April 28, 2012
I learned about Andover Flight Academy in the December issue of AOPA Pilot, where it was positioned as the premier place to earn a tailwheel endorsement. I have always loved the idea of bush flying and flying a taildragger into remote airstrips. Soon after reading the article I found myself in New Jersey and made sure to make my way over to Aeroflex-Andover Airstrip, a picturesque and cozy little airport nestled between two lakes in the hills of Northern New Jersey. Stepping into the Andover Flight Academy office is like stepping into the past. Their office is adorned with a ton of memorabilia and their primary seating for ground school work is a comfy worn in couch.
Before getting in one of Andover's aircraft I watched Tailwheel: 101 a DVD developed by CFI and Owner of Andover Flight Academy, Damian DelGazio. The DVD did an excellent job discussing the basic procedures used for flying a tailwheel airplane and knowledge and skills needed to earn a tailwheel endorsement.
After signing up for instruction I had spent significant time thinking about ground loops and prop strikes, the two dangers I associated with tailwheel flying. The DVD did a great job of explaining the causes of the ground loop and how to prevent one from occurring. I also learned that while performing two point landings on the main gear that it is actually quite difficult to cause a prop strike. With those concerns vanquished I had a clear mind to focus on taking my new knowledge and putting them to work. If you are interested in a earning your tailwheel endorsement I highly recommend you check out Damian DelGaizo's Tailwheel 101 DVD.
As we rolled the TopCub on it's Alaskan Bush Tires from the hangar I quickly forgot that I was in New Jersey. Despite being within an hour of New York City I was transported into my mind to the wide open West or Alaskan backcountry.
Damian talked me through the taxi procedures and we did some slow and fast taxing to get used to the necessary rudder controls to maneuver safely on the ground and to simulate the controls needed after landing to prevent a ground loop from developing. Once I had proven I had a handle of ground control I rolled us onto the grass and applied power steadily and let the tailwheel fly itself off the ground then brought in some back pressure and the TopCub leapt into the air. I am confident it was the shortest takeoff roll I have ever made. Who knew takeoffs could be so fun, but there is something exhilarating from going from stand still to airborne in such a short distance.
Once aloft we spent a few minutes working on stalls and general airmanship in the TopCub. The TopCub is at its heart a very simple aircraft, and I loved that. The only glass panel was the iPhone in my pocket and there was no autopilot to shoulder the load, and I loved it. Damian quickly spotted some rust on my stick and rudder skills. He gave me a few pointers and in a few minutes I felt at one with the TopCub.
As we approached the nearby turf strip at Trinca Airport he gave me the final tips for making a successful three point landing. I followed his instruction and flew the approach with my eyes focused straight ahead until I was ready to flare at which point I transitioned to looking at the runway edges as the nose blocked my forward visibility. A few feet off the runway I flared and brought the plane to a full stall and gently brought the two Alaskan Bush tires & our tailwheel to the ground in unison. I quickly transitioned to focusing on using the rudder pedals to control the plane on the ground while we bled of the remaining speed, success I nailed my first tailwheel landing! Landing on turf has always been one of my favorite aviation experiences but it was even more fun and challenging in a tailwheel aircraft with big Alaskan bush tires.
Damian is a phenomenal instructor and coach. Before and during the flight he consistently asked "Does that make sense to you?" He genuinely was looking to make sure I was comfortable with the information and if not he clearly walked me through it. I understand why people like Harrison Ford sought him out for training.
I logged 1.0 hours of tailwheel experience and made four three point landings. Next time I am in the area I will return to Andover Flight Academy to work on main wheel landings and continue working towards a tailwheel endorsement which might come in handy for some of the other exciting flying I have planned for this summer. More on that in the coming weeks.
April 8, 2011
"Watch for the secondary stall. You've got a 10,000 pound airplane here, your flying it" I am severely behind this 5 ton jet as we move from a secondary stall into a the onset of a spin, and my CFI has made it clear this is my problem to resolve. I am in the aft seat of a Czech-made L-39 jet. Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds is talking calmly to me from the front seat. Guiding me, but letting me learn from this L-39 training experience.
