Endorsements.

I earned my Complex and High Performance endorsements to my Private Pilots Certificate today. I’ve been flying with an instructor since the beginning of May to accomplish this feat. My new endorsements allow me to exercise my Pilots Private skills in airplanes with retractable gear and more than 200 horsepower engines. The airplane used for my training is a 1978 Cessna 182 RG with a 235 horsepower, six-cylinder engine. It’s much heavier than what I’m used to flying and it took me a little under 12 hours of flight time to get used to the handling characters of “Large Marge”.

A rain storm was passing to the north of the airfield today as I performed some landings and demonstrated a manual gear extension (in case the wheels don’t come out when I tell them to). There was quite a bit of traffic up there with us, so we extended the pattern a couple of times. It gave us a nice view of the Lake Michigan shoreline near the Wisconsin-Illinois state border.

I’m excited about my new endorsements as this opens up some cross-country flight opportunities. I’m really happy I was able to accomplish this during the pandemic.

Sanity.

For me, the key to maintaining my sanity during this COVID-19 crisis is to focus on my passion for aviation. I’m listening to podcasts, watching other people fly via Youtube videos, and I’m reading and trying to boost my skill set.

Non-aviation social media is a time sink for my frame and state of mind. I’m finding myself sucked into the screaming and carrying on around Bernie leaving the race and the latest thing Trump has done and what goofy thing Biden just said and it’s draining. It’s my own fault and the solution can be reached only after you’ve identified the problem.

I’m stir crazy. I realize this. I had big plans for flying this spring and along with the plans of everyone else, they’ve been put on hold. “Just sit back and relax”. The thing is, I’m not wired to do that. I’ll have time to sit back and relax when I’m six feet under. Living involves learning and learning enhances living and as far as I’m concerned if I’m not learning, I’m not living.

Learning is helping me maintain my sanity. What will I learn today?

Memories.

Whitfords Airport, Weedsport, N.Y., 1985. In the forefront, my father’s Piper J-5A, after a complete rebuild. He liked simple paint jobs.

I’m using the quiet time (“shelter-in-place” time) this weekend to go through old hard drives, CD and DVD archives, and the like here in our happy little home. I don’t completely trust the cloud services, especially since Mobile Me went away and took a bunch of our photos along with it several years ago, so I have a very large RAID array here in the house to back up all of our important things.

I don’t know how families survive without a built in IT administrator.

I’ve been looking through old airplane photos. Being a third generation pilot and the original keeper of my grandparents’ slides (which have since been digitized), I have a lot of snapshots of airports and airplanes and landscapes from the sky to browse through and they all make me smile.

1NY3 Richland Airpark, Richland, N.Y.

The airport my dad and grandfather called home base was about a mile from our house. It was a small airport, originally owned by a husband and wife that were fairly well off in the area, but later sold to a bunch of shareholders that were interested in keeping it an active, yet private, airstrip. Once a year the pilots association would host a fly-in which sometimes included an airshow. This was a way for the association to raise money and aviation awareness in the community. Both my mom and dad were officers in the pilots association at various times throughout the years. Many Sunday afternoons in the summertime were spent at the airport as various pilots went flying and their families enjoyed a picnic in the grove of trees adjacent to the runway. We even had built in barbecue pits and picnic tables but no running water.

Becoming a private pilot was the second best thing I’ve ever done in my life though I wish I had done it sooner. Honestly, mentally and financially I became a private pilot when I was ready to become a private pilot but the unfortunate part is that it was after both my grandfather and father, the two inspirations for me to become a pilot in the first place, had passed on. I often wish I could tell them about my aviation adventures and discuss what I’ve learned along my aviation career.

During my first few lessons my instructor was always remarking about how fast I was picking things up, but then he would say, “well, you probably know things you don’t even know you know” and that was because of all the exposure I had to aviation I had growing up. The closest I ever felt to my dad was when we were doing things aviation related, whether it was attending EAA meetings together or flying in one of the club airplanes together. Later on we would fly in his rebuilt or homebuilt airplanes together and that was always awesome.

