June 22, 2009

Knowing When It Is Time to Go-Around

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.

Posted at 7:28 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson, In the News | Comments (5) | Save & Share This Story

June 8, 2008

Crosswind Landings: Just Do It

crosswindlanding.jpgIn 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.

Posted at 3:56 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson | Comments (3) | Save & Share This Story

May 26, 2008

Private Pilots License - A License to Learn

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

First Chicago Skyline Flight

chi_skyline.jpgOn 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.

Posted at 1:21 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172 SP, Flight Lesson | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story

September 9, 2004

Signed Off in the Cessna 172

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.

Posted at 10:01 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Lesson | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

August 9, 2004

Upgrading to the Cessna 172

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.

Posted at 10:02 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Lesson | Comments (5) | Save & Share This Story

August 1, 2004

Mission Accomplished - Private Pilot ASEL Earned!

post_cride_200.jpgNinety-five days ago, I set out to make a dream become a reality - to earn my private pilots license. Today, I passed my oral exam and private pilot check ride and earned my Private Pilot - Airplane Single Engine Land license.

I will write a more detailed post in the coming hours or days about the specifics of my oral exam and flight test. I really appreciated the detailed accounts that other pilots posted on the StudentPilot.com message boards. My exam took a little over two hours, evenly split between flight time and the oral exam, and was an enjoyable process.

As I touched down on runway 6 the instructor said "all that is left is for me to fill out some forms, congratulations". I knew I had a great flight but hearing him say that was awesome. Even better was that my wife was waiting at the airport willing and ready to be the first passenger despite some fears of flying in a small plane. After the paperwork was completed, I thanked the examiner and my instructor and went off to exercise some of my new privileges.

kingsisland_small.jpgMy wife and I fueled up and took off for a brief sight seeing tour. We flew north and circled King's Island amusement park when she took a photograph or two. We decided to make this a nice short flight to get her acclimated to the small plane experience. But I was proud of her as she was very confident flying with me really seemed to enjoy it.

My goal of earning my private pilots license is complete but my flying adventures have just begun. I will continue to post about my flying experience on this blog on a regular basis. Additionally, if at some point I decided to get my instrument rating I will track those experiences as well.

Posted at 3:30 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson | Comments (4) | Save & Share This Story

July 28, 2004

Flight Requirements Fulfilled

navlog.jpgIn order to earn a Private Pilot's license, a candidate must complete 40 hours of flight training. Additionally, one must meet many sub-requirements. I have completed over 40 hours of training but had one remaining outage. I was 0.8 hours short of the 5.0 hours of solo cross country flight time requirement.

So today I flew from my home base of Blue Ash to Fleming-Mason Airport in Kentucky, which was the site of my first cross-country flight. Tonight was a perfect night for flying with a high ceiling, great visibility and smooth skies. The flight there took just over 40 minutes. I realized since this airport is somewhat off the beaten path for motorists, I probably made the trip in half the time it would have taken by car. In fact I map-blasted the route and it would have taken an estimated 1 hour and 37 minutes by car. Flying is nice, isn't it?

The return flight was great. I climbed to 4,500 feet and had a wonderful view of Cincinnati along the river. The sun dropped beyond the horizon and the lights of the city and its many bridges were magnificent. I really enjoy evening flying. I arrived back to a quiet Blue Ash Airport, satisfied that all my flight requirements are complete.

Tomorrow I will fly with my instructor to review for my flight exam which is scheduled for Saturday weather permitting.

Posted at 10:38 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson | Comments (1) | Save & Share This Story

July 22, 2004

Preparing for the Flight Test

With my long cross-country completed, my focus now is preparing for my check flight exam in little over a week. So my instructor and I planned to spend today's lesson reviewing all flight maneuvers.

When I walked out the front door of my office I felt like I walked into an oven. It was really humid and still very hot, in the low 90s. I was sweating by the time I completed my pre-flight of the plane. When we got in the plane it was even hotter in there with as there was no breeze. My instructor decided to quiz me on equipment within the plane. I was having a hard time concentrating due to the heat. All I wanted to do was start the engine so we could get some air moving around the cabin.

