evaluation, was to control the pitch with reference to the altimeter.

The solution: remember that sometimes, it is better to cheat.

Wait, maybe that didn't come out right. The right instrument to use is situationally-dependent. Joe knows all about slow flight, being an aerospace engineer. Sometimes that can be a hindrance to the learning process.

He has other struggles, as does everyone, but I think addressing this one will make the difference.

Tomorrow morning we get back to work on it in earnest. I'm really happy, because he has been one of my two most active students, and both of them were on vacation/business trip at the same time. It was making for some slow days. I know he is more comfortable now that we are not dealing with a heavy hazy every single day. Frankly, I'm glad for it too. Maybe we can overcome this particular struggle.

On the Prevention of Regurgitation

This afternoon, I get to see how much Joe has lost in the three weeks since flying. His mind has been on his struggles this whole time, and he is capable of self-evaluation. Those qualities lead me to believe he will be a little rusty, but generally fine.

My first flight today came as a surprise, sort've. I had written it down on the schedule for the wrong day. Lucky me, I am here basically all the time anyway. The guy is heading off to Thailand to train to be a missionary, and his mother was wanting to get him a present. He had always wanted to fly, so we had some fun. He loved the view. Near the end of the flight, after ensuring that he was not prone to aerial regurgitation, and assessing that he would enjoy it, I gave him a few maneuvers for fun, including a couple of zero-G pushovers, and things like that. Nothing aerobatic, but fun anyway.

I am always careful about what I do in a plane, when there are any non-pilot passengers. I once had a passenger show me what had been for lunch, and that is not a pleasant experience. She had been wanting to take aerial photos, and kept telling me to bank the plane harder to get a better view. She didn't sound the least bit concerned, and I failed to question it.

Then, right after finishing the photos, she suddenly said she didn't feel good. I was still processing what that meant, when her hands suddenly went up to her face in a panic. No time to open a window.

That was just about the fastest airspeed possible for a final approach in a Cessna 172. It was also one of the funkier final approaches I've ever done, coming in from a 45 degree angle, and only lining up with the runway about 50 feet up. I had my door open within two seconds of touchdown.

The tip I got was appreciated, but still nowhere near what would have been worth it for having to clean up the plane later.

Chalk it all up to experience. I quickly learned how to read the physiological signs of an impending reversal of... fortune. The facial expression, perspiration, loss of desire to converse, etc. So far, I haven't had a problem again. I came really close a few months ago though.

I was flying our four-seat Diamond Star for a television interview. We chose an unfortunate day that turbulence played a role. The interviewer was sitting in the front seats with me, looking backward toward the cameraman in the back seat. She had to do about 20 takes before getting a clip that didn't show any significant turbulence.

As soon as she returned to facing front, that's when the purge-urge hit. There are motivations a-plenty for me to avoid passenger meal-reflux, but I was also flying a very new and shiny $280,000 airplane, which I did not want to be forced to clean. This time, i had a little warning, since I had briefed her on the need to tell me about any nausea.

We managed to get to the ground without event though. I just bet it will happen again sometime, and I hope I'm ready.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

How to Follow Rules Which Aren't Listed

A couple things concern me about the events of yesterday. I spent a solid 9 hours dealing with the mess that had become my computer. I'm sure that information was sent out using my name, I just don't know what it was.

On browsing through some various searches, I discovered that my blog has been listed as spam in several places. That really concerns me. There are only two possible reasons for it: Either the plague on my computer caused that, or my playing with the tags for postings caused it.

If the former, then I really hope that won't affect my future postings, and being listed in websearches. If the latter, then I have to wonder why there is no stated limit to the number of tags permitted before the blog is considered a splog. (Mark Cuban coined that term, I believe, and writes a good article about it in that link).

I am not out to "toe the line" there, merely to set up tags with relevance. But how many tags is too many? 5? 10? I just have to hope that I don't cross that line, while trying to get my legitimate content noticed. I'm not a computer-savvy type of person. I don't just automatically know the rules. Anyone with better knowledge of this, feel free to give me suggestions.

Perhaps sploggers can also be targets of my vigilante-justice group. I guess their punishments wouldn't be as bad as those reserved for creators of viruses and spyware though.

Now I'm off to conduct some self-flagellation as punishment for having possibly, (but unintentionally), splogged.

This post closed with the following tags:

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Day of Confusion

Everybody has certain gifts; talents that they possess, whether they use them or not. We also all have non-gifts. Areas that, when forced to deal with them, we become absolutely, unabashedly stupid. I was "blessed" with the "opportunity" to rediscover one of them today. That area is computers.

I am either the absolute stupidest of the computer-savvy people, or the most brilliant of the retards. Not really sure which. So this morning when the computer started behaving badly, I got worried. When it kept behaving badly, I called Brewsmith. As he told me the things to check, I came to the discovery of at least one virus on it. Not really a surprise, but irritating anyway.

I can do all the basic, normal things on a computer, and with a little effort, I can manage to put together a website on a basic level, or modify the coding on this blog. As soon as we pass from there into the realm of messing with internal settings, registry editing, determining which processes are legitimate and which are bad, I start to go bug-eyed.

About eight or nine years ago, I was teaching myself some things about programming, and thinking about picking up some community college classes. Then one day I came to an abrupt realization that I really didn't like it. Not a bit. From then on, computers were only as interesting to me as the tasks they would perform. I wanted nothing to do with figuring out how to make them perform those tasks.

I've always managed to have someone nearby who could help me when things go bad and I want to throw the cpu in front of a Mack truck. Brewsmith is one of those people. There's no telling how much I would owe him by now if he had charged me for this help.

