11/3/07 Under the Hood
1.1 hours today (Dual)
43.4 hours total (37.0 Dual, 6.4 Solo)

Well, the weather was awful on Sunday, October 21st, so I didn't get to do my second solo cross country. I really tried, even go so far as going to the airport to see if the clouds would lift by the time I got there. They didn't, so I didn't. The next weekend, I was at an RV Assembly Workshop (which you can read about here), so no flying the last day of October.

October just wasn't the month for flying. We got 15 inches of rain in October this year, when a normal year is 5 inches. So I wanted to get another lesson in before I attempted another solo cross country flight.

When I arrived, Mike asked me what I wanted to work on. I have been adding up my hours to see what I still needed to do before my checkride. One of the things I need more time on is my instrument flying. I only have 1.6 hours of instrument flying, and 3 are required, so I wanted to spend as much time as possible today under the hood to get closer to finishing that part up.

We took off and headed to the practice area. As soon as we turned west, Mike had me put the hood on. Then we did some basic manuevers; holding altitude, flying a heading, etc. Once we got out to the practice area, we did some ADF practice on an AM radio station in Belle Glade.

Then we did some unusual attitudes, so I could practice that. Mike did one climbing situation, and one decending. No covering up instruments this time, so it was pretty easy.

Next, we did some navigating using the Pahokee VOR. We followed some radials towards the station and then away from them. The last thing we did was try shooting the ILS approach to North County. I didn't do very well, but it was interesting practice.

The weather today was great, but a little windy. That was what made my approach so hard, as I wasn't properly compensating for it. So the first good weather in two weeks, and I spend the entire time under the hood! We did get 0.8 of an hour of instrument, so now I only need 0.6 more. I will get that as part of the normal practice for the checkride.

One thing I noticed during my lesson, was I really am starting to feel comfortable in the plane. Even though I couldn't see out the window, and didn't control the plane particularly well only on the instruments, I think my body has finally decided that the plane is not going to fall out of the sky. Intellectually, I knew this, but I was always nervous I was going to do something wrong that would be very bad. So that was a nice feeling to finish doing something that is supposed to be difficult and stressful, and still feel pretty good about it.

I have re-scheduled my second solo cross country for tomorrow. The weather looks like it will be better than today, so I am excited that it will probably happen. I am going up to Melbourne with stops at Stuart and Ft. Pierce airports, and then back to North County. This will give me more cross country time and get my three full stop landings at a control tower airport out of the way.

11/4/07 Intermediate Solo Cross Country
2.7 hours today (Solo)
46.1 hours total (37.0 Dual, 9.1 Solo)

So today was the day to try and fly my second solo cross country. I tried two weeks ago, but was weathered out. The weather today, however, could not be better. No clouds in the sky and 10 miles visibility. I wouldn't be dodging clouds today!

My day started with Mike calling me just as I was getting up. Apparently, he forgot to set his clock back (we went off of DST today) and was already at the airport. I told him I just got up and would see him in an hour like we originally planned! Before I left for the airport, I checked the weather online and called Flight Service. Both agreed that today was a good day to fly.

When I got to the airport, Mike and I reviewed my flight plan. I had used an Excel spreadsheet to do the calculations for me this time (instead of doing them all by hand and writing out the flight plan) and I wanted to see how it worked. The one advantage of needing an endorsement to fly cross country flights is that you get an opportunity to discuss any last minute issues or questions you have with your instructor. I had a few about how to handle some control tower communications and how to fly around some airspace. Everything looked good, so Mike endorsed my logbook for the flight.

I went out and pre-flighted the plane. The oil level was fine, but on the low side. Since I knew I would be flying for several hours today, I added a quart of oil. I didn't have a funnel, so I had to be very careful pouring it down the spout. I did pretty good, with only a few drops missing the intended target. Just as I finished, Mike came out with another student. He told me that they just replaced a gasket on the plane, and were worried that there still might be an oil leak, so he had me go grab another quart of oil to take with me.

I got in the plane and got everything organized. I even tuned the standby frequencies in the radios for my first stop before I started the engine. Then I started it up and my next adventure began.

I was feeling pretty good about this flight, and felt like I knew what I need to do. The syllabus called for a flight to Vero Beach with three full stop landings and then returning to North County. Mike told me, and I confirmed it with a couple other people at the flight school, that one of the examiners didn't consider it a cross country flight. Cross country flights are defined as flights 50 nm or greater, and Vero is only 49.6 nm away. So I knew I couldn't go to Vero, but I wanted some experience flying the east coast of Florida, since I will be flying this area a lot. I looked on the map, and the next control tower airport was Melbourne (about 73 nm away). I also didn't feel like doing all of my control tower landings at the same airport, so I planned for stops at Stuart (because I've gone there a couple of times with Mike already), Ft. Pierce (because it is a popular airport around here), and finally Mebourne. Then I would head straight back.

