Avgry.

There is a term used among the General Aviation Twitter community that it used to describe a pilot who hasn’t been able to fly in a while. That term is “avgry”. It’s a combination of “aviation” and “angry”.

I am definitely feeling “avgry”.

I’ve been struggling with a glum mood for the past several weeks. There’s a lot happening in the country, what with domestic terrorist attacks egged on by Trump and the like, but aside from that, I’ve just been feeling blue. I came to the realization that while this is by no means the longest I have gone without flying an airplane, not being able to fly combined with other pandemic restrictions is making me stir crazy.

Today my husband and I drove to Waukegan National Airport just so we I could stand in the hangar and say hello to the airplanes.

We then took a moment to stand on the ramp and take a selfie. The weather has been awful for the past three weekends, so there wasn’t much going on.

I’m hoping to fly next weekend as the long range forecast looks promising. I’m going to go up with an instructor and try some new (to me) maneuvers that are typically done by commercial pilots. I have goals set for my aviation career; I can’t let weather keep me from reaching them.

I like having a term to describe being “angry about not being able to engage in aviation”, but I don’t like feeling “avgry”.

Speed.

We have a Windows 10 gaming computer in the house. We’ve had it for about a year and over the past several months I’ve been accumulating the necessary equipment to build a decent Flight Simulator. Today I upgraded the hard drive from an traditional style “spinny” (it’s an industry term) hard drive to an SSD, or Solid State Drive. SSDs are several magnitudes faster than the older drives in performance. Our Windows 10 computer now boots up in less than 20 seconds, before it used to take over five minutes to get settled down.

I just played around with X-Plane 11 under the new setup and it’s like playing on a completely different computer. Of course, I’m still getting used to flying a virtual airplane, as I still need to get more control panels and the like so I don’t have to remember to hit “b” repeatedly to try to release the brakes, but I’m getting there. Since I have X-Plane to simulate local meteorological conditions when I fly, I’m always flying at night.

I’ll have to give it a go in the daylight this weekend, since the weather is projected to be too cloudy for actual flying this weekend.

I’ll take what I can get. And with the new hard drive, I’ll take what I can get faster.

Artificial Horizons.

As a pilot I don’t have much success in flying flight simulators like X-Plane 11 or Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. The software is amazing; today’s technology provides a level of realism at a price we would barely even imagine a dozen years ago. Nevertheless, I’ve found the experience to be less than ideal.

With the pandemic all the rage and me not being able to get up and fly as often as I’d like, I finally decided to invest some money into a decent flight simulator setup and take to the virtual skies. I bought Chris’ old Alienware desktop gaming PC with lots of upgraded components, finally got my hands on a set of USB rudder pedals and a yoke and throttle quadrant and downloaded the dozens of gigs of data from Microsoft to get the software installed.

I’m having fun with the setup.

I’m not a fan of carrying out various functions (deploying flaps, retracting gear, etc) via keyboard commands, so I’m going to add more switches and buttons and baubles to the setup, but for now I’m able to take off from any airport in the world all via computer.

I chose my dad’s old home airport as the runway to depart from on the sim. The data for this private airstrip is a little off, it has the runways listed as 18 and 36, when in reality they are 16 and 34, but otherwise the landmarks and topography and the like are all very accurate. As a certificated private pilot I’ve never flown an airplane out of dad’s airport (I’ve always been along for the ride) but I felt a certain amount of excitement when I flew the sim computer out of the strip for the first time. It made me appreciate the amount of skill my dad and his fellow pilots based at that airport had. With a gravel bed at one end, and trees and power lines at the other, you have to be on your game trying to get in or out of the small field in Upstate New York.

I’m looking forward to giving it another simulated try this weekend.

So Many Questions.

Taken with a fliphone!

I believe in living life without regrets. I have no regrets. I have lived a very full and fulfilling life. I have done what I want to do, I still have things I want to do, and there are many more things I’m going to do. Things have happened the way they have because that’s the way they’re going to happen.

I have always wanted to be a private pilot. This is something I talked about casually but it wasn’t something my dad and I talked about a lot when he was alive. While I know he loved me very much and he was proud to have me as his son, I kinda know I wasn’t his favorite. That title went to my sister and I never had a problem with that. My relationship with my dad was great, it was just primarily unspoken. And we really didn’t talk much about things like flying airplanes and the like, even though we did it a lot together. I figure he just didn’t know how to process having a gay son in the 1980s. No worries, no angst, it’s just the way it was and it is.

