Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Geez, it's been a while...

It's a cold, rainy day here in Waco so I'm doing some work at home today. It occurred to me this morning that I hadn't blogged in forever. I'm actually surprised that I remembered the password. Anyway, I'll make this kind of an update of what's been going on for the past two months.

What a fall it's been! It feels like just yesterday I was giving my first intro flights and now I've given almost 80 hours of flight instruction. I began 2009 with less than 200 flight hours and will end it somewhere near 500.

I've flown into airports I've never been to before. I've given an Instrument Proficiency Check to an 8,000 hour pilot with tons of Citation and Learjet time (and been amazed by watching his work on raw-data approaches after he told me he'd been spoiled by the FMS/Flight Director). I've figured out how to teach students with very different learning curves (yes, it is possible to give the exact same lesson two days in a row and have both versions of it look completely different). I've parked N2150G next to EAA's WWII B-17 bomber. And, I've become so comfortable in the right seat the flying from the left just feels downright weird!

I've picked up two primary students (working on their private pilot licenses), and it looks like I'll be adding 2 or 3 more in the spring. From an operational standpoint, that means I'm going to be very busy if everything pans out. Not that the past couple of months haven't been great. Between flight and ground, I've given between 30-40 hours of instruction in October and November. Not stupid-busy, but certainly better than you'd expect in Waco, Texas when two other flight schools already exist.

And, your humble flight instructor has accepted a part-time faculty appointment at Baylor! I'll be teaching the same aviation history class as a part-time lecturer that I taught last spring as a TA. There are 13 students registered so far---should be great!

When I finally got my freedom from my caustic former work environment almost one year ago (16 December), Alisa and I agreed that we wanted to make 2009 a year that we'd look back on and say "wow---what an amazing, productive year," and it's happened.

The Lord has blessed us with great friends and family and an unparalleled opportunity for me to provide for us by doing my dream job. We can't wait to see what 2010 has in store! In the mean time, we're going to celebrate this Christmas season knowing that the faith involved in this leap of faith was well-placed. I'll try to post some pictures soon---in the mean time, blue skies!

Post script: If you read this and you're on Facebook, become a fan of Waco Flight Training. We're only 6 away from 100 fans!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Under the Wire Fly-In

When I was about 11, this guy named Robbie showed up at a fly-in with a Stearman biplane he'd restored. We got to know him, and when it came time to re-cover the fabric on our J-3 Cub in the winter of 1991, he got the job. That next fall, I went to my first fly-in at his little grass strip in Louise, Texas (T26).

The fly-in was called (jokingly at first) the Under the Wire Fly-In. This was because there was a powerline that went directly across the runway at midfield. I never really thought it was a challenge for my Uncle (I always rode to the fly-in with him in the Cub) or any of the other pilots---it was just interesting.

This past weekend, Alisa and I went to the 20th annual Under the Wire Fly-In. It really occurred to me on the flight over that so many things have changed over the years, yet so many things have stayed the same. And they're all important.

The wire has been gone for years now. I doubt that more than a handful of the attendees know why it's called "Under the Wire." Many fixtures of the southeast Texas aviation community are gone: Warren Ball and his airport (where I learned to fly) are now history, Glenn Jeffries, who kept Ball Airport and all our planes running, is gone, as is Robbie's dad, my grandmother Colleen, and so many others who used to turn out for stuff like this.

I've gone from being a once-a-month pilot to a professional flight instructor. And, for the past 6 years I've been bringing my fiancee/wife to the fly-in. My sister Amy has also added to the fly-in, bringing her guy Wesley at first as a wide-eyed spectator and now as a professional ag pilot.

Just as important as the changes are the things that have stayed the same. There are the people who you only see once a year at the fly-in. There are the airplanes that return year after year (sometimes even after changing owners). There's the same dedication to "old school" aviation. This may be the largest concentration of people who can hand-prop an airplane and land a taildragger in a crosswind to gather anywhere in our area. And, there's the same reinvigoration of why we care so much about aviation.

Life got in the way a few times, but I haven't missed many fly-ins. One of the more underrated blessings of my leaving Baylor is that I don't have to be on my way out of town to recruit "smarties" over the fly-in weekend. In fact, that was the only thing that was a negative about taking that job---I knew I wouldn't always be at the fly-in.

Some things are too important to miss. The Under the Wire Fly-In transcends all those changes and continues to hold a special place in the hearts of those of us who love to fly.

I have an album from the fly-in at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2277219&id=9210527&l=8b4876891b. You can access it even if you're not a member of Facebook. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Teaching in the clouds (literally)

As we executed our assigned missed-approach procedures off of the VOR 17 approach at McGregor, the ground rapidly faded from view. Passing through 3,500 feet, we were now in actual IMC (for you non-pilots, we were in the clouds). This definitely wasn't my first time in IMC, but there was a difference. Now, I was in the right seat. I was the instructor.

As we climbed into the cloud, the day's convection gave us a couple of "spikes" on our Vertical Speed Indicator. In this situation, if you pay too much attention to this and too little attention to your Airspeed Indicator and Altimeter, you'll let yourself get fooled into thinking you're in a climb. Push the nose over, start building excessive airspeed and/or mistrusting your instruments, and you're in trouble.

I'll admit that as we got ready to go I was thinking about a colleague in Houston who got a little cocky and took an instrument student up in weather that was down to minimums on lesson #1. He was rewarded for his hubris with a case of the "leans" (where you basically don't know which was is up). They survived it, but I've seen the flightpath on flightaware.com and it wasn't pretty.

Shortly after entering the clouds, my student (who is, by the way, progressing well) had a moment of fixation on the VSI and I could tell he was beginning to get the leans. He didn't panic, but I think he got a little overwhelmed. It surprised me how quickly I was able to get the airplane straightened out and calm him down, all while keeping us on the assigned leg of the approach.

To be fair, he really didn't freak out on me---he stayed really calm, and although I knew he was pretty concerned and he admitted later that I'd taken over exactly when he needed me to, I think this was a good experience for him. He knows what fixation looks like in real-world flying, and what the leans feel like. The importance of the instrument scan never had a better demonstration. Maybe yesterday will keep him alive someday.

I'm not trying to make a big deal out of what really was a minor event. I've just always harbored this suspicion that my first time instructing in actual IMC would be some kind of defining moment for me as a pilot. And I think I was right.

I talked to a fellow instructor yesterday---I almost feel cheesy calling him a "fellow" instructor because he has 1800 hours in the right seat---who told me that at 1800 hours he's still trying to figure out what kind of instructor he is. I'm sure I'll be the same way. We always have to adapt to the student, the conditions, and the airplane. But moments like yesterday nudge me in the right direction, proving to me that I'm good at this and I'm meant to do this.

I'm flying with the same student again tomorrow, and I'm ready to go back into the clouds with him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The true test of a job...

...is when you love it on your first day back from vacation. My job passed the test :).

Germany was awesome, as always. I think I got my Schnitzel, Wurst, and Bier quotas for the year filled (well, maybe not completely, but close). The weather was perfect, and it was great hanging out with Frank, Nat, and the girls.

Saw a few new towns and lots of old ones. We did get to go back to Munich, which has turned into a perennial haunt for Alisa and I, for a few days. The Marienplatz is still one of the coolest spots in the world. We got to hike around Lake Eibsee at the base of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. If anyone tells you it's just 4 miles around, they're lying to you. Look it up on Google Earth.

We ate dinner in a cafe in Garmisch and watched a massive herd of sheep walk down the Hauptstrasse (main street).

