Monday December 13th 2004, N7383X, 1.6H Commercial Checkride

Well today I passed my commercial checkride. Amazing, I can now be paid for this hobby. I doubt I’m going to get rich anytime soon. But it is sure nice to have it behind me.

The day started off about 7am, checking the weather. It has been really foggy in the San Francisco Bay Area and the California Central Valley for the last week. It has been zero/zero some mornings. The forecast was for more of the same today, but not that bad. My checkride was to be out of Mather Airport in Sacramento, about a 40 minute flight from Reid Hillview in San Jose where I’m based. I had agreed with the Examiner on Friday, that as long as it was likely to be above minimums for the ILS approach (200’ ceiling, 1/2 mile visibility) when I arrived and forecast to be VFR by midday we would be good to go. As it turned out the ceiling was at 1700’ with 2 miles visibility and forecast to be 4000’ scattered later in the morning. I got to Tradewinds at 8am, got a briefing, filed my IFR flight plan and called the Examiner to let him know I was on my way. I never even got into the clouds on the way up, the uncanny ability of ATC to vector me around what few clouds existed still amazes me. By the time I got to Mather the clouds layer was so broken up that it was a clear shot into the airport on the ILS with visibility around 3 miles.

The oral part of the exam began with a briefing from the examiner – usual stuff with a special emphasis on positive exchange of controls in the event of a traffic conflict (sounds like he had a bad experience with this at some point). We went over the paperwork – application form, logbook endorsements and written test result. I had scored a 98% on the written and the Examiner commented that “this must mean I already knew all this stuff” – seemed like a good start. Once he was happy the paperwork was fine and I paid him $350 we got into the questions. For the benefit of any aspiring commercial pilots studying for the checkride this is what he asked as best I can remember.

  • What paperwork needs to be on board the airplane ? …Airworthiness Certificate, Registration, Flight Manual and Weight & Balance.
  • What does an Airworthiness Certificate mean ? …That when the plane was originally certificated it meet all the specifications and requirements of the FAA to be airworthy.
  • Do Airworthiness Certificates expire ? …No, as long as the aircraft is maintained according to the regulations.
  • When is a 100 hour inspection required ? …When the airplane is “for hire”, as in carrying people or things for money, or for flight instruction.
  • If a planes annual inspection was completed today (Dec 13th) when is the next annual required ? …Before the end of December next year.
  • If the annual inspection has expired by one day what does this mean for the Airworthiness Certificate? …Nothing, but the plane is not airworthy to fly until the annual is completed.
  • If the annual inspection has expired what should be done with the Airworthiness Certificate ? …I didn’t know – but he told me it should be removed from the airplane.
  • Why should it be removed ? …So that a pilot will see it is missing and go back to find out why, and so hopefully discovering that the annual has expired and preventing him from flying an un-airworthy aircraft because he didn’t check the maintenance logs before he left.
  • What are you allowed to do as a Commercial Pilot ? …Part 119.1 has a list of activities allowed (at least that are excluded from the part), I was going to list them out but he stopped me.
  • If I was a photographer for the Sacramento Bee newspaper and I came to you and said “I’ll pay you $500 to fly me down to the scene of a forest fire to take pictures and then fly me back”, would you be able to do this legally ? …I said that aerial photography was one of the areas that was permitted, but I wasn’t sure I could also provide the plane. He said that what was important was the purpose of the flight, so in this case I could provide the airplane and charge for it. What you cannot do is engage in carriage of people or things for money which obviously means taking people or things from one place to another (not back to the place you started from).
  • If the same photographer asked you to drop the pictures down to Modesto could you charge ? …No, this would carriage and I don’t hold a commercial operators certificate.
  • If somebody asked you to fly them on a sight seeing trip around Folsom Lake in your airplane could you charge them ? …Yes, sightseeing within 25nm of the departure airport and returning to the same airport is allowed, but has to meet the drug testing requirements in part 135.
  • Then we pulled out he San Francisco Sectional chart and he pointed to a small uncontrolled airport. If you were doing real low pattern work at 600’ what airspace would you be in ? …Class G
  • What are the VFR minimums for this airspace ? …1 mile, clear of clouds.
  • If you are at 800’ what airspace and minimums would apply ? …Class E (it has a magenta fuzzy circle around it), 3 miles, 500 below, 1000 above, 2000 horizontal).
  • Then he pointed to the airspace around Beale Air Force Base, what class of airspace is this ? …Class C.
  • If you were flying from one side to the other at 4500’ what should you do? …Nothing, its top is 4100’.
  • What is the lower limit? …2600’ and 1600’
  • If you had to fly lower at 4000’ then what? …Establish two way radio communication with ATC.
  • What does that mean? …ATC uses you call sign when they reply.
    What happens if they say “Aircraft calling, standby”? …Stay clear of the class C airspace, you haven’t established two way radio contact yet,
  • Do you need a mode C transponder to fly over Beale? …Yes.
  • Then he pointed to the words “7500 MSL” printed in blue in an area surrounded by a staggered blue line. What does this mean? …The base of class E airspace is 7500 in this area.
  • Then he pointed to the words “CHINA MOA” printed in magenta within an area bordered with a feathered magenta line. What does this mean? …Military Operations Area.
  • What should you do in this area? …Be alert for military traffic, call ATC to find out if its being used.
  • How would you know who controls the area? …It is listed on the boarder of the chart.
  • Do you need a clearance to enter? …No.
  • Then he pointed to another small uncontrolled airport with a star printed on top of the airport symbol. What does this mean? …There is an airport beacon.
  • Does this mean it has runway lights? …No, but you can find out if it has from the airport legend by looking for the letter L.
  • What do the tick marks around the symbol mean? …There is fuel available.
  • Then he pointed to the solid magenta 30nm circle centered on San Francisco Airport. What does this mean? …Mode C veil – you have to have an operating mode C transponder within this area.
  • What is the ceiling of the class bravo airspace? …10,000’.
  • Could you fly over it without a transponder? …No.
  • Is there any case when you can fly within the mode C veil without a transponder? …Yes, with prior permission of ATC to ferry the aircraft to a place where the transponder can be fixed.
  • If a guy has a private airport just inside the mode C veil and wanted to fly his Piper Cub at 25’ above the ground over his own property would he still need a transponder? …Yes.
  • What do you need to enter class B airspace? …A clearance from ATC.
  • What would this sound like? …“Cessna 7383X, cleared into class bravo”.
  • Then he told a long story about a guy flying a Bonanza from Sacramento to Palo Alto. The guy called ATC when he was over Concord Airport (just outside class bravo). ATC was really busy and said, “Bonanza 12345, fly heading 240, maintain 7000’” (which leads into class bravo), then continued issuing instructions to other aircraft without breaking. The guy kept going and got busted for entering class bravo without a clearance. At his license suspension hearing he successfully argued that the regulation stating you must always follow ATC instructions in controlled airspace trumped the regulation about needing a clearance. However, we agreed, he should have contacted ATC long before and at least tried to confirm “am I cleared into bravo”. Another moral of the story is if this happens to you – always ask for the ATC tapes straight away.
  • What is the service ceiling of you aircraft? …I said I thought it was 18,000’ as I pulled out the POH. Turns out its 18,000’ with a working EGT gauge otherwise its 14,300’.
  • Is that MSL, AGL or what? …It should be density altitude.
  • What is service ceiling? …The altitude at which you can sustain a 100fpm climb. He then went into quite a long rant about the single engine ceiling of twin engine aircraft. Basically to the effect that multi-engine pilots frequently don’t understand that when this is lower than the density altitude of the terrain over which they are flying this effectively means they are flying a single engine aircraft. That is, lose an engine and you are landing whether you want to or not. I could see this is a sore point with him and many multi-engine checkride candidates.
  • If the temperature at South Lake Tahoe Airport is 90F, assuming a pressure altitude of 6,000’, no wind and a clean dry runway, what is the ground roll and 50’ obstacle clearance distance for your airplane? …Answered this to his satisfaction using the performance chart in the POH.
  • How much does the distances reduce if you have a 15 knot headwind? …Answer straight out of the POH.
  • Then he asked my what was the fuel capacity of my plane? …80 gallons, 75 usable.
  • What does usable fuel mean? …The fuel available in any normal flight attitude.
  • He talked briefly about running a tank down beyond its usable fuel limits and how, when you pitch up on a go around at your destination the fuel would slosh to the back of the tank and the engine would quit.
  • What positions are available on the fuel selector switch? …Both, Left, Right and Off.
  • Are any specific positions required for any phases of flight? …I said I thought Both was required for takeoff and landing, but I couldn’t remember a placard to this effect. While talking I pulled open the POH section on limitations and found the fuel placard which does indeed say that Both is required for takeoff and landing, which I showed him. He said he hadn’t been sure what was in my plane, but he had been planning on checking when we went out to the plane.
  • Given his weight of 162lbs, calculate the weight and CG for the flight we were about to make. …I did the calculation, including the weight reduction for fuel I burned on the way to Mather. He asked me to show him the result on the POH Weight & Balance envelope.
  • Noting that our CG would be quite far forward he asked, what would be the effect of forward CG on cruise speed for any given power setting? …I thought about this for a while, looked at the cruise performance tables in the POH, but they didn’t mention CG. I finally guessed it would increase cruise speed – wrong answer. He explained that with a forward CG we would need to add nose up trim, which is essentially asking the horizontal stabilizer to product more “down” force – which is exactly the same as if we had added weight to the tail of the aircraft. Added weight means higher load factor, higher angle of attack so more drag and slower cruise speed. He said that this is a big deal for the airlines and they always try to load to an aft CG (still within limits).
  • Given what you just learned what is the effect of CG on stall speed? …Forward CG increases load factor and so stall speed also increases.
  • Is you aircraft airworthy? …Yes – He didn’t check any of the aircraft logs.
    When was the annual completed? …October.

