Tuesday December 17th 2002, Checkride – Part I

I spent an hour last Sunday with Grainne going over N4754D’s maintenance logs making sure I could find everything and getting my final endorsement for the practical test. Grainne called Mike Shiftlett the Pilot Examiner who is going to do my checkride and I was given Paso Robles as my cross country destination – that was lucky, my long cross country was to San Luis Obispo and I flew right over Paso Robles so I can reuse most of the flight plan. Mike is a senior CFI over at Nice Air, he has his own web site at www.checkrides.com which has a lot of useful info on the usual dumb mistakes and how he typically conducts a checkride. Grainne had told me about this last week so I read through everything he had to say and we took some time to make sure all the documents, endorsements and logged hours were correct and in line with his requirements. I had booked flying time with Grainne on Saturday and Sunday and solo time on Monday, but the weather has just closed in, so I haven’t flown since the 8th, not a great lead in to the checkride.

So the big day has arrived, exactly 99 years since the Wright brothers flew for the very first time, what a great day to gain your Private Pilots License! what a pity then that winter had finally arrived in the Bay Area and the weather sucks.

I arrived early to get a briefing from DUATS, it sucked. Ceilings of 2000~4000’ forecast all the way down the coast, embedded thunderstorms and a freezing level at 4000’ with intermittent rain showers. You might be able to fly, but only by staying low and playing dodge with rain clouds and always having a handy airport to land at quick if the weather closed in – so an easy choice that I wouldn’t fly today. The test was supposed to start at 10am, but Mike called about 9:30am to ask if I wanted to fly (nope), then he said we could just complete the oral part of the test today and at least get that finished. This sounded fine and he said he would come over at 11:30am instead. This was just as well because as I put the phone down I realized that I had forgot to bring my checkbook to pay the exam fee and I had to drive home to get it (not having $350 in cash in my back pocket).

I got back to Tradewinds about 10:30am and spent some time going over bits and pieces in the FAR and various other things I thought I’d screw up. I was just in the middle of asking Yoed (a Tradewinds CFI I’ve flown with a couple of times) about some tricky class E/class G airspace boundaries over the Serria’s when Mike turned up. He was pretty relaxed and asked what my question was, joking that he could check if Yoed got the answer right (he did). He spent some time talking with Yoed about IFR stuff in Europe, apparently Mike spent time training RAF pilots in the UK, and telling us about the book he had just written called “Fitness for Pilots”. All in all he comes across as the total Californian dude, head-set in one hand, surf board in the other. Finally, we got settled down to start the test.

He started by explaining exactly how the test would be conducted. The various options on how it could end (pass, fail or discontinue) and then checking my eligibility – all the various endorsements and logged hours. Grainne was on hand, which was just as well because she had to go fill out some stuff on logged ground school hours and stick it in my log book. Once he had checked everything, he asked for a $150 fee, I’ll have to pay the other $200 when we get to do the practical test. We started with the planes maintenance logs, although he explained we would have to do this again when I actually flew to make sure the plane was airworthy. He asked questions on when all the required inspections needed to be carried out, the Annual, 100-hr, ELT, Pitot-Static and Transponder. The only one I missed was how often the ELT needed inspections, I said I thought every it was 24 months and he said “do you want to check the FAR before you make that your final answer”, I checked and of course it was every 12 months. In general, he said anything you didn’t actually have to know in the plane, you could look up. I remember he asked questions about the planes systems, what was the suction pump for, what would happen to the engine if the master switch was turned off and what instrument would fail if the pitot tube was blocked. He asked some aero-medical questions like what are the symptoms of hypoxia and what would you do if a passenger was hyperventilating. He asked what color the lights on a sides and far end of a runway were at night and what color taxi way lights were. He asked about night currency for carrying passengers, and he asked if the 3 landings were to a full stop or would touch and goes be ok and what time would the landings need to be performed at. He pulled out a chart and asked me to identify al the various airspace types and about the various VFR minimums for each and about SVFR requirements. He picked an airport and asked me to tell him everything I could read from the chart about that airport. He asked what would happen if a piece of equipment failed, this was kind of open ended and we got into a discussion about the minimum equipment requirements, the required equipment in the POH, marking it INOP, the only bit I missed and had to look up in the FAR, is that the piece of equipment must be deactivated as well, he also asked if I could simply remove it, I said not without invalidating the weight and balance. He didn’t check my flight plan to Paso Robles in great detail, but he did ask where I got the TAS from, I said de-rated from the POH figures which was the right answer, he said many folks say “my CFI told me” or “my rule of thumb is…”. He asked about Vx and Vy, what they were for my plane, as a “bonus” question he asked if a headwind would effect the time to climb to a particular altitude, which I got right (no effect).