And of course, we went back to our favorite cafe in Eulenbis and visited the Stemlers (www.fewo-stemler.de). You won't find food or hospitality in Germany any better than this place.

Alisa tells a more complete story about the trip, if you're interested, with her photo album on her Facebook account, so I won't try to reinvent the wheel.

The one thing missing in Germany is general aviation. User fees have all but priced it out of existence, and we could suffer the same fate here if we let our guards down. Once again, general aviation has been a whipping boy of late of the media and some politicians. If you're a pilot or aviation enthusiast and you're not an AOPA member, you're not pulling your weight. 'Nuff said.

Good to be back home, and good to be back in the air!

PS: If you're not a fan of Waco Flight Training on Facebook, you need to be!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Out of the gate

I'm sitting here at the airport this morning, having a cup of coffee and listening to chatter on the control tower frequency. This is going to be another good day.

As of today, I've been a CFI/CFI-I for two weeks. I'm actually much busier this early in the game than I thought I'd be. So far, I've given about 6 introductory flights, 2 flight reviews, and have one full-time student. The full-time student is working on his instrument rating, so doing the CFI-I is definitely paying off. It's still weird to think that I was working on that rating less than 6 months ago!

I think it's made a huge difference just being here to answer the phone, and we're seeing more business already because of it. We're getting an ad ready for October's issue of the Wacoan, and expect to see more business out of that too. Really, this is a matter of doing discovery flights and bringing students on until we reach a critical mass---for me that would mean flying 8 hours a day---and I expect that should happen sometime near the end of this year.

And, my demand is building at more than one airport! I've already given one flight review in Victoria, and the Cub will be ready very soon for me to begin giving tailwheel endorsements. I'm seeing some good, serious interest in that already, and I think that will only increase.

So far, I've seen some beautiful mornings and some equally beautiful sunsets, flown with some interesting people, and some interesting airplanes (the flight review in Victoria was in a Cessna 175 Skylark---very cool airplane if you've never seen one). And we're just two weeks in!

Alisa and I leave on the 5th for a much-needed vacation. She's put up with a lot this year, and I've done nothing but work since January between grad school and making my seemingly ridiculous progression through my pilot ratings. We're going back to Germany to see some of our best friends, and it's going to be great! What will be even greater is that fact that, this time, I can actually look forward to what I'm coming back to. It will make the vacation even more of a vacation!

I'm off now to walk down to the FBO (Texas Aero's office) to meet another prospective student for a discovery flight. It's clear outside today, and not blazing hot yet, so it should be fun. With any luck, I'll get a student out of it!

"All flying involves risk. That is part of the glamour of flight, but reducing the risk does not reduce the glamour."
-Sparky Imeson

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Livin' the dream

Well, I did it! I have officially packed about 3 years of flight training into less than 8 months!

This morning went well---I don't know that I got to demonstrate very much to the examiner, because he's all about showing you how to do stuff his way. The oral was about an hour, and he was on the phone with a fellow Continental pilot for a good 20 minutes of it. Very basic.

We split the flight up into two parts: the maneuvers in a C-172R, and one takeoff and landing to demonstrate proficiency in a complex airplane using a C-172RG. The flight did have an interesting moment; thinking that it wasn't enough that I'd earned my spin endorsement (see previous blog post) in an aerobatic Decathlon airplane, he proceeded to spin me not once, not twice, but three times from about 2,500 feet.

Is that the real world? Most definitely---it'll happen with my students, too. Is that the safest thing for an Examiner to do? Absolutely not. The PTS (Practical Training Standards) pretty much spells out that an Examiner shouldn't be touching the controls unless the student does something unsafe or becomes incapacitated. I digress.

In the end, we taxied in, cooled off, and he handed me my temporary airman certificate adding "Airplane Single-Engine Land" to my Flight Instructor privileges. That's good enough for me :).

I noticed when I logged into the blog account today that this will be my 41st post. That's a lot of damn writing about a topic that probably sounds like a heap of jargon to most of you. Thanks for riding it out. Just in case you haven't been keeping up with your scorecard at home (you're all good baseball fans, right?), I thought it would be fun to look at the past 7 months and 12 days by the numbers.

In 2009, I have:

-Flown 162 hours (almost doubling my aeronautical experience in the span of 8 months)
-Performed upwards of 60 Instrument Approach Procedures (IAPs)
-Flown 7 different types (make and model) of aircraft
-Operated into and out of 30 different airports
-Flown with 4 different instructors
-Taken 5 FAA written exams
-Taken 4 FAA checkrides
-Earned 2 new certificates and 2 new ratings

This last part of the process, actually becoming a CFI, began on June 1. Gary was a good mentor, but there's no such thing as a fast track to becoming a flight instructor. If you see one of these somewhere and you think you want to be a CFI, take it with a grain of salt. Come to think of it, add about 2 months to that estimate. You'll preserve your sanity!


It's been a long fun ride, and it isn't over yet. I'm going to try and keep up with this blog as a I start instructing (which will happen very quickly---I have two Discover Flights with possible students scheduled already, and several people lined up for tailwheel endorsements). I've tried to thank a lot of people publicly on this blog and I know I've missed a few. I've you've had a direct impact on me getting all this done, you know who you are, and I'm grateful.

I'm going to go pack my stuff now, go spend some time with Alisa, convert our dining room back to its original configuration from the little temporary flight school I had to set up, and sleep in my own bed. And, of course, live the dream.

I know I have gotten into the habit of ending on a quote, but today I think this signature is just as cool as any quote!

Aaron Dabney, M.S.Ed, CFI, CFI-I

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Take 'er for a spin

I've been in Houston again the past week and a half, preparing for the CFI add-on checkride. This adds to my certificate the privileges needed to train Private, Commercial, and theoretically, single-engine ATP pilots. Sounds like it would be a difficult checkride, but in the real world this one is done with a Designated Examiner, not the FAA. If you follow that train of thought, the DE knows that you've already showed you the feds that you have the "right stuff," so this is really your ticket to lose. It may in fact be one of the easiest rides in my career.

Show up on time, look professional, don't screw up too bad, act like every piece of advice the DE gives you is the most awesome thing you've ever heard, and then taxi back in to shake hands and accept your temporary certificate. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but not too much if I take any stock at all in the words of the two colleagues who have just completed this ride with the same DE I'm using.

That checkride is tomorrow, and I'll post the results here. I expect to have a good day :). After that, it's open for business.

Onto spins. On Friday, I did my required CFI spin training at Harvey-Rihn Aviation in La Porte (near Galveston and Kemah). Most pilots are scared of spins for the same reason they're scared of other things---they're the unknown. At Harvey-Rihn, we went up in a Decathlon (a 180 HP aerobatic plane---I want one!) and explored every aspect of spins, including the feared accelerated spin. I did very well and loved it, so much in fact that we had time to throw in some introductory aerobatics. The picture at the top right of my blog page is right after we landed, and I think the grin attests to how the flight went.

I now have my "inverted wings" after performing my very first barrel roll with the instructor's "hands-off" the controls. I'll be back for more of that. I think that some further aerobatic training and some casual (Introductory Level and then maybe down the road Sportsman Level) competing may be in my future.

Harvey-Rihn, incidentally, is co-owned by Debbie Rihn-Harvey, who has more aerobatic awards than I can list here. I'll do a seperate blog at some point later about meeting her at a fly-in in La Grange where we saw her put on an impromptu performance.

That's all for now...I have some last-minute chores to get done for tomorrow. After tomorrow, maybe I'll have to change the blog name to "Keeping the dream on track!"

