Kategoriarkiv: USA

Learning to Fly in 23 days (Epilogue)

So Saturday afternoon I took Jackie and the family to Tampa and drove the car back to Winter Haven. I did the CAA examination and when the examiner had left there was a moment, albeit a brief one, where I was alone outside the school waiting for Gerry to finish off some paper work. The feeling is very hard to describe. The 3 weeks seems so much longer. It might be that time flies when you’re having fun but I guess my mind had to come to terms with everything I had learned and done over the past 23 days and spacing it out, it just seemed to reach much further back than 3 weeks. The sense of achievement is enormous. The feeling of positive power. Even as it was getting dark I could walk in, take out the box for a plane (The box contains the official documents, the keys, checklists etc) and fly it. This was, however, purely an academic idea. In the midst of the elation I felt tired beyond belief. The last 2 days had been more stressful than I could ever remember having felt before and suddenly the work of the past 3 weeks came back demanding rest too. Gerry and I had decided to go to one of the better local Japanese restaurants where you could get very nice Teppanyaki. We had a good time there. On a side note, though I don’t think I have a lot of prejudices I certainly had one exposed to myself: Just as we had sat down a party of four came in. The biggest guy, who sat down next to me, had a big silver ring in his nose, huge black beard, a leather vest and countless tattoos on his arms. I didn’t think it boded well for the evening but he was a really cool and very nice guy. Apparently, he was the local tattooist in the only such “shop” in Winter Haven. He had traveled all over the world and had very interesting insight into Europe, Australia and the US. Not a typical American by any measurement. It’s nice every now and then getting wake-up calls on your preconceptions.
I had an early night and went back to rest on my laurels. I had to be on the airfield for 10:00 Sunday morning as my plane was available 2 hours from 10:00-12:00. At 10:15 the student and her instructor returned the plane but since she had to plan a cross-country she said I could have it for 3 hours, no problem. Looking at my map I thought I would utilize the extra time and wing it to Charlotte which is a bit further south than both Seebring and Venice. It wouldn’t be too hard to do that as Charlotte (Or Punta Gorda) has a VOR. This meant, as soon as I was within approximately 30-50 miles I could fly in on a radial; i.e. instruments navigation. The weather was fine, cloud cover a little low at about 3,500-4,000 feet. Forecast was Thunderstorms and lowering cloud base but not until much later in the afternoon. Off I went. In the air, course straight for Charlotte. Approximately 45 miles outside Charlotte I picked up the VOR signal and laid the course to fly directly in on the 205 radial. I had originally planned to fly at 3,500 ft but the cloud cover was now coming down to around 3,000 so that wasn’t possible. A couple of times I caught just a wisp of cloud and had to descend to stay clear. 20 miles outside Charlotte I tuned into their frequency and after 1-2 minutes heard: “To all airmen, this is a reminder that Charlotte is still closed”. Tsk tsk. Who was a bad boy not looking to see if there were any NOTAMs before taking to the air? Ah well. I turned the plane around and flew north and thought I would bid good riddance to Arcadia that had caused me so much trouble on my first cross-country. I found the radial from Charlotte that would take me straight to Arcadia and after 15 minutes, sure enough; there it was right below me. I thought about landing but there’s really nothing to do or see so I just ventured to my next stop, Lake Wales. Hmmm. Clouds were coming down and I was now having a hard time flying at 2,000ft having to fly more often at 1,500. Still just fine within my conservative MSA (Minimum Safe Altitude) but not exactly planned and I was happy Lake Wales was about 10 minutes away from Winter Haven. I could get to Winter Haven without getting into Bartow airspace. Normally, I would just stay above 2,600ft (which is as high as Bartow airspace go) but my cloud ceiling was now no higher than 2,000 and it had gone from FEW/SCATTERED to BROKEN. No problem, there was Winter Haven and I landed. Took the airplane back to base, had my logbook signed off for all the hours and went back to my apartment to do the final packing. A couple of hours later I was on the way to the airport and a couple of hours after that (at 17:30) Gerry, my instructor, took the picture above of runway 04-22 (The time is European Central time).

Winterhaven Thunder

Had I gone to Charlotte for a full stop landing, had lunch and then headed back I would probably not have been able to land at Winter Haven in time to catch my flight home to the UK.

At Orlando airport, I was searched at the gate and spent 20 minutes explaining why I was carrying a pilot’s head-set in my carry-on (Because it had active noise cancellation which works very nicely on a jumbo jet, thank you), why I had so many batteries in my bag and why I had a pilot’s nite-lite as well. I can see their problem, of course, and patiently explained the reasons and they were happy with the answers and with the contents (or lack of it) of my shoes which also had to go off and be subjected to detailed examination.

Back in the UK Monday and I thought I’d move while everything was still fresh and I went to Fairoaks to have my checkride. A check-ride for a flying club is required (by insurance) in order for them to rent you their airplanes. It can be anything from a couple of quick circuits to something near a fully-fledged exam. In my case it was a little in between. We did a couple of take offs and landings and she then took quite some time to explain the rather complicated joining instructions at Fairoaks. Fairoaks is very close to Heathrow controlled airspace and is inside the actual zone so it’s extremely important to have the right altitude at the right place at the right time. My radio work with Farnborough radar was enough to get me a reprimand from the controller so that’s an area I need to work on. I have obviously got too used to the ease of things in the US. The Fairoaks instructor did, however, compliment me on my circuits, particularly my approaches and my landings and duly signed me of for hiring the club’s aircrafts. My glide in (with power shut off) from the turn into base was the best I’ve ever done. I have come a long way…

Day 1Day 20Day 21Day 22 Day 23Epilogue

Learning to Fly – Day Twentythree (The moment of truth)