And that was it. He told me I had passed with no problems, it really was easier than I was expecting and all in all it took just slightly longer than an hour. He gave me a “Letter of Discontinuance” due to the weather, as long as I get the practical test done inside 60 days I’m done with the oral part. I’ve got a date of January 20th scheduled for the checkride flight and I’m on his waitlist if a slot opens up earlier. I’m going back to Ireland on Sunday for a 2 week Christmas holiday, so I’ll be back in San Jose on January 6th ready and waiting to fly some more and try and get sharp for the checkride. Grainne emailed me later and told me it was one of the shortest tests she’d every seen Mike do and that he could see I really knew my stuff.

Tuesday December 10th 2002, FAA Written Test

I’m writing this almost a month after the fact so it will be brief. I took the whole day off work, even though the test wasn’t scheduled until 4pm. This gave me a chance to finally finish the Glime book and study some of the tricky bits that I keep getting wrong (like altimeter errors, compass errors and once again going over the FAR’s). It was actually a nice relaxing day laying on my couch with all the aviation books spread around me.
I got to Nice Air a little early. The receptionist had me fill out an application form, checked my ID and log book and then asked for an $80 check to do the test. The actual testing room is a tiny (hot) room just behind the front desk, it had three computers and there was one other person doing a test when I got started. I was allowed to bring in my chart plotter, E6B and a calculator. The test starts by asking you to reconfirm that all the personal details entered on the application have been correctly entered into the computer. Then it asks gives you some demo questions (not related to flying) to show how the software works and some other screens that explain the various controls. Finally it asks you if you want to take a practice test (I declined). At last it gets to the real test (after asking you about three times whether you really want to start the test).

The actual test was really a breeze. I think most of the questions I had already seen from the Glime book. Basically, if you complete a ground school class like the Cessna Pilot Center and study something like the Glime book then it really shouldn’t be too difficult. many of the questions can be answered very quickly, you either know the answer or not – for example all the FAR related questions. The ones that take time are the performance calculations where you really need to take care to read the example performance charts. There were questions on takeoff and landing distances using that complicated combo performance chart – take the time to actually draw in the lines on the chart, its really easy to make a mistake trying to just eyeball your way across. The cross country calculations (like calculating ETE from one airport to another) also need care and attention, in most cases the available answers are only a couple of minutes different so any inaccuracy measuring the heading or calculating using the E6B can easily put you closer to a wrong answer than a right one and don’t forget to add any time given for climb out from the airport. There was one question on weather depiction chats that asked what the weather would be like for a flight from southern Michigan to north Indiana. I laughed when I saw this, I was born in Ireland, and while my geographical knowledge of the western USA is fine, I’m really hazy about all those scrappy little states in the mid-west and east. I had seen this question in the Glime book this morning and actually went and looked up an atlas to find out where Michigan and Indiana were – thank goodness for that.

Once you complete the 60 questions you can go back and review any of the answers. You are also able to checkmark any answers that you want to review at the end. I had checked four or five that I wanted to review, either because I wasn’t sure or I wanted to double check calculations. The software won’t let you complete the test until you have removed all the checkmarks. Once you decide that your done, and having confirmed about three times that you’re finished the test, it goes into a survey to find out how the test was conducted. For example it asks did the computer work ok, was the room comfortable and quite and so on. Finally, it tells you to call the test supervisor to grade the test. This takes no time and you get a printout of the results which is then embossed with a stamp from Nice Air. I scored 98%, just one question wrong in subject matter area I22. A little research in the Glime book (which had a table that relates all the questions to the FAA subject matter codes) and I discovered that Pressure Altitude is equal to True Altitude for Standard Atmosphere Conditions, not when pressure is 29.92 as I had thought. This was actually one of the questions I had checked, oh well, I just guessed wrong.

