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!

Waiting.

So many airplanes on the ramp ready and waiting for this virus to be a thing of the past.

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.

Firsts.

Both my grandfather and father were private pilots. Both flew homebuilt airplanes and both had their tailwheel endorsements. Both of them also preferred flying “low and slow” and they preferred the classic tailwheel configuration. I love flying low and slow like they do but I don’t have my tailwheel endorsement. I can do low and slow just fine in a Piper Cherokee 140. I’ll never build an airplane as I did not inherit that talent from that side of the family. I’m perfectly fine with that.

Today I started lessons to get my complex and high performance endorsements. Complex means I’m flying an airplane with retractable gear and high performance means the airplane is rated higher than 200 horsepower.

Today I flew a Cessna Skylane 182 RG. Built in 1978, this airplane has a six-cylinder engine rated at 250 horsepower. It can carry 1200 lbs. That’s a lot of fuel and an additional person.

I have a decent amount of hours in a Cessna 172 but before today I had never flown the heavier 182. I’m also more of a low-wing guy (don’t tell my grandfather or father) but having grown up in high-wings with Dad and flown my share of Cessnas, this configuration doesn’t particularly bother me. The high performance engine means things happen faster so I need to be a little more on my game, and after the initial climb out and getting to cruise I felt more comfortable than I thought I would before jumping into the airplane. I went up with instructor Callie and I did some turns and climbs and descents and just got a feel for the airplane before coming back to the airport to try some landings. Callie demonstrated the first landing and then shadowed me on the rest of the landings, providing verbal guidance and nudging the controls when necessary. For a first lesson in this airplane I walked away feeling great, and weather and virus willing, I’m hoping to go back up with her next week to continue the adventure.

I’m now officially doing something the previous pilots in my family have not done by flying a high performance airplane with retractable gear. I mentioned to my mom on the telephone the other day that I wanted to start taking my aviation career beyond where Dad and Gramps went with theirs, and in many respects I am. But I’m not really surpassing them in any way, I’m simply going in a different direction. I really wish I could talk to them about this experience because I’m sure they’d both be grinning ear to ear.

I know I am.

Centering.

112 days is WAY too many days without sitting behind the controls of an airplane and actually flying it. I was the av-griest I’ve ever been. I am now back to my old self.

If I go more than 90 days, something that has happened once before, I go up with an instructor to knock off some rust and sure I can still fly the airplane safely. I don’t know how pilots go from October to April without flying and then just go up and do their thing. Yeah, it’s second nature in many respects but it’s still good to knock the rust off with someone you trust. I flew with a new instructor today and she was very complimentary of my skills. I had a couple of things that were rusty, mostly around operation of the G1000 Glass Panel, but otherwise it was a fantastic flight today. I also used the opportunity to really push my personal minimums when it came to windy conditions and it went better than expected.

I guess I really do know how to fly an airplane.

My 2020 aviation goal is to push my limits further and do what I need to do to fly more often. End of story. Full stop.

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.