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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!"