I was up at 06:00, showered and in the car on my way to the airfield at 06:30. I had agreed to meet Gerry at 07:00 so we could do a couple of patterns to warm up. Now I had other plans. I wanted to go through my navigation plan, weight and balances and all the paper work I (as a pilot) need to be aware of. So we went through maintenance records on the aircraft, checked my weights and balances, landing and take-off distances required compared to the airfields we would be visiting. At 7:50 I drove off 2 miles around the airfield to where the FAA examiner Chuck has his own sea-plane base. I walked in, and on a veranda 2 guys were talking about one of the Sun’n’Fun accidents. Chuck introduced himself and offered me a cup of coffee. I sat down with the coffee and we started chatting. The chat and small talk very gradually turned more and more specific until I realised I was in the middle of the Oral examination. It was going very well. I answered every question correctly. After 30 minutes he turned up the heat. “2 things will fail you while you fly. Not might, but will. Your vacuum pump and your alternator belt. If you notice your alternator belt going, how long do you have on your battery?” I didn’t have a clue. I’ve never seen the question and hadn’t thought about the problem. It was obviously a good and valid question but I gave in. “I have no idea” “OK, you don’t have to know it. Guess.” “Between ½ hour and an hour?”. Spot on. Very lucky. He then asked me: “How many instruments run on the vacuum pump?” Before I continue, a little background: There is a group of instruments called Gyros. They are the Attitude Indicator, the Heading Indicator and the Turn Indicator. 2 of those run on the vacuum pump but the Turn Indicator runs on electricity. This is sort of a fail safe system as in a sticky situation, you can use the turn indicator instead of an Attitude Indicator. So the typical wrong answer to his question would be 3, answering a question about the number of gyros instead. The expected correct answer is 2. I had been through this one with Gerry, and felt brave enough: “3”. Chuck had been very praising and impressed with my answers so far and had more than once commented “Studying makes things so easy”. Now he looked at me and raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Really? Name them!”. “The Heading Indicator. The Attitude Indicator. And the Vacuum Gauge!”. “Smart-arse” he said with a smile. The gamble had worked. The vacuum gauge simply measures the effect of the vacuum pump. It’s not a flight instrument but it’s an instrument none the less. He then started to ask difficult questions. “What is your minimum visibility for a cross country? I know you know the legal minimum. I’m interested in your magic number”. He asked the same about cloud cover, cross winds etc. These questions were about judgement and evaluation of your own abilities. It’s obviously no good answering these ultra conservatively because he won’t buy it. You had to come up with reasonable values reflecting your own low level of experience. Again, it seemed I came up with answers he liked. He then did something that really phased me. He took me into the office and went through all the paperwork. At the end of it he printed off my temporary pilot’s license certificate and stuffed it into his folder. “Now don’t go screw it up and cause me a lot of trouble. Let’s get this little flight over with”. We went to the plane, pre-flighted and taxied to the runway. I stopped well short of the line and did my power up. We were away. “Let’s stay in the pattern for a while. Give me a normal landing”. I did, again counting my blessing having practiced cross winds so much. “OK, short field. Stop after landing”. I did. “OK, now give me a soft field take-off.” I had done 1 of those, 2 days ago and as I started rolling I remembered I had to pull back on the yoke, and as I accelerated the plane would take off “too early”. You had to keep it low (The so-called ground effect) until it had accelerated to normal take-off speed at which point you would start the climb. What I couldn’t remember was if I was supposed to use flaps or not. I’m thinking and doing all this rolling down the runway and when I finally deduce that off course I need flaps (since they give you more lift) I’m already near rotation speed and I have no idea what initiating flaps would do at this point considering I already had my nose high. What if I went tail into ground or something? So I thought “F*** it, I know I can take off safely without” and that’s what I did. At 600ft it came. He asked: “Did your instructor teach you to do soft field take-off with or without flaps?” “Well, I was actually asking myself the very same question, but now you mention it I think he taught me to use flaps and I just forgot”.   “Well, if I at this moment was in a really bad mood, you would be finished with your check ride now. However, you have put me into a really good mood so far so let’s get out of the pattern and do some work”. The owner of the flight school later confirmed the sentiments behind that statement. He said that you can technically get through on a shoddy Oral Examination but the examiner would then jump on any mistake you do. If, however, you demonstrate that you are well prepared you get away with more. Close call again. The FAA test is more extensive and more difficult than the CAA. I navigated to my first check-point. I was about 2 miles to the west of it, so he asked me to continue. The next checkpoint was really easy and I could already see it. I was heading straight for it when he had had enough. I had to put on the instrument hood. I then had to do some instrument turns. He then threw a curved ball: “I want you to do all your stalls under the hood. Do you have a problem with that?” “No, not at all”. And so it went. Landing stall, turning stall, power stall, all of them under the hood. I kept my course (except for the turning stall) and the maximum altitude loss was 100ft. I was under the hood and he said: Take me to Lakeland. This would be my diversion. I generally hate diversions because you have to estimate the new heading and either use a stupid slide rule calculator for wind correction or estimate that too. With an estimated heading and ground speed you then have to estimate the distance and come up with an arrival time at the diversion airfield not too far from the actual time you make. However, by asking me to make my diversion under the hood, he obviously wanted to see if I could use the VOR and DME. I switched the VOR to Lakeland and turned the knob until I was centred. 325. I changed my heading to 325 and tuned the DME. 18.4. “We are 18.4 miles from Lakeland and will get there on this heading in approximately 12 minutes”. “Take off the hood and show me a steep turn”. Remembering the “lesson” yesterday I did a near perfect steep turn. Then he wanted S-turns over that road. There was very little wind, which makes that exercise easy. “Look at those caravans there. Use them for a turn around a point”. As I was turning around the caravans he started to chat. “Tell me the difference between CAA and FAA examination. Which is the harder” And so on. I chatted back but was well aware that he was trying to distract me. We were at 1,200ft going into the turn around a point and we stayed at 1,200ft all the time never moving closer or further away from the caravans. “Do you know where Winter Haven is from here?” Did I ever! As I joined 45 degrees downwind for runway 11 he also ran through the list. He said: “You did very well. Stop being so nervous man, you’re sweating like a pig! Your air work was excellent and I really don’t have any serious complaints except for the lack of flaps on your soft field take off.” I landed, he handed me the license and I was a certified FAA pilot with the right to take on board passengers! Unfortunately it was a little too late for that holiday as the family was flying out. Jackie and the family arrived 1 hour later and I drove them to Tampa airport. From Tampa it was back to Winter Haven where Paul waited for the final leg of the CAA. We got into the plane and flew North towards Leesburg. I had written out everything in my flight plan. I had the runway layout drawn up, the direction I would be coming from in highlighter, the frequencies at Leesburg and at airports along the way, Miami Centre for emergencies and so on. Paul is a big guy (250 pounds) so I had done detailed weight and measure and I had calculated our fuel consumption. En-route he looked through all the stuff. He had obviously been talking to someone because he told me: “You have put me in a really good mood with this preparation. I’ll allow you two mistakes”. When we had Leesburg in sight in the far distance I asked him if he wanted me to do a full stop, a Touch’n’Go or an overfly. Whatever you want, he said. “I’ll overfly, then.” “OK, then I want you to divert to Zephyrhills”. This was the dreaded diversion again and this time, no VORs. I guesstimated the new heading, noted the time, got my protractor out and measured the right heading, made the changes, estimated the distance and came up with my bid: “We’re there in 9 minutes”. 8 minutes later we had Zephyrhills in sight out in front on our right. It would take another 2-3 minutes to reach it. “How far are you from Zephyrhills?” he asked. I’m not very good at estimating distances on the ground from the air. “5 miles”. “OK” he said “I’m not going to argue.” But I’m going to count this as one of your allowed mistakes and let’s get back to Winter Haven. What?! There’s no way I could have been so much off that it should count as a mistake. Paul could probably see my indignant look. “Tell me everything you can read off the map about Zephyrhills”. I ran through all the stuff. And then the 2 things he must be getting on to, hit me. I had not changed to the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) which you really should do before getting within 10 miles of an airfield. But worse than that. A parachute symbol indicated that Zephyrhills is a parachuting airfield and you should always be tuned into their CTAF if you are anywhere in the area so you can hear if there are parachutes in the air. Man! There’s just always something, eh? Back at Winter Haven after another good landing he commented to Gerry that he (Gerry) had done a good job and that I had passed. 2 check rides, 2 licenses (and a night rating) in 24 hours. I was tired but the feeling of achievement was just amazing.

