My 1979 Cessna 172N

Sunday, August 19, 2012

There is life after the student pilot phase...

This posting is going to be a bit long as I continue to catch up with all the flying we’ve been doing since earning that certificate.  Forgive me if I seem PLANE crazy!

It still makes me smile when I think about and realize that I am a licensed/certificated pilot.  I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge however that I’m still very green and have a lot to learn.  As stated by may wise aviators, “a good pilot is always learning”.  I firmly believe that and will always work to learn more on each flight.

My very first passenger as a licensed/certificated pilot was my beautiful wife.  She has of course flown with me before but always with another pilot as PIC.  I realize that it took a fantastic amount of trust for her to climb into our plane and fly with me but she did and we had a fantastic time.  You don’t get to follow a dream like this without support from those around you and I’m grateful for Lonnie’s support and enthusiasm for flying.  Thanks honey!  The week after passing my check ride, we flew a nice little flight down to Delta, UT and then back along the west side of Lake Mountain just west of the FFU VOR which is subsequently near our home.  It was a beautiful day for flying and I built a little more trust with my passenger by performing a very nice landing.   

The last week of June brought the annual inspection for N9478E.  Lonnie and I flew down to Richfield and Bob followed in his Mooney.  Winds were calm until we passed over the runway threshold and then we got a good gust from the right.  Lonnie thought for sure we were going to be blown off the runway but I was quick on the rudder thank goodness and all is well.  The return flight back was interesting.  Lonnie and I flew with Bob in his Mooney and took over as we arrived about 10 miles north of Provo.  There was nothing odd or special about the approach and I thought the landing was great until the aircraft touched down and was all over the runway.  It took me a second but it dawned on me (and I was sitting in the back seat) that we’d had a blowout and Bob was doing all he could to keep it together.  He did by the way do an excellent job and we stayed on the runway and were able to exit at A2.  Exciting but no harm was done to the plane and we of course didn’t even come close to any injury except an adrenalin rush. 

TAC Air came out with a tug and helped us get the Mooney off the runway after waiting for at least an hour for them to find a dolly to support the flat tire side.  I told Bob if that ever happened again to just stop on the runway instead of the taxiway and they would certainly get to us quicker.  We had to lift the plane so that the dolly could be inserted under that wheel.  Lifting an airplane is not easy and we had to do it by kneeling under the wing and pushing up with our backs.  The tug pulled us to the hangar and we then had to life the plane over the door rail to keep the dolly under that wheel.  This is where it all went to pieces, for me anyway.  We needed to lift just a bit higher than before so I kept my left knee on the ground and brought my right leg up under me to get more leverage.  At the first push/lift I felt a series of what felt like pops and extreme pain in my groin.  I rolled onto the ground screaming like a little girl.  Not good!

I’m actually writing this about 7 weeks after the fact and I’m still suffering from this stupid Charles Atlas move.  I’m going to physical therapy, I’ve seen an MD and this is all going to take months to fully recover.  I tore two different muscles and it has been very difficult to say the least and I have not been able to run or really get around normally since.  I can however still fly without any problems as long as I’m careful climbing up to check my fuel tanks and getting into the airplane.

The first week of July and the plane is not yet out of annual.  Another leak had developed in the fuel tank and we discovered that a fueler had damaged the filler neck by letting the fuel nozzle rest while fueling.  This little mistake cost me $600.  By the way… the mechanic at Bountiful Sky Park did a terrible job in his work and I had to pay to correct some issues with my new Emergency Location Transmitter.  I do not recommend anyone do business with Don Young at KBTF.

I was disappointed we didn’t get to fly on the 4th of July but such is maintenance on an aircraft.  It took unplanned time to get that fuel tank repaired again.  The weather was not cooperative either as the heat of the day along with moisture in the air produced thunderstorms daily starting at about noon.  We eventually drove down to Richfield one evening after work and I flew the plane out and back to Provo at 6am before the thunder bumpers started up.  It was a nice hour flight in smooth air.  Poor Lonnie had to drive back in the car.  Maintenance is something that must receive proper attention in these planes.  I’m flying a 1979 airplane and when things need fixing I get them fixed.  I’m not taking chances on something resulting in an emergency in flight and it can be a bit expensive.  My plane is in good shape but it just needs attention now and then and that attention is never cheap.

The last weekend of July provide us with a Saturday with what we thought would be a nice weather day for flying so we planned a flight north up into Idaho, Burley, Idaho to be exact.  Burley is a small farming community with a small but functioning airport near the Snake River.  We flew up on a VFR flight plan and had flight following all the way mainly because I knew were would fly in busy airspace where it might be smart to let Salt Lake ATC keep us away from all the arriving and departing traffic.  It was comforting to know they were working to keep us separated from other faster aircraft.

