8/05/07 More Landing Practice
1.5 hours today / 17.3 hours total

My lessons scheduled for Tuesday and Friday evenings both got rained out this week. So this morning was my first time up since my last lesson.

I arrived before Mike, so I went out and preflighted the plane. Mike showed up and it looked like the winds were coming down Two Six Left. I was a little rusty with all of the run-up procedures, but I got through that OK. Then we were up and into the pattern. It wasn't too busy at the airport this morning, but there were a couple other planes doing touch and goes also.

We went around and I set up for the first landing. It was OK, but I had a little trouble with the flare. Trying to judge how much and how quickly to pull the yoke back is challenging. Mike says that it really is a "feel" thing, and it only comes from experience. I just need to keep practicing until I have developed the correct feel.

As we practiced landings, it was getting more and more difficult to keep the plane lined up with the runway. Apparently, the wind was starting to shift. We still did a couple more landings on Two Six Left so I could get a little practice with crosswind landings. Those are a little harder to do, and mine were not great, but I did keep the plane on the runway. After a couple of those, we shifted over to runway Three One, which was more or less directly into the wind.

We did a couple of more practice landings on Three One, and that was the end of the lesson. We did landings for and hour and a half, and that takes a lot of concentration. I was pretty whipped at the end of the lesson. Mike says that my landings are getting better, I just need to perfect the flare a little more, but I am aligned with the runway a lot better than the last time we went out.

Since I missed two lessons in a row, I was behind the curve in the appointment book. If I keep scheduling lessons two weeks in advance, I can pretty much pick when I want to go. If I don't stay two weeks ahead, I have to take whatever is left. This week was pretty booked. In fact, I couldn't find any evenings when both the plane and Mike were available. Mike has been asking me if I want to try flying in the morning, since there is less chance of being rained out, and the air is smoother. I told him that I figured it would take about a half hour to get to work from the airport, and I had to be at work at 8am. That means a lesson starting around 6am!

Since everything was booked in the evenings, I signed up for a 6am lesson Tuesday morning. We'll see if I can get up and out there early enough, and if I am awake enough to be productive. If  it goes OK, I may take another lesson this week early in the morning. If not, then I have already signed up for lessons the next two weeks, so it will just be another light week.

Also, I found out that the flight school is raising their prices next month. The plane I am renting is going up $3/hour and instructor time is going up $5/hr. So it will cost me an additional $8/hr starting next month.

I finished reading the Machado text book, and am continuing to watch the rest of the videos. I have started taking some practice questions, and I think I could barely pass the test if I were to take it today. That's good, but trying to figure out what areas I don't understand and study them a little more. I don't really need to worry about the written test for another month or so, but I am trying to slowly study so I am ready when the time comes.

8/07/07 Back to the Practice Area
0.9 hours today / 18.2 hours total

This morning was my experiment with having an early lesson. There are several advantages with this. First, the weather is almost always good. Second, there are fewer planes in the air at that time. Third, the 152 is almost always available at that time. The main disadvantage is that I don't like to get up early in the morning.

My alarm clock went off at 5am, and surprisingly I didn't have much trouble getting up. Of course, that may have been because my dog decided that 5am was a good time to go outside. In any case, I made it out to the airport only five minutes late, at 6:05 am.

It was still dark when I got to the airport (sunrise isn't until 6:48 am today). However, the ramp was reasonably well lit, and I could do the preflight with the help of a flashlight. Once we got out to the end of the runway, it was light enough to see.

Today, Mike decided we should go back out to the practice area, since it has been about three weeks since I was out there. Once we took off, I headed west to the practice area. There was a little ground fog, but visibility was still good enough for VFR flight (only 5 miles required).

Once we were out to the practice area, we did slow flight, a power off stall, a power on stall, and steep turns. Slow flight was good, but I had forgotten how to do steep turns. I had a little trouble maintaining altitude during the steep turns.

The stalls were good. I am starting to become more comfortable around them. The only part that still gets me nervous is the buildup to the stall. It takes a couple of minutes of pulling back on the yoke to get the stall to break, and waiting for the stall is more nerve-wracking than the actual stall itself. I still need to do some more of those before I am totally comfortable with them. I was pleased that I was able to quickly recover from them, though. This time, I had recovered from the stall before I was looking at the ground. Previously, I was waiting to recover until the plane was pointed down (it really wasn't pointed directly at the ground, it just felt like it).