"Keep the ratio of happy airflow to pissed-off airflow acceptable."
--James, an aerobatic/spin instructor at Harvey-Rihn

Friday, July 31, 2009

Certified Flight Instructor

Checkride. That term doesn't exactly conjure up pleasant feelings among most pilots, especially when it involves an inspector from the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (we call them the "fisdo"). However, I went into this one pretty confident and came out victorious. This was the easiest, weirdest checkride I've ever taken.

The day started early. I was up at 0500 at and the airport a little before 0700 getting all my documents and the airplane staged. The FSDO inspector showed up at the appointed time, 0800. The first words out of his mouth were "nice shirt. It's more comfortable untucked. Kohl's, $11.00, right?" The guy was wearing the exact same shirt. I told him, "actually, $8.00." He replied, "how the hell did you get it for 8?"

That was the tone the day started on, kind of a friendly banter, and it stayed that way. After doing the paperwork to check out my application, the plethora of logbook endorsements required to be a CFI, and the aircraft records, we got started. The actual questions were very straightforward. "Talk to me about the characteristics of learning. What are some responsibilities of a CFI? What kind of anti-ice and de-ice systems does your Cessna 172-S have?"

Then there were the tangents. We established early on that we were both history buffs. The bulk of the oral ended up being a very detailed discussion of the history of the Catholic church (the guy is a very conservative Catholic) and how, at least if I'm a Protestant, it's a good thing I'm a mainline protestant. We also talked about our common dislike for the current Presidential administration, my love for tailwheel airplanes, and a lot of his life history. I embraced this as a tactic---if he went on a tangent, I'd follow him and encourage it. The oral was three hours, but we might have done 1.5 of actual "work." It didn't just kill time...it was the first oral exam in my career that I really count as "fun."

The day continued. The northwest part of the greater Houston area must have gotten more rain today than in the past month (I should know, I've spent 20+ days here this summer). So we waited. And waited some more. It's a funny scene to see a CFI applicant and an FAA examiner kicked back shooting the bull, but that's what we did. He even ran to his house (he lives on the field at Hooks) to grab a history book he wants to loan me. It's in my flight bag, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

The guy is quirky, a little sarcastic, has a dry sense of humor, and likes to sing "We're in the Money" on the intercom in the airplane, and I'll be damned if I didn't come out of the day liking him. This guy loves what he does and wants to actually get to know his applicants. The FAA does have some good guys, and if I lucked out getting him I'm cool with that.

We finally found a weather window to go flying at around 3:30. True to what I'd heard about his style, the engine start checklist wasn't a biggie...I was hardly even strapped into the right seat when he's started the engine and we were taxiing while he talked to ground. He's really a "kick the tires and light the fires" type. I think if that tactic on startup doesn't get you behind the airplane (and it didn't me), then you're not going to fail the flight portion.

I taught him through an instrument check, and off we went. He did about 80% of the flying, which is nice because I could actually focus on teaching. Two ILS approaches at Conroe, a couple of unusual attitude recoveries (I got to fly and teach those), a couple of steep turns, and a GPS approach at Hooks (I got to fly most of this and make the landing) later, he sticks his hand out as we taxi in and says "congratulations. You do good work." It was official...I'd passed my initial CFI checkride!

I ended up having to stay in Houston tonight...there was some weather between here and Waco this evening that N2150G and I didn't feel like messing with, so I'll fly home in the morning. I wish I could celebrate with Alisa and our friends, but that will happen tomorrow night.

This has been an incredible journey so far. I should have the sign-off in probably two weeks or less to take the CFI-A add on and I'll be done. Done. First part of January, I don't think I could center a VOR needle. Now I'm an instrument instructor. Crazy. Just goes to show what you can do with support and motivation.

Alisa has put up with me being gone way too much, and the Mendiolas have gone out of their way to feed me, lodge me, drive me to the airport and back, support me, and generally (happily) put up with the inconvenience of my comings and goings. But I'm almost there, and it's about to pay off for everyone!

Time to go relax some more...no studying tonight!!

Aaron Dabney
Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Musical Checkrides

Well, after having my checkride moved from the 31st to the 30th, and then to the 28th, I get a call from my FSDO guy today and it's back to the 31st. The good thing is that it's a Hooks, with which I've become very familiar, in N2150G, Parker's C-172 that I've done a good 85% of my flying this year in, and with an inspector who I have lots of intelligence on.

There won't really be any surprises. He's already told me we'll start at 8 and I can expect to be out of there at 2. I already know the approaches he expects me to teach in the airplane (I didn't even have that kind of intel ahead of my Instrument checkride), and I already know that the ground lesson I'll teach in the oral exam is the published hold at ALIBI (see http://www.airnav.com/depart?http://204.108.4.16/d-tpp/0907/05573IL14.PDF). He's also big on the fundmentals of instructing (kind of helpful to have that M.S.Ed. in my back pocket) and instructor professionalism.

I'm not saying that this is going to be a cakewalk, but oddly enough I've been more nervous about checkrides than I am about this one. More than anything else, I'm going stir-crazy to get it done. I'm ready to start flying for a living already!!

Flying a plane is no different from riding a bicycle. It's just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.

— Captain Rex Kramer, in the movie 'Airplane.'

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An open letter from a middle-class American

I'm going to take a quick break from writing about flying and write about life in general. You, my friends, may not agree with each of these points, but I at least want you to think about each of them.

I am a middle-class American:

1. I believe that the best solutions to problems come from somewhere other than Washington, D.C.

2. I am not in a high tax bracket; in fact, I am "between jobs." However, I don't want the government to fix that for me. I'm spending my own funds, saved over the years through much sacrifice, to make my professional (and thus my family's personal and financial) life what I want it to be.

3. If we lost our insurance benefits tomorrow, we'd figure it out. Don't feel sorry for me or count me as a statistic ("uninsured Americans") and tell me what I need. The healthcare system does need to be reformed, but not in a hurried manner. I understand that the President wants to get while the getting's good, and I believe that if the current plan prevails my children and grandchildren will suffer financially and physically because of it.

4. I believe in the free market. The government does not need to intervene; brands and companies go by the wayside all the time. Do not spend my hard-earned money to bail out companies who cannot keep their affairs in order. If they cannot make a profit, their market shares will be replaced by companies that can.

5. I believe that a strong military is necessary to protect the country against its foes, and I am proud of my friends in the military and their brothers and sisters in arms.

6. I believe that spending is out of control in this country. The TSA and the TARP bailouts are both good examples of organizational theatre; they are symbols put in place to give people a good feeling and give the appearnce of doing something, when in fact they are just black holes for tax dollars. Don't waste my tax money to put on an ineffective show. I'm not stupid and I know you're decieving me.

7. I believe that excess taxation removes initiative---the initiative to innovate, to achieve, to create new companies and jobs is at the center of what it is to be American. We will surely lose any world leadership legitimacy that is left if this initiative goes away.

8. I believe that voters should be self-educated; don't vote for a feeling or a great story. Know the facts. We are beginning to see the adverse side effects of electing a reality star.

9. I believe that we deserve what we work for. If we make $20,000 or $200,000, we've earned it. In a free market, no one has a right to say what is an "excessive" salary.

10. I believe that a person can be a professional at anything. I have met janitors who are more professional than some bosses I've worked for. The trades are disappearing in this country. Refer back to my point about initiative.

Many of my views, especially after grad school, tend to be "middle of the country," and I try to give the benefit of the doubt. However, the more you push me, tell me how backwards I am, and presume to tell me what I want and need, the further to the right you push me.

I am a middle-class American. I look at America through the eyes of Frank Capra and James Stewart, and believe that there is still much good to come from our experiment in democracy.