The approach into Burley (KBYI) took us over the Snake River, some buildings and trees.  Later Lonnie told me she closed her eyes as we flew over the trees.  I wasn’t close but it obviously had caused some concern for her.  I told her not to worry… I had my eyes closed too. 

We found KBYI to be closed when we arrived.  I did everything but look at the hours of operation and when we got there we were greeted by locked doors to the FBO.  I’ll never plan a flight again without checking that little bit of information especially if we depend on the stop for fuel.

While on the ground at KBYI, I started my planning for the flight back.  The iPad has been a huge part of my flying tool kit and has become very important to me as I gather all of the information needed to plan and file flight plans as well as get my weather briefing.  In this planning I discovered that unexpected thunderstorms had moved into the Provo area and both rain and wind were terrible.   It looked like the next window for a visual flight back to Provo would be in about three hours so… we sat down on a picnic table at the airport, ate our lunch and played some Farkle, a dice game that is great fun and nice for killing time.

While playing, the manager of the FBO and his wife pulled up with a truck load of goodies to replenish the vending machines inside the pilot’s lounge.  We chatted a little not wanting to look like vagrants just camping out at their airport and he asked if we needed any fuel.  My planning told me we had enough fuel to get home but it always makes me feel better if my tanks are full when I take off for a cross country excursion.  You just never know.  It was good to top off.

After our weather hold was over, we climbed back in 78E and left the community of Burley.  The flight back was nice but XM weather was telling us that winds were still going to give us some challenges when we arrived.  We had not issues flying back through the Salt Lake B airspace and I got my head around the crosswind landing that was ahead of me at Provo as we crossed into Utah County.  ATC handed us off to Provo Tower and Provo gave us a straight in for runway 13 with winds 250 at 10 gusting to 18.  We were given instructions to report a 3 mile final.  At 3 miles out I reported our position and Provo Tower replied that winds had just changed to 140 degrees at 8 knots meaning that they were on our nose and there would be no crosswind landing.  The smile on my face was probably seen from the tower and we settled onto the runway with another trust building landing for Lonnie.   All in all it was a great flight with some good learning opportunities which we took advantage of.  Having all of these information and weather tools is a huge help in flying safely.  Lonnie is, by the way, becoming a great help in the cockpit tuning the radios and looking up information on the iPad.

August 11th was another banner day and a first for taking family (other than Lonnie) up flying.  Two of my grandsons (We have 8 grandchildren right now), Sterling and Skyler took to the skies with me early in the morning for a nice 1 hour flight out on the southwest side of Utah Lake, down to Nephi and then back to Provo.  Sterling sat up front and flew most of the time after our climb out.  He is a natural and I hope he’ll get his certificate when he is 17.  Skyler gets to sit up front next time and fly and hopefully get bitten but this terrible awful flying bug.  I look forward to many more flights with them both and other grandchildren as well.  We had a great time and no one even came close to puking which is a very cool thing!

After flying with the boys, my son-in-law Shawn and I took off for Moab (KCNY) via Price.  I could see that the weather was a bit iffy when I did my planning but we thought we’d give it a try anyway.  We flew up Spanish Fork Canyon and over towards Price turning south before Helper because of a TFR in place for firefighting.  These TFRs have become far too common this year as the forest fires continue.

Weather was against us as the heat of the desert started the convection mill.  Visibility was not bad but it was not clear and we could see a lot of virga (descending rain that cools the air quickly and causes some dangerous downdrafts) with towering cumulous building well out in the distance between Price (KPUC) and KCNY.  We scouted an airport I want to land on next month (Huntington, UT), flew tight circles around our in-laws home in Clawson, UT and then headed home.  All in all we put in 3.3 hours of good fun flying and a great time was had by all.

August 18th marks a day that I’ve been waiting for for many years.  I got to take my father, the person who instilled upon me this great desire to fly, for a nice little cross country flight.  Dad and I flew out to Vernal, UT and enjoyed a nice breakfast together at Betty’s CafĂ©.  The service was a bit slow but the food was good and it was good to be out flying with my father again.  As a child and young man I spent many hours in the capable hand of this man and I cherished every second of it.  Why I didn’t take the plunge and get my certificate at an earlier age is still something I ponder but hey… we’re here now enjoying the time together in the air again with me and Pilot in Command.  The smoke from forest fires was very heavy in the air the entire flight both directions but we had a wonderful day in a great airplane that ran like clockwork.  Dad is still not used to but really likes the new technology that allows us to keep a high level of situational awareness and navigate direct routes without always depending on older radio ground navigation stations called VORs.  GPS, moving map, terrain awareness and XM Weather are great tools but we did some fun pilotage flying up Provo and Daniel’s Canyons both ways.  Thanks Dad for the great gift of love for aviation.  I am proud to have you as a passenger FINALLY!