So from 8:30 this morning, until about 5pm, we did everything we could think of to get the computer back up and running, lastly resorting to blindly deleting entries in the computer registry. Finally, I managed to get clear of viruses, according to the software. So I am back to writing, and contemplating starting a secret vigilante-justice organization that would hunt down the creators of these trojan horses and worms, and make sure they pay a hefty price for it. I'd sell tickets and broadcast the acts of justice over the web. I suppose our identities would have to be secret though. That means I just blew my cover.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Economics and Psychology of Instructing

I was worried a few weeks ago that Joe was going to quit flying, so close to the license. I've seen that look several times; the dejection and frustration of having worked hard and been so close, then taking what seems like a huge step backward. With a break of three weeks, right after a couple really difficult flights, that can be a huge burden on the mind, and there are distinct differences in how people handle that.

He called a few minutes ago, and we talked a bit about what he saw on his business trips. He is in aerospace engineering, and gets access to some really cool things. I could spend a long time picking his brain about what he knows. Cutting-edge research, not just the stuff you see on magazine covers.

I learn something from every student. Teaching is an interesting profession. A brand-new flight instructor really doesn't have any idea what he doesn't yet know. Psychology is much more a part of the whole mix than I ever really grasped, until I knew it from experience. Anyone who has done a fair bit of introspection knows how his own brain works, and how he learns best. But instructing forces an examination of how other people operate, which can be a whole different thing.

One of the areas of aviation that gives me concern is the training aspect. I don't know any statistics, but a large percentage of flight instructors are twenty-something year old guys, fresh out of flight school, only instructing because that is the fastest way to build hours and move on to the airlines, or some other higher-paying profession.

Economics plays a role too. Flight training is not cheap. Even the simple little two-seat Diamond I use for primary training, cost $150,000 new. Add $10,000 annually for insurance. Add $24 for fuel every hour flown. Add at least $500 for inspections every 100 hours flown. Don't forget the replacement tires, etc. Then tack on an annual inspection. By the end of all that, there isn't much margin for paying the instructor.

So flight instructors don't generally earn much. It becomes more of a transition job, required of the fresh commercial pilot, in order to move on to what he really wants to do. I decided to be a career instructor, and that was not a fiscally responsible decision. It came from a passion for teaching.

The result of all those factors, is that far too many instructors either aren't any good at instructing or don't really care about it. I suspect that is a major source for the relatively high numbers of students that never finish the certification they started. One of the introductory flights I gave this week, ended with an interesting observation from the student. Immediately after exiting the plane, he was still processing all he experienced, and commented that a student really ought to pick instructors carefully. If you have one that doesn't care, can't teach or that you don't truly trust, then learning is inhibited.

When Joe started telling me about the research going on, and what he saw on his trip to Albuquerque, I sensed in his voice that he was back on track. Then he scheduled for Monday, anxious to conquer the maneuvers, and get his license.

Fairgrounds & Not-So-Fair Skies

Comments: somewhere in the hectic mess of the last few days, this post disappeared. Not sure why. I don't feel like recreating it, so there ya go.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Looks as if I will have decent weather this evening. It is my turn to man the booth at the Rockingham County Fair. Campbell Aircraft Services- my company- has a booth there, so the owners, the lead helicopter instructor and I are splitting up the days.

Saturday, we are doing helicopter rides, and I may help load and unload passengers for that. Truth is, I'm a little sleepy today. But we've already taken in enough business to cover the cost of having the booth, so everything from here on is gravy.

I just hope it is busy enough to keep me awake. Just one of those days that would be perfect for a nap, but no chance to take one.


Unusual Encounters

Brewsmith and I were discussing programming code issues this morning. It turned into a frustrating conversation. Here's the basic rundown of how it went:

He gives me useful information. I am confused, and ask questions about it. Meanwhile, he is explaining something vital. I am busy trying to figure out something in the information he gave, which I need to know before my brain will move on to the other things he is telling me. I ask a bunch of questions. He is answering questions I am not asking, but should be. He is getting frustrated, because he's giving me everything I should need. I'm frustrated because he isn't answering the questions I'm asking, and I can't process what he's telling me until I get other questions answered. I have to repeat questions. I am busy totally confusing and frustrating him. I have a knack for that.

I desperately needed coffee at that point.

So I wandered over to the general aviation area, and drank coffee while commiserating with one of the women who attends the desk there.

As we were talking, a King Air pulls in and parks. Happens all the time. I was watching the men get out, when I noticed that one of them looks remarkably like my youngest sister's father-in-law. I thought it odd, but knew that he rides in a Cessna 421.

After he walked by, we recognized each other. Yes, that was him. He didn't know that I was based here, and I didn't know that he was coming up this way from Asheville, NC. He works in the propane industry, and his company is putting a facility in up here, so he will be visiting more often.

Nothing more to the story really. Just one of those odd encounters, where you see someone you know in a totally different context.



Wednesday, August 17, 2005

NASA Presents.........

A graphic simulation of air traffic over the U.S.

Thanks to www.boingboing.net for calling this to our attention.






Spur of the Moment

Sometimes, right when I get to settle in for what I expect to be a slow afternoon, it suddenly picks up.

After lunch, I started shuffling some paperwork around, and got a phone call for an air-ride. There are a few pilots around who have only a commercial license but no instructor certificate, so I try to give those flights to those guys, since they can't conveniently earn hours any other way. Got that set up, then a guy showed up in the office asking about lessons. He was referred by Phil, a former instructor here, who now flies for Colgan Airlines (contracted regional airline for US Air).

He wanted to know when we could set up an introductory flight, and was surprised when I said we could do it right then.

