Thursday October 31st 2002, 3pm, N5766J, 1.5H

The weather this week had just been so perfect, it feels like the last gasp of summer. The wind was 290 at 10 knots and the temp was 21C with 20 miles of visibility, there were just a few scattered cirrus at 20,000’. After last nights flight all my problems of last Monday were forgotten, 5766J is just a friendly plane to fly and she’s never been bad to me unlike that treacherous 8276E. No problems whatsoever with the pre-flight, taxi or run-up. Took off on 31R and entered right traffic and once again was flying solo. I have to remind myself that its only three short weeks since I soloed for the very first time. It’s like night and day – no fear only the enjoyment of getting into the air.
I stayed in the air for 1.5 hours. Previously I’d have been exhausted doing pattern work for this long. Now I’m easily ahead of the plane, the focus is just on refining technique, its not tiring, its just fun. I feel like I’ve been climbing a mountain and suddenly the hill got a lot less steep. After the problems getting too my first solo and then finally getting it over with, the progression has just been so fast. Back then I thought it was a stretch goal of getting my license by Christmas. Now its looks easily attainable if I’m lucky with weather in November. Granted, I’ve been flying a lot this month almost 19 hours since my solo, so I’m probably just on track with the average, its just I’ve compressed it into 3 weeks.

I did 10 landings and one go-around. I focused on short field landings because they’re most of the soft field technique anyway. The first three floated a bit and I touched down farther along than I wanted. Then I tried just slowing up just a little bit on final, a touch under 60 KIAS and bang, right on the numbers they started working. On most of the landings I was able to get off on taxi way Bravo which is the very first available taxiway, I never went beyond taxiway Charlie. Not a single landing was out of control. It was just landing nirvana today. I mixed in some short field takeoffs and these went well. The go-around was caused by another pilot, one of the Japanese students from Nice Air. The tower thought he asked for a downwind departure, he obliviously thought he was doing closed pattern work. Either way he ended up on final when the tower asked him what the hell he was doing because he had no clearance to land. He then got into a debate with the tower whether he asked for closed pattern work or a downwind departure. All this time there was another plane holding for takeoff on 31R. By the time the tower had stopped talking the Japanese guy was on short final and the plane holding on 31R had never got a clearance to takeoff. So the Japanese guy got told to go-around because of the plane sitting on the runway. I had just turned onto final following the Japanese guy so I got told to go-around as well.

All in all today was a great flight even if it was just circles around the airport. I never made a mistake, the radio work was good and the landings were great.

Wednesday October 30th 2002, 6:30pm, N5766J, 1.8H

Tonight the weather was picture perfect for flying. The air was clear and cool and visibility was better than 10 miles. There was the usual evening breeze from the Northwest blowing almost straight down the runway. The flight planning for this trip to Napa County Airport was a bit rushed. I had planned to get it done the night before, but I ended up having dinner and a couple of beers with some friends so I wasn’t in the mood when I got home. Instead, I spent lunch time at work getting most of the planning done and then finished up the last bits when I got to Tradewinds about 5:30pm. Grainne was waiting when I got there and we went over the plan. She had told me to avoid SFO’s class B airspace, so I planned a route following I680 up to Concord and then track in towards Napa on the Scaggs Island VOR. I was going to use the DME (Distance Measurement Equipment) to determine my turn point towards NAPA. The distance was 59nm and it should take about 39minutes to fly. After Grainne was done checking the flight plan I filed it and we headed out to find 5766J.

5766J had just been washed and was sitting out behind the Tradewinds hanger. It turned out it hadn’t been flown since I found the alternator problem the previous Sunday. We had checked the maintenance log, the alternator regulator had been replaced and this had fixed the problem. I completed a dark and cold pre-flight and the long taxi out to the runway. Tonight we were making a straight out departure from 31R just following to the East of the freeway to stay clear of SJC’s class C. The takeoff and departure was fine. I got Oakland Radio on the climb out and opened my flight plan and then managed to setup flight following like I knew what I was doing. We leveled off at 4500’ over Sunol more or less right on time. The view was spectacular, the whole Bay Area was a sea of lights spread out under us.

The flight North along I680 was smooth and uneventful, we were passed to Sierra Approach just before Livermore. There was a lot of traffic on the radio, I guess it was the evening rush hour of planes into and out of the Bay Area. I turned onto the Scaggs Island VOR radial over Buchanan Airport in Concord and started out over the Benicia Bridge into San Pablo Bay. I tuned into the Napa ATIS and got the weather. There was a 7 knot wind at 150 degrees and runway 18R was in use. This was no surprise its the main runway with lights. Its real dark out over the water, when I planned the trip I thought it might be difficult to find the airport, I had planned using the DME to time my turn towards the field. In the event it was really easy to pick out the airport and I didn’t need the DME. I called the tower and was told to enter right downwind for 31R, it sounded like there was no other traffic flying at the time.

I turned right and started the descent and made the same mistake I’d made at Pine Mountain Lake, I got way too close to the runway on the downwind. This time at least I recognized what I was doing wrong and tracked away from the runway on the downwind to give myself more space on the base leg. The approach was fine and I thought the landing was fine, though Grainne got a bit excited. I was starting the flare and she kept saying “just hold it level”, I could see her almost grabbing the yoke. 18R is another big runway like Castle (5900’) with wide runway markings. I guess I flared a bit high because the “normal” sight picture I’m used to in RHV or Q99 fooled me into thinking I was lower (that is a big runway far away looks the same as a small runway close up). Either way we touched down pretty gently. The tower told us to taxi to the ramp on his frequency and we had fun finding a taxiway diagram to work out how to get back to the start of the runway. Napa is one of those triangular airports with three runways making up the sides, this makes the taxiway layout a bit complicated. Luckily we didn’t get lost, got a clearance to taxi for takeoff, found our way back to the start of 18R and were cleared to take off. I closed the flight plan on the way up.

