|Introduction to night flights.|
After three weeks of waiting for good weather, I finally got my first night flight. The lesson started with an introduction to the advantages and disadvantages of night flying. The disadvantages are obvious, its hard to find landmarks, spot terrain, or identify landing places for emergencies. The advantages make up for it by giving magical views and much calmer winds.
The airport seemed pretty busy when we arrived but by the time we took off we were the only aircraft in the area. We made a straight-out departure towards the ocean. Kimberly told me to follow the VOR to Oceanside, something I had not been prepared for – I had to locate the chart, lookup the frequency and then turn in the radio. This is the kind of thing the examiner likes to do, to see how well you can fly when distracted.
Near Oceanside we located Palomar airport to the east by looking for the airport beacon, then made a 180° turn. As we made the turn over the ocean, all the lights disappeared and all I could see was black – the sky and the ocean blending into one. Its important to make standard rate turns so as not to get disoriented by the lack of an horizon. We headed back down the coast and located the beacon for Montgomery Field, called up the tower and announced we would be doing some touch and goes. The regulations require 10 landings at night so we did 8 at Montgomery, leaving two for the cross-country trip to John Wayne airport. Some of the landings were good, some were a little bouncy, many were to the left of the centre line.
The final act of the night was to fill the gas tanks, something we had to do ourselves so late at night. This proved to be way more difficult than I had ever imagined. After what seemed like an eternity I still hadn’t filled the tanks to the top and Kimberly said she figured I’d put in enough.
Two good flying nights in a row weren’t going to go to waste so we were right back in the saddle the following day for our night cross-country to John Wayne just outside Los Angeles. John Wayne is in Class C airspace which means it is very busy and has a lot of jet traffic. Indeed I have driven by it a few times and seen many big airliners fly over for landing. Kimberly likes to go to John Wayne for this flight since it makes a good introduction to flying with the big boys – and at night!
I did the pre-flight as the light faded, Kimberly joined me and we taxied out to the runway. The airport seemed busier than the previous night but I think Sunday evening is the time most people will return from their day or weekend away. We were number 4 for takeoff but somehow sneaked into the number 3 position in front of a Citation jet which was has hanging about at the runup area. We would hear it being given a change of clearance instructions to enable it to avoid us when it took off a little later. Our course took us out towards the ocean, over Mt Soledad, then toward Oceanside via a VFR flyway, then a turn toward Dana Point and then into the John Wayne area.
After we had turned towards Oceanside I called up SoCal approach, obtained flight following and listened to the progress of the Citation which had already climbed above us. We heard a SkyWest airplane given instructions so as to avoid us and we made our way north as planned.
Eventually we got to Dana Point and started to turn towards Signal Peak, the first major visual reference point for reporting inbound to the airport. Since we had flight following we wouldn’t need to report the peak but it was an important landmark for us to know we were in the right place and to help us locate the airport. The airport might be fairly big but its just inside the hugely lit mass that is LA. I knew there were radio masts on the peak and figured they would be lit but we never saw them. We both struggled to find the airport as the approach controller told us to join the traffic pattern for the left, smaller, runway. Kimberly has made the trip in the dark many times and, although she swears she could not see the airport, I am sure she saw it long before I did. I could not find the airport beacon but I could see the planes lined up for straight-in landings out to the NE so I was soon able to find the dark area which marked out the runways. Runways appear dark from the air since the lights are designed to be seen only from each end of the runway. We joined the pattern and it all looked very messy, lots of street lights, freeway lights, skyscraper buildings and airport lights. I came in too high on final thanks to spending too long looking around and not setting the plane up in its normal approach configuration (slow and descending). I tried to descend rapidly and we eventually landed on the runway quite a ways down the field. The landing was smooth but fast and it really did look like we weren’t going to stop in time. I was toying with the idea of a go-around but still wondered if I could stop before the end. I saw Kimberly move her feet and hands ready to take over if I didn’t do the right thing. I used some more braking and we were slow enough to taxi just before the end of the runway. Its amazing to think that after all this time, and all these reports at how well my landings are going, I had easily my most unsafe landing to date. As Kimberly as said before, the worst landings are at new airports and in the dark. We taxied off the runway and were told to hold in a small runup area next to the taxi way. There was a huge United 757 wanting to taxi across the taxi way we had been on and it was having to wait for us to get off it. We wanted to go behind it but were told to wait since when the jet powered up his turbines to taxi the force would likely have blown our little 172 off the ground. It was quite a sight to see it up close to us. Once it had moved we went to the Signature Services area for some fuel and a little rest.