Prior to flying we had some discussion on exactly how the take-off climb out should be executed with regards to flaps. Basically, Vy on this plane is 88 KIAS (which is fast for a Skylane – my 1980 fixed gear Skylane has a Vy of only 78 KIAS). If you take-off with 20 degrees of flaps it takes a long time to accelerate to Vy and you need to pitch the nose down almost horizontal. This feels quite clumsy in the plane, but the PTS requires that you accelerate to Vy before retracting any flaps. One of my CFI’s had specifically checked this point with the Examiner before the checkride (mainly because, I was objecting to the technique), the Examiner had been pretty emphatic about getting to Vy before the flaps are touched. Thankfully, a careful reading of the POH over the weekend had shown that for a normal take-off you “should retract flaps slowly after reaching 75 KIAS”. It is reasonable to treat a short or soft field take off the same as a normal take-off once you are into the climb phase (having cleared the obstacle or accelerated out of ground effect). I asked the Examiner what speed I should use (75 or 88 KIAS) and he agreed that we should follow the POH. Moral of the story – always carefully read the POH. We also discussed how gear should be retracted on the short field take-off. Again having read the POH – I said only after the obstacle was cleared – which is the right answer. Then the Examiner stumped me by asking why was this the case. After some thought I guessed that as the gear retracts on a Skylane (which is a high wing plane that tucks its gear into the main body a bit like how a bird tucks it legs in), it causes some drag. Basically the wheels turn sideways as they swing into their up position. You don’t want any drag when you are trying to get over the pine tree at the end of the runway so don’t touch the gear until you are clear.

After a quick break it was off to the flying portion. The weather had cleared even more with just a few clouds at about 2,000’. The plan was to take-off to the southeast, climb to 4,500’ run through the commercial maneuvers and then head to Franklin (F72) for the landings. I did a good job of following all the checklists and remembering to do a break check as soon as I started moving. The first take-off he asked for was a soft field. He said to imagine I was taking off with 6” of snow on the ground. We had some discussion about doing this in a retractable gear airplane, basically leave the gear down for a while so the wind can blow off any snow you may have accumulated. I demonstrated a picture perfect soft field take-off, got into ground effect early, pitched to keep the plane there and smoothly let her fly out of ground effect, bring the gear up, then flaps in increments, climb out right at Vy. We turned to a heading of 150 and climbed up to 4,500’. I remembered my climb and then cruise checklists and leveled off right on altitude.

We started with steep turns. He said I could do them one at a time or not (PTS says one should lead straight into the other). I slowed up to about 100 KIAS mentioning that that was the correct maneuvering speed for our weight on the flight, did some clearing turns and completed the maneuvering checklist – we had some discussion about the fact we were now on top of a broken cloud layer so an it was a good thing we were surrounded by hundreds of square miles of flat farm land in the case of an emergency landing. The steep turns were almost perfect (they are usually my nemesis in a checkride – I can only do them right when I’m on my own in the plane). Then we did slow flight, it was a bit unusual. First slow to 90 KIAS, maintain 4,500’, maintain heading. Then 10 degrees of flaps and slow to 80 KIAS. Then turn to a heading (90 degree turn) while slowing to 70, descend 200‘ maintain 70 KIAS. Then 20 degrees of flaps and slow to 65 KIAS, climb back to 4,500’ and turn another 90 degrees. This all went really well – its just like an attitude flying exercise in IFR training and I managed to spend enough time looking at the instruments to fly it pretty well. Then the Examiner asked me to demonstrate a stall and normal recovery from he current configuration (20 degrees of flaps, level 65 KIAS, gear up). This went well. Then a full power-off stall, 40 degrees of flaps, gear down with a full recovery, again this went well. Then an approach to landing stall, I don’t recall the exact configuration I was in, but I think it was clean (no flaps or gear). Basically it was a stall in a descending left turn. It worked ok, but not great (I haven’t practiced turning stalls enough), I over banked a little. Then a power-on stall in a climbing right turn. Basically, clean configuration, full climb power. I screwed it up – let the plane bank way too much and got pretty uncoordinated in the process. He had me repeat it to the right, this one went much better, though it is pretty hard to get a clean stall break on a power-on stall in this aircraft with the gear up. Next up was Chandelles. I did some clearing turns trying to find some good visual references for the maneuver. Basically there wasn’t much to use, we were over a broken layer of cloud in the middle of the Central Valley – so any convenient mountains were a 100 miles away. I ended up using some small cumulous clouds that were poking up from the flat layer as a reference. I did one Chandelle to the left and one to the right. They were acceptable, but I got dinged for not being really smooth on the roll-out, I actually rolled out a bit off heading. I said this was due to the lack of a good visual reference which was pretty true. Then we setup for lazy eights. The first one didn’t go great, same problem being a little impatient with the rollout and so not ending up right on the exit heading with the wings level. He had me repeat the maneuver and the second one was better – basically I just slowed down a bit which always helps in a lazy eight. There really wasn’t much wind so the examiner decided that we would skip the eights on pylons and as the cloud was pretty solid over Franklin we headed to Rancho Murieta (RIU) which is closer to the mountains and over which the layer was still scattered. Thank goodness for GPS, I’d have never found the airport otherwise.

I got the CTAF and airport elevation from the sectional chart. There was a helicopter and a Warrior in the pattern using runway 22. So after dropping down through a hole in the cloud , was passed over mid field at about 300’ above pattern altitude (which was a little low, we passed right over the Warrior on downwind). I didn’t make a great entry to the pattern (fatigue was setting in), basically, made a left turn and came in on left base instead of a right turn to come in on the left 45. Still, the Warrior was on final when I joined base so no harm done. I suffered a moment of panic as I came out of the turn (I was still expecting to be somewhat close to a 45 entry) so I lost sight of the airport – I asked the Examiner to point it out – which he did (CRM right). The first landing was to be a Short Field landing. I came in steep and made a left side slip to lose some altitude. This worked well, but considering the wind was light but 90 degrees across the runway from the right I should of made the slip to the right. We touched down just about within the 100’ spec (he said use the start of the tarmac as he aiming point – which is actually somewhat ambiguous as to the required touch down point from which the 100’ should be measured). However, having neglected the crosswind, we landed somewhat hard was a side force to the left – rather a big no-no for a commercial checkride. I was admonished on the taxi back to runway about crosswind correction. However, obviously not enough as you will see on the next landing. Before that however, the examiner asked for a short field take-off. The field elevation is 140’, he set the altimeter to 100’ and told me the obstacle was 100’ tall so he wanted to see Vx held until we were passed 200’ indicated. The take-off went well, I held in position right at the start of the runway, full power with the breaks held, release, rotate at 50 KIAS, hold 65 KIAS to 200’, then pitch for 90 KIAS, gear up and flaps up slowly after 75 KIAS. This time around he asked me to repeat the short field landing because the last one was poor. Everything went well and at about 20’ above touch down he said “go around”. The go around was pretty good, everything came up at the right time in the right sequence. With the go around we were pretty close to the Warrior, so we extended upwind to get some space. This next landing was again to be a short field landing, but then he pulled the power abeam the numbers to make it an emergency landing. He didn’t specify any particular touch down point so I didn’t volunteer one (so just a plain vanilla emergency landing – not a precision 180 power-off landing). I managed to say the right words about quickly checking the obvious (carb heat and mixture) but as we were next to an airport we would just land. On base I mentioned about securing the aircraft (fuel off, doors open etc.). I also mentioned that I’d turn early into the field as I had a long runway and it fine to use all of it to land. Again I used a left slip to get down – forgot about the cross wind in all the excitement and landed with some side force to the left. The Examiner didn’t say much but wasn’t happy – he told me later he was strongly considering failing me at this point – not sure why he didn’t. Last we did a normal take-off and headed back to Mather (which is very close by), we stayed under the clouds at about 1,200’ and made a left base entry for 22L. At this point the Examiner asked for a no-flap landing with extra added crosswind correction. This actually went OK. But it was really hard in the flare with the nose way up in the air (because of no flaps) and the right wing down. I couldn’t see any of the runway to keep the nose straight. Right at the last moment I felt that sudden sink that tells you that you are about one foot above the ground instead of 1 inch and you are about to hit hard. I gave the engine a burst of power which just about softened the landing to acceptable – with no side force – which frankly was luck because I couldn’t see the runway to keep the plane lined up with it.

And that was it. 22L is over 11,000’ long and all the taxi ways except the last one are currently closed so its a very long drive back to parking. Other than further advice to practice crosswind landings especially with a wind from the right and the paperwork was filled out. My shiny plastic Private Pilots License was taken away and replaced with a temporary paper Commercial Pilots License. I’m just glad its over.