The wind was out of the north, so I would have a headwind on the way up, and a tailwind on the way back. I took off from runway Three One, and headed for Stuart. I kept a close eye on the chart to make sure I didn't miss it. I planned to fly to Stuart at only 1500 feet, since it is only 20 miles from North County I didn't want to spend all my time climbing just to come right back down. Although it wasn't cloudy, it was hazy and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to see the airport.

I got about 10 miles from the airport I listened to the automated weather and then called the control tower to tell them I was coming in for a landing. They answered me and told me to land on runway Three Zero. About that time the airport came into view and I headed for the correct runway. While I was on my way in, the tower cleared a couple planes to take off and land on runway Three Four. I was a little confused, so I called the tower to confirm I was landing on Three Zero. He said I was, but I could land on Three Four if I wanted to. I told him I was fine with Three Zero.

I came in for a landing, and it was pretty good. I think I land this thing better when I am alone than when someone is there to see me! I contacted ground and taxied back for takeoff. Once in the air again, I headed north to Ft. Pierce. This airport was another 20 miles away, so I only had about 10 minutes to get everything organized for the next landing. I repeated basically the same sequence as before, including another nice landing on Runway Three Two.

As I was taking off , I realized I had forgotten to turn the carb heat on for my last two landings. I didn't have any carb ice, so no harm done, but I needed to pay closer attention. Since Vero Beach airport is almost adjacent to the Ft. Pierce airport, I wouldn't have enough distance to climb above 2500 feet to get over the Vero Beach airspace. Instead, I headed west until I hit the turnpike, which is well outside the Class D airspace of Vero Beach. Then I turned north toward Melbourne.

I had about 20 minutes before I reached Melbourne, so I relaxed a little bit and looked out the window. It was still hazy, but I think the visibility was a little better than when I first took off. I brought my camera along and managed to get one picture on the way up. This is Sebastian Airport, and uncontrolled (or the more politically correct, pilot-controlled) airport about halfway between Ft. Pierce and Melbourne.

I continued on until I got close to Mebourne. I listed to the weather (called an ATIS), and then contacted the control tower. He told me I would be landing on runway Two Seven and to tell him when I was on my base leg. There are two parallel runways at this airport, so I figured once I got close, he would tell me which one to land on.

Once I got on my base leg, I turned the carb heat on and told the control tower. I was cleared to land on Two Seven Left. That is the big runway. The wind was still out of the north, and this was a west heading runway, so I knew I would have to do a crosswind landing. There was another plane behind me as I was on short final, but he was obviously a much faster plane than me, so he had to go around. My landing was not real great here, as I kind of dropped the last foot down to the runway. Oh well, two out of three is still pretty good!

At this airport, I planned on stopping for a few minutes to go to the bathroom and stretch my legs. Once I was talking to ground, I told them to send me to the closest FBO. The closest one was FIT Aviation. This is part of the Florida Institute of Technology. They have an aviation program and this is where the students do their flight training. I went to the bathroom and got a soda and a candy bar out of the machine. I checked the weather (still good!) and wandered around for about 15 minutes. Then I headed back out to the plane for the trip home. I meant to take a picture, but once I started getting ready for the return flight, I forgot.

The Melbourne airport is a Class D airport, the same as Stuart, Ft. Pierce, and Vero Beach. But this airport is pretty busy, and I say a couple regional jets take off while I was getting ready to leave. They also have a normal terminal, like all the big airports do. Once I was ready, I started the plane and called ground control. They sent me to the same runway for departure. I took off and headed south. As I turned south, I looked up and saw an military jet about 1000 feet above me heading north. I think there is a military base near here. If I was thinking, I would have taken a picture of that, too.

I got on course and climbed to about 3000 feet. I tried to call Miami Center for flight following, but they didn't answer me back. That happens when they are too busy to deal with me, but I also thought maybe I wasn't high enough to reach them. In any case, I just used "see-and-avoid" back to North County.

At around 3000 feet, it was a little rough. I think there was some wind shear between the slower surface winds and the faster winds aloft. I thought about climbing up higher, but I was afraid my visibility to the ground would be worse because of the haze. Later, Mike told me that wasn't the case, and I could have climbed out of the haze. I also am having a small, unreasonable fear of a midair with another plane. I know that is crazy, but I am afraid I won't see another plane it time. I talked with Mike after the flight, and he said with weather like today, I would see another plane from a long ways off. That is probably true, and this may be something that just goes away once I have a little more experience. I am going to try and not let this bother me.

Anyway, here are a few pictures I took on the way back:

I believe this is Vero Beach airport. You can barely see it off the wing.

This shows how hazy it was looking out the front. You can see the clear air above me.

The trip back to North County was pretty uneventful (good). I listened to the various control towers I passed as I was heading back. Once I got close to North County, I switched to the North County frequency, and came in for a landing. It was better than the one at Melbourne, but not as good as the first two.

Once I tied down the plane, I went back in the office, and Mike was waiting for his next student. While he was waiting, we talked about the flight. Overall, I told him that it was a stress-free flight. I was not as worried as I was on my first cross country, and I really had no problems working with the control towers. When I started, it was one of my concerns, since I was afraid I wouldn't know what to say or do. But there is really no trick to it. You just tell them what you want to do, and the controllers tell you how to do get it done. I really felt like I was starting to get the hang of this.

