Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 In Review

2012 turned out to be a reasonably good year for my aviation adventures.  First, the numbers:

  • Time for 2012: 78.0 hours
  • Pilot in Command Time: 67.3 hours
  • Cross-Country: 57.8 hours (55.8 PIC)
  • Simulated instrument time: 1.4 hours.  
  • Zero real instrument time (thank goodness)
  • Night flying: 0.4 hours (3 laps around the patch at KPWK to be night current/legal for a fly out that never happened. 
  • Total time as of 12/31/12: 131.0 hours

Accomplishments major and otherwise:

  • Passed Private Pilot SEL checkride on March 25, 2012
  • Transitioned from DA-20-C1 to C-172. 
  • First trip "going somewhere," which included a landing at the now closed Blue Ash Airport (KISZ).  
  • Longest Cross-Country to date: Chicago Dupage (KDPA) -  Burke Lakefront (KBKL) in Cleveland (295.9 nm straight line, although it obviously took a bit longer to avoid nasty airspace problems and flying over open water).  This was a trip I did not write about, but I basically flew a Cessna 172P N62681 to Cleveland to visit my sister and her boyfriend.  Being an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I had to resist the temptation to toss something into Browns' stadium while on approach to 6R.  I also learned some fun facts about how some Cessna's don't exactly drink evenly from both tanks.  This plane also had the least sexy avionics I'd ever flown - no GPS, radios did not allow for swapping frequencies, and it was the first carburated aircraft I'd flown.  
  • Gave 3 first flights (Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink, the Banana, and the Boy) and 1 second flight to a person who had not flown with me before.  My children have learned the joys of the $100 ice cream run.  
  • Joined Fox Flying Club out at KDPA.  I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this because I really love the folks out at Skill.  However, Fox lets me fly for at least 1/3 less than I was paying there and the planes are very well maintained (as they are at Skill).  I am maintaining currency at both locations for now because sometimes I need another option.  
  • My two downsides are that day in September I won't rehash, and December 2012 has been a TERRIBLE month for flying.  I've logged all of 1.7 hours in December, with six (!) weathered-out flights.  Five of these were training/transition flights to our club's Archer, and one was a club fly out to KEYE for dinner.  I was really looking forward to this latter adventure as both a community-building time as well as a chance to do a nice night cross country with a more experienced pilot. 

Goals for 2013

  • Fly at least 100 hours (do all GA pilots say this?)
  • Fly at least 15 hours at night
  • Fly at least 70 cross-country hours
  • Complete my instrument rating.  
    • On this score, I have already procured the King's ground school offering and Rod Machado's IFR Survival Book for the iPad.  I also met with an instructor for a little ground school to talk about my scan and compass errors.  I'd have already started the training if I could have gotten at least one solid VFR day for that Archer transition so that my instructor would know that I can "follow directions."  Scheduled for a flight tomorrow at 09:00 local, so we'll see.  If we can get this going, it's reasonable to be done by April since the lovely and gracious Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink has agreed to a twice-a-week flying schedule.  Ok, it was more like "negotiated" but still... 
  • Complete Complex Endorsement and required transition training in our club's Arrow.  I intend to accomplish this while completing the instrument rating to save [quite] a few bucks.  Beyond the required training for the endorsement, there seems to be no specific requirements other than really being sure you don't land gear up.  Might as well use it to complete my instrument ticket.  
So, that's my year in review and looking toward the future.  I do hope to have more time to post about my adventure.  I have certainly had some fun that I didn't write about, like flying with my son to Watertown, Wisconsin for a Culver's run (like I don't have one five minutes away...).  But it's a lot more fun.  

Happy flying!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Saying Goodbye To an Old Friend

I recently decided to allow my "club currency" in the Diamond DA-20 to lapse.  The company requires that one fly the plane at least once in the preceding 60 days to be considered current.  Yet I realized that I was only really flying this plane in order to maintain said currency.

