Private Pilot Lessons 15-21

Flight # Date Plane Tail Solo Total
15 2/12/2001 Cessna-172 N733UC 0 1.7
Short and soft field takeoffs and landings.
What a difference a week makes! Thanksgiving and a training course in San Jose had left me without flying for 10 days and it showed. The first part of our flight to Ramona and the landing seemed to be a lot of effort and stress, the calm ease of the last couple of lessons had certainly gone. I was thinking it likely that Kimberly would want to erase my solo endorsement when we got on the ground.

Ramona was very busy when we got there but we found a gap in the pattern and spent the time practicing short-field and soft-field landings and takeoffs. In a soft-field takeoff the aim is to avoid getting the plane (and especially the front wheel) stuck in the mud or caught in a rut in the grass. This is done by keeping as much of the plane’s weight as possible off the ground when rolling down the runway. To do this you pull back fully on the yoke as you get onto, and down, the runway – the nose is therefore pointing up the whole time and feels very much like the plane is pulling a wheelie. The plane will lift off the ground early and you fly slightly above the runway until you have enough speed to start a climb.

The intent of short-field landings is obvious – land with as much runway ahead of you as you can, and slowly enough to stop the plane before the end of it. Essentially this is the same as other landings, we just need to be much more skillful to land at the intended point and not drift down the runway.

Although they feel very funky (and the short-field a little scary!) my short and soft-field takeoffs seemed pretty good, Kimberly said they were easily acceptable for the checkride. Short-field landings, however, didn’t go so well and two attempts ended up taking more runway than I usually use! The others did not land at the spot I had intended but I did stop the plane quickly after landing so I guess that is halfway there. We didn’t do soft-field landings, I think they are being saved for a day when my skills and confidence are on a high rather than a low.

Montgomery was very busy when we got back, for the first time they were using separate frequencies for the two runways. Kimberly had me do a 360 turn to give the melee time to settle down and when we finally reported in, we were cleared straight-in to 28L behind two others (and in front of yet one more behind us). There was quite a crosswind for the landing but I did okay and managed to stop the plane at taxiway Golf this time instead of having to go on to Runway 23 like last time.

$2505.00 23.3 hrs
Flight # Date Plane Tail Solo Total
16 6/12/2001 Cessna-172 N733UC 0 1.7
Turns around a point; S-turns; simulated instrument; steep turns; emergency descent.
This lesson was a first – I was carrying a passenger! Kimberly has been showing the area to someone new to San Diego who wants to be a CFI and asked if I would mind him coming along. It seemed like a good way to experience a passenger though I was worried what he would think of my piloting skills.

Today we took a straigh-out departure and headed out to the ocean for some maneuver work and some radio navigation practice. The skies were clear for miles and we had perfect views of the ocean, the coast and over to Catalina Island. It was a shame Kimberly wanted me to do so much work.

The maneuvers all went better than they had done previously so that confirms that I am getting better at this stuff. My steep turns seem to be close to checkride-worthy, time spent under the hood is no longer so disorienting, and my turns around a point are also getting better. This was the second time I had tried S-turns across a road and they were way better than last time (back in lesson 2 or 3) though afterwards Kimberly told me we had done them wrong, they have to be to the left rather than to the right.

Coming back, we had a rare flight into the traffic pattern for the left hand runway, we’re usually coming in from the east so we get a straight-in arrival but being to the west meant we had to do a proper pattern. I don’t remember the landing so I guess it must have been ok?!

Note that the updated cost total below includes 2.5 hours of ground school I had with Kimberly where we talked about cross-country planning. There was no flying, despite it being a perfectly clear day.

PS My passenger didn’t look ill after he got out and said that he hadn’t felt endangered so I guess I did okay with my first back seat passenger!

$2800.00 25.0 hrs
Flight # Date Plane Tail Solo Total
17 7/12/2001 Cessna-172 N4625G 1.4 1.4
Solo flight – touch and goes.
Although I have three solos in my logbook this was a landmark flight since it was the first one I have done where Kimberly was not involved in any way. It was such a super looking day that my colleagues at work persuaded me to book the plane and get some views.

