Tuesday September 24th 2002, 6pm, N4754D, 1.4H (0.3 Night)

A wildfire burns on the Santa Cruz Mountains near Morgan Hill, Calif., Tuesday, Sept., 24, 2002. Dry brush and hot weather helped spread the fire, which has grown to 1,600 acres, destroyed two outbuildings and is threatening at least 50 rural homes on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

There is a major fire burning down in Morgan Hill called the “Croy Fire”. I saw a little smoke this morning as I drove to work, but this afternoon the smoke had completely covered the sky to the South and East. I made a couple of calls to RHV ATIS during the afternoon because I was worried that the smoke might close the airport if it moved up towards San Jose. In the event it stayed well to the South (not surprising as the wind usually blows from the North in the afternoons). Later, during the flight we had a spectacular view of the flames burning in the distance along the mountain ridges.

Tonight was a nice flight. The weather was hot again and there was a light wind blowing down the runway as usual. We had already decided that we would do some pattern work in RHV. The evenings are starting to get short and there really isn’t much time to fly anywhere else and get anything useful done while daylight remains. The traffic was bad and I arrived with only a little time to spare. Grainne was waiting for me, so I went out to pre-flight N4754D as soon as I arrived. The last time I flew this plane the radio’s didn’t work and we had to take another plane. The time before that, we had an electrical fire after landing and my radio didn’t work. So, I have avoided this plane until now, my favorite N5766J was already booked and this was the next best choice. Other than the radio, this plane is nice to fly, this time everything worked fine.

The taxi and run-up went without notable incident. We took off on 31L and entered left traffic. Now, while I’m much more ahead of the plane, its still difficult to remember particular landings in any detail. What I do remember was that today I did almost all the radio communications with the tower, I had no problems with flying the pattern, I was ahead of the plane the whole time and had time to actually enjoy the view. My approaches on final were generally good and I hit the correct glide slope almost every time. I have really got the hang of adjusting the power and keeping the nose in the right place to get the plane right where I want it over the numbers. My main sin is tending to be slow on final, I was often at 65 KIAS (Knots Indicated Air Speed) as I turned onto final. This is a little slow and close to stall speed for making a turn this close to the ground, its the biggest danger point for the classic landing stall (you overshoot final, going too slow, bank to much to recover so increasing your stall speed and then stall with only about 500’ between you and the ground – it would just spoil the whole day). I need to watch this more closely and try to be at least 70 KIAS on the turn, there is plenty of time to slow the last little bit on the final leg.

I believe, like most student pilots timing the flare is the hardest part of the whole landing. I either flared a little too fast and ballooned up or flared late or not enough. I did manage to get the trick of adding a little power if I ballooned and settling down fairly softly, but I didn’t always add it quite soon enough. The timing and feel of the round-out and flare is so fine that you really don’t have time to consciously think about what you are doing, its really got to be instinctive. I’m starting to believe its a little like learning to ski. You spend a ridiculous amount of time falling flat on your face (or behind), then suddenly you “get the feel of it” and while still not good you can suddenly ski. At least I’m hoping that is what will happen, otherwise its going to be a long slog. If the flare lasts about 10 seconds, then only about 60 seconds of my 1.4 hours in the air was spent practicing the most difficult part of the whole exercise.

I tried a forward slip on one of the approaches, this is only the third time I have practiced this, the first time was fine, but the other attempts were poor. Unfortunately this one was not much better. The first attempt I turned far too soon onto final while still at pattern altitude, so we didn’t have nearly enough time to get down. The tower told us to go around because the plane in front of us was still on the runway. The second attempt, I extended the downwind leg and so had more time to lose the altitude. However, it was very rough and jerky, just couldn’t get the balance between the opposed aileron and rudder. I did get down onto glide slope and land but it wasn’t pretty.

The only other incident of any note was the extended upwind leg. There was a plane entering on the 45 for right traffic. The tower told me to extend my upwind and he would clear me for the right turn. I dutifully flew upwind past the incoming plane, and then some more and then some more again with no word from the tower. I finally called the tower and asked to make the turn. I guess he missed me so maybe I should have just turned anyway.

All in all today’s flight was a blast. I think significant improvement over last Sunday down at South County. Grainne seemed pretty happy with it.

Sunday September 22nd 2002, 12pm, N5766J, 1.4H

The weather was sunny but hazy, only 3 miles visibility. It was warm at 25C but not too bad. I arrived just on time and Grainne was waiting for me. We decided that we would go do pattern work at South County as planned and I headed out to pre-flight the plane. No issues with the pre-flight, the airport was back to normal today after yesterday’s Open Day. Normal taxi, run-up and take-off with a downwind departure. Although we took off on 31R, the tower asked us to turn left traffic for the downwind departure. This is a little unusual, but he may have had another plane coming in to right traffic at the same time. I made no mistakes and I remembered all the checklists.