Although it is not the plane in which I had my first flight (that was a Skyhawk), I completed virtually all of my training for the private pilot certificate in this plane.  Even still I have flown this type more than any other as of this writing (77.9 of 120.0 hours).  It's the plane in which I gave the Banana her first flight (shown above) as well as her first taste of stalls, steep turns and ground reference maneuvers. 

I confess to feeling a bit sad about this.  I've created many memories in this aircraft - most of them good: my first solo and solo cross country, my check ride, landings sweet and otherwise, and of course my first shots of the Chicago skyline came from the left seat of this plane. I also prefer not to think about a solo where I darn near killed myself (at least it seemed that way) when I thought I was going to lose directional control on the runway, or coming ridiculously close to a certain biplane that did not seem to be making radio calls in the pattern at Dixon (C73). 

Goodbye, old friend.  You've been a trusted companion.  Yet it seems our times in the sky have come to an end at least for now.  I'll always remember our last dance - that beautiful squeaker on 16 at PWK with gusty winds 80 degrees off the runway.  A fitting way to go out. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting Lost in the Cockpit: Adventures in Glass

Today I took my first solo flight in a G1000 equipped C172, which was rather interesting.  I took a brief flight in this same airplane during my primary training so that my instructor and I could fly back a DA-20, and then completed a VFR checkout in it a few weeks ago.  This coupled with several viewings of Sporty's G1000 Checkout videos should have prepared me for today's flight.

Holy crap.  There is just so much going on with these displays, and I was warned that it is easy to get lost inside the cockpit trying to figure out how something works while the plane does all kinds of bad things.  I won't say I totally resisted the temptation to get lost, but I did heed the instructor's advice about using the autopilot and making sure it's doing what you expect it to before going on a pushing, twisting, and cursing mission.

Some advice for transitioning to glass:

1.  Review one of the educational offerings such as from Sporty's or the Kings before trying to take this on.  I confess that this is a blessing and a curse, though.  There were things I was trying to get the system to do that I just could not remember how to accomplish. 

2.  Use that autopilot.  Although the 172s that I fly all have something resembling an autopilot, I tend not to use them to build stick and rudder skills and I find that those systems that only hold a heading or following your GPS track are annoying.  But this keeps you from practicing CFIT if you get distracted, and N97VA has a real autopilot that will maintain course and altitude.

3.  Always know how to go back to the basics.  The instructor who checked me out said that if I can't figure out how to make the system do what I want it to, use the ways that I know.  For example, the Sporty's video says that selecting frequencies from the waypoint menu is the preferred way to enter frequencies, but I still have not figured out how to do that.  Fortunately, there is a method that anyone who is familiar with a 430 or 530 will immediately recognize.

4.  Today, I tried to do everything that a VFR pilot might want to do.  Instead I should have simply reviewed the basics that I had previously mastered and then chosen one or two of the more useful or important things to add on.

5.  Don't totally rely on the MFD to provide you weather.  While on the leg between KVPZ and KARR, I attempted to pull up the METAR for KARR.  I think that I was successful in telling the system what I wanted, but it simply told me that there was no data.  Sigh.  Thank goodness for the old fashion method.

6.  I think that Garmin has a simulator that can be downloaded from its website, and that is probably worth spending some time with before trying to fly the plane while you're at it.

7.  Remember that you may have more than one instrument to adjust.  With any G1000, you have at least two altimeter settings and in my case three (7VA does not have the fancy Garmin flight director, but a  KAP140 that works pretty well but requires a third barometer setting). 

Conclusion: I'm not sure yet that I actually LIKE the G1000.  Yes, it has many very powerful tools and I can see being very useful.  But I did not like how I got away from enjoying the scenery and flying the plane and instead got fascinated with gizmos.  Yet having on-board weather from XM being relatively easily able to access airspace information relative to your position is very handy. 