My philosophy concerning intro flights is different than many schools have. Many, I've noticed, tend to worry that they will lose money on the flight, so they cut corners. They all want to be in the BeAPilot.com listing, because it is free advertising. The catch is, they have to offer an intro for only $49, which makes it difficult to take any profit from that flight. Some schools cut the flight short just a little bit in the process, to save a few dollars.

I think that is the exact opposite of what they ought to do. The owners of the aircraft here are the only people I report to, and we all agree that the better way is to be willing to take a small loss on that flight, in order to make the customer happy, and more likely to return. If the customer walks away happy because he received good value for the money he spent, he is likely to come back. And you just never know how much that customer is worth in the end. At some times, we have offered free introductory flights.

We decided as a company, that we are willing to lose a few dollars for a customer that is potentially going to be giving us $30,000 in the future. That is a no-brainer, but one a lot of businesses miss.

This guy is a reasonable prospect, and very interested. For that type of customer, I am willing to spend the time to answer all the questions, and really discuss it.

So I didn't fly much today, but I think it was still profitable.




Sorry for the lack of postings today. Brewsmith had reminded me that my audience is not all familiar with aviation, and especially with some of the terminology.

I'm in the middle of creating a glossary blog of sorts, to help with that, and give me room to express my perspective on the subjects as a flight instructor. Hopefully that will be functional soon. If anyone has questions, please feel free to ask.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More of the same

So, you see what we are going through here. That image doesn't paint an entirely accurate picture though. That was during one of the momentary breaks we had from the storms. It is back in full force now, and it looks like we will get hammered later on tonight too.

We seem to be doing better than some other areas though.









Quick, I need to build a boat

Around lunchtime, the skies cleared a little. Not that I mind the overcast skies, because they keep it from being 95 degrees here. Since I have no air conditioning in the house where I currently stay, that is a big help.

A few minutes ago though, it started raining again. Then it got harder. Then the thunder and lightning started, and then it got even harder. Now, I'm half tempted to either watch for a tornado or put floats on my car, to make the drive home.



No flying today

Doesn't look good for getting any flying in today. It was raining when I left the house at 6:45 this morning. Stopped for almost an hour, then started again, and hasn't let up for the last hour and a half. It is one of those long steady rains that seems to have no end in sight.

We've had plenty of rain the last few days, which I guess we need, but it sure puts a damper on my job.

DC had a good trip to Indiana. He drove, because I had conflicts on the schedule. He wants to fly back out there next week with me and take another look at the plane. So that is something to look forward to.

Monday, August 15, 2005

I must learn how to count

I was playing around at this site and discovered that somewhere along the way, I miscounted the number of states in which I've flown/landed a plane. I guess I get credit for D.C. on this site, but I'm still chagrined. This is how my map looks now:




create your own visited states map



Conspicuously absent, are Mississippi and Delaware, both of which I've flown over, but not to.

With just a few minor route changes, I could have added nine more states to it. I must get to work on this.

In other news, the Virginia Department of Aviation is now doing a little incentive program. You fly to airports, and get a stamp in a little book. To qualify for prizes, you have to attend at least one safety seminar in VA, and visit four aviation museums. Then, if you visit at least 25 airport in the state (min. one from each region), then you win a hat and lapel pin. Visit 50, and you get a flight bag. Leather jacket for all 67.

It appears that we've jumped the gun though, because the site doesn't even mention it. I'm told the program starts in the spring. So I almost get finished visiting all the airports in Virginia, only to have to start over soon.




He's from the FAA, and he might be here to help me

DC and I headed off to Richmond International, and visited the FSDO (building on the far left in this photo) this morning. The weather was good, so we flew. We met with the head honcho himself at that office, and after he photocopied all our logbooks, certificates, medicals, aircraft documents and such, we ended up having about a half-hour chat with him. He expressed the opinion that a lot of the sport planes on the market are just not safe. There isn't enough oversight to make sure they are manufactured properly, and so many of them come from overseas, where you could never sue them, if they made something defective.

So we left that conversation rather encouraged, since the head of the FAA office that will be dealing with this, seems to be agreeing with us. After that was over, he came out and took a look at the Diamond we flew in, and made some small talk.

At that point, it was only 11am, and we decided there was no rush to get home. What better than to get some lunch along the way? So we jumped in and made the quick 12 mile hop to Chesterfield, where they have a very nice buffet for only $6.30 (including drink and tax). Can't beat that.

For that leg, the taxi time was longer than the flight. It happens sometimes at bigger airports, if you hit them at the wrong time. After 15 minutes, we had made it all the way from parking to halfway to the correct end of runway 2. I suggested to the controller that we would be happy to take an intersection departure, and he seemed happy to give it to us. We took off with only 2,000 feet of runway in front of us, but it saved at least ten minutes.

The return home after lunch involved dodging a lot of clouds, but it was not a big deal, and we entered the pattern back home after about 45 minutes. We did several touch & go's, then called it a day.

DC is still struggling with relearning the original plane he got to know during his training. Some side effects of flying a plane so squirrely, included his tendency to be overly concerned about the rudder. (I'm of the opinion that rudder is the most important, and least understood part of flying, but that CT was a lot to handle there. More than should be the case). He has also developed the tendency to make the last 50 feet down too much like short-field technique, when it isn't necessary. Not generally a problem, except that it comes not from intent, but from unintentional slowing on short final, and a lack of feel of the flare. So we worked on that in the pattern here.

This afternoon, I got a call from the NTSB investigator assigned to us. He had sent me a report form last week, and I had not finished it yet, so he asked me to fax it. We got to talking, because he was still not aware of some of the details. Apparently, the FAA investigator in Nashville didn't give him anything to work with. No report, no pilot narrative, nothing.