Things were heating up at the school with lots of new student coming in. Normally, you get access to a plane for the day after you pass but I could only get a plane for 2 hours between 10:00-12:00 on Sunday as I was due to leave for the airport at 16:00. I would have loved to have had 32990 from 08:00-16:00 so I could go to Key West or somewhere else exciting. That night, I swore at my bad luck not realising how lucky I would count myself just 24 hours later. But that’s for the epilogue, which will follow tomorrow.

Day 1Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23Epilogue

Learning to Fly – Day Twentytwo (UK/CAA check-ride)

The day had come. It was really amazing to stop and think about. 3 weeks ago (It seemed like an eternity) I arrived not being able to fly. Since then I’ve done some amazing stuff, and now not just can I fly but I can land, I can navigate, I can do the radio calls etc etc In some ways the achievement is the same as when you graduate from a very hard school-course, but your typical age when you do that, I think, makes you arrogant to the underlying achievements and you don’t appreciate it so much. I recognized how much theory, practice and skills had got into me over a very short period of time. I was very nervous and a bit shook up from the previous night’s incident on the runway. I went up with Gerry at lunch time for 1 hour preparations. Mainly doing a couple of circuits and getting my visual references for the turn-ins in place. Personally, I think it’s a bit cheating since it obviously assumes you know the airfield, and you should really be able to make nice patterns at any airfield with reference to the runway you are landing on. Gerry wasn’t having it. “The examiners are looking for sharp rectangular patterns and that’s what you will give them!” I hadn’t had breakfast and it was 13:30 when we walked back from the plane. I wasn’t hungry so I had an apple and a diet coke for lunch and I then read a little more for tomorrow’s FAA Oral Exam and tried to relax/meditate in the sun outside the flight centre. Errr… What sun? For the first time in 3 weeks the weather was closing in. Paul, the examiner, called and asked if I wanted to go ahead with the test since he would not be able to be there before 18:00. At that point it looked like scattered thunderstorms and a call to the MET briefer confirmed that the line was moving NW and we should be clear for my 100+ miles navigation route by then. Paul arrived at 18:15 and I had already pre-checked the aircraft and we walked straight out there. This was it! I got in first, strapped myself in, plugged in my headset and strapped the clip-board to my leg for the airfield information and flight logging I would have to do. Made the taxi call and proceeded to runway 11. When you take off on runway 11 the taxiway leads to 1/3 down the runway. So you have to make a call that you back-track on the runway so no-one tries to land. I was approaching the hold short point on the narrow taxiway at which I would do my power-up checks. I steered out to the left to make as much as a turn to the right as I could so I would be facing more or less into the wind as I was supposed to. It was a narrow taxiway and in doing this my left wing crossed over the hold short point. “You do that tomorrow, and Chuck will fail you immediately” it came from Paul. Chuck was to be my FAA examiner tomorrow morning. Red-faced and with my confidence in shatters I proceeded to do the power up checks, back taxied runway 11 and took off. “I suggest we start with a few patterns and we can check out the weather from 1,000ft” he said. That’s what we did. We did a normal and a soft field landing. On the third pattern he pointed to the south (Where we would be going according to the plan). “You are the Pilot in Command. What’s your decision?” I looked at it. Had I been with Gerry we would have flown it, it didn’t look too bad and I had an experienced instructor next to me. Obviously, Paul was even more experienced but he was only counting as a passenger and I asked myself would I go if this was my first flight after getting the license? The answer was simple: I wouldn’t! I told him: “No go”. “Good decision” he said. He then suggested we went off to the North and did all the skills work so all we had to do next day was the Navigation. That’s what we did. He asked me to do steep turns. We were heading due North and pointing at 3 small lakes. I did the turn and as I rolled out, we felt our own slipstream. I was smugly congratulating myself. “As you did that turn, what did you look at?” Paul asked. I knew the “right” answer but I was also too smart to try and kid an examiner. “A little bit of everything: The horizon, the spinner, my altitude, my vertical speed, the bank angle and the speed. He looked surprised at the honesty. I hadn’t lost any altitude while doing the turn (Which is one of the main things you want to demonstrate). He took my map, covered ALL the instruments and asked me to do another steep turn. The smug feeling dissipated rapidly. I turned steeply to the left at a bank angle of (estimated) at least 45° keeping the spinner (The middle of the propeller) on the horizon (Or rather where the horizon would be, could I see it through the clouds