Mike said that was a good sign I was getting close to my checkride. I really am, as I only have to complete my long cross country flight and 0.6 hours of instrument flying. Everything else is just practice for the checkride.

My next lesson is Saturday, and if the weather holds, I will do my long cross country flight next Sunday. I am going to fly to Okechobee airport, Ft. Myers, and then back. It should be another fun flight.

11/10/07 The Beginning of the End
1.8 hours today (Dual)
47.9 hours total (38.8 Dual, 9.1 Solo)

Today starts the beginning of the preparations for the checkride. I would have preferred to start this after I finished my last cross country (I like to segment things that way). However, since I can only fly on weekends now, I need to get the flights in when I can. Plus, my last cross country is scheduled for tomorrow, anyway.

The basic plan for preparing for the checkride is to go fly the maneuvers with Mike, and then let him tell me what I need more practice with. Then I will go up alone and practice. This process is repeated until I can pass the checkride.

When I arrived, Mike was up in 41Hotel with another student. The lesson went a little long, and we spent some time chit-chatting before we headed out to the plane. On the way out to the plane, we stopped to look at the new Liberty XL the flight school just got. Mike is the only one who has flown it so far, so he was telling me about it. Pretty interesting, but I don't think I would buy one (personal opinion).

Anyway, by the time I got the flight plan, it was already 3:20 pm, and I only scheduled the plane until 4:00. Luckily, no one had the plane after us, so we could use it as long as needed.

We started up the plane and did a soft field takeoff on runway Three One. Then we headed out to the practice area. I don't think I have been out there in over a month!

The first thing we did was work on S-turns across a road. The first ones I did were pretty rough, although I did manage to keep my elevation and speed within the PTS (Practical Test Standards. I will use this abbreviation a lot, so remember it). But my ground track was not very good. Mike showed me how to do it once, and that helped. It also helped that we realized the wind was not blowing directly from the north, and we found a better road. This road was short, though, so we could only do one S-turn before we got to the end of it.

After that, we worked on turns around a point. Once again, although I met the elevation and speed specs, my ground track was more egg shaped than circular. We did quite a bit of practice with those, and they did improve by the end. I'm not sure if either my S-turns or my turns around a point are good enough yet.

Then we headed back to get some landing practice in. This is also something I haven't done in a while, other than my normal landings at the end of the cross countries. The first landing we did was a normal one. Mike noticed right away that I was starting the roundout too high. I think this might have been what was happening with my last several landings where they are too hard. He had me delay the roundout, and the landings were much better.

We also practiced landing with minimal flaps and no flaps. The no flaps landings were practice for next Saturday (it is a surprise, I'll tell you next weekend). We also practiced a slips to a landing and emergency landings. My best landing of the day was when Mike pulled the power abeam of the numbers and I had to land without power. It was at the end, and I think I was concentrating more. Overall, I think the landing practice was really worthwhile, as I had lost a little of the proper technique.

The really interesting thing (in an annoying way), though, was the traffic at the airport while we were practicing landings. Now, when you are doing touch and goes, you tend to spend a lot of time flying the pattern. Normally, planes coming in to land should enter the pattern with you and basically play follow the leader down to the runway.

Today, however, everyone decided that they didn't need to do that. Everyone was flying straight in on long finals. This is not really how it is supposed to be done, but at airports without a control tower, the pilots determine what happens. Usually, everyone plays nice together and it all works. But not today.

The thing that makes a long, straight in final difficult, is that it is hard to judge how long the incoming plane will take to get to the runway. And, you must decide if you can fit in ahead of that plane or have to get behind him. And then, on top of that, people were calling out straight in finals from the south when we were landing to the east! If you are already south, you can enter the pattern without difficulty.

Mike says that the snowbirds are back down, and lots of them are not familiar with the airport or have not flown in a while and are rusty. That is probably true, and it was good practice in dealing with the unexpected. But it was still annoying! OK, rant is over.

Tomorrow I am flying to Okechobee and then Ft. Myers. After I land at Ft. Myers, I am going to meet my Dad for lunch. After lunch, I will return to F45. It should be a fun flight, since this will be one of my frequent destinations once I have my license. The weather looks like it will be clear skies and a light wind from the north.

11/11/07 Long Cross Country
3.0 hours today (Solo)
50.9 hours total (38.8 Dual, 12.1 Solo)

Today was my last required cross country flight. It is called the "long" cross country because it has to be at least 150 nm long with at least one leg over 50 nm. It also has to have at least three full stop landings (no touch and goes). I decided to go to Okeechobee, Ft. Myers, and then back to North County. The total mileage was 199 nm.

I met Mike at 9:00 am so he could look over my flight plan and endorse my logbook for the cross country flight. It took a little longer than I thought it should, so I didn't get off the ground until 10:00. I had originally planned for 9:30, but I figured I would be OK since I had the plane reserved until 2:00 pm.