Sunday December 8th 2002, 12pm, N4754D, 1.1H

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!

Saturday December 7th 2002, 12pm, N4754D, 1.3H

Grainne wasn’t able to fly today, but she setup for me to fly with Scott Bunch, one of the other CFI’s at Tradewinds. We got some rain last night, but today is beautiful with blue cloudless sky and no wind. I arrived pretty much on time and Scott arrived just after me. We talked a bit about the stage check last week. I needed to do some turning stalls, I hadn’t ever done them with Grainne and John had asked for one last week. We also decided to go to Watsonville as that is a favorite diversion airport for the FAA examiner. We would practice some slow flight, steep turns and stalls along the way with some soft field landings down at Watsonville.

N4754D was in good shape, this is the plane I’m booked to do my checkride in and I haven’t flown it since my solo cross-country to Sonoma (during which it apparently sprung an oil leak I didn’t even know about until later and was grounded for nearly 3 weeks). I want my last few flights to be in the checkride plane so I’m really used to its handling on the big day. The preflight, taxi and run-up went well. I did a good soft field takeoff and we made a downwind departure heading for Anderson Reservoir. On the way up Scott showed me the Loran that is installed in 4754D – I guess you need to know how to operate everything in the plane you take on the check ride and I’ve never used this particular box before. Apparently it works like a ground based version of GPS with pretty much the same functionality. I’ll play with it some more before the checkride.

Over Anderson, I did my clearing turns and maneuvering checklist and then entered slow flight. This went reasonably well, but I lost about 80’ because I didn’t add quite enough power in. We did a couple of 180 degree turns and this time I managed to roll out on the right heading, but as usual I had some problems letting the plane gain some speed on the turn. We flew a little further south to avoid San Jose class C airspace and then turned towards Watsonville. I could just make out the runway in the distance. Along the way I did some steep turns, one to the left and two to the right. These went well except that I let the bank angle get a little shallow on the right hand turns.

Scott talked me through a turning stall. basically its just the same as a straight ahead stall except you do it in a bank. This means you don’t have to worry about keeping a heading, but you do need make sure the turn is coordinated. We tried two, both power-off. You do the normal setup of slowing down getting in full flaps, then you start the turn as you pull out the power, no more than 20 degrees of bank and start pulling back to create the stall. The main mistake is not pulling back far enough to get a clean break on the stall. The first one worked pretty well, as soon as you start the recovery, its easy to level the wings. The second, I really didn’t pull back hard enough and then kind of preempted the stall break. Still, not too bad for a first attempt – I’ll try some more next weekend just to make sure I’ve got the hang of it.

We were over the mountains just southwest of South County so it was a short trip over to Watsonville. Tuned into the CTAF, it was apparent there was a lot of traffic around the airport. I made a fairly high pass over the eastern end of the field and then made a descending right turn to come in on the left 45 for runway 20. There was yellow biplane ahead of me in the pattern and we passed another couple of planes (rather closely) as I came in on the downwind leg. The biplane was extending his downwind to let some traffic on the ground takeoff. We watched a Cessna Citation (a business jet) takeoff as we flew downwind. I was quite distracted by all the traffic and radio chatter so I left it a bit late to start my descent. So I also flew a long downwind. This was supposed to be a soft-field landing, but I screwed it up. I landed flat (just about on three wheels) and didn’t add the power to keep the nose wheel up. I’m not sure why I made the mistake, but I think it was mostly the distractions of all the other planes and a new airport. We taxied off the runway and back for another takeoff. This one was a short-field takeoff and it went well. Once around the pattern again, this time watching a Lear Jet take off while I flew downwind (there must be a lot of rich strawberry farmers down in Watsonville). This soft-field landing was textbook, no problems at all. We did a touch and go and a downwind departure heading eastwards.

It was a nice leisurely flight back over South County towards Anderson. Over the lake, Scott had me try a power-on turning stall. This was even easier than the power-off stalls and we just did the one. Then back homeward to RHV for a short field landing. This went well, I put the wheels down pretty much where I wanted them, but a little harder than I’d like – Scott didn’t seem to mind. He said that most short field landings come down firmly anyway.

