Blues, Blue Ridge, and the Commercial Checkride Looms

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I’m almost decompressed from the weekend. Saturday at Indy, I was invited to head over to Indianapolis International for an interview with CDR Dave Koss, Boss of the Blue Angels. They had lined up an F-4U Corsair, an FM-2 Wildcat, and an F/A-18D Hornet (Blue Angel jet No. 7) on the ramp as a backdrop highlighting the Centennial of Naval Aviation (“CONA” for short).
I did my best to ask some nonstandard questions, but Boss is both well-prepared and enthusiastic. I asked him how all of the aircraft behind him were . . . wait for it . . . the same. He didn’t skip a beat. “The Naval Aviators who fly them.” And he’s dead right.
It was a short interview because it was raining and the Wildcat and Corsair had to beat feet back to indianapolis Regional (KMQJ), where they were on static display. But it turned into a really good three or four minutes that I’ll likely edit into an episode for the show. I might also try to grab a piece of it to use in Acro Camp.

The remainder of the weekend was also pretty epic. I got home around 0400 local on Sunday morning. After a reasonably full day of domestic bliss, I met up with Don Weaver at Pontiac (KPTK) and proceeded to knock out my long commercial cross-country by repositioning a Cirrus SR22 (N711CG) from Pontiac Raleigh-Durham (KRDU) via Mansfield, Ohio (KMFD) and Upshur County, West Virginia (W22).
We were inside the eggshell from about 1,200 AGL off of KPTK all the way to KMFD. We shot the ILS to 300 feet in actual with a stiff crosswind from the right. Later, we broke out of the clag and had some fun poking through fat, ragged cumulus piles most of the way to W22. We cancelled IFR and landed at W22 for gas.
It looked as though we’d be able to stay above the mountain ridges and below the clouds the rest of the way to KRDU, so we departed W22 VFR and had an amazing time navigating through the valleys and over the ridges using a sectional. The peaks were around 4,000 MSL and the clouds varied from 4,500 to 6,000. Plenty of room to stay legal both above and below. But it’s the kind of flying that makes you really work on your SA and keep all of the back doors available in case you round a corner and find out that the next cloud and the next peak are in contact.
We landed at KRDU and buttoned up the airplane. Then we did an almost equally epic 13-hour dash back to KPTK in a rental car. We traded driving duties and whoever was the PND took on DJ duties, digging into the deepest depths of his iPod to introduce the PD to the best of the best in music and motor skills. Don went out and immediately bought Chris Thile’s Not All Who Wander Are Lost after we returned, so I was reasonably successful in my PND shifts.
Now it’s back to the grind. Lots of interesting clients with interesting work. But I also have only a 100nm night cross-country to go in the aeronautical experience department to go, then it’s polish the maneuvers, get the written out of the way, and I’ll be ready to take the commercial checkride.
Back to the trenches! Ttere’s a movie to edit and Battle Creek is only a few weeks away!

Zero to Hero – Part 2

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I got together with founder and fellow CAP officer Rod Rakic to talk about accelerated flight training. Rod has done accelerated programs as a part of both his commercial and instrument training. I did my AMEL, ASES, and DC-3 (SIC) training in accelerated programs. And Rod and I are both graduates of the CAP National Emergency Services Academy’s Mission Aircrew School.

We talked about the benefits and drawbacks of accelerated and/or concentrated training and how best to take advantage of it.

Wringing out the RG – Commercial PIC Cross-Country Requirement Completed!

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Yesterday started out as a CAP proficiency flight out of Ann Arbor. That is, until 1Lt Malek and I figured out that the aircraft was still in Lakeview getting its 100-hour inspection and that no one had mentioned this salient fact on the aircraft scheduling system. Bummage. Trip to Ann Arbor wasted, other than the fact that it’s always worthwhile to have breakfast with 1Lt Malek.

Not bitching about CAP by any means. This happens sometimes in any organization operated by humans. Just a little disappointing because I hadn’t flown since August and hadn’t flown approaches on round gages since April. The C-182T Nav III Form 5 qualifies me to fly the round-gage C-172s and 182s and I don’t actually have to demonstrate round-gage proficiency to a check airman if I don’t want to. But I’d be less than genuine about my commitment to safety and proficiency (and an idiot) if I failed to go out and fly approaches on round gages now and then to maintain proficiency.