and mist). Rolling out at the visual reference point we again felt our own slip stream and he removed the map from the instruments. We had lost less than 50ft and you are allowed to lose 150ft. “As you would have seen, it’s actually easier to do without the instruments” Paul said. “OK, back to Winter Haven. Do you know where it is; it’s not part of the test?” I informed him that I thought Winter Haven was “that way” and he agreed and we were on our way. I couldn’t believe it had been that easy. I had done my stalls, turns, slow flights etc and that was it. Not quite. Suddenly, I lost my engine. Paul had pulled the throttle back. “Engine failure”. I went through the check-list I had practiced all hours of the day in all situations for the past 2 weeks. I just couldn’t find a spot I was comfortable committing to land. That’s really disastrous. You can pass your check-ride having chosen a bad site and you can pass it missing whatever site you choose. However, if you are indecisive and just land where the plane takes you… you will (justifiably) fail. “OK, I’ll land at that field there”. I followed through my checklist and got to the carburettor heating which I duly switched on. I simulated attempted restart and made a mayday call (without transmitting) and (pretended to) put my transponder on 7700. All the while I was rapidly approaching my site. It stunk. It had looked good from 2,500ft but now it seemed much shorter with trees at both ends. Really stupid choice. I was too high anyways. At 400ft I informed him that we needed to go around and he concurred. “You would never have made it before hitting the trees” he dryly commented. I thought I had a chance but I had to yield to his superior experience and I obviously wouldn’t argue the point anyways. As we approached Winter Haven he looked at the sky to the south. “You know, when you said no go I thought to myself it didn’t look too bad and we could have made it. I gotta say, you made a better call than me!” The sky was pitch black with a wide squall line of thunderstorms. It was a nice “pick-me-up” to get though. He asked for a short field landing. “I don’t want you to dive in, there is no obstacle, but there’s a taxiway 1/3 down the runway” (The one we came in on) “and it would be really nice if you could get us off on that”. “I won’t fail you if you don’t, but it would be nice…”. Right. I kept myself relatively high on final, got over the bushes before the runway and the second I was clear of the bushes I cut the power. I glided in at ca. 3 knots below my normal final speed, compensated for the cross wind and took her down just after the numbers and bang on the middle line. I didn’t even have to break particularly hard as we rolled down towards the taxiway and I swung nicely into the taxiway. “That was a very good landing” he said. I had thought the same thing but it was nice hearing him say it. As I was shutting down he gave me the verdict: “You are safe and stable and I don’t have a problem passing you as long as we manage the navigation tomorrow. 3 things: 1) Don’t cross hold short lines. If you do that at a towered airport you can lose your license. 2) What do you think is the number one cause of engine failure?” I suggested “Fuel Starvation”. “In the UK, where you will be flying, the number one cause of engine failure is carburettor icing. You took so long getting to the carburettor heating when you had the engine failure that the heat which would have removed the icing would have gone! Don’t follow the American lists blindly but think about it. Re-arrange the order if it makes sense. The first thing you do in the UK when you get an engine failure is switch on carburettor heat. In the US, the number one cause of engine failure is, indeed, fuel starvation. It just goes to illustrate the level of airmanship here. 3rd point: When you do the “full and free” control movement you don’t look out and check to see if the ailerons and stabilator is moving. So all you know is the yoke moves. You don’t know if it’s connected to anything. Only the first one is a big thing so you did well”. When we came back to the school Jackie and Simon were waiting. We had planned to go out and eat together with Gerry to celebrate. Now it was a bit strange. I had all but passed the CAA exam but it still wasn’t official. I also had an FAA exam next morning that, if I repeated today’s performance, I would fail within 10 minutes. I felt very nervous and both Gerry and Jackie commented how stressed and stressy I was. I was back at the Villa and in my bed at 23:00 for a 06:00 start. Tomorrow would be make or break on 2 check rides. Would I achieve what I had come for? I swung between feeling confident (Well, I thought I was safe and I knew how to do all the stuff) and very unconfident (One small mistake and I have failed).

Day 1Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Twentyone (Near miss)

Today’s day-time training was going to be all about landing and taking off at non-ideal sites. So called “Performance take-off and landing”. E.g. taking off and landing on grass turf, soft ground, short runways or runways with 50ft obstacles at one end. We raced through the various scenarios without too much difficulty. It really wasn’t that complicated.