All in all a good flight, no major problems except for the poor landing down at Watsonville. Scott seems to think I’ll have no problems on the checkride, I wish I felt as confident.

Sunday December 1st 2002, 10am, N5766J, 1.9H

Today was my stage III checkride. This is the final internal test that Tradewinds requires before you can go for your FAA checkride. Grainne had setup for me to fly with John Sircable, another of the senior CFI’s at Tradewinds. I meet him briefly last Wednesday and he had given me a flight to plan to Chico in Northern California. I had finished the actual navigation log on Friday night, but I had to head into work early to get print out the DUATS weather briefing and calculate the actual headings and ground speeds for the current winds aloft (I need to get a working printer at home!). The weather in the Bay Area was perfect for flying, winds calm, 15 miles visibility, just a few clouds at 3000’ and 17C. However, over the Central Valley it was a different story. Solid IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) over a wide area from Livermore north to Sacramento, mostly just winter ground fog that was forecast to clear by 1pm. I knew to expect a diversion, and when I made the plan I guessed it would be to Livermore or Tracy. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen now, with both these airports fogged in, as were any other likely destinations along the planned route.

I arrived about 30 minutes early and spent some time rechecking the weather on one of the school’s computers. John turned up on time and we started into the oral part of the stage check right away. With work being so busy lately I felt unprepared going into this and it really showed. We started by going over the flight plan. I had planned a route directly north from RHV towards Travis AFB (a reuse of the plan from my first solo cross-country), then following a radial to and from the Williams VOR into Chico. John was happy with the route and rechecked some of the calculations – they were all good. Then he started to ask questions from the chart. I mostly did OK, but missed a couple of easy questions on class E airspace. I needed to check the sectional key to remember which color denoted class E starting at 700’ and 1200’, was a little fuzzy on which side of the line the airspace changed and missed a question on an area where class E abutted class G and how high class G went (14,500‘ in this case). I also got asked for the VFR visibilities, cloud clearances and ceilings in every type of airspace, day and night and Special VFR rules for day and night. I got most of this right, but missed a couple of questions on class B visibility (3 miles), horizontal clearance from clouds in class E above 10,000’ (1 mile) and limitations on night SVFR (need to have an IFR rated plane and pilot). John also asked questions on aero-medical factors such as hypoxia and carbon-monoxide poisoning, and how you would know the difference. A bunch of questions on various aircraft systems such as the engine and instruments. For example what would cause detonation, what would happen if you had carb ice and what the engine would do when you switched on carb heat, what instrument would fail if the pitot tube was blocked. In the end we took the full two hours on the oral portion. Somewhere along the way I told John the sorry story of last Wednesday’s landing attempts at Frazier Lake, this would come back to haunt me later.

The preflight, run-up and taxi went without problems and we took off at 12:20 on a right 45 departure taking us north over Calaveras Reservoir. On the climb up we simulated opening a flight plan with Oakland Radio and skipped getting flight following. Once we got above the lake it was clear that the fog was still solid from Livermore north – a solid, dirty brown haze just stretched across the horizon. John told me to level off at 3500’ and when I finished that to divert to Frazier Lake – looks like I was going to get a chance to finally land on the grass. I got the plane turned around and heading in the general direction and noted the time. Then drew the course line in on the chart and measured the distance at 35 miles. I moved the plotter over to the SJC VOR radial on the sectional and marked the radial for the heading. However, the chart is so crowded in that area it took me a while to actually read off what radial it was, finally I got 135 degrees. Then I calculated the ETE (20 minutes), arrival time (12:49) and the fuel (2.7 gallons). It took me seven minutes in all to calculate the diversion. My control of the plane was a not great, after I had turned around it decided to oscillate around 4500’ and I got too wrapped up in plotting the diversion to really get it straight and level. John told me to just fly the course and then let him know when I had the airport in sight.

