10/03/07 Night Practice
1.9 hours today (Dual)
38.3 hours total (31.9 Dual, 6.4 Solo)

Well, the weather and my schedule have really conspired against me on these night flights. My lesson scheduled for last week was rained out, and then I went on a business trip that prevented me from getting a lesson in until tonight. It is a lot harder to schedule night flights than I thought it would be. I think that is mainly because there are only seven times available in a week, since no one wants to start a flight at 3am, you are pretty much limited to starting around 8pm.

Anyway, tonights lesson was to introduce night flying and to also use the opportunity to get some instrument time in. The first thing we did, was discuss what we were going to do and review some of the instrument procedures. The one new thing we were going to do tonight was "unusual attitudes". This is to simulate accidentally flying into instrument conditions and losing control of the plane. Then, using only the instruments, recover back to straight and level. We talked about how to recognize if the plane is climbing or descending, and how to recover in each instance. Once we did that, I went out to pre-flight the plane.

We took off and headed East towards the coast, instead of the usual west to the practice area. The coast is pretty populated, so there are lots of lights to use as a reference. On the other hand, when we were pointed to the east, there were no lights in the ocean. Flying east from the coast, there was no discernible horizon.

I put on the foggles, and we did some basic flying around using the instruments. Then, Mike had me try to do some steep turns using only the instruments. I did not do very well on that. I kept having the tendency to let the nose drop. Pulling positive Gs only on the instruments is a little disconcerting. After we did those on instruments only, Mike had me take off the foggles and do a couple in each direction. What was interesting was when the nose of the plane was pointed towards the coast, I did them just fine. But when the nose was pointed to the ocean and I lost my horizon and had to shift to the instruments, it got worse. Instrument flying is definitely a skill that needs training and practice. I only need three hours of training, and I have about half that so far. That is not enough to be proficient in it. Of course, this training is for use only in an emergency, so I won't be an expert at it by the end.

Next, we did some unusual attitudes. I put the foggles on, put my head down, and closed my eyes. Then Mike flew the plane around for a few minutes to disorient me. He told me to open my eyes and recover. I looked at the airspeed indicator and the speed was decreasing, so we were in a climb. I put the power in, pushed the nose down, and leveled the wings. Not too bad.

Then he had me put my head down for another one. When he told me to open my eyes, I saw the airspeed increasing so I knew we were in a dive. I pulled the power and then looked at the attitude indicator to see of the wings were level. Mike had covered it up so I couldn't use it. Sneaky! Then I had to figure out what to use, so I used the turn coordinator to get the wings level. Then I pulled up and leveled the plane. Mike said I did good with that, although it took me a few seconds to figure out what to do without the AI.

After that, we headed back to the airport for night landing practice. I need 10 night landings. The syllabus calls for doing them during the night cross country, but the instructors like to do them during this lesson so the cross country flight is not so long. We were going to do seven tonight and the final three during the night cross country.

None of my landings were all that great. I was having trouble with the flare at the end.  It is difficult to judge the height above the runway, when you only really have the runway lights to look at. I think I also had a tendency to stare at the part of the runway lit by the landing light, instead of where I needed to. The landings weren't super terrible, just a little hard. I also think I was starting to get tired, since I had been out of town all week, and just got home this afternoon.

Well, we got the landings in, so that was done. I have scheduled my dual night cross country for tomorrow night. I originally didn't want to do it so quick behind this lesson, but with the weather delays, I don't want to let too much time go between these lessons. I haven't done my flight plan yet, so I will have to do that tomorrow after work.

10/04/07 Dual Night Cross Country
2.2 hours today (Dual)
40.5 hours total (34.1 Dual, 6.4 Solo)

Tonight is my second dual cross country. We did it at night to also get the night flying requirements done at the same time. If you missed my last lesson (which was last night), you can find it on the top of page five.

