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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Made it out alive - Certified Flight Instructor at last

Friday June 24th dawned as it usually does in North Texas in the Summer - suddenly and with a wave of heat.  We'd actually had a break from the heat during the days prior, once we even had an overnight low in the high 60's. Bliss.

But most of the time I was too busy to savor it, what with starting to teach a new student, working during the day, and studying for the CFI-Airplane check ride.  Ready of not, here it came!

I awoke early, and packed a lunch and some water, and left the house at 6:45am.  Sundowner 49C was ready to go at 7;15, and we made the short flight to Addison.  In the American Flyers building, I set up in one of the briefing rooms upstairs, and settled down to wait the arrival of Examiner Jim (not his real name).  About 7:50 he arrived, and so did Instructor Anne, who came to meet Jim and to make sure all her paperwork was in order.  We settled down in the briefing room right at 8am.

After some small talk, Examiner Jim (EJ) started to go over the FAA's Special emphasis areas, such as runway incursion avoidance, stall and spin awareness, wire strikes, temporary flight restrictions and so on.  Then he covered the 3 possible outcomes from the test, and requested his check for $400.  We ran through the checklist of required items, and then checked my documents and endorsements, which were all in order.  Then the "fun" began.

"what are the endorsements required before a student can solo?  Where are they to be found?  What endorsements are needed before a student can leave on a solo cross country?  How long must an instructor keep records?  Do they have to be on paper?"  Etc, etc, etc.  I actually thought knew most of the answers, but I made sure to look them up in the regulations (FARs) and only then gave the answers.  This was OK, because instructors are supposed to look things up and treat the FARs like the Bible of Flight.  Around this time, Instructor Anne departed.

Then he asked my to cover the Principles of Flight, but as I got ready to start, he said, "oh yes, you have a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, don't you?  I think we'll take that as "done".  And that was about it for the oral.  There were a few miscellaneous questions, but after slightly over 1 hour, we were ready to fly.

Climbing into the Sundowner, I had to show the documents that make an airplane legal to fly - Airworthiness certificate, registration, operating limitations and weight and balance.  I asked if he wanted to see the maintenance logs to make sure the airplane had received an annual inspection, but no, he didn't.

During the taxi, he asked a few questions about runway signs and markings.  We were cleared for take off almost without delay, and departed East at 2,000ft.  Over Garland, he asked me to demonstrate and teach a steep turn.  I was actually a bit uncomfortable, as we were still over the city, and delayed a while until it thinned out.  Then I did a steep turn to the left, talking about what I was doing as I went.  Halfway through, he took the controls and I thought "Crap!  I busted!"  But he actually just wanted to show me what he liked to talk about as we entered the turn and how he wanted to the exit to go.  Then I took a turn again and replicated what he has just done.  I hadn't busted, he just wanted things done slightly differently.

And that was a challenge for the whole flight - I was torn between trying to talk about *everything* I knew about a particular maneuver (to show that I did know it), while doing it, verses teaching it as I would to a beginning student.  It turned out he wanted it done as if to to student, but it was hard to turn off the torrent of words.

Next he asked for a stall demonstration, any type.  So I picked the easiest one, a straight ahead clean stall.  I cut the engine, lifted the nose, and talking through what was happening, I described the critical angle of attack, per-stall buffet, stall break and recover.  Then once more, he took the controls, and did it *his* way, leaving on a little power to make it all go slower, and allow a smoother demonstration.

Then he picked a water tower, and said "teach me turns about a point".  What?  at 2,000 feet? yes, at 2,000.  Normally this is done at 1,000 above ground level (AGL).  And that was how I had practiced it.  This was different.  I got too close (using my normal distance, but the extra height threw me off), banked too steeply, and got flustered.  I thought things were going poorly.  But after the second turn things were going better, and he asked me to demonstrate 8's on pylons.

