1 Comment

Whew.

So I mentioned a few days ago that I was studying for my FAA Written Exam to become a Private Pilot. I probably should have taken this test a month ago but I wasn’t feeling as confident as I felt I needed to be to do well on the exam, so I delayed it until yesterday. I spent the weekend studying hard and doing nearly two dozen practice tests. On Monday and Tuesday night I was consistently scoring in the mid 90s on the practice exams so I felt confident going into the exam yesterday.

Various sources on the web warned to expect a five to ten point drop from your practice scores. They attributed the drop to a couple of things, mainly test anxiety and the fact that the FAA no longer publishes all of the questions that can be pulled from the bank and presented to you. So while many of the questions that I had on the exam yesterday were quite familiar to me, there were a couple of new ones in there that had me thinking. When all was said and done, I scored an 87 on the exam, which, when you figure in the hypothetical 5-10% drop from test anxiety and such, is still pretty good. I completed the exam in a little over an hour and I even went through and redid all my math and checked my answers before letting the test proctor know that I was completed. All in all, it was a great experience in that it helped boost my aviation confidence considerably and I learned a great deal from devoting myself to the books to feel really prepped for this exam.

The next step in my aviation career is the combination of the oral and the practical portion of the exam. I will be spending the next few weeks with my instructor tweaking and refining my piloting skills. I have all the basics down and most of my maneuvers are well within the standards prescribed by the FAA, but I have some things here and there where I need improvement and I more importantly, I just need to ramp up my personal comfort level so that when I take the examiner on an airplane ride, I don’t think of him just as the examiner but rather as my practice passenger.

I feel really awesome. This is definitely a dream come true for me.

Solo.

So on Sunday I went on a solo flight that wasn’t part of my official requirements to becoming a Private Pilot. Any flight time where I’m Pilot In Command is good and I’m always looking to get all the hours I can get, but the purpose of this trip was special to me. I wanted to fly into a Fly-In Breakfast this year and I wanted to go to the airport where my Dad belonged to the local chapter of EAA.

My instructor and I flew to KFZY, or Oswego County Airport in Fulton, a couple of weeks ago together so he would feel comfortable with my performance and endorse my logbook so I could make the flight solo as student pilots have restrictions when they’re flying the airplane alone. The flight to and from KFZY went without a hitch and I was given the endorsement to make the flight solo. I was very excited and barely slept the night before, though I felt great that morning and was more than ready, willing and able to make the flight.

The flight was awesome. The weather was perfect, there wasn’t a bump in the sky. The airplane handled wonderfully and I felt very confident behind the controls. One of the new experiences of this flight was the I was flying into a non-towered airport; in these instances, the pilots talk to each other on a common frequency and everyone works together to keep the area in and out and around the airport safe. The only caveat to this is that at smaller airports, some of the airplanes don’t even have radios, so you have to just kind of watch out for them. The important thing is that everyone is doing what is expected of them and that keeps things predictable and as safe as possible. Being predictable is an important part of training to become a pilot.

If you want to get a sense of what the traffic going in and out of the airport was like, I made a video of the experience. It’s rather long clocking in at 14+ minutes, but it gives one the sense of what I was hearing and watching for.

Earl was kind enough to drive back and forth to the airport so that we could have breakfast together. I told him that he shouldn’t have to drive to meet me for much longer because once I get my license we’ll be flying everywhere together. I am really looking forward to that day, but only if it’s as safe as possible for the both of us.

The flight in and out of the “non-home” airport was a good challenge for me and ultimately went well. While I was there I spoke with some other pilots and even showed one the photo in the office of my Dad standing next to his AcroSport II.

It was an amazing experience and just confirmed for me that becoming private pilot is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

IMG_0473Busy breakfast line. Delicious food served up by the Civil Air Patrol.

IMG_0482Posing next to the airplane before departing back home.

IMG_0485A shot of Interstate 81 as it crosses over the eastern end of Oneida Lake between Central Square and Brewerton. No, driving a vehicle and flying an airplane are not the same and while I don’t have a habit of using my smartphone while flying, I had the airplane at a point where I could snap this quick photo without anything startling happening.

Onward and Upward.

20140112-121429.jpg

Earl, Jamie and I are sitting aboard United flight 5986 headed to Dulles. I’m sitting in seat 20A on this Embraer EMB 145. Ironically, the seat is a 1/2 inch wider than the seat I will be in on the 737 from Dulles to Orlando.