I got the airport insight a good ten miles out and John said we would start doing some maneuvers before we went to try landings. We started with slow flight. I did my clearing turns and checklist and we did a couple of turns, as usual its was hard to roll out on the right heading without also gaining some airspeed. This type of flight really takes total concentration, the controls are sluggish, the nose is high and the stall horn is pretty much going off the whole time. Then we recovered back to cruise and tried some stalls. John had to keep reminding me to do the clearing turns – stupid on may part, you just have to remember to do turns before each and every maneuver. I guess, you often save a little time with instructors by only doing them every few maneuvers or so, but this sets up a bad habit for the checkride. We did a power-off stall, I let the nose drop a little far on the recovery and John demonstrated one and then made me repeat it, this one went better. A single power-on stall was fine. More clearing turns and then a steep turn to the left. This went badly wrong. I let the bank angle get way too steep, almost 60 degrees. I could really feel the G-force pushing my arms and legs down, which scared me a little. I lost almost 300’ feet of altitude on the turn. What I should have done was just terminate the maneuver went it started to go wrong, instead of following it through to the end. John had me do another to the left which was perfect and then two more to the right which were also fine. I don’t know why I let the first one go bad, but I’ll have to take more care on the checkride.

We got turned around more or less in the direction of Frazier Lake and then John closed the throttle and told me the engine had failed. I got best glide speed and said that we could make Frazier Lake. John told me to just pretend there was no airport near and to pick a field instead. There was a nice big plowed field straight in front of us so I told him that was where we were going. Got through my cockpit checks and checklists, simulated an emergency call and made a couple of calls on Frazier Lake traffic to let them know what I was doing (we were only about 2 miles west of the field). The emergency landing was fine, I glided down parallel to the field on a downwind leg, then turned base and final at which point John told me to go around. We climbed back up to 1100’ (Traffic Pattern Altitude for Frazier lake) and entered the right 45 for runway 23. This time everything went fine and I made a passable soft field landing on an actual soft field. It really isn’t as hard are you expect, it just takes more power then usual to taxi and you have to go easy on the breaking. We got off the runway and taxied back to the start of the strip (the taxiway is paved). You have to make sure to get the plane ready for the takeoff before you get on the grass. I forgot this and John had to shout at me to hold short (I had the mic button pressed, announcing I was taking the active – so I could hear him in my headset). So we stopped, did the correct pre-takeoff checklist including 10 degrees of flaps. Taking off, you need a lot of power when you first get on the grass to taxi to the center, then full power without stopping and keep the nose high, but no so high that you can’t see the end of the runway. On grass you know exactly when your main wheels are off the ground, then fly in ground effect until the plane just takes itself into the air. We did another circuit of the pattern, this time John told me to make a short field landing on the soft field. Apparently this is a favorite trick of the FAA Examiner. So how do you do a short field landing on grass – basically the same as a short field landing anywhere else. Put you wheels down where you want them, don’t add the power on touch down (as in a soft field landing) but keep the nose wheel as high as possible and break as hard as you dare on the soft surface. The landing went well, the grass is more bumpy but it still feels firm, its not nearly as difficult to land on as I had been expecting. We took off, made a crosswind departure and headed back toward RHV.

John had me put on the hood for some instrument work on the way back. We did some turns to headings, a climb and level off, a descent and level off and a couple of recoveries from unusual attitudes (one high and another low). All the usual stuff, I was in an instrument grove today and the flying was spot on. The instrument work is one area where I’ve never really had any problems. Once the hood came off John asked what I would do if I had an electrical failure, we discussed coming into RHV without radio’s, transponder or flaps, how you would enter the pattern and look for light signals and so on. He said we would do a no flap landing at RHV, but to hold 1500’ until he told me I could start to descend, then to do a forward slip to get down. I got the ATIS and called into the tower. As usual we were told to make straight in for 31L and call in at 3 miles. At the call in point I was told to change to 31R and cleared to land. Just a little short of the Mall, John told me to descend. I made a passable job of getting into the slip, but let the airspeed stay about 80~85 KIAS so we were still way high as we came over the numbers. We went around, one circuit through right traffic and then I made the no flap landing without a problem, we did float a little, but got down pretty gently.

Saturday November 30th 2002, 2pm, N5766J, 1.3H

Not a lot to say about today’s flight. After the debacle of trying to land at Frazier Lake last Wednesday, I needed to get some landing confidence back before tomorrow’s stage check so I booked some solo time to practice landings in the pattern at RHV. The airports was really busy, when I contacted Ground Control he warned me of delays and that was pretty much how it went. I did just seven trips around the pattern, 6 landings and one go around because I let myself get too high on final. This took a full 1.3 hours to accomplish. There was a lot of radio work, watching for traffic and extending downwind for incoming traffic. I really should have been practicing short and soft field technique, but it was enough to just do standard landings with all the other distractions. None of the landings were terrible, but none were great either. I’m not sure it really gave me back all the confidence I wanted, but at least I could land the damm thing safely.