So, how was the flight?  I departed KUGN and followed the Chicago shoreline to KVPZ where I executed a bouncing go-around and a decent landing that was just a bit longer than I would have preferred it.  I then headed west to KARR and had a go-around (gust just as I was about to touch down made me nervous) and a smooth landing.  Finally, back to KUGN with "calm" winds being defined as direct 5-knot crosswind across runway 5.  While I appreciate a straight in approach as much as the next guy, it would have been easier to take 32.  However, my landing was pretty nice overall and I quit while I was ahead.  Things were fairly bumpy and 5-10 knot gusts were enjoyed at VPZ and ARR.    

I got some pictures of downtown Chicago that I'll post later.  As I headed from VPZ to ARR, I crossed paths with a couple of jets (a Southwest 737 and an RJ) going into Midway (KMDW).  I would have gotten a picture or two, but I was hand flying at this point and a bit worried that I had crossed up some airspace given where I was in relation to where those aircraft were.  By the time I confirmed that I was clear of ORD's Bravo and MDW's Charlie as I believed I was all along the opportunities had passed. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

DuBois... Denied

Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, the kiddoes and I were supposed to fly to DuBois Regional Airport (KDUJ) to visit my parents.  Here is the prog chart for the time we're to be airborne:

As you can see, we're forecast to have a nasty mix of marginal VFR and IFR weather along with some rain between Chicago and Western Pennsylvania.  Grandma is already disappointed and the kids will be in the morning when I don't wake them up at 6 am.

I've been looking forward to this in part because KDUJ was built on my great-grandparent's farm that was commandeered by the federal government because it seemed like a swell place to put an airport.  I also have heard that until recently there was a tree near one end the runway that my father fell out of and broke his arm as a kid. 

Of course, if I had that instrument rating this would all be of little consequence.  Well, there is that freezing level and turbulence... but the latter clears out by the next chart. 



First, before you read this you really should find Tim Minchin's "Confessions" on YouTube and hear the chorus going through your head before your read this.   It seems only appropriate.  This is a very hard post to write so a bit of humor helps.

September 29, 2012 will forever live as a day of infamy in my logbook.  It was the first time both of my children flew with me, and they actually did fairly well.  We departed KPWK in an unnamed Skyhawk and enjoyed the changing foliage as we headed for Janesville, Wisconsin (KJVL).  The plan was the enjoy some lunch at Kealy's and then depart to KDPA to check out the Pilot Shop on the field.

All was going well, and my straight in approach to Runway 30 was very nice.  Despite having to isolate myself from the rest of what was going on in the cockpit, my landing was on center line, smooth, and almost gentle even.  I was quite pleased with myself as we taxied over to the ramp.  Very nice.  Of course, my celebration was about to be overshadowed.

As we taxied to the ramp, there was a fair amount going on.  The Banana and the Boy had both decided that they wanted to take off their headsets, which was fine.  I was looking for where I was "supposed" to park the plane (mistake #1), and became tunnel visioned (mistake #2) as I found a place where the paint was conveniently painted on the ramp.  There was just one problem. The pilot forgot about these silly long things hanging off the side of the plane called wings (mistake #3).  All this coupled with forgetting that there was a temporary fence in place for construction (mistake #4) led to a very unceremonious stop... and a loud "what the hell!?!?!?!?!   Teaching my children new vocabulary was not part of the mission today.  What just happened? 

I looked out the right side of the plane to see that my wing just got into a fight with a pole and lost.  Pole 1 - Wing 0.  (insert Tim Minchin tune here).  Dammit.  (Note: this is about how it reads in my logbook, too). 

As you might imagine, I have been licking my wounds over this one.  A phone call and a picture to the flight school was executed, and the Banana, the Boy and I walked into Kealy's for some fare.  They enjoyed their fries and whatever else they ate.  I had a couple of pancakes, which were actually huge and pretty tasty.  It was really hard to enjoy them. 

