7/07/07 More Landings
0.9 hours today / 7.0 hours total

Well, my July 4th lesson was canceled due to weather. There is a low pressure over Tampa that is just dumping rain here. The mornings are clear, but by 2pm, it is raining, and then it continues to rain until the sun sets. This is a little different than the normal summer rains, since those start a little later, and are usually over in an hour. Not that we don't need it, since we are technically still in a drought. It is putting a damper on my flying lessons, though.

Today, though, it was clear enough to fly. There were some ominous looking clouds and some scattered showers in the area, so we decided to stay in the pattern and continue working on landings. That way if the weather turned, we could just come right in.

Mike was running a few minutes late, so I went ahead and started the pre-flight. That is getting much quicker, now that I have more or less memorized it. What I am doing now is inspecting each section of the plane (empannage, wing, etc.) and then checking the checklist to see if I missed anything. Mike showed up about half way through it, and quizzed me on V speeds while I finished the pre-flight.

Then we started the plane and headed out to runway Two Six Left. Once we got out there, Mike showed me how to set up for a short field takeoff. Those are pretty easy. All you have to do is put in ten degrees of flap, put your feet on the brakes, and run the engine all the way up. Then let go of the brakes and take off. Not too tough, and something new I need to know.

We took off and flew the pattern. This runway uses a left pattern, and I haven't flown it much since I started, so that was a little weird at first. I think I have finally figured out all of the patterns at this airport. Basically, for noise reasons, you always fly the pattern on the south side of the runway. This makes half of them left (normal) patterns, and the other have right patterns. We came around and did a touch and go. That landing was pretty good. Much better than the last lesson.

Once we did a couple touch and gos, a helicopter told us that the wind had shifted to runway One Three, so we had to change the pattern we flew. This runway uses a right pattern, so I got to practice both patterns today. We did four more landings. Some of them were touch and gos and some were full stops so we could practice the short field takeoff.

My landings are coming right along, except for my rudder work. I just haven't found the right touch on them yet. I think I am trying to over-control the rudder. I have a tendency to push the right pedal one way, and then go too far, and then push the left rudder to correct, and then go too far the other way. I'm not sure what I need to do, other than keep practicing. I have read that there are several places where you get "stuck", when learning to fly, and that everyone get stuck in a different place. This must be my sticking point. I haven't read of anyone not getting though it, so I think it is just a matter of time until I get it. I know intellectually what I need to be doing, but I don't have the feel for it yet. Next lesson, Mike said we are going to go out to the practice area and try some exercises specifically designed for rudder practice.

Other than the rudder, Mike says I pretty much have landings. I am no longer trying to start the flare too early, and am flying to the numbers pretty good each time.

So, after six landings, the clouds were really starting to close in, so we called it quits. My taxiing skills are much improved. This time I taxiied the plane all the way into the tie down spot. That was a first! In the past, Mike would take over once we got close to the other planes. So, where I am stuck on one skill, I am improving in others.

In other news, I went and got my FAA medical this week, so now I am an "official" student pilot. This is one of the items that I need before I can solo, so I thought I should get it out of the way in case there are any problems. There weren't, and it was pretty easy for me, since I don't have any health issues right now. Solo should come around 14 total hours, so I am about halfway there. I am hoping to solo at the end of July/first of August time period.

There is also an update on the headset story. I sent it back via US Mail, and it appears that they lost it. I sent it out two weeks ago, and the post office doesn't know where it is, and the company never received it. Luckily, I insured it when I sent it. I have to wait one more week before I can put a claim in. That should either force the post office to find the package, or send me my money. Either way, I will be happy. In the mean time, I am renting headsets from the flight school. Sigh.

Next lesson should be Tuesday evening, weather permitting.

7/10/07 Dutch Rolls
1.8 hours today / 8.8 hours total

Two lessons in a row without getting rained out! The weather for this lesson was about as good as you can expect during the summer in Florida. Few clouds, but really hot. It makes it tough to pre-flight, but once the giant fan gets started, it isn't too bad.

When I arrived, Mike was ready. We spent a few minutes reviewing what he had planned for the lesson today. The main goal of tonights lesson was to get me to better understand how the rudder worked. To do that, we were going to do a maneuver called a "dutch roll" (more on that later). He also wanted to practice some slow flight and some emergency procedures.

After we reviewed the plan, I went out and did the pre-flight. There was only six gallons of fuel in the tanks, so we would have to add more fuel to have enough for our lesson. The gas at F45 is really expensive. Right now, it is $5.20/gallon. It is, however, full service. All you do is call the FBO on the unicom, and the truck comes out and fills your tanks for you. I had them add five gallons to each tank (there are two), for a total of sixteen gallons. The plane can hold a total of 24 gallons, but with both Mike and myself in there, we would be over the maximum allowable weight with full tanks. The C-152 only burns about six gallons per hour, so 16 should be plenty for our lesson.