I climbed up to 3000’ and we had a smooth cruise down to Anderson Reservoir, through there was some traffic coming against us. I got South Country in sight and we listened to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency). As South Country is an uncontrolled airport, all the panes announce their position and intentions on this frequency. We heard one guy saying he was turning onto right base for runway 32 which told us what runway and traffic pattern was in use. As I still needed to lose some altitude I flew a little left of the field to give myself a longer approach to the downwind leg. In the event I got on the 45 right at pattern altitude and announced I was there.

I did six landings at South County, four touch and go’s and two to a full stop. In general, they were much improved over yesterday. The very first one was a little hard, but the others were fine. I really can see an improvement over yesterday and previous flights. One of the landings was with a simulated engine failure and it was probably the best. I really tried to keep focused on the end of the runway during the round-out and flare and it seems to be paying off. Another big help is that today I was ahead of the plane the whole time. I got the checklists done and I never forgot to switch on my transponder or operate carb heat correctly (my usual sins). This gave me more time to focus on getting the approach setup. Grainne pretty much left me alone most of the time letting me make my own decisions so I really felt like I was flying and landing the plane myself. Today was a definite confidence boaster. After the last touch and go I said I’d take us to 2500’ and head for UTC to go home, I was getting tired and a little hot.

I was just setting up to get the RHV ATIS when Grainne pulled the throttle out for another simulated engine failure. We were too far from either South County or RHV to I picked a nice field just below us. My mistake was picking a field with a crosswind and then failing to just fly the plane so I could get a good approach to land. Just like yesterday, I spent too much time on the emergency checklists and not enough just flying the plane. Its much harder to plan out the approach to a field than an airport. To some extent your are spoiled for choice, there were just so many nice fields we could have landed in. There is a big temptation to keep changing your choice. Once you’ve got best glide speed, you really need to plan out the whole approach, my mistake is to try and do this in stages. It doesn’t work, and you end up too low and in a bad spot. Next time we’ll see, I have a feeling I’m going to be dreaming about landing in fields for a few nights until I get one of these right.

The only interesting issues with the trip back to RHV was that were first were told (by ATIS) to use a different Tower frequency (I guess they had two controllers on duty) and second was were told to change our transponder to squawk 5300 (the first time I’ve ever had to change this). There was another Cessna on our left and a little ahead so we were told to follow him in. He was told to squawk the same code, so then we were told to IDENT. There is a button on the transponder called IDENT, when you press it causes your plane to flash on the controllers radar screen, this allows him to make sure he knows which plane is which. The approach went well and we were just coming over East Ridge Mall when I spotted another plane right under us. He seemed to be almost scraping the trees in the mall parking lot. Grainne didn’t seem too concerned and said that he was probably heading for 31R, which sure enough he was. Either way is really overshot his final and was very low. My landing went just fine, not hard and on only two wheels (one less than my usual count). Other than the second emergency landing today was a nice flight.

Saturday September 21st 2002, 12pm, N5766J, 1.4H

Open day at RHV airport. I arrived early to find no parking and cops and people everywhere. I finally found a parking space and headed for Tradewinds. Grainne hadn’t shown up yet so I went for a look around. The whole transient parking area was cordoned off along with a chunk of taxiway Zulu. There was a bunch of cool planes most of which I couldn’t identify, a bunch of bi-planes, some Skyhawks and Skylanes and a couple of what I think were YAKs one had Russian words painted on its side and the other had Chinese. The San Jose PD helicopter was there along with a life-flight helicopter. There was also plane rides for 10cents/lb. It was pretty hot walking around so I hung out in Tradewinds. Grainne showed up a little late. We spent some time going over what I had done with Yoed and decided that RHV would be too crazy for much so we would fly to LVK and do some pattern work there. As I walked out to the plane It was cool to walk past all the people just there to see the planes, and then walk through the police tape and out onto the apron, six weeks ago I’d have been stuck behind the tape as well.

Did a normal pre-flight inspection, through the fuel truck arrived half way through to top up the tanks. Just after engine start the life-flight helicopter flew in front of us really close and shook the plane a lot. The guy in ground control was just completely flustered with everything. With his main taxi way was closed and only one taxi way leading from the runways was open there were planes going every which way. Some guy was trying to get help having some planes moved so he could get to his tie-down spot. Ground control seemed to keep forgetting where people where and kept asking them to tell him. In general it was chaotic and I was glad to take-off. We made a right 45 departure which like the last time pretty much takes us right over my house. Took the time to note the emergency landing spots ahead of the runway, I knew they were there, but at least now I know where to find them.

This time I remembered all the checklists for climb and cruise and we had a nice flight at 3000’ over Calaveras Reservoir. The sky was really clear and we could see the skyline of San Francisco in the distance. We listened to Livermore ATIS and then called Livermore Tower over Sunol Golf Course. When we called on the frequency from the sectional (118.1) we were told to stay clear of class delta and call Livermore Tower on a different frequency. Don’t know why, but the Tower answered us on the new frequency and gave us clearance “for the option” (to land or do a touch and go). I did a reasonable job of getting us into left pattern for 25L though we entered a little low (only 600’ AGL – ok a lot low). We did four landings, two of which were touch and goes. The first approach was a bit low and we arrived on all three wheels again. I don’t specifically recall the next three it was a blur of getting through the checklists and the final approaches. While none of the landings were terrible, none of them were very good either. But at least we never had to do a go-around. On one touch and go I was following another plane on the departure leg and was just starting to believe he was not entering the pattern when the Tower told me to make my left turn onto crosswind. I probably should have called the Tower myself sooner to check what he was doing.