I had forgotten that 4625G has a different looking radio system and it took a while to remember how to use it. For a while I had trouble hearing anything in my headset, although I could hear through the cabin speaker. I managed to mess with things sufficiently so it worked most of the time but there were still problems with it every now and again. I hope it was a connection rather than a problem with the headset.

The winds were doing strange things (and in fact there was a severe weather warning in effect) so I decided to go to Brown field where the runways are long and the tower friendly. I studied the map for my route and set off, getting my takeoff clearance pretty quickly and then heading out east in the normal way.

With the skies so clear, route finding was easy and I was soon over Lake Otay and ready to call the tower to let them know I was coming in for touch and goes. The airport was totally dead – the whole time I was there only two other planes showed up – and so I had the place to myself. I had intended doing a whole bunch of different takeoffs and landings but I was keen to get back to base quickly so I could avoid the heavy winds. My landings all went pretty well, the feeling of satisfaction from the knowledge that, withstanding the piece of paper saying it, I really was a pilot for a short space of time was very cool.

After 6 trips around the pattern, I turned back the way I came and headed for MYF. The route goes through a pass between two hills and it was pretty bumpy when I came through. I noticed that the bumps had lost me some altitude and I was in danger of being too low and interfering with Gilespie’s airspace so I had to climb fast to get above it. At Mt Helix I called up the tower and was cleared straight-in for landing on the 28L. It was getting pretty busy, there were three other planes behind me cleared for the same runway.

One of the banes of being solo is you have to do all the mundane post-landing stuff yourself, which mostly means pulling and pushing the plane about on the ground – at the fuel, and when you park. If I fly much I will get some muscles in my arms.

The afternoon was slightly spoiled by an antsy ground controller who I upset by exiting the wrong way out of the fuel island. He told me off as I was taxiing back but my apology and promise to get it right next time didn’t stop him from going off on me. Ah well.

$2874.00 26.4 hrs
Flight # Date Plane Tail Solo Total
18 13/12/2001 Cessna-172 N733UC 0 2.3
Cross country planning; Navigation; Pilotage; Dead Reckoning
Today was a brand new thing with lots of new stuff [Ed – love the eloquent English], my first ever cross country to Palm Springs International.

First new thing of the day was to file our flight plan with the local Flight Service Station. Filing a flight plan provides a way for the FAA to know when you are missing. If you don’t close the plan within an hour of your estimated arrival time they will try to locate you, first by calling round and later by doing a full Search and Rescue operation along your proposed route. If you don’t remember to call and close your plan, it could be a very expensive trip.

Our usual take off and departure had us over Gillespie airport and we opened our flight plan with
the FSS, we also made the first heading change based on the navigation log I had prepared earlier. The navigation plan I had produced had several checkpoints: Gillespie airport, Lake Hendershon, Lake Henshaw, a road junction and Mount Baldi. At each point the plan listed the next heading to follow, estimate leg times and fuel usage. Uncannily, we were always within 2 or 3 minutes of each checkpoint.

We were flying at 7500 feet and the view was spectacular as we flew over the mountains and desert. There was a little light turbulence over a higher ridge but other than that I was pretty much able to fly hands off the controls. At cruise altitude we leaned the fuel mixture – at higher altidues it is neccessary to reduce the fuel content of the fuel/air mixture to compensate for the higher altitude. This keeps the engine running at maximum performance.

At the outskirts of Palm Springs we contacted the approach control to get our landing instructions. We were cleared to go straight in on the left runway, which is 10000 feet long and used by the airliners. A twin engine was catching us and so Kimberly volunteered us for the shorter right hand runway and, to my amazement and delight, I did a very nice landing. From there we got taxi instructions to the fixed base operator where we parked and went inside. Signature Services is a professional high-quality base for pilot operations – a huge step above the services at MYF! Very smart indeed, though there was a $20 charge for using the place (waived because we bought fuel).

