Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Flying Life....So Far

My Flying Life...So Far

I began my flight training in April '06 at Universal Air Academy at
the El Monte, California airport (KEMT). I trained in a Piper Archer
II low-wing airplane.

I passed my Private Pilot Certificate checkride in November '06. Just
before getting PPL my flight instructor Camron introduced me to Ron.
Camron had been training Ron in Ron's Piper Cherokee 140. Camron told
me it was a good, solid airplane. Ron and I started studying together
(pretty much 4-5 nights a week for a month).

After getting our licenses, Ron and I started flying together in a
quest for learning. Ron does not like to fly alone and had been paying
instructors to go along with him on joy rides. I have a very flexible
schedule and was looking to fly anytime, anywhere. The fact that I
have a relatively small amount of discretionary income and Ron was
enjoying an upsurge in his business was a perfect combination. Ron
won't even let my buy him lunch. I worried for awhile that maybe I was
taking advantage of him but he made it clear that he is getting more
out of it than I am.

I do all the flight planning, weather checking, flight plan filing,
cockpit cleanup, hangar door opening and closing, airplane pulling in
and out of the hangar, and more. I love doing all that stuff anyway.

Ron and I GO places. We've flown the Cherokee more than 200 hours in
less than two years (ah! My bi-annual is coming up!). We've been to
more than 45 airports. We've gone to Mesa and Yuma, Arizona. We've
gone to Jean, Nevada several times. North Las Vegas too. We've gone to
Modesto, Placerville, Napa, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs,
Gillespie Field, Ramona, and on and on and on. Next up on the list is
Salt Lake City and then, hopefully in October, we are planning to go
to Lake Of The Ozarks, Missouri to visit Ron's daughter.

Usually, Ron flies to wherever we're going while I navigate and do the
radios. Then, I fly back while he takes over the Nav/Comm duties.
We've learned each other's tendencies, habits and weaknesses. We push
each other to be better. It has worked out very well.

Ron and I have talked about me buying his airplane (and then he would
buy a bigger one...something he talks about almost daily). He won't
allow a partnership though. It's all or nothing. So I was planning to
start saving up, borrow some money from my mom, maybe also from my
best friend who's a Southwest Airlines pilot...whatever I could do to
make it happen.

But there is another airplane that will be for sale soon that might be
the perfect entry into airplane ownership for me. My CFI Camron has
been training a guy in the guy's own 140. He wants to sell it as soon
as he passes his IFR checkride. The owner told Camron he wants $26,000
for it. Camron and I could bring one other person into the deal and it
would be very affordable. We'll see.

Ron has no interest in trying to get his instrument rating. He's
annoyed by some of the things you have to do (fly to Paradise VOR
first, then on a Victor airway). He likes to cut corners, go direct,
get there faster. I've tried to set up flights that simulated an IFR
path but he doesn't want to climb that high (10,500 feet to cross the
mountains?! We only need 6500! No Way!) So I gave up on that idea. I
think the only thing that would be attractive to him about an IFR
rating would be the ability to get out of El Monte on the endless
foggy early mornings.

I, on the other hand, am attracted to the challenge of being a better
pilot. I started studying IFR on my own almost a year ago. I've bought
and read lots of books. I got to a point where I was not getting any
better though. I kept getting 82s and 83s on the practice written
test. That would pass, but I want to be in the 90s and, more
importantly, really understand the concepts. In order to jumpstart my
learning and get a better understanding of IFR flying I enrolled in an
IFR ground school class at Mt. Palomar college in San Marcos.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fun Flying

A nice, leisurely flight from the San Gabriel Valley over to the San Bernardino Valley ended up with two stops. First, we went to Redlands and checked on the progress of our favorite brewery, Hangar 24. They need about 30 more days before they will be bottling their beer. We'll be back. Then we hung out in the pilot's lounge and ended up talking to a guy named Eric. He was funny, interesting, knowedgeable and not at all full of himself. He flies Citations for Clay Lacy's place and has a Citabria. We picked his brain about routes for cross countries, airspace trivia, and more. He recommended we try the (fairly) newly renovated Manica-Mike's restaurant at Cable airport in Upland. So we did. Here's a picture of the place. Fun. Good food too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nice People

Hung out and talked to Henry for awhile when I was at the Placerville airport. He was a nice guy and not only answered questions about the various airplanes in his shop, but he even volunteered some fascinating info. It sure is fun to hang out at the airport.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


It was about time to get out and stretch our legs a little. Ron and I fired up the Cherokee and headed out to Placerville, CA. We went to look at this nice Cherokee Six, but in reality Ron had already convinced himself that he didn't want the lower horsepower version, so this airplane would not do. Still, it was a nice one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Got Jumper Cables?

While at Aqua Dulce airport today a Cessna 414 had some trouble. They flooded the engines trying to start them and then ran the battery dead. What the heck do you do at a sleepy little airport with that situation? Well, luckily, the airport has some nice people there and ingenuity to boot. With no 24-volt starter in the area, the collective assortment of hangar hanger-on-ers came up with a plan. The golf cart had multiple batteries wired in sequence. A quick check with a voltimeter showed 25 amps. A set of automotive jumper cables were found and voila! The airplane started, cleaned up, and got out of there. It was fun to hang out and help a little. The two guys in the Cessna were certainly relieved...


Finally got to go flying today and so we took a short jaunt out to Aqua Dulce airport. Airdog was there being scooted back and forth from one end of the runway to the other on an ATV. Gotta love those goggles!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

No Flying....4 days in a row

This week was going to be the one where I got to fly every single day. That is, until the weather had its say. Every morning, starting with Monday, I was planning to go somewhere early with my flying buddy Ron. And every morning the fog kept us on the ground.