3D View of GPS Track around LVK

We made a crosswind departure and headed for home. Climbing up out of Livermore the Tower warned us about another aircraft crossing our path from the South, we couldn’t see him anywhere until Grainne told me to lift up the right wing and hey-presto there he was right above us. A valuable lesson in why you lift the wings to check for traffic. At 2500’ and back above Sunol, Grainne pulled the throttle back to idle and told me I had an engine failure. This time I knew I didn’t have an airport close by, but there was a lovely plowed field just below the golf course. I did a fine job of getting the right airspeed, and doing the cockpit checks through I forgot to actually take out the checklist and make sure I had not forgotten anything. I remembered to make the mayday call and to go through the emergency landing items (again without the checklist). It was a great pity therefore, that I would have a very difficult time actually making the landing in the spot I had picked out. As the field was below us I started a 360 degree turn to get lower. However, what I didn’t notice was a hill between me and the field topped with power lines. By the time I got around the turn I was really to low to get over the hill and lined up for the field. I forgot the first rule of emergencies to just FLY THE PLANE and really didn’t think through clearly exactly how I was going to get myself in the right place to land on the one good spot around. That makes two emergency landings in a row that I’ve messed up.

We powered up and headed for home. I leveled off at 2500’ above Calaveras Reservoir and got the RHV ATIS. At this point Grainne covered up the Airspeed, Altitude and Vertical Speed Indicators with post-its. So now we would do the landing at RHV with a simulated static port failure. I did a good job of judging when to start my descent and got into the right downwind leg at about the right altitude and I got the final approach nailed (with no distractions from those pesky instruments). The actual touch down was not so clean. Again I had some problems with the round-out and flare and were flew along a lot of runway before touching down. Still, the actual touch down was OK when it finally happened. I know that the problems I’m having with landings are common for most student pilots, but it is still frustrating to keep making the same mistakes. We will do more landings tomorrow probably at South County Airport, there just isn’t any substitute for practice.

Thursday September 19th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.3H (0.2 Night)

My second flight with Yoed. The weather was once again hot and clear, just like yesterday. Again the longer pre-flight briefing and we decided to repeat the same stuff as yesterday along with an emergency engine-out landing. Nothing significant about the pre-flight checks, taxi, run-up and take-off and a normal downwind departure.

After the standard maneuvering checklist we did a couple of steep turns. I had some problems getting my speed up to 95knots. 5766J always seems a little underpowered, at about 2200 RPM in level flight she just wants to trot along at 85knots. It took full power to get the speed up to 95knots and about 2500 RPM to keep it there.

Then some more slow flight and power-off stalls. These went fine, I still need to practice putting the nose in the right place to recover from the stall. But today’s were better than yesterday’s. We did one power-on stall which went about the same. Yoed could sense that I was reluctant to let the nose fall too much forward and that this was keeping me from pushing the nose down in a stall as quickly or as far as I should. So he asked me if I wanted to see what it felt for the nose to point right down. I was nervous, but I agreed. He the proceed to stall the plane with full flaps and then when we were stalled retracted the flaps and let the nose fall forward. We ended up facing almost straight down in a dive. He let it go for a couple of seconds and then gently pulled out to level flight. It was actually fun, it reminded me of all the fighter flight simulations I had played with where you throw the plane all over the sky in a dog fight. But mainly it showed me that its not so scary to have the nose point all the way down as long as the ground is far below.

We did a couple more clearing turns and were facing into the hills when he pulled the engine back to idle. I did a good job of getting the best glide speed and got pointed away from the hills. This time I remembered about Frazier Lake and we headed in its direction. I crossed over the center of the runway and checked the wind sock to choose which way to land on the runway. I also did a credible job of the emergency checklist. I made a left turn to enter the pattern on a downwind 45. However, I was at about 1500’ AGL when I got abeam the numbers so I was too high. Yoed even told me that I should adjust my speed to make sure I got down, but I wasn’t really listening (or hearing). I turned base and final (I was a little too close to the runway on the downwind). I was lined up on final but still way too high. In the end I think we would have overshot the runway, but Yoed thought we would have just landed on the very end (I think he was just being kind). We did a go around and headed for home. I had also forgotten to do the emergency landing checklist and make any radio calls to let people know I had an emergency.

Again it was dark when we got to UTC. This time we ended up as the first of four planes coming in to land from UTC. The glide down was good, though at one point a “Long EZ” shot past us on the right. I was just a little slow to start the flare and we landed on three wheels and bounced, the second touch down was fine. Again, this is failing to judge the round-out correctly. Its a little more difficult at night because there is just a lot less visual inputs to help you.