Then we headed back to the airport, and I did three landings. I'm not having any more trouble aligning the plane with the runway (or at least Mike isn't saying anything about it). Now, I am working on perfecting the flare. They weren't great today, but it is getting better.

After the lesson, I was talking to Mike about the landings, and I realized something about how Mike lands the plane. He does one smooth motion from the approach, to the level off over the runway, to the flare. I, on the other hand, break it into three separate stages. I approach the runway, then I level off over the runway, and then I start the flare. In the end, I should be doing it like Mike does, but leveling off over the runway helps me establish the proper height over the runway, before I flare.

I think one of the problems I have been having, is that Mike is trying to rush me into the flare (because that is the way he does it). At the next lesson, I am going to tell Mike what I am doing, so he lets me start the flare when I am ready. There is plenty of time, it is just that I will take up more runway landing. But that is OK, since the runway is plenty long. I can work on shortening the sections of the landing once I master all the individual parts. Mike may have figured this out today, too, during our conversation.

Anyway, the morning lesson was a success, so I scheduled another one for Friday morning.

8/10/07 Practice Pays Out
0.8 hours today / 19.0 hours total

My deposits into the landing practice bank are finally beginning to pay out. I met Mike out at the airport at 6am this morning. Actually, I was there at 6am and he was there at 6:15am. He asked me what I wanted to work on today, and I said, "landings".

I brought a flashlight with me today so that I could pre-flight the plane. The gas was a little low, so I had to wake the fuel truck driver to gas me up. After all of that, it was about 6:40 before we could head to the runway. The winds were calm, so I selected 8R. That runway has a heading of 80 degrees. Due East is a 90 degree heading (keep that in mind for later).

Since we were running a little late, we did a "rolling runup". Basically, you do the runup while you are taxiing to the end of the runway. I don't think that is an FAA approved procedure. Oh well, it got us in the air sooner.

The first time around, everything went well. The landing was pretty good, if I do say so myself. By now it was probably 6:47am. Sunrise is at 6:49am (keep that in mind for later).

The second time around, it was probably around 6:50am when I turned from Base to Final. Now, if you remember everything I just told you, you should realize that I was now staring into the sun as I tried to land! The landing was OK, but it was really hard to see looking directly into the sun like that!

Once we got back in the air, we decided to change to runway 31 to avoid burning our retinas. The crosswind leg for 8R is basically the downwind for 31, so I got to do a really quick pattern there. I also learned a few more techniques is maximizing landing practice today. We could get away with most of this since we were the only plane in the pattern today. First, we would turn crosswind at 400 feet instead of 600, like normal. Next, we kept the pattern really tight to the runway to limit the amount of flying around. This allowed us to get 6 landings in only 0.8 of an hour. Mike said the only way to get more in would be to take off from one runway, and land on the next runway (instead of circling around to land on the same runway again). We didn't try that, but it probably would have worked since there wasn't any wind this morning.

Anyway, my landings are really starting to come together. I won't say I have mastered them yet, but I was surprised at how well I did today. I only have two small problems to fix, and then my landings will be as good as they get. The first, is I had a tendency to start the flare about two seconds too early. As you level off over the runway, you need to hold your angle of attack until the air speed bleeds down enough to start the plane sinking towards the ground. Then you start to flare to maintain your height above the runway. This bleeds of the maximum amount of speed, and produces the softest touchdown.

The second problem is the end of the flare. I had a tendency today to not "follow through" on the flare. I get to a point where I think, "that's good enough", and stop pulling back on the yoke. That is when the plane drops the final distance to the runway. If I keep pulling back a little more, I can get the last little bit of energy out of the plane and that should produce a really soft landing (known as a "greaser").

Don't get me wrong, these are really small problems. All of my landings today were consistently good, and my best so far. No hard landings or bounces. I am really, really close to getting this down. It feels good! I read and article online today about learning to land, where the author compared it to learning how to ride a bike. They both involve training your muscles to react automatically to the conditions. On a bike, if you have to think about each muscle that has to move to keep you balance, you are going to fall. It is the same thing when you land. You need to train your body to make all of the small correction automatically, so you can concentrate on getting the plane on the ground. I am finally starting to get to that point.

After the flight, Mike mentioned the "S" word again (solo). I haven't heard that in a couple weeks. The plan now, for the next two lessons, is to spend half of the lesson in the practice area, and half practicing landing. Then anytime after that could be a solo. At my next lesson, Mike wants to start going over the pre-solo test (that's a good sign). He also said that he would like to solo me on a day like today (no traffic and no wind).