The first leg of my flight was to Okeechobee. It was only 42 nm away. It was a pretty easy leg, since the main road the North County airport is on (Bee Line Highway) goes directly to the city of Okechobee and nearly directly to the airport. All I did was follow the road to the airport. I tried to get flight following, but Palm Beach Approach did not answer me. Or maybe I called on the wrong frequency. I didn't try too hard, since the longer I spent trying to get it, the less I needed it. The entire flight to Okechobee was only 27 minutes. I flew the whole leg at 2500 feet.

Okechobee is usually a very busy airport, since it has some of the cheapest fuel in the area. When I arrived, there was no one in the pattern, and I just came right in and landed. The landing was pretty good. I exited at the first taxiway and made my way back to the end of the runway. I guess everyone started waking up by then, since there were now two planes ahead of me waiting to take off by the time I got back to the departure end. It ended up taking about ten extra minutes to get off the ground again.

I took back off and headed southeast. Since the Ft. Myers airport (Page Field) is under the Class C shelf for Southwest Florida Regional airport, I decided to approach Ft. Myers from the east instead of flying directly southeast to the airport. So I planned a route that took me to the Labelle VOR antenna first, and then west towards Ft. Myers. Once I got close, the control tower would vector me into the airport under the shelf.

After leaving Okechobee, I first attempted to get Miami Center for traffic advisories. Once again, I couldn't raise them. I am starting to think I am doing something wrong. The hard part with the traffic advisories, is that the controllers only have to do them on a workload permitting basis. So, if they are busy, they don't do it. However, they are not required to tell you they can't do it. Usually, when you get on the radio and ask, they just ignore you if they can't do it. But that leaves you wondering if you called the correct frequency or if they are just busy. Anyway, I tried a few times and gave up.

2500 feet worked good for the first leg, so I used that same altitude the rest of the way to Ft. Myers. Since I was flying to a VOR, I tuned the VOR radio into the station and set the display to the radial I wanted to follow. Then I practiced following it in. The VORs have specific frequencies at each degree, so by using the display you can fly a pretty accurate course. The display tells you if you are off course, and which side you are off. I had to cross the line a couple times until I got everything lined up properly.

I was so busy getting on course, that I missed most of my landmarks on this leg. Just as I was thinking I must have missed the VOR antenna, I saw it. The VOR antennas look kind of like a big, white bowling pin in a field, so they are relatively easy to spot if you are looking for them. Once I got over the VOR, I turned west to basically stay north of the Caloosahatchee River.

My next landmark was the I-75 bridge over the river in Ft. Myers. It is a pretty big bridge and easy to see from the air. That bridge was about 10 nm from the airport, so when I reached it I called the tower. They told me to call mid-field on the downwind leg for runway 05. Well, actually she said, "6641 Hotel, call midfield downwind for 05." But that doesn't make sense unless you have take some flying lessons.

Anyway, I headed directly for the airport. Since I used to live in Ft. Myers and was pretty familiar with the area, I figured I would have no problem flying directly to the field. However, the airport is entirely surrounded by the city, and from 10 miles out, it was difficult to pick it out. So I just went the direction the GPS told me, figuring I would see it when I got close. By the way, the GPS in this plane just gives you bearing and distance to the field, it isn't one of those fancy moving map ones you see everywhere now.

When I got about five miles from the airport, I spotted it. As it turned out, it was pretty easy to see, since it was a big field in the middle of the city. I flew to the downwind leg, which was basically the way I was going, and before I could say I was there, the tower told me I was cleared to land.

I turned on the base leg and flew over my mothers house (Hi Mom!), but I was too busy to pick out the exact house and take a picture of it. I turned final and approached the field for a landing. I had all the power out, but was still a little high, so I slipped the plane down. Good thing we practiced that yesterday! The landing was pretty good here also. I taxiied off the runway and called ground control. I told them where I was headed and they asked if I needed directions. I said yes, please! Then they told me it was basically in front of me. It's not that big of an airport.

As I pulled up, I saw my Dad waiting for me. I had pre-arraigned for him to meet me for lunch. I parked the plane and shut down the engine. It was noon. I had planned on being here by 11:30. It looks like I might be late getting back! The first thing I did once I got out of the plane was check the fuel level. I wanted to make sure I had enough to get back. If not, I would have the FBO fill it up while we ate lunch. There was 15 gallons left. That was plenty. I went inside and asked the lady at counter if I needed to do anything with the plane. She said no, if it was in the way they would move it. Cool.

We went to lunch at Hops, around the corner from the airport. When I looked at the menu, I decided I better have my first $100 hamburger, so I ordered one for lunch! For those of you who have not heard the phrase before, $100 hamburgers are what they call it when you get in your plane and fly somewhere to have lunch. It is called that because it cost you $100 to go somewhere for a hamburger (they still call it that even if you order something else). Anyway, I have now had my first official one.

Here is my Dad at Ft. Myers.