By the time I got a briefing and got out of the FBO (and called my CFI to give Her the good news) the sky was pretty much overcast. So I asked for a Tower IFR clearance to VFR on top and promised I’d cancel when I got there. A nice climb up through about 1,500’ of cloud got me into the sunshine. I cancelled, climbed to 6,500’ and headed for home. Even though the METAR for RHV had promised FEW at 4,500’ the Bay Area looked socked in, so I dropped down near Livermore to about 3,000’, the visibility was really bad . Some more IFR, in this case I Follow Roads, I found 680 and tracked it over the Sunol Grade and down through Fremont until I had RHV in sight. A nice non-eventful landing and for the second year in a row I complete my years flying in the USA with a successful checkride. Next week I’m off to Ireland to spend Christmas with my family. Back in the New Year I’ll start to work on that CFI for next year’s Christmas checkride.

Saturday April 17th 2004, N2805E, 1.3H

My second tail dragger lesson started with a quick pre-brief with Bob on the maneuvers we were going to practice. Basically more coordination practice and stalls. This time I got to do the pre-flight on my own no issues found. Bob arrived, asked me about oil and fuel and then we went through the “brakes, throttle, contact” routine as he hand prop’d the plane. Unlike last time, I got to try and make the right turn out of the tie down spot – no luck, even with full right rudder she wouldn’t turn and we were headed for the fuel truck when Bob took over and made the turn – it is a difficult dance between holding full rudder, tapping the right brake and applying power to get around the corner. Once around however, I took care of the taxi all the way to the run-up area. One of the mags was a little rough on run-up but high power for about 20 seconds cleared it (there is no mixture control to lean the engine to help clear the plugs). We were cleared for take-off on 31L and this time I got to work all the controls. Stick about 2/3 forward, full power, keep her straight, 40 MPH, stick a little forward to bring up the tail – now really keep her straight, then we’re up. It was not pretty, I think I know what I’m doing wrong. When I make a correction, I hold that correction to bring the plane back to the center line (which is what I try to do in my Skylane). However, this is the wrong thing to do. Instead the aim is to just keep the tail behind the nose because once it starts to swing around it takes increasing force to correct. So being a bit off center line is fine, don’t worry about it (I’m sure that as I improve, I won’t get off center line in the first place) – just stop the sideways movement.

Anyway, we depart downwind towards IBM at 2500”, there is a broken ceiling today a little above 3000” so we’ll be staying low. The climb up is fairly smooth – I getting the hang of using a gentle touch with this plane. I practice some Dutch rolls on the way – not too bad, but I get out of sync quicker than I would like. We do some rudder turns as well. These are just using the rudder to dip the wings, I’m not quite sure what they teach you other than rudder on its own is a piss-poor way to turn an airplane. Once we get over the open country-side south of San Jose we start the airwork with a couple of clearing turns, there is not much traffic today because of the low ceiling. First off its a couple of steep turns just to get back into the feel of the plane. Then straight into stalls with power on and off. I make a reasonable job of these, still little too aggressive on dropping the nose for recovery. Then Bob takes control to show me what he calls “rudder stalls”, he warns me that these can get a little violent (that is an ominous term when applied to a plane). So, first he does a power off stall, on the stall break instead of recovering he holds the plane in the stall and then tries to keep the wings level using just the rudder. Now I have done this exact same maneuver in a Skyhawk during my Private Pilot training. I remember at the time telling my CFI that I was a bit scared when I stalled the plane that one wing would drop and I’d start to spin (this happened the very first time I tried a power-on stall and it scared the hell out me, I only had 5.8Hrs at the time). So the CFI says, “Don’t worry if that happens just use the rudder to level the wings, its easy”. He then proceeds to show me by stalling the plane and getting me to hold the wings level with a fixed heading using just the rudder while he held the plane in the stall. It was easy and we held the plane like that for maybe a minute or so. It was a great demo and it did a lot to reduce my fear of power-on stalls. So now I’m wondering why Bob is telling me “it could get a bit violent” doing the same thing in a Champ. It didn’t take long to find out. It was a bit like balancing on the edge of a blade. One wing would start to drop, quick rudder correction, the other wing would start down a little faster, after 3 or 4 oscillations, bam! time to recover! which was pretty easy, just let the nose drop out of the stall. Then it was my turn, I think the most I managed was 2 oscillations before I lost it and automatic (that is mild panic) recovery kicks in. I don’t like flying planes when they are nasty and unstable like this, but it doesn’t scare me nearly as much anymore.

Next up Bob completely screws me up by covering the slip indicator (the ball). Now there is not many instruments in this plane, but I like this one the most and I glance at it a lot. But like all flight training, your favorite instrument is always the one the CFI takes away first! Now its back to steep turns, and I do a fairly poor job of staying coordinated. Basically, I always relied on the ball to tell me which rudder peddle to press. Now, I’m getting pushed out the side of the plane because of a slip or is it a skid? I’m not sure, so which peddle do I press ? Truth be told I’m still not that sure – I need to get this straight in my head the next time out. After a few turns I’m doing a little better, but its more by random experimentation with the peddles rather than an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing. Then its back to more stalls (with no ball!). This time I just try to keep the plane’s nose straight as I get into the stall and hope this keeps me coordinated enough that I don’t drop a wing too much on the break. Nothing too dramatic happens so it must have worked. Then Bob tells me to take my feet off the peddles, stall the plane and when a wing drops try and level it with the ailerons. In other words do everything wrong that you can when you stall a plane. So, feet off the rudder and pitch up. The plane starts yawing & turning to the right, then the stall break and the right wing drops. Quick left aileron to try to level the dropping wing. The result, the bottom drops out from under the right wing and we fall to the right in maybe an 80 degree wing down attitude. Whoa! I’m so surprised Bob has to remind me, “recover with rudder“. Quick left rudder, levels the wings, stick forward and recover from the stall, no problems, much excitement. Thankfully, Bob tells me that that is the most excitement we will have today. The moral of this story is don’t ever ever try to recover wings level in a stall using the aileron – it will just make an already bad day a whole lot worse. For those of you wondering why, what happens is this. When you stall while the airplane is uncoordinated one wing will stall before the other (it drops because it loses lift before the other wing – so the plane is unbalanced around its longitudinal axis ). Now, when you try and correct with aileron, you actually lower the aileron on the dropped wing (aileron down on a wing usually has the effect of increasing the wings lift and causing it to rise). However, the wing is stalled, so when the aileron lowers it changes the cord of the wing which increases the angle of attack (which is the angle between the wing cord and the relative wind).

Angle of Attack increases when the aileron drops

Now in a well behaved wing, the stall starts at the root first, the wing tips may not be stalled and are providing a little lift. Until you drop the aileron (which is out on near the wing tip) and increase the angle of attack in the last bit of wing that was working. The wing now totally stalls, stops being a wing and becomes dead weight heading towards the earth.

The last set of maneuvers was slips. First forward slips which are easy. Until you try to get smart and smoothly try to transition from left wing down to right wing down. Left to right, right to left, back and forth. This takes some fancy footwork and I confess I just couldn’t get it to work right. This I need to practice. Then we tried side slips, but not your simple drop a wing and keep the nose straight. Bob had me enter a slip and then vary the bank angle more and less while keeping the nose absolutely fixed straight ahead. First banked right then left and back again. Boy this was hard, I had the nose wandering all over the shop, but I can see how fine control of this skill will make cross-wind landing much easier.

At last it was time to head back to RHV. As I attempted to fly straight and level, Bob asked me why we were flying in a slip with the right wing down, dammit the ball is still covered and I can’t feel he slip in the seat of my pants. I try to get the wings as level as I can and the nose pointing in the same direction we are flying. This should be easy but it isn’t. About 3 miles out I’m back in a slip again, simply by virtue of getting the plane lined up with 31L and the nose pointing down the runway (rather than having a crab angle into the wind as one normally would with a slight crosswind). Bob decides I’m practicing my side slips from a long way out and I don’t tell him any different. We have a plane behind us so we keep the power up as we glide down. I hit 60 MPH over the numbers and then flare a little high again. I hold the flare, then as we sink bring the stick all the way back and bam, we set down all three wheels on the center line. I’m on the rudder peddles and we don’t swerve too much. I think Bob might have helped with the braking a little as we rollout. I think we got of at taxiway D which is a pretty long landing. We had asked for the option, so we taxi back to the hold short line and Bob asks the tower for a high speed taxi. This is basically to practice the takeoff roll. It doesn’t go well, we swerve all over the shop – I made the same mistakes I made on the takeoff. At the time I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong, its only later after some thought that I think I know the mistake I’m making. We were going to practice a few more high speed taxi’s, but there are four planes down in the run-up area and things are getting busy. So we terminate with the tower and I taxi back all the way to the fuel truck outside Amelia’s. Part of a tail-wheel checkout at Amelia’s is to learn how to refuel the plane from the truck. Not too hard, but a new skill. Bob did it the first time, this time I did it.

So my second lesson is over. Again, it was great and again I learned a bunch of stuff about basic flying that just wasn’t that real to me before. Sure, I knew about not using ailerons in a stall, but today I really learned why. Sure, I knew about slips, but I never really had any fine control over them. I still don’t, but I’ve got a feeling that after some more practice I will. And lastly, my first unassisted tail wheel landing. Not too bad and actually easier than the takeoff. I’m looking forward to some pattern work to hone this skill.

….Time Passing….More Time Passing….Boom…2 Years Later…..