Plus, I was only 1.6 hours away from completing my 50 hours PIC cross-country (greater than 50 miles) to qualify for my commercial certificate. I was hoping to get to Lansing for the approaches, which would have satisfied the distance requirement.

Crap. So I walked over to the ramp, where the CAP Great Lake Region’s Gippsland GA8 Airvan was preparing to take up some O-flight riders. I talked briefly with Maj Mario Accardo, the mission pilot, and then wandered to the approach end of Runway 24 to shoot a couple of photos of the Gippsland on final for the wing’s PAO library.

Fun, but – crap. I really wanted to fly some round-gage. I tweeted things to this effect. And, lo and behold, I get a tweet from Robert Ericson, ace KingAir pilot and CFII at Flight 101 at Pontiac, offering to go grab Flight 101’s C-172RG and head up for some instrument flight. How cool is that? It’s especially nice because Rob isn’t on the instructor schedule for the school but offered to go fly with me when I had the opportunity. He’s an Airspeed listener and had been really accommodating whenever I’ve been in to Flight 101.

So, a couple of hours later, we launched in N6274R, the school’s RG. I already had something like five hours in that aircraft, but wasn’t fully checked out in it. All of that was about to change.

Only failure on the prep was forgetting to set the transponder. And to get Rob his Scotch.

We filed IFR at 6,000 (to be assured of getting up into some of the cumulous clouds) and headed for Saginaw, a popular destination because of its multiplicity or approaches and its distance of a little more than 50 nm from Pontiac and other Detroit-area airports. Nice IMC on the way. Good clouds without a lot of convection or turbulence inside. Ragged tops at around 5,500 to 6,000 and bottoms between 3,800 and 4,000. Lovely in-and-out flying. The higher overcast kept everything mostly gray, but we got some nice sunlight on the tops at points.

I was really, really pleased about how my round-gage scan came back to me after more than five months. I’ll admit that I was too fixated on the attitude indicator in the early going, but I recognized that quickly. Several altitude excursions of around 100 feet, but generally pretty good.

See the track at

We shot the RNAV 32, then vectored around to the ILS 23. I landed beautifully. (Rob complained bitterly, but an elbow to the throat silenced him for the taxi to the FBO.)

We extended the time on the schedule for the airplane and then filed IFR back with an approach en route at Flint.

Same fun on the way back. Wewere given V133 to POLAR and therefore flew that leg on the VOR with the GPS magenta line as backup. I made a perfect teardrop entry into the requested hold south on the Flint VOR, then did a full-procedure VOR 18 approach. For some reason, Flint Approach yelled at me about being below the vectoring altitude on the approach. The plate says I get 1,560 inside the applicable waypoint. I might have though that he was giving me grief because I was off the centerline for the approach, but I was only a dot off and correcting. Anyway, I climbed it up to 2,200 until the FAF and then hung out all of the junk (gear and flaps) and crowbarred down to the MDA of 1,300 before going missed and heading back to Pontiac.

Another spectacular landing at Pontiac on 27R. Full stall onto the mains six inches off the pavement and a gentle lowering of the nosewheel.

I couldn’t help but post this shot of a tire that’s sitting on the counter at Flight 101. Note the labeled “circle of shame” on the tire. I guess there’s been a rash of landings in the RG with one or more brakes engaged, this causing balding of tires. A good reminder to anyone, not just RG drivers. Keep your heels on the floor until you’re good and landed, folks. It’s an easy mistake to make and it’s a mistake that I’ve made myself. (No, I didn’t savage this tire . . .)

So, after that 2.6 hours (with 1.1 actual and 1.0 simulated IMC), I have a fresh IPC, I’ve completed the required PIC cross-country for the commercial, and I’m checked out to fly the RG (and, by extension, all of the C-172s and C-152s at Flight 101).

Many thanks to Rob for swooping in and saving what would otherwise have been a flightless day and a waste of good and very flyable IMC!

Lt Malek and I are going to head up later this week in the CAP C-182T Nav III to get him refreshed on the G1000 and keep me current. Should be a lot of fun!

Safety, currency, and proficiency. Good flying and good fellow aviators all the way around. One of those days when you’re particularly proud to be a pilot and when your training (and willingness to work to stay current and proficient) pays off.

I do so love this stuff!

