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.

Sunday November 3rd 2002, 12pm, N5766J, 2.2H

A big day, my first solo cross-country flight. Reading back to some of the early entries in this journal, I’m amazed how much I’ve learned, how far I’ve come. Many of the later entries have almost become routine, I flew here, I did that and so on. They fail to capture the wonder and excitement of flying. Now, a little over two months since I started, I’m to be set loose with a plane all on my own to take it somewhere I never been before, fly through unfamiliar airspace hopefully proving that I’ve learned something in those last two months. It should feel like a big deal, but truthfully I feel more than ready for it, no nervousness, no jitters, just keen anticipation to be in the air. I talked with Grainne last night, she told me the destination for my first big excursion is to be Davis, “Yolo County/Winters/ Woodland/Davis Airport” to be exact (stupid name for an airport, you can just imagine the various bodies arguing over the name and eventually deciding to call it that just to keep everyone happy), its code is 2Q3 and I’ll call it that to save on hard disk space. I got all the preflight planning done last night and I arrived early to get the DUATS briefing and make the final calculation for the forecast winds. Grainne checked through everything and then endorsed my log book and license for solo cross-country with another endorsement for this specific flight. The route I will follow is up I-680, past the east side of Mt Diablo, over the top of Travis Air Force Base, over the top of Nut Tree Airport and then down into 2Q3 for a trip of 74 nautical miles. I’ll come back via the Scaggs Island VOR and Buchanan Airport following pretty much the same route as the night cross-country home which is 92 nautical miles.

Had a nice normal preflight etc. and tookoff on a right 45 departure to head over the top of Mission Peak, climbing to 4500’. I called Oakland Flight Service Station and opened the flight plan I had filled on the ground. Then called Bay Approach and got flight following. Got passed off to another controller shortly afterwards. I flew almost due north over Livermore and reached Mt Diablo just 2 minutes later than I’d calculated. I got passed off to Travis Approach and stayed with them as I flew right over the top of the base. There are two huge runways (similar to the one I landed on in Castle) and I could see dozens of C130 Transports lined up on the Apron. I got passed off to another Travis controller as I turned over the base to head for Nut Tree. This is a small airport right next to I-80 and a big restaurant – I’ve heard the restaurant is closed now, but the airport is still open. Nut Tree was my planned start of descent and I turned onto what I thought was the right heading and started down. I couldn’t see 2Q3 and my trusty GPS attached to the yoke with rubber bands was telling me it was well left of the direction I was flying. I finally decided to believe the GPS and turned more to the left and hey presto there was 2Q3 (I worked out later I turned onto the true heading, not the magnetic heading, which meant I was off by 15 degrees). I called Travis Approach and terminated flight following, he warned me that there was parachute jumping taking place on the east side of the airport. This was fine, I planned to come in from the west. Got tuned into the CTAF frequency for 2Q3, there was one plane in the pattern doing touch and go’s and another plane with the parachute jumpers. I got down to pattern altitude well west of the field and made a wide right turn to come in on the left 45 for runway 34. Its a big wide runway and I got down without any trouble. I taxied off the runway and just parked in an empty spot (there was a lot of empty spots), shut off the plane, got out, closed my flight plan over the phone and smoked a cigarette. It was a long was to come just to have a smoke, but there was f**k all else there. The time I recorded when I got to the parking spot was 13:53 which was 59minutes after I took off from RHV and 10minutes longer than I’d originally calculated it would take, the headwind was just a bit stronger than forecast.

Got setup for takeoff again with a quick run-up just short of the runway. Did a left crosswind departure and contacted Rancho Radio to open the return flight plan, then got setup for flight following again with Travis Approach. I made a bit of a mess getting onto the radial I wanted for Scaggs island, but eventually worked out that my Heading Indicator had wandered off and it worked just fine when I reset it to the compass. I climbed up to 4500’ and flew over the top of Napa County Airport. Just passed there I turned south to intercept the outbound radial from the VOR and descended to 3500’. The view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge was spectacular. About this time I got passed off to Oakland Approach who shortly passed me back to Travis Approach as I passed over the Carcinas Bridge. I turned south again over Buchanan Airport in Concord and started following I-680 south. I got passed off to Bay Approach on the way down who finally gave me the RHV ATIS and terminated flight following just over Sunol. RHV Tower had me enter the right downwind for 31R and I had a nice uneventful landing. Time on the ground was 15:10, just 56 minutes after taking off from 2Q3 and just 3 minutes longer than my original calculation.