Being a Class C airport you must obtain a clearance to depart before you even start the airplane. Well, you could start the airplane but you would be wasting money whilst you swap information with the departure frequency. The clearance includes items such as the heading to fly after takeoff, the altitude to fly and the frequency to call. After reading it back to them I was told to contact ground control when we were ready to move. After the usual startup procedure we were on our way to the runway start. There are two parallel taxiways to the runway, one is adjacent to the terminal gates and the other next to the runway. The ground controller did not tell us how to get to the runway so Kimberly said that if we were feeling mischievous we should take the jet taxi way and go past all those big airliners. Our takeoff was uneventful and we were soon heading back down the coast towards San Diego. Although we never asked for it we had flight following all the way down to Torrey Pines from where we were let go on our own.
I called up the tower for our clearance to land and, to our surprise, were offered a straight-in landing on runway 10L. Recall that the runway runs from a heading of 280° to 100° and I have always landed and taken off on a heading of 280. But I guess with no other traffic around, and with calm winds, the controller figured we could do a straight-in approach from the ‘wrong’ direction. It was certainly very odd to be coming in over the landmarks that I usually take off over. I had been looking forward to the safety of the familiar approach for my second landing of the night (and therefore a much better one) but this meant it was like landing at a brand new airport again. This time I kept my concentration up and we had a passable landing, a little harder than my greasers last week, and taxied off with plenty of runway left. We taxied to the fuel island and this time the fuel was much easier to dispense and I filled the tanks in no time. On the way back to parking Kimberly had me practice some tight taxi turns where you make circles without any forward motion. Those complete we parked and tied down the aircraft.
I’ve now completed all the mandatory items except that I have 9.9 hours of solo time and need 10 before the checkride, I will need to do a brief solo sometime soon though I am tempted just to taxi around the airport for a few minutes! From here I will make as many practices with Kimberly as needed for the checkride which should be in the next 2 weeks or so!
The big news is that my checkride is tentatively scheduled for Feb 7, just a couple of weeks away. From now on we will do enough (and no more than enough) practices to get my manuevers within the tolerances required by the flight test.
The ATIS alerted us to a SIGMET in force for the San Diego area; a SIGMET being an alert for significant weather not caused by thunderstorms and usually means bad news for light airplanes. The forecasted end was shortly after our departure so we headed out with the knowledge that we might not be gone too long or be able to do all that we wanted. Our plan was to fill 1.5 hours with as much work for me as possible. I am also 2.1 hours shy of the required simulated instrument time so hood time is also very important.
We were straight out towards the ocean and it was pretty choppy as we climbed out and along the coast, it took 10-15 minutes before I felt like the plane was under reasonable control. The hood came out and Kimberly had me track the Oceanside VOR before turning to head inland. The new thing of the day was a brand new airport: Fallbrook Airpark which boasts a very short runway together with drops at both ends. Time to see if my short-field landings really do work!
Once the hood was off, Kimberly pointed out major landmarks in the area so that I might be able to find the airport easily if (when?) the examiner has me fly there during the checkride. We entered the traffic pattern as the only aircraft around and, much to my delight, made a great short-field landing. We taxied around and made a short-field takeoff; I forgot to make allowances for the crosswind and drifted quite substantially (next lesson will be practicing crosswinds). We headed inland for some manuevers; the wind was buffeting us pretty good and my S-turns did not work out very well although my steep turns were acceptable. I had hoped to do some stalls and unusual attitudes but Kimberly decided the wind was too strong and the risk of a spin too high. Instead we headed to Ramona.
At Ramona they were using the runway from the opposite end which was another first. This time we did a soft-field landing and takeoff which both went ok. After that it was time to head back and we did a typical approach to Montgomery. We were cleared straight in on the left and everything was good until near the end where a crosswind blew me to one side again – crosswinds are definitely on the agenda for next lesson. We fueled the plane and headed back to the parking. The lesson had flown by (pardon the obvious pun) and I felt like I’d been given a pretty good workout. The checkride will last about the same amount of time and include a lot more – its going to be exhausting!