Once that was done, we jumped in the plane and headed for the runway. Everything related to getting the plane in the air continues to get easier. I can do the run-up in about 10 minutes now, where before it was taking me 20. I should be able to get it down to five minutes soon. We are still doing a lot of talking during the run-up. Once Mike has run out of things to tell me or quiz me on, it should be completed a lot quicker.

Once we were on the runway, Mike decided we should do a short field take-off. I think he forgot that he showed it to me on the last lesson. Oh well, I need the practice anyway. We were soon up in the air and headed to the practice area.

Practice Area

On the way out, Mike had me put the "Foggles" on so I could get some more practice flying on instruments only. I need three hours of practice before I can get my license. After about 20 minutes of that, we were out in the practice area.

First, Mike showed me what a Dutch Roll was. Basically, what you do is slowly bank the plane in one direction, for example to the right. At the same time, the left rudder pedal is pressed. Then you do the opposite (left aileron and right rudder). The idea is to slowly move from one extreme to the other, all the while keeping the nose of the plane pointed in the same directions. This is a cross control exercise. It is a lot easier to describe than it is to do.

So I did this exercise for probably half of an hour. It was very helpful, and I finally figured out what I was doing wrong with the rudders. What I was doing, was pressing the left rudder, for example, and then when I need to turn more to the right, instead of just relieving pressure on the left rudder, I was also pressing the right rudder. This was made worse by Mike saying, "more right rudder," when he really meant to say was, "less left rudder." Of course, he really doesn't know which pedal I am actually pressing on, so that made it more confusing.

The best way to describe what I was doing wrong was to think about your gas pedal in your car. When you want to slow down, you don't let up on the gas and press the brake pedal, you just modulate the gas pedal to gradually slow down. Now all I have to do is re-teach myself the correct way to use the pedals. At least now I have figured out what I was doing wrong.

After the Dutch Rolls, we did some slow flight and power-off stalls. Then Mike told me we were going to practice engine-out procedures. next, he pulled the engine to idle, and we went through the checklist. Not too tough. Then Mike told me that was the last time he was going to warn me. From now on, I am to expect an engine out drill at any time!

Then we decided it would be a good idea to head back to the airport to get a little landing practice in, now that I had new skills with the rudder pedals. We flew back to the airport and the first landing was so-so. We went took back off and did it again. This one was a little worse, so we went around. This time, Mike wanted me to watch him do a landing.

Once he did that, I took the controls again. This was the last time around. Up to this point, I had been more or less following Mikes directions. He would tell me when to put the flaps in, when to make the turns, etc. This time, he told me to just do it, and he would tell me if I did something wrong. So I took us all the way around, preparing the plane for landing and making all of the radio calls. Everything went fine until the very end of the landing flare. Mike took the controls right at the end and brought the plane down. I knew it must not have been a good landing, but I wasn't sure why.

Once we got the plane tied down, I asked him why he took over at the end of the landing. He told me that my angle of attack was too high, and if I tried to flare any more, I would have stalled the plane and made a hard landing. Then we discussed what could have caused that, since even he said everything else looked good, including my airspeed. We finally decided that I was too low at the turn to final. Because I was low, I was holding the nose up to stretch the glide to the runway. Then, I was pointed too high and couldn't get a good flare. None of my landings tonight were as good as my last lesson, and we thought they probably all were too low on final approach. So next time I will need to make sure I start a little higher before I start down.

Then Mike mentioned the "S" word (Solo). He said casually, that I should start preparing for my solo. I told him that I wasn't ready yet, and he said, "I think you are closer than you think." That was a nice complement. I don't think a solo is imminent, but the lessons are changing from showing me what to do, to preparing me for soloing. The next few lessons will most likely focus on any of the required manuevers that I haven't learned yet, and, of course, perfecting the landing technique. I have nearly nine hours at the end of this lesson, and solos usually take place between 14 and 17 hours.

Starting next week, I have scheduled three lessons a week, since the summer weather took out about a third of my lessons last month. This way, I should end up with roughly two lessons per week.

On other news, I have not seen my headset anywhere. After Saturday, I can put a claim in with the post office (good thing I insured it). Hopefully, it won't take six months to get my money back. In the meantime, I have decided that I am going to just go ahead and buy a new headset. The last one was being returned anyway, and I need to get a new one. I will probably just by a basic headset this time, similar to the ones the flight school uses, since I know they work. I will just have to wait until later for the fancy ones.

I have also decided to go ahead and order the Sporty's DVDs, since Mike is threatening me with ground school if I don't do something. It will be cheaper to watch the DVDs than to pay him to teach me those things. I will probably order the headset at the same time. Next lesson is Saturday morning.