We were just about to push the plane back into its parking space when Yoed said “Is that the rocket launch you told me about”. I had warned him that Vandenberg AFB was scheduled to do a test launch of a Minuteman III missile out into the Pacific and it could happen anytime between 1800 and midnight. In the event they kindly waited for us to get on the ground and for darkness and it was spectacular. The missile climbed out and to the West into a clear dark sky leaving a glowing trail behind it. We saw the second and third stage separations. The photo shown was taken from Southern California, but it looked pretty much the same from the apron at RHV.

Wednesday September 18th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.4H (0.3 Night)

My first flight in 3 weeks. I was a bit apprehensive that I would totally suck when I got back into the plane. The weather was typical, but it was hot, not a cloud to be seen. I had booked a new CFI for this flight, Grainne had recommended him and let him know I would by flying while she was on vacation. He turned out to be a fairly young, short little guy called Yoed Shani, and a great instructor. I was early and he was there when I arrived so we started right away. He did a much longer pre-flight briefing compared to Grainne. We went over what I had done and planned a flight to brush up on the basics, slow flight, stalls and some steep turns. I went out to do a pre-flight on 5766J. Everything looked good other than a bald spot on the nose-wheel tire. I did a normal taxi, run-up, take-off and downwind departure. handled almost all the radio work. To my great relief I didn’t appear to have lost too much during the break.

We flew down to Anderson Reservoir and did the standard maneuvering checklist and clearing turns and then some slow flight. This was where the rust started to show. I had to walk through the whole procedure in my head, because I really wasn’t sure exactly what I had to do. I guess, this is a big part of the learning process, but when the CFI says “OK, lets do slow flight” or some other maneuver I find it really difficult to remember exactly what I should do, I know I need to throttle back the engine, but how much ?, pitch for what speed ? put in how much flaps? and so on. Still, we got through it and the slow flight was fine. We did a couple of power-off stalls without much problem. As usual I just need to remember to level the plane quickly when the stall breaks. On one stall I was slow to bring the engine back to full power so we lost more height than we should have. Then some more clearing turns and Yoed showed me a power-on stall. The contrast with when Grainne had done this was huge. Grainne’s first power-on stall was a bit like a roller-coaster while Yoed’s was really gentle. I am much more used to what the plane does in a stall by now, so that may be part of the explanation why Yoed’s was so much less frightening. I mentioned the problems I had had with keeping coordinated in a stall on N9552A (the almost new Skyhawk I flew back in August). So he showed me something neat. He stalled the plane with power off and then just kept it in the stall while he had me work the rudder. It was no big thing. We were totally stalled and it was easy to just keep the plane straight using the rudder. Other than we were dropping out of the sky at about 1000 FPM (and the buffeting and the stall horn) you would believe you were in straight and level flight. A good technique to take away any fear about keeping coordinated in a stall. Another thing he did just after the power-on stalls was to prove to me that the trim setting doesn’t matter and you can always compensate for it with the elevator. I had been avoiding trimming the plane as I slowed down to setup for the power-on stall. I didn’t want a lot of nose-up trim when I hit full power (it will make the nose jump up even faster). This is kind of dumb because you want the nose to come up to get into the stall anyway. He had me just fly straight and level and then keep that attitude no matter what. He then turned the trim wheel as far forward and as far back as it would go. You can feel the pressure on the elevator first forward and then back, but you can always keep the plane level. A very nice trick to remove any fear about where the trim is set. I think worrying about trim is a bit like a new car driver asking what way the wheels are pointing before they start the engine.

Another key thing Yoed told me that lead to one of those “ah ha” moments, was “Whenever you change the flight attitude or configuration, LOOK OUT OF THE PLANE”. I realized that whenever I did anything I was always looking at the control or the instrument as I was changing it. For example, glancing at the attitude indicator when starting a turn. As soon as I stopped doing this, my turns got better. Another example, is learning to judge the engine RPM by sound rather than looking at the tachometer. So when you want to slow down or descend, just set the power where you think it should be make sure the plane does what its supposed to do and then give a quick glance to make sure the RPM is about what you want.

We did a couple of steep turns, one left and one right. This was only the second time I had done these. They are fun and I think Yoed uses them as a kind of reward to good behavior. They want well and again focusing outside the plane the whole time and using the horizon to get the right bank angle made them a whole lot better.

The Sun had set as we turned to fly back to RHV. It was full dark by the time we got over the buildings at UTC where we normally contact the Tower. No problem picking out the airport, there is a flashing beacon and the VASI lights were easy to see. There were three planes ahead of us approaching the field. I guess this is coming home time for a lot of folks and the Tower was really busy. He was making some folks go around so we slowed down a little early to let the traffic stay ahead of us. The landing approach went just fine, and the landing looked great until we hit the tarmac with all three wheels. I think I was looking too close to the plane and misjudged the height slightly. I dropped the nose just a bit when I should have just continued the flare and we set down on three wheels. A little rough, but it was all mine and my first true night landing. I had my GPS setup wrong so I didn’t get a GPS track of the flight.