So, after an hour I sent my instructor an email message and asked him if it was normal to feel like you should tear up your certificate after such an incident.  His response was priceless, "If you did that while taxiing, you might want to give up your driver's license instead."  Thanks, Jason. I needed that. I've also gotten encouragement from several other folks at the school, including the man who administered my check ride. 

So, they brought up another plane and a few instructors (which cost me a mint, you betcha).  One of them flew the wounded machine back to the hanger while I flew with the other instructor and my children in the other plane.  I was pleased that he was an instructor and we were in another Skyhawk.  I flew the plane back to KPWK and dealt with some squirrley winds and my shaken confidence.  My first go at RWY 34 was long because of the interesting tower instructions of "extend your downwind" and "turn base now" along with a tailwind.  So, I went around and the winds had just shifted and were favoring 12.  Managed to have a reasonable landing there that was on center line and about where I wanted it.  It was a good flight, and it did increase my confidence a little. 

Since then, I did a G1000 checkout in another Skyhawk (that's a whole other post!) and on another day flew from KUGN to Monroe, Wisconsin (KUES) where I did three nice landings.  My landing back at UGN was also reasonable - long because I was a bit too serious about avoiding wake turbulence but with significant crosswinds. 

I guess the good news here is that my landings are much improved in the Skyhawk.  So much for shredding the certificate. 

.... F**** I love.....  (you really gotta play the YouTube video.  Just so you know, there are some potty words here). 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Link: Fox News and the Grumbling Airline CEO

Fox News posted the following opinion piece today about the state of affairs in the airline industry.  I found myself chuckling, amused and frightened thinking about how many laws of business are getting violated, and thankful that I can fly myself wherever I want to go in these continental United States.... though I might pay mightily for it in time and money.  It's more fun though!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Banana and The Bomber

On Friday, August 31 my children were both off and had not yet started school.  Of course, the Banana had been bugging me to go flying again and this seemed like the perfect excuse.  We had a fun day in store.

We arrived at KPWK and as usual did a diligent pre-flight of the DA-20 that would serve as our flying carpet for the day.  During the rituals, the Banana discovered the stall horn and was amused as she made it squeak a number of times.  "Don't suck in any bugs!" I warned her, but she was undeterred.  "If you want, I'll show you what that does while we fly."  Intrigued, she helped remove chalks and plug in her headset in order to expedite our process.

We departed KPWK, and maneuvered around the Chicago Bravo airspace to head west toward Rochelle (KRPJ).  Somewhere abeam DeKalb we came across a large open quarry, which served as a great spectacle for our steep turns and some nearby ground reference maneuvers.  These were "cool," I'm told.  On a personal note, my performance was adequate and probably to PTS but frankly I could have done better.  As we climbed back up to altitude I asked the Banana if we should see what that horn was all about.  She agreed, and I talked through a power-off and then power-on stall.  She squealed with delight and amusement.  After all of this play, it was topped off with the Banana getting a chance to keep the plane straight and level as well as making some turns.  She was much more game this time around.

Back on course for RPJ, we made all our appropriate radio calls as I overflew the field to be sure of the wind direction.  Two planes were there to take off; one had back taxied on 25 and the other decided to take it from the junction.  As I was trying to join the left downwind, these two turkeys began arguing about two planes on the runway at the same time.  I got pretty angry as they were causing a safety hazard while they argued over one.  The Banana got scared as she misread my anger for fear, and asked several times if we were going to die.  "No, honey.  It's just that these two guys want to argue about safety but are making our flight unsafe.  When you fly, don't do that."  I was able to get my base-turn call in, and was about to ask them to take it off frequency but they quieted down.
Our landing on 25 was very nice, and we shut down and went hunting for lunch.  Apparently, the restaurant on the field is not exactly open yet; a small fact that one would not have discerned from the website at the time.  Sigh.  Fortunately, the fine gentleman at the airport set us up with a crew car, and we headed over to Eddi's for some decent fair.  The Banana had a hotdog and some fries, and I took care of an Eddi burger.  On a positive note, we saw a group of skydivers returning to the field.  "would you do that, daddy?"  "No... I can't see the point of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane." 