Moments before we departed Aurora Municipal Airport and at about 30 seconds after takeoff Greg hands control of the plane to me. I fly us through some holes in the scattered skies, bringing us up to 14,500 feet in just under three minutes. This is my first reminder I am not in the Diamond Star anymore. If I had not already been thrown into the deep end of the pool it is time to jump right into maneuvers, there is no time to waste when you are burning two gallons of fuel per minute.
The first planned maneuver is a power-off stall. As the plane slows and I pull back on the stick the plane begins to buffet. Thinking this is no different than any other stall I have recovered from I am a bit overconfident. That overconfidence, however, is short lived. Following standard procedures, I dip the nose and throw the throttle to full. Being in a powerful jet capable of 425 knots of power I figure I can coast through the rest of stall recovery and begin pulling back on the stick. Surely the thrust of this turbo-fan jet will propel us through the stall. I start to feel a rumble and a shake in the aircraft and I start to wonder...did I push throttle in too fast? Was I supposed to go from zero to full power in a jet? I misinterpreted this shaking to be related to my power control when in reality it is the start of a secondary stall. As I ponder what is going on, slowly falling behind the aircraft, I forget to ensure wings are level. You know what comes next, the right wing dips and we begin to spin to the right.
Instead of grabbing the controls, Greg calmly talks me through the spin recovery, but I am frazzled and it takes a little longer for my brain to react to my previous training and Greg's coaching. Sure enough as offset the spin with the rudder pedals and bring wings level the speed builds up and I bring the plane back to straight and level flight. Turns out I had incorrectly assumed that if I tossed the power to full the jet would accelerate through the stall. Greg later explains a combination of L-39's fuel control system, which regulates acceleration, and the sheer weight of the plane makes it take longer than I expected to accelerate. I learned that the same stick and rudder skills used in a Cessna 152 are required to fight off a stall in this turbo fan jet. I learned this lesson well thanks to Greg's patience and coaching, it comes natural to him after 10 years of instructing. He asks if I would like to try it again...Hell yeah.
Prior to departure, Greg and I discussed my experiences with aerobatics and resulting G Forces. A few years ago I had the opportunity to perform aerobatics with Ben Freelove of Tutima Academy in an Extra 300. In that flight it was a thrill to experience 7Gs without too much strain. Greg explained the biggest difference between aerobatics in Extra 300 and a jet was going to be duration. In an Extra 300 the maneuvers are quite quick, resulting in a few seconds of G Force influence. In the L-39 the power curve causes a longer-lasting G Force impact. To minimize the time spent snoozing in the back as a result of G-Loc (G induced Loss Of Consciousness) I was taught the "Hook" breathing maneuver.
In combination with tightening my leg and abdominal muscles I was to take in a deep breath then slowly to exhaling while forcefully saying the word "Hook", holding the final K for a few seconds then pushing out a final exhale with the "Ka" sound and then repeating. Greg also explained that if I felt uncomfortable or started to lose consciousness I should say "knock-it off" and he would end the maneuver as quickly as was practical.
I was able to put this method to the test when Greg took over the controls to show off the performance capabilities of the L-39 Albatros. During a Half Cuban Eight we put 5Gs on the plane and our bodies. The Hook method worked well and I felt great. Greg then put me through a tight break turn that increased the G Forces to 6.5Gs. Prior to the maneuver I figured I would be fine having successfully made it through 7Gs the summer before.
As Greg banked us 70 degrees to the right and pulled tight on the stick, I felt the strain on my body. As the turn continued I started to see my vision narrowing. Things slowed down and I began to wonder:
Hooooo Ka...Is this what Greg meant when he explained the first signs of a blackout...Hoooo Ka....Hey where did all the color go...Hoooo Ka.....Yeah this is definitely what he was talking about .Hoooo Ka..I wonder should I say knock it off.... Hoooo Ka....
Just then we rolled out of the turn, I had just barely made it through the maneuver consciously. Another few seconds and I would have been doing my best Reagan National Air Traffic Controller impression. I would have sworn we were in the turn for half a minute but video replay proves the maneuver was just over 10 seconds long. I did not call "knock-it off" not because I was too macho, but more out of lack of full understanding of the situation. I give great props to the men and women who do this for a living and folks like the Blue Angels who do these maneuvers regularly without the aid of G Suits.