Tuesday August 27th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.3H (0.3 Simulated Instrument)

Today was hot and hazy, 34C degrees on ATIS, but as usual the wind was light just 8 knots blowing right down the runway at 310. I always leave work bang on 5pm if I’m flying, its about a 40 minute drive in traffic, but anything can happen and I don’t want to arrive hot, bothered and late for flying because of a jam on the freeway. Today the traffic gods smiled upon me and I arrived about 20 minutes early. Grainne arrived about 10 minutes later and sent me out to preflight the plane. Good old 66J again, I really like this plane. No issues with preflight, Grainne arrived and we got through the taxi and run-up checks. I made a fine take-off from 31R and a downwind departure. Everything was smooth and for once I forgot nothing (not even the transponder or the climb checklist). Today I would finally get to practice stalls again, slow flight, some more instrument work and some slips. Of course as we decided that we wouldn’t do any pattern work the airport was almost deserted with nothing in the traffic pattern. We climbed to 4000’ and leveled off over the North end of Anderson Reservoir. I was just making my first clearing turn when we spotted a yellow bi-plane doing aerobatics right in front of us, at the same time another plane was under him at about 1000’ and we had passed two other planes while climbing. I guess, its just Murphy’s aviation law that there will always be planes around when you’d rather have the sky to yourself. We decided to head further South to get some clear space for maneuvers.

A little North of Frazier Lake after some clearing turns we started with the slow flight. This was fun, it appeared that N5766J is almost unstallable. I slowed to 40 knots and still had to really pull back to force the plane into a stall, we didn’t even get a stall warning at 40 knots. Grainne also had me try to stall the plane by turning at 45 knots without adding any power. No luck, but I may have kept the nose a little down to keep the airspeed at 45 knots as we turned. Its amazing how tight a turn you can make at the slow speed. Generally this was a really well behaved plane at these slow speeds. All the power-off stalls went fine, I think I did three or four. Then it was time to try power-on stalls. I hated these the last time, I couldn’t seem to keep the plane coordinated, which got us into an incipient spin on one attempt. This time things went better. Pull the power back to 1500 RPM, pitch the nose for 55 knots which is rotation speed. When you reach that speed apply full power and just keep pulling back on the elevator until the stall breaks. Then forward on the elevator, recover from the stall and level off. This time the plane stayed coordinated, I kept my heading well, actually any deviation was because I didn’t put in enough left rudder while I was slowing to 55 knots. My only problem was being too timid to push the elevator forward when the stall breaks. You see, after the break the nose is pointing straight down (well downwards anyway) so the natural reaction is to try to pull it up which is the wrong thing to do. You need to let it go and gain airspeed then level off. So while my headings stayed good, I lost too much altitude on most of the attempts. After three or four goes I decided I had enough stalls for one day and we started heading back towards RHV.

We had worked our way quite far South so I started following highway 101 North. Alongside South County Grainne decided it was time for hood work. The hood performs the same function as the foggles I had used before, only its better at blocking your view out of the plane. Grainne had me do a constant speed descent at 90 knots and then some turns to headings on the way down. We descended to 2500’ where she had me level off and do some more turns to a heading. The only problems I had was with the rudder. I was keeping “my foot on the ball”, that is applying enough rudder to keep the ball in the turn coordinator centered, however, this kept me drifting left. I could see my heading was changing but I couldn’t seem to get the right amount of rudder to keep it steady. I had just about decided it was the planes fault when Grainne told me to just leave the rudder alone and when I did the plane came into perfectly coordinated flight and kept its heading. We did a few turns left and right and as I was doing this Grainne called the tower, so I guess we were over UTC. I was wondering would she have me keep the hood on until we were on short final to land. I had read about CFI’s doing this because it simulates what it would really be like to emerge from the clouds just short of the runway and then have to land as is common in IFR conditions. In the event, she let me take off the hood about 5 miles out.

As usual I was a little high on the approach, rather then use flaps Grainne told me to do a forward slip. This worked great the last time I tried it so I expected no problems. We were cleared to land on 31L and I had a good line on the approach. Then I tried the slip, I just couldn’t seem to balance the rudder and the ailerons to get into a stable slip. The plane just wanted to go one way or the other. Finally Grainne help get into the slip and then I held the controls, once setup it felt fine. While all this was going on the Tower changed our runway to 31R and I had to slip/drift/move over to line up on the new runway. Coming out of the slip was not very pretty, we were just short of the runway and getting the wings level and the plane pointed down the runway was a little stressful. For the first time I noticed Grainne didn’t have her hands on the controls as were landed – for the first time it would be just me landing the plane. I leveled off at the right time and then as usual flared just a little too fast and the plane floated upwards. Grainne reached for the controls and helped me start over, just level the plane again and try the flare again. This time the wheels touched the tarmac but we floated up again. Third time lucky, we stayed on the ground. So I got three landings for the price of one approach. I let the plane run to the end of the runway, though I had some problems breaking evenly – this is an old problem I thought I had conquered. I stopped on taxiway echo, radio’d Ground Control and was cleared to taxi to parking. Once I parked Grainne told me I had forgotten the after-landing checklist.

