Sunday, January 15, 2006

Finally, a brand new entry!

A week or two away from writing entries turned into months. Sorry about that. Life has been a bit crazy in general lately.

So, picking up from October, here's what has happened:

DC and I flew a lot in preparation for his retest. Practically every day. I could see the stress in his eyes, but it was not for his own sake. He was stressed knowing that he wanted me to look good, knowing that if he failed, then we would both look bad, and the crash would look just like two pilots performing poorly.

In late November he finally got his chance. We spoke with the local DPE (designated pilot examiner) who I use, and he came out to fly with DC the day before. He had personally taught the FAA inspector we were meeting the next day, so that couldn't hurt. Our DPE is a really good guy, and I have grown to respect him tremendously over the 5 years I have known him. He really helped calm DC's nerves that day.

When we showed up at Louisa County Airport (KLKU) the next day, we met with the inspector. After a slightly weak oral exam (not bad though), they went to fly. It still hung in the balance there. If the landings went well, that would be the whole test. If not, then the test would get longer.

I watched helplessly from the ramp as they taxied out. Then, I witnessed three of the most beautiful, spot-on, feather-soft landings I've ever seen from him. And then it was over. Just like that, the months-long frustration was over. The inspector was thoroughly impressed with his technique, and not a single fault was found on the flight.

You know the kind of stress that grips you when something major is coming up. Spend four months like that, and then suddenly the relief sets in. We took a short break from some of the flying there, and waited for DC's new plane to arrive.

He had ordered a Symphony SA-160, and we were just waiting to see if he would have to cancel that order. This time, we decided to buy a real airplane. DC had previously had me fly it with the dealer rep a couple of times, to make sure I was happy with it, before he was willing to move forward. What I found was a craft that handles beautifully. The stall is the most docile I have seen in a plane. The only fault I found was what felt like a lack of climb performance. Most of that came to two reasons: First, was the shape of the cowling, which for some reason made me constantly feel as if we were mushing toward the stall. That took me several flights to start really getting accustomed to it. Secondly, I think the manufacturer used a prop that would eke a few extra knots out on the top end, just to get a few extra sales.

I noticed that they also sold a climb propeller, and told him we would have to have that. Virginia isn't extremely mountainous, but here at the home base, density altitude can get to about 4,000 feet on a warm summer day. Within a short flight, we can be at Hot Springs, VA, the highest paved public airport in the east, at almost 3,800 feet up. In the summer there, the density altitude can easily be approaching 7,000 feet.

Plus, the biggest reason we needed the climb prop: planning a trip out west. The plane's service ceiling is 16,000 feet, but we were going to need a plane that could legitimately climb out from fields at 6,000 or more, even at maximum weight.

More on that trip planning in the next entry.

The other big news was that we decided to merge with the other flight school on the field. I had originally been looking for a buy-out, to snag their FAR part 141 status. The biggest factor to me was the manager/ chief flight instructor. Nice enough guy, but mainly because the man is a selling machine. But I know him well enough to know better. He had owned the school when I first we there as a student, 5 years ago. He sold it to one of the instructors, but stuck around. Then that owner sold it to the curent owners, but the first owner still stuck around. And he was the major problem.

Reputation is everything, and he has a bad one. Shortcuts on maintenance, cheating customers out of what they had paid for, breaking contracts, you name it. And philosophically, I knew that I would be unwilling to work with him, especially if he was giving the orders. So I made clear that regardless of how the merger went, if he remained there, I would not.

Thankfully, the owners were starting to see the same problems, and fired him. They verbally committed to doing things the right way, and to starting to rebuild a proper reputation, and working toward developing a school that could legitimately compete across the country for students. With that, I became willing to discuss it.

We don't yet know how it will all go. There is discussion of putting me in as the official chief flight instructor, but I am still a little bit shy of the required flight experience. And I recognize how much work that is. I really don't know if they are willing to pay what the job is worth. So that end of it remains open. I'm teaching more now, having access to more students, so the income is up a bit. But this isn't my long-term ambition. If the job goes to me and they pay properly, then I'll consider it. If not, then I'm looking elsewhere. I can pick up a job in charter easily enough, especially since I don't mind moving and being on the road a lot, so that may be the route I take.

That's all for this entry, for now. Later on, today or tomorrow, I'll tackle the Mrs. Confusion situation. That got more interesting. And I'll tell about the bigger news: the upcoming loooooooong cross-country flight.


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