The flight back was relaxing, just using pure pilotage, no dead reckoning. Grainne had planned some hood work, but by the time I got flight following setup we were over Concord at 3500’ and pretty much hemmed in by the mountains on both sides so no more hard work tonight. I flew us down 680, over Sunol, Sierra Approach gave us the RHV ATIS and terminated flight following. I called RHV tower along side Mission Peak and was told to enter right downwind for 31R. We were just on the downwind when Grainne pulled the power on the engine for yet another dead stick landing. It’s amazing how the engine always quits over Lake Cunningham. Got best glide and turned onto base and final. I had 10 degrees of flaps in and hummed and hawed about putting more in, finally putting in 30 degrees over the Mall. The landing was so gentle, the plane’s wheels just kissed the ground hello, really good! I let her roll to the last taxi way and we headed for parking. Tonight was pure joy, perfect weather, the air was smooth as glass and everything went exactly to plan. I’ve got another solo flight tomorrow. Grainne wants me to do the Stage II checkride on Saturday so I’ll just stay in the RHV pattern and practice the short & soft field takeoffs and landings.

Monday October 28th 2002, 2pm, N8276E, 1.1H

Another perfect solo weather day. I ended up with 8276E today, a plane I’d only flown once back in August and the oldest most worn Skyhawk in the Tradewinds fleet. The pre-flight went well, although I couldn’t make much sense of the audio panel, I used my full headset to call up for fuel because I couldn’t work out how to make the cabin mic work. This plane is hokey, the avionics are old and everything about it is worn around the edges. I had a normal downwind departure and headed back to the same area as I’d practiced in yesterday. My plan was to practice slow flight and stalls and then do some landings again at South County.
As I flew passed Anderson Reservoir I started to get what I can only describe as “the jitters”. Even though I’ve done stalls and slow flight in every other plane in the fleet, 8276E was sufficiently different to make me nervous. I decided to skip the stalls and just do some slow flight and even then I started getting scared about stalling by mistake. It was as if all the confidence I had built up over the previous solo flights had evaporated. Truly I got myself more scared and nervous then my very first solo flight. I slowed down to 55 KIAS and just flew it straight at that speed just practicing maintaining my altitude – this was pretty basic stuff, but I just wasn’t ready to try anything more difficult. As I powered up again event the engine sounded wrong to me – even though it was just fine. It was like my mind was just looking for things to stress me out. As I was at 4000’ I decided to do a forward slip to get down. This is a fairly basic maneuver and it went well, I kept my heading and airspeed pretty constant and lost about 1500’ before coming out of the slip and turning back towards South County.

There was no one else in the pattern at South County as I entered the right 45 for runway 32. I had a pretty normal approach, just aiming for a standard landing with nothing fancy. It went badly wrong in the flare. The plane ballooned up and then started slipping sideways to the right. I added some power but the bottom dropped out and I clunked down onto the runway at a slight angle. My front wheel came down quickly and started to shimmy. It was a mess, I got the weight of the nose wheel and it stopped complaining. This was by far my worst landing in a very long time and it did nothing to help my already diminished confidence. Based on the theory that you climb right back on the horse that you just fell off, I decided to do another circuit of the pattern. I had just powered up for the takeoff when I realized my window was open, so I quickly brought the power back and closed the window – so much for following the checklists. This time through the pattern the approach was good but the landing was only marginally better. I still ballooned up and drifted sideways a bit, but I didn’t come down as hard or as uncontrolled. Still, it didn’t help boast my confidence much. I decided I’d had enough and tookoff for home.

On the straight in approach to 31L the jitters started again in earnest. I had to keep telling myself, I’ve done this plenty of times, its just the same, just follow the standard sequence. The approach went fine to spite being nervous and the landing was ok, if a bit flat. After the ballooning down in South County I under-compensated and didn’t really flare enough. Still, I was happy to be back on the ground in RHV. Today’s flight was really no fun. I didn’t realize just how much an unfamiliar plane would effect me and was surprised at how debilitating the fear could be. It was an unpleasant lesson but one well learned.

Sunday October 27th 2002, 12:30pm, N739YE, 1.4H

I’ve fallen a bit behind in my journal so I’ll keep these entries short. Finally the weather started behaving and I could fly solo again. The last solo I’d done was almost two weeks ago when I was checked out to land in South County and Hollister. I was keen to finally get out into the practice area on my own, all my other solo‘s were in the pattern at RHV. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, no wind and 10 miles visibility. I was supposed to be flying N5766J, when I asked for the book they told me that the last pilot had squawked it for the low voltage light coming on. I know that some of the planes will flash this light if the engine is at low RPM and you have the landing light and transponder on so I decided I’d take it and just keep a close eye on the ammeter. I got thought the external pre-flight and started on the internal checklist when I discovered that the ALT FIELD circuit breaker was popped. I reset it, switched on master and it popped again – there was some problem with the alternator so 5766J was grounded. I was lucky that someone had just cancelled 739YE so I got it. Another pre-flight and this plane was ready to go.
Everything went well until I got to the hold short line of 31R. I called the tower and got no response, I tried ground control and same result, Oh no, he we go again with the radio problems. I turned back around and parked myself in the run-up area again to see if I could work it out. It only took a minute, the speaker jack had pulled out of its socket so I couldn’t hear anything. I got it plugged back in, got back to the hold short line and was cleared to takeoff.

I didn’t have a real firm plan what I was going to practice, other than some landings at South County. I really just wanted to get away from RHV on my own and enjoy flying without too much hard work. I flew down past Anderson Reservoir to give myself some margin from anyone else practicing and just enjoyed flying, did a couple of clearing turns and then a steep turn to the right and another to the left. Did another couple of clearing turns and tried a couple more steep turns. These all went well, held altitude and airspeed fairly constant and came out pretty much on the heading I wanted. At this point I turned around to head to South County. There was one plane in the pattern and as I descended over the golf course East of the field another plane entered the right downwind and I turned to follow him onto the downwind leg. With three planes in the pattern I ended up extending my downwind leg a bit to leave some spacing.

