Another beautiful California winters day. 20C, almost no wind, clear sky and sunshine, just a little hazy. I arrived really early to work on the FAA practice tests on the school’s computer. I still haven’t done the written test and my checkride is only just over a week away. I had planned to do it long ago, but work suddenly got really busy and it has interrupted my study (and my journal). Grainne needed to see two attempts at the practice tests both with scores over 80% before she would endorse my log book to go do the real test. I completed the Cessna Pilot Center ground school kit about a month ago. Since then I have been using the Glime FAA test book to study the actual questions, but I’m only about halfway through. I decided to take a chance and see if I could get the two practice tests out of the way today – it worked, 95% on the first and 90% on the second. Not perfect but good enough for the endorsement.
Grainne showed up about 5 minutes late and we went over the results of the tests and she gave me the endorsement. We talked about yesterday’s flight and decided that today we would fly up to Sunol and do some slow flight, followed by a diversion to Tracy (a likely spot for the FAA examiner to take me). The preflight was fine, tee-shirt weather – you’ve got to love California. Nothing of consequence on taxi and run-up. Grainne asked for a short field takeoff – I was just running up the engine to full power when the tower asked us why we weren’t off the ground yet (he must of been having a bad day), we were rolling by the time Grainne got on the radio to reply.
We climbed up to 4000’ and flew done the valley over Calaveras Reservoir. I did my clearing turns and maneuvering checklist (remember the item about picking out an emergency landing spot – I missed it today). Then throttle back to 1500 RPM, flaps to 10 degrees, keep pitching up to maintain altitude, flaps all the way down once your in the white arc, then power back in to 2100 RPM to maintain the altitude with the airspeed hovering around 40 KIAS and the stall horn blowing merrily in the background, set the trim to keep it all stable. We just did a couple of 90 degree turns – the hardest part is keeping the airspeed slow. As you turn, the nose wants to dip and its really easy to pickup 5 to 10 KIAS of airspeed. The key is to add enough power when you start the turn and to really watch the pitch as you roll out of the turn. Once you can keep the stall horn sounding the examiner should be happy (and don’t lose more than 100’ altitude). I recovered to cruise flight and Grainne gave me the diversion to Tracy.
I got the plane turned in the right general direction and noted the time. Then drew the course line on the chart, it went right through the restricted area west of Tracy so I started a climb up to 5500’ which would take me over the top of the restricted space and was the right VFR cruising altitude for the course anyway. A quick check on the chart and I had the heading and the distance, then I calculated the ETE, (Estimated Time Enroute) and ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and the fuel required. I’ve really gotten rather good at doing this now. I had Grainne find Tracy in her Airport Directory and she gave me the TPA (Traffic Pattern Altitude), CTAF and AWOS frequencies. We also tried to get the Tracy NDB tuned in, but it didn’t appear to be transmitting so the ADF didn’t work. There was no signal on the AWOS either (I just checked the NOTAMs, the AWOS has been out of service since September 12th, but nothing about the NDB). It was really hazy as we came over the Altamont Pass and I was almost on top of the airport by the time I got it in sight. I had the CTAF tuned in and we could hear folks landing on runway 30. About this time Grainne killed the engine to make this a simulated engine out landing (another favorite trick of the FAA examiner). I had started descending, but I was still way high, so I flew roughly parallel to runway 30 to get a look at it and then made a wide right turn to bring me in on the left 45. I was still a little high on the 45 but I was at pattern altitude by the time I turned downwind. I flew a wide downwind and as I turned base I felt a bit low so I decided I didn’t need any help from the flaps to get down. I got on final and made a passable landing pretty much exactly where I wanted to – no engine and no flaps. I even remembered all my checklists. We taxied to the end of 30 and then turned around and took off on 12 – the wind was calm and there was nobody else in the pattern.
On the climb out it was apparent that the haze was really bad – probably below VFR visibility. I made a right crosswind departure and the haze cleared up a bit as we climbed higher. Grainne told me to take us back to RHV. I wasn’t really sure of the heading, so I plotted it on the chart and got it from there. The highest part of the mountains east of San Jose were between us and home so I kept climbing to 6500’ to give myself plenty of margin. On the way up Grainne asked me to intercept the 175 degree radial to the SJC VOR. I got it tuned in and identified, worked out that to get on the 175 degree radial with a to indication you need to setup the 355 radial on the VOR (this is another FAA examiner trick question). I made a bit of a mess working out the intercept angle, I verbally said I wanted to intercept at 90 degrees, but I was actually flying almost due south, so it would have been a long time before I intercepted it on that heading. When I realized this I turned west (the correct intercept). If I had continued on that course I would have intercepted the radial, but somewhere on the final approach to San Jose International and deep in class C airspace – so I’m not sure what Grainne was thinking giving me that one to intercept. Either way, by this time we were coming up on Mount Hamilton so I got the ATIS for RHV tuned in – to hear nothing but silence. I left it on for a while, and we did hear part of a transmission, but I believe they were in the process of the hourly update. In the end I called the tower with negative ATIS and was told to enter right base for 31R and report at 2 miles, he also gave me the wind and altimeter setting. I started the descent and as usual even when you just clear the last ridge before the valley you are still pretty high. So I did a forward slip which worked like a dream, got down to pattern altitude pretty much at the same time I called in the 2 mile check and got a clearance to land. Grainne had decided that this was to be another no flap landing and it went like a dream. The trick is to be really carefully to pitch for the airspeed you want, its harder to fly slow without the flaps and you have to anticipate the fact that it will be a shallower glide to get down.
I really enjoyed the flight. Everything went to plan, no major mistakes. I’ve already setup the FAA test at Nice Air for the coming Tuesday. Hopefully, I’ll fly once or twice next weekend and then its the checkride!