So I gave him a brief synopsis of the crash, and explained how the initial investigator's report differs significantly from mine. This guy seemed prone to accepting that the FAA's initial report might be completely wrong, and mine right.

Again, more good signs.


I have met the enemy.....

OK, the FAA isn't exactly the enemy. And I'm going to meet with them this morning. DC and I have an appointment at the Richmond Flight Standards District Office, to present our logbooks, licenses and medicals, and the aircraft documents.

I have basically figured out what I expect to happen over the coming months. Whatever the NTSB finds, 99% of the time it comes down to two little words: "pilot error." That is the quick and easy explanation for most crashes. It saves having to explain any of a thousand reasons for the actual crash. In the end, I figure it is almost a certainty that I will get a 709 ride. So I go to Richmond at some point in the future, do a checkride with them while they berate my knowledge and flight skills, then they pass me, and I continue on with life.

I recall the first time I ever set foot in that building. I was testing for my initial flight instructor license, in the fall of 2001. I was really nervous. I still had a tendency toward nerves at that time. Worst dry-mouth I'd ever had. I ended up making it better simply by admitting I was nervous, and then demonstrated I knew more than the examiner. On the oral exam, I pulled out formulas for things that he knew nothing about, gave answers and explained them more than he was asking for. I took the offensive, and wore him down on the questioning. By the end, he knew there was nothing he would be tricking me on. It also became a very short oral exam.

Since I started instructing, my take on checkrides changed. I don't really get nervous. I know that I know far more than the examiner will ask. If I mess up on something in the flight, so be it, but I know going in that I am ready. My last checkride was in January, for the instrument rating in a helicopter. The examiner admitted at one point, that he had to dig to find some sort of question that I might miss. He did finally catch me on something, but it was minor, and nobody in the room but him (including another applicant, and my instructor) knew the answer. The flight was flawless. I never even came close to missing anything.

This checkride, assuming they make me take it, will be a little different. They know I have the ratings already, they are just looking for any kind of fault to pick up on and exploit, so they can mark a "fail" in the box. It isn't that they are all out for blood. Quite the contrary. But being a government organization changes the attitude there. They have to show cause for their existence. If they fail the applicant, they can appear to be doing their job better.

With the benefit of experience, my mindset has changed though. I no longer see these guys as ogres. I know several of them on a personal level. A couple of the inspectors there will drop by my office occasionally to chat. I also have more knowledge than the majority of them, in the areas that can be tested. There really isn't anything to be nervous about.

But today, none of that. Just present the logbooks to let them photocopy all of it for the records, and leave. I intend to do a little schmoozing though, to whatever extent I can. I have met this inspector before, but don't know him too well. Rather than look at him as the enemy, I can see him as a regular guy, just doing his job. Maybe he has enough leeway with the guidelines, that I will get out of the whole 709. Even if he doesn't, it will be good to start off having him like me.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Not-So-Friendly Competition

DA40 Glass Cockpit
The last few days, I have observed an interesting trend. I had been talking casually with one of the students at the other school on the field. He expressed interest in getting checked out in the Diamond, to rent them. I got him checked out two days ago. Then after that, he rented the plane, and took up one of the instructors from there. That instructor got checked out today, and is going to do the glass cockpit checkout too. Now, that first student is renting the plane again, to take up another student from there.

The only difficulty I have here, is that I don't currently have a multi-engine plane, or anything complex for the commercial requirements. I can use a Mooney owned by the charter company here, but I'm stuck for aircraft at the moment.

If this trend continues, I suspect I will hear complaining again from next door, as a rumor. About once every month or two, one of the owners here tells me about something that one of the owners next door is claiming about what I do. Most recently, I was accused of seeking out their students to try to drag them away.

I knew that would happen plenty, right from the start. The Diamond was a new aircraft on the field last summer, and when I started flying it, I still had several friends at the other school. They wanted to see it, and a couple other instructors there did too. I was accused of trying to steal instructors.

The owners know better than to believe the stories they hear, but it irritates me still, that the lies keep coming. I never once approached a student or instructor there, to convince them to come over here. I let them what whatever they do. That is their business.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pleasant Surprise

Flew with a guy this afternoon who called a couple days ago. He had trained for about 20 hours, eight years ago, and hadn't flown since. His main goal today was to see if he could get back quickly, or if he would have to spend a long time at it.

I was wondering how he would do. I've seen people go a month not flying, and become terrible quickly. I also conducted a biennial flight review with a guy who also hadn't flown in eight years, and I endorsed him in under two flight hours. So there's a wide range.

To complicate the matter, his wife wanted to ride along, meaning we were flying the more complicated four-seater. Add a constant-speed prop, and a full glass panel which doesn't even come close to resembling what he had flown before. To add another twist, we were flying in a rather deep haze, and there were thunderstorms building not too far away, giving us a bit of turbulence.

He understood the preflight inspection, and followed my start-up procedures very well. Quickly figured out how to taxi. I asked him to describe the takeoff procedure, if he could remember. Amazingly, he even recalled the exact airspeeds he used in the Cessna 150. Eight years removed, and he still knew the numbers.

His takeoff was not really pretty, but it was unassisted. We ran through the maneuvers, doing steep turns, slow flight, and several stalls. His understanding of slow flight was a little weak, but as I explained things, he started getting noticeably better.

I wish I could say he managed one of the two landings unassisted, but at least he was relatively close. I think he could solo in five hours.

Now, he is excited, and ready to start flying again. I love that feeling, helping another person get back to the fun of flying. And it appears that he will be an easy student.