I tried a short-field landing, and it went really well, nice and soft and an easy turn off onto the first taxiway. The plane ahead of me had done a touch and go and the other took off again as I taxied back to takeoff. I did two more landings at South County and they were both spot on. Its really nice to nail the landings on a consistent basic. After the third takeoff I headed for home. The trip back was uneventful, I had a nice stable straight in approach for 31L, got changed to 31R at the 3 mile mark and made a forth great landing to close the day. All in all a very enjoyable flight and another shot of confidence after my first solo trip away from the RHV pattern.

Saturday October 26th 2002, 12:30pm, N5766J, 2.9H

The weather started off foggy, but was burning off quickly when I got to the airport about 11:30am. We were scheduled to fly at 12pm and I needed to complete the flight plan calculations given the forecast winds. I had the first half of the trip completed when Grainne showed up. She had a few questions about the route I had picked but nothing too serious. I had planned to fly a right 45 departure from RHV which is basically due North, climb to 4500’ and then turn East directly over Livermore and climb up to 5500’. That would set me up for a straight line course across the central valley passed Tracy and Oakdale and on to Pine Mountain Lake. For practice I had flown the route on FS2000 the last night and most of the landmarks I’d picked out seemed easy enough to see. The route back would use the 251 degree radial to the Manteca VOR which would take me neatly to the entry to Stockton class D airspace. Grainne had already told me we would probably not land at Stockton, but instead divert to somewhere else, I still had to plan it out though. I filed a flight plan for the outward journey.
A normal takeoff and as we climbed towards Calaveras Reservoir I called Oakland Flight Service Station and opened the flight plan, the guy was real nice, he needed to get my name, I guess the recorded message I left when I filed the plan garbled my it and he gave us a frequency for filing pilot reports (PIREPS) and position updates during the journey. We were just leveled off at 4500’ when I called Bay Approach to request flight following. I completely screwed it up, I forgot to tell him where I was, how high I was and what I wanted and I think I forgot to repeat my call-sign a couple of times. In the end he just gave me another frequency to call. I was completely flustered. I started from scratch on the new frequency and thankfully got it right this time – I’m still intimidated by talking to Bay Approach along with all the “real” air traffic in the congested Bay Area. The sequence is not hard, basically you initiate the call with “Bay Approach, Skyhawk 5766J, request”, then wait for them to reply usually with “Skyhawk 5766J, Bay Approach state you request”. Then you tell them where you are and what you want, “Bay Approach, Skyhawk 5766J, 10 miles North of Reid-Hillview, 4,500 feet, request flight following from Reid-Hillview to Pine Mountain Lake”. They then give you a transponder code to squawk, “Skyhawk 5766J, Squawk 0433 and IDENT”. You have to repeat the code back to them to make sure you got it right, “0433, 5766J”, enter it in the transponder and push the IDENT button, this will make it flash on their radar screen so they can pick it out easily. After that they will come back and confirm radar contact, “Skyhawk 5766J, radar contact at 12 miles north of Reid-Hillview, 4,600 feet” and they might ask you to confirm the altitude, “confirm altitude 4,600 feet” to which you reply “Affirmative, 4,600 feet, 5766J”. So you see, a piece of cake really. I was happily heading toward Livermore when they told me I was cleared to climb to 5500’ at my discretion and after that I didn’t hear from them until I was handed off to Stockton Approach somewhere over the Altamont Pass.

The flight went well out to Tracy, I was just a little south of my course at the intersection of I-205 and I-5. The next checkpoint was an intersection of a road and some power lines just outside Oakdale and we hit that one more or less on time. I missed the next checkpoint, it was supposed to be a intersection of a road and a railway, but I never saw it for sure. By this time I knew I was getting fairly close to Pine Mountain Lake, but I was not exactly sure where I was. Finally, I found a bridge that was unmistakable and would have been a much better checkpoint in the first place. Right then I realized that I knew just where I was, the road running across the bridge was highway 120 which is basically the route to Yosemite and I’ve driven it many times, there is a big hydro-electric plant close by that was easy to pick-out near a place called Priests Grade, that’s an incredibly steep hill that worth driving up, but will burn your brakes driving down (I know I’ve done it). Right about this time I saw the airport.

I was a little south of the field so as I descended I flew across it to enter on the downwind leg. I then proceeded to completely screw up the pattern entry. I flew way too close on the downwind, overshot a lot on the turn to final and decided to go around. As I climbed out two planes entered the downwind leg ahead of me so I was now number 3 to land. The wind was brutal, a lot of turbulence and it seemed to be coming from rapidly changing directions. I overshot final again and did another go around. This time Grainne started to talk me through the landing. Third time it worked, the approach was much better. We were just about 50 feet above the ground and for some reason the plane was just floating even with 40 degrees of flaps, suddenly the bottom dropped out and we headed for the ground fast. The flare worked and the actual landing was reasonable. We must have hit some kind of updraft followed by a downdraft just above the ground, it was no fun whatsoever.

Pine Mountain Lake is a “fly-in” community. People actually have houses right next to the taxiways and hangers instead of garages. We taxied to the transient parking and got out to stretch out legs. Grainne once again had to remind me to close my flight plan, which I did by phone. A few minutes on the ground and we decided to head back. Grainne had me do one more loop of the pattern and another landing to make sure I could be more consistent at an unfamiliar airport and to give me a confidence boast that the first landing wasn’t a fluke. The second landing was fine and we did a touch and go. This was probably a mistake because the altitude made the climb out much closer to the trees than either of us would have liked. We departed straight out and I had little trouble picking up the 251degree radial from the Manteca VOR. The air however was really bumpy, the worst turbulence I’ve been in so far, though Grainne said it was only “light”. Once we were back at altitude Grainne had me put on the foggles and I flew on instruments tracking the VOR. This was only hard because of the bouncing around and I did a passable job of staying on course. Of course, once I took the foggles off I had no idea of where I was, other than on the radial so Grainne picked the perfect time to decide to divert me to Lodi. Whether by design or accident Lodi happened to be right on the fold of the map, with the airport on one side and all the associated information on the other. The plane was bouncing around and taking most of my attention to keep it straight and level and I was trying to plot a course to the new airport. The first problem was I didn’t know where I was. I tried triangulating with the Linden VOR and got a rough idea, close enough to very roughly get a course of 285 degrees. Grainne suggested I use the DME (Distance Measurement Equipment) to get the distance to the Manteca VOR, thankfully this agreed fairly closely with my first estimate. Once I’d decided that about 280 was reasonable Grainne had me calculate the ETE (Estimated Time Enroute), the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and the fuel required. Once that was done, I just set the GOTO on my GPS and it gave me a heading of 270 degrees and an ETA that matched mine to the minute (by luck I think).