Its clear that Grainne is now not telling me what to do. She expects me to remember what to do and when to do it. I actually have to press her to give me directions. I can see that this is all preparation for when she’s no longer sitting in the right seat and I have to fly on my own. While I’m looking forward to the milestone of my first solo its only starting to sink in how much I have to remember on my own and how much more concentration this will require. I have unconsciously been using Grainne as my long term memory expecting her to tell me what I forget when I forget it. And I still forget plenty. For instance, I seem to have a mental block about carb heat. I either forgot to turn it on or off several times today. Next time I’m going write a large red “C” on the back of my right hand so that I see it every time I reach for the throttle.

I’m on vacation this Thursday until the 14th of September, Grainne is leaving on the 12th for her vacation so we won’t fly together again until at least Saturday the 21st, three weeks from now. She has recommended another CFI and suggested I get a couple of flight in before she gets back. I hope I’m not too rusty after the break.

Sunday August 25th 2002

Well Sunday’s flight got cancelled. Grainne called me at 8am to say that the weather didn’t look good and the fog was unlikely to lift before noon. Oh well, I guess this is how the rest of the country lives, but its just so not California to have the weather cause a problem. I decided to go get breakfast as I was already up at this ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. About 9:30am I emerged from my local purveyor of fine breakfast food to beautiful bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. I called ATIS at RHV and sure enough visibility was up to 5 miles with broken cloud at 2500’, which I’m sure would be gone in a very short while. If we had only had faith in California, we would have decided that the weather would clear, gone to the airport with hope in our hearts. And we would have been rewarded. Next flight is scheduled for Tuesday, then its vacation for two weeks.

Saturday August 24th 2002, 10:30am, N5766J, 1.3H

I woke up this morning and the weather was cold and gray. The marine layer fog was firmly over San Jose. When I called RHV ATIS about 9am the visibility was just 2 miles with a overcast ceiling at 1300’. This is not VFR flying weather. I was even unsure if I should go to the airport, I thought I’d look pretty silly turning up expecting to fly when the weather was so obviously bad. However, I figured it might burn off by the time I got there, it didn’t. I was early and waiting for Grainne and the clouds were unchanged. Grainne arrived just before 10:30am and told me that we wouldn’t be able to do the planned stalls, slow flight and hood work we had intended, but that we could do some more pattern work because this was low and close to the airport. I got the key book and headed out to the plane which was parked beside the Tradewinds maintenance shop (first time I’ll drive a plane from this part of the airport). Sure enough as I was doing the pre-flight checks the clouds started to break and by the time Grainne came out the sky was mostly blue. By the time we got to the runway it was almost all blue, but still hazy so we kept with the plan to do the pattern work. That’s summer weather in the Bay Area, if you could just predict exactly when the burn-off will happen it would be perfect.

This time I took off from 31R so we would be using the right traffic pattern. The turns are a little more difficult because you can’t see out that side of the plane as well and you really need to use the right rudder to make the plane turn (the plane will turn left if you just take your feet of the rudder). The first landing attempt was terrible, we were way too high and had to do a go around. I think I got a little ground shy on final and was going too fast anyway. Again, everything became a blur of takeoffs, checklists, turns and landings. I got better with the checklists and I didn’t forget the carb heat or transponder as much. Again it started to get busy with a lot of planes landing and flying the pattern. We did more landings to a full stop today rather than touch and goes this really helps slow the pace and helps you keep up with the plane. At one point we were told to line up and hold while a plane took off directly in front of us. He was climbing away when we were cleared to takeoff. So we took off following right on the guys tail. It was the first time I have been so close behind an another plane flying the same way. We had to wait for him to pass us on the downwind before we could turn to the crosswind and we were nearly over I680 before we were cleared to turn (I680 is the boundary of Class C airspace for San Jose International). At this point two (count them – two) planes joined the downwind leg at its mid point so now there were four planes all flying the downwind leg, the first guy was just turning onto base, the other two spaced along the field and us having just turned from crosswind. The GPS track that goes way outside the others was this trip through the pattern. We were told to extend our downwind to allow all three planes to land. So this time we did not start to descend until we turned onto final.

All in all today was not a stressful as last Thursday, I was more ahead of the plane and there was some incremental improvement in the landings and the control on final. Sill a long long way to go, buts it nice to see something change flight to flight. I’m scheduled to fly tomorrow at 9am, but if the weather is like today, there is no way the fog will have cleared by them. Grainne has my phone number and she’s going to call if it looks like we have to scrub the flight.

Thursday August 21st 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.0H

Nice sunny day, light winds, standard summer weather. Today we decided to do pattern work, which is basically practicing landings and working close to the airport in the standard traffic pattern. I hoped that by doing the pattern work on a week night we would mostly have the airport to ourselves – how wrong that turned out to be. We started with some time on the white board while Grainne explained what had to get done as we flew the pattern. There is a lot to do in a short time while handling the close proximity of other planes, relatively close to the ground in bumpy air while talking to the control tower. It was nice to go over it before getting into the plane.