We lit the fires and headed a little further west to circle over Dixon Correctional Center, which is where I completed my post-doctoral residency in order to obtain the required hours to sit for licensure as a clinical psychologist.  It was funny to see the X-house from 5500', and the Banana had lots of questions about the experience.

Turning back toward the east, we set course for Lewis University (KLOT) to see about a bomber.  The Experimental Aircraft Association had their B-17 Bomber "Aluminum Overcast" on display.  Listening to the CTAF I could hear that it was a fairly busy pattern, though it had quieted down as we approached.  The Banana got to fly over top of a cloud, which would have made her day if she had not decided to take a little snooze.  It was fairly breezy at this point, but we had a serviceable landing on 27.  This approach is a little strange for me since there is a pretty big cavern to the east that was dug by the river.  Just like the water hazard in golf... not in play.  But it was a little unnerving.

The B-17 was a BIG success with the Banana.  She was absolutely amazed by this machine and spent quite a bit of time exploring the various aspects of it.  We went through the inside of the plane four times, and she was amused at me squeezing through the bomb bay walk way.  It was tight for us pudgy Americans!  We made sure to look at the cockpit (I'm sure that Garmin 430 was not stock equipment!), the various stations and particularly the gun turrets.  There was a man there who had flown in the flying fortress, and talked about being in the belly turret.  He was tall and it looked tight, which he assured me it was.

On our way back to PWK, I had initially intended to thread the needle between KDPA's class Delta airspace and the limits of the 1900 shelf of the Bravo.  I had the chart open on the iPad, but unfortunately the DA-20's 530 was not showing those boundaries.  BAH!  What's a poor boy to do?!?  I lost altitude to 1700', turned northwest, and called up KDPA tower to request a transition to the north.  This helped me stay out of O'Hare's way (always a grand idea) and to get set up for our arrival to KPWK.

Sigh... winds.  We were getting ready to have a storm, and the winds were letting us know all about it.  The winds were 240@9G17 as I arrived, which was different than the ATIS information.  I was given a straight in for runway 16, which initially freaked me out a bit.  Naughty winds and 80 degrees off the runway.  I took a deep breath and said to myself, "You can always go around and ask for 24."  As you may recall from my last post, I really don't like 6-24 at PWK but it would have been better.

Not necessary.  I had a beautifully stable approach and a nice smooth touchdown on centerline.  I yelled, "OH YEAH!" and Banana protested that I hurt her ears.  Sorry, kiddo but you do know what I mean now when I tell you not to sing in the microphone.  As we were packing up, the DPE who administered by PPL checkride came in.  I had to share this because I needed to tell SOMEONE who'd appreciate this victory.

Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink enjoyed our pictures and hearing about the day... except I got the third degree about these "stalls" that the Banana mentioned.   Tee hee.

Plane: DA-20-C1 N399JA
Time: 2.8 hours.   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Hazy Trip to Michigan

Yesterday I took a flight from Chicago Executive (KPWK) along the Lake Michigan shoreline around to Benton Harbor, Michigan (KBEH), which was enjoyable as usual.  It was a very smooth day for flying, although the wicked heat and humidity made from quite a bit of haze that really disturbed my view out over the lake.  The words of my instructor rang through my ears when we did my night cross country... would not want to go through that without an instrument rating.

I did not take advantage of flight following on my way to Benton Harbor, figuring that I was staying low enough to be out of the way of any airliners that might be heading into ORD or MDW, but it turned out that there was a fair amount of traffic.  I did listen in to Chicago approach so that if I became the subject of discussion I'd know about it.

The haze did more than make for a less than ideal picture out over the lake, but also I could see that stuff I read about haze making objects seem closer than they appear.  One small aircraft that passed just 400 feet below me to my left seemed quite a bit further away, but the TIS probably was not lying.  It was a bit unnerving, but we certainly maintained adequate visual separation.  It also left me thinking that those reports I was reading where a bit deceptive, or that I have mistaken "CAVU" flying for 10 miles visibility.  The automated weather information for PWK, GYY, and BEH all said that the ceiling was clear below 12000 and visibility was 9 or 10 miles, but it sure didn't seem that way.