Actually finding the airport turned out to be a little difficult, there were two airports marked close together on the chart, I could see one below me, but I couldn’t see the other so I wasn‘t sure if I had the right one or not. The ETA (and the GPS) were telling me I’d was over the right airport so I decided to descend and get a better look. I did a descending right turn and as I came around I saw the second airport confirming that I was in fact over the right place, Kingdon Airport. I did a thankfully uneventful entry into left downwind and made a fine landing. There were no taxiways, so we just turned around at the far end of the runway and took off again – there was really no significant wind to force us to take off in any particular direction. We did a crosswind departure which was basically towards home and Grainne told me to just find the fastest way back to RHV.

I could see Mt Diablo in the distance. Reid-Hillview was too far to come up on the “nearest” list on my GPS, but Livermore did so I set that as my destination. I’m pretty familiar with the central valley around Stockton and Tracy so it was easy to set myself up in the right direction. Coming over the Altamont Pass again I could see Mission Peak in the distance, Calaveras Reservoir is right in front so we just made a beeline for familiar airspace. I tried to get a radial from the San Jose VOR, but the mountains got in the way and I didn’t really need it anyway. I got the RHV ATIS and called into the tower over Calaveras. We did a completely standard approach to right traffic for runway 31R though my attempt at a soft-field landing left a lot to be desired.

The trip was fun, though somewhat tiring, almost 3 hours flying and over 200 nm traveled. Other than the problems landing at Pine Mountain Lake it was a good experience. I really didn’t screw anything up badly. I think once I get some more local solo experience I’ll be more than ready to attempt one of these trips on my own.

Thursday October 24th 2002, 5:30pm, N5766J, 0.9H

As expected the weather didn’t cooperate for another solo flight. This time the wind and visibility were fine, but there was broken cloud at 3,500’ and it looked like more solid cloud was moving in from the West. However, Yoed was hanging around outside at 4pm when I was supposed to be flying so I asked him if he was available. He had one student for an hour, but would go up with me afterwards. I hung out at Tradewinds working on the flight plan for Saturday’s long cross country and I had 5766J pre-flighted and ready to go when he got back down a little after 5pm. We planned to stay in the pattern at RHV and practice short & soft field landings & takeoffs.
I made a dumb rookie mistake that I’ve never made before, I forgot to call Ground Control before starting to taxi – I was just about to go when Yoed says “Are you just going to start?”, then I realized what I had done – oh well, maybe I should write that one in on my checklist. We had a normal run-up and takeoff from 31L. I was just about the call the Tower when they told me to expedite crossing 31R and takeoff. That break in routine caused me to make my second rookie mistake – I forgot to turn on the transponder and landing light (the usual “lights, camera, action” checklist just before takeoff). From now on I’m going to just turn them on at the end of the run-up unless there’s a long line of planes waiting to takeoff (meaning I’ll have time to remember it then).

We proceed to do 7 takeoffs and landings. All the takeoffs were a combo soft & short technique. Basically, holding the nose wheel off the runway and then flying in ground effect to build speed, then climbing at best angle of climb to simulate clearing an obstacle at the end of the runway. Yoed made a good point, many soft fields are also short so its not unusual to have to combine the techniques. The first few takeoffs were a little ragged with a lot of drift sideways flying in ground effect. Yoed really drilled me on keeping the center line during the takeoff – more right rudder and use the ailerons. This paid off and the last couple of takeoffs were right down the line. Of the seven landings, two were soft-field and the rest were short field. I really had fun with the short field landings. 40 degrees of flaps brings you in steep, the flare is very positive and you really try to plant your wheels on the aiming spot. Two of the landings were my best ever, I aimed for the numbers and planted the mains right down on them, not hard, but just firmly enough that you knew you had arrived. Yoed commented that one was “commercial standard” whatever that means. We only had one go-around, I’m still not sure what went wrong. I believe, I was a little fast and I started to flare early and too much. So I ended up about 15’ above the ground and then started to just drop in. Yoed called for power and then a go around. He seemed real concerned which bothers me because I think I would have still attempted the landing (with just adding power to soften the landing). I’m not sure what exactly I missed that made it so bad. The two soft-field landings were a mixed bag, one was reasonable, the other felt more like a normal landing – I will have to practice these more.

Tonight was fun, Yoed is always nice to fly with – he’s precise and picks up on a lot of little stuff that Grainne lets slide. He’d probably drive me nuts if I flew with him every time, but great for a brush up on technique.

Tuesday October 22nd 2002, 6:30pm, N4754D, 0.9H

Today is my first night flight, I’ve already done a couple of full dark landings so I’m not too worried about it. However, its also my first trip into class C airspace which is a little more scary. It was almost dark when I arrived at the airport. The marine layer was already rolling in which is much earlier than usual. I was just reviewing San Jose Airport in the A/FD when Grainne showed up. We went over the radio procedures and the usual entries and exits we could expect for SJC. Basically RHV is so close to SJC, you tell RHV Ground Control you’re flying VFR to SJC and they get you a transponder code before you leave the ground. The pattern entry for runway 29 (the shortest runway in SJC, 4600′ long) is usually passing over mid field at 1500′ and then doing a descending turn onto the 45 for the downwind leg.
Did my first pre-flight in the dark with a flashlight, it took a bit longer but was otherwise OK. The panel lighting in 4754D is great, much better than 5766J (in fact now that I have the radio thing fixed, 54D is becoming my favorite plane). We had some fun with the radios, but this time it wasn’t us. It was the tower. When we tuned into Ground Control there was a really loud buzzing sound. Grainne called the tower and told them about it, at which time another plane chimed in said they had the same problem. So we were cleared to taxi down Zulu while the tower guys figured out there problem, helping them with various radio checks along the way. Finally about halfway down they got it working and thanked us for our help and then asked us what our departure request was. We told them and got a transponder code just before the run-up area. Had a normal run-up and did a straight out departure running along the east side of I-680 to stay out of class C.

