Another dual flight with Grainne, this time its some hood work (the last of the FAA requirements I need to meet before the written exam and checkride) and a trip over to either Palo Alto or San Carlos, either one will be my first time there. The weather is again fabulous for flying pretty much the same as yesterday. I got to Tradewinds about 15 minutes early and spent my time getting all the frequencies it needed and traffic pattern altitudes for PAO and SQL. Grainne showed up and we went through the flight, a right 45 departure, some hood work until we got to Sunol and then a diversion to either PAO or SQL, with the full task of working out the heading, ETE, ETA and fuel for the diversion.
I had a normal preflight and tuned into Ground Control, the controller and some pilot were having a grade old conversation about how it was a pity to have to work on such a great day, the guy in Ground Control was saying it was especially bad working in a fish bowl. When I finally got a word in, I called “Reid Hillview Fish Bowl” instead of Ground Control, he got a laugh out of that as he gave me my taxi instructions. I attempted a soft-field takeoff but it didn’t work, I though I was off the ground and lowered the nose, I wasn’t off yet, then when I did lift off and tried to pitch forward to stay in ground effect I put the wheels back on the ground. Not much good and lots more practice required. I made the right turn and Grainne had me put on the foggles as we climbed. She had me fly various different headings and at some point I tried to level off at 4500’. This isn’t easy using just the instruments (and is not typically required in a checkride), but I managed a passable job. Then it was time for a couple of recoveries from unusual attitudes. The first one was nose low and I recovered pretty quickly. The second was nose high and it took a little longer – Grainne had trimmed the nose all the way up, so it took a lot of forward pressure to get it down and try to adjust trim at the same time as getting straight and level. Then the foggles came off and Grainne asked me did I know where I was, luckily we were just over a lake that was easy to pick out on the chart. See told me to divert to PAO.
I did a good job of getting a heading and got a measure of the distance, unfortunately my plotter doesn’t have a TAC scale, so I planned to use the Sectional scale and divide by two. In the event I used the WAC scale and got an answer of 40 miles. This worked out to be over 20 minutes flying time which just seemed too long, so I decided it must be 20 miles and about 11 minutes. I worked out the fuel in my head. The only mistake I made was not turning to the heading right away. I knew I should, but I also knew that class B airspace was in the way and I was trying to get the chart sorted out before I headed in that direction. So while the heading I originally picked out was right on for PAO, by the time I turned it brought me out further north than I was expecting. I started descending once I’d made the turn and got slowed up to 90 KIAS. I learned today, that slowing up the plane so you can keep up in busy airspace it a great idea. Also having all the frequencies written down in front of me made a big difference. There was enough to worry about without trying to read the chart to tune in the ATIS or whatever. We ended up at 1400’ over the KGO radio towers (which Grainne informed me was a useful landmark for calling a position in to PAO). I called the tower and was told to follow a Cherokee in that was on my left. I really didn’t see the airport until I say him make his turn onto downwind. I had gotten down to the 800’ pattern altitude following him across the water. I turned onto downwind a little early (over compensating for my tendency to fly too close on downwind in strange airports), so I had a long crosswind leg. This got me a little low and I had two red lights on the VASI on final. This was where Grainne informed me that this was an automatic failure in the checkride. This was news to me, I’ve committed this sin so often, I’ll have to be a lot more careful in future. We did a normal landing and then taxied back for another takeoff this time staying in the pattern.
I tried another soft-field takeoff and this wasn’t much better the first attempt. By the time I got off the ground, I was already at 60 KIAS so there was no need to stay in ground effect. I think I’m not pulling back hard enough during the takeoff roll. Flew a right traffic pattern but was again too low on final. I think the smaller runway was giving me the illusion that I was higher so causing me to fly lower. I’ll really need to practice this some more. This time I tried a soft-field landing and this wasn’t much better than the attempt yesterday, at least Grainne didn’t have to reach for the controls this time. We taxied back and asked the tower for a VFR departure to RHV. They told us to make left traffic and we did. I was pretty much abeam the tower when they told me to contact Moffett Field the next class D airport south. I called Moffett and they told me to follow 101 and cross San Jose at or above 1500’ then handed me off to San Jose Tower. I called San Jose and they told me to over fly the field. Did I mention that its a good idea to fly at about 95 KIAS just to keep the plane going slow enough so you have enough time to talk to all these folks. We were just past San Jose when they passed us off to RHV who told me to enter left traffic for 31L. I flew a nice pattern and made another marginal soft-field landing and we finished for the day.
Today’s flight went well other than the soft-field stuff. I’m going to take another solo flight just to practice this technique. with all the cross-country flights I haven’t done too many landings recently and its scary how quickly you go rusty. The radio work with all the various control towers went very well. I’ve never really had a problem talking on the radios and it feels pretty good to navigate such complicated airspace without screwing up. Grainne is going to setup the stage III checkride for the weekend after Thanksgiving. I going to fly at least twice more with her before then and probably one more solo for the pattern work.