This is the first commercial flight I’ve been on in nearly two months and it’s the first commercial flight I’ve been on since starting my training for my Private Pilot License. While as a passenger I have always paid close attention to what is going on in and around the plane, this is the first time that I’ve paid super close attention to runway markings, taxiway signs and the like. Back in the day when I was a passenger with my dad, the small airstrip had lights on each side of it and two numbers made out of embedded cinder blocks. That was it, other than the markings of runways 16 and 34, it was a mowed out hayfield. Learning to fly at Griffiss Airfield is much different than the environment that my dad learned to fly in. One is not better than the other, it’s just different, and this is where my path and goals of becoming a pilot are different than my Dad’s.

My flight instructor and I talked about this a little bit when we met on a Friday. Many of the student and certified pilots fly like my dad did: they love to fly, they want to fly around the local area a bit and they might want to build a plane or two. I think that’s awesome. I know that I spent many hours flying with my dad under these intents and it is what fueled my love of flying. However, my goals of becoming a pilot are a little different. In addition to loving being in an airplane, I want to explore as a pilot, much like Earl and I do in the Jeep. We will be flying to airports we’ve never been to before. We’ll fly to weddings and family reunions and all that. If the weather is good, we’ll fly if we can and the thought of this makes me so amazingly happy.

I have no desire to build planes. The type of craftsmanship involved is something that I did not inherit from my dad or my grandfather, but Earl knows that I absolutely want to own a plane someday. I see us flying in a Cessna 182 or a Piper Cherokee 180. While waiting for our flight this morning, I told Earl that maybe I won’t ever retire and instead I’ll fly tourists around in the summer months and give them a tour of the 1000 Islands or something. After the brief shock of dollar signs flying above his head, Earl smiled.

I have tried many different ideas during my 45 years in this life, and if I allow myself to have one regret, it would be that I didn’t pursue this passion soon enough. The emotion, rather the _elation_ I feel when I fly is something that I can’t adequately put in words. It’s kind of like the elation I feel as a married man.

I’m the luckiest man in the world for finding my passion and being able to pursue it. Onward and upward.

Ride ‘n Fly.

So today I met up with my flight instructor and another student for a flight. The plan was that I would fly in the backseat as the other student flew; tomorrow would be my hour lesson.

I was really excited about flying today because I had never seen another student pilot in action and observing others significantly contributes to my learning process. Plus, my last flight (a month ago) was the first time I had ever flown in this area and I found myself wanting to commit the landscape to memory, much like I had done when I flew with Dad and Gramps back around my hometown. I was very happy to see the weather was cooperative.

The other student was actually doing a check ride; while he had soloed, he hadn’t flown in a while due to a medical injury and he needed the check ride to make sure that he remembered everything he was suppose to remember. The flight included some steep turns in the practice area and then some work in pattern, including a short field, emergency-like landing, which was a good experience that I am looking forward to knowing how to achieve myself. We did a few touch ‘n goes. The instructor wanted me to pay close attention to the radio work so that I would start getting a handle on that.

After the student completed his check ride, we had a quick “chinese fire drill” and I hopped in the pilot seat with the other student in the back. Today I started working on fundamentals: I did some of the radio work, worked on thinking outside of the cockpit and using the horizon as my primary point of focus and getting a better feel for the Cherokee 140. Since there was another student scheduled at 1300 ET, I only had a chance to fly for a half hour today, but the instructor had me fly over the house and surrounding area. It was the first time that I had flown over the house from a small plane and it was awesome. I did some turns in the immediate area and then headed back to the airport, where we flew over the house again on approach to runway 33. With a lot of coaching and still needing a lot of practice, I landed the plane and brought it back to the hangar where the next student and his instructor were awaiting his turn.

I am so excited about today’s experience for a couple of reasons: seeing another student in action boosted my confidence a lot. Having only flown with certified pilots my whole life, it’s good to see another on his path learning just as I am. I also found myself much more comfortable with the radio work than I expected to be. Granted, my instructor told me what to say, but I felt confident on the radio today and I was a little surprised at this. This was also my first flight with my very own headset. My ground school videos and the reading I have been doing helped me have a better “feel” for the Cherokee today. I’m not just going through the checklist, I’m starting to know the purpose behind each check during my pre-flight, flight and landing procedures and it’s starting to make sense in my head.

I really hope we get to fly again tomorrow. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the plan is I’m going to sit in the plane in the hangar and become more familiarized with where the controls are, so I don’t need to read, I will just know.

The “brum brum” sounds will be optional.

The photos below are from the first half of today’s hour with me in the backseat.

IMG_1448
Take off

IMG_1460
Not a clear day but still quite smooth.