We were cleared to change frequency to call SJC Tower just about the time I leveled off at 1500’. They asked for our altitude and for an IDENT on our transponder and then confirmed radar contact. As expected we were told to over fly the field at or above 1500’ and enter left downwind for runway 29. Right about this time I realized there was a cloud right off my right side and as I turned towards SJC we hit the bottom of the ceiling, I started descending and was at about 1400’ as we got close to the field. I was kind of worried about the clouds and being lower than instructed (though Grainne pointed out that the transponder was still showing 1500’ which is what the tower would see). In the confusion I was cleared to land as I passed over the center of the field, and I repeated back that clearance. I went out quite far beyond the field to make sure I had plenty of time to descend to pattern altitude and get established on the 45. A left 180 degree turn brought me in on the 45 at 1000’ and I turned downwind. It was kind of hard to make where the end of the runway was in order to judge the turn to base leg and of course this time I didn’t have any familiar ground references. Just about this time the Tower said, “Be advised traffic on final for the parallel runway is a Boeing 757”, this was pretty cool, I’m used to getting traffic alerts for rather smaller planes. The 757 was a lot easier to see than the usual Cessna’s and whatnot around the RHV traffic pattern. I made the turn from base to final early and angled onto the final approach trying to stay as far away as possible from the big iron landing on the runway next door. The final approach and landing went pretty well and Grainne called for a touch and go. As we climbed out the tower asked where we were and I said we had done a touch and go. At this point we realized that we only had a clearance for a landing not for the option (to do the touch and go). Tower asked us what we wanted to do, we decided that with the ceiling coming down fast at SJC and having just pissed the Tower guys off we’d better get out of Dodge, so we told them we would go back to RHV. They said, “make an immediate left turn and cross the field at 1500’”. Of course, the ceiling had dropped some more and I only got to about 1350’ before we hit the clouds. Grainne called the Tower and told them we could only maintain 1350’ crossing the field, they didn’t seem to mind and were probably just glad we were leaving before we screwed anything else up. A little passed the field they told us radar service was terminated, to squawk 1200 and contact RHV. So ended my first foray into class C airspace.

It took a couple of tries but the Tower at RHV finally answered and gave us the option of left or right traffic, I’d pretty much reached I-680 at this point so right traffic for 31R made the most sense. We did five landings and they were a lot of fun. The first was normal and went well. The second time around Grainne pulled the engine about mid downwind and I did a dead stick landing that worked great. Grainne’s only quibble was that I used 40 degrees of flaps to get down. I had shortened the downwind to make the final leg intentionally short and high. I wanted to land about a third of the way down the runway and I figured “altitude is options” so better high than low. As I was plenty high I needed all the flaps to get down. Grainne’s point was the plane is harder to control with full flaps and no engine, but at least I got down. On the third time around we were going to practice a forward slip. Grainne told me to take the engine to idle and pitch for 70 KIAS abeam the numbers. I’m not sure what she was intending. I extended the downwind a little, but of course we were descending faster than usual so we ended up on glide slope as I turned onto final (even without any flaps). So no need for a slip as it is used to lose unwanted altitude without gaining speed and we didn’t have any unwanted altitude at that point. Grainne had me do a no-flap landing instead, basically the same as a normal landing but the nose is pitched quite a bit higher. The landing was fine. The next time around there was a plane coming in on final approach so we had to extend our downwind a little bit anyway. I just kept at pattern altitude but slowed to about 70 KIAS on base. So of course we were high and long as we turned onto final – exactly what I wanted to practice the slip. For the first time I got into the forward slip, held the center line of the runway perfectly, lost exactly the altitude I wanted and exited without a flaw. It was great, I’ve had problems with this maneuver every time I’ve tried it until now. The actual landing went fine after than. On the last time through Grainne pulled the power again. This time I turned a little too early and ended up much higher than I wanted, I also resisted putting in the last 10 degrees of flaps so we were staring to run out of runway. Grainne said to pitch down for a speed of 80 KIAS to get down quicker. We got down with the end of the runway rather close to us, Grainne said “lets try to stop without running off the end”, I don’t know why she was worried, we stopped without problems and terminated for the night.

Tonight was a lot of fun. Landing at San Jose was a blast. Skimming along just under the clouds we cool and the landings as RHV went pretty well. Not just basics to get in the requirement for 10 night landings, but a chance to practice the dead-stick and slips as well. Next Thursday is scheduled for another solo flight but the weather looks iffy. On Saturday we’ll do the long cross country, we’re going to Pine Mountain Lake which is at just under 3000’ a little Northwest of Yosemite Valley.

Monday October 21st 2002, 4pm, N4754D, 1.4H

I didn’t get to fly solo on Sunday, the marine layer fog had created a solid ceiling over the airport when I arrived at 10am. It had started to burn off, but the visibility never got above 5 miles and my limit is 10, so another solo flight scrubbed. This is frustrating, it was a beautiful day except for the reduced visibility.

Today, the weather was nice, warm and sunny with just a bit of haze, the visibility was about the same as yesterday, but today I was flying with Grainne so we only needed standard VFR conditions. The plan was to do some hood work in the practice area and then come back to RHV to practice short and soft field landings and take-offs. I would be flying in 4754D again, this is the plane that gave me all the radio problems that I have now blamed on my headset. The last couple of times I borrowed a headset from Tradewinds and these worked, though the loner headsets are pretty crappie. Last week I created a jig that has a socket for my headset microphone connected to another microphone plug. The idea was that if the particular mic plug on my headset was causing the problem (it seems slightly longer compared to the plug on Grainne’s headset) then the jig would convert my funky mic plug for a more standard one. I still borrowed a headset in case it didn’t work.