I can't fly this weekend, so my next lesson is Monday evening, weather permitting. 

8/18/07 Maneuvers and a Few Landings
1.9 hours today / 20.9 hours total

Monday's lesson was rained out, and I had a conflict with my Wednesday lesson so I had to cancel that one. Today was my next scheduled lesson.

Today we went out to the practice area to practice some of the maneuvers we haven't done in a while. Because I have spent so much time practicing landing, I haven't done much practicing of the maneuvers. Mike had another student before me, so we were a little late getting started. That was OK because someone had cancelled after me, giving us a few more hours leeway before the plane had to be back.

When we took off, the pattern was empty, so we decided to do one touch and go before heading out to the practice area. That landing was probably my best so far. The touch down was very gentle and I was lined up with the runway. I started to flare a little early, but Mike said something, and everything else worked out. That was nice.

Then we headed to the practice area, where we did just about every maneuver required for the practical test. We did some stalls in a bank (which was new to me), regular power on stalls, turns around a point, s-turns scross a road, steep turns, and an engine out drill. That, of course, is in addition to the basic four (turns, straight and level, climbs, and decents). We spent close to an hour out there doing these things.

Then we went back to the airport to do a few practice landings. The rest of my landings were not as good as my first one. The wind was a little gusty today, and the turbulance was starting to build. The combination of these two things made it difficult for me have a stable approach, and I had to make corrections all the way to the runway. One of the three landings I would call OK, one was bad, and the other one was somewhere in between. I also think some of the problem was I was getting tired from concentrating for almost two hours of training. I would really like to master these landings!

The rest of my flying was pretty good. Mike seemed pretty relaxed while we were flying (more than me). I still need to get comfortable with the stalls, but they are getting better.

There is a new development in my crazy mind. I have had to cancel flights because of bad weather or other conflicts several times over the last couple of weeks. What makes these bad, is that I can't just re-schedule for another flight right away because the plane I use is booked up all the time. Many times I have to wait two weeks to fit in a missed lesson. The reason for this is because the flight school only has one Cessna 152 available. They have six Cessna 172s available, but those are $20 or more per hour. So, if you are trying to contain costs (like I am), you really only have one plane available. If it is booked or down for maintenance, you just can't fly. What they really need is another 152. That is where my crazy mind comes in.

Most of the planes at the flight school are leases (sometimes referred to as "Leasebacks", but that is technically not what they do). Private owners of the airplanes lease them back to the flight school so that the school can rent them out to students or regular renters. This is a potential way to cover certain costs of owning a plane, with the downside being it is a rental. Most people will tell you to run away from a leaseback, but that only applies if you are trying to lease your private plane to offset some of the costs. On the other hand, if you buy a plane for the specific purpose of renting it out, it is possible to make a little money at it.

With all of this said, I am seriously thinking about buying a plane to lease back to the school for rentals. I spent about two hours after my lesson today talking with the owner of the flight school about this possibility. She shared with me all of the costs of the 152 I am flying now (which is owned by the flight school), and I have put it into a spreadsheet, and it can work out in my favor. I wouldn't call it a money maker, but the main advantage of it it means I only have to pay gas to use a plane I own. This will significantly reduce the cost of learning to fly. Once the loan for the plane is paid for, and I am done with training, then it really starts to make money. I am still in the early stages of investigating this, but it is looking promising. I still need to talk to a couple of professionals, so we will see if it still makes sense. By the way, the owners of the school know of a 152 that is available right now that would work well as a rental. More on this later.

My next lesson is scheduled for tomorrow morning. 

8/19/07 Apparently, I can land this thing
1.1 hours today / 22.0 hours total

My last lesson was yesterday morning, so if you missed it, look on page three above. If you missed this one when it was posted then you have already read yesterday's entry.

OK, after yesterday's dismal landings, today was more landing practice. Just as we were getting ready to start the engine on the plane, Mike looked at the flaps and thought they didn't look right. So we shut down the plane and looked at them. They were still firmly attached, but they had some play in them. I thought they looked normal, but I wasn't sure, since those are the only flaps I have seen. We then went to some of the other planes and looked at their flaps. My plane's flaps were a little looser than the others, but not by much. Everything looked good, so off we went.

My lesson today was at 8am, so I was hoping to not have the turbulence problems I had yesterday. There wasn't much turbulence, but it was the windiest I have flown in. The winds were 10 knots, gusting to 15 knots. The wind wasn't the problem so much as the gusts. They could really toss around that little airplane. Oh, and there was a slight crosswind, also.