The FAA handbook makes a big deal about using the proper pivotal altitude for this, which at the Sundowner speed is 900 ft AGL, or about 1,400 ft MSL.  He had me do it at 2,000 ft, again something I had never practiced.  But somehow it worked.  I think I was too flustered to talk much, but he asked me questions, and I was able to answer.

After that, it got better.  We went over the lake, and he asked me to do a chandelle, which I'm normally better at, but this time I didn't pitch up enough and we were a bit too fast at the top, but it was acceptable.  Then we did another one to the other side, which went a bit better, but still not as good as I can normally do.  At this point I was anticipating he would pull the power on me and I would have to do an emergency power off glide and approach, as were  around 3,000 ft, but instead he said "let's head up to McKinney and do some touch and goes".

Wearing my hair shirt, I said "shouldn't we first go to AeroCountry and get the Bonanza?  Don't those have to be done in a retractable?".  He said "no, I just have to see that you can fly a retract, we'll do that later.  Set up and show me a grass-field landing".


Making the assumption that meant a soft field landing, I explained what the goal was, and the method to achieve it (essentially to land as softly as possible on the main wheels only).  On the downwind, I started to feed in flaps, and slowed to 70 on final approach with full flaps.  The landing was perfect - on the rear wheels with the nose held off (thanks to the water ballast I'd put in the baggage compartment), and with the nose still in the air he told me to take off as if on a soft field.  SO I went to full power and still holding the nose off, reduced flaps to 10 degrees.  We lifted off at about 50 kts, and I held in ground effect to accelerate to 80, taking off the remaining flaps. "Very Nice", said Inspector Jim. "Let's go now to AeroCountry and get the Bonanza".

Following a normal landing at T31, we pulled out the V-tail 40D, and put the Sundowner in the now empty hanger.  I asked EJ (again) if he was O.K. with taxiing and using the brakes, since there are none on the right hand side.  He said, "no, you sit on the left, and we'll go to Addison, and do a go-around there".  "OK", I said, "but Addison doesn't normally permit pattern work.  Shouldn't we go to McKinney for that?"

"No, we'll just go there and see".  So I took off after setting up radios in advance (it's a very short flight).  On approach to Addison, the tower cleared us to land, and I asked Jim if he was going to request the go-around.  "No, just go ahead and land".

Not knowing what that meant, I did so, and then we taxiied to American Flyers.  Following the engine shut down:

"Congratulations!  You're a Certified Flight Instructor!"  What??!??!?!

Now that was a weird check ride.  I really had little sense of how well (or otherwise) I was doing the whole time.  Apart from the the soft-field landing, I was never flying as good as I can, and I was always off balance.  Maybe that was the point.  Some of the things in the PTS we just never did, although examiner's do have discretion.

I have learned from another examiner that they normally know within 5 or 10 minutes if an applicant is going to pass of fail, based on their knowledge, bearing, confidence, and how well they handle the aircraft on take off.  Give them the confidence early that you are safe, competent and knowledgeable, and the rest slackens off.  Don't demonstrate that early, and the ride is much more tightly controlled.

So I don't think I did my best, I was always torn between showing what I know and teaching as I would to a student, and doing ground reference maneuvers at the wrong altitude really threw me.  I seemed to recover, and we didn't do the whole PTS.  But apparently I did well enough, and now have a CFI-A to go along with the CFI-I, AGI and IGI (ground instructor licenses).

I think this last 2 months has been about the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life, other than perhaps adjusting to being a parent when Thing 1 was born.  I don't think I want to fly this week, time for a break.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Be careful what you ask for

My CFI-Airplane check-ride is next Friday.  On Tuesday, I have an appointment with the FAA to get an Advanced Ground Instructor license, then it's full throttle to get ready for the check-ride.  And then, I'm done.  For a long, long time.  The only remaining license I'm interested in getting is multi-engine Commercial, and that can wait.