Lunch was pretty quick, but we got back to the airport at about 1:15. The FBO had moved the plane, but they also tied it down for me. Nice! I did a quick preflight and got ready to leave. The one nice thing about the Ft. Myers airport, is that they can set you up for flight following before you take off. When I called up ground control, I told them I wanted the flight following. While I was taxiing to the departure end of the runway, they gave me my squawk code and told me what the first frequency I would need once I took off.

I did my run-up and called the tower. They cleared me to take off. They told me to stay under 1500 feet and stay on the runway heading until they passed me to Ft. Myers Approach. Once I was clear of the Page Field airspace, they passed me to Ft. Myers Approach. I thought I had entered the frequency in the standby frequency of the radio, but apparently I over wrote it when I dialed in the tower frequency. Not thinking, I flipped the radio over and told Approach I was there. Ground tells me I'm back on the ground frequency. Oops! I dial the radio properly and call Approach. They tell me to keep going the same direction and expect a turn in six miles. About then, they tell me to turn on my course.

By this time, I am somewhere near my old house is when I lived in Ft. Myers. I was distracted looking for it, and after a minute I gave up and made my turn. I'm sure Approach wondered what I was doing, but they didn't say anything. After my turn, I got my bearings on the ground below and realized where I was. I was a little north of where my house was. Probably if I turned when they said to I would have flown over it. Oh well, maybe next time.

It was nice having flight following, as they told me whenever another plane was close to me. It definitely lowered the stress level. Ft. Myers Approach handed me off the Miami Center when I reached Labelle. I wrote down the frequency and called it back to them correctly, but somehow I transposed the numbers and ended up on the wrong channel. I don't know who I was talking to, but they gave me another frequency, so I called that one. That was Miami, but the wrong channel. She looked up the correct channel and that was when I realized what I did. I set the radio to the correct channel and successfully contacted them. There is always something!

From this point, the rest of the flight was exactly like my first solo cross country to Labelle. I looked at the time from North County and realized I was going to be way late. One thing about a plane, is that there is really no way to "make up" time like you can in a car. When you are late in a car, you just go faster to make up time. Well, in a plane, you plan on going as fast as you can anyway, so there is no extra speed available. There was nothing I could do about it, so I didn't worry about it.

In the hazy distance you can see one of the sugar cane fields on fire.
They do this to make it easier to harvest the sugar cane,
but it sure adds alot of haze in the sky.

Unlike my trip back from Labelle, where I could only fly at 1500 feet to stay under the clouds, this trip was easy to do at 2500. There were scattered clouds at 3000 feet, and I decided I really didn't want to try and climb above them. If I remember correctly, I think I calculated on my Labelle trip that I needed 3000 feet to be able to safely glide without an engine across Lake Okechobee. I decided that it would only be a few minutes where that would happen this time, and I didn't feel like diverting around the south end of the lake, so I just went directly over. It was really nothing.

When I got about halfway across the lake, Miami said they were losing me on radar, so I would have to be dropped from flight following. I would think I would be in someone's radar, but maybe I was too low. They suggested calling Palm Beach Approach, but I was close enough I figured I would just go the rest of the way without.

I overflew Pahokee airport and got on the frequency to let anyone in the area know what I was doing. There was one plane overflying from the south, and one taking off. The one from the south passed behind me, but was a little closer than I would have liked, but not really a big deal. The one that took off I thought would be no factor, but he turned east and climbed directly towards me. I'm pretty sure he saw me, but he didn't really do anything to stay out of my way. He was going a little faster than me, so I guess he thought he would outrun me. I got worried, so I just turned north and passed behind him. I had him in sight the whole time, so I wasn't worried about it. But he could have stayed lower until he was passed me. Especially since he was a low wing and should be able to see me as long as he is below me.

Here I am approaching Pahokee Airport. It is right on the edge of the lake.

The rest of the way was uneventful, and North County was hardly busy at all, especially compared to yesterday. I came in for a landing and did my worst landing of the day. I dropped down pretty hard, but nothing broke and I didn't bounce back up, so it wasn't that bad. I taxiied back and shut down the plane. I collected my stuff from the plane and tied it down.

As I was packing my stuff up, the fuel truck pulled up and filled the plane. At first, I was a little annoyed, since I wanted to see how good my fuel plan was. Then I realized I could just look at the meter on the truck. It took 17.1 gallons to fill it up. There are 24.5 usable gallons in the fuel tank, so that means I had 7.4 gallons left. That would be about 74 minutes of fuel left. Plenty. I had estimated I would have about 8 gallons left, so I was pretty close. Good.

On the way back into the office, Joe the instructor and another student came walking out to meet me. I apologized for being late, and they took it pretty well. When I got to the office, Mike was there so I went over the flight with him. My main question to him was about the flight following. I told him I might need more instruction in that since I couldn't get it to work. He said that I did it right, it is just a crap shoot if you get it at all. I still want to find out exactly what frequencies are what for Miami center so it isn't so confusing. Or maybe that is just how it is.

As I was talking to Mike, I realized that my A/FD (Airport/Facility Directory) had expired on October 25. I thought they were on the same schedule as the charts, which are good for six months at a time. I did my last two cross countries with an expired A/FD! Whoops. So I bought another one, they are only $4.50. This one expires December 20th.