As I was waiting to take off, another student came in for a landing, and was being blown around pretty good. He looked like he was having trouble keeping the plane straight. That wasn't the landing I needed to see before I took off!

We rolled out onto the runway and took off. As we got off the ground, I could feel the gusts moving the plane. It was stronger than I had thought. The plane also seemed slow to climb, but that may have just been because the ground speed was slow because of the high headwind. In any case, I was a little un-nerved by the time we got around to the final approach.

The first landing was not so good, as I was struggling keeping the plane aligned the whole way down. The second landing was just as bad, and on the third, Mike had to take over at the end because my alignment was so bad.

As we took off after the third landing, I was not feeling like I would ever master this. However, I was finally acclimated to the wind and gusts, and was able to fly a decent pattern.  I also remembered something Mike told me about turbulence after yesterday's lesson. He told me that the turbulence and wind is a lot more consistent once you get into the ground effect over the runway. I had noticed that on the last couple of landings, so I tried something different this time around.

This time, I just tried to keep the plane close to aligned with the runway on the way down, but I didn't worry if it was not exactly correct. As long as I ended up over the runway, that was fine. Then, once I was in the ground effect, where everything is a little more stable, I brought the plane around to line up with the centerline, and started the roundout and flare. This landing was excellent! So, that was the key when the weather is not cooperating with a stable approach!

The next time around I did the same thing, and had another good landing. And the next four in a row were good! In fact, after the first three bad ones, all the rest were good. One of my landings was even a great one! I wouldn't go as far as calling it a greaser, but it was gentle and slow, and in control. Yes!

The only real problem I was having today was the angle of my descent on final. It was somewhat inconsistent, I think, because of the strong headwind. The angle of the descent is different with a strong headwind because your ground speed is so slow. It took a while to really figure out what I needed to do about that, and I'm not sure I really have it, although we made it to the runway every time. I did learn how to do a slip today, which was something new. That is when you put opposite aileron and rudder in to lose a lot of altitude quickly.

My only small concern left with my landings, is that Mike was telling me when to start the roundout every time today. I think I know when to do it, but I am concerned that I am waiting until he says something before I start it. I told him this after the landing, so next time we can see if that is true or not. I'm not saying it wasn't helpful, but I may be too dependant on it now.

One thing I can say, though, is that the flare is no longer a problem. I really had that down today. Other than the timing of the roundout, everything else went really well today. And let me also say that even my bad landings today were better than my bad ones a month ago, so I am improving, albeit slower than I would like. I would almost go as far as saying my bad landings today were better than my good landings a month ago.

On my next lesson, we are going to do all of the "special case" landings and take offs. This includes soft field take offs and landings, and short field take offs and landings. Mike said after the next lesson, the solo could come at any time. So maybe, just maybe, it might happen this week. That is assuming that I don't backslide with my landings this week.

My next lesson is scheduled for tomorrow after work. 

8/20/07 Short Field Landings
1.4 hours today / 23.4 hours total

Mike told me to read up on Short Field landings before tonight's lesson. I read about them, but couldn't figure what was so different about them from normal landings. The only thing the book really talked about was that short field landings take place on (wait for it) short fields! Oh, it talked about getting stopped as quick as possible and setting up the correct approach, but it never really said what made them different.

When I got to my lesson, Mike and I talked about what we were going to do tonight, and I mentioned that the short field landings sounded like regular landings. He said they really are the same as a regular landing, but with one big distinction. You had to pick a spot on the runway and land on it (within +200 feet/ -0 feet). Ah ha! They should call them Spot Landings instead. He also told me that the trick was to pick the correct point to start the roundout, since everything after that was exactly the same as a regular landing.

I also learned that the markings on the runway are highly regulated. I'm not talking only about what is painted on them (numbers, etc.), but the dimensions of the lines and physically where they are located on the runway. You can use these markings to determine your roundout point that determines your landing point. Basically, you want to roundout three lines before the place you want to land. Sounds simple enough (yeah, right).

We went out to the plane and did a short field takeoff. I have done these before, and they are pretty easy. As we were climbing out Mike asked me what I wanted to try first. I decided why not go for the short field landing. I aimed for the correct line, did my roundout, and actually touched down in the landing zone! Beginner's luck, since I didn't have very many more in the zone tonight. The next one wasn't so good, so Mike did one so I could watch, and then I did another. It definitely makes landings more difficult when you are trying to hit a certain spot. The more I concentrated on hitting the spot, the worse my landings got. Finally, Mike said that was enough of that and we were going to practice regular landings.