In our 45 minute flight training experience we burned 101 gallons of fuel. I don't think I burned that in my last four flights in the Diamond Star and not something one could afford to do regularly. But, I wouldn't have traded this experience for the world. The opportunity to fly the L-39 was a once in a lifetime moment and a great learning experience.
I would like to thank Greg Morris and Gauntlet Warbirds for having me out to checkout their world class outfit. If you have any interest in learning aerobatics or training to fly a warbird like the T-6 Texan or a jet like the L-39 Albatros I cannot recommend Greg Morris and his staff at Gauntlet Warbirds enough.
I would also like to thank MyTransponder's Mike Miley for coming out and taking some amazing photographs from the day. Check out his photos on Flickr and enjoy a few in-cockpit videos from the L-39 experience below.
August 29, 2010
My first Certified Flight Instructor had just completed her own training at the Delta Connection Academy when we started flying together. In retrospect I really benefited from her advanced training. One of the first things she taught me was how to provide a thorough preflight briefing. The practice of giving a briefing before every flight is one I have practiced ever since.
During the Chicago Air & Water Show I had the honor to fly with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in their C-130 known as Fat Albert. Major Brendan Burks gave the most impressive preflight briefing I have ever experienced before our flight, setting the bar high for all my future preflight briefings (see video below). Prior to the flight he addressed the crew and explained in detail the current conditions, planned maneuvers and how the crew would address any emergency should it arise. It was clear to everyone involved what to expect during the flight and who would be responsible for various aspects of the flight, mission accomplished.
We don't all have the privilege to fly a four-fanned C-130 supporting the Blue Angels, but we can strive to bring that level of forethought, professionalism and preparedness to each of our flights. Whether you are flying with other pilots, passengers or flying solo I think it is extremely valuable to verbally walk through aspects of your upcoming flight including emergency procedures.
I am fairly particular about who I choose to fly with and one immediate turn-off is when another pilot neglects to provide a preflight briefing. On the flip side, I am immediately put at ease when I share a cockpit with someone who takes time to conduct a proper briefing like Major Burks of the Blue Angels or as was the case with Rod Rakic of myTransponder last summer.
I think the video below will inspire you to work on your preflight briefing routine before your next flight. Looking for some additional tips? Check out Paul's post on Ask a Flight Instructor for some sample scripts. Also, Jason Miller of FinerPoints published a podcast several years back that gives some tips on giving an effective preflight briefing.
October 21, 2009
This past weekend I had an wonderful opportunity to fly over and through the Rocky Mountain Region west of Denver. Since all of my flight time to date has been over the relatively safe landscape of the Midwest I contacted some local experts at the Aspen Flying Club to give me an overview on Mountain Flying.
Prior to the flight I took advantage of a variety of resources online to learn more about the challenges of Mountain Flying. I encourage anyone interested in flying over mountainous terrain to check out some of these great resources:
- AOPA Air Safety Foundation Mountain Flying Interactive Course
- The Pilot's Guide to Mountain Flying
- Sporty's Mountain Flying Air Facts Video
We filled our flight plan then fired up the G1000 Cessna 172 and took off for an amazing flight over the Rocky Mountains. Flying in the Midwest, there is almost always a safe place to set the plane down if you encounter an engine failure. Fifteen minutes into this flight we crossed over our first mountain ridge and finding suitable places to land started to become a serious challenge. During our flight we were continuously looking for and calling out our next suitable place to land should an emergency arise.
Often the G1000 flat panels are blamed for keeping pilots' eyes inside the cockpit looking at the pretty monitors. That was definitely not the case on this flight where the mountains provided a majestic backdrop that was hard to keep your eyes off of.