At this point I feel fairly confident on all my maneuvers except the stalls (though thats really because of fear of spinning than being unable to do them), s-turns and the unusual attitudes. At time of writing this, a spell of low
For this flight we headed out east over Gillespie and northwards towards Ramona. Once we had made our turn from Montgomery Field Kimberly put me under the hood for some simulated instrument time. I bought some ‘foggles’, glasses that are opaque other than for a small area for looking at the instruments, as I was tired of struggling with putting the hood on and these were much nicer to wear. I spent quite a bit of time in the dark during which the little craft was being pushed around quite hard by the wind. Once in the practice area I took off the glasses and we tried some of the manuevers but I was feeling queasy from all the bouncing around and so we headed for Ramona to do some landings.
Ramona was as last time – landing in the ‘wrong’ direction and we joined the pattern behind someone else and followed them around. I tried a short-field landing and although I didn’t land at the spot that I wanted, Kimberly said my demonstrated technique was good enough to please the examiner. The few moments spent taxiing around to take off again did wonders for my motion sickness and we took off again. This time as we started our way around the traffic pattern the UNICOM operators announced that landings would now be done from the opposite (i.e. usual) direction so we went around one and a half times and set up for a soft-field landing. As I came over the runway, the wind blew us hard and I struggled to keep the landing under control. I saw Kimberly jump towards the controls and then she told me to go-around which I did without any incident. As I have written on many other flight reports, if in any doubt about a safe landing, go-around! I shouldn’t have needed her to tell me.
Back around the pattern and we came in again. Once again, the wind pushed us over and I struggled at the controls but this time I didn’t hesitate to announce that I was going around. On the climb out I told Kimberly that between the queasiness and the turbulence I wanted to go home, I was looking for uplifting lessons before the checkride not ones that would demoralise me. She said ok but that she first wanted to try to land it herself. I gave her the controls and, with what looked like some effort, she got us to the ground. Later she would tell me that it had been a very challenging landing and one she didn’t want to repeat again. Guess I shouldn’t feel so bad about not making it.
For the journey home I put the foggles back on and Kimberly gave me headings to turn to get us back to the airport. In the end we were able to get half the simulated instrument time I need before the checkride, only 0.8 hours needed now. An acceptable soft-field landing at MYF ended the lesson.
The aim of today’s lesson was the same as the last couple, practice as many manuevers as possible and identify the weak spots. Today was a much calmer day and the result was a huge difference in my performance, I was nailing most all of the items and came away with a very high level of confidence for the checkride.
We flew to the practice area and did some slow flight, something I find very relaxing despite the high nose-up attitude. Next we did some stalls which is something I am not too fond of – although I can get out of them perfectly well I am too fearful of messing up and getting into a spin, and this makes me too hesitant. We reviewed the technique and Kimberly did a couple to remind me of how they felt. I did a few myself all without incident, I just need to be more positive on the controls when putting the plane into the stall. We’ll do a few more of those before the checkride.
Next was S-turns across a road, something I am not too confident of but they went not too badly, especially the more I did them. After that was turns around a point which were ok, if not great, I started out too close to my point and got progressively closer to it rather than keeping a constant distance away. After the turns Kimberly pulled out the power to simulate an engine failure and I went through the emergency landing procedures.
After that we went to Gillesipe Field, the airport that I almost always fly over at the beginning of every flight. There we did some touch and goes and she introduced me to how the traffic pattern works. The right hand runway is interesting because the traffic pattern takes you behind a hill on the downwind and base legs so that you lose sight of the runway. I would never have figured that out if I hadn’t been shown it.
We ended the lesson at MYF with some practice soft and short-field landings. We also simulated an engine out in the traffic pattern, something that was new. In this instance the trick is to make a tight turn and land wherever on the runway that you can. When my landing was not in doubt, Kimberly had me go-around for one more landing and then to home.
This was an exhausting lesson, we did at least half of the maneuvers in 90 minutes and I felt like I had been made to work, though it was also very enjoyable. In the checkride I’ll get to work twice as hard to fit all of the manuevers in to about the same amount of time. I wonder if I will enjoy that as well?
|Solo checkride practice and first genuine emergency go-around|
This had originally been scheduled as a dual lesson to go over more of the manuevers but Kimberly was double-booked so I took it as a solo practice. I still had 0.1 hours of solo time to gain so there was certainly no harm to be had in going up.