At night, we went straight back on the patterns and landings. I felt more focused and more positive and all though the wind was marginal for what students are allowed (solo) with a 9 knot cross wind factor I managed to land safely every time. Gerry had offered that we went to Bartow where the lighted runway would be much more favourable to the wind but the stubborn me decided that since I had to learn to land in strong cross winds anyways this seemed as good a time as ever. After 30 minutes Gerry looked at me and told me(!) “You are doing the solo circuits now”. Fine. I felt much better with myself. I had to do 10 solo take off and landings at night to fulfil the criteria. So off I went. “Beginning 1” I counted in my head as I took off. I made the pattern and was on final. Geez, some cross wind. I had my right wing down and left rudder fully deflected both slipping and crabbing at the same time. Really nice landing and since students aren’t allowed touch and go it was a full stop, back on the taxi way and “Beginning 2”. When I got to 4, another school plane (A Cessna) joined the pattern. It was doing dual (with instructor) touch and goes and could thus get through the whole pattern a lot faster than me, as they did not have to stop and taxi back. At some point, while I was on base I heard them call “Downwind, for full stop”. Oh joy! I would have the pattern to myself again. I landed, counted “6 done”, taxied back and held short as they had just landed (while I was taxiing back). I looked down out my side window along the runway… nothing. “Winter Haven Traffic, Warrior 32401 lining up runway 04 for immediate departure, Winter Haven Traffic” I called. No reaction from anyone. I lined up and looked carefully down the runway. Nothing. Power forward and I was racing down the runway accelerating to my 70-odd MPH take-off speed…. AND THERE THEY WERE! I have no idea why I originally couldn’t see neither them nor their lights when I looked down the runway but I missed them completely. What does it always say in the accident reports? It’s never one thing but a combination of things that go wrong. Apparently Gerry had been screaming into his hand-held radio: “401, HOLD YOUR POSITION”. Obviously his transmission didn’t work, as I didn’t hear anything. As I was zooming towards the Cessna it left the runway onto a taxiway and I was airborne well before I reached them anyway. The radio call came quite clearly (but calmly): “You should hold your take-off run until runway is vacated”. It wasn’t Gerry, but obviously one of the other instructors. S***! I could be in so much trouble. I did the last 4 landings a bit shaken but still OK. As I pulled in I was almost expecting a police car waiting for me. Instead Gerry was there congratulating me on some quite good difficult cross wind landings. As we walked back to the school he asked me about the incident. I told him what had happened from my perspective and he asked me if I had heard him on the radio. “Yeah Gerry, I heard you ask me to hold, but I thought it was none of your business…. Of course I didn’t hear you.” He seemed relatively happy with that. I was quite happy for passing another milestone but I was shaken and took the near-miss down to useful experience that cold save my life in later flying. Next day, one of the instructors quietly came up to me and told me he was the one. He apologised for being so slow getting off the runway but re-iterated I shouldn’t have started my roll. I informed him that I would never have started rolling had I seen him but the truth was… I didn’t see him until quite late. Everyone seemed pretty happy about this. I seemed to be the one person most upset about it. My CAA check flight is tomorrow with a CAA examiner and ex-BA jumbo pilot, Paul. This incidence didn’t do my confidence any good at all. Geez, it’s scary. What have I gotten myself into? Walking back to my apartment I also noticed my left knee was hurting from pressing the rudder pedal so much and so hard in order to compensate for the cross wind. It was really sore the next morning too. But I still did it! Not just did I manage 10 landings at night but in the worst conditions I had encountered yet. I was getting very close now.

Summary after 21 days:
Flown: 3:30
Total flying time: 56 hours and 3 minutes.
Solo: 12 hours 18 minutes.
Day 1Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Twenty (Descent into darkness)

I was asked to plan a night cross country. From Winter Haven we would go north to Leesburg, from there to Zephyrhills and then back to Winter Haven. I had to do touch and go landings at all airports. Planning the trip I realised the first leg would take us within 2 miles from the Villa the family was staying at. However, we couldn’t really drop by; it would sort of ruin the plan, not to mention the plane. Night flying cross country requires a lot of preparation. The checkpoints you chose along the way have to be different. You can’t use small lakes (They are just as black as fields) or even big roads if they are unlit. However, it’s easier to use radio-towers or villages and so it goes. I also studied the radio navigation needed if we got lost and the runways at all the airports so I knew how to approach each airport in order to join at the correct 45° to downwind. The first leg was uneventful. I missed the 1st and 3rd way point but that was really to be expected. The last bit before arriving at Leesburg is a rather big lake. This means you fly over absolute nothingness – just a black void – and you have to descend for a long final on to the RW in use which begins where the lake ends. Man, you have to trust your instruments. There’s no way you can see if you are 100, 200 or 500 feet above the surface of a lake. I landed, reasonably well if I have to say it myself (in cross winds), took off again and we were on the way to Zephyrhills. Gerry could comfortably sit back and relax having the privilege of the control and view of the GPS while I was sweating trying to make it on visual clues. Gerry pointed stuff out along the way: There’s traffic (other aircrafts) there, there are 3 towers together – can you see them on the map – there’s a mining area lit by night. Suddenly he said: “Are you OK in the rain?” “What rain?” “*That* rain” he said and shone the torch light on the windscreen… the rain was pouring down on the airplane. It looked no different to me with all the lights off and I hadn’t noticed. We got to Zephyrhills; another touch and go, and it was back to Winter Haven. We could see Lakeland on our right as we approached Winter Haven and I had the same paranoia feeling of being surrounded by maniacs in aircrafts with no radio (maybe no lights) just waiting to hit me. We landed safely at Winter Haven and all though it was getting late, Gerry wanted me to start doing patterns. So after more than 1 hour of cross country we did over ½ hour of night landings. The first 2 had been pretty poor. Gerry then did 1 and went off to do another. I felt angry at myself. “I have control” I said (Which is not really something a student says). Gerry looked surprised but was pleased to give me control. I did a relatively good pattern and a pretty good landing/touch-go and we were off again. Another good pattern and good approach and Gerry said: “Make it full stop”. I knew why… Full stop and I turned to Gerry and told him “You want me to do solo landings now, right? But I’m not doing it”. He said “Yes, and why not?” The only answer I could give was: “I’m not comfortable”. I wasn’t. 15 knots wind coming in at 40° from the left didn’t help. So there it was. Gerry later over a beer (on the day I left to go back to the UK, actually) told me that this was the most frustrating time for him during the whole instruction. He knew I could do it, he had seen me do it; he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t. To his credit, I had no inkling of his frustration at the time. My feeling was: I’m 40; I’m sure of myself; assertive. If I don’t feel safe and comfortable doing something… I’m not doing it. But was I ever? If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get my FAA license and I obviously wouldn’t get my CAA night rating either. The FAA rating would be a bummer but the way I felt at the time I wasn’t concerned about the night rating. I would never fly voluntarily at night anyways!