The altitude in Denver is 5280 (also the name of their beautifully designed city magazine) after departing Centennial we needed to stay underneath the Denver International Airport airspace for the first few miles before then climbing up to 10,500 feet to clear the Tarryall & Kenosha mountains of Pike National Forest that ranged in height from 8,000 to 11,000 feet. After clearing the first ridge we flew over a valley enroute to Buena Vista and Central Colorado Regional Airport (KAEJ). We made two landings here including one in which we simulated a short field landing.
From there we departed northward up a valley that would lead us to Leadville, CO home of North America's highest airport, Lake County Airport (KLXV), with an altitude of 9,927. It is strange to look at your altimeter and see 10,900 as you are entering downwind for landing. Even odder for Midwest pilot was the sluggish climb we made out of Leadville as the plane labored to produce lift as we rolled down the runway at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.
The FAA requires that all pilots flying aircraft above 12,500 feet for more than 30 minutes must use supplemental oxygen. This is to prevent the effects of hypoxia. However to climb over many of the mountains in the area we needed to climb above 12,500 to 13,500 feet. We watched the clock to ensure we were not above the 12.5K mark for more than thirty minutes. Even at 13,500 feet there were a few mountain peaks that were higher than we were flying which was an amazing sight.
After crossing over a large mountain range we descended back down under 10,000 feet so we could practice a simulated emergency turn to avoid a terrain collision. I pointed the plane at a mountain and as we approached I pitched back to climb. On this cooler day we likely could have climbed over the mountain but for practice initiated the turn. I pulled power and set the flaps to full then turned at a 30° bank and let the nose roll over a bit allowing the plane to make a tight 180° turn banking us away from the danger.
After that we turned East and headed out of the mountains and back to the safety of flatland below. Although the plane descended, my spirits remained sky high from this amazing experience. I would strongly encourage any pilot to enjoy applying their flying skills to this challenging and beautiful area. If you are in the Denver area reach out the folks at The Aspen Flying Club and tell them I sent you.
The video below was shot with a cockpit mounted video camera and a hand held camera. In addition to the video I shot some photos which can be seen on Flickr.
June 22, 2009
When I was learning to land my flight instructor spent significant time focusing on how to perform a go-around. She beat into my head that a go-around was not in anyway a failure but the smart and safe thing to do anytime you are unhappy with your approach or landing attempt. I know from conversations with my CFI one of the factors she looked for before signing me off to solo was solid decision making skills. She wanted to see that I was wise enough to recognize when a landing approach was not going well and that I was confident enough to make a snap decision to abort the landing an skilled enough to execute a go-around landing.
Bruce Landsberg wrote in an AOPA article that "...coming back for a second try at the runway is a skill that everyone needs but many lack." Bruce Landsberg. When was the last time you practiced or thought about a go-around?
Pat over at Aviation Chatter recently posted a dramatic video clip of a twin piston, making a landing at St. Barthelemy Airport, a small 2,100 foot airstrip in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, as you will see in the video the pilot failed to make the decision to perform a go-around. Instead the plane floats halfway down the runway before finally touching down then overshooting the runway. Take a look at this video. Then think about whether you have practiced or at least thought through the go-around procedures for your plane recently.
It is vital that as pilots we are accustomed to thinking about the go-around decision during each approach. Budd Davisson writes, "If at any time in the approach or landing, right into final flare, you feel as if it isn't right, go around." Pilots should know when to make the decision and the precise steps to execute the go-around. I had a valuable learning experience just a few months after earning my license that reminded me to keep "Power Up, Pitch Up, Clean Up, Talk Up" in the back of my mind on each approach.
On a turbulent and windy day I flew to Indiana to land at a narrow 40-foot single strip runway. I had a stabilized approach until I was about 100-200 feet above the ground. A gust of wind caused the plane to drift off the centerline and in fact almost over the left edge of the runway. I immediately realized this approach was not going well and I should not try to salvage a landing on this attempt. I made the go-around decision.
Unfortunately, I did not follow standard procedure and accidentally put in full power and retracted the flaps completely putting myself in a precarious position. It took a second or two, which felt more like a minute, to realize I was still descending despite the power increase and the pitch change and I quickly put in an appropriate amount of flaps for the go-around. Sure enough the plane started to accelerate and then climb safely over the obstacles at the end of the runway at which point I began to "clean up". That learning experience helped re-enforce for me the importance of getting muscle memory in place for performing the go-around procedure and also not delaying in making the go-around decision.