So that was my first solo cross-country. 166 nautical miles and almost 2 hours flying time. It was blissfully uneventful, no problems, no major mistakes and nice and safe the whole way. A good start to what I hope turns into a long cross-country flying career.

Saturday November 2nd 2002, 11am, N739YE, 2.0H

Today was my stage II checkride. Like the stage I check this is 2 hours oral test and then 2 hours flight test. The focus this time is on cross-country work, weather and decision making. Its not really a test, but its organized the same way as the FAA checkride so that your first time flying with a stranger isn’t when its the FAA examiner. We had a hard time finding a senior CFI to do the checkride, but Grainne set it up with a part time instructor called Todd Shara. Todd is an Air Transport Pilot flying for Sky West which does short haul commuter flights in California. Grainne had told me to prepare a flight plan to Fresno and to have all the weight and balance calculations done. I like to have the AOPA airport directory pages in my kneeboard and I’d managed to forget to print out the ones I needed on Friday, so I headed into work early printed the diagrams I needed for Fresno and some other airports along the way. I also got the DUATS briefing and completed the flight calculations. I managed to get all this done and get to RHV for 9am – It was an early start and I arrived just a couple of minutes late. Todd was waiting for me, he is a big fresh faced guy, quiet spoken.

The oral test went well. We started with the route I’d picked out which was basically a straight line from RHV to FAT. Todd had a problem with simply flying over the mountains to the east of San Jose, firstly would the plane climb fast enough to clear the 3500’ peaks and the fact that there is no place to land if the engine quits. He would have chosen to fly south to Frazier Lake and then follow highway 152 into the central valley. He asked me various questions about the airspace along the route, how I’d get information on weather, how I’d find the frequency for Air Traffic Control. He had a bunch of what if questions, like “What if you’re at Los Banos and Oakland Radio tells you that the Bay Area is fogged in from Oakland to Hollister, good night”, answer go land somewhere like Merced and stay the night. We went through the Sectional making sure I could read the airport information, VOR info etc. The test was supposed to take two hours, we finished in a little over one. The plane wasn’t back so we just chatted while we waited for it to arrive.

The pre-flight and taxi went well, I didn’t forget anything. I had some problems with the run-up, the left magneto was really rough. Like I’d been shown I ran the engine up to 2200 RPM for 10 seconds to burn off any carbon deposits, when that didn’t work I tried full power for 20 seconds. That still didn’t work so Todd showed me a trick, you lean the engine (adjusting the mixture to get max RPM) and then let it run there for about 30 seconds. This makes it run hot – its not recommended but better than grounding the plane for a bad magneto when in fact the plugs are just a little fouled. This did the trick and we were ready for takeoff. I did a fine short field takeoff and downwind departure.

The first checkpoint was the Top of Climb, we hit it 2 minutes late, but within the spec. (inside 5 minutes) and leveled off at 5500’. I established the plane in cruise and finished the checklist and then got the Salinas VOR tuned in and identified as I planned to use a radial to confirm my next checkpoint. At this point Todd tells me to divert to Salinas – I’m thinking this is too easy, I’ve just setup the VOR so the DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) will tell me the distance and time to the VOR for free. Todd realizes this just about the same time I do and says, “Wait, Salinas just shut down, divert to Monterey”. We had talked about my one trip into class C (on the night flight to San Jose International) and Todd decided this would be a great opportunity to get some more class C experience with Monterey. The weather was perfect, I could see all the way to the coast out to the Monterey Peninsula so pointing the plane in the right direction was pretty easy. Still, I remembered to note the time, got a new heading worked out (195), measured the distance on the chart (45 nm), used the E6B to calculate an ETE (24 minutes) & ETA (12:22) and worked out the fuel in my head (3.5 gallons). However, I forgot to change my altitude for the new heading, Todd reminded me and I descended to 4500’. Then he had me try and look up the AFD to find out whatever I could about Monterey (I hadn’t anticipated Monterey ahead of time so I didn’t have the AOPA directory sheet in my knee board folder). I managed to get the various frequencies, runway lengths and pattern altitude, but it was messy trying to read the book and fly the plane at the same time. We discussed how to get into Monterey class C, I knew about calling up Monterey Approach, but I wasn’t sure about how I’d give them a position fix. Todd suggested we head to Moss Landing (a huge power station, right on the coast, just outside class C) and call them from there. By this time I’d lost a bit of altitude and I was playing with getting back to 4500’ when he told me I really had more important things to think about, like getting the ATIS and getting in contact with Air Traffic Control. I made a dumb mistake getting the ATIS, I’m so used to just tuning out the Reid Hillview ATIS once I’ve got the winds and altimeter setting that I did the same here. So of course I didn’t find out what runway was in use. Todd asked me what runway I was going to use and I sheepishly turned the ATIS back on to find out. I got a hold of ATC just over the power station, they replied with my call sign and told me to standby for a transponder code. Todd, asked me, “Did I think I could enter class C?”, I said, “I believe so” and he said “so do I”, – we had established two way communication with ATC. A good trick he told me was to make sure my altitude was above 4200’, the top of class C airspace, that way I couldn’t blunder in by mistake without clearance. We were finally given a transponder code and told to ident, then told to ident again, finally the controller asked, “Are you the plane directly over the mouth of the Salinas River?”. I looked down and sure enough there was a river, so I told him I was. At this point he told me to contact the tower. We were still almost 10 miles out, but they gave a clearance to land on 28R (the shorter runway). No other instructions, no preferred pattern entry, nothing. Usually a tower gives you more explicit instructions like “Make left traffic for 28R, report 2 miles on the 45”. So I assumed a standard left traffic pattern and aimed for the 45 entry to left traffic for 28R. Other than committing my usual sin at unfamiliar airports of getting too close to the runway on downwind the pattern entry and landing were fine. Todd told me to do a short field landing. I couldn’t understand why the plane floated so much down the runway. It turned out I left just a little bit of power in and so I turned it into a perfect soft field landing.