7/14/07 Practice
1.3 hours today / 10.1 hours total

The weather was very nice this morning. When I arrived, Mike and I quickly talked about the weather and what we were going to do today. Then I headed out to pre-flight the plane. Once again, while I was doing the pre-flight, Mike quizzed me on things I should know. Once we were ready, we headed out to runway Three-One for take off. Once again, the helicopters were buzzing all around the area. Sometimes it is difficult to know what they are going to do, since they don't follow a regular airport pattern like the airplanes do.

Anyway, off we went, climbed to 600 feet mean sea level (MSL), and turned to head to the practice area. All of the elevations I mention are above sea level, since we are so close. The airport elevation is 23 feet, so there is not much difference between MSL and AGL (above ground level). If I lived in the mountains, that would be a lot different.

We had a pleasant flight out to the practice area. It takes about 5-10 minutes to get out there (I haven't timed it yet, but I suppose that would be something nice to know). I found out that Mike is 26 years old (a little older than I thought, I guessed 23), and he is living with his parents (which is what I thought). That allows him to have basically an open schedule to instruct whenever someone needs it. He told me a lot of instructors have to take a second job to make ends meet, and then the second job interferes with them being available to instruct. That in turn reduces the hours they can get, and that slows down how quickly they can move to a higher paying gig.

In case you didn't know, flight instruction is at the bottom of the ladder in flying careers. I am paying the school $35/hour for Mike's time. I know he gets something less than that. If I were to guess, I would think it is somewhere around $15/hour for his cut. The hours are real variable, based on how many students you have and how much instruction they want. Mike told me today that some days he works for six or seven hours, and other days, he doesn't work at all. I think he very smart in how he is handling the situation, and making the most of it. I would guess he will be on to bigger and better things within a year.

The way the lessons are handled have changed recently. In the beginning, we were following the syllabus pretty closely. Now, we are only roughly following it, and spending most of our time on areas that I need practice on. I'm fine with that now, as nearly all maneuvers I need to know have been taught, and I need to become proficient at them. The only way to do that is practice. I think there might be a couple of things I haven't been shown yet. I am going to look through the syllabus and the PTS (Performance Test Standards, published by the FAA) to see if there is anything I am missing.

The PTS defines the specifications you have to be able to preform the maneuvers to. For example, on S-turns along a road, your elevation can't vary more than +/- 100 feet. If you can't do that, you can't pass the checkride.

Once we arrived at the test area, we did some clearing turns to look for other planes. The only plane we saw was a cropduster at about 50 feet AGL. We flew away from him so that we wouldn't' scare him, and climbed up to 2000 feet to stay out of his way. The first thing we did was slow flight and power off stalls. Then we did a power on stall. I am still a little apprehensive about them, but I am starting to feel a little better. I think I just need more practice with them until I feel more comfortable. Other than getting used to them, the only other thing I need to get better at is steering through the stall with the rudder pedals. My first reaction is to use the ailerons, but that doesn't help anything, and can sometimes make it worse if you turn the stall into a spin. That will come with practice, and was fine when Mike reminded me.

Then we spent some time practicing S-turns around a road. The idea here is to basically maintain your position along a road, making corrections for the wind by changing the steepness of the bank. Here is what they should look like:

We practiced those for a while. At first, they were pretty bad. I had a real hard time maintaining my elevation. As you make a turn in an airplane, the plane has a tendancy to lose elevation if you don't correct for it. This was what my problem was. Mike gave me a couple pointers on where to be looking, and after a few more trys, I actually had it going pretty well. The main point of this exercise is to learn how to divide your attention, not make perfect s-turns. And I found that the less time I spent concentrating on the road, the better I did.

After the S-turns, it was time to head back so we could get a little more landing practice in. Once again, Mike had me try to find my way back to the airport on my own. It wasn't too hard. There are only a few landmarks out there, so they are easy to find.

As we got closer to the airport, it was obvious that many people were taking advantage of the clear skies this morning. I really had to listen to the radio and keep an eye on all the planes as we approached. Once we got back to the airport, I entered the traffic pattern and prepared for my first touch and go. Our strategy for landings today was to start the final approach higher so that we could have a steeper glide to the runway. That would keep the angle of attack low and let me have more "room" to perform the flare. It seemed to help, as my landing was better today than on the last lesson. We took off and went around again.

The second time was OK, but I was quite a ways down the runway before I got down. That time we thought I was coming in too fast. As we turned to the base leg for the third landing, Mike noticed that my angle of attack was getting high, so he had me add more power in. Then I noticed that as we sped up a little, my control surfaces had a little more authority. This is an obvious statement, but it made me realize something important. I have been having trouble getting myself lined up on final approach. I have a tendancy to go from one side of the runway to the other, and I haven't been sure why it seem so hard to get aligned. Today, I realized that it was because the control surfaces were so mushy from flying so slow. I would turn the ailerons a little, and nothing would happen, so I would turn them some more. By then, I had put too much correction in, and would overshoot where I was trying to go. Then I would do it again the other way. I had a real hard time getting the right amount of input because everything was working a little slower.