Benton Harbor was actually pretty easy to find, and though I was using GPS to aid in navigation I had my iPad charts open on my lap to verify my position.  It's a fairly nice airport, although I had an interesting situation.  I was making all the appropriate radio calls and had just announced and initiated my base-to-final turn for runway 28 when the Cessna that had been holding short of the runway announced his departure.  I repeated that I was on final and he stopped.  I was miffed and befuddled by this, and that probably showed in the bounce and go around that insued.  I didn't bother complaining to the pilot because it was an honest mistake, but it would have helped if I could have used more of my brain for landing and less of it for go-around planning and general frustration.  Fly the plane, Dr. Shrink... fly the plane.   My next two landings were pretty good, so I was happy about that.

After departing the pattern I picked up flight following from our friends at South Bend and headed back around the lake shore.  South Bend then told me to squawk VFR and that radar services had been terminated, but that I should contact Chicago Approach.  I did that thinking I'd have to ask for flight following again, but they were expecting me and assigned a new squawk code.

I said goodbye to the fine folks at Chicago Approach once I was over Northwestern University and Ba'hai Temple (very cool sight from the air), and managed to get it back on the ground at Chicago Executive, where the winds were squirrelly and I did need a go-around.   I was using 12 even though winds really favored runway 6.  If you've ever landed on 6/24 at PWK, then you know that this runway is interesting - 50 ft wide, a bit of a turn toward the south, in the midst of it, a nice "Dukes of Hazzard" jump in the middle, and if you're coming in on 24 a very displaced touchdown.  My last experiences with this were not ideal so I wanted to avoid it.  I had a reasonable landing on my second try, so I'll take that.

Nice day to fly, and I crossed the 100-hour mark with this flight.  I also added both a new airport and new state to my travels.  I love this stuff.   I hope the weather holds up as Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink and I are planning a day get away up to Door County. 

Flight: KPWK - KBEH - KPWK
Plane: C-172S
Hours: 2.4  (100.4 hours total time).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Damn Storms....

Yesterday (July 1), the Banana and I set off for what was supposed to be a fun little "around the area flight."  She had been asking me to go flying again, so how could I possibly resist?  We were going to depart from Waukegan (KUGN) and trace the Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy the views of downtown Chicago on our way to Gary (KGYY).  After a quick touch and go we would tack the Joliet VOR until we approached Lewis University, at which point we would turn north for Dupage Airport (KDPA).  Finally, we would depart Dupage and head back to Waukegan.  We had only one additional task: it was the Boy's birthday party and we didn't want to miss that. 

The weather called for an increased risk of thunderstorms after 3 pm. I really should quickly learn rule #2 from my previous post.

The Banana and I arrived and conducted our pre-flight, and departed Runway 5 in N408ES and turned south along the shoreline.  It was a bit hazy out there but nothing disconcerting.  The Banana enjoyed the views of the lake, Navy Pier, Sears Tower, and a bunch of other landmarks.  She also is starting to learn how to call traffic, which is very helpful.  As we approached GYY for landing, I noticed a lot of nastiness brewing out to the west, which was our planned direction of travel.  We did a full stop taxi-back on Runway 12, with a landing that was reasonable... only one small bounce and pretty much on center line.  I'll take that for now.

I was getting updated whether when the tower let me know that a weather advisory had been issued in the last 15 minutes stating that there was very bad news that direction.  Although a bit disappointed, the Banana did not complain that we were going back to Waukegan.  I decided to demonstrate a short-field take off for her (and a bit of practice wouldn't hurt, either), but as I started the takeoff roll things didn't feel right.  I peeked at the tachometer, which read 2100 RPMs.  That didn't seem right to me, so instead we had an aborted takeoff demonstration.  I did a new run-up, including giving full throttle and only got 2100 RPMs.  That didn't seem right, so parking at the Gary Jet Center and figuring it all out on the ground seemed prudent.