Fellow students would ask me if I was ever scared to fly with my dad, especially since he had just completely an airplane that was, at the time, over 40 years old. The rebuilding of the J-5A took a couple of years and he stripped everything down to the bare metal frame, fixed some issues, and then recovered, painted, and reassembled everything. After he could take passengers up again I flew without hesitation and without question. During one of our flights we lost the engine on downwind midfield (it wasn’t a training exercise, the engine made a very loud squealing noise and then ceased running) and he landed the airplane without an issue and without a noticeable trace of worry. The only time I have been nervous in a private airplane is when I’ve been at the controls and I was first starting my training.

My goal in life is to be as calm, cool, and collected as my dad always was.

After my grandfather moved into flying his single-seat homebuilt, it would be very rare that I would fly with him. I remember a couple of flights in a Cessna 150 with him and his aviation skills being quite capable, albeit very different than my Dad’s. His approach to flying with a little more, well, for lack of a better word, startling. He would chop and drop into the small airfield. It’s just the way he did it and it was different.

I still wasn’t scared. Startled, but not scared.

With the next couple of weeks being Chicago’s “shelter in place” period, I’m probably going to be diving headfirst into ground study for my next ratings, watching a lot of airplane videos, and passing the time with armchair flying.

But I am looking forward to making new memories by flying again as soon as I am able to.

Flight.

Today was an intense day at work. Daydreaming about past flights got me through it.

Here is a picture of me from August 2014. At the time I was still a student pilot and my instructor signed me off for a solo flight to an EAA Pancake Breakfast at KFZY. I vividly recall the entire flight; Earl followed along in the car, listening to my radio calls on a handheld radio.

This flight was the first time I squeaked the tires on landing. It was an awesome day.

Flying.

So I went flying today. It was the first time in 2019 that I sat behind the controls in the cockpit. It was the first time ever for partaking in this activity in a Diamond Star DA-40. After some ground school, a very pleasant instructor went up and I tried my hand at flying the DA-40 for the first time.

I’m expanding my horizons. I have personal goals I want to meet this year. Now that weather is starting to cooperate, it’s time to fly.

I’ll also be reviving my aviation blog during this coming week. In the meanwhile, I’m looking forward to another flight tomorrow.

Restless.

The winter blahs may be lifting. I put myself on the club airplane schedule. I’m going to knock some rust off my aviator skills with an instructor and get ready for a spring and summer of flying.

I will never understand how my dad and grandfather went the entire winter without flying at all. Not getting up there gets me way too moody.

Renewed.

I flew my biennial Flight Review yesterday. A requirement for private pilots, every two years we must fly with an instructor to make sure we still know what we’re doing, we know the latest changes in regs, and we can still handle the aircraft in a safe manner.

I took the opportunity to fly with my friend Chuck in 32J at KRME while we were in town for the holidays. I hadn’t flown the ’66 Cherokee since July 2017. It felt very comfortable as soon as I started the prop.

I was a little rusty on a couple of maneuvers but I figured things out. I had three great landings and I was smiling the entire time.

Flying in the Chicago area brings different challenges versus flying in Upstate New York but it is still very much enjoyable for me. We’ve been talking about pilots becoming “av-gry” when we don’t fly enough. I hold that belief to be quite true. If I don’t fly as much as I’d like to I can be quite cranky.

Let’s hope Mother Nature shows mercy for us private pilots this winter.

Here’s a photo from my flight as I was practicing an engine out emergency decent.

Saturday.

I’m sitting here at Wittman Regional Airport during #OSH18, or EAA AirVenture 2018, the largest aviation celebration in the world. This is the fifth time Earl and I have been here, this is my sixth time total. We’ve been here since Thursday.

Watching the crowd during the afternoon air show, I can’t help but imagine how many different ways people are excited by aviation. Some folks are here to learn how to build an airplane, others are looking to find the best deals to upgrade their existing aircraft. Families are here to see the air show. Some see it as a NASCAR event in the sky, others see it as a feat of magic when man can fly like a bird.