Summary after 20 days:
Flown: 2:24
Total flying time: 52 hours and 33 minutes.
Solo: 10 hours 42 minutes.
Day 1Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 22Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Nineteen (Rest)

I was originally supposed to have my first check ride (The FAA) today and the CAA tomorrow. However, because of “Sun’n’Fun” all the examiners were tied up with various safety events and all that, so they wouldn’t be available until later that week. So my exams were finally set up: I would do my CAA certification on Friday late afternoon (17:30) and my FAA Oral and skills test on Saturday morning at 08:00.  The only thing left to do before the tests was solo night flying for my night rating. We had agreed I would take Wednesday completely off as rest but the winds were quite heavy today (Tuesday) so we decided to change and take Tuesday off. My next flying would be tomorrow night. The whole family went to Universal Studios and had a fantastic time. I still looked up whenever I heard a light aircraft but no flying.

This would be the first day in nearly 3 weeks that I had not flown at all. The moment of truth was getting close. I was reading up on the Oral exam that comes with the FAA certification. (Note: Little did I realise the significance of that extra studying…)

Summary after 19 days:
Flown:  No
Total flying time: 50 hours and 9 minutes.
Solo: 10 hours 42 minutes.
Day 1Day 17 – Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 21Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Eighteen (Stalling)

With the family secured in a villa relatively close by (40 minutes’ drive), I was now seeing them every day and I would come to the villa to sleep unless we were doing late night flying… which, as it happened, we would be!  Ah well.  Gerry had the marvellous idea that we should spend the daytime at the training grounds stalling. I had the session pushed to late afternoon so I could take Simon and Kristoffer to “Sun’n’Fun” the yearly air-show at Lakeland airport.  When you consider the discussions arising from the 2 accidents at Biggins Hill last year you get an insight into the difference in culture when you hear about “Sun’n’Fun”.  It goes on for a week every year and there is at least one fatality per year and often one per day.  They have ½ million people coming in, not all, but many by plane.  They normally run two runways but for that week, they do two things. They make one taxiway running parallel to one of the runways into another runway and call them 27L and 27R and (this is the insane part) they cut each into 2 so they request people to land long or to hold short.  I.e. I could be told to land on the first half of RW 27R and hold short because someone is also landing, but on the second half of the RW.  This is really so insane that the flight centre I train at forbid everyone, students, instructors or people hiring, to fly to Lakeland during this week.  On the first day, a Piper Warrior (Like the one I fly) and a home-build plane collided mid-air over the runway. The Piper pilot is still critically injured in hospital and the other pilot was declared dead on arrival.  They have had four other collisions either on the runway or so low that everyone walked away.  Well, Simon, Kristoffer and I drove to Lakeland and looked at all the aircrafts.  I saw my three “lottery” aircrafts: A Pilatus PC-12, A Piper Meridian and a TMP-700.  At the Piper stall, a sales-guy came up and talked to me.  I told him I would love a Meridian but it was a little outside my league. However, could he talk to me about the Arrow?  He asked me if I had a card (cheeky devil) and was suitably impressed with my “Executive Director of Morgan Stanley” card to haul off all sorts of goodies for the kids, give me a tour of the aircrafts and taking me through all the functions etc etc.  It is very nice and I think I will be looking for a 1/3 of an Arrow when I get back to the UK.  The boys enjoyed themselves and back at the airfield, I ordered delivery pizza that they could wait for and eat while Gerry took me to the training grounds for the first stalls of the day. Talking to some other student pilots it seems most have a strange relationship to stalls.  Granted, real stalls are not good but it is because you want to be able to handle these that you practice stalls so much. And the practice stalls?  It is not half as bad as a roller coaster in Disney World. So we did our clean stalls, our landing stalls, our turning stalls etc etc. Back to the airfield, pick up the kids (and eat the one slice of Pizza left over – my lunch!) drive them back to the Villa and then I drove back to the airfield for night flying.  That felt like stalls of a different nature.  Gerry warned me against vertigo at night because you lose sense of horizon, up and down with stars and street light. I had none of that. However, I did not like not being able to see to the end of the RW on take-off and I did not like pointing the nose of the aircraft at “nothing” or a black hole on final approach before landing. The whole night was touch and goes and even though my landings did improve slightly it was a very depressing feeling being stalled from being able to land reasonably well basically every time during the day and feeling very poor at it during the night. I found (OK, Gerry found) that my main problem was flaring (pulling up just before landing) too soon. It is partly because the impression of the RW changes in reduced light and partly a greater fear of crashing into the RW that causes a tendency to pull too early. I was not in a much better mood when I went to sleep. However, FAA requires a little night flying and I thought I might as well do enough to get the night rating on my CAA license too. So you could say, I asked for it.

Summary after 18 days:
Flown:  3 hours 6 minutes
Total flying time: 50 hours and 9 minutes.
Solo: 10 hours 42 minutes.
Day 1Day 16 Day 17 – Day 18Day 19Day 20Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Seventeen (Don’t look out)

So what was the biggest complaint of my instructors?  And what is the number one thing every flight instructor drills into the head of every one of their students?  LOOK OUT! This is VFR (Visual Flight Rules). Do not get stuck on your instruments. Look out, check for traffic etc. Look/glance at your airspeed when – and only when – you need to. Look at your Heading Indicator when you need to. And so it goes. Well, supposedly, I had now learned to fly visual and I needed to forget about this advice for a while; it was on to instrument flying. There was a couple of objectives behind our exercises: My training required for me to be able to do a controlled 180 turn, if I by accident I got myself into clouds or other “IMC” (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) such that I could get out the way I came in. However, I want to take a basic instrument rating as soon as I get home; I will find it impossible to fly in the UK without it. So Gerry had agreed to do more than required to start to get me acquainted. As soon as I had taken off, Gerry took control while I put on “the hood”.  It is a device, which obstructs the vision out through the windshield so you can only observe instruments. Gerry would (I hoped) look out for other traffic, while I followed instructions flying purely on the instruments. I enjoyed it. I started out attempting to do timed standard turns. If you do a standard rate turn, you will turn 3 degrees per second and thus a 180 in a minute and 360 in 2.  So the secret is simple: Keep the turn angle constant at standard rate. That can be really hard, particular in turbulence, but I managed in the end to consistently get within 10 degrees (3 seconds) on a 180. Then it was on to timed descents and timed climbed. Either by a constant descent/climb rate or constant speed. We then worked on combinations where while climbing I would do a timed turn… all only using instruments.  It was all going well and I could feel Gerry getting bored. I still had no idea where I was and he then requested that I descended from 3,000ft to 1,500 ft while turning onto (and maintaining) a heading of 020.  I did this. The instructions then started to come in fast. Descend to 1,000ft, turn 5 degrees to the left.  Keep 1,000 ft, turn 45 degrees to the right.  Keep 1,000 ft turn 90 degrees to the left. Ahem. This looked familiar. “Come on Gerry, you are not making me land this thing under the hood” I begged. “Fly it!” It came uncompromising from Gerry. Decrease power to 1,700, 25 degrees flaps. Turn 90 degrees to the left.  My altitude was going down 500 fpm and I was at 500. “Remove Hood”. I knew it. I was on final to 29. “You’re at decision altitude. Will you land?”  It was VMC and then some, so no problem. I landed. On the second session, I tried VOR triangulation to find my position. I knew how to do that having been prepared to do it if I got into trouble on my XC, so no problems.