So now I think I need to maintain a little more airspeed through the beginning of the final approach. Then, once I am lined up, I can reduce my airspeed. That will help me come in straighter on the landing.

Overall, it was a good lesson. I made progress on all the things we practiced today. I still need some more practice, but things are progressing nicely.

Other news: I ordered and received a new headset. It is a David Clark. These are the standard bearer of aviation headsets. They aren't fancy, but they work well and are very rugged. This is the one that I bought. I like it a lot. It worked with the audio panel in the plane, and the microphone was top notch. It is a passive noise reduction unit, and it worked well one everything but low frequencies. But those are really only loud during slow flight, like landing. And even that wasn't bad. Overall, I think they are very good.

After my lesson, I decided to check on my package of my old headset so I can start the insurance claim. To my surprise, it actually got delivered two days ago! It only took two and a half weeks to deliver my two-day package. On Monday, I need to confirm that it arrived, and then have them issue me a refund.

When I bought my headset, I also bought the Sporty's DVD ground school. I have started watching it, and it is pretty good. My main goal, at the moment, is to get caught up to where I am in my lessons (to see if there are any helpful hints). I have already watched one on the DVDs.

Next week I have three lessons scheduled. We'll see how many of them don't get rained out. Next lesson is Monday evening.

7/16/07 Bounce and Go (Around)
0.9 hours today / 11.0 hours total

This evenings lesson was one of frustration. A few things went right, but many things went wrong.

Mike was out with another student when I arrived, so we started a few minutes late. That was fine, it was only about 15 minutes. Mike wanted to spend some time going over how to decode weather reports. We went to the DUATS site and brought up the weather briefings online. I have been learning a little about those on the DVDs I bought and in the Machado book I have been reading. We also talked about METARS (Aviation Routine Weather Reports), SIGMETS (Significant Meteorological Information), and PIREPS (Pilot Reports). The briefing information is full of abbreviations, and it takes a little memorization to learn all of abbreviations. For example, this is what a METAR looks like this:

KPBI 162153Z 14011KT 10SM FEW035 32/23 A3002

This translates to the current conditions at Palm Beach International (KPBI), on the 16th (of July), at 2153 Zulu time (5:53 pm local time), winds are from 140 degrees (SE) at 11 knots (14011KT), visibility is 10 statute miles (10SM), there are a few clouds at 3500 feet (FEW035), temperature is 32 degrees Celsius and the dewpoint is at 23 degrees Celsius (32/23), and the altimeter in the plane should be set to 30.02 inHg (A3002). You can see, it takes a while to learn these!

We spent about 45 minutes talking about the weather. I really wanted to just go flying, since we already knew the weather was fine. Although I do need to learn these things, I didn't need to know them tonight. Those are things I will need to know for my written test, and I have some time to learn it. Frankly, I think Mike decided he wants to teach me some stuff, and just decided to do it. Oh well, no harm done, it doesn't hurt to review this stuff.

Finally, at around 7pm, it was time to go flying. Mike stayed back to chit chat with some of the other flight instructors while I did the preflight. That is getting much quicker, and I was completely done by the time he got out to the plane. While I was waiting for him, I watched a few other students in the pattern working on landings.

At the beginning of the lesson, Mike talked about going out to the practice area for a little while, and then come back to practice landings, but it was starting to get late, and the plane was reserved at 8pm by another student for a night flight. Mike decided that we should just stay in the pattern and practice landings. I was fine with that, since I need a lot of practice.

We taxied out to the run up area, and I went through the run up. Mike is showing me some tricks to memorize the procedure. A lot of his tricks revolve around thinking about where the various switches and knobs are located. He is trying to get me away from always having to consult the checklist to do everything. It is helping, since every minute the engine is running, I am being charged $1.25. I would rather spend that money in the air than on the ground.

Mike then wanted me to do a soft field takeoff, which I had never done before. He described to me how to do it, and it is pretty easy. Basically, you don't want to stop moving once you get on the runway, and you want the nose of the plane up as soon as possible. This is to avoid divots on a grass field. I did it pretty easily, since all you have to remember is to pull the yoke back, and don't stop moving (OK, there are a few more steps to it, ask you flight instructor).

Once we were up in the air, we circled around and did the first landing. It was not good. I don't really remember what I did wrong, but I'm pretty sure I was too high above the runway. Mike had to help me get the plane on the ground. The next time around wasn't any better.

The third time around, I had my worst landing ever. I stalled the plane at least five or six feet above the runway, the plane dropped and bounced back in the air at least ten feet! As it was going up, Mike yells, "GO AROUND!" So I pushed the throttle all the way in. For a second, I didn't think I was going to stay off of the ground, but the engine created enough thrust, and we gained some elevation. As we climbed back up to 1000 feet, the plane didn't seem to climb as well as it had before. I couldn't really figure out why, but I was a little shaken from the bounce. When we go around to start throttling back, I realized that I had left the carb heat on. That hurts the performance of the engine, but is required any time you are operating at low power. Surprisingly enough, it is possible to ice up the carburetor even in the summertime in Florida.