Finally today it looked like we would be able to get out of El Monte and go somewhere. But the fog lingered until around 11. So Ron spent the morning redoing the gold stripes on the blue and white Piper Cherokee 140. It looked great when done and when I arrived at around 11 Ron had just noticed that the front strut was sagging again. Again! We've had it fixed, resealed, jimmied and more at least three times in the past three years. In between we were constantly having it filled with nitrogen.

Enough is enough. Ron took the airplane down to Dick at FAST Aviation at the KEMT airport and Dick is going to completely rebuild the strut. It might be ready Friday around 11...about the same time the fog is supposed to be burned off....let's hope!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Better View

So, the Angels were playing the Yankees today in a day was too tempting....

The View Out My Office Window

I recently moved up to the 11th floor at my work. They gave me a nice, big office with cool furniture. I've never had it so good. This is the view from my window.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More Barry Schiff Wisdom...

Another great piece of advice from Barry Schiff's seminar I attended. As most people know, when you fly into a high altitude airport everyone is thinking about the takeoff that you will be making when you leave. Will the plane have enough power, is the runway long enough, etc., etc.

But one thing they don't think about is....what if my landing attempt is messed up in some way and I need to make a missed approach (or a go-around for VFR pilots)? You will be in much worse shape for your missed approach because you have not leaned the engine for max power and you have your flaps down. It is all to easy to try a missed approach by shoving the throttle forward, dumping the flaps and then sinking into the runway.

So Barry offers 2 pieces of advice. Number 1 is to practice a missed approach on the downwind leg. Yep. Throttle back to landing power, set your flaps, and then pretend like you're going to do a go-around. Note if the airplane sinks, or mushes, or climbs just fine.

Tip Number 2 was: Maybe you shouldn't use all three notches of flaps. Now this entrigued me because my flying buddy likes to land with 2 notches of flaps and a little faster than me. I've always fretted and worried about this because I didn't know how much this would affect the stall speed. The book only tells you a stall speed for no flaps and full flaps. But Barry explained that the flaps achieve almost all of their affect after you go to the first notch. The next notch only improves the stall speed about 10 percent. The added flaps do contribute to drag and slow the airplane though. The third notch of flaps basically don't help your stall speed, they just add more drag.

So, Barry says why not use one notch of flaps until you are almost to the runway (I forget the term he used...something like "on the property") and then pull the 2nd notch of flaps. So, if your landing is screwy before you get too close to the airport you can do your go-around starting with only one notch of flaps down. And if it goes bad near the runway you're still better off with only two notches instead of all three.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mountain Flying Seminar with Barry Schiff

I went to a seminar sponsored by the San Fernando Valley 99s at Van Nuys airport last night. It was part of their Pilot Proficiency Seminars series. The speaker was Barry Schiff, he of more than 27,000 hours logged in more than 300 types of aircraft.

Barry spoke about Mountain Flying. Since I live in Southern California there are many, many mountains to be concerned about. I wanted to see what the guy had to offer. I was hoping to pick up a thing or two that would help, or save, me.

I was not disappointed. Barry is a likeable guy and his vast experience has armed him with lots of stories and funny comments. Here’s one, loosely quoted, “My instructor got out of the airplane as he sent me off for my first solo with this comment, ‘Get me out of this airplane before you kill me!’“. Okay, I got that one from his book “Test Pilot: 1001 things you thought you knew about aviation” that I bought at the seminar. But he had plenty of interesting tidbits live at the seminar too. He described why we say an airport is “socked in” and how the Pitot tube was invented, and more. If you want to know the answers to these two, send a message.

Anyway, here’s a couple of things I came away with. When flying into an airport with a high elevation (use Big Bear California as an example at 6752 feet) you should fly the airplane at the indicated airspeeds you normally do. For example, in my Cherokee 140 (it’s a hot rod though) I usually slow to 100 on the base leg, then slow to 80 on final and touch down at maybe 70ish. That wouldn’t change at a high elevation airport. However, the density of the air up there is much different and what your airspeed indicator reads is much different that your true airspeed. You are actually going much faster through the space of air (or, compare groundspeeds) than normal. So, when you make your turn from the downwind leg to the base leg and then continue on to final, you will oftentimes find yourself overshooting the runway’s centerline significantly. You might think you just screwed up your turn but the reality is that the airplane is going faster through the air and it takes more room to turn a faster airplane (I’m using simplified terms here, and hope to God I’m not screwing any of it up). Solution: When flying into a high-altitude airport you need to give yourself more room on the downwind leg. Just 6 weeks prior to this seminar I did exactly as described at Big Bear airport (KL35). Was surprised I was off centerline. Now I know why and won’t do it again.

He, of course, went into great detail about density altitude and performance degradation. And an interesting talk about flaps on landing. I’ll get into that next time...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Van Nuys Under The Clouds

Had a great flight yesterday from El Monte to Van Nuys. On the way there we couldn't climb above 2000 feet or else we would have been in the clouds. We ran along the ridge that is famous for the "Hollywood" sign and then popped over where there was an opening. The Van Nuys area was clear as anything. Ron guided us into a left pattern for runway 16L and put the Cherokee on the ground smoothly and on the centerline. We taxied over to the Air Tel hotel and parked next to a long line of private jets. We felt kinda funny and kinda cool putting our little Cherokee 140 next to all the big stuff. Why did we go? A dry run, if you will. Thursday we are going to go to the Air Tel hotel for a seminar on mountain flying and we wanted to make sure we knew where we were going.