The airport traffic pattern is a rectangular course around the airport, with one of the long sides of the rectangle being the runway you are using. If you go around the rectangle making left turns its called left traffic and right turns are right traffic. Left traffic patterns are more common, mainly because the pilot has more visibility from the left seat, its also easier to turn the plane left as it wants to go that way anyway (at least for me). The basic sequence around the patterns after take-off is as follows. Climb to above 500’ on the outbound leg, make a turn to the crosswind leg. Then make another turn to the downwind leg about which time you will be reaching pattern altitude of 1000’ above the ground (AGL) which is the pattern altitude in RHV. Level off and complete the pre-landing checklist as you fly parallel to the runway about 0.5~1 mile away. This is where the plane starts to get ahead of you, at the start your still trying to remember everything on the checklist as you reach the end of the run-way, otherwise known as abeam the numbers (meaning the big white numbers painted on the end of the runway). At this point hopefully the checklist is complete and you start descending by putting on carburetor heat, bringing the engine back to 1500 RPM and putting in 10 degrees of flaps. You should get a descent rate of about 500 FPM and you can trim the airplane for this rate. As the end of the runway passes about 45 degrees over your shoulder you start the turn onto the base leg. You have to be watching your airspeed and descent rate to make sure your not going too fast or descending too fast or too slow. You can see the end of the runway out the left window, its hard to describe when you start the turn onto the final leg, but you basically want to make a 90 degree turn and end up pointed down the runway your going to land on. At this point your putting in more flaps, and reducing the power to slow the plane down. You need to be at 65 knots before your wheels touch the ground. With engine power, pitch and flaps you control speed and descent rate and rudder to keep the planes nose pointing down the centerline to get the plane about 20’ off the ground moving in the right direction. Then gently (no really I mean gently) you level the plane out and then even more gently keep pulling back to make the flare. If you do it right the plane just decides to stop flying a few inches above the ground and you touch down like a feather. Well enough of the theory, it was out to N5766J to see if I could do it for real.

I did a standard pre-flight, run-up and take-off. This is all becoming routine by now. We had requested runway 31L so we could use left-traffic. We were cleared to cross 31R and takeoff on 31L. My takeoffs are fairly smooth and down the center line of the runway, I just need to be carefully about drifting left during the initial climb. Drifting like this is a bad thing because with two parallel runways someone else can be taking off beside you, thought a left drift not really bad if your already on the left runway.

Now I’d like to give my usual detailed account of the next hour of flying time, but frankly its just a blur of landings, take-offs and trying to remember everything at the right time. I didn’t even know how many landings we did until I counted them on the GPS track. My theory that we would have the airport to ourselves turned out to be totally wrong. More and more planes just started to appear in the pattern. There was always one to three planes in the pattern with us, and there were always another couple of planes in right-traffic as well. Even Grainne commented that this was about as busy as it gets. At one point a Citabria (according to Grainne a very slow type of tail dragger plane) just appeared to want to use our runway to land even though it was on right base (we were on left base). It just totally overshot its turn to right final. We got out of the way and did a go around, that is the GPS track the turns to the left in the middle of the runway. We saw the same plane a few minutes later screwing up its turn from outbound to crosswind. It was following a Cessna that was only just beginning its turn onto crosswind, when it also started to turn. This is pretty bad because it sets up the planes to collide. We heard the tower warning the Cessna what had happened. We did a bunch of landings and touch and goes. The landings to a full stop give you a chance to catch your breath and catch up with the plane. The last take-off was on 31R to try the right traffic pattern. We did a practice emergency landing when Grainne pulled out the throttle just as we were abeam the numbers. That landing was actually pretty good, probably because I didn’t have to worry about engine power (it was supposed to be broken).

Mostly, I think I did OK. I kept forgetting to turn on carb heat before reducing engine power, forgetting to turn on my landing light and transponder before takeoff and generally not being in full control on the final leg. Just way to many things to handle in a short space of time. We had no really bad landings that I remember in particular. But I never felt like I got the feel of exactly how I should do the landing flare. I strongly suspect that my definition of a good landing (plane and people on the ground undamaged) will change and I will become a landing snob, it won’t be good unless its so gentle that you have to get out of the plane to convince yourself your actually on the ground. For now I’m happy and I’m sure I’ll improve with practice, practice and then some more practice. I was pretty tired and ready for a cigarette by the time we parked the plane.

Wednesday August 21st 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 1.3H

I couldn’t get a schedule slot until today, Grainne took Monday and Tuesday nights off. The weather over the last few days has been a little cooler, ATIS gave a temp of 28C with winds 290 degrees and 10 knots. Sunny and clear, but quite hazy. It looked yesterday like the smoke had finally gone away, but today I’m not so sure. I was about 15 minutes early and was sitting in the lounge when Grainne appeared. We discussed the flight, basically practicing emergency procedures, mostly engine failure. I got the key-book and headed out to pre-flight the plane. All standard stuff. I had booked N5766J again because I’m really getting to like this plane, it been mean to me yet (like the rough engine in N739YE, the radio’s in N4754D – twice and the lack of seat pockets and general beat up nature of N8276E). Grainne appeared as I finished the preflight and we ran through the usual stuff all now becoming routine. The taxi is no longer a problem. I made a nice take-off from 31R, straight and smooth down the run-way center line. You know, its really very very cool seating in the pilots seat, at the starting end of a runway, your planes noise wheel right on the center line, then just pushing in all the power and barreling down the line before lifting off the ground. Its not quite Battlestar Galactica but its pretty good. We turned through right traffic and headed south climbing to 4000’.