The plan for tonight was to fly up to Vero Beach, then down to Palm Beach International, and then back to North County. Since we did seven night landings last night, I only have to do three more tonight to get my ten night landings in. Technically, I thick I already have all my night landings in from previous evening lessons when the lesson ran long and it was dark by the time we got back, but it doesn't hurt to get more practice in.

I did my flight planning today after work, right before the lesson. The one advantage of these night lessons is that I have time to get things done after work and before the lesson. When I arrived, we reviewed my flight plan. I had done a few things different from my last cross country flight plan. The main thing was I used less checkpoints. In Rod Machado's book, he suggests having a checkpoint every 10-15 miles. I did that on my flights to Labelle, but I found that they were too close together. By the time I wrote the time I arrived at a checkpoint down, checked my ground speed, and updated my ETA, I was already over the next checkpoint. It didn't give me much time to relax and look around between checkpoints. This time I used a checkpoint about every 20 miles. That worked out to a flying time of about 15 minutes between the checkpoints.

The first thing we did was review my flight plan. While we were looking at it, Mike remarked that the reason we go back to PBI, is that one of the FAA examiners doesn't count North County to Vero Beach as a cross country, since it is slightly less than 50 nm away. That sounded odd to me, since I had measured the distance as 55 miles. We double checked the chart, and I had used the wrong side of the plotter for my flight plan. It was statute miles on one side, and nautical miles on the other. Oops! I guess my flight plan wasn't going to be very accurate anyway.

The other thing I wanted to do tonight was file a flight plan. Mike thought it wasn't necessary, since in practice, very few pilots file VFR flight plans. The only real reason to file one is so that Search and Rescue knows the route you took in case you don't arrive on time. I thought it was something I should learn how to do while I had an instructor along, so we filed one just for the leg from North County to Vero Beach.

Next, I went out and pre-flighted the plane. We had to get gas in the plane before we could leave, so it took a little longer to get going than normal. We finally got going around 9:30pm. As we taxied out to the runway, we programmed the GPS for Vero Beach to see exactly how far away it actually was. At the farthest point on the runway, it was 49.7 nautical miles away. So technically, it wasn't really a cross country, since those are 50 nm.

I took off and headed north. We got flight following with Palm Beach Approach and then called Miami Flight Service on the radio to activate the flight plan.

The air was nice and smooth, but there were quite a few clouds out. I had planned the flight at 4500 feet, but it was clear when we got in the air that that wasn't going to happen. The entire flight ended up at 1500 to 2000 feet. There were a bunch of "popcorn" showers in the area. These are little rain cells that are basically surrounded by clear air. The whole way to Vero Beach we were going around these clouds. It wasn't bad, but sometime visibility would decrease until you got around the cloud. Then it was clear. We did fly through the rain under one of the clouds. I was nervous about it, but we could see the lights on the ground thorough the clouds, and it really wasn't bad at all. Mike said that we probably would have flown around the rain during the day, but at night it was harder to pick them out. In the end, it wasn't a bit deal.

We picked out my checkpoints without too much trouble. I had picked the Stuart airport and the Ft. Pierce airport. Airports are a little hard to see at night, since the runway lights blend in with the street lights. But the airports have a alternating green and white flashing light that is pretty easy to pick out. My time between the checkpoints turned out to be pretty accurate, even though I used the wrong scale. Probably because we didn't climb as high as I had planned, and possibly the wind was stronger than I had used in my plan.

As we got close to the Vero Beach airport, Mike had me check to see if the control tower was in operation. I tuned in the ATIS, and it had a very short message saying the tower was closed. For some reason, I had thought this tower was open, and that one of the reasons we were going there was to get more tower practice. The tower closes at 9pm, so there was no way it would be open for us, so I don't know why I thought that.

There was one other plane in the pattern, so we overflew the airport and did a 270 degree turn to enter the downwind leg. As we were on short final, the wind was really gusting and it was hard to get the plane down. It was a pretty rough landing, but good enough to get on the ground. We taxied back to the end of the runway and shut the plane down. I had to close my flight plan, and the only way to do that is on the phone. You can't close it from the air. So I pulled out my cell phone and called FSS. It didn't take long to get a briefer and close the flight plan.