I am a middle-class American. What I see coming from Washington alarms me. There are many like me. If you are elected to an office, you work for US. And we will be heard in 2010 and 2012.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What a difference a year makes

I was having a cup of coffee this morning, doing a little chair-flying for my upcoming checkride, and I got to thinking: what would I have been doing this time last year?

By this time last year, I (and two other highly-qualified friends and colleagues) had been turned down for a promotion so it could be awarded to a highly un-qualified friend of the position's former occupant. (This person, by the way, has gone on to make quite a name for herself on campus: people think she's an idiot).

By this time last year, I had been promised another promotion, only to have it taken away as well because the idea of a reflective, analytical, vocal male leader scared the bejeezus out of the director.

By this time last year, I was miserable. I was just over a semester away from a graduate degree, and it seemed like everyone except the people directly responsible for my career thought I should be going places. But there I was, being supervised, as I confided in some friends, more than most Wal-Mart cashiers.

*************************************************************************************

Fast-forward a year. Since late January, I have progressed through the Instrument rating and on to the Commercial pilot certificate. I have successfully obtained an endorsement to take my initial Certified Flight Instructor checkride, one that must be taken with the FAA, from the "go-to" guy on CFI training. I'm in exclusive, highly-qualified company; I've already earned ratings that less than 1% of the people who have ever lived hold, and my career is on its way to the big show.

I've maintained the respect of those colleagues and peers in the Baylor community that thought I should be "going places," and will always have a place in the academic unit where I served as a graduate assistant last spring. I proved myself as a capable leader, educator, and workhorse.

Why am I writing this blog post full of self-backslapping? You're looking at a guy who has reinvented himself in less than a year. I've gone from what turned into a going-nowhere job to pursuing a dream and a career that I had long ago thought it "more practical" to just give up.

And, I've learned some things along the way:

1. Never underestimate the importance of support. Alisa has been a driving force in this journey; she has more faith in me than anyone I know (including myself), and if it weren't for her prodding, I'd probably still be wishing I could be doing this kind of flying.

My family, full of aviation nuts, never batted an eye at this career change. They're the ones who raised me, and they probably figured this was inevitable anyway. Alisa's family has been incredibly understanding and supportive; they never questioned the changes we made and they've been with me every step of the way during this CFI training.

2. In a related vein, you find out who your friends are. I hate to repeat that cliche, but it's true. People like JT, Brandon, Dave, Anna, Troy, Tim, and Terri have only become closer friends since I left Baylor. Jerome and Blythe, who have "been there, done that," have been a constant source of inspiration. Parker keeps prodding me along, looking for "positive vectoring." Louie and Michelle, who have been through similar circumstances themselves, continue to be great friends and cheer for us.

There are definitely a few specific people who I thought were friends during my Baylor days...but I refer you to sentence number 1 of the above paragraph :).

3. The best thing for confidence in the airplane is currency. I guess the FAA's right about that whole Learning Principle of Exercise thing.

4. Don't ever be intimidated by a certificate or rating. If you can pass the checkride for a Private Pilot License, I guarantee you can figure the rest of this stuff out.

5. Sometimes, it's braver to walk away than to try and stay and "gut it out" or fix something that's spiraling out of control. That ejection handle is there for a reason.

I think I've gone on long enough about this....but I'm sure I'll think of a few more things as soon as I hit the "post" button.

Bottom line: life is full of uncertainty. There's never enough money for what you want to do. And trust me, you're never going to get everyone to like you. Those are all three pretty indisputable facts, but none of them are valid excuses for not doing what you want to do. Say to hell with it, get on with making your life what you want it to be, and the Lord will take care of the details.

"For the Scripture says, you shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain, and the laborer is worthy of his wages."
-1 Timothy 5:18 (NKJ)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Checkride tentatively set

Got the call this morning...my checkride is tentatively set for 30 July down at Ellington. I mentioned that I'd done my training at Hooks, and the inspector actually volunteer the idea that he'd talk to an "inspector who lives at Hooks" about conducting my checkride up there. I'm obviously very cool with that, and if it's the FAA's own idea, well even better.

It's a little bit farther out than I wanted, but I can get a jump start on my CFI-A in the mean time and be ready for that checkride very soon after the CFI-I checkride.

It's going to be weird having a couple of weeks that are not push-push-push, but I'll have plenty of study time and probably get some honey-do's around the house done. I think Alisa will miss her house-husband once I'm flying full-time :).

When I hear more about the checkride, I'll post here. In the mean time, all that's really left to do is to get ready to show the FAA that I'll be an awesome instructor!

Keep the greasy side down and the pointy end forward!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A good week

Well, it's official!! Within the next two weeks (that's how long the FAA has to schedule you after you get your signoff), I'll be taking a checkride with an FAA inspector to see if they buy me as a CFI-I. Then, my aviation career will officially begin!

The mock oral on Thursday was easy. Almost dissapointingly so. Not complaining, just kind of surprised. Either I really know my stuff, or Gary has a really good idea of what the FAA is going to ask. I did talk to a guy who did his checkride this week, and the questions that he got asked by the inspector (who happens to live on the field at Hooks) were almost identical. So, I'm hoping for a checrkide at Hooks. It's when you go to Ellington (where the FSDO is actually located) that you tend to see the 6-10 hour orals. I don't know 10 hours worth about anything! But, it seems like if you can set a good tone the oral is usually about 1/3 chat anyway. Again, you're kind of already in the club.

The flight went really well also. On my way down on Wednesday, I "taught" the GPS 17R at Hooks to myself and nailed it. Felt really good going into my practice flight with my friend and classmate Chris, and it went awesome.

Fast-forward to Friday afternoon and my mock checkride with Gary. It was about 104 out and nice and bumpy. Remember how I always get frustrated that Gary won't shut up? He hardly said a word. The flight, I think, went excellent. He said my teaching was really good, and that's why he hadn't talked. I just kind of developed this attitude that, even though crap moves REALLY fast when you're on with Houston Approach and you're shooting two approaches back-to-back with a hold in between, I could slow things down. So what if you undershoot the inbound course on the hold? You teach the inspector, "okay, you notice the needle is ahead of us. We don't want to panic and tighten the turn up. We'll just correct and get it back centered."

When you start doing that, every situation gives you an advantage. You just refuse to let yourself get in a hurry. I think if I can do that on the checkride, it should be milk run.

So, I should hear by Monday about where/when my checkride is. I'm praying for Hooks, but I think I can handle Ellington. I'll post here when I find out. After that, the CFI-A sign-off and checkride will be pretty easy.

It's really something else. I began in mid-January with zero instrument experience. I'm now an instrument-rated commercial pilot, and less than two weeks from possibly becoming an instrument flight instructor. What a ride! Almost there!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The home stretch?

I know a post here is long-overdue, but this has been a hectic month (has it been a month already?!).

I'm sitting in our dining room (I've turned the dining room table into a makeshift office so I can spread my books out) trying to put the finishing touches on the binder I have to take to my checkride with the FAA. This has been a work in progress for about 3 weeks now. Every time you think you're about done, you figure out something you should have added to your cheat-sheet for a lesson plan or a better way to do this or that. It's kind of like the adage you hear around hangars where people are building their own airplanes: "Well, I'm 90% done and I've got 90% to go."

This has been a successful month, though. Two Mondays ago on the 22nd, I passed my Commercial checkride in the Mooney. I was right back in Houston the next day flying for my CFI-I, so it was kind of an unobserved milestone. We celebrated for one night and then I forgot all about it, jumping back into worrying about all the must-do's in order to get signed off to be an instructor.