Another Foggy Morning

Fog again. Not that I mind it this time. I slept in anyway, and that felt really good.

Today I have an intro flight with a guy that took a few lessons eight years ago. He wants to see if he is still capable of learning it, or if he would have to start all over at the beginning.

It is likely to be a challenge for him, but hopefully he will want to keep up with it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hard-Selling in Georgia on my Mind

That was a long day of flying, and well worth it. 7.7 hours logged. DC, and I brought along our mechanic friend, because he used to work at that facility several years ago, and knew everybody there. So we had an inside pass, sort've. But not the most trustworthy kind. The kind that is trying to sell it. I don't know if he gets a cut from the sale, but I bet he does, just by the way he was selling it.

The flight down to Eastman, GA was supposed to be just over 3 hours, but ended up taking more than 4. It was necessary to fly instruments, and instrument flight rules dictate 45 minutes of planned fuel reserve. We were going to need an alternate destination filed, and the closest alternate with known better weather was Augusta, GA. That meant we would have to fly very low power to get to the destination, shoot the approach, miss, and fly to the alternate, and still have 45 minutes left. So to save a little time, we made a stop at Spartanburg, SC. Good thing, because we were rerouted a little bit on the second leg, then had to shoot the GPS approach to 300 feet above minimums. At a time like that, you don't want to be on minimum fuel.

At Eastman, I was trying to maintain a removed perspective, and let DC come to his own conclusions. I'm not especially fond of the Alarus, except in the only role it seems suited for: flight training. For that, it may be the best small plane on the market. For personal flying, it doesn't really do well. Slow, a little uncomfortable, and nothing to look at.

The general manager of the place spent some time talking to us about it, and I immediately came to the conclusion that he was hard-selling us. Trying to say what we wanted to hear. I suspected he had already been briefed on what happened with the CT (I was right). Told us all about how these sport planes on the market are dangerous. How in Europe, they have lower weight limits than the US (that is true), and then he really confused me.

He seemed genuinely surprised that in the US, these same planes suddenly have a higher stall speed. I didn't say anything. I wanted to let him keep talking. He claimed to have an engineering background. He is deeply involved in aircraft. Therefore, it should be absolutely obvious and predictable to anyone, that higher weight means higher stall speed for a given plane. Any relatively experienced student pilot ought to know that. It is just basic aerodynamics, and frankly, I was suspicious of him from that point on. Either he is stupid, or he was feeding us a line. Take your pick.

He harped on and on about how the composite airplanes are untested and extremely difficult to repair if anything happens. A couple times he brought up the example of hitting the tail skid on a hard landing, and of clipping a wingtip. Both, he said, are extremely costly repairs that put the plane down for at least a couple weeks. He made a big deal about how they build the Alarus to far exceed certification requirements (true), but Diamond does not (extremely false).

The truth, which I never let on that I knew, is that DC and I once hit the tail skid hard in a DA20. Minor repair to the skid, no damage to the frame, and we were able to defer repair until convenient. It cost a few bucks for parts, and maybe an hour on labor. No big deal. As for striking wingtips, I have to seriously question the skill of instructors at any school that would routinely have that problem. It is simply too rare to worry about. And the Diamond (his favorite example), has a seperate piece on the wingtip. The repair would amount to maybe $1,000 or so. Diamond tests to aerobatic requirements (+9/ -6 g's), then derates them to utility category (+4.4/ -1.78). Their wing spars are tested out to 13 g's.

I decided I would remain observant, but quiet, despite knowing better than to believe what he was saying. DC knew better too, but he played along the same way.

DC did get to fly the plane, and found it easy. (I've flown them before, so I declined a flight).

We did get some useful information though. If you can manage to look past the hard-sell routine, you find a very easy to fly, sturdy airplane. So maybe he will buy one, maybe not. DC is on the way to Indiana tomorrow to look at another aircraft. I'd be flying him there Saturday, but I have other flights scheduled.

Our return flight was VFR. We didn't want to waste time leaving, and the weather looked like it would cooperate. To get above the clouds, and avoid being diverted around Charlotte, NC, we took the Diamond up to 11,500 feet and just cruised along. I set the power based on the fuel range ring on the G1000, giving us the required VFR reserve, plus 45 minutes to spare. The return was 3.6 hours, and very uneventful. I guess that is nice sometimes.

Got up way too early in the morning today. 4:45am. But the plane is ready, I'm checking to see I have the charts I need, and then I'm about to file the flight plan. It looks as if we may hit some clouds down in Georgia. Nothing up here in Virginia but some fog.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Another Change of Plans

And again, the plan changes. We are going to Georgia first thing in the morning tomorrow. I think I'm still just dropping them off, and returning on my own, but I'm not sure of that.

We have to change the plan for Indiana on Saturday, because I had forgotten about a couple flights I have that day. So Maybe next week.

Now, if I can only convince DC to want to go take a look at a plane located in Oregon...

Strange Workings Afoot

Ever since returning from Florida, I've been a little confused. My car is a 1993 Honda Civic with 208,000 miles on it. It has problems. The specific problem here is that the left rear tire keeps going flat. I've been having to add air every two days. (I'm too cheap right now to bother getting a new tire just yet).

So I expected that after returning from a four-day trip, I would find the tire almost completely flat. Not so. It was full of air. I didn't need to add any. I thought that strange, but kept going about my business. Now, it has been another four days, and the tire is still full. So I'm a little bit puzzled as to why. Either the tire miraculously healed itself, or someone keeps adding air for me.

This morning would have been as I predicted: a takeoff in low IFR conditions, with fog. I had been looking forward to the trip. But the Indiana trip may get brought up to Friday, so that is close enough.