June 8, 2008
In preparing for my short cross-country flight last weekend I knew I would likely be encountering some strong crosswinds landing conditions. I was comfortable that the crosswinds would be within the planes demonstrated crosswind limitations and also within my personal comfort levels. Before flying though I decided to look around for some articles or videos about crosswind landings as a refresher.
The best advice I found came from Budd Davisson's website Airbum.com. In "Crosswind Landings: The Real Time Video Game" he makes an interesting point about crosswind landings stating "Crosswinds are also a subject that in my humble opinion, are a) intellecutalized to much, b) not instructed nearly enough, c) avoided entirely too much and d) intellectualized too much."
From what I have seen from my own experiences flying or hanging out at the airport or on aviation forums I think this point is spot on. I know many student pilots who don't seek out opportunities to practice crosswind landings enough. I was lucky that my CFI loved deviating from our current lesson plan if she spotted a windsock at an airport flying perpendicular to the runway. We would drop in and work on crosswind procedures before returning to the lesson at hand.
While in the height of training I got to the point where I did not need to intellectualize the crosswind landing process too much, I could simply fly it and instincts and experience guided me. Budd explains his strategy for crosswinds in simple terms "Don't think about them! Do them!". He equates flying crosswind landings to playing a video game "if the picture you see in the windshield isn't what you want it to be, do what ever is necessary to make it right. Don't over-think it. Do it! If the airplane is drifting to the left, as seen in the windshield, do the natural thing. Lean into the wind by dropping that wing. Then, since part of any landing in any airplane, tailwheel or otherwise, should be to keep the tail lined up behind the nose, as the nose tries to move off the centerline, you use what ever rudder is necessary to keep it there, which is usually (surprise, surprise) opposite to the aileron you're holding. Don't think about it. Do it."
During last weeks flight I had two crosswind landings. When entering the pattern I thought about this article and reminded myself to fly the plane like a video game and the result were two nice crosswind landings.
May 26, 2008
Every pilot has heard it at some point that a Private Pilot's License is just a license to learn. Although the statement is a bit of a cliché, it is a very valuable statement. Paul Craig's book "The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die" speaks to how the hours of flying between earning a private pilots license and hitting the 500 hour mark are the most dangerous hours for a pilot. It turns out a pilot is often a safer pilot while actively working towards earning his or her license then he or she is in the next 400 - 500 hours of flying. I think that is because to many pilots are actively involved in training and learning before earning their license and many do not continue to stay proficient in their knowledge and continue to learn about flying after earning their Pilots license.
I continually enjoy going back to my Sporty's Private Pilot Flight Training DVD Course for refresher training. I also enjoy reading aviation blogs and listening to aviation podcasts like The Finer Points to keep aviation topics and best practices top of mind.
I have found that learn best when I have a combination of clear explanations and also great visual references. My interest in seeing something visualized drew me to Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook that boasts over 1,200 illustrations and photos that help visualize aviation concepts.
I recently enjoyed coming across a website that uses flash animations to animate aviation concepts, FirstFlight.com. The site is managed by Trevor Saxty, a Gold Seal Flight Instructor with single, multi-engine and instrument ratings. The site is sure to point out that "the online lessons are not a substitute for study of the Pilots Operating Handbook/Airplane Flight Manual for the airplane you intend to fly."
The lessons available on the site, which range from how to perform a pre-flight of an airplane to flying a cross-country flight using radio navigation, are a great complimentary resource for aviation education. What makes the site unique to the many websites and books focusing on aviation education are the animations that help visualize some of the aviation concepts. For $49.99 a pilot can access the site for six months and have unlimited access to the content during that time frame. Interested in checking out the site? Trevor allows free access to Flight #7 Advanced Takeoff and Landing Techniques. Click on the image below to visit Flight Seven and check out some of the animations.
May 22, 2005
On a beautiful and clear Friday evening I met Aaron an instructor with Windy City Flyers at their Palwaukee Airport offices.