A few phone calls into the flight school from which I rent and 35 minutes later, I learned something very important: Static RPM.  It turns out that 2100 is perfectly normal for a 160-hp Cessna 172 at the beginning of the takeoff roll.  I suppose that one culprit here is that I usually fly a 180-hp 172S instead of this 172R.  Compared to the DA-20, the 172S already feels like a truck and the 172R feels like a tank.  Well, that explains a lot. Another way to know the plane, and I'll be making a note of this number from now on to avoid this in the future (and to detect problems!!!). 

Before strapping in for our return, I checked the weather again.  I REALLY did not like the nasty squall line heading our direction.  I was not sure I could get north of its projected line of travel before it got close to the Chicago shoreline, and after some deliberation and another chat with Sandy (a fine instructor up at Skill) I decided to be conservative and wait it out.  I might have been able to get far enough north before they passed through, but if not I had no diversion options and could only go out over the lake.  In a single-engine plane that just seemed like an unnecessary risk. 

Damn Storms. 

My daughter was exerting tremendous pressure on me to return home so that we could attend the party, and Mrs. Shrink was not exactly happy about the implications.  My explanations about the end result of flying a plane into the middle of a thunderstorm gave little solice regarding my decision.  Communicating that I understood the implications of this decision with respect to the storms gave little comfort as well. 

So, the Banana and I took a crew car and headed over to Jedi's for some food.  I'll say that the portions were ridiculous but the food was adequate.  The Banana enjoyed her hot dog and fries, so I suppose that this was workable.  We took our time and returned back to the Gary Jet Center to wait for the storm to go through.  By now the rains were pounding us, the lightening was flashing, and the winds at Chicago O'Hare were in the neighborhood of 30 gusting to 60.  Good call. 

After a good three hours of hanging out in Gary and obsessive checking of the radar, we finally strapped in and took off from runway 30 and made "best speed" to UGN.  The Banana took our pictures with our camera all the way back, and actually got some nice shots.  She took one of us on short final for runway 5 at UGN, and a few more on rollout.  Of course she got the evidence of my being a bit left of the centerline. 

So, we made it back for the last 30 minutes of the Boy's party, which was the important part. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink Goes Flying... briefly

Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink (also a clinical psychologist) got her first flight today.  While all ended well, it was not exactly the fight I would have hoped we would have. 

I have been excited about sharing my passion for flying with her actually in the cockpit for quite some time, and it was finally here.  Of course, she has heard me droning on about flying for over a year, but this is just not the same thing.  The original plan was that we would take off from Chicago Executive (KPWK) and follow the Chicago shoreline down to KVPZ, where we would tie down and head to a local restaurant that my instructor tells me is pretty good and best known for its turkey.  Mrs. Shrink had managed to clear her schedule for today's flight, and so we were all ago.  Or so I thought: 

Flying rule #2: if there is a 30% chance of thunderstorms and you rented a plane, that means there is a 99% chance of thunderstorms.  

The forecast for the greater Chicago area has been calling for thunderstorms for much of the weekend, and as I typically do for short hops I decided I would take a "watch and wait" approach.  Things had been looking good for our trip despite some boomers on Thursday night.  I went to bed last night with flight planning completed and a pretty good forecast. 

HA!  I got up this morning and the forecast showed an increased chance of thunderstorms after 3 pm.  Because we had to be back by 3 pm to retrieve the Boy and the Banana, I decided that we'd just fly straight back and have lunch near KPWK.  Things looked great for this plan until I was just about done with my preflight, when I looked up to see that the sky had really gotten dark to the west.  I checked the weather again and all still looked safe and VFR, so we fired up.  The ground controller told another pilot that the storm I saw brewing was not supposed to be close for another two hours. 