Third session of the day was night flying. What a downer.  It was as if I was back before I knew how to land!  Landings were so hard. It did not help that there were 9 knots of cross wind but the perspective of the runway was completely changed at night.  On my fourth landing, I made the call on final: “Winter Haven Traffic, Warrior, 444HA on final for runway 04, Touch’n’Go, Winter Haven”. I landed and the lights at the end of the runway looked a bit different. Before it had clicked what was wrong…  “F****** Hell, Gerry said, took the controls and steered us straight into a taxiway calling: “Winter Haven Traffic, Warrior 444HA has left the active runway due to opposite traffic, Winter Haven”.  Some idiot was actually landing on 22, which is the same runway as 04 but opposite direction. He did a go-around and as we took off again we saw him turning around the airport and land on 04. Without making a single radio call. We heard him on the ground asking for fuel, so he had the frequency!  After our final landing when we parked, we saw him parked 50 yards away. You feel like leaving a note on his windscreen: “Nice flying, idiot”.  The problem is that what he did was not illegal because we are in uncontrolled airspace. It’s poor airmanship; but not illegal.

Summary after 17 days:
Flown:  3 hours 48 minutes
Total flying time: 47 hours and 3 minutes.
Solo: 10 hours 42 minutes.
Day 1Day 15Day 16Day 17Day 18Day 19Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Sixteen (Qualified?)

So after yesterday’s rather eventful cross-country today it would be on to the so-called Qualifying Cross Country flight.  I had to make a cross country of a certain length, visit at least one airport that I had never been at or even over and get signatures from airport managers along the way.  It was also the day that Jackie and the family departed the resort at St. Pete’s beach to move to the Villa we had booked much closer to the airport I was flying from.  I had rented a family van and agreed to drive out and pick them up. So I had moved the flight from a 12:00 start time to a 9:30 start time. The flight was to be Winter Haven to Seebring, from Seebring to Venice and from Venice back to Winter Haven.  The Seebring to Venice was similar to the Seebring to Arcadia leg I did yesterday which means a rather long (45 minutes) flight over country where there are almost no distinguishable features.  Venice is about 15 miles southwest of Arcadia but it has one thing going for it: It is on the beach. If everything fails, I can fly to the coast and fly along it to find the airfield.  I want to be on the way to pick the family up as soon as possible and I am all set to get this done ASAP.  Off to Seebring; it is a breeze. I go straight there, enter the pattern, land (Terrible landing) and taxi to somewhere NOT right in front of the FBO. I go to the airport director and get his stamp and signature certifying that 1) I had landed, 2) That my landing was OK (He did not see it but signed off none the less) and 3) That I had displayed good airmanship. Out to the plane and off again all within 12 minutes. Heading straight for Venice (At least as far as my calculations took me) after quite a while and about the time expected I could see the ocean. I started to look for the airfield and would you believe it: There it was, right in front of me.  Advised to use a runway where the base and final was over the ocean. That was really cool! One of my best landings, taxied to the FBO, got my signature and off again to Winter Haven. Venice is actually particularly cool.  If, on your approach, you call the Unicom and say something to the extent of: “Venice Unicom, Warrior 32990, 5 miles North of Venice, inbound for joining right downwind for runway 13, request taxi to Sharky” they will arrange an actual taxi to wait for you at the tie down apron. The taxi will take you to a well-known very good restaurant on the seaside. Excellent service and food, it is visited by people from all over Florida but is most conveniently reached by air. If early afternoon you can park your aircraft and leave the taxiway straight down to the beach for some drinks (Only the passengers off course) and some sun. Anyways, I was on my way back to Winter Haven, overflew Bartow at 3,000 feet to stay out of their controlled air space and landed without problems about 3 hours after take-off. I had my stamps and signatures and had now turned the last corner before my check-rides. All the final stuff had been booked: I am taking the written FAA exam on Thursday morning, the CAA/JAA check-ride on Friday and the FAA check-ride on Saturday morning.  I could, off course, convert my CAA license to an FAA license. So why do I take the two separately? Why do mountaineers climb a mountain? Well, actually, there are many reasons I do it: 1) it’s a challenge. It seems more fair game to take the two tests and get the two licenses separately rather than getting one “for free” from the other. 2) I want to ensure I am trained on both curriculums, which are slightly different. 3) The feedback you get form the examiner (whether you pass or fail) can be really good in pointing out different stuff from what your instructor points out. And then there is the mountain. It is there, it needs to be climbed. It is a challenge.

After 3 hours of flying, it was straight into the Tank (A Ford Expedition), 2 hours drive to Tampa to pick up the family and finally 2.5 hours back to the villa. The driving was harder work than the flying. That must be a good sign!