IMG_1464
Steep 45º turn. Awesome!

IMG_1472
Airport off yonder

IMG_1473
On final for landing

IMG_1452
The look of a very happy man.

Mist.

20131219-125501.jpg

So I just called the flight service on my own for the first time to get a weather outlook for tomorrow afternoon. The club plane will be back from its maintenance and it’s time to get back in the air, except Mother Nature is not going to be cooperating.

Right now they are predicting light freezing drizzle, snow and overcast with 1200′ ceiling, not exactly good conditions for piloting a small plane, let alone a student piloting a small plane.

Looks like I’ll be watching more videos of other people flying in nicer weather. I wonder if I can telecommute from somewhere balmy or something.

1 Comment

Focus.

1965_Piper_Cherokee_140_(N6996W)_Instrument_Panel

It’s one of those days where Monday is flying by simply because of the pace at work. After being off on Friday I had a bunch of emails to contend with, a few snags with one of the applications at work (ID10T errors are the worst) and a bunch of meetings on my calendar. It could all be overwhelming but honestly it’s not.

I’m trying really hard to stay focused. And more importantly, I’m succeeding.

During a short break this morning I watched a couple of videos on YouTube. I watch videos while riding the exercise bike because otherwise I’d be bored out of my mind. This morning my videos of choice were of student pilots going on their first solo flight; they captured the experience on video. It’s something that I plan on doing as well. Watching each of these student pilots go through their checklists and through the same actions on their first solo flight was inspiring to me. Their focus is contagious for me and as Earl remarked during our chat, when it comes to my becoming a pilot, he hasn’t seen me this excited about something in a very long time.

The focus required for being a pilot is starting to creep into other parts of my life, and frankly, it’s a great feeling. It’s amazing what one can do when it’s passion behind whatever they’re focusing on. I’m passionate about work and all that I believe in. And I definitely believe I can fly.

Image courtesy of this random website.

Inspiration.

So I’m still flying high (no pun intended) two days after my orientation flight as a student pilot. I have already scheduled my next lesson and I am really looking forward to that (I’m counting the days). I started the self-paced ground school instruction yesterday. It’s amazing what one can do with today’s technology. Imagine where we’ll be in a decade.

For the past couple of nights I’ve woken up in the middle of the night simply from being energized with the idea of becoming a pilot again. This gave me an opportunity to think a little bit while I was trying to get back to sleep.

Out of all the folks that shared the excitement about me pursuing pilot lessons, only one person asked me why I was pursuing this now, at this point in my life. After all, learning to fly in Central New York during the winter months is a challenge all of its own, but there’s never really a wrong time to learn to fly, I guess you just know when it’s time. And for me, it’s definitely time. There are a few things that have inspired me recently.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that during a Delta flight home from Minneapolis we had to do a couple of go-arounds to land due to the windy conditions at the airport. While I had a few moments of nervousness (looking back, I think that was because I didn’t know firsthand what was going on), for the most part I was really intrigued as to how the pilots were handling the plane. While others were nervous, I was more excited because while I didn’t want to be landing that plane in those conditions at that time, I really wanted to be in control of the plane and handling the challenges associated with being pilot. I have no dreams of flying an airliner, but I certainly want to fly for fun and bring friends and family along with me.

When Earl and I went to Oshkosh, Wisconsin earlier this year for their annual EAA AirVenture, I was thrilled beyond belief. On the night of our arrival, when I saw the small planes flying in and out of the airfield, making it obvious that the pilots were having a grand ol’ time, I realized that I really missed that sort of experience. I had only flown once in a small plane since I had flown with my Dad and I missed it very, very much. It’s something that I love to do and I can’t describe the giddiness I feel when I’m in a small plane. I really feel like I’m in a different world and it’s a really good feeling, even behind the controls of the plane on Saturday. It’s a freakin’ amazing feeling. Oshkosh is definitely on the bucket list.

Recently I saw a video of Jeb Corliss, a BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot, who hit some rocks during one of his amazing wingsuit flights. He nearly died. Jeb talked about his accident and the subsequent recovery, and if that guy can fly a wingsuit, crash, recover and get back into the wingsuit, I can certainly learn how to fly a Piper Cherokee. Life is about choices and my choice is to learn to do what I already know I love to do. There’s no reason to wait, there’s no excuse. Honestly, a long time ago I thought that a gay boy could never be man enough to fly. I have since learned that long ago I was a foolish lad.