On the way up we simulated an electrical failure. There is a charge meter in the plane that indicates that current is flowing into or out of the battery. It should usually read 0 which means that the engines alternator is powering the plane. If it reads significantly positive or negative you have a problem. Negative means that the battery is powering the plane, this is not good, because the battery is really only for starting up the engine and as an emergency back-up if the alternator fails. If the meter reads positive then you possibly have an alternator that is generating too much current or voltage, this is a bad thing because it can damage the battery, the planes’s electronics or even cause an electrical fire. We pretended that we had a negative reading, and then ran through the emergency checklist for this failure. At this stage you may get the impression that there is a checklist for everything, and you’d be right. Never trust your memory, when you can have a trusty checklist to make sure. In this case, you switch the alternator on and off once to see will it recover, if not the you switch off everything electrical and make for the nearest safe landing. You need power to extend the flaps, so if you battery runs out before you manage to land then you have to land with no flaps. This is not fatal, but its not easy and generally seen as poor taste, and other pilots laugh behind you back.

Once up to cruse altitude Grainne showed me what to do in an engine failure emergency. Contrary to popular belief, the plane does not fall out of the sky when the engine stops. It just transforms itself into a glider. You simulate an engine failure by just setting the engine on idle, its still running, but not really providing any significant power to the plane. The trick with flying without an engine is to set the plane up as the best glider it can be, this means slowing it to its best glide speed, which is 65 knots in the Cessna 172. Then work out where your going to land, a runway would be nice, but any level ground will do in a pinch. lastly, you try and restart the engine. Engines are actually the one of the most reliable parts of planes. In most cases they only stop because they have run out of fuel which is of course the pilots fault, not the engines. So the first things to check are everything to do with making sure you have fuel and it can get to the engine. As we were simulating this, we pretended that we were unable to restart the engine and we headed for South Country Airport. Needless to say Grainne brought us in on a perfect approach to the runway and we could have easily landed. Instead, we did a go-around (full power, flaps up to 10 degrees, keep the nose from shooting up to far, start a climb at best climb rate and remove the last of the flaps once the climb has started). I flew back up to 3500’ and then it was my turn. No problem setting the best glide speed. I picked a nice flat field down below, but decided I was too high to get down safely and elected to do a 360 turn to loose altitude. I now realize that when you have no engine altitude is actually your very best friend. I came out of the 360 about 1000’ lower and then saw a landing strip off the end of the field I had picked to land in. This should be no surprise, Grainne has set me up to be over a landing strip called Frazier Lake, I just hadn’t realized it. Now I decided that I could make the landing strip but really didn’t have enough altitude to do it easily. I actually got lined up on the final with the runway in front of me, but we would have landed short of the runway and had a very bad day if we really had no engine. So another go-around and a climb up to 3500’. The marine layer clouds was just starting to cross the valley as we left Frazier Lake, its amazing how bumpy it gets if you even begin to get close to the clouds, I guess this is just their way of reminding you that they are a no go area for VFR student pilot.

Grainne was just asking me if I could see South County Airport when she cut the engine power. This time, I just headed straight for the 45 degree entry to the downwind leg of the pattern and decided if I was too high I would simply extend the downwind leg to loose the height. In the event I passed through the 1000’ point when I was abeam the numbers (pilot talk for passing the end of the runway as you fly past). This basically is right where you want to be for a normal approach so I decided to just fly the base leg and final as normal. Turned left, and then left again and was beautifully lined up with the runway. Made a fine approach and I could easily have landed. Altogether a much better attempt this time. I did the go around and we turned for home.

Over UTC, I contacted the Tower and headed for a straight in approach for 31L. This time I drove the plane and took care of he engine power. All in all a great approach, even through the Tower changed our runway to 31R less than a mile out after he had already given us clearance for 31L. This was no problem, just slide on over to line up on the parallel runway. The landing was OK, if just a little high, I had a full 40 degrees of flaps and idle power as we went into the flare so the plane just set itself down a little firmly on the ground. This time I turned off the runway onto taxiway D which is in about the middle, evidence that my even breaking has much improved. After yet another mix-up talking to ground control we were cleared to taxi to our parking space. This seems to be a recurring theme, I guess I so buzzed having just landed that I just lose it talking on the radio. I forgot to tell ground control where I was so his reply was “if your the plane at delta, then taxi to parking”. I didn’t really hear what he said then confused the “delta” in his message with my planes call sign and claimed to be “six six delta” instead of “six sis Juliet”. Oh well, I sure he’s familiar with student pilots by now.

This was a really nice flight and it was the first time I felt like I landed all on my own. Wow.