We briefly reviewed my Chicago sectional and my newly purchased Chicago VFR terminal area chart. On the sectional Aaron showed me all the best airports in the Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin area. He was sure to point out the best airport based restaurants as well. After that we looked at the terminal area chart for Chicago which shows the Chicago area in greater detail.
On the terminal area chart we looked closely at the Chicago O'Hare Airspace. We decided we would fly down the Chicago skyline so we looked at how we could accomplish this flight while staying below O'Hare airspace.
Next we went out to the Cessna 172 Skyhawk SP. This was the nicest plan I have flown to date. It was relatively new, well maintained and even had some nice equipment including GPS navigation.
Shortly after completing the preflight of the plane we departed on runway 34, Palwaukees longest runway. Of course flying the Skyhawk we were airborne shortly after starting our takeoff run. As we turned east towards Lake Michigan we had a great view of the Chicago skyline to our south. We climbed up to 2,500 feet which gave us 500 feet above us before we would cross through the floor of the O'Hare airspace. After a few minutes we were over the lake and I turned us south towards the city.
It was great flying over Northwestern University, Wrigley Field, and Navy Pier on our way to the city. The view of the city from a small plane at 2,500 feet was beautiful. I loved looking out the window to see the Chicago River winding through the city. Next we flew over what used to be Meigs field. You can still clearly make out where the runway used to be. I wish Meigs was still active.
We then decided to head down to the Gary International Airport for a touch and go. With a stiff cross wind I was blown outside of the optimal flight path through the pattern but ended up making a decent landing. Though you could tell it had been a few weeks since I had flown last.
After a touch and go we headed north past Chicago and back to Palwaukee airport. I logged a very memorable 1.4 hours that night. I am excited to get back up soon to explore more of the Chicago area from the skies.
September 9, 2004
My trip to Alaska kept me from flying for about two weeks. I returned to the air this evening. I scheduled a flight with my instructor knowing that I would be rusty, and also so I could finally get signed off in the Cessna 172.
I did all of my training for my license in the Cessna 152 and had flown the 172 just once prior to tonight's flight. Some people say there is little difference, I disagree. The 172 has much more power and feels much heavier than the smaller 152. My problem last flight and for the first part of tonight's flight was making good landings. I figured out midway through the lesson that I was flaring to early and the heavy plane was dropping a few feet for a rougher than preferable landing. By the end of the flight, I was making better landings but they still need practice.
Either way my instructor felt I was flying safely and has signed me off in the 172. So I now have two planes I am cleared to fly at Co-Op Aviation. I look forward to getting in some practice time in the 172 soon.
August 9, 2004
Tonight I took my first flight in the Cessna 172. The 172 is a four passenger plane compared to the two person Cessna 152 that I trained in. An additional bonus to the 172 is the increased power, providing for better climb and cruise speeds.
Although I knew all that before the flight, I had no idea how obvious the extra power would be. I expected the extra power would evenly counter the extra weight of the plane and that it would perform somewhat similarly to the 152. I was wrong. The plane powered down the runway and into the air. I was at traffic pattern altitude much quicker than I expected. We immediatly left the pattern to go out to the practice area so I could get comfortable with the plane. We did some stalls and tight turns and after a few minutes I began to feel a little more in touch with the plane. But I was still having troubles keeping it in steady flight as it wanted to climb. I guess that is not all bad.
After flying for about a half hour, we returned to the field to practice landings. Here I noticed the biggest difference. The Cessna has three flap settings of 10°, 20° and 30°. The 172 has variable flaps that can be set at any degree between 0° and 40° and the gauge is not very accurate so you have to watch as the flaps retract and guesstimate when they are in the right location. That took some getting used too. The 172 handles at about 5 knots faster in the pattern than the 152 and the difference in speed was difficult to get used to. The other difference was this plane is much heavier during the flare to land. As I reduced power prior to touching down, I needed to apply a lot of back pressure on the yoke and even then came down in a less than soft manner.
My instructor and I plan on taking one more flight in the 172 before I will plan on renting it on my own. I think I will feel more confident in it with a few more landings under my belt. Although challenging, the 172 was a joy to fly.