I think of him at this time of year because my last phone call with my dad took place during the week of Thanksgiving in 2011. He had just flown his second home built airplane for the first time and he wanted to tell me about the experience. I can vividly hear his voice in my head; the airplane was faster than he expected, it kind of caught him by surprise, but he said he would learn it and he would eventually have fun with it.

At the time I wasn’t a private pilot. Starting in my 20s my plan had always been that I would become a private pilot but I would surprise my dad with the accomplishment. I would fly with an instructor, solo, get my ticket, and then show up in an airplane at a fly-in breakfast at the airfield where my dad was part owner. That was always my plan. Unfortunately, becoming a pilot is an expensive venture and it wasn’t until I was in my mid 40s that I was able to put together the budget necessary to reach this accomplishment.

After my dad’s crash and his passing, which occurred during the second flight of his second home built airplane, I never lost sight of wanting to become a private pilot, in fact, I was more determined than ever to reach that goal. With dad I had always flown in the right seat of the Cessna 150/152 or the Piper Tomahawk, the back seat of the Piper J-5A, or the front seat (where the passenger sits) in his AcroSport II (pictured above, photo taken in 2001). The only time I had sat in the left seat of an airplane was with Dad’s flight instructor in the Cessna 150, N7177F. After the day’s flight instruction was completed, the instructor would take my sister and me up in separate flights, him in the right seat, and us in the left seat, for a turn in the pattern. One time we did two turns because the first time I pulled back on the yoke too much and made the stall horn squawk on takeoff. I was probably 10 years old at the time. I can vividly remember the exhilaration I felt during that flight in the left seat of N7177F. When the stall horn squawked on take-off, the instructor said, push the nose a little bit and I did it. I think I nearly took the hat off a farmer working in a field off the end of the runway that day, but everything was good and we had a great time on runway 34 at 1NY3.

The NTSB report of my dad’s crash in 2011 talks about witnesses hearing “sputtering” before the airplane went down. It was my dad’s second time ever flying a Wittman Tailwind W10. He’d built it from scratch from plans. The airplane was powered by a Lycoming O-320. It had 150 horsepower and is basically the same type of engine that powered the Cherokee 140 that I flew for my flight lessons to become a pilot. That exact engine had previously powered my grandfather’s home built, a Jungster II. Gramps’ airplane was grounded when he was no longer able to fly it and no one was interested in taking over the airplane. I know Dad said on more than one occasion that he would never fly it; too challenging to be any fun. But the engine was of some value, so it was rebuilt to be put into the Dad’s Wittman Tailwind.

The day of the crash witnesses heard the airplane sputter before it went down. I know Dad had lost an engine during flight before, in fact, shortly after he rebuilt the Piper J-5A, the two of us were on downwind for runway 16 when he lost the engine and the prop promptly came to a halt. We glided in safely. I was never scared. I was never concerned. I knew he could handle it and because he never had a radio in any of his airplanes, I just heard a faint “huh” after he lost the engine and glided onto the runway in a fairly elegant 180º decent.

It was probably Dad’s unfamiliarity with the Wittman Tailwind, and specifically the airplane he had just built, that prevented him from doing the same when he apparently lost his engine the day of the crash. And as a private pilot, this is why I have so many questions I wish I could ask him.

You see, Dad and I never had the chance to have a conversation “pilot to pilot”. I’ve never been able to fly with him in the right seat as I flew us someplace for a rubber pancake or whatever. Do I regret this? I don’t; things on our timeline happen when they do because they were meant to happen then. But I really wish I could talk to him “pilot to pilot” and ask him some questions about his flights and why he made the decisions he did leading up to the flight. I think the Wittman Tailwind W10 with 150 HP engine may have been the fastest airplane he’d ever flown. I don’t find anything in his logbook indicating he went up with an instructor in that airplane, or anything like it, before his test flights. Perhaps he was more confident in his abilities as a pilot than I am in mine.

A couple of years after he passed my sister and I went to a medium, who immediately asked “who is John and why is he saying he fell from the sky”? My sister went back to the same medium a year or two later and my dad had a message for me: “you can’t be afraid of the airplane and you always have to put it where it needs to be; if you’re afraid, it’ll put you where you don’t want it to be”.

Good advice, for sure.

When our parents have passed on I’m sure we all have questions we’d like to ask if we had just one more chance to talk with them. I have no doubt that he’s happy I’m a pilot and that he’d approve of my skill as an aviator.