Well, I have completed all of my requirements for the private license, except for an additional 0.6 hour of instrument flight. I'll probably get that next weekend. This flight also completes my required ten hours of solo flight. Now I am in full blown checkride prep. Everything from here on out is to get me ready for the oral and practical tests. I should be done before the end of the year (I hope).

Last night I was reading one of the flying forums online where people were making Google maps of where they had flown. I have now gone to a decent number of airports so I thought I would make on of my own. Instead of linking to a map on another web site, I knew it was possible to embed a custom Google map into a web page. I spent this evening figuring out how to do it. I think it came out great. You can hover your mouse over the marker to see the name of the airport. Drag you mouse to move the map. You can also zoom in and out with the controls in the upper left. This came out so good, I think I will add a new page on my website to keep track of the airports I have been to (but not right away). Here it is:

My next lesson is Thursday night, where Mike and I will go over the questions I missed on the written exam and do a little prep for the oral exam. 

11/16/07 Oral Exam Prep
2.5 hours today (Ground)
50.9 hours total (38.8 Dual, 12.1 Solo)

I couldn't make Thursday night's lesson because I had to work late, so I rescheduled it for tonight. We originally set the time for 6:30 tonight, but Mike called and asked if he could move it to 7:30. That wasn't a problem, since tonight's lesson is only ground school. You'll notice above that I didn't add the ground school hours in, since only the flying hours really count (but there is a certain amount of ground required).

When I arrived at the airport, Mike asked if I had eaten dinner yet. I hadn't so he suggested we go do the ground lesson in a restaurant, since he was hungry. That sounded like a good idea, so we went. Once we sat down in the restaurant, Mike said he left his wallet at home today, and if I bought dinner for him, he wouldn't charge me for the ground lesson. Hmmm. I agreed, since I was going to pay for his dinner anyway. I wasn't sure if he was trying to put one over on me, or he just forgot to mention that before we left the airport. Oh well, as it turned out it saved me money, anyway.

Tonights lesson was to review what I missed on the written test and to start preparing for the oral exam part of the checkride. First, we reviewed what I missed on the written exam. Unfortunately, it has been a month (I think), since I took it, and I couldn't remember what each question was that I missed. Instead, we just went over some of the types of questions that were in those sections. That is all the examiner will do, anyway.

Then Mike pulled out the "gouge" for the examiner. I don't know if this is aviation slang or a generic term I have never heard before, but apparently a "gouge" is a cheat-sheet. So this "gouge" came from many students relating to the school what the examiner asked. So it gave you a pretty good idea of the stuff you should study. We worked our way through the questions while we ate.

Near the end of the lesson, as we were reviewing some of the questions, the couple sitting at the next table answered one of Mike's questions! As it turned out, the husband was a pilot and the wife was taking lessons. That was a funny coincidence! We had a short conversation with them on where everyone was in their training before we wrapped it up for the night.

Before we left, Mike and I reviewed the flight plan for tomorrow's "special" flight. My next "lesson" is tomorrow afternoon.

11/17/07 John Buys a Plane
2.0 hours today (Dual)
52.9 hours total (40.8 Dual, 12.1 Solo)

Yes, that's right. I bought an airplane. I have actually been planning for this for the last several months, but finally got it done today. I bought a 1981 Cessna 152. This is the same model of plane I have been training in, except this one is a few years newer than 41H. Not only did I buy the plane, but I will be putting it on the line at the flight school for other students/pilots to rent.

Why did I buy a plane to rent to other "student" pilots? This is a question you see quite frequently online. Generally, rental planes are seen as a bad deal in the aviation world. But I believe if you approach it from the proper perspective, it can make sense. First, you need to buy a plane others will want to rent, not one you would like to own. There is a difference, since renters are looking for different things than owners. Someone who is not taking the renter's needs into account will not rent the plane enough to make it wortk while. Those are also the people who are upset when a renter messes up "their" plane.

Those are some of the reasons why I bought a Cessna 152. It is not the fastest plane available. But it is relatively inexpensive, and fairly robust. Those are things that make it a good rental. I have been renting a 152 for flying lessons because it is the cheapest plane to rent. Up until now, it was the only 152 available, so it was constantly booked. This makes it difficult to schedule, and force many students into the 172, since there are more available and therefore more likely to be available.

So, being one of those people who constantly have to either plan ahead, or wait for the plane to become available, I saw a market opportunity. If it rents a lot, the advantages for me are basically free flying (from the profits). I will still have to schedule to use it, but if I didn't own the plane, I would be renting a 152 and still having to schedule it. Plus, as the owner, I don't have daily minimums for renting it, making it much less expensive.

Enough background, here is what I did today. Since I had only been up once in this plane for a ride before (and because I don't have my pilots license yet), I wanted to bring Mike with me in case there were any issues. He had a lesson from 7-9 in the morning, so we could leave after that.