Commercial Maneuvers and Cross-Country

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2.5 yesterday KPTK-KMBS-KPTK. I’m seriously considering the commercial certificate, but I have very little PIC cross-country time to places more than 50 nm away. Partly because I got my instrument rating under Part 141, which doesn’t require PIC cross-country time. So I started the day with 22.6 and ended with 25.1.

Even if I’m just going to go out and maneuver, I’m making a real effort to try to touch someplace more than 50 nm away every time. That usually means Saginaw (KMBS). The weather tends to come in longitudinal fronts so, if it’s clear at Pontiac, there’s a decent chance that it’s clear on the way to Saginaw. Or at least a better chance than there is that it’ll be clear somewhere to the west. (I have no problem with east as a cardinal heading, but east for me is Canada and the attendant administrative hassles.)

There was a huge 80 to 100-mile wide cloud deck centered on Saginaw, but it was at least 5,000 feet AGL, which allowed us to fly 4,500 MSL on the way up and 5,500 MSL on the way back. Shot the ILS Rwy 23 and did a pretty decent job of it.

This is also my third flight in the 172RG. I’ll have the 10 hours of retractable time required for the commercial done in the next flight or two, but I think I’ll probably fly this aircraft for the checkride (whenever that happens), so I have no problem getting a lot more time in it.

The other objective was to go see the commercial maneuvers and, in particular, chandelles, lazy eights, steep spirals, and eights on pylons. We haven’t has ceilings that would allow for these maneuvers on any of my prior scheduled flights this year in the RG, so I was really pleased to finally get to do them.

As many of you know, I’m not a natural pilot. I’ve had to really work hard to get the maneuvers right. The instrument rating was easier for me than the private, believe it or not. I just don’t have a good kinesthetic sense. Or at least not the kinesthetic sense of the 23-year-old CFIs with whom I so often fly. Punks! (Extraordinarily talented punks that I greatly admire, by the way.)

So I was really pleased by my performance yesterday. Yeah, I have some polishing to do on a lot of the maneuvers, but I actually flew them reasonably well! I think I love lazy eights. Everything changing in all three axes, but changing at rates and with relationships that you command. And Chandelles are just plain majestic on a cold day when you get really nose-up and climb with brute strength.

Maybe I got the kinesthetic sense after all in a weird way when attitude instrument flying finally clicked for me. I do attitude instrument flying very well and maybe the hood made me pay attention to what was going on empirically (according to the gages) so that I can nail stuff like that now VFR. Even with the distraction of a view out the window!

Anyway, I can see a lot of trips to Saginaw in my future, as well as training for the commercial maneuvers. I have a lot of time to build before I’m qualified to do the checkride, but hey – it’s flying. Please don’t throw me in that briar patch!

The obligatory CFI shot. Meet Dale. He’s a graduate of Western Michigan University’s aviation program and flew well on the commercial demonstrations.

This is the thi9rd different CFI I’ve had in three flights in the RG. Everyone’s a little different in terms of how he or she flies and teaches and that’s fine. But I need to come up with my own checklists and flows for this aircraft.

More than once I had an issue with the gear. Nothing huge. I don’t think that I would have landed gear up. But nearly-as-stupid things like wondering why climb performance sucked so badly after recovering from eights on pylons and heading for home. And then having Dale remind be that we could bring up the gear if we didn’t want to dangle them all the way home.

I do fear the gear-up landing. For myself, I know that mistakes like that are usually task overload. And the best thing for that is to have checklists that I understand and that I can run every time. I think I’ll clear up the gear thing and lots of other issues (prop, carb heat, clearing the engine, and other things that I missed at various times) when I can really sit down with all of the information I’ve received from those with whom I’ve flown the RG and put together my own checklists.

Dale had a particularly good flow. Red, blue, green. Red for the mix, blue for the prop, and then green for the gear-down light (and look out the window for a wheel). Probably easier to remember than GUMPS for that airplane. Anyway, I’ll integrate the best of the pest and go from there.

CAP Form 5 for round-gage instruments scheduled for Sunday at Ann Arbor (KARB). I’m going to go back to DCT Aviation and fly some sim on Saturday to prepare, but I think I have a pretty good chance of passing. We’re flying a C-172R, N992CP (CAPFLIGHT 2028) and CAP SM Scott Gilliland will also be doing his VFR Form 5 that day.