After I closed the flight plan, we watched the other plane make a few landings. It looked like he was a student getting his night landings in, but he was having a hard time with the wind. Standing on the ground, it was at least a 40 degree crosswind, and was probably about 10 knots, gusting to 20 knots. I was glad my landings were better than his, but I was more glad I didn't have to do another one at this airport tonight.

We got back in the plane and took off for PBI. It was a little clearer, so we climbed to 3500 feet. At 1500 feet, Palm Beach Approach had to drop us from flight following at Stuart, since they couldn't see us that low. By climbing a little higher, we could get flight following all the way in. The flight down to PBI was uneventful. We had to dodge a few more clouds, but didn't get any rain. As we got closer, the clouds got a little lower, so we had to descend back down, eventually to 1500 feet.

Palm Beach Approach had us come direct into runway 13. This is one of the main runways they use for the jets. There is also a small GA runway I thought we were going to use, but I think the controller didn't have a lot of traffic, so it was easier to have us land there. Approach handed us off to the tower, and we were cleared to land. There was a little crosswind, but after playing with it a little, I managed to get a pretty good crosswind correction in. It wasn't as gusty down here as it was in Vero Beach. I came in and had my best night landing. It was probably as good as my good day landings. I think it was because the runway is so wide, and there is some ambient street lights lighting up the airport, so I had more visual clues. Whatever it was, I'll take it!

After landing, the controller sent us to Taxiway Charlie. I couldn't find the taxi signs until we were at Golf. At that point, we were in the middle of the other runway. The controller told us to turn around and get on Charlie. He was a little annoyed at us, but I didn't care. It was after 11 pm, and there was nobody else on the runway. I think he had someone coming in, but they weren't close enough to be a problem. I just turned around and then saw taxiway Charlie. I think I missed it because the taxiways are wider than the runway at North County.

The controller wanted us to take back off from runway 9L, so we taxied to the end of Charlie. We told the tower we were ready, and he gave us a squawk code for the transponder. Both Mike and I wrote it down. Then I read it back and the tower sounded really annoyed because one number was wrong. I corrected what I had wrote down, but so did Mike. I think the controller had read it to us wrong, since we both wrote down the same, but wrong, number. I read back the corrected number and entered it into the transponder. Then we were cleared to depart, so I got on the runway and took off. That was pretty cool, since this runway was the main jet runway and was all lit up. Of course, I only needed about 1/10 of the runway to take off, but it was still cool.

The tower passed me off to Departure while I was still over the runway, and he had me turn towards North County. After a few minutes, Departure dropped us, and we were cleared to head to North County. That was my first experience in Class C airspace, and it was not bad at all. If you get flight following, ATC smoothly transits you in, and departure control transits you out. Neat!

I turned on the pilot controlled lights at North County and entered the downwind into the pattern. My landing here was not as good as the one at PBI, but better than the one at Vero Beach. Mike thought it was better than the ones last night, so I guess my night landings are starting to improve.

We taxied back to the ramp and tied down the plane, and that ended my last dual cross country. Overall, I found it to be a lot of fun. The only concern I had was the clouds, but they turned out not to be an issue. Flying at night, at least along the coast, was not difficult at all. There was plenty of lights on the ground to have a horizon, so controlling the plane was not an issue. I am ready to knock out my cross country flights.

Next, I have two more solo cross countries, and then it is checkride practice after that. Since Vero Beach won't count as a cross country (that is what is in the syllabus for my next cross country), I think I am going to go somewhere else. Mike says I can fly out to Pahokee first, and then Vero Beach and that is long enough, but I don't want to do that. I want my next cross country to be to a control tower airport, so Mike suggested Melbourne or Naples. He also thought we should do a quick lesson at Stuart so I can get some more control tower experience before my cross country. I think that is a good idea.