The second issue was how to get to the plane. Luckily, it was at Orlando Executive Airport, so it really wasn't that far away. I looked into having someone fly us up there, but it would turn out to be very expensive, since I would have to rent a plane and a pilot roundtrip to drop us off. Plus, I would be paying for Mike's time. I mentioned this problem to someone I work with, and he happened to be driving to Georgia for the beginning of his vacation. He had a couple extra seats, and agreed to drop us off in Orlando on his way.

Mike and I met Jim (the guy from work) and his wife at 9:20 by the Turnpike. After an uneventful 2-1/2 hour drive, we arrive at Orlando Executive at noon. We met the seller and Mike and I looked over the logbooks and made sure all the paperwork was in order. Then we talked with the seller for a while. He was a nice guy, although he travels for work quite a bit, which slowed down the buying process a little. Anyway, he is planning on buying a bigger plane next year. We spent more time hanging out with him than I thought we would, so we weren't ready to leave until after 1 pm.

Before leaving, I checked how much gas was in the tanks, and the seller unfortunately did not fill them for us. I thought the gas at North County was expensive until I saw the price at ORL. It was $5.88/gal! Of course now, as a airplane owner, I had to pay the fuel bill. I decided to only put 10 gallons in, which would give us about 20 gallons total in the tanks. As I was paying for the gas at the FBO, the girl behind the counter asked if I wanted to use the credit card already on file. I thought about it for a second, but decided to just pay for it myself instead of making the seller pay for it. I'm such a nice guy!

Before we left, I had Mike take a picture of me with my new plane:

Me with my new plane, N6298M.

Then we called up ground control and taxiied to the runup area. Orlando Executive is a pretty busy airport, so we had to wait about five minutes before we were given clearance to take off. Orlando is a very busy airspace, so we flew east until we were out from under the lower shelf of teh Class B airspace. Then we turned south and headed for home.

The plane is equipped with an RNAV radio, which neither Mike nor myself had ever used before. Last night I found the owners manual online and printed it out. While I flew the plane, Mike figured out how to use it. It is pretty simple, you just tune in a VOR antenna, and set the direction and distance from the VOR of the point you want to get to. Then it gives you a heading to fly on the VOR display, and the RNAV display tells you your groundspeed and ETA to the point. It worked really well, and brought us directly over North County at the end of the trip. It is basically what pwople did before GPS. The only real difference between the non-graphical GPS in 41H and the RNAV in 98M, is that you can set the GPS to your destination at any time. Since VORs can only reach out 40 miles, you have to update the RNAV along the way. Other than that, they both do the same thing.

We arrived at North County around 3pm, and I pulled it up on the ramp next to 41H so we could compare them. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon showing it to everyone who wanted to look at it.

Even though it is not a new plane, it is in pretty good shape. There are a few things that need to be fixed before I want to start renting it out. Since next week is Thanksgiving week, I won't be able to get much done on it. So it looks like I will be able to put it on line the last week of the month. In the meantime, there is no reason I can't fly it. So my next lesson, tomorrow, we will use my plane. Neat-o!

11/18/07 The Rest of the Maneuvers
1.4 hours today (Dual)
54.3 hours total (42.2 Dual, 12.1 Solo)

Today's lesson would be with Mike practicing the rest of the maneuvers we didn't get to last weekend. This would also be my first lesson in my new plane. I was a little nervous about that, since I wasn't sure if it would fly differently that 41H did. Logically, I didn't think it would, since all airplanes of a certain model are supposed to be built the same. But, this plane is 27 years old, and who knows what has been done to it over the years.

I went out and did a more than normal pre-flight on 98M. Everything looked good, so we got in and started it up. It started right up and the engine ran good. We taxiied out to runway 8R for takeoff. We had to wait on a couple planes to land before we could get on the runway. This takeoff was to be a soft field takeoff, so I didn't stop as I rolled out on the runway, and I pulled back on the yoke to keep the nosewheel off the ground. As we lifted off, I had to push on the elevator to keep it from climbing too fast. You are supposed to stay in ground effect until you have built up enough speed, but it is harder to do than it sounds, since the plane is trimmed to climb.

We headed out to the practice area. This plane doesn't seem to cruise as fast as the other one, but some of that may be because I am throttling back a little. Supposedly, there is an rpm band where you shouldn't run the prop. No one could remember what that was, so I was being conservative. It also may be a slower prop in cruise than the one on 41H. I'm not sure about that and will have to find out.

Once we got to the practice area, we climbed up to 2000 feet. First on the agenda was slow flight. Normally, I do this with full flaps. But since the flap motor was inop, I had to do it "clean". I wasn't sure how that was done, and Mike told me it is done the same way as with the flaps. I pulled the throttle and held my altitude until I started descending. Then I added more power back in. The stall horn is a little more sensitive on this plane than the one on 41H. This one started sounding off around 45 knots. The other plane didn't sound until around 40 knots. That was a little un-nerving, since I didn't know if that was just how it worked, or if it was going to stall sooner. Mike wasn't concerned about it at all.