Well I finally finished my tail wheel endorsement on 4/1/2006, almost two years since I first started it. I flew 4 more times with Bob in the Champ with the last two flights doing pattern work and practicing landings. I got almost 9 hrs in total.Then life intervened, I headed off on a business trip. I never got around to scheduling a next flight with Bob and he never called me back (big sin for a CFI that wants to keep their business going). Frankly, he didn’t really click with me and the training experience wasn’t great. Either way, work got busier and I even stopped working on my commercial rating. I finally got back into the training grove and did my commercial checkride in December of 2004. Then in September 2005 my Private Pilot CFI, Grainne Gilvarry started working as a CFI in Amelia Reid and I re-started the tail wheel endorsement with her in the Citabria. It still took forever, 10 flights & 11hrs spread over 8 months to finally get the endorsement finished. Basically, both our schedules and the weather conspired to make it difficult to schedule flights.

I will say I’m a much better pilot today compared to when I first started flying tail draggers two years ago. Mainly just due to experience with almost twice as many hours. Tail draggers are a lot of fun, they are not all that hard to fly (or land for that matter), you just need to give them your full attention. Flying them WILL absolutely make you a better stick and rudder pilot, you will without doubt fly that Skyhawk or Skylane better. Also after landing the Citabria in a 10-knot crosswind I’m a lot more confident about crosswind landings – a skill that almost cause me to fail my commercial checkride.

Sunday April 11th 2004, N2805E, 1.4H

So here I am, private pilot ASEL, instrument rated and working towards my commercial ticket. My plans for this year include getting my CFI ticket. I guess, I’m about 6~8 weeks away from the commercial checkride but I need to get the written done and the 10 solo night landings all the other requirements are done. So, I’m thinking lets start looking at the CFI requirements. It turns out there aren’t any additional ones once you have the commercial ticket and instrument rating – except a spin endorsement. So I have to go get some spin training sometime between now and some distant date later this year when I do the CFI checkride. Well, if I’m going to go spin a plane, it might as well be a fun plane like a tail dragger. Then the idea really starts to bite, well if I’m going to spin a tail dragger I might as well learn how to fly one at the same time. And if I learn how to fly a tail dragger then my landings and coordination flying a normal plane will almost certainly improve (I might even land on the runway center line on a more consistent basis) . So if I’m going to learn to fly and land a tail dragger and that is going to make me a better stick & rudder pilot then why wait, why not do it before the commercial checkride and get the benefit for two checkrides! So that is why I’m mixing in a tail wheel checkout with my commercial training, (Oh yes, and the tax refund that will shortly arrive and pay for it). Lastly, I feel that I’m a much better pilot on the ground than in the air. Both checkrides I’ve done (private & instrument) went the same way, great oral test with only a passable flight. To some extent I hope that the focus on the real basic flying skills in a tail dragger will change this.

Now if you want to fly tail draggers in San Jose then the only place to go worth talking about is Amelia Reid Aviation in Reid Hillview Airport (Yes, its the same Reid – Amelia’s father founded the airport). This FBO is a whole different experience from Tradewinds or any of the other flight schools on the field. Their whole fleet are tail draggers – A Champ, a Talyorcraft and a bunch of Citabria’s. The atmosphere is busy and informal. The front office is usually crowded on weekends with pilots, students and CFI’s. The walls are covered with years worth of awards and memento’s, old pictures of planes and pilots. Their motto is “Real Pilots Fly Tail Draggers”, I’m not sure I totally agree, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think there was some truth to the statement.

I had called up on Friday and arranged a flight at 2pm today, Bob Goodwyn was the CFI that happened to answer the call – so first off I’ll fly with him. He told me to arrive early and I did. Bob is a tall blond guy who appears to drink coffee more or less on a continuous basis – his right hand seems to be permanently holding a cup. I thought I drank a lot of coffee – buy I now realize I am a mere bit player in the coffee drinking arena. We spent the first hour just going over the theory of what a plane’s rudder is for and why tail draggers are different. A lot of the stuff I have read about before and from an engineering perspective I understand why the center of gravity being behind the wheels makes the plane dynamically unstable on the ground . For non-engineers this means that taxiing a tail dragger is like pushing a supermarket trolley backwards (or driving a fork-lift which I have never done). Basically, the tail would much prefer to be in front rather than behind you – meaning that given a chance it will try to swing around in a bit of tail dragger revenge know as a ground loop. Apparently tail draggers were invented to punish pilots who think that they are done flying once the plane’s wheels are on the ground. Bob, explained a bunch of maneuvers we would practice – all basically to learn how to fly in a coordinated manner, then it was off to pre-flight the plane.

Today we would fly N2805E, the Aeronica Champ – a 1946, tandem two seat plane with a stunning 65HP engine. The student sits in front with the CFI in the back (opposite to the Piper Cub arrangement). The pre-flight is fairly basic – there is not much to check on the plane. Fuel (should be full – there is only 3-hours worth in the tank so the club doesn’t let you leave without a full tank). Oil – 3~4 quarts. Lift the engine cowl to check the oil and generally look at the rather small engine. Remove the cover and check the beautiful wooden prop – tail draggers don’t like brakes – they punish their over-enthusiastic use by nosing over and hitting the prop on the pavement – therefore make sure the previous pilot didn’t damage the prop. Check the controls – breaks (they are not very good) and rudder. Make sure the stick moves everything the way it should. There is no electrical system in the plane – except a radio which has its own battery – you need to do a radio check by calling Ground Control in case the battery is flat. Check the wheels and wings (looking for damage to the wing tips – resulting from a ground loop). Lastly check the tail. Be careful where you push and prod the plane – its made of fabric not metal! Now its time to start the engine. No electrical starter here – its a hand prop job. Its is a complete blast from the past, like being in an old movie. “Breaks”, “Throttle”, “Contact” and Bob swings the prop and the engine starts. Very cool, but I’m happy to be the one sitting in the plane while he does the dangerous bit out front. The cockpit is rather different from what I’m used to. No yoke, instead a real stick, fly with your right hand, left is used for the throttle. No mixture or prop control. No instruments except some engine gauges (oil pressure and temp), an altimeter, an airspeed indicator (rather strangely reading a little over 200 MPH as we sit on the ground) and a slip indicator (the “ball”). There is a compass over on the right which I doubt would be a whole lot of use for navigating anywhere. The radio is on the floor between the rudder peddles, its a bitch to reach down to change frequency. Instead of toe brakes, there are heel brakes, quite a bit harder to work in conjunction with the rudder. That’s it – no distractions in this cockpit.

Bob releases the tie-downs and chocks and climbs in the back – he takes care of the difficult right turn out of the tie-down spot. Then its my big moment – first time to actually drive a tail dragger on the ground. After everything I’ve heard I’m convinced that a second’s inattention will cause a ground loop – that I’m riding a completely wild animal ready to turn on me in a second. We start to taxi very very slowly – Bob gently reminds me that this taxi way is uphill – perhaps a little more power might get us to the runway before our two hours slot is over. So I cautiously increase the power – nothing bad happens. A little more power, almost up to normal taxi speed – nothing bad continues to happen. Hey! wait a minute! this isn’t bad. This plane is not trying to kill me (or merely badly damage my bank account). It goes in a straight line, it responds to gentle nudges of the rudder, It doesn’t feel in the least bit unstable. Is it all a lie? – a carefully organized conspiracy to make tail draggers appear more difficult than they really are ? Don’t they know I have a web site – that I’ll tell the world their dirty little secret – a tail dragger won’t actually kill you and spit out your head for the presumption of trying to taxi it in a straight line. Well, as you can see my confidence was increasing. Next comes the 90 degree turn onto taxiway Zulu. But wait! the plane happily makes the turn, the tail stays behind me like its supposed to. Confidence continues to increase – I do S-turns as we go down the taxiway just to show who’s boss. Its funny, but the last time I drove a plane down taxiway Zulu fish-tailing it like this was my second ever flying lesson and that was because I didn’t have clue how to work the peddles.

Bob takes care of the turn into the run-up area and we do our engine checks. There is not much to check other than carb heat and mags. Then the turn-out to the runway threshold. Bob, talked quite a bit in the pre-flight briefing about how tail draggers like to weather vane – so they don’t like turning their tail into the wind (which is exactly what you are trying to do after a run-up facing into the wind turning to face downwind to get to the runway). A little quick work on the breaks and rudder and Bob makes the turn look easy. We are cleared for take-off on 31L and Bob tells me he will work all the controls except the rudder peddles – that’s my job. The take-off is a quick swerve one way, stamp on the rudder and swerve the other way – then we’re up. Bob comments that its not that bad for a beginner – we stayed on the runway, if not on the center line. Bob, gives me all of the controls as we climb out – the turbulence is really bad the plane is yawing from side to side, the wings rolling one way then the other like a drunken seagull. As we climb on the downwind I ask Bob if it is really this bouncy or is it just me. He sardonically answers, “It’s mostly you”. By 3000’ the “turbulence” is finally easing, I have discovered that leaving the controls alone is a good way to get the plane to behave. You need only a very light touch – its not a Skylane. I start to notice the view, wow! I’m surrounded by windows the visibility is fantastic. This is nothing like anything I’ve ever flown before. The seat is high up, its easy to see over the nose, there is no instrument panel in the way. I’m surrounded by sky and it is way cool. This feels like really flying.