I was originally going to schedule my next solo cross country for Sunday, but I don't think the weather is going to be very good, so I am going to hold off until Saturday to decide what I am going to do. I also need to decide where I want to go. Oh well, there are worst decisions to have to make in life! So I can't tell you when my next lesson is yet. Stay tuned.

10/12/07 Control Tower Practice
0.9 hours today (Dual)
41.4 hours total (35.0 Dual, 6.4 Solo)

Tonight was my first opportunity to fly since my last lesson. It is starting to get a little more difficult to schedule lessons with the plane, plus what I really need is lots of consecutive hours with the plane for my cross countries (more on this later).

This lesson was for two purposes. First, it was to get a little more practice with a control tower before my next solo cross country. On that one, I have to do three full stop landings at a control tower airport. The second reason for this lesson was to keep my proficiency up. My last lesson was a week ago, and I couldn't schedule my cross country until a week from Sunday (Oct. 21), so I needed to fly some between those two dates.

The basic plan for today was to go up to the Stuart airport and get some practice with the control tower. Mike was going to sit still and let me handle everything to make sure I understood what I needed to do. This lesson was scheduled for 6:30 pm, so I knew we would have to leave right away if I wanted to fly during the day. I arrived at the flight school a little early, thinking I could do the pre-flight if the plane was there. Unfortunately, both the plane and Mike were out with another student when I got there.

The plane and Mike arrived back at the airport a little late, so we didn't leave right at 6:30. In fact, it was closer to 7:00 by the time we were ready to go. It looks like this is going to be another night flight!

On take-off, Mike wanted to do two different things. First, he wanted to do a short field takeoff, and second, he wanted to take off with the doors open. That's right, with the doors open. The point of that was to show me what would happen if for some reason, I (or a passenger) forgot to close the door before takeoff. Sounds interesting!

I put 10 degrees of flap down and moved out to the runway. I pushed down the brakes and pushed the throttle all the way in. Then I let off on the brakes and took off. We had some incoming traffic that distracted us as we turned north to Stuart. Once we were up to 1000 feet, Mike had me steer the plane with the doors. By slightly pushing open the doors, I could cause the plane to turn. It was very interesting and it worked surprisingly well. When I wasn't touching the doors, they were nearly closed from the apparent wind. Really, the only difference was if I leaned on the door, it pushed out. I had my seatbelt on, so I wasn't going to fall out. Anyway, a neat little thing to try.

We then closed the doors and continued on to Stuart. It is only about a ten minute flight from North County, so it didn't take long. As we approached the airport, Mike realized we missed something for our cruise configuration. I couldn't figure out what it was, so Mike had to tell me I still had 10 degrees of flap in. D'oh! I pulled them in.

I then listened to the ATIS to find out which runway was in use, and then called the tower. We were number three in at runway 12. I came in on the downwind leg and started the landing checklist. My pattern was a little wide, so I put some throttle in to maintain my altitude until I got the the final approach. Then I brought the plane down and did a really nice night landing, if I do say so myself. We were just doing a touch and go, so I took right back off. I wanted to go back around and land again, but when the controller asked me what my intentions were, I panicked and said I was heading back to North County. Oh, well. That was OK, since I didn't want this lesson to go over one hour in length.

We headed back to North County, and I did another good landing. Not quite as nice as the one at Stuart, but still pretty good. Mike even commented that my night landings were now as good as my daytime landings. He even said that my day landings will probably be better than before after all of this night practice. We will see!

I had intended this to be a daytime flight, but it is clear after tonight's lesson that it is getting dark too early now. I think this is the end of my after work lessons. It is getting dark around 7pm now, and to get a day lesson in would mean I would have to get to the airport at 5 pm. That just isn't going to happen, so from now on my flying will be on the weekends. That will probably slow me down a little, but at least I don't have too many lesson left. I have scheduled another lesson for Saturday, the 20th so that I can keep current. Then my cross country is the 21st. Then I am out of town literally for a week, so my long cross country (and my last one) won't happen until the first weekend in November. It doesn't look like I am going to get much flying in this month. Too bad.