Had a normal pre-flight, my own headset seemed to work with the new jig, normal taxi and run-up and a much better attempt at a soft-field takeoff compared to Saturday. The soft-field takeoff (and taxi) is all about keeping moving and protecting the nose wheel. The idea is that if you’re on a grass, snow, gravel or mud surface then your liable to sink in if you stop moving – so always keep moving once you start and your nose wheel tends to want to dig itself into the soft ground so keep as much pressure off it as possible. When you takeoff you apply a lot of back pressure, the nose wheel pretty much lifts off the ground as soon as you apply power so the initial takeoff is done on just the main wheels. As you gain a little speed the plane will lift off, its flying in ground effect so you have to keep it there (within a wingspan of the ground) to gain more speed, this actually takes a surprising amount of forward pressure. As the plane accelerates it just lifts itself out of ground effect into the air.

We made a downwind departure and once I completed the climb checklist Grainne had me put on the hood – this restricts your vision to just the planes instruments and try’s to simulate what would happen if you flew into a cloud by mistake (though I’ve read that a cloud is much more disorientating). Grainne had me fly a heading of 120 degrees as we climbed, then a heading of 090 as I leveled off at 4000′. This was fine and I had much better control of my heading compared to the last time I did hood work (better rudder control). Then we started to practice “recovery from unusual attitudes”. If you fly into a cloud and become disorientated then it is very likely that you lose control of the airplane. I read a statistic that most VFR pilots find themselves in a spiraling dive within 90 seconds of entering a cloud – this is a scary thought. The recovery from unusual attitudes is supposed to simulate this situation and ensure that you can recover control with just instruments and fly yourself out of trouble. Grainne took control of the plane and had me close my eyes, she said that she was just doing clearing turns but with your eyes closed the G-forces are your only guide to how the plane is moving (a very misleading guide). It felt like she was throwing the plane all over the place. Then she says “your plane” and you have to quickly determine what its doing and recover.

The recover was actually fairly easy. I thought it would be a bit scary but just staring at the instruments makes the situation feel almost artificial. Sure, the attitude indicator shows that your pitched down almost 45 degrees but it would feel very different if you could actually see outside of the plane, a pitch like this is way out of the ordinary and would be a bit disconcerting. We did five or six recoveries, all of them except one were nose down with varying degrees of roll and speed. The hardest was actually a quite shallow wings level dive, but was very fast, it took a long time to pull the plane back to level and I overshot the pitch on the up side. One was nose high, just getting close to a stall (the stall horn was sounding when she gave me the plane). Then it was hood off and back to RHV. We got a straight in approach to 31L that got changed to 31R when a Commander slipped in beside us on the left. The approach was fine though I felt really slow compared to the Commander, he passed me and was on the ground before I got onto final over the Mall. I attempted a soft-field landing which turned into a more standard landing when I failed to keep the plane in ground effect long enough.

We proceeded to do 5 more takeoffs and landings. The first three were soft-field technique and the last two were short-field. I got better at the soft-field stuff, it’s strange, but a poor soft-field landing qualifies as a pretty good normal landing. I can’t really point to any one thing but my landings have been getting steadily better over the last few flights. I got the hang of the soft-field takeoffs and did a good job of keeping in ground effect until the plane was ready to fly for real. The short field takeoff is fun. You lineup as close to the start of the runway as possible, stand on the brakes until the engine has developed full power, brakes off, zoom down the runway, rotate at 51 KIAS and pull the plane into the sky at 59 KIAS (Vx). Its fast and relatively easy, but you need to be confident of your pitch control. A few weeks ago I would have been scared of stalling on the climb out. The short field landings are fun as well. The idea is to come in as steeply as is possible and then stop in the shortest distance possible. You get steep by keeping above glide slope and then descending with a full 40 degrees of flaps. The pitch is high because you also want a slow speed, about 60 KIAS. The flare is more tricky – you shouldn’t spend anytime flying level, just a smooth transition from the descent to the flare. Then yoke all the way back to transfer as much weight to the main wheels and brake hard. You are also supposed to dump the flaps as quickly as possible to lose as much lift as you can – this also brings weight onto the main wheels and helps to brake. The first landing wasn’t great, the glide slope was not steep enough, however the second was much better. Today’s flight was a lot of fun, I’m really looking forward to getting out and practicing some of this stuff on my own – if the weather ever get good enough to fly solo. Next flight is my first full night flight and we’re going to San Jose International, so its also the class C airspace experience.

Saturday October 19th 2002, 10am, N5766J, 2.0H

I didn’t get to fly on Thursday, the wind was 14 knots when I arrived at the airport and my solo limit is just 12 knots headwind. So I was really keen to get into the air today. This was my first cross-country flight. We flew from RHV to Castle (MER) near Merced in the Central Valley.

I had spent about an hour of ground time with Grainne on Wednesday evening to preview the flight planning, we picked out the route and landmarks, measured the leg distances and calculated the headings given an assumed wind. All this using the high tech cardboard E6B flight computer. I also called Oakland Flight Service Station (FSS) and got a standard weather briefing, unfortunately I forgot to tell him I was a student and he rattled through the briefing so quickly I barely wrote down 10% of what he said. Still, I got the feel for what was going on. I studied the ground school CD’s for the cross-country on Thursday night and finally learned how the E6B is really used (I was a bit bemused with what Grainne was telling me the night before). For a child of the computer age, having never even seen a slide-rule I was amazed at how clever the little gadget was – in fact better than the electronic version I’ve been playing with in my Palm Pilot – much more intuitive. For the aviationally challenged an E6B is a rotary slide-rule setup for doing common aviation calculations like “how many minutes to fly 15 miles at a speed of 115 MPH”, or “how much fuel is used in 15 minutes with a burn rate of 8.6 GPH”. The back side also has a very clever method of calculating how the wind effects the direction and speed of flight, for example finding how much headwind or tailwind you have and how it will effect your ground speed and your direction.