Monday November 18th 2002, 2pm, N739YE, 1.1H

Another dual flight with Grainne, this time its some hood work (the last of the FAA requirements I need to meet before the written exam and checkride) and a trip over to either Palo Alto or San Carlos, either one will be my first time there. The weather is again fabulous for flying pretty much the same as yesterday. I got to Tradewinds about 15 minutes early and spent my time getting all the frequencies it needed and traffic pattern altitudes for PAO and SQL. Grainne showed up and we went through the flight, a right 45 departure, some hood work until we got to Sunol and then a diversion to either PAO or SQL, with the full task of working out the heading, ETE, ETA and fuel for the diversion.
I had a normal preflight and tuned into Ground Control, the controller and some pilot were having a grade old conversation about how it was a pity to have to work on such a great day, the guy in Ground Control was saying it was especially bad working in a fish bowl. When I finally got a word in, I called “Reid Hillview Fish Bowl” instead of Ground Control, he got a laugh out of that as he gave me my taxi instructions. I attempted a soft-field takeoff but it didn’t work, I though I was off the ground and lowered the nose, I wasn’t off yet, then when I did lift off and tried to pitch forward to stay in ground effect I put the wheels back on the ground. Not much good and lots more practice required. I made the right turn and Grainne had me put on the foggles as we climbed. She had me fly various different headings and at some point I tried to level off at 4500’. This isn’t easy using just the instruments (and is not typically required in a checkride), but I managed a passable job. Then it was time for a couple of recoveries from unusual attitudes. The first one was nose low and I recovered pretty quickly. The second was nose high and it took a little longer – Grainne had trimmed the nose all the way up, so it took a lot of forward pressure to get it down and try to adjust trim at the same time as getting straight and level. Then the foggles came off and Grainne asked me did I know where I was, luckily we were just over a lake that was easy to pick out on the chart. See told me to divert to PAO.

I did a good job of getting a heading and got a measure of the distance, unfortunately my plotter doesn’t have a TAC scale, so I planned to use the Sectional scale and divide by two. In the event I used the WAC scale and got an answer of 40 miles. This worked out to be over 20 minutes flying time which just seemed too long, so I decided it must be 20 miles and about 11 minutes. I worked out the fuel in my head. The only mistake I made was not turning to the heading right away. I knew I should, but I also knew that class B airspace was in the way and I was trying to get the chart sorted out before I headed in that direction. So while the heading I originally picked out was right on for PAO, by the time I turned it brought me out further north than I was expecting. I started descending once I’d made the turn and got slowed up to 90 KIAS. I learned today, that slowing up the plane so you can keep up in busy airspace it a great idea. Also having all the frequencies written down in front of me made a big difference. There was enough to worry about without trying to read the chart to tune in the ATIS or whatever. We ended up at 1400’ over the KGO radio towers (which Grainne informed me was a useful landmark for calling a position in to PAO). I called the tower and was told to follow a Cherokee in that was on my left. I really didn’t see the airport until I say him make his turn onto downwind. I had gotten down to the 800’ pattern altitude following him across the water. I turned onto downwind a little early (over compensating for my tendency to fly too close on downwind in strange airports), so I had a long crosswind leg. This got me a little low and I had two red lights on the VASI on final. This was where Grainne informed me that this was an automatic failure in the checkride. This was news to me, I’ve committed this sin so often, I’ll have to be a lot more careful in future. We did a normal landing and then taxied back for another takeoff this time staying in the pattern.