We level off about 3,500’ and over Lake Anderson start our maneuvers. First off – feet off the rudders and bank the plane one way then the other. Now, in a Skylane or a Skyhawk as long as you make some attempt at pushing a rudder when you turn the plane pretty much does what its supposed to (that is turn). Even, feet off, you don’t notice much adverse yaw. No so in the Champ! right bank – boom, the nose yaws 30 degrees to the left and she really doesn’t want to start turning. This is an eye opener, I’ve read about adverse yaw, its in the books, but this is the first time I’ve really see it. Then its Dutch rolls – this is a bit like trying to pat your head with one hand and rub your belly with the other at the same time. The idea is to bank one way then the other all the while keeping the nose fixed on some point on the horizon with the rudder. Basically, you work the rudder and aileron in sync but a little out of phase with each other. After five or six rolls you get out of sync and it all goes to hell (the nose starts to swing left and right). I actually do a pretty good job of this for a first timer. Bob tells me that we will pretty much be doing Dutch rolls whenever were aren’t doing anything else. Then we do some steep turns left and right, first at 45 degrees then at 60. This is not too bad – and boy you really feel the 2G’s in the 60 degree turn. We try some forward slips left and right, again not too bad, but the nose really wants to pitch up when you get into the slip. Then a maneuver called fish-tailing, basically yaw the plane left and right with the rudder, but keep the wings level with the ailerons. Another exercise that teaches coordination between rudder and aileron that is kind of the inverse of the Dutch rolls. Then its slipping and skidding turns. This is cool. Again, I’ve read about “flying by the seat of your pants”, the ability to actually feels the sideways force in a slipping or skidding turn (like the force you feel going around a corner in a car). But, I’ve never really noticed it in a plane – until now. First start a turn and leave keep the rudder pressure in – basically use the rudder to force the nose of the plane inside the turn – this is a skid. You really feel the push towards the inside of the turn. Then ease off the pressure on the inside rudder and apply a little outside rudder (not too much or she stops turning) you need a little extra inside aileron to keep turning. Now you feel the slip pushing you sideways to the outside of the turn. Very cool finally I start to understand how to feel the slip or skid with the “seat of my pants”. Lastly we finish off with some stalls, power-off straight ahead and turning. There is no stall horn and the stall break is a little more inclined to have a wing drop compared to the Cessna’s I’ve flown. But stay on the rudder and the recovery is pretty easy, though I probably let the nose drop too far on the recovery (but that is fun too).

We headed back to Reid Hillview, cleared to land on 31L. Bob had me pull the power all the way back and glide in at 60 MPH. I consistently over estimated how far I could glide. In my Skylane, if I’m above glide slope (two white lights on the VASI) within 3 miles of the threshold, then I’ll have to work fairly aggressively to get down and slow up to land. Get far above the glide slope and it ensure a less than pretty landing. All my practice (especially for the instrument and commercial) has been to get on glide slope and ride it all the way down to the surface. I generally keep power until over the threshold, the Skylane will drop its nose and sink like a stone if you pull all the power off, this can make slowing your vertical descent rate over the numbers somewhat interesting. The Champ drops pretty steeply without power as well, so I finally find the point where she will glide to the numbers. I flare a little high and balloon up, Bob adds a burst of power and we settle onto the runway with the stick all the way back landing on three wheels. I feel Bob hit the rudder a couple of times keeping us straight and slowing us up. It was my first “assisted” trail dragger landing. Again, we stayed on the runway, walked away from the plane and get to use it another day. Not too bad. The taxi back to Amelia Reid is a non-event.

So my first tail dragger experience is done. It was a blast, so much fun its hard to believe its legal. I totally, without any reservation urge you to go fly a tail dragger. Even that single lesson has taught me a whole lot about how planes really fly. Concepts like adverse yaw, slips and skids that I had learned but never really understood in real terms were made real today. The Champ seems to amplify the effects (or more likely they have been designed out of more modern training aircraft). I can’t wait to try out some the maneuvers I’ve learnt today in my own plane – I wish I been shown them as part of my Private Pilot training. I know the effects won’t be as pronounced, but now that I know what to look for I’m sure I’ll see them. This tail dragger endorsement is going to be a lot of fun.

Tuesday December 16th 2003, N182AK, 1.5H IFR Checkride

I took my IFR Checkride with a DE based in Mather Field (KMHR) in Sacramento. The following is the “debrief” I fed back to my CFII after it was all over. I was my CFII’s second student to take the checkride so I’d got a description ahead of time from the first student on what to expect.

No problems on the flight up, had a great tailwind and made 150 knots ground speed. Visibility was 10sm. I got lazy, and approach was busy so I didn’t bother with asking for vectors for the ILS into MHR. When I called the tower, I was given right traffic for Rwy-22 and told to report abeam the tower, then given a clearance to land on 22L. Tragen is very easy to find – get off on taxiway D, then left on A and you can’t miss it. I parked in the wrong place – hint park beside the Cessna 150 not the Falcon Jet – the line guy moved my plane over with the other spam cans while I was doing the oral.

The DE was waiting for me outside, when I got there. We went into a little conference room in the very plush Tragen FBO. He started with the paper work, checked the forms and my PPL and Medical. Never looked at my Aircraft Logs or Log Book. Same reason he gave before, “You’re PIC so its not my problem if the aircraft is not airworthy”. Paid $300, he said that the price is going up in January to $325 (decided after a meeting of the local DE’s recently), still cheaper that the $350 I paid for my Private checkride.

Here is a list of the questions I can remember from the oral and the answers he accepted.

  • What is the static port for ? ..provides static air pressure to the VSI, Altimeter & ASI
  • How does the VSI work? …Calibrated leak (I explained what that was and how it worked).
  • What instruments are vacuum driven ? …AI, DG
  • Is it allowable to have all the gyro instruments driven off the same source ? …I said I had never read the FAR that said that, but that I thought it would be a good idea to NOT run them all off the same source. He said the FAR is in the part dealing with maintenance (part 23 ?).
  • What VOR checks are required? …Every 30 days
  • List all the ways you can check them …VOT+/-4, Designated point+/-4, In the Air center of an airway over a landmark +/-6 & dual check – no more than 4.
  • Then I got the VOT question – when you measure an error during a VOT check then should you apply the error to normal navigation? …No, the system is setup to work with the allowable errors.
  • What are the requirements for filing an alternate? …1,2,3 rule
  • What about if the alternate has no approaches? …VFR from MEA down
  • The airport has no forecast weather, how do you know what its going to be? …Area Fcst, nearby airports, other weather reports (internet), call someone on the field.
  • Then the Joe Lineman question? If you called an FBO at a destination to check the weather and somebody told you it was CAVU could you use that as a valid weather report ? what about if he said it was overcast at 1,500” ? …Yes, I’d accept Joe Lineman’s assessment that it was CAVU, but not his weather report of 015OVC RVR1000.
  • He drew a hold over a VOR on a piece of paper and then asked about the various entries – What entry from here ? for a parallel, teardrop and direct. He greatly favors the teardrop entry (So I treated him to two of them on the practical).
  • How would you know you were abeam the holding fix to start the outbound timing? …My first answer was I could setup the second VOR on a radial 90 degrees from the inbound radial (he said yes, but not the best way). Then I said, time from wings level which he didn’t like and we proceeded to analyze how a 40 knot tail or head wind would completely screw that method up. Finally, I said that the ambiguity flag should flip as you pass the point directly abeam the VOR – this was the answer he was looking for.
    Are the various holding entries regulatory? …No
  • What is regulatory about holds? …I said reporting entering the hold and staying inside the protected area. I said there were speed limits depending on altitude, but I couldn’t remember them and would have to look them up.
    How long are the hold legs? …1 minute
  • What about if you are at 14,000′? …I said I didn’t know. Right answer is 1.5minutes.
  • Was my aircraft certified for know icing? …No, I’m not that rich.
  • What was known icing? …An actual pilot report of ice.
  • Could you fly if the freezing level was 3,500′, the cloud base 4,000′ with tops at 6,000′ and an MEA in the clouds? … Legally yes, but not very smart.
  • Could you climb up through the clouds to VFR On Top in the same case? …Legally yes, but again not smart (and I added that ice could prevent you from ever climbing out).
  • What if there were reports of “Light Rime Ice” on the route? …Legally No – now it is known icing.
  • He spent some time trying to but the fear of god into me about flying anywhere near ice and telling me about an encounter he had in a Barron. One hint – if the prop is iced up – cycle it quickly to break it free.
  • Pulled out the Low Enroute chart asked to explain the following: MEA, MOCA, DME distances as shown on the chart.
  • Are VOR radials True or Magnetic? …Magnetic.
  • What is the COP on a airway? …Halfway point
  • What is it on an airway with a marked COP? …The mark
  • What is the COP on V23 between RBL and SAC? …Its GRIDD because the airway changes direction at that point (we were there on the IFR XC).
  • Is the VOR COP regulatory? …I said I had never read the regulation that said it was, but that I thought it was good idea. The right answer was simply Yes (where is this written down?).
  • You are on V199 from RBL to ENI, in solid IMC. Your clearance limit is ENI VOR which for the sake of the question can be assumed to be an IAF for some approach into Ukiah Airport, your destination. You were cleared to climb & maintain 3,000′ and expect 9,000′ in 10 minutes. You realize that you have lost coms after takeoff. What do you do? …You are assigned a route so you fly it. You maintain 3,000′ then start a climb to get over HENLE at or above 5,000 (its MCA). Climb to 9,000′. At ENI you start the descent & approach based on your ETA.
  • What about if you are at 3,000′ just before HENLE when you realize you have lost comms? …Hold at HENLE, standard turns on inbound course while climbing to the MCA.
  • What about if you arrive at ENI 10 minutes before your ETA? …Hold at ENI until your ETA.
  • Must you fly the ILS approach into Ukiah? …No, fly whichever approach you want.

