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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Long Haul - D becomes a Private Pilot

D came to me in March 2012, frustrated.  He owned a very nice Cessna 172N, and had around 60 hours in his log book, and wasn't satisfied.  "He won't teach me how to land!" he said, referring to his prior instructor, the same person who was my own instructor for my commercial test.

Looking through his logbook, I found he'd had 3 or 4 instructors over the past couple of years, several of whom had been my instructors.  D is a naturalized American citizen, born in Brazil, he speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and English and works in international tech support for a telecoms company.  He is very intelligent, and very, very careful and methodical - in all 4 languages.

We started to fly together, I found he could do the basics - take off, set a course and hold altitude, do normal turns and slow flight.  After a while, we went to Mesquite airport (KHQZ) and started touch and goes, making 4 turns around the pattern.  At the end of June 2012 after about 25 more hours, D finally soloed.

Next on the task list was to learn to handle flying in and out of AeroCountry (T31), where D kept his Cessna.  While Mesquite and McKinney (KTKI) each have long and wide runways suitable for jets, T31 has a 3,000 ft, more narrow runway with trees alongside the northern end, a road with a fence and telephone wires at the south end, and hangars running all along the West side.  The winds are difficult at best, and any cross wind results in unpredictable swirls from all sides, as the wind whistles over the trees or around the hangars.  In July, D soloed at T31 too.

AeroCountry Airport from the South, looking at Runway 35

You might think this was slow progress.  But D is very methodical, and can't be pushed.  He looks down to make sure the ground is secure before taking a step (metaphorically speaking).  He drives well within the speed limit at all times.  His pre-flight check takes half an hour, and involves flash lights and dental mirrors.  After each flight, he gets a rag and wipes down the wings, cowling and tail.  Arrggghhhh!  Not like me at all.  I need a checklist to make sure I check everything.  D needs a checklist to prevent him from fixating on step 2.

In August, we did a couple of dual cross countries.  Then, he vanished for a year.  In June 2013, we started flying together again, this time working on crosswinds, emergency procedures and I signed him off for 90 days of soloing.  In September 2013, we did a night dual cross country, and he did his solo cross countries, but mostly seemed content to fly the pattern.

In November, we started working towards his test, but while doing touch and goes at McKinney, his engine started to run rough.   I took over, and climbed above the field in case it was about to die.  We had about 80% of full power, and I decided to head back to T31 (8 miles West) at 3,500ft, keeping above the fields to the north of 380.  Once on the ground, we determined that the engine ran well on the left magneto, but sputtered badly on the right.

A few weeks later came the bad news.  The airplane, built in 1977, still had the original engine which was now over TBO and the shop was recommending an overhaul.  D didn't have the money to get a re-manufactured or new engine, and in his painstaking way, started to overhaul the engine himself, under the supervision of an IA.  This took FOREVER!!!

In August 2014, D called me to tell me that the engine was ready and installed, and he wanted me to help him test fly it and break it in with several hours of high power flying.  One of those flights was to Arkansas, to deliver my daughters left-behind computer when she left for college.  Finally in September, the engine was broken in and we could start to recover lost time.  I thought.

However, once endorsed to solo, D vanished again, reappearing every 90 days to get a fresh solo endorsement.  Until in May 2015, he discovered that his written test, which can be used as part of the requirements to take the private test, was about to expire at the end of June.    That meant his choice was either to take it again in July, or finally finish his training and take the test.  Quickly.  So we started flying together to get him ready to take the private pilot test.

We did a simulated test, with me acting as the examiner.  He was awful.  Many of the maneuvers he hadn't practiced since 2012 or 2013.  Other we hadn't done at all.  However, with a scheduled test looming D finally had incentive and drive to get it done, and on June 23rd 2015, D got his Private Pilot license at McKinney TX with 135 hrs in his logbook.  "I never thought I'd get this far", he told me.  "I just wanted to fly!"

Monday, April 13, 2015

First solo!

After using the Eastman method to increase the number of touchdowns per approach, P soloed on Saturday.....

And then came the traditional clipping of the tail feathers.....

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Eastman Method

Last week I read an article in CFI-to-CFI by Rod Machindo, about something called the Eastman method (by him).  Now Rod likes to write funny things, and much of what he write is not to be taken seriously.  But this was about a gentleman called - wait for it - Eastman, who built his own single seat airplane many years ago and taught himself how to fly it.