Because of my wacky schedule the rest of this month, I have decided to take my FAA written test tomorrow morning. I have been taking practice tests every night for the last two weeks, and I think I am as ready as I can get. Originally, I was planning on taking my written test next weekend, but I have something Saturday morning, and my cross country is Sunday morning. Then I am gone the next weekend, and then it is November! I didn't want to wait that long, so now's the time. You only need a 70% to pass, and the last two times I have taken the test I have gotten an 88%, so I think I am as ready as I am going to get. I'll find out tomorrow morning.

Sunquest has increased the size of their fleet this month. They just added a twin engine Piper Apache. I won't be flying that anytime soon, it rents for $195 per hour. They also added a Piper SuperCub. That one has an interesting history. Once I get my private license, I want to get a tailwheel rating in that. It rents for a more reasonably priced $90/hour (wet). By the end of the month, they are getting a Liberty XL2, which is built in Stuart. It will rent for $85/hour. I may also fly that to see what it is like. There may be one more plane, but it probably won't be on the line this month. More information on that one later.

Alright, it's late and I need to get a good nights sleep for my test tomorrow.

10/13/07 Written Test
0.0 hours today
41.4 hours total (35.0 Dual, 6.4 Solo)

After I got home from last night's lesson, I did one more practice test. I got another 88%, so I figured I was as ready as I was going to get. I probably would get a higher score with one more week of studying, but I figured I would pass, and that is all that really matters.

I got up this morning and headed to SunQuest to take my test. When I called them yesterday, they told me that they had a lot of people signed up to take tests today, and the only opening was at 9 a.m. No problem, I wanted to take it in the morning anyway. I arrived and there were two other people already there to take an exam. SunQuest is a LaserGrade facility, which means they give other computerized tests besides the FAA ones. One lady was taking some sort of nutrition exam, and there was a guy taking a physical therapy exam. I was the only one taking an FAA exam.

Since I called yesterday to tell them I wanted to take my exam, and was also at the airport for my lesson last night, I figured they would know I was coming. But of course, the person working yesterday forgot to tell the person working today, so she was surprised when I showed up to take the test. She got the other two going first, and then I started.

The FAA tests are completely computerized now. The questions are randomly selected from a pre-determined batch of questions (available on the FAA website). These are the same questions in my practice test program. You have a booklet of the various charts, graphs, and pictures that are needed for the exam. A question pops up on the screen, and you consult the proper graph (if necessary), and then select your answer. You can go back at any time and check or change an answer. You are given two and a half hours to complete 60 questions, and you need a 70% or better to pass.

The questions on my exam were more or less exactly the same as the ones from the practice tests. Some were identical. There were a few I had never seen before, and I was a little worried about them. It took my about an hour to take the exam. My practice ones took about 45 minutes. I was the first one in the room done with my exam, but I think the FAA exams are shorter than whatever everyone else was taking.

Tamara, the office manager and test proctor, went into the room to tell the computer to grade my test. I stood in the office while she did that and nervously joked with the other people in the office. I felt that I had passed, but I wasn't sure about the new questions I had seen. A few minutes later, she comes out and says... I had passed! Whew!

I got an 85% on my exam. Not bad. Joe, one of the instructors, said that was a good score to have. He thought that scores in the 80%-90% showed that you understood the concepts and information. He said when people got scores over 90%, the examiner thought they just memorized all the questions. If someone got less than 80%, then the examiner thought they didn't study enough. I don't know about that, since a high score is good and a low score is bad. I wonder if they have something like that they say to people who get scores in each range. Something like, if you got over 90%, "Now you will have a short oral exam." And if you got less than 80%, but over 70%, they say, "At least you passed." Whatever. My score is respectable.