On the plus side, I did my first instructional flight yesterday, flying with a friend who has his private pilot license, and now wants a challenge after 150 hrs.  So we are starting on training for an instrument rating in his Sundowner, also based at McKinney.  I shall call him Student Dan, or "SD" for short.

SD already has a decent scan, but he's rusty on basic aircraft control, and needs to make less jerky movements of the controls, and slow things down.  He's impatient, and instrument flying doesn't work well with 30 degree banks and huge heading changes.  it's a game of making small, incremental changes, and then waiting to see what happens, then make more small changes.  I suggested that he spend some time using MS Flight Simulator and learn some procedures there, rather than in the air.  He'll also learn patience.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Too Many Cooks

How many instructors in a plane does it take to block a runway?  Two.

Practicing take offs and landings in the Bonanza, flying for the first time from the right hand seat, it was coming together.  Perhaps because I have less to unlearn in the Bonanza, I immediately felt comfortable flying from the "wrong" side.  But, as with most Bonanzas, it is really configured for single pilot flying.  And he/she has to to fly from the left side.

The right side pilot had no flight controls when I bought the airplane (see photo).  In order to meet insurance requirements, I had to rent/buy dual controls, and install them in place of the single "throw-over" control.  It's called that because you literally have to "throw it over" to the other side if you want fly from the right hand side.  Insurers don't like that during dual transition instruction......


With a dual yoke installed, the right side pilot still has no brakes, and no access to the fuel selector, which is on the floor by the left seat pilot's left foot.  And he or she has to reach across alongside the left seat pilot's right leg to adjust the trim.

So that set the scene.  After 45 minutes, we needed to switch fuel tanks, and at first we were going to do that on the downwind leg.  To make it safer, we decided that Instructor Anne would change the tanks when we were stopped on the runway after practicing a short field landing at McKinney (TKI).  Which she did, reaching down with her left hand.  But she overshot the stop and accidentally shut off the fuel completely, shutting down the engine.  I sure am glad we agreed that the tank switch should be delayed until we were on the ground!

We tried a couple of hurried restarts while the tower told the other aircraft in the pattern to go around, which didn't work until I noticed that the fuel pressure was zero.  Then IA realized what she had done, selected the best tank, and and we were able to get it going again.  So how many CFI's does it take to block the runway?  Yes, both of us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Going Around

Most instructors get their "Certified Flight Instructor - Airplane" license first, and add "Instrument-Airplane" or "Multi Engine - Airplane" advanced ratings sometime later.  Not me!

I now have a Temporary Airman Certificate on my wall, for Instrument Instructor.  And I'm taking classes (almost done) and taking instruction (likewise) to get ready for a check-ride to add on the Instructor - Airplane" rating.  It's the American Flyers approach, although the reasoning seems a little hard to understand.  Still it works, and works well.

All the others are using the AF Cessna 172 and 172 RG airplanes.  Since I have my own 172 equivalent (the Sundowner), and a complex airplane (the Bonanza) in my temporary possession, I have decided to train and take the test in my own airplanes, and using my own flight instructor (Instructor Anne).  She knows me and my airplanes, and she's less expensive than the AF instructors Evelyn and Manny that I did the CFI-I work with.

The Bonanza's going to be a little tricky, one of the required landings is a power-off 180 degree precision landing, which in the Bo requires that I be much closer to the runway than a normal pattern.  Still the Practical Test Standards don't say that it has to be from a normal pattern, or that it has to be a surprise.  I will just have to explain to the examiner that it needs (for safety) to be done from only 1/2 mile out.  The Bo sinks like a rock without power, and twice as fast with the wheels down.

But the Sundowner is a sweetly handing airplane I know well, so I have been practicing the commercial maneuvers I did last year (all still good) from the right hand seat, and trying out the private pilot ground maneuvers that I haven't performed since my check-ride in 1991 (not so good).  So at least I know where to focus - the private maneuvers and some right seat circuit work in the Bo.  I think I'm almost ready........