Back In The Saddle

I was able to get back in the airplane today after nine-day layoff due to travel. It was great to get in a lesson, and I had a lot of fun doing more slow flight, steep turns, and stalls. My CFI has also been building up my “hood time,” which is flying with “foggles,” plastic safety-type glasses that allow you to only see the instruments and not outside the aircraft. That hood work isn’t really necessary until later in the private pilot curriculum, but he’s been having me fly 12 minutes (and today, 18) of hood time the past few lessons to get me proficient more quickly. I enjoy it, and the simulator is great training for this. Today I did turns, climbs, climbing and descending turns while maintaining airspeed, and slow flight all under the hood. That all went well.


Another fun part of today was the TFR (temporary flight restriction) in place in the Philadelphia region due to the Democratic National Convention. The TFR meant we needed to get ATC clearance to fly, broadcast a squawk code, and fly with ATC flight following throughout the lesson. We had Philadelphia approach on the radio the entire flight, which was really cool, and which made me realize how realistic PilotEdge is (very). And coming back to the field I made the calls to Philly approach, which was VERY cool.

A great lesson today, and I’m having a great time real-world.

ForeFlight 8 Set For August

ForeFlight 8 Set For August

One of the best real world tools that I’ve used for my simulation work and my real world flight training has been ForeFlight, which is an electronic flight bag app that I run on my iPad. I use it to plan routes in PilotEdge, for VFR navigation and charts while flying the sim, and as a backup to my paper logbook for training. I also take it along when I travel for business, pulling the commercial route I’m flying off FlightAware and loading them into ForeFlight on the iPad so I can track the route and read and follow the IFR procedures for arrival and approach. It’s truly great software.

And now the next generation is coming, with ForeFlight 8 set for August release. And it looks fantastic:

Free Airspace Lesson Tonight (US Time)

Free Airspace Lesson Tonight (US Time)

One of the online resources I track as part of my flight training is Private Pilot Study, which uses Google+ hangouts to lead video conference briefings on different elements of pilotage. 

Tonight the topic is airspace, and it’s being led by Keith Smith, founder of PilotEdge and one of my personal web-aviation heroes. Time is 7 PM Mountain time US. If my schedule permits I plan to attend. 

As for Private Pilot Study, it’s an excellent resource with twice-weekly instructor-led sessions on all matters of private pilot knowledge. If you can’t participate in the hangout you can watch real-time, and if you can’t watch due to your schedule, you can view later via the archives. Check it out. 

Finding My Inner Warrior

I’ve been told by several folks that early in my flight training I should fly both high- and low-wing aircraft so I could compare them and then settle on one for the remainder of my training. So today, after getting about six hours to date in a Cessna 172 (high-wing) I took a lesson in a Piper Warrior II (low-wing). Here’s the bird …

The verdict is that I really liked the Piper. While it’s a smaller cabin, I felt more comfortable, in particular because the Piper feels more like sitting in a car while the Cessna can feel like sitting in a truck. Visibility was better for me, both of the airfield in the pattern and up front over the cowling. Here’s the view up front:

The Piper moves around a bit more, and I needed to use much more rudder (or so it seemed) than with the 172, especially right rudder on takeoff. And while low-wing aircraft experience more “ground effect” than do high-wing aircraft, meaning they can float a bit longer when landing and take a bit longer to climb off the field on takeoff, for me the Piper was easier to land than the Cessna. Even though it was my first time in the airplane, I felt every landing I had today was better than those last Saturday. Maybe that’s the effect of experience, but maybe not. Either way, I felt a lot more effective landing today, even with a slight crosswind.

So I’m sticking with the Piper. The only immediate downside is that the basement sim is laid out as a Cessna! But that’s okay, I can still fly a Piper in the sim and work Piper checklists. I just have to remember that the flaps in the Piper are a big manual handle like an emergency brake and not that little lever like in the 172 …

The Feeling Of Learning The Ropes

Today was my fourth real-world flight lesson, and it was a day of slow flight, stalls (power on, power off, and turning), and pattern work. In fact I did seven takeoffs and landing today across two different fields. Today was a great experience, but I would not characterize it as “fun,” and compared to earlier lessons, today felt more like hard work. But I think this is a good thing. My instructor was definitely pushing my learning, especially with the pattern work (six routes of the pattern in about 30 minutes), and we had a nice 7-15 knot quartering crosswind to boot which introduced a whole new level of things to figure out. So I learned a couple of things today:

  • Take the time at the start of the flight to get settled. Get comfortable with your seat position etc. because the start of the flight is the only really good chance you’ll have to do this (at least in a lesson).
  • I finally got comfortable with putting the nose down when moving abeam the numbers and trimming for landing. On earlier lessons and in the first run of the pattern today when turning from downwind onto base I’d feel like I was driving the airplane downhill and it would freak me out a bit (especially at 500-700 AGL). In fact, I am driving it downhill, because it’s the only way to get down and land the sucker. But there is plenty of speed and plenty of altitude if I’m flying the pattern right, so I don’t need to let it freak me out.
  • My overall pilotage is pretty good for this point in my instruction. I made good decisions on the pattern turns (which my instructor left entirely to me) and crabbed the aircraft on final with no instruction to do so …
  • … but there is still a lot to learn about crosswind landings, and in particular, how to manage the flare. I feel like I will be learning these things for quite a while.
  • Little differences in power matter on descent. There is a real difference between 1,500, 1,400, and 1,300 RPMs. I need to find what’s best for me in how I fly the 172 to landing, and work with it. Based on today I think it’s probably 1,400.
  • Time away matters. I’ve been away from the simulator and real-world cockpits for more than a week, and I could feel my regression. I’m assuming this will feel less pronounced as the routines of flying the airplane become more automatic (it was the ground work where I felt most behind the curve), but staying current clearly matters while I’m learning.
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Building new skills takes time, and when you’re really practicing deliberately, it feels like hard work. There’s a bunch of research about deliberate practice and how it builds expertise, and I’ve read a good portion of it, and today’s practice was definitely deliberate. It had many repetitions, was designed by a professional, had immediate feedback, was difficult and tiring, and frankly not a ton of fun in a traditional sense. But I feel like I learned a ton, and that’s the point.

News For This Basement Fly Guy

Well, I have some news to share here, and it’s that I’ve started real-world instruction for my Private Pilot License. I suppose that building the sim was the nudge I needed to try something I’ve always wanted to do in real life. So far I’m three lessons in and having a fantastic time.

I’ll post about the experience here, although I expect the blog will remain primarily focused on simulated rather than real-world flight. But I do expect the topics will broaden some, especially regarding how home simulation and real pilotage fit together. And I guess I may have to change the site tag line a bit.

Here’s a pic of me in the left hand seat of the C 172 in which I’m training. It really is a ton of fun.