Then it was onto the flight. We didn’t file IFR – he said to pretend that he wasn’t in the plane, he would be playing ATC and would be unavailable to help with anything other than holding something like a map. He gave me my clearance while still in the conf room and told me to plan out the flight. It was” Cleared to SCK, SAC, V585, ECA direct, M045, xpond 1200″. There is a published hold on this route at WAGER intersection which I guessed correctly would be where he would ask me to hold. We took off on 22R straight out, I managed to get SAC identified on the climb out before I put the hood on. Then “ATC” informed me that they had lost radar and to report reaching 4,500′ and the SAC VOR. I made the reports, hit the VOR dead on, got established outbound on V585 without any problems. Then I was told to “climb and maintain 5,500′”.

After tracking V585 for a while he told me that “continued radar problems would require us to hold, inform me when ready to copy hold instructions”. I think I was still getting level at 5,500 so I told him to standby, got the plane trimmed out and then got the hold instructions: “Hold SE of WAGER as published, maintain 5,500′ Pretend to have an EFC”. I almost screwed this hold up in two ways. First (and I’ve made this mistake before), I set 083 for the intersecting radial instead of 093. He said, “was I completely sure I had everything setup correctly”, I started checking everything I had done a second time and was just looking at the radial when he pointed out my error and admonished me greatly for the dumb mistake. Putting this behind me (not busted yet at least), I then proceeded to work out the heading for the teardrop entry. I managed to add 30 degrees to the heading (a right turn) instead of subtract it (a left turn). I caught this one myself before getting to the hold (at which he was greatly relieved, saying it would have been a bust to turn the wrong way). I remembered to report entering the hold and then really nailed the flying part – lovely intercept of the inbound course.

He then gave me an amended clearance, “Direct to LIN VOR, V113 ECA direct”. I got LIN tuned in and ID’d and was just getting turned towards it, when he asked what was I planning to do. I explained fly direct to LIN, then outbound on 192 radial to ECA. He said this was correct and gave me a vector of 240 to go and do some airwork. He told me to get the plane setup for steep turns – so I slowed and did my standard maneuvering checklist. Then one turn to the left and another to the right. Neither were great, but they were within limits (just). Then he had me slow down to 70 KIAS holding altitude and then accelerate back to cruise. Then descend 200′ at 80 KIAS.

Actual GPS track superimposed on SAC ILS Approach Chart

We then called up NORCAL and asked for vectors for the ILS Rwy2 approach into Sac Exec. The controller was real busy, we got the vectors, but he never gave us missed instructions or cleared us for the approach. The last thing he said was intercept the localizer before, he passed us off to the tower. I asked them for missed instructions and after the expected “didn’t you get them from approach”, tower gave them to us. As the glide slope came in I realized I wasn’t cleared for the approach (sound familiar) and said this – the DE said he was clearing me (ok, not a problem, start down the glideslope). I made a poor job of the ILS – my usual tendency to overcorrect. But I didn’t really miss anything critical and never got outside PTS once we were inside the FAF (I simply flirted with the limits). By the end I got to DA with the needles centered.

We went missed and then asked for pilot nav VOR Rwy2 approach which we were given. I made a pigs ear or trying to find the radial direct to SAC (there is really no time to get setup for this approach). I think the DE was getting a little impatient with me hunting for the radial, over correcting the heading and generally doing a poor job of flying direct to the VOR. I also managed to get NORCAL’s attention, he asked me twice was I really flying direct to the VOR and what was my heading. Yes, it was that bad. I finally staggered my way to the VOR and made a good attempt at the teardrop entry for the procedure turn. Nicely intercepted the inbound and actually made a pretty passable attempt at the approach. Needle stayed centered, didn’t bust MDA, got the timing correct. Just before the MAP, the DE called the tower and asked to depart VFR to MHR. That was it – kept the hood on until we got onto the right downwind for 22R. MHR Tower was asleep, I think I forgot to call them abeam the tower to wake them up so I had to verify I had a clearance to land when I was on short final. Breaking my tradition of making a dreadful landing with a new instructor in the place, I nicely greased the landing.

I got an earful on the taxi back about overcorrecting – “just hold the heading”. Then a short trip back the conference room to get the paperwork and my new Temporary Airman’s Certificate. He said, my oral was well above average – and we didn’t talk anymore about the flight (enough said already).

The flight back was a dream, bit of a head wind, only made 130 knots ground speed. Busy getting back into RHV (#4 to land). Made another nice landing, which will be my last for this year in N182AK.

Sooo. No partial panel, no unusual attitudes, only two approaches – feels like I got off easy. Don’t care, feels good to have the rating and it just gives me plenty of reasons to keep practicing & training this stuff.

Friday January 31st 2003, 2pm, N4754D, 1.5H – PPL Checkride

So the big day has arrived once again and finally the weather is good enough to fly. I got to Tradewinds about 11:30am, got the DUAT weather briefing and spent about an hour completing the flight plan to Paso Robles. The weather was forecast clear all the way down the coast with visibilities greater than 6 miles and just broken clouds at between 12,000’ & 20,000’. There was a SIGMET for turbulence south of Salinas and a PIREP over Salinas stating no turbulence found. The only excitement was taking care of my solo endorsement. I realized during the week that the 90 days had expired at the start of January. I emailed Grainne during the week to ask her could she be at Tradewinds to sign another one or set up another CFI to do it. I wasn’t too worried because I figured she would be there anyway. About 1:30pm I called her and found out that she hadn’t checked her email and wasn‘t due into Tradewinds until about 4pm. Luckily, Yoed showed up shortly afterwards and gave me the endorsement, I’ve flown with him several times, and flew with him just two weeks ago, so he was happy to sign me off.

Mike Shiflett, the Designated Examiner turned up a little late about 2:20pm and we got straight down to checking the maintenance logs for 4754D. We had already established that I knew where to find everything when I completed the oral last December so he just checked it himself. Then Mike checked my solo endorsement, thankfully that was now in order. Mike briefed me on what we would do, first the three possible outcomes, pass, fail or discontinue. He said that we would try and get the landings done in the pattern at RHV traffic permitting. Then depart on the cross-country, once he’d established I could fly a heading and was going in the right direction, he’d give me a diversion. On the way we would do the air work, steep turns, slow flight and stalls. Then go enter a pattern somewhere and complete any of the landings we hadn’t got done at RHV and finally do some hood work on the way back including two unusual attitude recoveries. Then he sent me out to pre-flight and told me he’d meet me in the plane in 15 minutes.

The pre-flight was fine. Mike turned up and we ran through the inside checklist. He’d already told me to skip the briefing, but I pointed out when I would have given it anyway. My troubles began with the taxi instructions from ground control. Ground gave me some kind of a preamble which I didn’t catch. He appeared to say “…. after Dakota…taxi via Zulu to 31R”, I thought he was referring to a plane already on Zulu and telling me to wait for it before taxing. I confirmed this back and everything seemed ok. I pulled out checked my brakes, asked Mike to check his and turned onto Zulu. Just as I was turning Mike called Ground Control and said “Was that that for us?”, there was a reply which I didn’t quite catch and Mike told me to turn onto Echo and taxi via Yankee to 31R. So I did, but I really wasn’t sure what I had missed in the whole exchange. Had I totally misheard the Ground Control instructions? what had just happened? I decided to put it out of my mind and not explore the whole thing with Mike as we taxied down Yankee. The run up was fine and Mike told me to make a short field takeoff. This went fine, though the speed control transitioning from Vx to Vy was a little sloppy. I turned crosswind then downwind in right traffic. Mike told me to make a soft field landing. I ran through the pre-landing checklist, got my clearance to land, turned base then final and made a fairly good soft field landing. We did a touch and go with Mike taking care of the flaps. Second time around Mike called the Tower and told them we would do short approach just after I got my clearance to land. He’d told me he would do this for the emergency landing, so I took my hand of the throttle and let him pull it back to idle. I established best glide, told him I wasn’t going to perform any cockpit checks, instead I was just going to “fly the plane”, however, I said I’d secure the engine (fuel off, mixture at cutoff and magnetos off) in case of a mishap on landing. I didn’t put any flaps in, and we were high coming over Eastridge Mall. He commented on this and I told him my aiming point was taxiway Bravo about one third of the way along the runway. Our glide-slope for this point was reasonable and I‘d have made it without problems. Over the numbers he told me to go around, which went well. Back on downwind again he told me to make a short field landing between the VASI lights. I turned onto base too soon and pretty much realized my mistake right away. Turning to final it was clear there was no chance of making the touch down point so I called the Tower and said I was going around. There was another plane rolling on 31R so the tower told me to fly left of the runway. As we climbed up my airspeed was high and I got a little pre-occupied with this. I forgot to take out the last 10 degrees of flaps which Mike reminded me of as we got to about 900’. I got back to pattern altitude and this time the short field landing went ok, but I had to add quite a burst of power to just make my touch down inside the first VASI light, not the best short field I ever done. Mike told me to exit at taxiway Charlie, I did, turned onto Yankee, stopped and did the after landing checklist. Then I was about to start taxing down to 31R again when Mike said “Are you going to taxi without a clearance”. I said no, and called the Tower to ask for clearance to taxi to 31R. It took three attempts to get the Tower to reply, finally they did and got somewhat tongue-tied explaining that they couldn’t see us on Yankee with the rows of parked planes in the background. On the way down Yankee I requested a downwind departure and the Tower asked me if left downwind was ok, which it was. Mike asked for a soft-field takeoff. So I put in 10 degrees of flaps and did the usual soft-field taxing with the nose high not using any brakes to turn. We were cleared to cross 31R and takeoff on 31L. The actual takeoff was poor, I’m not sure I really got into ground effect well and we wandered a bit on the runway. On the climb up I realized I’d forgotten the pre-takeoff checklist and so I quickly put on my landing light and transponder. I also hadn’t actually written down the takeoff time, though I’d noted it in my head and I wrote it down when we got onto the downwind leg. This was also when I realized that I hadn’t brought a watch with me and that the clock in the plane was firstly showing Zulu time and even so was totally wrong.