Summary after 16 days:
Flown:  2 hours 42 minutes
Total flying time: 43 hours and 15 minutes.
Solo: 10 hours 42 minutes.
Day 1Day 14 Day 15Day 16 Day 17 – Day 18Day 23

Learning to Fly – Day Fifteen (Across the country)

I was running on autopilot.  And do take that literally: I – myself – was running on autopilot; the plane does not have one. That has to be the only explanation that I found myself alone in an airplane 3,500ft (1km) above Florida, almost 200km from “home” and slightly lost.  Let us backtrack a bit though: This was my first solo cross-country. I had again sweated over the charts for a good solid hour and had laid a careful route from Winter Haven to Melbourne to Bartow and back to Winter Haven. When I arrived at 10:00 in the morning to start I was informed there was a “change of plans”.  This was no drill. Melbourne had surface winds at 15 knots gusting 22, which on almost any runway would be a bit challenging to a student pilot in a warrior. So my new route would be Winter Haven to Seebring, on to Arcadia, then to Bartow for three full stop and goes in controlled air space, and finally back to Winter Haven.  Another flight plan junked and with Gerry’s help I quickly put the plan together for the new route and I was off.  While you are flying, you do not think too much about it, but to some extent, it is like the bumblebee myth: It is said that the bumblebee from an aerodynamic point of view is unable to fly. (This is off course nonsense). However, the myth goes, the reason it still flies, is because it does not know.  I had been at the flying school for 2 weeks and was now in sole control of an aircraft flying to an airport I have never been at and expected to deal with controllers, vectors, landings, taxiing and take-offs. The only reason I can see I did it was because I was on autopilot. I knew I had learned a lot the past 2 weeks… but THAT much?!   I found Seebring easily.  The route there takes you past some very recognisable lakes and towns etc.  I joined the downwind leg, final approach and made a nice landing.  I took the first taxiway to the right towards a very impressive general aviation air terminal.  To the left of the main stairs were 20-30 piper warriors and Cessna Skyhawks.  To the right another 15-20.  In front of the building, however, there would be room for maybe 10 but there weren’t any taking up space. They probably left early so I took the opportunity and parked smack bang in front of the building.  When I pushed back the aircraft myself, I was pleased to see I was perfectly aligned with the centre T-mark for tie-down.  I went into the building and to the pilot’s café where I had a cold drink and a light lunch.  I then walked back to “my” Warrior, pre-flight checked it, sat in, completed the checks and was just about to start the engine when four “War-birds” (American WWII fighter planes) came around the corner.  They taxied down in front of me and in perfect synchronisation they turned straight towards me (Or rather, towards the 3-500 people gathered at the outside area in front of the building) 2 on my left side and 2 on my right.  They did their power checks (very noisy) and I assume the 20 odd people gathering to the right and left of my wings were those who didn’t want an old Warrior in the middle of a picture of WW-2 fighter planes.  Urgh. I now realised why there had been some orange cones where I parked and why no one else had. I tried to stare straight ahead on the war-birds and to ignore what must have been very angry looks from the on-lookers and photographers.  Finally, checks over, the war birds taxied to runway 36.  I breathed a sigh of relief and was just about to start and taxi after the birds when 18, yes, eighteen (!) More war birds turned around the corner. Nine on the left of me, nine on the right. They were maybe 25 meters away pointing straight towards me and the whole thing repeated itself. Finally, they scooted off to rw36 and I hastily started my engine and scooted on after them. They made their way to 36 and 2 and 2 they rolled down the runway and took off.  I was about to take off when I heard an incoming Skyhawk being advised on the radio he might want to wait landing until 22 War birds had done a fly-pass at 300 ft over the runway. He did not, as it happened, and landed and was on his final bit of landing run when I lined up on the runway and had the 22 war birds pass straight over me.  I counted very carefully and when I had seen 22, I rolled down the runway and was off towards Arcadia.  The leg Seebring-Arcadia is put into the trip for one reason: There are basically NOTHING between these two places except green forests land and green swampland. This was about finding, calculating and sticking to a course. I knew how to use the VORs and could have cheated but did not want to. I had decided they were for absolute emergencies only.  I tried to follow my planned heading and 5 minute before my planned time, the town Arcadia appeared in front of me.  One basic lesson in human psychology: You see what you want to see. I expected to see Arcadia… I saw a town…. It was Arcadia.  If this was Arcadia, then the airfield would be just SW of the town. I could not find it. I circled around in ever-increasing circles. I looked here, there and everywhere. No airfield.  I could slowly feel panic creep in. If I could not find it, I would have to return to Winter Haven having failed.  I found a large N/S running road. I followed it a little North. There was a racetrack! Great, only one racetrack on the map. I must have been north of my expected track and hit a small village, much smaller than Arcadia. I turned around, went South past my village and there, 10 miles further south was Arcadia and oh joy, a bit further south the airfield. I landed, having wasted 25 minutes in the air looking for the airfield. I had a 10-minute rest and was off to Bartow. Before Bartow, which was easy to find, I contacted the controller and requested permission to enter his airspace and to do three stops and goes. He cleared me to enter right base for 9R. I reported base and was cleared to stop and go.  Again, a right pattern and this time I was very high coming in. I landed long and rolled over half of the quite long runway.  Not having been to Bartow before I requested taxi back to the start of the RW. Another annoyed controller reminded me that I had requested stop and go. I confirmed this and explained that due to my long landing I wanted more runway for the take-off. I was given taxi back to 9L, took off on another right pattern and did 2 more uneventful landings and take-offs. It was then back to Winter Haven. It is almost impossible to describe the joy, when you are 3,000ft up and see your home airfield’s familiar runways appearing in front of you. “Winter Haven traffic, Warrior 32990 is 5 miles south of airfield, flying overhead to join 45 to downwind runway 11, Winter Haven”. I was home and another milestone passed. Tomorrow would be my QXC (Qualifying Cross Country), which is an official test of my navigational and airmanship skills, such as they might be.

Summary after 15 days:
Flown:  3 hours.
Total flying time: 42 hours and 33 minutes.
Solo: 8 hours.
Day 1Day 13Day 14Day 15Day 16Day 17Day 23