On Friday night I setup FS2000 with the current weather conditions, redid the calculations and flew the route on the simulator. This went well though some the landmarks I had picked out were really hard to identify. The fight was great until I crashed on landing at Castle – stupid simulator, doesn‘t it know I can land a real airplane on my own!

So Saturday morning the marine layer fog was a solid overcast when I arrived at the airport at 10am. Grainne and I planned to spend an hour getting the current weather conditions and making the final calculations for the flight plan. This all went well, we started by going through the weather on DUATS which is an online service contracted by the Government to provide pre-flight information. Then I called the FSS again and remembered to tell him I was a student and got a standard briefing. No bad weather once the fog burned off. The guy must have repeated “Don’t go until the fog is gone” about three times. I filed the flight plan over the phone, you can do this by just leaving a recording, pretty cool. In the end we waited until 12:00pm until the sky was clear enough to get going. I finally got to use the kneeboard I bought back in August. I got it after the flight in 8276E which had no side pockets. After that flight I never bothered to use it because it just seemed like overkill and I never flew in 8276E again. Normally, I just have my checklist card, with a small note-pad attached to it with a bull-dog clip and a pen slipped over the top. The knee board is a fancy thing full of pockets that attaches to your knee with a strap and holds all the goodies you need for cross-country flight.

Had a standard pre-flight, taxi, we got off the ground at 12:32pm and departed downwind towards Anderson Reservoir. Did the climb checklist and for the first time actually called Oakland FSS to open my flight plan. Then we called Bay Approach and got flight following, this worked well though I’m still a little nervous talking to the big boys. They all sound so busy and hearing all the commercial air traffic makes me feel like I’m interrupting a bunch of busy people at work with my little joy ride to Merced. We climbed to 5,500’ and the first checkpoint on the trip, I arrived 1 minute late to my calculated value. It was then a short 2 minute trip to the first and only turn on the route, over the south shore of Anderson. We turned inland to head towards Castle. The air was smooth but there was a lot of haze so visibility was only about 7 miles. The next checkpoint was a line of three peaks, we were supposed to pass just to the right of the middle one. I thought I could see the landmark ahead of me. But it didn’t seem right, then Grainne pointed out a peak on my right we were just passing that seemed to be the one. Mountain peaks like these make poor landmarks, but there wasn’t much else around I could have used. About this time Bay Approach handed us off to Stockton Approach. The next landmark was easy, a road and railway parallel, running between two towns with Gustine airport off to the right. With the low visibility, I couldn’t see Castle, but I started my descent when the watch said I should and we saw the field about 7 miles out (I was also cheating the whole time, because I had my GPS fixed to the yoke with rubber bands – this was real useful for making sure the heading I had calculated was right). In the event the wind wasn’t as strong as forecast, so my heading had us drifting northwards a little, you can see the little kinks in the ground track where I made corrections.
Once I got Castle in sight, I reported I could see it to Stockton Approach and they terminated flight following and told us to squawk 1200 again. I couldn’t raise anyone on the Castle CTAF frequency to find out the runway in use so I over-flew the windsock at 2000’, it seemed to show a crosswind, but slightly favored runway 31. Castle is an old Air Force base, it has an 11,800’ x 300’ runway that can take B52 bombers, you could land five Cessna 172’s in formation on the runway it’s so huge. I started a left 270 degree turn to come in on the right 45 for runway 31 when Grainne pulled the engine to simulate a failure. I made it around the turn though it was a bit messy as I was trying to pitch for best glide at the same time. Didn’t bother with checklists and just headed straight onto the base leg. I was way high coming in over the numbers, but who cares I had 4 time the usual runway to land on. The landing was good. I was worried that the enormous scale of the runway would cause me to mistime the flare, but it didn‘t. Even the center strip painted on the runway was about 4 times wider than I was used to. The place was empty, we saw one Cessna 152 on a taxi way and another plane landed while we taxied back to the start, that was it. I believe there is a cool aviation museum somewhere close by, but we went straight back to the runway to head home.

Grainne had me try my first soft field takeoff which was poor, I didn’t realize just how much forward pressure is needed to keep the plane in ground effect. Still we got off OK. We were just climbing through about 200’ when she pulled the engine again to simulate a failure on take-off – life would be nice is these only happened on 11,800’ runways. I still had half the runway to land on. Got myself configured to land and would have made it easily when Grainne said to go-around, so full power again and flaps back up and we made a crosswind departure. About this time Grainne asked me what I had forgotten in the post-landing checklist – I couldn’t think of anything until she told me. Duh, I had forgotten to close my flight plan – if you don’t close it they fear the worst and come looking for you. Grainne took care of this as we climbed back up to 4,500’. It was a bit finicky, you have to transmit on one frequency on the radio and listen on another frequency on the navigation radio for the reply, it took a couple of tries but she finally got it to work.

On the way back we used radio navigation as opposed to the pilotage and dead reckoning we used on the way out. We intercepted the 260 degree radial on the Merced VOR (a special type of transmitter that sends radiating spokes of signals out in all directions). This radial gave us a straight line course back to Mt. Hamilton. The ride back was nice, but really started to get bumpy over the top of the mountains. Mt. Hamilton is 4,200’ high, I was really quite nervous flying over at just 4,500’ so I let the altitude creep up to 4,700’ as we crossed over. The view of the lick observatory was spectacular. We got the current ATIS and I called into Reid Hillview Tower, they told me to enter on right base for 31R and report two miles. I started descending, but this is tricky on this approach to RHV. The mountains drop away very steeply just about 4 miles east of the field, so even if you just clear the last ridge line you are still way too high to land. So we did a forward slip to loose the altitude – which once again went poorly. Grainne had to help me get into the slip and the plane was yawing every which way. Still we got down and I was cleared to land on 31R when I reported in at 2 miles. The landing was fine. Today was a really fun flight and I’m looking forward to more cross-counties.