But I think what really prompted me to contact the flying club and get started on my pilot lessons was coming across this photo:

That’s me, the short one in the front of the group of guys, with the striped shirt. We are all standing in front of a Cessna 150 that had been used to teach all but one of the older gentlemen to fly that day (the one in the yellow shirt is the Flight Instructor). The thing about that photo is that while I didn’t have a lesson that day (nowhere near old enough), I had sat behind the controls of the 150 and I had my hands on the stick for take-off, landing and during flight. While my feet weren’t on the rudder pedals, the instructor handled that, I had the illusion of flying the plane. I remember pulling too hard on the stick and the stall warning alarm sounding in the cockpit. It scared me but the Flight Instructor calmly said, “you might want to ease up on that a bit”. He was in control the whole time, but why would a 12 year old be “flying” a plane? Simple. We wanted to go for a ride and the flight instructor was more comfortable in the co-pilots’ seat. Despite the stall warning, I remember being so excited about my chance to really be the pilot of plane someday and I knew it was something that I wanted to do. Actually, it was something that I had to do.

I gazed at the photo for a long time and wondered: 33 years later, what am I waiting for? I couldn’t come up with an answer. While Earl won’t let me ride a motorcycle, he is fully supportive of me flying a plane.

I have spent many nights “relaxing” in front of a computer screen doing a modified version of what I do during the day for a career. I love what I do at work, but for the betterment of everyone involved, I need to disengage from work-like activities in the interest of recreation and relaxation. This, coupled with my love and need to fly, makes my pilot lessons a no-brainer.

I just can’t wait any longer. This lad needs to fly.

3 Comments

Flight.

This may come as a surprise to some but I am excited beyond belief to type this next sentence:

I had my first student pilot lesson today!

IMG_1330

Technically it was my introductory lesson, but after take off of the VERY long runway at Griffiss International Airport in the Piper Cherokee 140, my flight instructor said to me, “Congratulations, you are flying!” And indeed I was, in the pilots’ seat, behind the controls of the Cherokee. My hand was on the throttle, my other hand on the yoke, my feet on the rudder pedals and my eyes on the horizon.

IMG_1329
(Taken after we landed).

Starting as a young kid I flew in small planes with my dad and my grandfather and friends of the family over the years and I have always enjoyed every moment of those experiences, even the times I flew with my grandfather (he was a little jerky with his movements in the cockpit in comparison to riding with my dad). While I sat in the pilot seat of a Cessna 150 a few times, my experience has always been as a passenger in the co-pilot seat. Dad said “here, take the stick” quite a few times and I would do just that, but takeoff and landing was always handled by the pilot. Today, I took off and landed and flew around with a whole bunch of instruction from the flight instructor.

I. Loved. Every. Moment. Of. It.

IMG_1328

My experience in small planes was always at small airstrips which most of the time amounted to a mowed down section of a hay field, so as we were coming in for a landing at Griffiss, I said to myself, “holy shit that’s a long runway” (Griffiss’ runway clocks in at 11,820 feet). We landed long so we wouldn’t have to taxi forever to get back to the hanger. Wow, that runway is huge.

After talking about the requirements to get my private pilot certification, we went out to the plane and went through the pre-flight checklist and the like. I made a bunch of mental notes and then we went flying. We spent a little less than an hour in the air in the “student practice area” west of the airport. Learning to use visual navigational aids, I did what I thought was a nice turn at 3200′ around the hotel tower at Turning Stone Casino. Just to get a feel for the controls, on the way there I did some turns between the airport and Sylvan Beach on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake. After a few more maneuvers, we headed back to Griffiss and landed on that really long runway. After the plane was fueled and put away in its hanger, we went back to the aviation club room where I met some of the other club members and hung out with the guys for a bit. It was very reminiscent of hanging with the pilots in the picnic area at the airport near my Dad’s house on a Sunday afternoon.

The only thing missing from this experience today was being able to call up Dad and tell him that I became a student pilot today. After sharing the experience with Earl, I called my Mom and told her the news. She could tell by the excitement in my voice that I was very excited about the whole experience and that I was really looking forward to this new adventure in my life.

IMG_1332

I am so happy that I took this first step and I am really looking forward to my next lesson. I kept saying, “THAT was awesome!”. I have to admit that I was nervous when we first took off but after a few moments I started calming down and I was starting to feel the beginnings of confidence. The instructor kept saying how much he loved to fly and I couldn’t agree with him more. Looking out over the snowy landscape, with Oneida Lake off in the distance and me actually in the pilots’ seat was like a dream come true.

It’s in my blood. I can’t help it. I love to fly. And that’s what I’m going to do.