I just wish we could have that “pilot to pilot” chat we never had.

Night Flight.

It’s been a year since I last flew at night. As an American private pilot, I need to be night current to take someone flying with me at night. Night currency is defined as three full stop landings more than an hour after sunset within the past 90 days.

With instructor Dominic as safety pilot, I achieved that this evening in one of the Diamond DA40s I fly.

It’s been since the beginning of May that I last flew a DA40. Most of my 2020 flight time has been spent in “Large Marge”, the Cessna 182 with retractable gear that my husband and I enjoy flying around in. “Large Marge” is like flying a truck, flying the DA40 is like flying a sports car. Both are a lot of fun in their own way.

I had a lot of fun flying tonight. Become a pilot is one of my greatest accomplishments, and I hope to continue enjoying the experience for as long as possible.

Gear Up.

So Earl and I intended on flying for about an hour this afternoon. It’d been a few weeks since our last flight and having inherited AvGas for blood from my father, it’d been entirely too long since we were last in the air.

The Cessna 182 RG (retractable gear) I fly had not flown since the third of this month. This is not unusual; the flight school I rent from has a number of training aircraft used by students, and a couple of airplanes with modern avionics that are popular for rental. The Cessna 182 RG is a fun airplane to fly but “Large Marge” requires a complex and high performance endorsement (meaning additional training). “Complex” refers to the fact that she has retractable gear and “high performance” because she has more than 200 horsepower under the engine cowl. I was signed off with these endorsements earlier this year.

My pre-flight activity as well as the run up before take off was all normal. Marge was ready to go and so were we. The take-off was beautiful. I then tapped on the brakes to make sure the wheels stopped turning after leaving the runway and I moved the gear level to “Gear Up”.

Nothing happened. At least I was 98% sure nothing happened. I checked the circuit breaker, moved the lever to gear down and then gear up again and still no joy. There was no familiar whine of the hydraulics that normally bring the gear up. The indicator light showed the gear should be still down and in place.

I had Earl visually check a wheel sticking out under his door as I did the same and I checked the mirrors that are in place on the wings to confirm the front wheel was where it was suppose to be. It’s not routine to fly a retractable gear airplane with the gear extended, so I told the control tower we were heading back to land. We made our way into the pattern.

The front wheel looked to be locked in place and should have been locked in place as per the green light on the instrument panel, but I wanted one more set of eyes to take a look. So I asked the tower to visually check as we passed by on our way to runway 23 for landing. The tower confirmed things look good. This being my first gear-related “emergency”, I was probably being extra paranoid but reaching my goal of being a very old pilot involves being a little extra cautious.

The tower replied that everything was apparently locked in place. I was a little high on the approach for landing; I “slipped” the airplane to lose some altitude and made what was probably the gentlest landing I’ve ever made in an airplane, being extra sure to keep the nose off the ground for as long as possible, “just in case”.

Overall everything was fine, the airplane just didn’t want to retract its gear. I never panicked, my heart probably raced just a bit more than usual when flying an airplane but I believe I did everything I could to make sure we stayed safe. There were no hysterics.

The best part of this story is not only does thinking about the amazing landing bring a smile to my face, I’m also here tonight, enjoying an adult beverage, and sharing my story on this blog. We probably were never in any danger but all of my training to date has become more of an instinct. If anything, Large Marge helped me build more confidence today.

Masked.

I figure if we’re going to be wearing masks for a while I might as well make the most of it. I’ve shown off my Star Trek mask before. This week I purchased a couple of the masks shown in the photo. If you’re not familiar with the design, the graphic is a part of a “sectional”, or the maps pilots use to navigate the skies. Actually, most pilots have moved to GPS and all sorts of electronic wizardry for navigation, but all of that data is based on a Sectional. It’s called that because you buy charts for the “section” you’re flying in.

The company I purchased my masks from gives the opportunity to get the sectional of your home airport as your design. If you look at the graphic on my mask, you’ll see KUGN, Waukegan Airport. The blue arc denotes O’Hare’s airspace. The “13” you see denotes the highest elevation, in this case 1300 feet, of an obstacle in that particular quadrant of the sectional.

There’s a bunch of other notation visible. If you want to learn more about a Sectional Chart, take a gander at this Wikipedia article.

And wear your mask!

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Sightseeing.

As per tradition, my husband was the first passenger to go with me after getting checked out on a new airplane. This was his first time in a Cessna 182 and his first time in a single engine airplane with retractable gear.