But it is a pretty big deal. I've heard the Commercial referred to as a "master's degree in flying the airplane," and it really is the ultimate demonstration of airmanship. Even cooler was the fact that I earned the Commercial exactly 10 years and 1 day after my very first solo flight in the Cub. So, every once in a while I have to sit back and enjoy how far I really have come. I still have some big goals to meet in the very near future, but I think I've earned the right to be just a little proud of myself.

Meanwhile, the flying for the CFI-I has been frustrating at best. My instructor says I'm improving with every flight, and peers who I'm doing some practice work with have good things to say, but the perfectionist in me isn't letting me sleep really well. I know that this is a checkride about teaching and not about being the world's best instrument pilot, but I still let my own errors frustrate me.

What I'm working on is taking the errors and making them "teachable moments." For instance, I get off a hundred feet or so on altitude, and I say, "you see, a student would make this error, for instance, if he fixated on the heading indicator. We'll correct this by reducing power 100 rpm and allowing a one-half bar descent on the attitude indicator."

One advantage I will have is that I've started taking N2150G to Houston with me to work on this stuff. I'm actually doing all the rest of my flying on this certificate in "Fitty." Her autopilot and GPS have some bells and whistles that N999UF at Hooks doesn't have (trust me, the autopilot is your best friend on a CFI-I checkride), and her throttle friction lock doesn't tend to slip (I like to talk with my hands when I teach---not a good thing when you've got a crappy friction lock that wants to dump 500 rpm every time you take your hand off the damned throttle). Plus, I'm not about to ignore the "home court" mentality. I got my instrument rating in that airplane. I know I can fly the hell out of it. I know that N2150G and N999UF are both 172's, but if you're a pilot you know that each individual ship has a bit of its own personality.

So, I fly down to Hooks this Wednesday or Thursday to do one more practice hop with a colleague. Then, on Thursday I have my mock oral with Gary, and on Friday my mock checkride with Gary. Thursday and Friday SHOULD result in my signoff to take the CFI-I checkride with the FAA. Frankly, the end of this week will probably be more stressful than the actual checkride. This is one of those weeks where you lay in bed at night wondering if you really have what it takes, or if somebody screwed up and accidentally let you into the club without checking your credentials.

The answer is, yes I have what it takes. I just need to capitalize on my own mistakes and teach, teach, teach. As one of my mentors, Troy Navarro (www.troynavarro.com) says, I've already been invited to join the club. All I've got to do is take a little hazing, and I'm in.

I'll try to update here on Thursday after my mock oral, good, bad, or ugly. It's time to start getting paid by someone else to fly airplanes....let's get this show in the road.

"Fill your hands, you son of a bitch."
--John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, warning Robert Duvall's bad guy to get ready for a fight

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hello from Flight Instructor school!

Well, lots to update since the last time I wrote. This blog seemed like a great idea earlier this year, and I still think it is, but it's a lot easier to get bogged down (or is that blogged down?) and not have a chance to write. Sorry, Alisa.

I've been cranking away as steadily as possible on my Commercial certificate. This is not easy when the airplane is gone for three weeks in maintenance, your CFI is out of town for two weeks, and the airplane owner decides to head out on vacation and leave you watching the best week of VFR weather in a couple of months from the ground. But hey, we're close.

I'm really getting comfortable in the Mooney. The maneuvers (Chandelles, Eights-on-Pylons, etc) have helped me figure out that's it's just an airplane. That's always an important step when you're moving up to something bigger/slicker/faster/. And, the landings are really beginning to click. A trip over to Mexia last week really seemed to help...I think I just perform better on narrower runways. There's a whole theory about that, too...you're usually going to flare lower on a narrow runway because of an optical illusion. My cardinal sin ever since since I first started flying the Cub has always been high flares, so I'm glad to have this worked out in the Mooney.

Of course, I graduated on May 16! I think Alisa posted about that here. Come to think of it, that's probably not news to anyone who reads this, but it was really nice to finally finish graduate school. With any luck, I'll get to use the M.S.Ed. next spring as a part-time lecturer with Baylor's Aviation Science department. I've said it before and I'll say it again: my teaching assistantship there was the best job I've had so far. No question about it.

I've also completed all the required writtens up through the Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument. This entailed, the screwy way I scheduled it, 4 tests in 2 days. As Brad, my favorite lineboy at McGregor airport put it, "people just don't do that." But, I did very well on all of them. So as of Friday of last week I'd completed the written exams for the Commercial, Fundamentals of Instruction, Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument, and Certified Flight Instructor ratings and certificates. I still need to take a couple more so I can tack a couple of ground instructor ratings on, but those will be non-events.

Now I'm in Houston at David Wayne Hooks airport going through Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument ground school. I'm staying with my in-laws Mando and Gladys; they bend over backwards for their kids and kids-in-law more than anyone you'll ever meet, and I am definitely eating and living good!

The CFI-I course will last all of this week, and then next week is the ground school for the CFI-Airplane. Most of the flying will happen next week. The ground work (for the oral portion of the CFI and CFI-I checkrides) is the hard part, so we focus mostly on that. It should take less than 10 hours of flying for the two of them.

At the end of next week, I have to go home and do a couple more flights on my Commercial and take the checkride for that, then I'll finally get to come back here and do my two checkrides for my two CFI ratings. I'll probably be "only" a Commercial pilot for a week or so. That's got to be some kind of record.

This is getting really long-winded so I'll say more tomorrow about the airport (I love this place) and my course and instructor (very legit and very experienced). This is the best decision I've made in my pilot career. I'll sign off now to so I can start working on some lesson plans that are due this evening. More tomorrow...blue skys!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New post from Alisa

Aaron hasn't posted anything in so long, but he has done a lot of flying and I wanted to post some pictures. Friday the 15th was his masters hooding ceremony



And on Saturday was graduation!!










I am so proud of him!!
I have more flying pictures I will post soon.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Move over grad school, it's time to fly again

Just got back from presenting my case study. It's usually a pretty good thing when one of the evaluators begins his comments by saying "you took this to a whole new level." I think I can rest easy tonight. I should get the results by this evening, and will update here.

The Mooney's back in town, Tim gets home on Sunday, and we're into the homestretch. Time to get back into this flying thing!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Slight change in plans

So, the Mooney is still out. Yep. Here's what's going on. We took it in to have the starter looked at...every once in a while, it was sticking, and that's not great for the airplane's electrical system and avionics. That's fixed. We thought, "hey, while it's in the shop, let's get that gross weight increase STC done."

That's actually pretty simple---this particular model was built with the strenghened landing gear that the STC requires already installed. All we really needed was to have the airspeed indicator re-marked for the appropriate speeds (a higher weight changes some of your airspeeds at critical phases in flight) and get the paperwork done. Simple, right?

Well, the avionics shop that our airspeed indicator was sent to somehow "forgot" about the job. And, they outsource the actual re-marking of the instrument face to a screen-print shop, which also apparently either got behind or forgot about it. After a lot of he said-she said between the instrument shop and the screen print shop, the airspeed indicator should be in Don's hands by "next week" and we'll have a Mooney back.

BUT, Tim is gone for the next two weeks. So my next commercial flight will be on 4/27. I'll make good use of the time while he's gone, getting my written finished up, flying my long cross-country, etc. That, and the small matter of my graduate capstone that's still staring me in the face.