For our return home we were going to use ‘flight following’ where the traffic controllers look after you the whole way to your destination. They hand you over to the next controller in sequence for the area you are flying in, vector you out of harms way, keep you aware of other traffic. Its a service that the controllers will provice at their discretion, if they are not too busy, but well worth it. Kimberly says the average time for rescue on a flight plan is 8 hours, with flight following it is 15 minutes.

With flight following you get to do a lot of radio work, something I surprisingly find I enjoy. They will clear you right into the destination which is very neat, they even cleared us into San Diego’s cherished air space, a luxury I used just to say I had done so – for a few minutes I was in with the big jets!

We called up MYF tower and were cleared to land straight-in on the left runway. I did another nice landing, stopping at taxiway Golf again which is very pleasing. I might get those short-field landings yet!

All in all, a very neat day’s flying. My first trip to an airport ‘far’ away, next lesson I have to do it all by myelf!

$3050.00 28.7 hrs
Flight # Date Plane Tail Solo Total
19 19/12/2001 Cessna-172 N733UC 2.4 2.4
First solo cross country
It had been a week since I did the trip to Palm Springs with Kimberly but I was pretty certain that I could remember all the landmarks and most of the radio work. A quick refresher whilst she reviewed my navigation plan and the weather gave me more confidence. It turned out to be a very interesting trip with many positives and some negatives, the latter I’ll leave for my ‘lessons learned’ book.

The weather was every bit as nice as the previous week, better in many ways since there was really no turbulence the whole way over and back. I got clearance for take off straight away and made the usual trip towards Gillespie airport, turning to Lake Henderson and heading north. From the lake until Ramona you are flying underneath San Diego’s class B airspace so although I was heading for 7500 feet I had to stay below 3800 until past the class B limits. As I passed Ramona I could see a couple of planes on the ground, one taking off, the other taxiing. At cruise altitude I got the plane nicely trimmed and thought I would take a couple of pictures with my digital camera. I switched the camera on but nothing happened, I didn’t have time to troubleshoot it until I got to Palm Springs where I found that the battery charge was gone – so no pictures to commemorate my trip.

I arrived in the Palm Springs terminal area about the same time as a couple of airliners and I was given a lot of vectoring to different headings whilst they worked me in for a landing whilst avoiding the big stuff. At one point I was asked to follow a 737 which made me laugh since I could see it in the distance and really had no idea what direction it was going in. Eventually I was able to get close enough to be cleared to land and I was down, taxiied to the service ramp.

After some lunch I was back in the plane ready to go home. I called up Palm Springs Clearance for my departure instructions. There was some confusion about my route back to San Diego; the chart shows a Mt Baldi on one side of the pass that I wanted to take. There is also a Mt Baldy to the West which is a popular ski resort. Many of the radio controllers I spoke to today did not understand which Mt Baldi I was at. I eventually learned that the pass is called Anza Pass, I’ll remember that in future and drop the Mt Baldi identification. I was given flight following and had controllers with me all the way back to Gillespie. This time I was cleared to go through the class Bravo airspace and therefore made a nice gentle descent whilst I enjoyed a little ‘forbidden territory’, no need to sneak under it like I had to on the way to Palm Springs.

At Montgomery I was cleared straight in to land on 28L without anybody close by to worry me. As I neared the airport I could see the runup area for the right runway was packed with planes and I heard the tower tell someone it would be 12 minutes before they would be likely to be get a takeoff clearance. Glad I was landing, not taking off! My landing was so-so, I ran out of air speed slightly too high and therefore bounced a little bit, but no big deal.

Another big landmark flight, my first solo cross country, I am getting more like a real pilot all the time.

$3200.00 31.1 hrs
Flight # Date Plane Tail Solo Total
20 8/1/2002 Cessna-172 N733UC 1.7 1.7
Solo practice – touch-and-goes; go-around; forward slips; short-field and soft-field take-offs and landings
Three weeks since my last flight – a combination of weather and the holidays have had me grounded. I’m currently waiting to do my night flights so figured I should take some practice time while I wait around. I think it was a good job I did as I was a little rusty.