As you might recall, I got Form 5′ed VFR-only in August. They had a C-172P for the check with a panel that I’d never flown. I didn’t want to try to do a full-up instrument checkride on a strange panel, so I elected to go VFR only. Now that I have the chance to fly a C-172R (in which I have something like 80 hours in model and five hours in this particular aircraft), I feel good to go for the instrument ride. It has an Apollo GPS, which which I have only the most rudimentary VFR experience, but we’re not going to be flying any RNAV approaches. Still, I like having the instrument approach overlays for situational awareness and I need to get through the manual before Sunday to see if I can get that part down.

I did the weight and balance and, as long as we launch with 30 gallons of fuel or less, we can probably fit all three in the aircraft. Might be cool. I haven’t ridden in the back seat of a C-172 since I was a kid. Might be nice to see someone else fly for a change. Of course, that means a peanut gallery for my part of the ride, but Scott’s a good guy and will probably remember to reposition his mic before laughing out loud.

Administering the ride will be check airman Capt Alex Craig, who has solid aerobatic and other credentials and flies a Bonanza when he’s not serving with CAP.

As always, I enjoy objective tests of my pilot skills. And a CAP Form 5 check is always a worthy test.

Cross-Country to Saginaw and Commercial Training

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Finally got up yesterday after two cancellations. Not bad for Michigan in January, really.

I have three regular flying sources these days. CAP (currency and mission readiness in C-172s and, soon, the mighty C-182T with G1000), Sutton Aviation (tailwheel and aerobatics in American Champion aircraft), and Flight 101.

Flight 101 is an FBO/school with lots of C-172s, a couple of DA-40s, and a C-172RG. It’s my “rent a C-172 and go fly” place since Tradewinds closed its pilot center. I decided recently to start looking at the commercial certificate. I can do a lot of that with CAP, but having access to an RG and qualified instructors form another source allows me to train more often if I decide to do that. And it’s nice because the RG isn’t in very high demand. (After all it’s primarily for advanced training.)

So, after being weathered out a couple of times earlier this month, I went up to refresh myself on the RG and knock off the rust. Most of my complex time is multi-engine and my only single-engine complex time is in this aircraft (about 1.4 before yesterday).

We went VFR to Saginaw (KMBS) to build some cross-country time. It was something like 5F on the ground and accordingly colder at altitude. The heater was non-functional. That’s not normally a big deal, but I’m a polar bear and usually wear only a light jacket in the cockpit because the instructor usually likes to keep it warmer than I like. I keep cold weather gear in the back in case of a forced landing away from civilization (I’d be teased roundly if my CAP brethren found me frozen to death after landing the plane uneventfully).

It was probably the coldest I’ve ever been in an airplane. Not unbearable, but pretty numb toes and we definitely went full-stop at KMBS in order to let me but on my MA-1 flight jacket. Much better!

I got 1.2 hood time on the way back, much of it in slow flight at around 75 KIAS with the gear down on a VOR radial fron FNT. We shot the LOC B/C 27L back into KPTK with a sidestep to 27R.

Both landings were actually pretty good (as, for some reason, is my custom on the first flight back after not flying since October or November). I like to be very tender on retractables. I know that the RG is built to withstand abuse from students learning to fly their first retractable, but the gear still looks a little skinny to me. So I carry a little extra power into the flare and touch it down like mom is in the back seat. A little crosswind on 32 on the way in to KMBS, but it was right down the runway at 9 on the way back in to KPTK.

I’m flying with someone new, namely Niketta Wyrick, a CFII at Flight 101 at KPTK who started at age 14 and is a pretty talented GA driver. This is her at KMBS outside the FBO. I got a good and fair workout on the flight, appropriate to returning to the airport with some acknowledged rust on my skills.

We chandelled up through a sucker hole on the way there to get above the scattered layer at about 4,000 and went most of the way at 7,500. I probably would have run scud (albeit well above the minimum safe altitudes and at least 500 feet below the clouds) if it had been just me because my last instrument approaches were in October and I would not have wanted to be stuck on top and have to come back through single-pilot IFR with that much rust on my scan. But I felt comfortable with Niketta there to assist.

Depending on a couple of other flight opportunities, I’ll probably get up with Niketta to do some work on the commercial maneuvers soon.

In the meantime, I’m planning to go to some CAP currency flying on Monday out of Ann Arbor (KARB). Pretty excited about that. I haven’t flown out of KARB since 2001 and it ought to be fun. Thinking KARB-KBTL-KAZO-KARB at least. Maybe with a stop at KJXN on the way back.