Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shortest $100 Hamburger Ever

I took my three-year-old son for his first trip in an airplane yesterday. We flew from San Carlos (SQL) to Palo Alto (PAO) -- a whopping 1.7 nm. My wife and I figured it was a good first flight for him. We were worried that he would be scared, and we thought that if he was too scared to get back on the plane after landing in PAO, I would fly solo home to SQL and drive back to PAO to pick him up in the car.

Needless to say, he wasn't scared. He was actually rather blase about the whole affair. He was excited to be flying and wanted to get back into the plane to go home, but his first flight wasn't the big deal that my first flight with an instructor was, nor was it as big a deal as my wife's first flight with me. For him, it was just another way to travel. He spent most of the time looking at a book he had brought along or fiddling with his headset. On the way back from PAO, we did a bit of sightseeing around the San Francisco Peninsula. As my wife and I pointed out various landmarks to each other, my son fell asleep!

So I guess flying is no big deal when you're three years old. It's just another way to get to lunch. You have no idea how much time, energy, money, perseverance, or sacrifice it takes to get a pilot's certificate.

And that's exactly the way it should be when you're three years old.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

First Passenger

Took my first passenger a couple of weekends ago. The flight was relatively uneventful. The air was smooth and we spent about an hour just flying along the Pacific Coast near Half Moon Bay and over Woodside, seeing the sights and flying over places that we've known all our life but never really observed from the air.

After a week or two of mulling it over, a couple of things stand out in my mind from that flight.

After flying around mostly straight-and-level with all turns much less than 30 degrees, I asked my passenger if he would like to see something more interesting -- a steep turn. I said that if, at any time, he wasn't comfortable, I could roll out and stop the maneuver. He said that was OK and, after doing a clearing turn, I proceeded to roll into a steep turn. After about 90 degrees, he said, "OK, that's enough", so I rolled out and all was "normal" again. The G-forces in the steep turn made him a bit uncomfortable, but once we rolled out, he felt fine.

Most of my learning experiences seem to be about things I did wrong, but this is one of the things I think I did right. It seems like I've read many articles on newsgroups about people scaring their passengers, so I've decided to do my best to keep my passengers at ease by flying smoothly and not doing any maneuvers that would make them uncomfortable. I think it worked this time.

I've always liked soft-field takeoffs -- flying a couple of feet above the runway at high speeds has always been exciting for me. I decided to do one with my passenger, so I explained the maneuver before we took the runway (again making sure that this was OK with him) and explained what was going on while I was doing it. Unfortunately, something wasn't quite right -- I wasn't climbing as quickly as usual, and I didn't have to keep nearly as much forward pressure on the elevator as I'm used to. After climbing out, I realized I had forgotten to add flaps before takeoff. This really unnerved me -- fortunately SQL has a long enough runway, but if the runway had been any shorter, things could have turned out a bit badly. I've done soft-field takeoffs dozens and dozens of times, and I've never done that before. Lesson learned: passengers can be a distraction -- keep focused on the flying at hand.

During the aforementioned soft-field takeoff mistake, I uttered "Oh crap" or something like that. He asked what was wrong, I explained, and he said that he wouldn't have noticed anything wrong if I hadn't said anything. He also mentioned that there were several times when I said something like, "Rats, or "Crap," or "Darn" and it made him wonder what was wrong. In all cases, it was something small (harder than usual landing, altitude drifting more than I'd like, etc.), that wasn't up to my standards, but that my passenger didn't even notice. Lesson learned: keep my mouth shut unless something really is wrong.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Learning Experience #2: Think before you act

I went up for my second flight since getting my PP-ASEL and wouldn't you know it, I learned something again. I think I see a pattern forming here. :^)

Due to weather and illness, it had been quite a while since I had flown (almost 6 weeks), so I scheduled some time in my favorite airplane at my home field just to do some pattern work. I wanted to stay well within my comfort zone and just knock off any rust that had accumulated after six weeks of no flying.