Montgomery was unusually quiet and the usual taxi and takeoff saw me heading east before turning north towards Ramona. As I listened to the radio I could hear at least 5 different planes flying around the pattern which had me a little worried about how I would fit into the pattern. At Mt Woodson everyone was either on the ground or downwind so fitting turned out to be easy.

I flew the pattern and realised I was way too high when I was lined up on final. I idled the throttle and drifted down but was still high, when I was just a few feet above the runway I looked along and wasn’t really sure I could stop the plane in time so decided to go around. My go-around went well and I set off into the pattern.

Next time around I was very determined to get the plane on the ground in proper fashion and this time was nicely lined up with the VASI lights and did an ok landing, flared a little too early (i.e. high) but no loss of control. I elected to stop and taxi back for another takeoff.

Decided I would do a short-field take-off next, after waiting for another plane to land I positioned myself on the runway, put on 10° of flaps and away I went. I had forgotten quite how steep the attitude is on takeoff and was a little unnerved by it! But apart from that I think it was okay and I set off for another trip around the pattern. By this time most everyone had left the area

I did a couple of touch and goes and some short-field landings, including getting one landing that enabled me to leave the runway at the first taxiway – never managed that before. Another short-field landing (less unnerving but still makes my heart beat faster) and a soft-field takeoff and I left happy and a good practice session.

The trip back to Montgomery was uneventful, the airport still being very quiet. I was straight in to the left runway, taxied to fuel and then back to parking. I left feeling pretty jazzed at how well things had gone. Now if only we could get a mist-free evening or two.

$3300.00 32.8 hrs
21 17/1/2002 Cessna-172 N733UC 2.8 2.8
Long solo cross-country
One of the pre-requisites for taking the checkride is the completion of a ‘long’ solo cross-country, whereby you have to fly a minimum of 150 miles round trip, 3 airports and one leg of 50 miles. For my trip I chose to fly to Imperial (where I could meet Teri for lunch), then on to Borrego Springs, and then back home. It turned out to be a varied trip.

Taxi and takeoff clearance were quickly obtained and I was in the air very soon after saying goodbye to imberly. I made the first turn towards Gillespie airport like so many times before. On reaching the airport I made my first turn to intercept the route that heads towards the Imperial VOR (the radio navigation beacon just south of the airport). Shortly after making the turn it seemed to me that I wasn’t heading in the right direction; the 8 freeway which I take out to Brawley was not where I was anticipating and it all just seemed wrong. I decided to head back towards Gillespie a little to give me time to study the chart (and make sure I did not go into the San Diego airspace by accident). I was finding it a little hard to think it through so I decided to head for the 8 and follow it for a while, picking up the radio route, via the radio navigation device in the cockpit, later. Once firmly established in the right direction I relaxed a little and enjoyed some familiar landmarks disappearing beneath me. Staying on the route I went over the mountains and picked up a little turbulence, the kind that likes to get under the wing and give it a little push upwards in the air. I don’t like that much and was glad when it stopped. Once into the desert I lost some altitude and enjoyed views over to the Salton Sea and into Mexico. Unfortunately a planned burn in one of the fields south of Seely obscured a lot of the view, way too much smoke in the air. I passed El Centro airport and started looking for the Imperial airport but could not see it. I knew I was in the right area – I’ve driven this many times – but it wasn’t there. I got out the chart and it reminded me that Imperial is north of El Centro, it does not continue east. Once I was sure I was past the El Centro air space I turned northward and a whole bunch of landmarks sprung into place all leading to the airport. I called up the UNICOM service and they told me there was no other traffic in the pattern so I elected to go straight onto the runway. Had there been other traffic I would have flown the the usual rectangular pattern before landing. Imperial is an uncontrolled airport so, like Ramona, I was giving out position reports all the way in. My approach was a little low but the airspeed was good and I made a no-bounce touchdown; I am definitely getting better at landings. I did, however, land on the right wheel before the left wheel, something I have never done before and really don’t know how I did this time. I taxied to the general parking, ordered some fuel and went off with Teri for some lunch. She had been waiting for me in her car and had expected to hear me coming in to land. 3UC was too quiet though and she had not heard the approach, though did see some of the landing.