Since there are no baseball games at Wrigley and whatever they’re calling the home of the White Sox these days, we had the opportunity to fly along the lakeshore, over Navy Pier, and along the Chicago skyline a bit. To maintain legal separation from O’Hare’s airspace, I have to fly fairly low (but not too low) and away from the shoreline. Technically I could fly closer but I would have to fly lower and without a lot of options for an emergency landing over the city, I’m more comfortable slightly higher and over water.

It makes sense to a pilot.

We thoroughly enjoyed our flight and Earl enjoyed his first flight in “Large Marge”. We already have the airplane booked for a flight next weekend. This time we’ll venture out to one of the airports on the prairie and maybe have we in general aviation call a $100 hamburger. They’re more like $200 these days but well worth it.

Too Much Weather.

As a private pilot I have a stronger than normal obsession with weather. While I’ve always had a great interest in Mother Nature’s more intense moments, when I’m up there in an airplane I don’t want to be sharing those experiences with her.

When we lived in Upstate New York it was a 10 minute drive to the airport. Because of the relative ease I had in scheduling an airplane, I could simply decide to fly, make sure the airplane is available, and drive to airport. I could see what the weather was doing and fly accordingly. If Mother Nature was thinking about spinning up a tornado, I’d stay on the ground.

When it came to planning long flights I’d start looking at the forecast a couple of days ahead of my planned flight time and make the appropriate go/no-go decisions. It’s what private pilots do.

Living in the busier Chicago area, with my airplane rental opportunities an hour or more away, I have to be more structured with flight plans. In order to get on the schedule I often have to block out my flight time a week or more in advance. Because of this I’m finding that I’m watching the weather patterns every day between the day I schedule the flight and the date of the actual flight.

I’m noticing I am now overthinking my weather decisions. Watching the forecast obsessively, and noticing how much it changes during that time, is probably making me a little more conservative than I need to be.

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to start flying a four-seat airplane aimed at a thunderstorm, but I need to allow myself the flexibility to change my flight plans as necessary. For example, yesterday I was planning on going up in the Cessna 182 with an instructor to continue my checkout and work on the endorsement for high performance and complex aircraft. The plans involved going to a small strip to the west of the airport and the forecast was calling for thunderstorms and heavy rain. At first I decided I wouldn’t fly but after talking with the instructor for a bit, we decided to simply cancel that flight plan and just stay local to our home airport, working on landings in the pattern. If the weather turned south, we’d be close enough to home to get safely on the ground before any storm moved in.

Contrary to my daily work as a software developer, where things are often if…then, flying isn’t as black and white. It’s the if…then…else that I need to remember to consider.

Yesterday’s flight turned out to be a good one; I’m making progress, the repetition of take-off/landing/take-off/landing/etc is honing in the extra details of flying with a retractable gear airplane, and I’m starting to feel more solid with what I’m doing with the increased horsepower of the bigger engine.

I’ve been reflecting on this while working on my post-flight analysis and I think yesterday was a good lesson for me, both in the air and on the ground. I’m still not going to be one to try to thread an airplane between thunderstorms, but I can dance in the sky for a bit before Mother Nature decides to bring her creativity to home.

Escape.

I spent nearly three hours in the air yesterday. The time was split between two different airplanes. The first flight was my annual “proficiency check” with the flight school I rent the DA40s from; this is a requirement of the school, not the FAA. I like this requirement, it keeps me on my game. I probably don’t spend enough time practicing some maneuvers when I’m up punching holes in the sky. It’s good to have a sanity check. Adoption of bad habits can be stopped faster if you’re going up with an instructor more often. The flight went very well. I was able to do everything the instructor needed me to do and I did it well. I really like flying the DA40.

The second half of the flight time was in the Cessna 182 RG (Retractable Gear). “Large Marge” flies quite a bit differently than the DA40 but an airplane is an airplane. It’s all about learning how it handles, the extra equipment and procedures around the retractable gear, and the workflows and thought processes around the high performance engine. When you’re going faster and getting there faster you need to be thinking faster.

I still record all my flights but I don’t share them on YouTube like I used to. My primary focus is to review my flights and take notes to keep in mind for the next flight. There’s a couple of things I should have done quicker, some things I should have done better, but overall I’m coming right along with the requirements for this next endorsement.

Mother Nature has been kind the last three Saturdays in a row. Let’s hope she maintains the same mood for next weekend!