I still tried to hit the mark, but I didn't concern myself if I missed it. Not all my landings tonight were great, but there were still getting better. One time after a landing that was pretty hard, I mentioned that the landing was bad. Mike told me that it was a hard landing, but not a bad landing. The speed was low, the plane was pointed down the runway, was in control, and I didn't bounce. That made me feel better. We did about ten landings tonight.

After we were done flying, we reviewed the landings. Overall, Mike was pleased by them. He said there were more good ones than bad. I said, "Well, they were better than my landings a month ago!" He said, "They were better than your landings two weeks ago!". I could do better, but now I know what needs to be done. And truthfully, we are really just fine tuning the landings now.

The problems are not major, and were usually from me not paying attention to something or focusing too much on another aspect of the landing. Landings really are a multi-tasking event (as is much of flying). As soon as you start focusing on one aspect, all of the others start to go out of bounds. You really have to pay attention to everything at the same time. Flying folks call it "Division of Attention," and it really is the main skill that has to be mastered to learn to fly, along with learning which things you should be paying attention to at each part of the flight. Very interesting, and a skill set not needed (or not needed to this degree) when operating any other vehicle I have driven.

Talk is starting to turn to what we need to do after I solo. Mike says that there really isn't much left once a solo. Basically, my cross country flights and night flying. All of the stuff I am am looking forward to.

We also talked about the solo schedule. My next lesson is Wednesday night after work. Assuming it doesn't rain, the first thing we will do is go over my pre-solo exam (which I have had done for about two weeks now), and then more landing practice. If that goes well, we will schedule the solo for the next lesson. Mike wants to do it as an early morning lesson, like we had a few weeks ago. At that early in the morning, the weather is better, turbulence is lower, and more importantly, nobody else is in the traffic pattern (or at the airport, for that matter). That is about as low stress environment as you can have for a solo. Right now, we are shooting for either Thursday or Friday morning. Mike has a potential conflict on Thursday morning. Friday morning may be better anyway, since then I won't be flying in the evening, and then have to get up early the next morning. Of course, if it rains on Wednesday, than that whole schedule is shot.

In other news, I am still investigating buying a rental plane for the flight school. So far, the numbers are working out, although the profit is a lot lower than I thought once I plugged in realistic numbers. But, it still makes money. I am waiting to talk to an accountant before I go any further with this. I am starting to casually look for a Cessna 152, though, so if you know anyone who has a nice IFR one for sale, let me know. 

8/22/07 Countdown to Solo
1.1 hours today / 24.5 hours total

The purpose of today's lesson was to see if Mike was comfortable enough for me to solo. It was also for more landing practice.

When I arrived, Mike said we should go fly first, and then review the Pre-Solo Written Test. I had it all completed about three weeks ago, and was just carrying it around until he was ready to go over it. It is a "take home" test, so I should have most of the correct answers.

It had rained off and on today, so Mike wanted me to check the weather before we went out. While I was doing that, he started looking at my test answers. Then he pointed out a few answers that were incomplete, so I made the corrections. Next thing I knew, we were reviewing the entire test. Mike said that usually they aren't as complete as mine was, so it takes longer to review. We spent about a half hour going over the answers. I made changes wherever Mike didn't like my answers. In the end, he gave me 100% on it (everyone gets 100% on this exam).

The weather looked good, so I we went flying. After the pre-flight, I started taxiing out to the runway. There was another plane ahead of us on the taxi way. We followed behind to the run up area, and did our run up. Just as I was finishing my run up, another student plane was taxiing back from a landing to take off again. The plane that was ahead of us was waiting for a clearance or something, so we got ahead of him, and behind the other student.

As I got in line, I noticed there was a Pitts doing touch and goes. That is a small, aerobatic plane. It was cool watching it take off, since it basically went straight up off the end of the runway. It could fly the pattern in about two minutes. It was fast. Eventually, it saw the traffic waiting and left the area. Between it's touch and goes, the plane ahead of me took off. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled out and took off.

Once I was in the air, all of a sudden the airspace got really crowded. As I was flying the downwind leg, the other student was turning to final. Then another plane called a straight in final, so I extended my downwind leg a little to let it get ahead of me. Just as I was getting ready to turn in behind it, I saw another plane right behind him coming in on a straight final also. So I extended my downwind leg some more. Finally, I turned to base and final. But now, I was probably two miles from the runway. This kind of screwed my up because I had to maintain my altitude until I was closer to the runway, and my "process" was messed up. Needless to say, my landing was not great. By the way, the plane that was in front of me when we taxiied out was still waiting to take off. They finally took off after I got back in the air.