90.7 hours as of this posting.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The End and the Begining (Student Pilot to Private Pilot)

April and May 2012 were dedicated to work and more work.  The company I work for is acquiring another high tech company and the two information systems must be integrated.  The planning and pre work just to bring the two companies together as one the day we merge is maddening.  I’m stressed out and tired and don’t get to fly as much as I want to.

I continue to work on technique and to build hours so that I’m ready for the Private Pilot Single Engine Land practical and oral tests.  The check ride includes both an oral and a practical exam both of which I’m nervous about.  I do not enjoy tests of any sort and it’s all a ball of stress.  I’m still fully committed however and want to get this phase of the adventure done. 

Lonnie was brave enough to tag along with Bob and I on a long cross country flight from Provo to Bryce Canyon.  We enjoyed another nice lunch at Ruby’s Inn and then flew the plane to Bountiful Skypark where the plane will undergo some maintenance (leaking fuel tank) and a nice upgrade.  I flew through the Salt Lake City “B” airspace for the first time and got to see what is was like to request permission to enter an be watched carefully by Air Traffic Control.  ATC was professional and friendly directing us to a straight in landing at Bountiful (KBTF) with ease.  That little airport is strangely situated near SLC and amongst a bunch of oil refineries but all went well and we arrived without any issues with a rather nice landing.

Part of the maintenance done was the installation of an XM weather receiver.  This brings near real time weather data into my cockpit, something that will help me maintain a higher level of weather situational awareness and keep me clear of problem areas IF… I use it wisely.  Some pilots think that weather data in the cockpit will help them make thunder runs between storm cells.  I’m not about to do that nor do I think it is wise.  I’ll get visual representation of precipitation and wind data along with detailed weather conditions for any airport that transmits weather data called METARS.  This is pretty cool stuff and I’m looking forward to the added capability.

The maintenance was done and the plane ready for pickup on May 10th.  Bob picked me up at Provo airport in a Diamond DA20 (interesting and very light aircraft) for the flight up to Bountiful.  There was a bit of a breeze when we left that turned into a pretty good wind by the time I left to fly my plane home.  The winds were blowing at 20 kts gusting to 25 when I entered the pattern at Provo.  It was a bit tense but thankfully the winds were blowing from the north down runway 31 instead of a cross wind.  I got the plane back and tucked away in the hangar without incident.  I must admit I was a little nervous but I just flew like I had been trained, held it together and everything went fine.

On Memorial Day weekend I scheduled my check ride for June 8th.  I purposely told only a few people about my pending check ride which some may think odd.  This is a big deal, THE big gate for getting your Private Pilot’s ticket, and I just wanted to concentrate on the task at hand without fanfare or having to tell friends in the event I failed.  Like I said… I hate tests.

The week leading up to my checkride I flew Wednesday and Thursday and just tried to maintain my edge and confidence in ground reference maneuvers and landings.  With work responsibilities to attend to and the pending check ride, I was a little keyed up but felt ready.

The morning of the check ride I arrived at Provo Airport at 0700, did a quick preflight of the plane just to make sure nothing was going to prevent me from flying (there seems to be a small fuel leak in the right wing tank again) or cause a delay.  I headed over to TAC Air (former Million Air) to set up in one of the conference rooms for the oral portion of the exam.

My Designated Pilot Examiner showed up at 0730 and we started the “dance”.  Phil Widmer, my DPE for the day is not unknown to my family.  Phil knows my dad from when Dad was Chief Instructor Pilot working at UVSC now UVU at Provo Airport.  Phil and I seemed to get along right off the bat which set me at ease a bit thank goodness.  I was not a stress mess but I was anxious to get through this and do so with flying colors. 

The oral portion of the check ride is a review with the examiner to prove that I didn’t just memorize a bunch of multiple choice questions on the written and then hit the delete button in my brain immediately after.  I had to talk about and explain theory and the whys of this and that and basically prove that I knew what I was doing well enough to keep me, my passengers and people on the ground safe as a pilot.  Because Phil is somewhat a friend of the family, I expected there to be a fair amount of small talk but I was not ready for a 5 hour oral.  I was exhausted and hungry (we didn’t stop for lunch) by the time it was done and the wind had picked up providing a challenging flying environment. 

The practical portion of the check went as well as it could as we got bounced around the skies on the southwest side of Utah Lake.  I was very tired but did my best in all maneuvers and various landings and came back to the airport a certificated private pilot.  I DID IT!  It took me 11 months but I did it and couldn’t be happier.

I have dreamed of this day for most of my life and I’m finally a pilot.  I can’t explain the feeling I had when it was all said and done and I look forward to taking Lonnie up as my first passenger.  I was so exhausted the following day even though it was Saturday that I didn’t step a foot on the airport property and just chilled at home wondering how I survived a 5 hour oral and that windy bouncy check ride.