There's nothing so boring as continually flying the same planes in the same places. Most of us don't have access to very many different models of plane, so we have to find our enjoyment from the travel aspect. Flight instructors suffer from that at least as much as anyone else. Without instrument students, you just don't get much cross-country flying.

Lately, that part has worked well for me. So I can't complain.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Scratch Georgia

I did manage to get a flight in today. This mornings constant rain suggested otherwise, but I finally got one. One of the students from next door wanted to get checked out in the Eclipse. Not really a big deal. He is a commercial pilot, working on the instructor rating, and was desperate for something different. I understand perfectly. It is easy to get bored from flying the same plane all the time. Especially if it is 40 years old, has equally old avionics, and flies way too slow.

DC came in, so I could help him with the NTSB report. We were both sent a bunch of pages of data to fill out. What a mess. He decided he doesn't want the Alarus, so there is no point flying to Georgia tomorrow. He has decided to go with my advice of flying half a dozen different types of planes, and then see what he likes. Scott gave him the option of purchasing one of the Diamond Eclipses from us, and leaving it with the school. That would give him access to the plane any time he wants, and defray some of the expenses. But DC doesn't care much about expenses.

When I was in Florida, I found the aircraft I really want. A Diamond motorglider. Of course, I can't afford it, and travel in that would be impractical at best. But whoever thinks general aviation is about practicality, soon learns better after getting involved. It is never about the cost. You just find what you want, and talk yourself into believing it is practical.

So Georgia is off tomorrow, but we are looking to go to Indiana this weekend, to check out a different manufacturer. Hopefully that one will work out.

Goodbye to Old Friends

It is always sad saying goodbye.

This morning, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the construction around the hangars had already started. Not good. I thought it would be a couple days. I was supposed to pull the DA40 out before that, or I would lose access to it for two weeks while they dug up and replaced the asphalt. I was really irritated, because that would mean missing out on seven hours of flying tomorrow (which has since been cancelled anyway).

After talking to one of the security guys, I managed to get help moving the plane. The surface had already been torn up, leaving the hangar on a ledge, with a 10 inch drop-off to the rough-surfaced mix of mud and torn-up asphalt beneath. So the first thing we had to do was build two small ramps to let the plane down easy. After that, we spent 15 minutes towing the plane through the muddy mess to a spot on the other pavement.

After that was all over, I was sweaty and dirty. And my shoes were all torn up. These shoes have served me well over the last few years. Just simple loafers- the $9 Walmart variety. Over the last few weeks though, the right shoe had become worn to the point that my foot was partly touching pavement when I walked. So I knew it was about time to replace them.

Halfway through moving the plane, the insole had worked itself through the open sole, and ripped the whole shoe open. It was just a shred of its former self, and no longer very useful for its normal purpose of keeping my feet protected from the ground.

So with an air of sadness, I placed them in the trash, and grabbed some spare shoes that I thankfully had in the trunk of my car. So, goodbye to old friends. I mean old shoes. I really got my nine dollars worth.

Today, I was supposed to do a checkout with a student from the school next door, but rain and fog will likely push that back. He is bored from flying the same old planes all the time, and wants a change. Something new. I don't blame him. I spent 600 hours in Cessna 172's and I love them for what they are, but I can't get excited about flying one. They're slow and sluggish. Great trainer plane, but nothing special for traveling.

This guy, and several others are planning to come over here and get checked out on the glass cockpit also. I'm sure that will be exciting for them. I know I was excited about it when I first got in it, and I still get excited. The VFR checkout is usually only about 2 hours of ground instruction and 1.5 in the plane. IFR though, is a bit more extensive. That tends toward being 10 hours of ground instruction, and 5 in the plane. So if all of them are wanting IFR checkouts, that will keep me busy when they come over.

Tomorrow morning, just like all mornings around here this time of year, I stand a good chance of having to depart in near-zero visibility, in fog. I guess that only bothers me for a lack of options if I have some sort of trouble. The actual takeoff is not that big a deal, as long as you stay focused.

The lack of options is why I've actually practiced something unusual: a zero-visibility landing. If I set the plane up at 65 knots and come in on the ILS that way, then I stand a good chance of not even damaging the plane. I've never gotten the chance to do it under simulated instrument though, just by myself, and noticing what inputs are necessary. Essentially, I set it up for a short-field landing, and fly the approach that way. I hope I never have to use that on a real flight, but I like to know I have a chance.

I just found out yesterday that they raised the rates next door. Now, not only do we have much newer planes, but we have lower rates too. We have stayed at $89/hr for the planes, and they just went up to $95. Maybe we should raise the rates too.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Deja Vu. Deja Vu. Deja Vu.

I just got back from a trip south, and now I'm getting ready to head that way again. As I mentioned before, DC is looking for another plane, so Wednesday morning I will be flying him down to Eastman, GA. Along for the ride is Todd, one of the mechanics we deal with. I will just be dropping them off, and returning home.

On the return, I will probably go airport-hopping again, and see some new places. I mapped it all out on the AOPA flight planner, and a return flight adding in 10 more airports only costs me about 20 miles. As long as the weather is good, I'll probably go with that plan.

Slow

Very slow day today. Slow enough, I might just leave early for a change. I got some paperwork from the National Transportation Safety Board, regarding the accident. Now I have a bunch of pages to fill out. Fun.

I have unconfirmed information that an ultralight crashed yesterday near here. The pilot was drunk, apparently, and landed on top of a truck, or something like that. Never underestimate how stupid someone can be, if given half a chance.