The long and short of it, though, is that I'll be doing my CFI and CFI-I in early June. Time-wise, it's really not that much of a setback. And, it allows me to focus more on finishing grad school and actually spend a little more time preparing for those three instructor writtens I'll have to take. All in all, it's going to let me slow things down, just a little bit, which is kind of nice. Everybody has setbacks in training. Hey, I finished a rating that normally takes people about 9 months in less than 60 days. A little break ain't going to hurt me :).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Quick Update

Not much to report this week...the Mooney is in Longview getting a new starter and a gross weight-increase STC (modification) put on it, so I'm in ground school mode. I have next to me on my desk a signoff to take the Commercial Pilot written exam, which I'll probably do by the middle of next week.

I did get to go to Hooks airport (KDWH) last Friday and meet the guy I'll be doing my CFI/CFI-I with. Gary is legit, and he's located in a good facility. I'm pretty excited about getting that last phase underway. You can check him out online at www.cficare.net. I didn't ask him about the bad (hopefully inadvertant) pun his web address makes. Maybe after the checkrides :). There's no fool-proof, fast track to the CFI, but this guy's system is going to make it about as painless as it could be.

Finally, my case study presentation for grad school is looming. It's not really as big a deal as the thesis---they try to make it seem that way, but in reality it's a grade in one class---but everybody still stresses about it. My scenario deals with student housing, which is an area I could frankly care less about. I would have said the same thing when I was a working student affairs professional---I just never cared for housing. So, it's hard to get into "character" and deal with the scenario.

We have a meeting with our "jury chairs" on April 15, so I want to try to wrap it up by then. Presentations are April 22. Needless to say, my attentions are kind of divided right now. When I envisioned this semester being an overworking, burnout-risking slice of hell, the month of April is what I was picturing. Nevertheless, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it looks a lot like the approach lighting system on Runway 19 in Waco.

Blue skies!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Commercial lessons, flying the Mooney, & solo actual

Well, we've officially embarked on the next step...the Commercial certificate. And that means I've got my hands on a new airplane...N19NS, the Mooney. This thing is a blast to fly. It's fast, the controls are tight, it's fast, it goes right where you want it to...and did I mention it's fast?

We finished lesson #2 today. I have a goal of wrapping this one up by mid-late April so I can make my CFI class the first week of May. I think we're on track so far. So far, we've done stalls, steep turns, slow flight (all to get used to this slicker airplane), and a power-off 180. The one thing I'm not really getting yet is getting the Mooney trimmed to hold altitude. It wants to climb in just about every phase of flight unless it's trimmed properly. I'll get used to it.

The written knowledge is pretty straightforward...like Private pilot stuff on a bit of a steroid trip. Really no huge worries there, and I should be able to knock that out in the next couple of weeks.

I got my first solo "actual" instrument flight today, by the way! Parker had to run N19NS out to Don Maxwell's shop in Longview to have the starter looked at, and I picked him up. It's almost like your first solo (okay, we all know that nothing really replaces that first solo feeling, but this is similar) when your reference to the ground starts to go away and everything around you is white. It really is "all you."

I've been meaning to talk about this, actually. Certain members of my family describe flying instruments as a "nightmare scenario." My grandfather, who logged plenty of instrument time flying Air Force transports during the Korean War, even told me to get "extra life insurance." To be sure, I grew up in a community of hard-core stick and rudder VFR pilots. That was my existence, too, for the first 10 years I was a pilot.

But I've come to find instrument flight just as much fun, in a different way, as flying low and slow on a pretty day in the Cub. Today, I got between two cloud layers. It wasn't really VFR on top, because the clear layer wasn't more than about 200 feet thick. The layer above me was thin, and you could look through it and see blue sky in some places and another high cloud layer in others. Everybody should get to see stuff like that. It was just as much of a "wow, I'm a real pilot" moment as the first time I took the Cub to a fly-in solo. I guess what I'm getting at is that IFR flight isn't dangerous, as long as it's properly planned and executed. And once you get over the idea that it's a "nightmare," it really opens up your horizons.

No more Mooney flying this week, but we hit it again on Monday. Maybe I'll get some more ground school knocked out this weekend.

Blue skies!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ACT-EFD-ACT

Mission: Help my boss and a friend retrieve a newly-purchased airplane (not ours, unfortunately!). We took N19NS down to Ellington, and I finally made good on my promise to carry a camera on the cockpit more often.

The airplane we picked up is a Symphony OMF-100-160. Built in Germany, it's one of only about 100 built before the company went under. It's basically the certified version of the Glas-Star/Sportsman, and it's a real sweet-flying little airplane. Still haven't figured out why this fuel-injected airplane has a carbuerator heat knob in the cockpit, and I think I'll be scratching my head about that for a while.

*Edit: The A&P discovered this morning that it's an 0-320 and isn't fuel-injected. We just didn't feel any mag drop when the carb heat was applied because of a loose cable. Go figure.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures!



Remember San Jacinto!

Minute-Maid Park. It's almost opening day! Hopefully the 'Stros have a better year this year.

Downtown Houston x 2.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Instrument-Rated!!!!

Well, despite the weather conspiring against me last week, I was able to get a good, high-quality flight in on Saturday (more about that later) and a final checkride review with Aurora Aviation's chief CFI yesterday.

And this morning, came the moment of truth! So, today dawns with visibility at 1/4 mile or less at both Waco Regional and McGregor, and ceilings under 100 ft. This sucked, because it was a thin layer and you could look right up through it. I got up at about 0530 to get ready, and was driving to Waco Regional (I was going to fly N2105G over to McGregor for the checkride).

By 8:15, conditions were no better. Resigned to doing only the oral today (Felix, my DE, was on a tight schedule), I drove to McGregory. Felix shows up and wants the paperwork for the license to be on computer (IACRA for you pilot types). Of course ,that Tim and I had done it all on paper. So, we didn't get started on my 0900 checkride until 1130.

The oral went well---typical hiccups here and there like you see on any oral, but Felix is a good DE and prompts you as long as you're not missing the point too badly. We finally get in the airplane a little before 1300.

First approach out of the bag was a partial-panel VOR approach. I hate partial-panel work, period. Ironically, it was probably my best approach of the day. Next was an ILS, missed to a hold (got flustered momentarily going to the hold but got it back and flew, I think, a pretty hold), and then we went out north and I did some good unusual-attitude recoveries. To cap it all off, we proceeded back in and did the GPS 17 approach to McGregor with the autopilot. N2150G has kind of a flaky/picky autopilot, and that always makes things fun, but I got some grace there and the approach went well. All in all, the flight was 1.4. Nice to be done with this stage!

So this weekend, we had to go rescue N19NS from Wiley Post in Oklahoma City. I flew Parker up in N2150G (with Tim, since the weather was IMC), and got 3.3 hours out of it. Then, I got to fly the Mooney home! Not many people fly 1.3 hour of actual in their first Mooney flight, but that was a pretty neat first...first Mooney flight, and lots of actual instrument time in it. The first landing was.not.pretty. Pilot-induced oscillations are not cool and I don't want to do that again. You really have to have speed discipline in the Mooney. The second try was really, really nice. All that to say, I'm really looking forward to spending the next month doing the Commercial in it. I think Alisa is posting some pictures of the flight soon.

Onwards and upwards. Blue skies (or skies with applicable minimums for the published approach!).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

By popular demand...

Wow, it's been a while. So, I've been hearing that people actually read this thing and my absence has been noticed. That's kinda cool.

We're in the midst of some typical late winter/early spring weather here in Waco. In fact, I'm sitting in the Waco Flight Training office listening to an American Eagle ERJ-145 fly an ASR (Airport Surveillance Radar) approach into Waco. Not really sure why...(Jerome, do you Colgan guys ever do that?), but the weather is definitely not pretty and definitely just barely above ILS minimums.