We called Ground Control and asked to taxi for takeoff. I was told to standby for a departure instructions and then they came back with, “Depart straight out, after the freeway turn to heading 340, Monterey Approach frequency 127.15”, I read this back and they confirmed I’d got it right. I called the Tower again at the hold short line and got a takeoff clearance, an Eagle Air commuter jet took off beside us just as I lined up on the runway. Todd told me to make a soft field takeoff, I did a passable job, but really didn’t get into ground effect until I was already going fast enough to takeoff normally. I climbed out over the freeway, turned to heading 340 which takes you out over the bay. At about 1800’ I was told to contact Monterey Approach. They told me to resume my own navigation above 2000’, so I turned back towards dry land as soon as I got the chance. Todd, told me to let him know when we were clear of class C, this was fairly easy, there is a kind of lagoon on the coast that marks the boundary. Once out he had me put on the hood for some instrument work.

He had me level out at 3500’, fly some headings and determine the radial I was on from the Salinas VOR. Then we did some recovery from unusual attitudes. I think we did three, two nose down and one nose up almost in a stall. I messed up the first one a bit, not leveling the winds before pulling out of the dive. I was a bit confused about cross checking the turn coordinator with the attitude indicator. Previously I’d been told check the attitude indicator first – then quickly cross check the turn coordinator to make sure. Todd told me to do the opposite, because of the possibility that the attitude indicator has tumbled. So spent too long looking at the turn coordinator, trying to level the wings, I thought they were coming level and I started to pull up the nose, then I looked at the attitude indicator and saw my wings were still banked left – so then I leveled them using the attitude indicator. The plane ended up straight and level, but Todd wasn’t happy about not leveling the wings first. I got the hood off and he told me to head for home.

A little passed Frazier Lake Todd asked me was there a checklist in the side pocket, this was just a ploy to get me to take my hand off the throttle which he promptly pulled out. I established best glide speed and thought I could make it to South County, he kept saying are you really sure, I said I thought I could but that it was close to the limit of the glide. Then he said assuming I couldn’t then where would I land, so I turned the plane around and started heading for Frazier Lake, which in hind sight was the right answer in the first place. So I fell for the Frazier Lake ploy again – forgetting this little airfield is there. he told me to turn back for home, took over flying the plane and gave me a lecture on how there was no way he would have tried to make it to South County when there was a good airfield so close and how even if there wasn’t he would have put it down in a field rather than try and fly into a built up area without being sure of getting to a landing spot. So lesson well learned – go for the sure thing when the engine fails.

Had a nice uneventful flight back to RHV. Todd had me do a short field landing which went perfectly this time. Other than the recovery from unusual attitudes and the emergency landing he said I did fine on the stage check evaluation – ready for my solo cross country. The flight was fairly long, but it went well overall. I really feel ready for flying cross country on my own.