We flew around a little in slow flight. I was having trouble keeping my altitude constant. It really took a lot of back pressure to maintain the correct angle of attack. I pulled on the trim wheel a little, and that seemed really stiff also. I need to have that looked at, because the controls should move more freely than that (in my opinion).

Then we went into stalls, both power on and power off. The last time I did stalls was over a month ago, so I was a little apprehensive about them. First up were the power off stalls, since we were already going slow. I pulled up and at first had a hard time getting it all the way to the stall. Finally, Mike demonstrated one so I could watch what happened. Of course, there was nothing to it. I don't know why I have trouble with them. It is all mental, of course, although it didn't help that I had to pull back so hard on the yoke.

Then I did one, and recovered without a problem. Mike had me do three more until I was completely comfortable with them again. Then we did the power on stalls. I think we did three or four of them, also. By the end, I was fine with them again. I just need to remember to just haul back on the yoke and stall the plane. I have a tendency to ease up to the stall, and it is better just to do it.

Next we did steep turns. I kind of like them, and the last time we did them in the daylight, I was pretty good at them. But not today. I really am out of practice on all this stuff. We did a couple in both directions, and then Mike did one. I did a couple more and then they were starting to get better. I am definitely going to have to come out here on my own and practice all this stuff.

Then we headed back to the airport to do a little landing practice. Both Mike and I have noticed that my landings have gotten a little worse over the last month or so. We figured out that I am starting to round out a little too high. I think I have been creeping higher on all my landings, until I am just a little too high for a smooth landing. Of course, right now all these landings are no flap landings, and those are a little harder to get smooth since you land at a little higher speed.

My first landing was OK, but only because Mike kept telling me to wait before pulling up. We went around and on the second landing I was a little high, but heard an odd noise as we rolled out after the landing. I asked Mike what he thought about it. He thought it might have just been tire noise since we were landing faster than normal. It also could have just been the intercom got quiet at the same time and I could hear the tires better. In any case, we decided just to head back to the ramp to check it out. When we parked the plane, everything looked fine, so it probably is just me getting used to a different plane.

The intercom on the plane is really bad. It creates some sort of static whenever someone talks, and the squelch is odd in the way it works. It didn't help that Mike lost his mike muff, so any wind noise from his microphone was picked up. I knew about this before I bought the plane, and it will be replaced before I start renting it, but this just confirmed it.

After we got back, we talked a little about what I needed to work on. Mike gave me a couple sheets that listed the sequence of actions for each maneuver so I could review them before each maneuver. I need to get to the point where I can just do each item, without consulting a checklist. They all have to be within spec also, of course.

I asked Mike how many more hours of instruction before I would be ready for the checkride, and he said five or six. So I really am getting down to the end. My next flight will be solo, because I really have to work out the kinks on my own. I was hoping to be done before the end of the year, but I don't realistically think that is going to happen now. Six hours of instruction is three weeks, since I am only flying on Saturday and Sunday now. This weekend is Thanksgiving, so I probably won't fly at all. Then there are three weekends before Christmas, so I will probably get close to the end by them. But I am going away for the week of Christmas, so it will be around New Years before I can schedule my check ride. I don't want to do it right after I get back, so it will probably be in the middle of January. We'll see what happens in December.

After the lesson, I saw Carol, one of the owners of the flight school. She said Joe, the other owner, was behind her and would be here in a few minutes. He was coming to "swing the compass" on my plane. I decided to stay and see how that worked. Well, a few minutes became an hour before he showed. Then he chatted with a couple other people in the flight school. So he didn't get to it until several hours after my lesson. I really wasn't in any hurry, and I didn't want to push him. Finally, he was ready and got Joel, one of the people that works behind the desk to help him with it.

What they needed to do was come up with a compass correction card. The FAA requires a magnetic compass in the plane, and since there are radios and other electronics, sometimes they create a magnetic field that affects the magnetic compass. The correction card just tells the pilot what the true direction is based on the reading. To check it, you turn the plane to north, south, east, and west. At each point, you compare it to a "master compass" held outside the plane. Then you adjust the compass to correct the errors as best you can. Finally, you turn the plane in 30 degree increments and write down how much the compass is off at each point. Initially, the compass was off by quite a bit. But once it was adjusted, it was off no more than one degree at any heading. None of the instruments in the plane are accurate enough to fly off one degree, so in all practicality, the compass is correct.

After that was done, Joe and I made two lists. One was what he was going to do, and the other was what I was going to do. Well, Joe isn't actually gong to do much of it, but he will make sure it gets done. I, on the other hand, am doing everything on my list. The two big things on my list is to replace the carpet and wash and wax the plane. Joe's list is to schedule the pitot/static/transponder test (needs to be done every two years and is due), order a new ELT battery, get the flap motor replaced, and install the new intercom. Since Thanksgiving is this week, most of that won't happen until next week. That's OK, since I don't expect the carpet to be here until next week anyway.

Before I left the airport, I took a few more beauty shots of the plane. Here they are for your enjoyment.

The instrument panel. You can also see the ugly carpet.

I'm not sure when my next flight will be, but it will be no later than December 1. Stay tuned.