I tried another soft-field takeoff and this wasn’t much better the first attempt. By the time I got off the ground, I was already at 60 KIAS so there was no need to stay in ground effect. I think I’m not pulling back hard enough during the takeoff roll. Flew a right traffic pattern but was again too low on final. I think the smaller runway was giving me the illusion that I was higher so causing me to fly lower. I’ll really need to practice this some more. This time I tried a soft-field landing and this wasn’t much better than the attempt yesterday, at least Grainne didn’t have to reach for the controls this time. We taxied back and asked the tower for a VFR departure to RHV. They told us to make left traffic and we did. I was pretty much abeam the tower when they told me to contact Moffett Field the next class D airport south. I called Moffett and they told me to follow 101 and cross San Jose at or above 1500’ then handed me off to San Jose Tower. I called San Jose and they told me to over fly the field. Did I mention that its a good idea to fly at about 95 KIAS just to keep the plane going slow enough so you have enough time to talk to all these folks. We were just past San Jose when they passed us off to RHV who told me to enter left traffic for 31L. I flew a nice pattern and made another marginal soft-field landing and we finished for the day.

Today’s flight went well other than the soft-field stuff. I’m going to take another solo flight just to practice this technique. with all the cross-country flights I haven’t done too many landings recently and its scary how quickly you go rusty. The radio work with all the various control towers went very well. I’ve never really had a problem talking on the radios and it feels pretty good to navigate such complicated airspace without screwing up. Grainne is going to setup the stage III checkride for the weekend after Thanksgiving. I going to fly at least twice more with her before then and probably one more solo for the pattern work.

Sunday November 17th 2002, 12pm, N739YE, 1.3H

Today was my first dual lesson in a while after all the cross-country flying. It’s nice to have Grainne back in the right seat, not that I minded being on my own, but the stress level goes way down with a CFI and an extra pair of eyes. The weather is once again really beautiful, its hard to believe we’re past the mid-point of November, its sunny and warm with clear blue skies and just a few high clouds. Today’s flight is really the start of the last part of my training. Its all about practice for the checkride, getting my flying up to PTS (Practical Test Standards) and preparing for the kinds of situations and tasks I can expect in the checkride. Grainne has a new attitude, she pretending to be an FAA examiner. This means, she no longer tells me how to do stuff (unless I ask) and just tells me the maneuver she wants to see. We planned a flight down to the south practice area to go over the basics, steep turns, slow flight and stalls.
4754D is still grounded due to an oil leak. 5766J was grounded because of a bad battery and 8276E had something wrong with its rudder. It was lucky I had happened to book 739YE, the only 172N that Tradewinds still had flying! Had a nice normal pre-flight, taxi except for the lecture I received from Ground Control. On my first call some stood on my transmission and he missed part of it. He said something like “Aircraft at Tradewinds say again”, so I repeated the call, but omitted to say I was parked at discovery. He told me to taxi, and as I was on my way down Zulu he proceeded to lecture me for giving an incorrect location that screwed up his taxi instructions. “Just because your a Tradewinds aircraft doesn’t mean your parked at Tradewinds, you guys were parked at discovery and that’s what you should have told me”. I’ve have heard enough pilots arguing with either the tower or ground control to know its a waste of time so I just apologized and promised not to do it again, this usually keeps them sweet and massages their ego enough so they leave you alone.

I did a standard takeoff with the usual downwind departure. We climbed up to 4500’ and over Anderson I stated with a couple of clearing turns and the maneuvering checklist. Then a steep turn to the left and another to the right – these were damm near perfect. I lost about 100’ on the left turn, kept my altitude spot on the right turn but lost a little airspeed near the end. Then slow flight, power to idle, flaps all the way down, and pitched until I heard the stall horn, just above 40 KIAS and power back up to 2000 RPM to maintain altitude. Grainne had me do a few turns trying to maintain the 40 KIAS (stall horn blowing all the while), these were really quite hard. The plane turns on a dime at that speed so you make a 90 degree turn before you know it, plus the controls are really sluggish. It was also pretty hard to not let the airspeed creep up. After a few turns I setup for some power-off stalls. I did one of these on the stage II checkride, but that is the only one I’ve done in a long time, my lack of practice showed. The first one, I didn’t pitch far enough forward and lost about 200’ before recovery. On the second I pitched way too much forward and ended up pointing the nose almost straight down – this was dramatic and would have scared me to death before, this time I just laughed and said I believed I had the correct pitch bracketed on both the high and low sides. The third attempt was a bit better, but my heading veered to the right a bit. Hard to believe, but I need to practice stalls some more. We got turned around and tried a power-on stall. This went fairly well, but I find it hard to judge the amount of right rudder needed in 739YE when I put in full power. I remember glancing at the turn coordinator as I was pitching up for the stall and seeing the ball way over to the right. A touch of panic set in, an uncoordinated stall gets you into a spin. Sure enough, as the stall broke the plane veered right. But I got enough rudder in to have it straightened up as I pulled up after recovery. So Grainne was happy and I only had to do the one.