Monday October 14th 2002, 3pm, N4754D, 1.7H

Today was a really nice flight. The weather was good with variable winds at 5 knots in RHV, some scattered clouds at 20,000’ and it was warm at 27C, a little hazy with 10 miles visibility. I was early, and Grainne turned up about 2:45pm. We went over today’s plan. A flight down to Hollister (3O7) to do some solo landings and pattern work, and then a stop off in South County (Q99) for the same. We would also try to get flight following from Bay Approach along the way to see how that worked. Flight following is where you ask Air Traffic Control to issue you with traffic alerts using their radar, which they provide if they aren’t too busy.
Normal pre-flight, taxi, run-up and take off on 31L with a downwind departure from left traffic. I took off behind a Cessna 152 and followed him South, as I was a bit faster and climbed a bit better we gradually overtook him, he was the only traffic we encountered until Anderson Reservoir. Grainne, tuned into Bay Approach and after initially telling us to stand by, they gave us a transponder code to squawk and started issuing traffic warnings, none of which were much use. Firstly, they never told us about the C152 1000’ below us, and then over Anderson Reservoir another Cessna 172 flew right passed us only 500’ above our altitude. They did however tell us all about the big jets on final approach to San Jose International, none of which were anywhere close to us. However, it was still cool flying along hearing your own plane’s call sign and also listening to all the big planes getting their approach clearances into San Jose. Bay Approach terminated flight following about 12 miles North of Hollister, we had expected them to pass us off to Monterey Approach, but they just told us to squawk 1200, the VFR transponder code, meaning we were back on our own.

I tuned into the Hollister CTAF frequency about 10 miles North of the field and asked for a traffic advisory, one plane replied that he had just taken off into a stiff headwind from runway 24, which is the shorter of the two runways. I had spent some time before hand working out the traffic patterns for the airport as this was my first visit down here, we took a quick review as I started to descend from 3500’. About this time another plane called in from Southeast of the field looking for a traffic advisory, so I passed on the info I’d just got. He said he was just doing a touch and go and entered the left 45 as I crossed the field at 2000’. I did a descending right 270 degree turn which brought me in on the 45 for left downwind. One of the more complicated pattern entries but it worked beautifully. The other plane was just turning base as I entered the downwind and he was already departing when I got onto final. The headwind was really blowing, I kept checking my airspeed which was 65~70 KIAS on short final, but we still seemed to just crawl towards the numbers. I would guess the wind was at l2~15 knots, but at least it didn’t appear to be gusting. The landing was reasonable. I cleared the runway and dropped Grainne off by some hangers. Then taxied off to do two solo landings. These went reasonably well, but the pattern was a bit sloppy, especially trying to keep parallel to the runway. It didn’t feel too bad at the time, but the GPS shows I was angling in towards the runway on both downwind trips. This shortened the base leg, which pretty much made them continuous turns instead of two turns. Another plane landed as I flew the second trip through the pattern. He pretty much just came straight in for the runway. I don’t think your supposed to do this, but at least he told me what he was up to so it wasn’t a surprise. The first landing was good, on the second I ballooned up and had to add some power to keep from dropping back in. I think it looked better from the ground than it did from the plane because Grainne didn‘t seem that upset when I taxied back to pick her up. We took off and made a right crosswind departure, it was real bumpy as I climbed back up to 3000’

Once we got back to cruise altitude Grainne told me it was my choice if I wanted to go to South County, I guess she thought I might be tired, I felt fine so I tuned in South County CTAF and started a descent. There was one plane on the ground saying he had just landed on runway 32, so I planned to fly wide of the field and then make a left turn onto the 45 for right downwind. The pattern entry was good, but something wild happened to the turn onto base. I came out almost passed the end of the runway and so overshoot badly on the turn to final. Then I overcompensated trying to get lined up for final. At this stage I figured this approach was so screwed up I’d just go around and try it again. I really wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, I’ve flown the pattern several times before without problems. I had just climbed back to pattern altitude of 1300’ and made the turn onto crosswind when some guy came on the radio and said he was the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) and that the wind sock was now showing the wind favored runway 14. I was flying the downwind for 32 at this point so I was a little lost as to what to do. I figured I’d take a look at the windsock for myself and then decide. So I said on radio I was going to fly parallel the runway and take a look at the windsock, to which the FBO guy replied, “I can see it from where I’m sitting and it favors 14”, he sounded kind of mad that I didn’t believe him or something. But he’s on the ground and I’m in the plane so I’ll be the one who decides which f**king runway I’m going to land on. The windsock did favor 14 so I made a left 180 degree turn and came in on a very long base leg. The landing was reasonable, and we did the touch and go. Grainne said we’d do a downwind departure and head back for home. There was more interesting radio work on the way out, another plane was coming in from the South, and it was a comedy of errors while he tried to determine what planes were flying, instead of listening to what people were saying he kept asking where people were. Along the lines of “where is the plane in the air?” (I hope he knew there was only one) and “who is still on the ground?”.

I had a pretty uneventful trip back to RHV. Called the tower at 3000’ over UTC and was told to come straight in for 31L. Started a nice stable 90 KIAS descent and the approach went well, though I got changed to 31R at the 3 mile report point. I added the full flaps a little early and so had to add some power coming over the Mall. I even tried a little side slip to account for the minor crosswind (I had too much rudder, but any practice is welcome). The landing bounced once, but recovered in a reasonable fashion – not good though.

So today was fun, a new airport, more solo work that’s really not scary now and some real interesting pattern work at uncontrolled airports. Now I’m endorsed for both Hollister and South County so I have the run of the south practice area on my own. On Wednesday I’ll do an hour of ground work to plan the first cross country flight with Grainne, and we’ll fly it on Saturday. I’ve also signed up for some solo flights on Thursday and Sunday so I’ll head down south and practice some maneuvers and landings.