Tim and I did my long instrument cross-country last week. Emphasis on long. It was supposed to be about a 2.5 hour trip, but the winds turned it into a 4.8 hour trip that got us home at about 0230. We flew the DUMPY 2 arrival into Addison and flew one of the more interesting ILS's I've ever shot...can you say low-level wind shear in a C-172? Then, we flew on to Tyler and Waco. Tyler to Waco was the long leg...with headwinds we were making about 60 knots over the ground. We were nice and wore out by the time we got in the neighborhood of Waco, where we were greeted with a nice low layer of clouds in which to fly the 14 DME arc and VOR 14 approach to get home and into bed. All in all, a good flight.

I'm just a couple of flights short now. We need to get 4 more hours of dual so I can qualify for my checkride, but the weather is holding us up. We were supposed to go today, but the weather is supposed to stay low and I have to go to Dallas to pick Parker up in a bit (he took the Mooney to Kansas City yesterday and is stuck in Oklahoma City, so is Southwesting it to Love). Tommorrow might work, and if not, I'll be looking at rescheduling my checkride. Ahh, Central Texas springtime.

Not to worry...the Commercial won't take that much and Tim and I are still confident that I'll be ready in time for my May CFI school date.

I just spent the past few days in Seattle at a conference for grad school. Didn't get to do any flying there (I'd hoped to get seaplane current at Kenmore Air), but I decided to make this a budget trip. Did have a lot of fun and eat a lot of seafood, but it was nice to get back home and get on schedule.

Think that's all for now...I'll blog more when I know what's going on with my checkride.

Blue (or at least ILS minimum) skies!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Formation mission

So, Parker and I decided we needed some really cool photos for the Waco Flight Training website (it goes live later today at www.wacoflighttraining.com. check it out!). This called for an air-to-air mission, which we carried out this morning. If you've never tried a segment takeoff with a 172 and a Mooney, I highly recommend it. Really made me want that RV-8 I've always wanted to build, though!

Below are some of the results. I'm back into the instrument flying first thing tomorrow morning, and the checkride is about two weeks out. Almost there. And believe me, I can't wait to get my hands on the controls of that Mooney!






The fleet is in place!



Just a quick line today. Yesterday, I had the privelege of flying N2150G to its new home at Waco Regional Airport. Waco Flight Training is officially a reality! Nothing like seeing the "fleet" in place to motivate a person to push on towards that CFI!

More on this weekend later.

Friday, February 27, 2009

IFR Written = Passed

Not too bad at all...and one step closer to the rating and my ultimate goal! My score wasn't exactly as high as I wanted, but it was pretty cool to go in there feeling like I was reasonably assured of passing. I made about a point higher than the 2008 national average. I'll let you, reader, do the homework/math on that :).

Written exam in an hour and a half

Well, it's that time. I used the Sporty's Pilot Shop ground school course over the past month to get ready, and in the past week I've taken 10 practice exams on www.mypilottests.com (great website by the way). Steadily, I've gotten my scores up to where I just got a 92 in 26 minutes and then a 90 in 20 minutes.

Neat thing is, you have two and a half hours to take the test. Other neat thing is, the practice test uses questions from the real FAA test bank and the real computer supplements (sample approach plates, L-charts, etc.). I know it's possible to not do as well as you'd like to do on these things, but I'll risk jinxing myself here just before my test and say that there's not much of an excuse for not at least passing with all the study resources out there (and, assuming you really care about getting the rating).

I think I'm as ready as I'm going to get. I thought about taking one more practice, but I don't want to burn out before I go take the real thing. Score to beat is 87, which is what I scored on my Private Pilot written way back in 2000. Update this afternoon, probably around 4:00 pm.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Getting close

Two more flights in----we've managed to fly three of four days this week so far. We've been really hitting it hard hitting the local approaches, because I want to have seen each one at least 2-3 times before the checkride. We're really in that fine-tuning phase today.

Each flight lately has been pretty close to a "pass." Today only had a couple of not-so-brilliant moments, the most egregious of which being the one where I flew through the final aproach course before turning outbound on the ILS 19 backcourse. You know I won't forget to do that again...

Other than that, the approaches were beautiful. We also finally got to practice an ASR (Airport Surveillance Radar) approach. These are usually used when you have a navigational instrument fail, and entail the approach controller prompting you "turn left. stop turn. on course. descend now to 2000." This happens all the way down to a Minimum Descent Altitude, which happens to be 880 at Waco. It's the ultimate test of your faith in the controllers (especially when you're doing it while also simulating a vacuum pump failure, which we were today).

I've taken about 8 practice IFR written exams so far, and my scores are running in the high 80's. It's fair to say that I am MUCH more prepared for the IFR written than my Private written. I'm not really worried about it. Then, there's the checkride. Two and a half months and change until I need to be instructing, and we're still on pace. Unbelievably, I might add. I still can't believe how fast we're moving. But it sure is fun!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Polishing

Had a really good day today. My intercepts were good, my approaches were good, and yes, even the elusive hold looked really good. When your instructor says, "if you have a flight like today on your checkride, you have no worries," it just makes you smile. So, the contest is on for tomorrow to see if I can replicate today.

I took my first practice written exam on Friday and got an 85, so a few more rounds with that and I'll be onto the real deal.
Finally, Parker and I took the Mooney to Longview for a checkup today. We averaged around 160 knots GS at 9.9 per hour. Beat that! I flew a practice ILS on the way back home...from the right seat, no less. I think I'm going to like flying the Mooney :).

Another early morning tomorrow, so blue skies for now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Redemption

Today was a good day. Temperature: 36F. Humidity: almost non-existent. The 172 climbed like it thought it was a Mooney. Two approaches, an ILS and a VOR, went beautifully. There just isn't a whole lot more to say. We're definitely in that phase of training where we're mostly polishing for the checkride. Realistically, I have one week and a long cross-country left before we do a few intense checkride-prep flights and then it's "here we go." That's actually an old song (by Pat Green) that tends to stick in my mind during those "I can't believe I'm doing this/I can't believe I'm finally doing this" moments, and it's been on repeat lately. It kind of became my anthem in college.

Anyway, I ramble. Today, I finish my IFR prep videos and do my first practice written. I'll update here how I did---good, bad, or ugly. And, just in time, my Commercial pilot kit from Gleim came in yesterday. Gotta stay ahead.

Since I'm not as long-winded today, I want to take a minute before I close to say something about Flight 3407, the Colgan flight lost in Buffalo last week. There's a lot of "probable cause" opinions/theories/stupid guesses out there in the media right now. I want to encourage my friends to take these theories with a grain of salt, or just plain ignore them in the best-case scenario. These NTSB investigations take time for a reason, and it will no-kidding be a year before a probable-cause report comes out.

In the mean time, remember that the flight crew, not just the passengers, left behind families and friends. Remember, also that aviation is really an incredibly small world and you have no idea who around you may be personally impacted by something like this. If you're a non-pilot, keep flying. If you're a pilot, fly those numbers tighter when you're IFR and take that extra few minutes for a thorough preflight. And refrain from furthering all the opinions that are out there right now. I think that's all I have to say on that topic.

On to studying for the written. Keep the shiny side up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Long-winded update

I've been falling behind on my blogging lately. I guess it's the 4:30 am wake-up every morning, combined with grad school responsibilities, catching up with me. Things are going well. After last weekend, we've been doing a lot of approach work here locally to try and polish things. The ILSs are looking great, and I shot two of the most beautiful GPS approaches possible this morning. We're also integrating more partial-panel work. Here's the rub. I can fly an approach really well partial panel, but partial panel holds are killing me. It took me three turns this morning to get anywhere near what I wanted, and that was on a published hold. I'll keep working on it.