From then on, I was always aware of where the carb heat knob was. It was actually beneficial to have that happen, because I could see what happens when you don't turn it off. I never paid much attention to it before, but now I know how it affects performance, so I won't forget to turn it off again.

The next time around, Mike thought it might be beneficial if he does a landing and I follow along on the controls. One thing I noticed was that he was making lots of small corrections on the ailerons and rudders. I was making fewer larger corrections. I think his method is more effective. He did a really good landing, and we took off again.

This time around, Mike said he wasn't going to do anything, and it was all on me. Everything went fine until the very end on the landing. I wasn't right, and Mike had to get it on the ground. It wasn't a lot of help, but I once again couldn't bring the plane down properly. By then it was 8pm, and we needed to get the plane back for the next person.

OK. That was everything that went wrong tonight. Many small things went very well. My rudder control is getting better. I am no longer over controlling the plane with the rudders. My pattern flying is good. I put the plane where it needs to be, and fly the pattern pretty well. When I make a mistake, I recognize it and correct it. I did the radios the entire lesson and didn't have a problem. My approach speed and glide slope were good. My takeoffs were good. Really, other than not being able to land the darn thing, everything is falling into place.

As we were walking back to the office, Mike asked me how many hours I had so far. I told him that tonight would make eleven hours. He then told me that he wants to try and solo me at fourteen hours. Yikes, that is only three hours away! I know he won't solo me unless he thinks I am ready, but obviously he thinks I am getting close, or he wouldn't have said that. Of course, that puts more pressure on me to get the landings right.

I also asked him about the pre-solo exam (an FAA requirement). I had already downloaded the exam from the SunQuest website, and had completed most of the answers. The only thing I didn't know was if I needed to study it so I could take it with him watching, or if it was a take home test. It turns out it is a take home test. After I am done with it, I bring it in and we go over it together. Then we correct anything I got wrong, and we are done. I think I only have one or two questions left to complete on it.

With a solo on the near horizon, I have put some serious thinking into what is going wrong with my landings. That is the only area that I don't feel confident in yet. Keep in mind the first solo is just around the pattern, so that is all I have to be really proficient at to start with.

After the lesson, Mike and I talked about what I was doing wrong. Everything is good all the way until I get over the runway, and that is where I am having trouble. Mike thinks that I am trying to do the final flare too early, and I need to level off over the runway first. I think that is correct, but I am not sure why I am having trouble with that step. Mike also thinks that he has over-emphasized the problems with the rudders, and I am concentrating too much on that. That probably is part of the problem, too.

When I got home, I read everything I could find on landing, both in books I have and online. I know what all the steps are, I am just having trouble executing. I even wok up at 4:30 the next morning and thought about it for at least an hour. I also remembered that a couple weeks ago, I was doing OK on landings, even the last part. My only problem then was I couldn't stay pointed down the runway because the the rudder issues. So what has changed?

After much thought, I have a few theories on my problem. I won't know if they are true until my next lesson. I think the first problem I am having is that I am fixating on the numbers at the (near) end of the runway. I am so concerned I won't be lined up that I concentrate on it far too long.

Also, when I visualize my landings, I only remember looking at the numbers. I don't remember looking down the runway. When you look to the far end of the runway, you can better judge your height above the ground. So, I think my main problem is not looking down the runway soon enough. This also flows into what the second problem is.

The landing actually consists of three parts. First is the approach, where you basically dive for the runway. The second is when you level off over the runway, and the third is when you flare at the end of the landing to reduce speed and lift to become a ground vehicle again. I don't think I am doing the middle part. I don't recall ever flying over the runway when I landed. I also think this relates to not looking down the runway, since I can't level off without a visual cue. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing that. Right now, I think I am trying to go directly from the dive to the flare part. Obviously, this in not the way to land a plane.

So my strategy for the next lesson is to look down the end of the runway at the appropriate time (I need to ask Mike when that is, exactly). Then I am going to attempt to fly down the runway as far as I can. I am going to make no attempt to have enough runway left for an immediate takeoff. If I run out of runway, I will just stop and taxi back. I think some of my problem has been a desire to get on the ground in the shortest possible time. I think doing those two things should get me over the hump. Unless, of course, I discover another problem after I fix those.

I am trying to keep the good things in perspective, but I still have a level of frustration over my performance during this lesson. Hopefully things will change on my next lesson Wednesday night (assuming it doesn't rain).