I had felt quite stressed by the flight to Imperial and lunch had done a little to calm my nerves. On the way back to the airport we saw the Blue Angels practicing – I am glad I wasn’t in their airspace when I was up there! But it was time for the short hop to Borrego, a lovely little airport in the desert. I said my goodbyes to Teri, posed for some pictures and was back in the cockpit takiing out for takeoff. Again, I had the airport to myself. I checked and double-checked my navigation log so I wouldn’t repeat the same mistake and then set off. This was going to be a short flight so I didn’t climb very high. This time I was probably over-cautious about where I was on the route and had one small anxious moment when I saw the road I knew I was going to meet go off in the wrong direction. I think that my knowledge of the area worked against me on this trip and spooked me a couple of times when there was no need to; this was one of them. I hit my first checkpoint right on time and everything looked how it was supposed to. The Salton Sea looked lovely in the sunshine and the mountains to the north were very inviting. I took my turn towards Borrego and listened for traffic reports; again, Borrego is an uncontrolled airport. It shares the frequency with nearby Calexico and it sure was busy there, almost all traffic wanting to clear Customs before going to/returning from Mexico. I was still at 4000 feet when I saw the runway – almost underneath me! I did a large, slow, 360° turn to allow me to lose altitude, there was no way I could and on the approach I was on. A couple of aircraft departed whilst I was doing this and we all talked on the radio to make sure there would be no collisions. I finally had enough altitude loss to make the traffic pattern though was still a little high on final. I used a small forward slip (I love those) to lose height fast and made what is probably my best landing ever, my airspeed was real slow, a smooth landing, and an exit from the runway very early on. I took a quick bathroom break in the FBO office, chatted briefly to the UNICOM operator, promised to come back for lunch some day soon and went back to the airplane.

My last leg took me over the mountains near Julian and down into San Diego. The whole area ahead was filled with mountains so I took a long moment to try to identify the pass that I would be taking, again verifying my course headings on the navigation plan. Shortly after takeoff I contacted LA Centre and obtained flight following. As I headed towards the pass the sky was getting pretty hazy though I could still see quite a distance. About halfway across the mountains LA Centre informed me that SoCal approach had refused my handover and so I would be without flight following for the last half of my journey. With the hazy air I would very much have liked someone looking out for me, but I tuned into SoCal’s radio anyway in case I heard someone coming my way. The haze made being sure of my route difficult so I kept on my heading and checked off the landmarks as they went beneath me. The pass came into view and I could see that I was going to head the wrong side of one of the peaks so I checked that I had enough altitude to clear it, which I did. I passed over Cuyamaca Lake and smiled as El Capitan Reservoir came into view on the other side of the mountain ridge. I was dead on course and from here it would be ‘easy’ all the way home. Over the ridge, I descended so that I would be underneath the Class Bravo airspace when I reached it and kept on my course that took me straight to Gillespie airport. Montgomery Tower was very busy so I slowed down to enable me to keep out of their airspace before talking to them. Despite being busy I was cleared to land, on the right runway this time which is unusual for my trips. About a mile from the runway the tower asked me to tip my wings which I did. Then, about 30 feet from the runway I was asked where I was – when I replied that I was over the runup area the controller sounded relieved! Much to my pleasure I did another real good landing and easily made the Golf taxiway. Two good landings in one day, definitely cause for celebration! I was told that it would be about a two minute wait for taxi instructions across the left runway so I took the opportunity to open the window, fill in some paperwork and enjoy the satisfaction at having made my longest trip to date.

$3450.00 35.6 hrs