I headed for the practice area of the last lesson and encountered a little turbulence again. It was enough to make me uncomfortable though not as bad as the lesson a few days ago. I tried a couple of steep turns to start with but the wind kept pushing me into too steep a bank and I decided that I didn’t like being up there for manuevers so I headed back to MYF after doing some gentle climbs and turns.
Outside MYF I was cleared to land on the left and was making my merry way down for a practice short-field landing. I was a little high as I approached but no big deal – until I saw another plane beneath me and a little closer to the runway. I called the tower to ask if they were in my way and I was told that the traffic was heading for the parallel runway. I watched for a little while longer and could not see how it was going to make the right hand runway. I called up the tower again and told them that the other plane was just about to land on my runway and I was going to go around; the tower immeadiately told me to go around. I don’t know whether the airplane was on the wrong runway or the tower had just forgotten he was in front of me but this proves what all the books say: don’t trust that what the tower believes is happening is really what is going on. I went once around the traffic pattern and landed; I landed long of my intended point but still stopped the airplane at my intended taxiway so I am counting that as another good short-field landing.
As I write this, my examiner’s mother is seriously ill in NM and there is a very strong possibility that my checkride will be postponed. I feel like I am ready for Thursday but I guess this will give me an opportunity to be even more ready when I eventually get to take it.
Today was possibly the last lesson before the checkride (scheduled for two days time) and so the aim was to review as many things as we could, and to make up the elusive 0.8 hours of simultated instrument time. It was another gorgeously clear day in Southern California so the thought of more turbulence was in my mind (and also stated in the forecast for the area).
Another departure to the east and I was wearing the foggles very soon after an uneventful takeoff. As we took off I had Kimberly give me her opinions of where she would land in the cheery event of an engine failure. Most of our options include trying to make a runway, obviously the options improve the higher we get and the further we can glide. The foggles served a dual purpose today: getting some instrument time and also getting me lost. Once the foggles came off I had to determine my position by using the radio navigation instruments, then checking what I had determined by looking outside and matching landmarks to my chart. If you get truly lost then the idea is to climb high for best radio reception (and view for landmarks) and call up on a radio and admit you need help. There will be many people very keen to tell you exactly where you are and how to get where you want to be.
The air was a little bumpy but not as much as the some of the more recent lessons. Kimberly told me to do an emergency descent and I did so I looked for a landing spot. I saw a couple of reasonable-looking fields that I started heading to but then I noticed a real landing strip right beneath the nose! Erm, I think I’ll head there instead rather than ditch in a field.
Next we headed towards nearby Ramona but had an inexplicable engine failure en route. I put the airplane in
At Ramona we joined the pattern and did any landing I chose (I chose any landing I could make). They had closed part of the taxiway so our subsequent takeoffs all started about a third down the runway. From here we did some short-field and soft-field take-offs and landings. For some reason my soft-field takeoffs weren’t going that well (and stayed that way all day) which is odd as they have always been good.
We left Ramona and headed north towards a pile of rocks to do turns around it. I did do my reducing circles gain
After Fallbrook I put the foggles back on to complete the needed time and we were going to do some unusual attitudes, but with the length of the flight so far and the little chop we were experiencing I decided I was not much in the mood for them so we gave them a miss. Before heading back, Kimberly had me do a diversion to Palomar airport. In the case of bad weather in our way or some other reason to not want to continue on a flight, you might want to divert to a nearby airport. For the exam you have to determine the approximate direction to go in and how long it will take to get there (plus a fuel consumption estimate – no point diverting to somewhere you don’t have the fuel for). My guesses were pretty good as I could see the airport pretty quickly and everything out the window seemed to be where it was supposed to be on the chart.
That was pretty much the end of the lesson, Kimberly told me to fly back to Montgomery any way I wanted to. We went down the coast and perfect views down the Del Mar coastline and the Torrey Pines golfcourse from where I called up the tower for our landing clearance. I gave our position and intention but got no response which was a little puzzling until I noticed that I had slightly mistuned the radio frequency; of course, Kimberly said nothing to help out. I retuned the radio and got our clearance for the left runway. From the coast you have to come round Mt Soledad and over the edge of Mission Bay. From there we got a superb view over the bay and down to Coronado and beyond, surely the experience that flying is made for. I made the traffic pattern without too much stress and made a normal landing for the end of the lesson.
It was a very long lesson and we packed a lot of things into it. With the exception of the soft-field takeoffs and