7/18/07 Success!
1.3 hours today / 12.3 hours total

This lesson turned out much better than the last one. After an hour of failed landings on Monday, I spent several hours evaluating what went wrong. I had decided that the problem was I wasn't looking at the end of the runway, and I was starting the flare too early. My plan for tonight was to force myself to look down the runway and to try and use up as much runway as I could on the landing.

When I arrived, Mike was ready to go. No briefing tonight, we both knew what needed to be done. I went right out and pre-flighted the plane. While I was doing it, Mike quizzed me on things about the plane like he always does. Then I told him what I thought the problem was and how I needed to correct it. I asked him when he started to look down the runway, and he said basically once he know he wasn't going to be short of the runway. He also told me that he used to only look down the runway, but he found it easier to line up during final approach when he looked at the numbers.

OK. The plan was in place. We started the engine and went to the runway. Tonight we were using Eight Right. We had to wait for a couple planes to land, and then we were on the runway. I forgot to make the initial call on the runway, so Mike went ahead and did it. I'll have to remember that for next time.

I lined up on the runway, put the throttle in, and did one of my better takeoffs. I made sure to use the right rudder to compensate for the left turning tendency of the plane when it is at high angles of attack (like taking off). Then we were up in the traffic pattern. Once we were up there, I noticed there was a lot of traffic in the air, and everyone wanted to do touch and goes tonight. There was a plane practicing instrument (ILS) approaches, a Cessna 172 doing touch and goes, a fast Cirrus doing touch and goes, and a helicopter doing whatever it is they do. Of course, I was in the slowest plane of the group, causing the others to take long downwinds and turn crosswind before me to get ahead of me. There was definately a lot going on. I suppose it was good practice.

Around we went for the first landing. I turned final, and set up the approach, which was good. I put in the last of the flaps and kept everything lined up until we were close enough to the runway to make it. Then I had to force myself to look at the end of the runway. Several times I caught myself looking back down at the first half of the runway, but I made myself look at the end again. I then brought the nose up to fly above the runway, and slowly brought the plane closer to the ground. When I felt like I couldn't hold the plane off the ground any longer, I started the flare. Then the plane landed on the runway!

I looked to see how far down the runway we were, and we were only about 1/3 of the way down, so I pushed the throttle in and took off again. As we climbed up, Mike turns to me and says, "Great job! That landing was all you, I didn't even touch the controls." He asked me how I felt, and I said great, but I was more relieved than anything. It was great to finally put everything together. I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I really had to think about what went wrong and how to correct it, and I was exactly right on what the problem was.

We continued to fly around the pattern and do landings. On the third landing, I couldn't keep the plane aligned on the runway, and was attempting to salvage the landing, and Mike said to just go around, so we did. That was the only go around of the lesson. Every other time was a successful landing.

Each time around, Mike gave me a different hint on how to improve the landing. He had me watch my airpspeed more closely, and try to keep 65-70 knots all the way to the runway threshold. This helps the flying surfaces have more control, making it easier to make corrections.

The only remaining problem in my landings is keeping the plane aligned with the runway at the very end of the flare (right before the plane touches down). I never put in enough right rudder to counteract the left turning tendency. On the last time around, Mike told me if I couldn't keep the plane aligned, it would be the last time. If I could, we would go around two more times. Well, I didn't get it, so that was the end of the lesson. Mike said I was probably getting tired of concentrating so much, and thats why I couldn't get that last bit. He was probably right, since we were doing landings for over an hour at that point.

After the lesson, we talked about the rudder at the end of the flare. I mentioned that right before the flare, I actually had some left rudder in. He said that was probably because the plane had a slight  negative angle of attack as I was approaching the ground, but then turned into a positive angle of attack as I flared the plane. As I changed the pitch of the plane, I needed to be adjusting the rudder to account for the change. I think that was what I was missing. Sometimes it is easier to understand that stuff when I am not in the plane, and can concentrate on what he is trying to say.

So, for the next lesson, I have to perfect that rudder usage at the end, and then I will have the complete, basic landing conquered. According to Mike, the landings will get increasingly easier from here on out. I would like to think that is the case. Not every landing was perfect tonight, but they were all acceptable. Really, all that is left is some refinement.

We are on the countdown to solo. Mike said that we need another lesson to refine the landings, and another trip out to the practice area so that we don't get too tired of the pattern. Then a solo some time after that.

As we were doing the paperwork in the office, the student pilot in the other plane was chatting with us about the traffic tonight, etc. He is very close to finishing, and we were talking about landing technique with him, Mike, and Nick (the office kid). I mentioned that I hadn't even soloed yet, and Mike said, "That will change real soon." I like to hear things like that!

All in all, a great lesson tonight! Next lesson is Saturday morning, so I can bask in this accomplishment for a couple more days.

7/21/07 Flight to Stuart
1.1 hours today / 13.4 hours total

When I got to the airport, Mike said I had a choice on what we would work on today. We could continue to practice landings, or we could go out to the practice area, or we could fly up to the Stuart Airport. Since I was a little tired of just flying the traffic pattern at North County, I said, "Let's go to Stuart!"

