Sunday, April 15, 2012

I'm Baaaaaack!

Just when you think life has settled down and you get used to a routine, something pops up to completely change things. I am living proof. In less than three years, I went from being a pilot who flew every week, to one who flys fairly rarely. Did I lose my love of flying? Absolutely not! And no, I can't really blame this on Obama and the economy, but I'd like to. It's all a matter of shifting priorities - here's what happened: In the past three years, I got divorced, rented a house, lost a job, got another job, bought a house, met the love of my life, got a different job, married the love of my life, became a father of beautiful twins (one of each), sold my house, moved to a new city and bought a house...and flew every once in a while. In earlier posts, I indicated that I have already taken the twins up in the air, but that has been quite a while ago. Now they are walking, jabbering and are much more fun to interact with - so I need to get them up again!

Part of the reason for my lack of flying and thus lack of posts was the problem created by moving from one city to another. I'm an airplane renter (but maybe not for much longer...prices are looking good!) In Jacksonville, I had several options for renting aircraft. There were two flight schools at my home airport, another school at Herlong on the far side of town, one in Fernandina Beach and one in St. Augustine. In Tallahassee, I have found one. Other than Tallahassee Regional Airport (the big one that the airlines use), the nearest airport is about 30 miles away in Quincy or 40 miles away in Thomasville, GA. What's worse is that the aircraft here are not the latest and greatest like they had at North Florida Flight Training. More about that in a minute...

So, several months after moving to Tally, I set up a check out at Eagle Aircraft at KTLH. I had planned to get checked out in one of their C-172s, but a call from the instructor the day before resulted in my releasing of my reservation so a Navy guy could use it for his check ride. I was swapped to a C-152. That didn't do me any good, because most of my flying would be in the 172. This school required that I have a checkout in the 172 in order to use it. I should have canceled my ride that day as it would have wasted my money, but I was dying to fly and I went up anyway.

Fast forward quite a few months and I'm back to trying to get the 172 - I still need to get an airport ID badge (THANKS TSA for YOUR ILLUSION OF SECURITY). I've paid the money and am waiting for the airport to call me back. Last weekend, I knocked the rust off my flying by going up in a nice 2006 Skyhawk with the NAV II option. This is such a different plane from the NAV III equiped planes. I was so spoiled with the nice, new aircraft at North Florida! The plane flew today had over 5,000 hours on its ticker and was showing its age a bit, but nearly everything worked. The checklist that was left in the airplane was substandard - it omitted quite a few critical items that are detailed in the POH like checking the release on the Auto Pilot, positioning the fuel lever on left or right when securing the plane and some other things that escape me right now. Nevertheless, the plane was airworthy and well-equipped, so I was very happy to be flying it - AND the price was much less than the price in Jacksonville.

In spite of the rust on my flying, my radio calls were surprisingly decent. I tripped over the tail number a few times (November Two Zero Three Lima Yankee just doesn't trip off the tongue yet), but I didn't miss any calls and everything seemed to go smoothly.

During my preflight, I tested the electric trim controls and they didn't work. Seems that the school pulls the breaker on the autopilot as a matter of standard practice. I told the instructor that if we just pushed the breaker they'd work, but he said that even with autopilot, they won't work. I didn't push the issue even though I was certain that they would work.

We departed runway 9 and were cleared to head South. After clearing the Class C airspace, my instructor told me to clear the area and set up for a few maneuvers. He gave me a choice of slow flight, steep turns, or whatever. I told him that we'd start with slow flight as that would be the best test of my flying. I was able to get the plane down below 40 knots indicated and we flew without incident. He said that I should migrate into a power-on stall, which I also did. These maneuvers were performed to his satisfaction, so he told me to head back to the airport. I made a 180 steep turn and we headed back to the airport.

Back in the pattern, we performed three touch-and-goes. The first two were silky smooth, but as the instructor noted later, my nose was pointed a bit crooked. The third, however, was unusual. Just after I touched down and the plane rolled out, I found myself back in the air. A gust of wind had popped us back up. I immediately added power and the instructor put his hands on his yoke and asked if I needed help. I told him that I had the airplane and I let it stabilize in the air before pulling power and letting it settle back down. Other than that, this was uneventful.

During our debriefing, my instructor noted that my stick-and-rudder skills were rusty - I was sliding through most turns. I'd start with a skid then switch to a slide. I simply need to pay more attention to the turn coordinator during my turns.

Today, I went up again, solo this time. It felt so great to be back up in complete control of the aircraft. I flew North and found my house - just outside of the Class C airspace. I practiced some basic turns focusing on turn coordination. I also tuned some radials on the VORs and couldn't seem to get the heads to respond....That's when I noticed the GPS light lit. The heads were slaved to the GPS, not the NAV. Pressing the button fixed all of that. Flying southward, I tuned in the ILS27 at KTLH and lined myself up about 20 miles out before calling Approach. They let me fly the ILS straight in. It wasn't too difficult although the crosswind provided a challenge. I was proud of being able to fly the beam without deviating more than a single dot up or sideways.

On final, an Airbus was cleared to depart so I was prepared for wake turbulence, but there was no problem. I touched down on the numbers and remembered to hold the nose off the runway until the speed dissipated.

This flight took exactly one hour - but it was a wonderful hour. It feels so great to be back in the air again. Next weekend, Christy and I will have a trip across the state. I'm really looking forward to that!


  1. Anonymous4:20 PM EDT

    Nice to hear things have all worked out for you! I've followed your blog for sometime now and wondered if you were still flying. I agree, having learned at Coeur d'Alene KCOE airport, non-towered, then purchasing part ownership in a '67 Cherokee at KSFF, towered, i prefer when the tower is open. Sounds like you still scored a pretty nice rental plane, i think the newest one i've flown in 6 years is a 1978 C-172, with no gps!
    Safe Flying,

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Brad. Enjoy your flying!