After that, the planes started to thin out, so I could fly a normal pattern. The second landing was not so great either. As I was abeam of the numbers for my third landing, Mike says, "let me have the controls for a second." Then he grabs the throttle and pulls it all the way out (idling the engine). He then says, "You're engine died, land the plane." Yikes!

I pitched the plane for the best glide speed, and started to get ready to land. I turned base. As I turned base, I was sure I turned to early and would not be able to get back down to the runway. I said as much, and Mike told me to keep trying. I got around on final, put out the flaps, and made a pretty good landing! I was amazed I did it. I think Mike was a little too, since he was planning on making me practice a go around when I was short of the runway. But I was doing so good, he wanted to see if I could make it.

That must have boosted my confidence, because the rest of the landings were pretty good. Before one of the landings, we had this conversation:

Mike: I want you to land on the numbers.
Me: You want me to put the wheels on the numbers?
Mike: Yes
Me: That means I have to aim at the grass before the runway.
Mike: Yes.
Me: That means I have to estimate how far ahead of the runway I need to start the round out?
Mike: Yes.
Me: OK.

So, I aimed for a spot on the grass ahead of the runway, and tried to put the wheels on the numbers. I missed it that time, but the next time around I got it. Excellent.

At about 8 o'clock, Mike tells me the time and says he has nothing after me, so do as many more landings as I want. I think to myself, if this one is good, I'll do another. It was good, so we went around and I did one more. That was probably the best one of the night, so I called it quits.

We did tweak my flare a little tonight. When Mike lands, he pulls the nose up real high. When I do that, I can't see out the front window anymore and I have to hope I am still straight. I think Mike is looking out the side window or something. Anyway, when I do that, my landings are not as good as when I keep the flare low enough to see the end of the runway. So now, that is what I do. I think it extends the landings a little, but I am much more consistant that way.

Mike did not touch the controls the entire lesson. I did every landing myself. I must have done good enough, because after the lesson, we looked on the schedule for a good time for my solo. Mike wanted to do it tomorrow morning, but the weathermen were saying a tropical wave was coming over us tonight and it would rain all day tomorrow. Friday morning the plane was already booked, so I signed up for Saturday at 6am. Mike wants to do it then because there is no other planes flying and the weather is calm. I have a lesson scheduled for 10am Saturday, and I am keeping that in case there is a problem at 6 in the morning.

I asked him what we would do. He said we would do three landings and a go around together. Then he would get out and I would do three landings on my own. That's it. It shouldn't take more than an hour.

Wish me luck, I'll let you know how it goes. 

8/25/07 SOLO!
1.3 hours today / 25.8 hours total
(25.3 Dual, 0.5 Solo)

First, let me say that the "tropical wave" all of the weathermen were predicting never came to be. They were forcasting two inches of rain on Thursday. We got nothing. So much for trying to be clever about scheduling lessons!

Today's lesson was at 6 a.m. This was for two reasons. First, the weather is better (the winds and turbulance are lower). Second, not many people fly that early in the morning, so the wouldn't be much traffic to contend with. Of course, going to a lesson this early meant getting up at 5 a.m.

Christina, who has shown little to no interest in my flying adventures, told me last night that she wanted to come out and see me fly my first solo. I was very happy to have her come out to the airport with me. It took a little coaxing to get her out of bed this morning, but she made it.

We arrived at the airport a few minutes late, and Mike was already there. I gave Christina a quick tour around the terminal, and Mike starting filling out my endorsements. The back of my medical gets an endorsement for the type of airplane I can fly, and my logbook gets two endorsements. One that says I have met all the requirements, and one that lists my flight limitations. My limitations are: ceiling greater than 2,000 feet, winds of 12 knots or less (with a crosswind 6 knots or less on the runway), and greater than 6 nautical miles of visibility. If the weather doesn't meet those limitations, I am not allowed to fly solo.

With that out of the way, I showed Christina to the porch where you can see the runways, and Mike and I went down to the plane. It was still dark, so I had to do the preflight with a flashlight (which I remembered to bring). The last person to use the plane yesterday filled it with gas, so we were ready to go. By the time we started the engine, it was light enough to fly. We taxiied to the end of runway Three One. That was the best runway for the winds (only 3 knots), but more importantly, it made sure I wasn't looking into the sun while I was landing. I haven't spent much time using that runway, so I didn't know all the landmarks on the ground  like I do for some of the others (especially 8R).