The Stuart Airport (KSUA) is about 20 nm north of  the North County airport. The thing that makes that interesting is that it is a Class D airport. That means it has a Control Tower. So today I would be talking to air traffic controllers instead of just announcing my position in the traffic pattern. Before we flew, Mike reviewed what the tower was probably going to say, and what I did and did not need to say back to him. As we were going over this, I started thinking, "what did I get myself into?" But, it is good to stay out of your comfort zone, otherwise you won't learn anything. Plus, some students have to do all of their flight training in a controlled airport, and that doesn't seem to stop them any.

After a little lesson in talking to a control tower, I went out to pre-flight the plane. This time, while pre-flighting, Mike quizzed me on visibility requirements of the different classes of airspace. I had read that in the Machado book, and answered questions about it on the pre-solo exam, but I still don't know it all. I'm sure I will be quizzed about those for the next couple weeks until have them memorized. This is all stuff I have to know for the written exam anyway.

Out we went to the runway, Two Six Left today. The airport was really busy today, probably the busiest I've seen it to date. It was probably a good thing we weren't staying in the pattern anyway. We took off and headed north to Stuart.

The trip up there was interesting, since we were flying over the city, and not over sugar cane fields like we usually do. There was a lot more to see on this route. Of course, I was concentrating on flying the plane, and didn't get to do as much sight seeing as I would have liked. I was trying to maintain heading and altitude, and trying to remember what I was supposed to say to the control tower in a few minutes.

The Stuart airport is in an interesting location. It is right in the middle of Stuart, Florida. As we got closer, I could see a golf course right off the end of the runway. Here is a small picture from AirNav, an online airport directory:

Stuart Airport

It is hard to see, but the golf course is on the right side of the picture at the end of the runway. You can also see that it is close to the intercoastal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. Pretty neat. Mike was telling me that the neighbors are complaining, and are trying to shut down the airport. If I were to guess, I would say a developer is behind that, since that would be an ideal location for some expensive homes/condos/hotels/whatevers.

We got close to the airport and I made my calls, we were told to report when we were on the downwind to One Two. Once we got there, we called the tower and they told us we were on short approach, and there was another plane coming in behind us. I had never done a short approach before. Basically, you just turn to base and final as soon as you can and descend down to the runway for a landing. I did it, and was surprised I could get the plane set up for landing in such a short time. I must be learning something.

I landed the plane, paying particular attention to keeping the plane straight down the runway. It turned out to be a pretty good landing. Which I was surprised at, since I had never landed here before (or really any airport besides North County). We were told to exit at taxiway Charlie, and then contact Ground Control. We switched the radio over, and told ground we were going to take back off of runway One Two. They told us to use taxiway Alpha to return to the end of the runway. When we got to the end of Alpha, we switched back to the Control Tower frequency and requested a takeoff. They cleared us, and we were off. Once we got to altitude, we headed south back to F45. There was some traffic at Stuart, but much less than at North County.

I navigated my way back to the North County airport. It is pretty easy, since the two airports are North-South of each other. You can almost see one from the other. Mike had me do a little navigating on the way back, figuring out where we were by looking for landmarks on the chart and matching them up with what we saw on the ground.

We had originally planned to do some landing practice when we got back, but we were running out of time, so we just did one landing. This one was also pretty good, even though it didn't start out that way. As I got over the runway, I was having trouble keeping the plane aligned. But I stayed with it, and managed to get everything fixed in plenty of time to flare the plane and make a pretty decent landing. I think I have been pulling up too much in the flare, making it harder to get a good landing. So even though I only had two landings today, I think I learned a few things on perfecting my technique.

After the flight, I asked Mike what we needed to do to get to a solo. I was feeling a little guilty about having a lesson which did not further me towards my goal (even though it was fun to do something different). He got out the syllabus, and we went through all the pre-solo lessons to see if there was anything we missed. We found about a half dozen small things. The next lesson we will go out to the practice area and check those off, and then come back for more landing practice. Then all lessons after that will be in the pattern until I solo. I suspect two or three lessons still from now until that happens. The next lesson is Monday after work.

7/23/07 The Last Five Seconds
1.0 hours today / 14.4 hours total

I wasn't sure if today's lesson was going to happen. The forecast was for rain all afternoon and evening. In fact, it was raining at 6:00 when I was supposed to have my lesson. I called Mike, and we decided that the weather probably wasn't good enough to fly. However, about an hour later, Mike calls me to tell me the weather has cleared, and I could still come out for a lesson if I wanted to. I wasn't doing anything else, so I went out there.

The weather wasn't good enough to fly to the practice area, so we just did some pattern work. We got seven landings in, and only two of them were any good. I am having trouble getting the plane aligned with the runway at the very end of the flare. I think I don't know exactly what I am looking for to make sure the plane is properly aligned. It sure looks straight to me, but obviously it isn't.

