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 (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


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


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.'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!

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Two flights in the last two days...we had to scrub Tuesday because the airplane was down, but we're back on track. We've intro'd ILS approaches, and it's going pretty well. I was a little worried about these, because the ILS signal makes your nav equipment about 4 times more sensitive than a VOR approach.

But, everyone was right. Once you intercept that localizer & glideslope, it takes very minute corrections to keep on them. It's a cool feeling to look up and find the runway right where it's supposed to be, which is just what happened today when Tim and I flew the ILS 19 approach into Temple (KTPL).

The flights are getting more and more intensive, and I'm finding that I'm able to absorb more information and (more importantly) handle a greater workload in the cockpit. Tomorrow, we're going to Fort Worth Meacham (direct from KPWG via the Slugg Five Arrival, if you're playing along at home) and back to KWPG via the Joe Pool Three Departure. I'm in charge of comms for the entire flight this time, as well as everything else. I'm stoked about the flight, which makes the 0430 show time a little easier to handle.

Also, I have a 9-hour stage check tomorrow. It should be easier, because we're so far ahead of the syllabus right now. I'm not too worried about basic attitude flying and time compass turns at this point, and it sounds like that's what I'm expected to demonstrate. No strong point throughout all this has been that my ability to fly the airplane has never at all been an issue.

On the job front, we're moving stuff into the flight school office tomorrow morning. My boss is flying to Cleveland next weekend to pick up a Mooney, and just like that we'll be a two-plane operation when I come on board in May. Lots of people indicating interest, which is a serious blessing in this economy. I think it's possible we may have slightly more demand we can handle.

I've also found a place at Hooks Airport in Houston where (assuming I've completed the FOI, CFI, and CFI-I writtens pressure) I can do the CFI-I as my initial and then my CFI-A as an add-on in the course of two weeks. And, at a pretty reasonable price. Will be looking into that option closely, because we're going to get to "that time" pretty quickly.

Onwards and upwards. Next report tomorrow after my cross-country. Blue skies!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cub pilot meets G1000

This morning started out looking like it was going to be a case of deja vu all over again. We were on the schedule to fly 103, because somebody else had already claimed my favorite instrument mount, 50G (affectionately known as "fitty-golf"). We get to the airport, and 103 is nowhere around. Somebody conveniently forgot to call and tell us that it went down for maintenance on Saturday. You can imagine how thrilled I was with the idea of starting another week with a scrubbed flight.

Anyway, Tim suggested that we take the G1000-equipped 172 out and give it a try. I was hesitant, because I'd been of the opinion that a G1000 would make a pretty poor training platform. It was a cool feeling as we started the pre-flight, though, because those two big monitors in the panel make you feel like you're doing the cockpit preflight on an ERJ-145 or something. More about the G1000 issue as the story continues.

Anyway, we started the flight with a 0-0 takeoff (in other words, for you non-pilots, I took off with my "foggles" on using only the instruments to maintain the runway center line and know when to lift off). We went out to the practice area. I could tell on the way out I was having problems holding an altitude. On that G1000, you get indications of really small variations since you have a digital readout. With a regular altimeter, if you're assigned 3000 feet you try to keep the needle relatively near 3000, plus or minus 100 feet for fudge room.

Same with the VSI (vertical speed indicator). You try in general to keep the needle centered (which indicates a "0" climb/descent rate). The VSI tape on the G1000, though, gives you every little deviation. So, where I would just hold what I had on an airplane with steam gauges I found myself chasing numbers on the G1000.

I'm not saying I'm not a precise pilot. But what I am saying is that I think it might do more harm than good to know that I'm at 3080 feet with a 125 feet-per-minute climb. On regular gauges I'd ride that out and let the airplane stablize before I tried to fix deviations that small. Anyway, I digress.

We also did some 45 degree angle bank (steep turns), and started in on unusual attitudes. They're surprisingly fun. Finally, we capped the ride off with the VOR 17 approach into McGregor. The high point of the flight was that my bracketing has gotten better, so my tracking on that outbound radial looked a lot cleaner. My procedure turn also looked really good.

Tomorrow, we start ILS approaches. I'm stoked.

Now, what about the G1000? I spent more time learning the system and chasing needles then I did flying the airplane to my usual standards. Would that change over time? Yes? Would I put any student in that airplane who was pre-private? Probably not.

The situational awareness offered by the G1000 is great, but sometimes excessive information makes it too easy to ignore the old saying, "always fly the airplane." Really cool gee-whiz factor and good for people who want to get advanced ratings or move up, but as a CFI I'll steer primary students to steam gauges.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weekend of flying just for fun

After a week of scratched flights due to weather, I should get back on track this week. In fact, if everything goes according to plan Tim and I will fly every morning this week and then do two-a-days this coming weekend. Unusual attitudes and more VOR tracking are on the docket for tomorrow.

I did get some quality stick time this weekend, though. Went to Victoria for an EAA meeting. On Saturday, Dean Cooper and I went airport-hopping in his C-150 for about three hours. Met some great folks at the new Calhoun Air Center down in Port Lavaca (KPKV). If you're ever in that neighborhood, stop in for some fuel, coffee, and conversation.

Then, this morning Wesley and I took the Cub down to PKV and did some touch-and-gos on their nice turf crosswind runway. It was good to do some stick-and-rudder work and fly a "real" airplane for a change.

Okay, 0500 will come early tomorrow and I'm not feeling particularly eloquent, so I think I'll call it a night.