The plan for today, was to do three full stop landings (where you leave the runway and taxi back for the next takeoff), and one go around. It was important to practice the go arounds in case something went wrong when I was on final. After that, Mike would get out and I would be on my own.

The first takeoff went well. I don't have many problems with takeoffs. Then around the pattern and my first landing. I thought it was a little fast, but it was straight and in control (no bouncing, either). I pulled off the runway and taxiied back for another run. Off we went.

Mike said I could do my go around any time I wanted. I thought it would be best to have two landings right before I soloed, but I wanted to do one landing right away to make sure I didn't forget. That meant the second flight had to be a go around. When I was about halfway along the downwind leg, I noticed that I was at 1200 feet altitude. That is a little high, since the traffic pattern altitude is 1000 feet. That just means I have 200 more feet to lose if I am landing, but since this was a go around, I didn't care. I set up for a normal landing, and when I got to the end of the runway, I put the throttle in, slowly reduced the flaps, and went back up into the pattern. I might have been able to get the plane down low enough if I tried, but it didn't matter since I was doing a go around anyway.

The next landing was good. Straight down the runway and nice and slow. That was probably the best on of the day. After that, we pulled off the runway and taxiied back for the last time. I took off and flew the pattern. About halfway on the downwind leg, I started to get nervous. I knew, after this landing, that Mike was getting out of the plane and I would be on my own. When I brought the plane in for a landing, it was the worst one of the day. First, I did the roundout a little fast and the plane started to balloon up. Then, as I fixed that, I didn't notice that I was no longer straight with the runway. The plane touch the ground a little crooked. Mike asked me if I knew what I did wrong. I told him and he said he just wanted to make sure.

The I taxiied halfway back and Mike got out of the plane. This was it. I was on my own. There had been no other planes flying when I was up with Mike, but as soon as he gets out, two planes are coming out to take off. I was in front of both of them. No pressure!

I taxiied to the end of the runway, made my radio call, and lined the plane up with the center line. I looked at the clock, it was 7:25 a.m. Then I pushed the throttle in all the way. I waited until the plane hit 50 knots, rotated, and was in the air when it hit 55 knots. I waited for some speed to build, and pitched for 67 knots (best rate of climb speed). A lot of people who solo mention a big difference in the performance of the plane once the instructor gets out. I noticed some, but it wasn't like the plane was going twice as fast. It did accellerate better, so the takeoff was a little shorter. My rate of climb by myself was 600 feet per minute, it was 500 fpm with Mike on board. So better, but not by much.

I got up to 500 feet and made my crosswind turn. Usually, I wait until I get to 600 feet, but with two planes behind me ready to go, I wanted to get out the way as soon as I could. I turned to the downwind leg and climbed the rest of the way to 1000 feet. Then I pulled the throttle back a little, since I didn't need to get to the maximum speed just to slow down again. I looked for the other two planes, saw them, and then prepared for my first landing. The other planes were leaving the pattern, so I didn't have to rush getting back down.

I checked to make sure the fuel  shutoff valve was on, that the mixture was full rich, and then pulled on the carb heat. Then I pulled back the throttle and held my altitude until my speed dropped to a safe speed to deploy the flaps. I put 10 degrees of flap in. I turned base, and put in 20 degrees of flap. Then I turned final and put the last of the flaps in (30 degrees). I lined the plane up with the runway. I was a little nervous, but not as much as on my last landing with Mike. I kept thinking to myself, "Don't screw up, don't screw up." I rounded out, let the airspeed decrease, and flared the plane. Chirp! I was down! The first solo landing was a success! I pulled off the runway, made my radio calls, and taxiied past Mike for another run. He gave me a thumbs up as I went past, and got on the handheld radio to tell me I did great.

No other planes to hold me up this time, but the airport was waking up. I could hear pilots on the radio making radio checks and getting ready. Soon the airport would be buzzing with planes. I got to the end of the runway and took off for the second time. This time around I wasn't nervous or worried at all. I knew I could do it now, so all I had to do was a normal landing. I went around the pattern the same way as before, and lined up for my second landing. My second landing was also good. I started setting up the plane as if I was doing a touch and go, when I remembered these had to be full stop landings. So I pulled off the runway, made my radio calls, Mike told me it was a good landing, and taxiied past him for another thumbs up, and got ready for my final run.