I also had a few more interesting experiences during this lesson. Twice around the pattern, Mike pulled the throttle on me to simulate a engine out. The first time, I turned towards the runway too soon, and was too high to make it down to the runway. I tried to lose some altitude, by doing a circle, but then I was too low. I had to put power in to make it to the runway. The second time, I made it to the runway and did an OK landing.

The other interesting experience was darkness. Since we started the lesson later than normal, it was getting dark while we were practicing. At first, it wasn't too bad, but as it got darker, I had a harder time doing a landing. All of my visual clues had changed, and it was a big adjustment. In fact, the very last landing, I completely lost my bearings at the flare, and Mike had to take over. He even said it was a weird effect. I think two things caused that. One, the runway lights intensity is adjustable, and someone had turned it up all the way. You can only see the lights when it is like that, not the other things around the airport (trees, etc.). Second, there was a storm moving in, and I think it blacked out the sky, removing another visual clue to the landing.

That storm was another experience. It was sitting about two miles south of the airport for at least three landings. Then, each time around, it was a little closer. If I was by myself, the second to last landing would have been the last. But, I did a good landing, and Mike like to re-enforce the good landings with another (I'm not sure that has the intended effect, but that is another discussion). We went up again, and now the storm was right outside the pattern. Too close for my comfort. We even caught a really strong updraft that took us up about 200 extra feet the last time around. We got back to the runway fine, but that was the weird landing I described earlier.

As we tied down the plane, we could hear the storm approaching. Then we heard the rain on the wings of the planes on the other side of the ramp. We had to run back to the terminal to keep dry.

While we waited for the rain to subside so we could go home, Mike and I talked about the lesson. He seems a little frustrated that I haven't perfected the landings yet. He admitted that I was the first student he had to teach how to land, and he wasn't sure if he was doing something wrong. He is going to set up a lesson for me with one of the other instructors to see if they can help me get over this hump of getting the proper alignment of the plane at the end of the flare.

I have thought about this, and have come to some conclusions. First, not all of my landings are bad. This lesson had two out of seven good. It should be more like six out of seven, but it is an improvement. Second, there were a lot of distractions this evening. Some were from Mike, and some were from the weather/darkness. The distractions from Mike are all things I need to learn about, but I think I need to spend some time just doing normal landings. In all my lessons, I don't think I have done more than two in a row before Mike has me change something (flaps, power, etc.). What I need is an hour of normal landings so I can see what changes do, and I can only concentrate on my landings.

Going up with another instructor is also a good idea, and I am up for it whenever the schedules work out. With Oshkosh this week, most of the staff is out of town, so it might have to wait  until next week.

So it looks like a solo is still some distance out. It certainly isn't going to happen until I perfect my landings. Next lesson is Wednesday evening.

7/29/07 Landing Practice
1.4 hours today / 15.8 hours total

Wednesday's lesson was cancelled due to weather. Mike had arranged for me to go up with another instructor, Joe, to see if I just needed another perspective to get me landing better. The soonest Joe could meet with me was today at noon. The weather was good today, but it was a little turbulant around the airport.

Joe had just come back from a charter flight to the Bahamas when I arrived at the airport, so we started a little late. While I was waiting for him, I pre-flighted the plane. I was done before he got out to the plane, so I watched some of the other planes take off and land. Winds were light, and everyone was using Two Six Left today. When Joe got out to the plane, I told him what I thought the problem was. He said that he would let me land the first time by myself, and he would watch what the problem was. Then he would tell me what I need to change to fix it.

The first landing was typical of my recent landings. Obviously not aligned with the runway, and my flare is not great, but gets the airplane down. Joe agreed that the problem probably was my sight picture of how the plane should be aligned. He thought I was probably lining up the top of the cowl with the center line of the runway (he was right). The problem with that is the cowl does not go straight out. It tapers towards the prop. So what I really should be looking for is the cowl tapering towards the right of the center line.

We continued around the pattern as I adjusted what I was looking for each time. The other useful piece of information I got from Joe was that once I level off over the runway, that I don't change anything (alierons or rudder), and then just do the flare. I was constantly adjusting both rudders and alierons the whole time. He also said that I have a tendancy to over correct, and that was making it harder to get the plane set for the landing. Joe also said that these were very typical mistakes that students make around the same number of hours I have. That made me feel good, since I was starting to think I was a slow learner.

By the end of the lesson, Joe said my landings were improving. I still need to work on the flare, but Joe thinks that was mainly because I was concentrating on the alignment of the plane so much, and I was. At this point, I am not as worried about mastering the flare as I am getting the alignment correct. I think I know how to get the alignment correct now, so next time I will concentrate on the flare. Really, I think it is down to practicing and practicing until I get it right.

The next lesson is Tuesday evening, weather permitting.