The day went well -- my flying was good, but not as precise as I would have liked, which is about what I expected.

The learning experience came when the Tower informed me that they were switching runways from 12 to 30. I had just turned to the left downwind when they informed me and told me to "make a right turn to base." I look over and the runway is to my left, which means that the shortest way to get there is to make a left turn, so that's what I do. Then I start thinking about what it is I'm doing and that the Tower told me "right turn to base" . . . "right turn" . . . the words are rolling around in my head . . . "right turn" . . . "right turn." OH! They want me to make a 270 degree right turn to base, not a short 90 left turn to base. Of course, I had almost completed my 90 degree left turn when I realized this, but I immediately started a right turn to base like they asked. Fortunately I was the only one in the pattern, so it wasn't a big deal -- this time.

So what did I learn from this flight? Take a couple of seconds to think about what the Tower is saying and do the maneuver in my mind before I perform it in the airplane. Turning the wrong way in a crowded pattern could have had some significant consequences. Of course, I don't want to take too long to mull over instructions from ATC, but I think it's definitely a requirement to understand exactly what they're asking before doing it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Learning Expeience #1 - Winds, Turbulence, and Maneuvering Speed

I took my first flight as a Private Pilot on Monday. I took off from Palo Alto (KPAO) and headed West towards the Woodside VOR (OSI). Right after I crossed the ridge line, the plane started ascending for no good reason I could think of. It surprised me a bit, and I took a couple of seconds to realize I was in an updraft as the wind went over the mountains. So I just pushed the nose down and stopped the ascent. Of course, the airspeed started picking up as I started descending in the rising air. I was up around 115 kts indicated airspeed when the first jolt of turbulence hit. Another surprise. That was foll wed by another couple of bumps. It was at that point that I thought that I'd better slow down (Va on my Piper Warrior is 111 kts at gross weight). So I reduced power, pulled the nose up a bit, slowed down, and rode through the turbulence. It only lasted for a minute or so.

After I landed safely back at PAO and began to reflect on the whole situation, I realized that I could have foreseen the situation ahead of time if I had put a couple pieces of information together:
1) When I called WXBRIEF to listen to the recorded briefing for the San Francisco Bay Area, winds aloft were reported to be from the West at 14-22 kts, depending on altitude. The wind flowing over the mountains between the coast and the Bay Area will probably always create an interesting ride.
2) I talked briefly with another pilot (the DPE who had given me my checkride a week before, no less) who mentioned that things were a little bumpy to the West.

So what did I learn from this flight?
  1. Pay attention to winds aloft forecasts, even for local flights. In the past, I haven't really paid much attention to the winds aloft when flying locally. We're trained to look at winds aloft for cross-countries, but not for local flights. In the future, I'll definitely pay more attention to the winds and think about what they'll be doing over the mountains before I launch.
  2. Reports from other pilots are priceless bits information and I really need to pay more attention to them.
  3. When you're in an updraft, you can't just point the nose down. You may need to reduce the throttle, just like a regular descent, to avoid excess speed, especially because . . .
  4. If you're in a strong updraft (or downdraft I suppose), it could very well be followed by some turbulence.
Not bad for my fist flight as a Private Pilot. :^)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Here we go...

Well, here we go. I've got my own blog now. Will anybody care? I hope so, but who really knows...

The title of this blog is "License to Learn." It's about flying. Specifically, it's about learning experiences while flying. There's a DPE in the San Francisco Bay Area who likes to say "Here's your license to learn" when he hands over the Temporary Airman Certificate to new pilots. (At least that's the story -- he wasn't my examiner so I can't say for sure.) It sounds corny, but I just found out yesterday that it's true (more on that in future posts). So I've started this blog to pass along learning experiences that I've had while flying. They say that pilots have to learn from other people's mistakes because we don't have the time to make them all ourselves, so I'm hoping that others can learn from my experiences.

So will anybody care? As much as I like to think that I have something important to say, only time will tell if anybody wants to listen.