I did the normal climb checklist, did some shallow turns to check for traffic and pitched for 80 KIAS to get a little better visibility over the nose. Then I started playing with the heading indicator, I was flying towards South County, but the heading didn’t seem to match my calculated heading which would send me in the wrong direction into SJC class C airspace. Mike asked me what my first checkpoint was, so I told him top of climb at 5500’ about 4 miles before South County. He told me to level off at 3500’ head for Lake Anderson, then to do a diversion to Watsonville. This actually gave me some time to work on the charts before I got to the Lake, for once my altitude was bang on 3500’ and staying put. However, I managed to completely waste this time, by measuring a heading from Lake Coyote. I realized my mistake as soon as I turned onto the heading. So I started a wide easy circle over Anderson trying to work out the correct heading. Now its hard enough to struggle with charts and plotter flying straight and level, its even harder to do it flying a circle. In addition the lake falls right on a fold in the chart so you need to have it unfolded and there just didn’t seem to be any convenient lines of latitude or longitude to use to measure the heading. It seemed to take forever to make the measurement. When I finally turned onto the heading I made the mistake of not checking I was clear before I turned. I could see Mike somewhat energetically looking out the window to check for traffic. He didn’t comment so I didn’t either.

I passed to the north of South County and Mike told me to setup for steep turns. I did a couple of clearing turns, slowed to 95 KIAS and ran through my maneuvering checklist. Then did a turn to the left. It was terrible, I lost 300’ of altitude and way over-banked the plane. Mike claimed I reached 70 degrees of bank, I didn’t believe this but I wasn’t going to argue with him. I then did a turn to the right which was a little better, but still lost about 100’. He told me to do another to the left and this one was almost as bad as the first. I just couldn’t seem to understand what I was doing wrong, as I was coming round in the turn I could see my altitude start to drop, I added some more back pressure and tried to keep the bank angle at 45 degrees, but I still felt the G increasing and lost even more altitude. Mike asked me how I’d been taught to do steep turns, I said with reference to the horizon. He told me I was spending too much time looking at the instruments and not looking outside. He said show me two more turns to standard and I could just feel the test slipping away from me. So I did another turn to the left, same problem and I thought well that has blown it. Then he asked did I want to see how a steep turn was done, so I said yes. He then performed a turn left and right that were flawless. With that he took out some Postit Notes and covered all the instruments and told me to try it once more without the instruments. So I glued my eyes on the horizon and tried one last time. I think the turns were a little better, but as the altimeter was covered I couldn’t see if I made the standard or not. Mike told me make a couple more clearing turns which got us flying back towards South County. So as he hadn’t ended the test there and then, I figured he’d finally given me the benefit of the doubt. It bugs me, but I’ve flown perfect steeps turns so many times, and the first time it really matters I screw them up so badly. I know, that as I increased the back pressure that the bank angle would steepen, but I tried to account for that keeping the plane at 45 degrees to the horizon.

Mike told me to setup for slow flight, full flaps at 50 KIAS. This went well, I got slowed down without losing any altitude. Then he had me make a couple of turns to headings left and right. I was somewhat rattled by the steep turns and my rudder coordination just went to hell. I was using aileron to compensate for the left turning tendency and I overshoot the heading on the left turn by quite a bit. Still, the speed and altitude control was reasonable. Then he told me to do a power-off stall, I asked if I should do it from the current configuration and he said just pull the power to idle and do the stall and recover to Vy. I did, and remembered to call the buffet and stall break (the stall horn was already blowing), the recovery was just fine. I guess because the power-off stall went so well he didn’t ask me to do a power-on stall (whatever the reason I was happy).

Then he told me to head for South County and enter the pattern. This went pretty well. Nobody answered when I asked for a traffic advisory. So I over flew the field at about 2500’. I saw one plane on the downwind leg for 32 and announced I was going to enter on the right 45 for 32. The pattern entry was great, right at 1300’ (correct altitude) on the 45 and turned to downwind. There was a reasonable wind blowing so I had to crab a little on base. There was just a minor crosswind so I did just a very gentle side slip on final, keeping lined up with the runway. The normal landing was fine, the only thing I forgot was to add in the crosswind correction as we did the rollout. We did a touch and go and then departed back towards UTC (the usual call in point for RHV coming from the south).

Mike had me put on the hood as we climbed. He asked for a constant speed climb at 80 KIAS, with a couple of turns to headings on the way up then to level off at 3000’. No problems with any of this. Then he took the plane and put it into some unusual attitudes. The first was a dive to the right, I was a little slow to get the power off, but I remembered to do that, level the wings before pulling the nose out of the dive. The second was an almost stall, pitched up to the right. I got in full power and then back to straight and level. Again no problems. He told me to take off the hood and he took control of the plane while I got the ATIS for RHV. The haze was really bad over UTC (about 9 miles out) I couldn’t even see Lake Cunningham (which is a big lake right next to the airport). Mike told me to make a normal landing at RHV. I called the Tower and was given straight in to 31L, report 3 miles. So I started my descent, got through the checklists. The Tower warned me of some traffic on the way in, but it was another of those complicated calls where I wasn’t quite sure where to look for the traffic. I called back saying I was looking, there was a plane at about my 2 O’clock position, so I called the Tower and asked them to confirm that was the traffic, they said it was. Just as I was about to report in, I got my landing clearance. Here was another of those “well I was told to report at 3 miles, but I already have a clearance so do I really need to?”. Normally I’d say no the whole point of reporting in is to get the clearance, but with Mike in the plane and after the issue with the taxi clearance on Yankee I thought I’d explain why I wasn’t going to report the 3 mile point. The actual landing was just fine and there were no surprises on the taxi back to park the plane.

Mike told me to get the plane secured and that he’d meet me back in the briefing room. As I got out of the plane Grainne was just pulling out in another plane with one of her other students. I gave her a thumbs-up coupled with a shrug. I figured that as Mike had let me fly the plane back to RHV and hadn’t stopped the checkride that I must have passed, but he hadn’t said anything getting out of the plane. I felt that my flying had been so marginal that I wasn’t really sure I’d passed. Back in the briefing room I had a long discussion (one sided Mike did all the talking). He told me that I was banking too much in the pattern (I‘ve heard that before). That I turned the radio down too far on takeoff, so that I might not have been able to hear the Tower over the engine. That I forgot the crosswind correction in South County (i.e. keep flying the plane every second, don’t stop just because the wheels are on the ground). We had a long chat about radio procedures and how, while you might assume something in RHV because that is the way its always done here, it was an exception to the rules and that assumption would get you into real trouble at other airports. Finally, he handed me my Temporary Airman Certificate and asked for my log book in which he logged the 1.5 hours PIC. I had passed!

I can’t really say the checkride was a positive experience. It was really stressful. I felt I flew badly, made some dumb mistakes and in general came away feeling like I’d only just made it by the skin of my teeth. I am a bit pissed at myself because I know I can fly far better than I demonstrated today that has definitely taken away some of the elation I expected to feel on passing the test. Still, the PPL is just the starting point. This checkride is just the first of many. I had already resolved to stay training until I climb out of the first 250 hours danger mark. So I’ll take a little rest do some flying for fun and then its time to start on the IFR rating.

Saturday January 25th 2003, 3:30pm, N4754D, 1.3H

So its been a week since my last flight. I was given another reschedule date of Friday January 31st for my checkride. However, I was supposed to be away on business that week so I moved it to the next available date on February 10th. Then, my trip got pushed out a week, so yesterday I left an apologetic message with the Examiner asking for the January 31st date again. He called this morning and confirmed next Friday was fine. I hadn’t planned to fly this weekend (at least not as a pilot, I was supposed to on a plane to the Philippines). But with the checkride in six days I want one last practice, as luck would have it Grainne was scheduled with two other students today and had another open slot at 3:30pm.

