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.