I was hearing about some other crash not far from here too, but I have no information about it, other than just the location.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Cart, then horse.

I'm not sure how to feel about that last flight. I'm wondering if I should be smiling or tearing my hair out. Mr. C and I were scheduled for 6pm this evening.

After a thorough preflight briefing, we headed up to Luray Caverns. Well, first we wandered all over, but not by design. The briefing had covered just about everything we could possibly cover that might be necessary for letting him accomplish the navigation without help. But the execution bore no resemblance to the original plan.

This is among the simplest navigational flights to make. Take off, then point the plane northeast. See that lone mountain sitting there directly in front of you, and all by itself? Point to it. Veer slightly right so it is off your left. Fly next to it for a few minutes, until getting next to the only road that actually crosses the mountain. Look down.

Here is a Google map aerial view. Home airport is near the bottom left of the screen. That isolated mountain that goes northeast is the one to find. Luray is right next to it. I don't claim to have been the best student ever, but I found it on my first try. I had no difficulty finding that one mountain. From there, everything is easy to find.

Instead of making it a really simple flight though, Mr. C. had to complicated everything. He couldn't decide what altitude to fly. He had forgotten to set his directional gyro to match the compass. He couldn't remember that we had needed to be right of the mountain, not left. Essentially, throw away the entire 30 minutes of preflight briefing, and we'd have done just as well, I think. All that talk about planning ahead for the next radio frequency, forgotten.

The first time I take a student there or New Market, I can usually expect some confusion, especially if the wind favors a runway that uses right turns instead of the standard left. Mr. C did not disappoint, in that respect. He got confused, forgot 90% of his checklist as he normally does, turned base way too early, and set us up to be about 600 feet too high. Naturally, that required a go-around. The second time, I had to talk him through it again, and tell him when to turn base. Then he managed to be right about where he needed to be. After stopping and taxiing back, we took off, and stayed in the pattern for another try. This time, still with my help remember how to descend and slow down, he managed the actual flare and touchdown unassisted. That was his first.

I always figured he would learn that part quickly enough. I knew from the outset that his trouble was going to come from always being in way too big a hurry. I had to reiterate that many times today. He wants to get everything done quickly, but he hasn't been bothered enough to actually learn which leg of the approach is which, or how to enter, or any of that.

It continues to be a struggle trying to teach him these things. Next lesson, we go back to the maneuvers and work on stalls and steep turns again. I think he has just enough control now to actually manage them, if he focuses.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

I forgot to add in the two airports we used as fuel stops and leg stretches on the journey. Southbound, we stopped at Augusta Regional in Augusta, GA. Really slow for a towered airport, but then, it wasn't early April, so I understand that.

On the return, we went to Columbia, SC.

Last one here, is home. And a wider view.

That's all for now.

What happens when I have extra time....

I got to playing around with Google maps. That can be a bad thing, if I have anything else I am supposed to be doing. But since today that isn't a problem, I am presenting, primarily for my own amusement, the google maps of the airports I visited this week. If anyone else gets amused in the process, all the better.

Here is Perry-Foley Airport, just south of the urban sprawl of greater downtown metropolitan Perry, Florida.

Next on the list is Keystone, FL. This is where I met my friend Neil and spent an evening relaxing. You will begin to notice a trend. There are a bunch of small, practically abandoned airports all over Florida that used to be military airports. Thus, the multiple runways, some of which are never used any more.

The next day I did a touch & go at Gainesville, (I'm not a Gators fan, so I wanted to move quickly), then turned north to Lake City, FL. I had raced a storm in, gotten a little wet, and had a tough time getting a car or any other services. But I had it better than the guy who did a gear-up landing in his Bonanza. So I wasn't complaining. (The people at the FBO were very nice, it was just a small airport that didn't have much to offer. My timing was probably more at fault than anything else).

After catching a lift back to the airport, I had decided to stay somewhere with more service options, and maybe even dip my toes in the sand and surf. So I took off for Jacksonville. Nice service there, as expected. They have a huge advantage over smaller, less traveled airports though. Still, at a larger airport, you spend a lot of time taxiing. I landed on runway 13 (lower one in the picture, and traveling down toward the right. Then I had to taxi all the way around to the far right side of the picture to park the plane. And that wasn't bad at all by larger airport standards.

That was a lot of sleep last night. I don't normally get more than 7 hours, 9 if I am really tired and can afford to sleep in. Last night it was 11 hours. Sure did feel good though. After that, I spent some time watching a movie and cleaning house. I had to move out of the basement I was living in, and went back to an uninhabited house belonging to my brother-in-law's father. Just about everything I own is in that house, and plenty of it is useless to me, so I've been trying to clear out my things, while generally making the place look nicer. The owners are staying there for a few days starting tonight, so I wanted it to look better than the last time they showed up.

I don't have any flying scheduled today, which doesn't really bother me any. I have to get all my logs in order, so I can take them to Richmond FSDO and present them for examination regarding the crash. Fun stuff. I don't have anything to hide, but occasionally when the FAA is looking at these things, they like to dig. If there are any mistakes in there, I will gladly own up to them.

Meanwhile, DC is getting all of his stuff in order. Wednesday, he is heading to Georgia to check out another possibility for a replacement airplane. I'm not actually sure if I will be flying him down there or not. That's the Alarus CH2000, which I suspect he will not buy. I'm sure he will decide it doesn't have enough legroom. He's only a couple inches shorter than me, and I was really crammed in when I flew one.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Thunderstorms in the morning

I ended up staying in Jacksonville for the night. I had sort've kicked myself for getting a rental car earlier, figuring I would just lose the money on that. I spent another 4 hours sitting around the airport, helping myself to complimentary iced tea, coffee, and snacks, and and waiting for a hole in the weather. It had just become good enough on the radar that I thought I might be able to manage it, if I swung about 60 miles to the south. I'd already packed the plane when I called a briefer, who promptly talked me out of it. (I wasn't hard to convince though). Then Scott called, and told me he was staying the night. We planned to have me show up there by 7am today. That meant I would have to get up way too early, so I could actually be in the plane by dark-o-clock.