I felt much better once we got up in the air. We flew much of the flight with the windows open which can be fun and provide a nice cooling effect for the cockpit. My instructor would tell me to fly to one location then another, testing my ability to navigate using ground references, my navigational devices and my maps. One destination was to Hook Field in Middletown. That field has an asphalt runway and a turf runway. But when we arrived we noticed the storms from the previous night had left the turf runway in bad shape so we simulated turf landing on the asphalt runway.

After that, we went further north to the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport and did a touch and go there. After I proved I could navigate my way around the Cincinnati & Dayton areas, I performed slow flight maneuvers followed by stalls. We then moved right into the turning maneuvers; s-turns, turns around a point and 45-degree bank turns. Then we finished the day with an emergency landing procedure.

At the end of the flight, my instructor mentioned that I completed most of the maneuvers within practical test standards (PTS) but she did want me to practice a few maneuvers before my flight exam. I need to work on verbally saying my checklists so the check flight instructor knows that I know what I am doing. I also need to work on my power-off stalls and s-turns. I think I will have two or three more lessons before my test so I will plan to master those manuevers before the exam.

Posted at 10:49 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson | Comments (0) | Save & Share This Story

July 20, 2004

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

The adage, "Good things come to those who wait", proved true this evening. For the past two weeks I have been prepared and excited to fly my long cross-country trip. But each time weather prevented me from making the flight. After the last let down I prepared myself for another attempt today. Yesterday it looked like there was still a chance of bad weather but as the afternoon came around the weather report was looking great.

I arrived at the airport and my CFI quickly signed off on my flight plan. I think it was easy for her to do so since she had several times before reviewed my flight planning and been satisfied with my abilities to accurately plan a cross-country. That is the bright side of all the bad weather was having many opportunties to re-architect the flight.

With the appropriate endorsements in the book I pre-flighted the plan and took off to the north. It was a beautiful night with light winds and great visibility. Once airborne I contacted the Dayton Flight Watch Center and opened my flight plan. The flight to Columbus went smoothly. When I was within 10 miles of my first stop, Bolton Field in Columbus, I contacted the tower. They asked me to contact them on the downwind leg. The problem was I was having troubles locating the field. I had flown there during my night cross-country and it was much easier to see at night. I had to contact the tower and get vectors to the field. The tower was very friendly and soon enough I found myself on the ground enjoying a nice barbeque sandwich at JP's Barbeque Ribs. It was my first "$100 Hamburger" of my young flying career and it was wonderful.

When pre-flighting the aircraft for the next leg I had a nice chat with the pilot of the plane next to me. I am continuously amazed at how friendly the brotherhood of pilots is. After departing from Bolton I flew to Green Country Lewis A. Jackson Airport just outside of Xenia, Ohio. This was a fun airport to fly into, as the airport sat atop a hill and the runway edge was about 100 feet above the road below it and there were lakes to the side. I made a quick full stop landing then departed to the south-west.

I flew south of Dayton and enjoyed seeing Dayton from the sky. After Dayton there was little but farms and open land until I arrived over Oxford, Ohio home of the great Miami University. I flew over Yager Stadium home of the Miami Redskins (err Redhawks) football team who went 13-1 last seaon. After overflying Yager Stadium I made a left turn onto a 2-mile final for runway 23 at Miami University Airport. After landing, I had to taxi back on the runway as the field does not have a taxiway. I then departed on Runway 23 for my short trip back to my home field at Blue Ash.

The final leg went quickly and soon enough I found myself making a picture perfect landing on runway 24 at Blue Ash. It is hard to explain the excitement and sense of accomplishment I felt as I taxied in at Blue Ash. I had just flown to four different airports, filing flight plans along the way, making four great approaches and landings all while covering over 170 miles and did it all on my own. I really felt like a pilot today and that felt great!

Posted at 11:23 PM | Post Category: Flight Lesson | Comments (3) | Save & Share This Story