I took off and flew the pattern the last time. This time I actually looked around a little, as I was feeling more comfortable with the whole thing. I went around and lined up for the landing. The last landing was a little fast. In fact, it was a lot like the very first landing of the day. No matter, it was successful. I cleared the runway and taxiied back to pick up Mike. It was 7:55 a.m. I flew by myself for a half hour. Then we went back to the ramp and I shut the plane down.Done!

I filled out the log for the plane, and tied it down. Then we went back into the office. I went and got Christina from the porch. She then says to me, "when do you solo?" I told her I just did, and she told me she didn't know which plane I was in. I guess I should have given her a better indication of what was going to happen. I thought she would see me preflighting the plane and just watch it as I flew around. Oh well, she tried, and I do appreciate that a lot.

Mike filled in my logbook with a new entry in the all important "Pilot in Command" column. I asked him what was next. He said we would be following the syllabus pretty closely from here on out. The next flight will be a repeat of today's. After that, I am cleared to check out the plane on my own and fly to the practice area. Then we start the cross countries. I have to start thinking about where I want to go! Things should move pretty fast now.

It took 24.5 hours of instruction and 104 landings to get this far. It is an important milestone. It says that I have basically all the skills needed to control the plane (although some of those skills still need practice). I would have to say that learning to land was by far the most difficult. At first, I thought it would only take a few lessons, then I thought I would never learn how, now I know how to do it. Next I just need to practice flight planning and cross country flight to finish up the training. I am really looking forward to the cross country stuff, since that is what I really want to do with a plane, go somewhere!

Mike and Me
Mike, me and 41Hotel (I'm on the right) after I soloed

I also need to get serious about the written exam. It needs to be done before my checkride, so I will take it sometime in September. I figure I should be ready for the checkride sometime in October. That seems like a long way off right now.

I am on vacation next week starting on Wednesday. I couldn't find a time between now and then when both Mike and the plane were available, so right now my next lesson is scheduled for Wednesday, Spetember 5th, the day after I get back from my vacation. I am going to call the school on Monday to see if there are any cancellations. If not, this is my last flight until next month. It was a good one to end the month with. 

8/29/07 Second Supervised Solo
1.5 hours today (0.5 Dual, 1.0 Solo)
27.3 hours total (25.8 Dual, 1.5 Solo)

OK, I lied. The previous lesson wasn't the last one of the month. This one is. My vacation starts today, and I have to drive to South Carolina. Instead of waking up and getting in the car, I decided to have a flying lesson first thing in the morning. Plus, I didn't want to let a week and a half go by after my solo before I flew again.

Today's lesson was basically a repeat of the last one. I would go up with Mike first, and then I am on my own. Mike was running late, so he called me on my cell phone to tell me to start the pre-flight before he got there. A few minutes after I finished, Mike shows up and we head out to the runway.

The winds were favoring 8R this morning, so I had to take off and land into the sun. This lesson started at 7 a.m., so the sun was higher than the last time I tried this. I did four full stop landings with Mike. The first two were normal, and the last two were short field. My short field were just so-so, but my normal ones were good. There was a slight crosswind, so I got to practice those, too.

Then Mike jumped out and I was on my own again. It was a lot less stressful than the last lesson. In fact, I wasn't nervous at all. There was a little more traffic in the pattern today than last Saturday, but it wasn't too bad. My landings on my own were pretty decent, a couple "harder" ones, but they were all straight and no bounces. Even my hard ones were pretty good. I wouldn't really call them a "hard" landing, but maybe a "harder" than normal landing.

After I was done, I picked Mike up and we taxiied back to the ramp. Mike said there was one time I should have done a go around. The plane in front of me was doing a touch and go, and wasn't quite clear of the runway as I was on short final. Mike thought that was cutting it too close. I am flying a 152, which is the slowest plane in the air, so I figured the other plane would be long gone before I hit the runway. He was, but Mike was probably right. If the plane had stopped on the runway for some reason, I may not have had enough room to stop. It wasn't a big deal and I will just have to look out for that situation next time.

My parking job at the ramp was pretty bad. I had to push the plane back and forth a couple of times to get it over the ropes. That was the worst parking job yet!

After we got back to the office, we went through the next couple of lessons in the syllabus so that we can get back on track. My next lesson is in one week, on Wednesday, September 5 (after work). In that one, I get to take the plane out to the practice area by myself. I can't wait!