So, up a 4am, flight planning by 4:45, in the plane at 5:20. 5:35 departure. As I was climbing through a low scattered layer of clouds, I looked west toward my destination, and saw an impressive lightning show. From that vantage, I couldn't tell how far away all the activity was, but figured it to be about 100 miles. About the right distance to my destination. Before long, I was over a widespread layer of ground fog, and figured on the flight getting interesting. Just before setting up for the GPS approach, I knew the storms would be no factor, but the fog might. In the end, the line of fog was less than half a mile from the airport, but the airport was clear.

I had about 2 minutes to start fueling the plane before Scott showed up. The flight plans I had filed gave me a 7am departure from there, and we hit that right on. After climbing to our cruising altitude of 5,000 feet, we could make out a couple of nasty storms over toward the coast, including one that looked to be headed right toward Jacksonville. Good thing I left early.

Next stop was Columbia, SC for a quick fuel stop and leg stretch. We managed to get out of there only 10 minutes after my flight plan time. Another couple hours, and we were back home. The return was really uneventful, which is exactly what you want sometimes. The biggest event was 10 seconds worth of light rain over Georgia.

Overall, I flew 12.4 hours, visited seven new airports in two new states. Not bad. Scott has a trip coming up before too long to Mississippi, and that will add another. Now I need to find a way to get up to Maine.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Shoulda Gone to the Keys

Retrospective. I should have gone ahead to the keys. I didn't want to spend all day flying around, just to have to fly another 4 to get home, so I stuck close. Yesterday, I was planning to end up in Tallahassee, but it was good that I didn't. They are just getting hammered with storms there. I flew from Keystone out for a touch & go at Gainesville, then headed north to Lake City. The idea was to decide there where to go, after looking at the weather. I had to race a storm in, so I knew I had no hurry once I got down. I could see the rain coming, and thankfully didn't suffer any delay. By the time I taxied into the FBO, the rain had started in earnest.

The airport there is somewhat unusual. They have a control tower, but the surface is in uncontrolled airspace. Class G. I'd heard of that setup before, but never seen it. The tower controller was unfamiliar with my aircraft type (as are many controllers, still). He asked if I could handle only 4,000 feet. I gladly accepted, and took the shorter runway. I had figured that meant they were busy, but I never heard any other traffic, so I was a little puzzled. As I taxied across the larger runway, I found out why: A Bonanza had done a gear-up landing there. Still on the runway. After talking to the manager at the FBO a little bit, I found out it had only happened a couple minutes before I showed up.

My choice of airport to end up at, was somewhat poor. I did manage getting a crew car to get some lunch. It was nearly dinner time by this point, but I hadn't had a bite all day. On recommendation from a local, I chose a local BBQ/steak joint, and was not disappointed.

That still left me with being unsure what to do from there. This was just a local municipal airport, so I was expecting to have some trouble with rental cars and hotels and such. When I made the decision to stay the night, I got a hotel reservation, and started calling for a rental car. Nothing. No rental cars to be had. In the middle of nowhere in Florida on a Wednesday afternoon. One of the ladies manning the FBO helped me out, by driving me to the hotel.

From there, I had to walk for my dinner. As I got up to the door at Arby's, thats when the sky fell out. Heavy rain, etc. I really wanted to get back to the room to eat my dinner in peace, so I bore out through the downpours. So far, not much was going my way, but I was relaxing indoors in privacy, so I couldn't complain.

This morning, I was hoping for a ride from the airport folks again, but no luck. So I called a cab. Except they didn't answer. The only cab company in town, (their ad said "24 hours"), but nothing. They were not answering. I guess they changed it to 23 hours. But one of the hotel people was kind enough to drive me there in his own truck. I always find that most people will go out of their way to help you, if you are simply friendly.

This morning left me with another choice to make. I knew I would have to wait until around noon for Scott to call and give me an idea when to be there to pick him up. His call last night suggested a strong possibility of having to spend another night and leave Friday morning, so I decided that at least I could relocate to an airport with more chance of services. I also wanted to see a beach, so I headed out to Jacksonville International. Just a quick 30 minute flight really, no big deal. But I knew i'd be able to get a car, and hotel, and any other services I might need. Within just a couple minutes of pulling into Signature- one of the fixed base operators on the field- I secured a car and headed down the road looking for beach and lunch. Found both.

I only spent 20 minutes or so walking along the surf before heading for lunch. I still didn't know what the departure time would be. During lunch, Scott called and wanted me there to pick him up by about 6pm. So instead of wandering around town and seeing the sights, I headed back to the airport. As soon as I got back and looked at the radar, I knew I'd have a tough decision to make. For the most part, the skies were a thin broken layer of cumulus, but a storm had planted itself right over my destination, and looked to be there to stay. Another 20 minutes of waiting, and storms were popping up all over.

Still, I decided that it might be just enough to make it, and sometimes you have to make tough flights. They can't all be fun when you're working. I had just put my bag back in the plane and headed to check the radar again, when Scott called. Big nasty storm right over the airport there. So it looks like I might be staying the night afterall.

Still, I can't complain. The FBO has internet access, and everything I could want. So I guess I get to wait it out, and realize that I could have been to Key West and back twice by now.