So (hopefully) my last flight before checkride. I wanted to practice some landings and ground reference. So we headed off to the south. The visibility was terrible, I was feeling rushed having setup this flight at the last minute and then having to drive like the devil to get here on time. I climbed up to 4000’ and the haze just seemed to get worse as I went up. Even though I’ve flown over this area many times, for the first time I felt confused as to where I was. The restricted ground visibility, the low sun in the west (it was about 4pm by this time) just made everything look strange. There was a freeway right below me, but it didn’t seem to match any freeway I knew and was in the “wrong” place to be highway 101. It was really quite disconcerting. So instead of leveling off at 4000’ and neatly setting the plane up for cruise I got distracted trying to figure out where I was. Grainne brought me back to my senses by gently reminding me not to red-line the engine. I had let the plane get into a dive on full power, the tach was over 2600 RPM (redline is 2700), the airspeed was north of 120 KIAS in the yellow arc and we were back at 3500’. All this because I was distracted by the view outside. Pretty f**king stupid for someone supposed to be ready for his checkride. I leveled off at 3500’ and continued on passed South County to get to the nice open fields around Frazier Lake. We did a nice leisurely descent down to 1000’ and went looking for the wind. As is typical down here there was a wind blowing down runway 32 at South County but it appeared to be blowing in exactly the opposite direction just 5 miles further south. So I found a tree, made a 180 turn to enter downwind losing 200’ in the process which I had to gain back as I started circling my chosen tree. By about half way round I had the altitude and airspeed under control again and we made two circuits that were reasonable. Actually, they feel pretty good when you fly them, its only looking at the GPS ground track later that you realize the imperfections – thankfully there is no instant GPS replay on the checkride!

Then it was off to South County to practice some landings again. We did four landings, two short, one without flaps and one soft. We were doing touch and goes. When I do T&G’s with Grainne she takes care of the flaps and confirms they are up, I not allowed to do T&Gs solo so there’s no risk I’ll mess up on my own (like forgetting the flaps and trying to takeoff). So as we land Grainne says do a soft field takeoff. About halfway down the runway I figure out that the main wheels are still on the ground because I don’t have the recommended 10 degrees of flaps to get up into ground effect. Grainne put them all the way up. The Cessna 172 will eventually climb into ground effect without flaps, but your airspeed will be almost up to normal rotation speed anyway by this point. So I lowered the nose, got 55 KIAS and took off normally. All the landings were fair, none were great.

We had a nice uneventful trip back to RHV, the visibility had cleared up a bit, we could just make out the VASI in RHV 6 miles out in the haze. I’d been given a straight in approach to 31L and Grainne asked for a short-field landing “on the numbers”. This landing was simply picture perfect, I swooped in with full flaps, did one of those flares that feels like a bird landing (just one long continuous pull on the yoke, no round-out or float). I planted the wheels right on the middle of the numbers and it only took light breaking to get off on taxiway bravo (the very first exit after the threshold). A great high note to end my last flight before checkride.

Monday January 20th, 2pm

I was supposed to be flying my checkride today. It was really foggy when I got to Tradewinds at 11:30am, but the TAF’s for SJC were forecasting it burning off by 1pm. It never happened, the Pilot Examiner called me about 1:30pm and called off the flight. He’s going to call me back later with another date. I headed home really disappointed. Guess what, the fog finally cleared about 3pm, damm I should have told him to give it another hour and then see if we could fly.

Saturday January 18th 2003, 2pm, N739YE, 1.6H

I was hoping to fly solo today to practice some landings, but the visibility never got above 5 miles. As often is the case Yoed was around so I asked him to come with me. I’d told him my checkride was on Monday so he decided to give me a pretty good workout to make sure I was ready. We did the usual downwind departure heading south. Up to 4200’ and into power-on turning stalls. These were reasonable, though I just don’t get why you slow to 55 KIAS (rotation speed), then apply power and start the turn. If this is supposed to simulate a departure stall then I would think you should be climbing at Vy and simulate the stall as if you were turning onto crosswind. Still everyone insists you do it the former way (including the PTS). We did a couple of these and then tried slow flight without flaps (a new twist) some turns and then a couple of power-off turning stalls. Then it was steep turns left and right, these were reasonable, and to standard, the last one was perfect.

We were about 4 miles north of Frazier Lake, flying south when Yoed cut the power. I made that same long ago rookie mistake of forgetting that South County was behind me, which Yoed pointed out. I had plenty of altitude and I decided to come in over final to runway 32 and circle down getting the cockpit checks and checklists out of the way as we descended. In hindsight I had enough altitude to make a more conventional entry on the 45 and that is what I should have done. After one circuit around final there was a Saratoga calling on downwind. I really needed to loose some more altitude but Yoed decided that I just needed to get down before the Saratoga can up behind up on final. So he had me drop in the full 40 degrees of flaps and dive for the ground at Vfe (85 KIAS). This is a fun attitude to be in this close to the ground! I got down over the numbers and rounded out, trying to bled off some speed. I was at about 70 KIAS and I believe I would have gotten down (though without much tarmac to spare) when Yoed called the go-around. All in all an exciting landing attempt.

We did four trips around the pattern practicing short & soft landings. The wind was actually blowing fairly hard to I finally got to practice the classic rectangular ground reference flying, needing a fairly significant crab angle on base and crosswind. None of the landings were too memorable.

Back to RHV, got the usual straight in approach to 31L. The tower was busier than I’ve ever seen it. I guess we had beautiful weather all week. However, this morning we all woke up to dense fog which really didn’t clear until 1pm. So the world and his wife were flying. I made a passable short field landing exiting at taxiway C (which was what Yoed had asked me to do) then we sat for almost 5 minutes waiting for a clearance to cross 31R, there was that much traffic on the runways. Not a bad flight today, no major mistakes though the emergency landing could have been less exciting.

Sunday January 12th 2003, 10am, N4754D, 1.1H

More practice to try and banish the cobwebs after Christmas. The wind was from the south today, so it was one of those rare occasions when you get to use runway 13 in RHV. The sky was blue with some clouds at about 3000’. Flying south, the winter green California landscape below us, over and around the white clouds with visibility clear across to the Sierra Nevada mountains was truly magical. I did some steep turns over Anderson Reservoir. These were ok, all more or less within PTS (Practical Test Standards). Then I had fun doing a long forward slip to get down to 1000’ for some ground reference turns around a point. Believe it or not this is only the second time I’ve ever practiced these, it was just as well as I had forgotten some of the basic stuff (like enter on downwind and always make the first turn to the left), while remembering the relatively complicated stuff like how much to bank the plane depending on wind direction. The GPS ground track looked reasonably like a circle, but truthfully there wasn’t a lot of wind.

We headed to Hollister to practice a few landings. There wasn’t anybody answering when I asked for a traffic advisory on the CTAF so I was just setting up to over fly the windsock when Grainne pulled the power. The wind was calm so I as I was already more or less on the left downwind for 31, that was where I decided to land. This time I made the runway with power and without problem. We did a touch and go and came back around in the pattern for soft field landing. Another touch and go and headed back to RHV under the hood. I’ve never really had any problem with hood work, but I wanted to get some practice in to make sure I wasn’t getting rusty. We did some turns and climbs with no problems.

I got the ATIS as usual and then called the tower. I was told to make right traffic for 13R and report at 2 miles. There was another plane to my right who called in just after us and he was given left traffic for 13L. There was also a great big cloud right in front of me that I had to fly around. With all these (real world) distractions I mixed up the left/right traffic instructions. So I happily flew around the cloud and started to get lined up on Lake Cunningham (which is fine if I was supposed to be entering left traffic for 13L!). About 4 miles out Grainne asked me where I thought I was going and I realized my mistake. I was just turning to get lined up on the other side of the airport when the tower asked me if I understood what right traffic was (smart ass), I lied and told him I did and was just getting lined up. About this time the tower started to get confused about who was who (probably because I wasn’t where he expected me to be). So I’m trying to get myself back where I’m supposed to be, the tower is asking folks to change transponder codes and Ident when Grainne decides its a good time to pull the power again. So the tower is asking both of us (me and the guy on left traffic) our positions, another plane is ahead of me on right base, I’m calling in the 2 mile mark and getting a clearance to land (for the wrong runway, the tower gets confused when the wind shifts as well, he quickly corrected). All this is going on, oh and by the way your engine just quit a minute ago hadn’t you better think about how to land this thing without it. By this time, I was abeam the near end of the runway already below pattern altitude. There was just no way I was going to make it all the way around without an engine. I guess in a real emergency I would have just made a quick 180, told everyone to get the hell out of the way and gotten lined up with most of 31L and gotten down. However, your not really allowed to do that at a busy class D airport just for practice. So the engine magically restarted and we made another somewhat messy crosswind landing on 13R. I’m not happy about the dumb mistake with the pattern entry instructions – just the kind of thing that would ruin your checkride day.

Saturday January 11th 2003, 12pm, N4754D, 1.2H

Back in sunny San Jose again. My checkride is scheduled for January 20th so I’m just going to practice enough to stay as sharp as possible. Today I flew with Grainne again. Nothing too strenuous, down south along Anderson doing slow flight and some stalls. These actually went pretty well, I was expecting to be really rusty. Then a diversion to Watsonville to practice soft & short field landings. These went reasonably ok. The second time around the pattern Grainne pulled the power. I was already passed the numbers on downwind so I had 10 degrees of flaps in. There was another plane on final so I couldn’t really turn early onto base. I should have put up the flaps knowing that I was going to have to eke out every foot of altitude to make it to the runway. I didn’t and it was pretty apparent on final that we wouldn’t make the runway, so we went around. This is the first time I’ve missed an emergency landing in a while. We had a nice relaxing flight back to RHV other than Grainne covered all the Pitot Static instruments (Altimeter, Airspeed Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator). For a change we actually had a crosswind of a few knots landing back at RHV. My landing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a picture perfect crosswind landing either. I really would like to get more practice at these, but its just so damm rare to find them around here.