Finally, we tried an emergency descent, these are no longer on the PTS, but I wanted to do one so that if I ever needed it I have done at least one. There are two schools of thought on the emergency descent. One says, point the nose down and dive or spiral down at the limit of the yellow arc. The problem with this is you reach 1000’ doing an ungodly speed that you then have to loose in order to land. In addition, it puts a lot of stress on the airframe which you may not want to do if your plane is on fire and you don’t know the damage that may have already been caused. The other school says, slow to 85 KIAS, drop in full flaps and descend in a tight 45 degree banked spiral. This had the advantage of keeping you at a sane speed when you level out to try and land, but it assumes you still have the capability to use the flaps. I’m not sure which one gets you down faster, but I elected to try the second one. Being cautious I climbed back up to 4000’ to try it out. Power to idle, slow to 85 KIAS, put in full flaps and then pitch to keep 85 KIAS. With full flaps this points the nose down pretty steeply. Then spiral down. This was a lot of fun, we got a descent of about 1200 FPM, but I wasn’t very aggressive with the 45 degree turns, so I think I could have probably got down faster. You could get a descent rate of 1200 FPM out of a forward slip and I’ve read that this is a useful trick if your engine is on fire, because the nose is pointed sideways in a slip, you can get the smoke, flames, oil and odd engine parts to fly over the other side of the plane and not obstruct your view of the landing.

Grainne gave me the choice of going to South County or back to Reid Hillview to practice some short/soft field landings and takeoffs. I decided, time was limited so we would go back, that way we could get the maximum done without having to work out how long it would take us to bring the plane back. Over UTC she asked me what I’d do if I had a full electrical failure so I gave the usual talk about carefully entering the pattern and looking for light signals – personally I think I just go land in South County and call Tradewinds to come pick up me and their dumb plane. So while we decided not to simulate the radio failure (and I’ve had a couple of real ones already) but we would do a no flap landing. Thinking I should lose a little altitude I set the power a bit low (1500 RPM) and then waited half a minute before realizing that I was descending at almost 1000 FPM at 110 KIAS. I got slowed back to 90 KIAS and 500 FPM, but I was way too low as I came in over the hills south of RHV. Grainne pointed out my mistake beautifully by simply asking where I thought I’d land if my engine quit. I realized that except for a real difficult spot down by the freeway I would be toast. So point well taken, keep on glide slope all the way in. I know that I’ve been guilty of not doing this on my last few straight in approaches to RHV.
With no flaps, the whole game is using power and pitch carefully to control the descent. The nose is quite a bit higher without the flaps and its very easy to let it drop to the view your used to. There was a slight crosswind from the left and for the first time I consciously put in a side slip and held it to stay lined up with the runway. It worked a treat, I came out of the slip just above the ground and made a picture perfect landing without the flaps. This one felt good, Grainne thought so as well.

We had requested the option so I was cleared to cross 31R and taxi back via Yankee for another takeoff. I did a short field takeoff which was so so, I was a touch faster than Vx but otherwise ok. Then around right traffic and this time did a short field landing. The plane floated just a little and I didn’t get my wheels down on the numbers. Grainne said that the flare was just a little off, but I’m not sure exactly how. We did a touch and go and then a soft field landing that was pretty bad. I was kind of preoccupied with controlling the power that I let myself drift a little to the right (that crosswind again) and for the first time in a long time Grainne put her hands on the controls during a landing to bank just a little left to stay out of the grass. So from picture perfect on the first landing to beginner on the last. Still, its shows I need to really go out and practice the soft-field technique.

Today’s flight was good overall. Grainne says I’m on track for the stage III checkride at the end of the month. I just need to get caught up with study for the written test and get it scheduled sometime before the end of November. I finished all the CD’s in the Cessna Pilot Center kit so now its just studying the Glime Answer Book to make sure I’ve got the actual questions down.