Yes, a single seater.  Illegal nowadays, but back then just following in the Wright brothers tradition.  So what Mr. Eastman did was to taxi slightly faster each time, until the airplane just started to fly, then he'd land it and taxi back.  That way he learned to land at the same time that he learned to fly, and by the time he gave it full power and took off around the pattern, he already knew how to land.

Student P has been ready to solo for the past 5 hours, but he's been unable to conquer landings.  At about 50 feet his careful co-ordination goes to pot, the nose starts to wander left to right, up and down, and he gets too slow and levels out too high and lands with a thump thump thump, and no matter what I say he doesn't get it.  So then we take off and 10 minutes later we've flown 8 miles around the pattern for 10 seconds of thump thump thump.

It wasn't working.

So last Saturday morning, P and I headed north to Grayson County airport, now known as North Texas Regional.  KGYI has a 9,000 ft runway, and a cooperative control tower.  I called the tower 10 miles out, and at 5 miles asked if we could do multiple touchdowns on each approach using the length of the runway.  "Sure!" they said.  "Cessna xyz cleared for the option runway 35 Right!"

Our first approach we did 4 touchdowns and used 8,000 feet.  They weren't good apart from the first one.  The rapid transitions were too much for poor P.   The next time around we got 3, which worked better, as I handled the take offs and handed controls back to P at about 30 or 40 feet.  The third time around we'd worked out the procedure.  He did all the landings, then I would take over, keeping the flaps down I would add power, climb to 30 feet and accelerate to normal landing speed.  Then I'd hand him the controls in a more normal configuration of speed, height and flaps.

By the end of 90 minutes, we'd done more than 20 touchdowns, and P was handing them like a pro.  Next step, SOLO!!

The keys for any CFI or student - allow about 3,000 for each touchdown, roll and take off (3 was comfortable on the 9,000 foot runway, using 7,000 ft and departing with 2,000 ft remaining; 4 was not).  The CFI should do the funny/weird stuff like taking off in landing configuration and only expect the student to do the actual landing.  Once airborne, the CFI should accelerate the aircraft to normal approach speed before handing over control - not doing that sets up the plane for a nose high, slow speed mush to the ground.  And find a place with a cooperative tower or a quiet uncontrolled field.

Thank you, Mr Eastman, and Mr. Machindo.  P thanks you too!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Winter Blues

I suppose I can't really complain.  I don't live (now) in Boston, where they have record snowfall.  I don't live in the midwest, where it's so cold that engines have to be pre-heated, and some people with north facing hangars can't get their airplanes out because the doors are frozen shut.  I've never had to learn how to land on snow covered runway.

The "normal" North Texas winter weather is clear skies and temperatures in the 50s and 60s, followed by a "Blue Norther", an arctic cold front that sweeps down, and drops the temperatures to around freezing for a day or two.  The front may drop some rain, or it might be freezing rain or snow.  But after a day or two or three, it will all be gone, and we will have very clear, deep blue skies with a decreasing north wind.  Then the wind will shift back to the normal southerly flow, and it will warm up for about 7 to 10 days.  Then the cycle starts again.

So our winters often have the best flying weather of the year.  No severe storms (apart from ice storms), few strong thermals, and great visibility.  We even get the novelty of occasionally taking off facing North!

But not this year.

Several of my existing students have dropped off the face of the Earth.  I don't know if D is flying much - he's signed off to solo and close to being ready to take his test, has his own Cessna 172, and I don't expect to hear from him until his 90 day sign-off expires in April.  A is flying his Bonanza from Addison, I think mostly with buddies acting as safety pilot - or more likely with this weather not flying much at all.  R is elsewhere.

I started a new student in February "P".  P has picked up flying very rapidly, his dad flew in the air force and he grew up on USAF bases, he's always dreamed of learning to fly, and now in his 30's he's decided to do it (about the same age I was).  With less than 10 hours of instruction, he's already flying complete patterns without my intervention, and making OK (not yet good) landings.  We've done all the airwork (stalls, turns, instrument flight) and most of the ground reference stuff (square patterns around a field, circles around a point) except S-turns.  He's not good yet, but he's well ahead of where most students are with his hours.

The problem is the weather.  We're hitting about 50% of scheduled lessons, with the constant low clouds and intermittent rain.  We even flew a few times in MVFR weather - legal, but only just.  I generally prefer more margin, because I generally have it.  I'm not saying at all that we were unsafe, just that the normal winter weather here is so good that weather margins are usually a no-brainer.  I don't have to check ceilings and calculate cloud clearances in the pattern to see if they fit the definitions for VFR - when it's CAVU, there's no issue to be concerned about.

I can't wait for spring!