Tuesday morning was something of a milestone for me. When we left McGregor, reported ceilings were 600 AGL. On all the approaches there, you need rougly 500 feet to get back in. As soon as I got the airplane trimmed for an 85 knot enroute climb, we were in the soup. We'd stay that way the entire flight. First, we headed over to Waco. We got vectors for the ILS 19. I was a little tenser than normal; it was my first ILS in hard-core soup. It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get the localizer and glideslope to calm down, but when they did it was a really pretty approach. You can't underestimate how cool it is to look up just above DH and see those approach lights fade into view.

Then, we headed back to McGregor. We first got vectors for the GPS 35 back in. We shot it all the way to minimums. Literally at our MDA, we spotted the field. But, this would have required a downwind landing. We at first tried to circle, but when we did we lost the field. So, we got vectors again for the GPS 17. This time, not as much of a problem. Just as before, right at MDA we spotted the field and made a safe landing. There was some discussion between my instructor and the chief instructor about whether or not we should have even gone on that flight, and I see both sides. What I will, say, though, are two things. First, if I'm solo on a day like that, I'm going missed and shooting the ILS over at Waco. No question. Second, I consider myself fortunate to be going into an instrument rating really knowing what minimums LOOK like. I consider it a good flight and a turning point.

The checkride is now getting closer...should be within about 2 weeks, maybe 3 if it's hard to schedule. Which means I'm starting to study more and more for the written. The pressure of completing my grad school case study by late April, and getting the Commercial and my FOI and CFI writtens done around the same time so I can make my tentative CFI class in early May, is mounting. It's time to just chill a little bit and enjoy what I'm doing. Which is fly. Every morning. And that still beats the best day in any office I've worked in.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A good weekend

Two IFR cross-countries and 6.3 hours later, I'm feeling pretty good. Yesterday, we went out to Stephenville and I got to shoot my first "Alpha" approach, where the final approach course is more than 30 degrees off the runway. Hard 8 Barbecue at Stephenville, by the way, is highly recommended. It's a five minute walk from the FBO, or if you call them they'll pick you up. It's one of those barbecue places where you order at the pit. Get the jalepeno sausage. Just trust me.

Partial-panel most of the way back into Waco, and a GPS approach back into McGregor.

Today, we did a cross-country to Brenham. This was my first GPS approach where the initial approach fix isn't also an airway waypoint, so I got some good practice transitioning from the airway to GPS-direct navigation. Did the hold as published on the approach, and it went really well. Did another hold as published on the way back into McGregor, and this time it was partial panel. Tim seemed pretty pleased with it.

Today involved food as well. The Southern Flyer diner on the field there at Brenham has great food (I liked the chicken fried steak sandwhich) and a great ramp-side view. Brenham is a great example of a small town that treats its airport right and reaps the rewards. Very busy pattern there today.

All in all, a great weekend of flying. And, I'm at about 26 hours of IFR training now. Scary...it's been less than a month and I'm within 15 hours of a checkride. But, I'm feeling confident about it and coming along with my studying for the written.

On another note, I got to meet N19NS today. I'll put some pictures of her up soon. She's the Mooney I've been talking about. We went up this evening with Parker. Really, really nice controls. It's like flying a sportscar. I'm going to enjoy getting to know her.

Six a.m. show time tomorrow, so time to unwind for a while!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A grudging friendship with the IFR Hold

Just completed flight number 11 this morning. I'm really starting to relax a little more (but not too much!) and get comfortable that I'm bordering on knowing what I'm doing on instruments. This was our third flight working on holds. Let's just say we made progress. On the first try (a couple of days ago), the mental model that I'd thought would help me determine the method of entry into the hold completely failed me. Yesterday, I had the entry decision down but the execution was still sloppy.

Today, I finally flew a hold that my instructor called "textbook." I'll take that. The next one we did today (an intersection hold...these are more challenging because you're basing your "I'm at the station" point on a DME distance or a cross-radial) wasn't as good, but I think I can improve that tomorrow. All things considered, I'm feeling a lot better about my grasp of a procedure that seems to be most people's least-favorite part of instrument flying (in fact, a guy that's working on his CFI walked into the office just as I typed that line and, when I told him I've been working on holds, told me "I hate holds").

We have two-a-days this weekend. Since most of my flights have been about 1.5 hours, this weekend ought to get me about 6 more hours in, or a little past halfway through the curriculum. I can't believe we've moved this quickly. Just goes to show you what flying every day can do for your retention. After this experience, I'll always be a proponent of accelerated flight training programs for most students under most circumstances. No way I'd progress like this if I was only flying an hour a week.

More Saturday evening. Keep the greasy side down!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The view from the top

Alisa took these pictures a couple of weekends ago on a morning flight, but I just recently got around to posting them. Enjoy.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Instrument XC and flight school progress

Today was a good day. It did start early, though. The alarm went off at 3am, but getting out of bed to fly an airplane is one of the easier reasons to go ahead and get with it. By 0445, I was on the phone to flight service (after a 10-minute wait...does Lockheed Martin have a land line connected to some alarm clock somewhere? I mean really, a 10-minute wait before 0500?). Anyway, the plan was McGregor-Fort Worth Meacham via the SLUGG 5 arrival, ILS approach at Meacham, then home to McGregor via the JOE POOL 3 departure. We were cleared as filed, and away we went.

Tracking on the way up and on the way back went really well. I think I've just about got this bracketing thing down. Really proud of that, because it gave me fits when I first started (waay back, two weeks ago :)) and was trying to use these monstrous correction angles.

The ILS into Meacham went beautifully. Really no problems at all holding the localizer and I only got above the glideslope briefly. Looked up and saw the approach end of the runway just as we hit our DH. We executed a modified (by ATC) missed approach and they vectored us to our first fix on the JOE POOL 3, and we were on our way home.

The wind was wicked by this point...I think we averaged 56 knots GPS-indicated ground speed. I don't know if I went that slow in the Cub last weekend. The convenient thing about this departure is it brings you back into the Waco VORTAC at about 186 degrees, and the final approach course for the VOR 17 at McGregor is 185 degrees. Voila, a no-procedure turn approach was granted without our approach.

The wind got sporty down below 3,000, but my landing was pretty much a greaser. Good cap to a good day of flying. Best part is, I think, that at least 2/3 of the flight was actual IMC. I'm getting more actual IMC in my instrument training than anyone else I can remember, and it's a total blast.

In other news, I did an oral stage check with the Chief Instructor at McGregor this evening. Went really well. He actually brought up the fact that the grapevine holds that me and Parker are starting a flight school over at Waco this spring, and seemed pretty cool about it. Have an in-air stage check Tuesday night, but it's stage 1 so it will be basic attitude flying, etc. Shouldn't be a problem.

Speaking of the flight school, we started moving furniture into our (small) office in the maintenance hangar at Texas Aero today. It's upstairs on a catwalk that overlooks the hangar bay and out through the hangar doors. Markedly improved view from my last office. Waco Flight Training keeps getting closer to reality. And, Parker just decided to put the Mooney on the line so once I get my retract hours (50---I'm going to do the second half of my Instrument in a 182 RG and then my Commercial in the Mooney) I'll get to instruct in a 1990 M20J. Sweet!

I'm now off to crash (on the couch) and then sleep late tomorrow. Training resumes at 0600 sharp on Monday!