My dad loved aviation. He was always reading aviation magazines, he watched war movies featuring a lot of aviation, and we spent a lot of time as a family at the nearby grass field we called an “International Airport”. Both my dad and grandfather loved building airplanes; my dad built two of them from scratch. This week I described my dad as a “build and fly” guy, and I referred to myself as a “buy and fly” guy. I don’t have the patience nor talent required to build an airplane. I could barely get through a model airplane when I was a kid. But like my dad, I enjoy reading any and everything I can and courtesy of the Internet, I love sharing photos, videos and experiences with other aviation enthusiasts.

This little vacation at Oshkosh has been too short. It has been immersive, it has been thoroughly enjoyable, but I’m not ready for it to end. I can’t get enough time around aviation. I’ve already told my husband that next year I want to spend the entire week here. We will make that happen. He thoroughly supports my aviation endeavors and I will be forever grateful for that.

I am fortunate that my family was able to pass their love of aviation down to me, which sparked a fire that I know was meant to be there. Earl and I don’t have kids; to pass this enthusiasm forward will require me to fulfill my dream of becoming a CFII, or a Certified Flight Instructor. I’ve been saying this for a couple of years. To make this happen I need to reposition my focus and eliminate distractions. I have a finite amount of bandwidth; it’s my responsibility to use that bandwidth the best way possible.

I need to keep an eye in the sky and keep the nose on the centerline.

Soar.

Late last night Earl mentioned to me that there was an airplane crash about 15 miles north of the house. He asked if I knew the pilot. When he saw my startled look he realised that I did indeed know the name. Jon was a super nice guy. Soft spoken. A pretty strong advocate for the general aviation community. He did not survive the crash of his ’46 Luscombe yesterday afternoon. May he fly amongst the angels.

The loss of any pilot weighs on my mind, especially if I know the pilot personally. We defy gravity after mitigating any risk to the best of our ability. We should always take that extra step to be as safe as possible as we dance amongst the clouds. When my dad was alive and reviewing crash reports, he’d always say “pilot error, 98% of the time it’s pilot error.”

As pilots we are trained to respond appropriately to catastrophic scenarios while airborne. Our reaction should be instinct. Your airplane has just turned into a big glider and do what you’ve been trained to do to glide safely to the ground. Sometimes there’s simply not enough time to react fast enough. We do what we can do. When we takeoff we know the risk. And yet we defy gravity. Because that’s where our heart leads us.

Jon’s passing yesterday weighed heavily on my mind all day today.  I didn’t know him particularly well, but we had chatted many times. He had shared his adventures with the flight club. He had a passion that was very familiar. He seemed like a good sort.

I had an instrument lesson scheduled for today. The weather was clear in every direction. Wind was nearly non-existent. A small part of me was looking for a reason to not fly but a bigger part of my head said, “you have to fly today.” So my instrument instructor and I went up and flew and I nailed the practice instrument approaches to our airport. If I could just get past the book studying and the written exam I’d probably be a hell of an instrument pilot. I’m almost there. Almost.

Determination. It’s like getting up on the horse that’s thrown you across the pasture. We do have what we have to do.

And then we soar some more.

Learning.

So I’ve been working on my IFR, or Instrument Flight Rules, rating, the next logical step in my flying career. I have set some goals for 2017 and the next couple of years. My goal is to become a CFI, or Certified Flight Instructor, as part of my early retirement plan. 

I really want to lend my passion and excitement to training the next generation of pilots, no matter their age.

This evening, my instructor Chuck and I went up flying to do some practice approaches while in a partial panel condition. “Partial Panel” refers to losing some key instruments while in instrument only conditions. I’m wearing foggles, which limits my view to the instrument panel only. This is like flying in the clouds.

That’s when Chuck put stickers on two key instruments: the Attitude Indicator and the Heading Indicator. At this point, I needed to fly by the remaining instruments only, keep the airplane upright and safely get it to our intended airport. 

The lesson went very well. I’m feeling more and more confident flying by only instruments.

I need to do some book studying to get the written exam out of the way and then I’ll be ready to start practicing for my instrument check ride.

Never stop learning, it keeps you young.

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