The pressure on the written test, besides just passing, is that whatever you missed will be part of you oral exam with the FAA examiner. The more you miss, the longer and harder your oral exam. I think the examiners like the people who score in the 80s because it gives them something to quiz you on, without having too much to go over. The results from the test don't give you the exact question you missed, but they do give you a code on the subject area you missed. The codes are on the FAA website. I looked them up and they tell you what areas you need to study for the oral exam. I missed nine questions and had nine codes. So I missed one question in each area. Most of the areas are pretty easy, so I will just have to review them and re-read those sections in the textbook before my checkride. I will also have a ground lesson with Mike to review these areas before my checkride.

I am glad I have the written test out of the way. I was looking over my hours, and it looks like all I have left is my two cross country flights (at least four more hours of solo flight required), two more hours of instrument training, and three hours of checkride prep. Then I am ready for the checkride. I think the hardest thing left at this point is scheduling the airplane.

My next lesson is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

10/20/07 Short Field/Soft Field Takeoffs and Landings
0.9 hours today (Dual)
42.3 hours total (35.9 Dual, 6.4 Solo)

When I got to the flight school this afternoon for my lesson, Mike wasn't there. I was a little early, so I waited. Once I decided he was late, I called him up. He had forgotten about my lesson. Apparently, another student who was scheduled after me cancelled, and for some reason Mike thought he was done for the day. He said I could practice on my own, or he could come back out to the airport. I told him I would rather he came back out, since not only did I want to get some flying in, but I wanted to talk about a few things on my solo cross country scheduled for tomorrow. It took him about a half and hour to get back to the airport. I wasn't in any hurry, and the person after me had cancelled, so there was no reason to rush.

Once Mike arrived, we looked at the weather and discussed what we were going to do today. We also talked a little about my cross country flight tomorrow. I am planning of flying to Melbourne, with stops at Stuart and Ft. Pierce on the way up. This will complete my requirements for three landings at control tower airports, plus it will give me experience at more airports along the east coast of Florida.

Today's lesson was basically more practice in Soft Field and Short Field takeoffs and landings. I had done some about a month ago, but now we were going to really practice them and work the kinks out. The first thing we did was a Short Field takeoff. Those are pretty easy and I didn't have much trouble with that. We flew around the pattern and set up for a Sort Field landing. My target for today's landings were the stripes painted at the start of the runway. If I was too short, I would miss the runway, if I was too long then I was, well, too long.

I came around and estimated my aiming point ahead of the runway. As a rounded out for the landing, I realized I was going to land too long. I told Mike, and he said I should go around. I put the throttle in, but just as I did that, the landing gear hit the runway. So my go around ended up as more of a bounce. We went around and my next landing was better, but I put it down a little hard trying to make the mark.

We pulled off the runway and taxiied back to do a Soft Field takeoff. On this one, you don't stop moving, and you get the nosewheel off the ground as soon as you can. I had attempted one on my own when I was practicing landings at Pahokee, but it didn't go too well. This time, with a little instruction, was a lot better. Before I was trying to keep the nosewheel too far off the runway. All that is needed  is a couple of inches. Today's went pretty good. I think I need a little more practice, but I understand how it is done.

As we came around, we did another Short Field landing. This one was better, but still a little hard. We did a touch and go, and went around one more time. During the lesson, the intercom was slowly getting worse, and the last time around, we could hardly talk to each other because there was so much static. We decided that was enough for today. Another attempt at a short field landing and we were done.

My short field landings are not there yet. I really will need to spend some time practicing them. Mike and I talked about it and we decided that I just wasn't looking at the end of the runway during those landings. I was focused too much on the landing spot, and that made for some bad landings. Next time, I will have to remember that. In fact, every time I am doing bad landings, I think not looking at the end of the runway is the problem. I had the same problem at first on the night landings, because I was watching the landing light on the runway. Once I forced myself to look at the end of the runway, they got better.

My next lesson is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) morning. That will be my second solo cross country. There is a stationary front right over us right now, and it may not move far enough away by morning. I would say there is 50/50 chance of flying tomorrow. If you don't see a write-up by Monday, then you know it didn't happen. In that case, my next attempt will probably be November 3rd, since I am out of town next weekend.