I had already decided that we were not going to make it KVPZ, and that instead I would fly out to the shoreline and turn back abeam the Sears Tower.  That was my plan on takeoff.  Mrs. Shrink seemed to like being up high and seeing things from a different perspective.  We flew over our house but I really didn't spend much time trying to find it: I was at 1600 MSL with a 1900 MSL Bravo ceiling and not interested in practicing CFIT, and I was getting increasingly nervous about that brewing storm.  These tight altitude tolerances and worries about the storm really curbed my enthusiasm especially because I heard a pilot report that he could see lightening out in the distance just as we approached the shoreline. 

"We need to go back."  Gosh, saying those words sucked because I was really looking forward to showing off the shoreline and getting a few landings in.  I am of course trying to build cross-country PIC time as well in preparation for an instrument rating, so this was quite disappointing.  I had considered continuing the flight and the diverting to KVPZ, KGYY or even KUGN until the storm passed, but given our need to be home returning to KPWK was the best logical solution.  Mrs. Shrink already knew that I was concerned about this and did not fuss.  She did get to see downtown from the air, Ba'hai temple and the area around our home.  My landing was adequate but a bit bouncy because I landed fast as usual. 

So, a meager 0.5 was entered into the log book today, with at least 0.2 of that being on the ground waiting to depart.  But my decision to return showed itself to be an overall good one as the boomers hit about 20 minutes after leaving the airport. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Three "First Flights"

I guess it's good that I'm too busy to write much in this blog because it means that I have some money to go flying!!!!

Since my last entry, I've taken three different passengers up with me.  The first is a friend with whom I study Hapkido (my other passion).  John Paul has flown in a light sport aircraft not long ago, so the Skyhawk seems absolutely luxurious to him.  We set out from Chicago Executive to Rockford (KRFD), and the air was a lot like glass once we cleared Chicago's Bravo airspace.  While I had planned to take a couple of laps around the patch once arriving in Rockford, there looked to be some rather nefarious weather headed our direction - weather that was certainly not forecast.  Thus, I opted for just a touch and go and back to PWK.  The landing was rather sweet if not a bit off the center line to the left (of course).  On the way back, I was able to point out my office to John Paul.  I had never really noticed it before that day.

Last Saturday, my nearly five year-old son got his first flight.  As the time for this flight approached, I realized that I really had two sets of minimums.  I have more tolerance for crosswinds and gusts when it is just me in the plane because I know that I'm working diligently to have pretty good landings most of the time even under those conditions.  However, with another person in the plane - particularly one of my children - I am less tolerant of such things.  The winds had been screwing around all day long because of a stupid low pressure system moving through Canada.  But we worked our way out there, and "the Boy" had his first flight.  It was simply magic to hear him yelling "wow!" as I advanced the throttle on the Skyhawk and we became airborne.  He was very happy to see one of his favorite places - Lake Geneva - from the air.  Unfortunately, he was unhappy that we didn't make time for a swim and sulked all the way home.  As we approached PWK, the pattern was NUTS.  There were so many aircraft that the tower was actually sending people away for five or ten minutes.  I think I was number 10 for the field at one point.  I was so distracted by keeping an eye out for traffic (there was plenty), comforting my now melting-down son, and listening to the craziness of the radio that I came within a razor's edge of busting the bravo.  I would estimate my altitude was 1899 feet MSL with a 1900 shelf... would have taught my son a potty word but he had taken off his headset.  A serviceable landing with winds that were about at those "alone" minimums since they deteriorated after we left.  Lesson: if the winds are toying with your minimums, the flying gods will see to it that you're challenged for making a go decision. The good news is that a week later he "loved" it and wants to go again soon.

Today, "the Banana" (my seven year-old daughter) got her first flight, though in the DA-20 Eclipse that I had not flown for two months because I was focused on developing proficiency in the Cessna.  She had 100 questions for me the whole time, which was actually very fun for me.  We headed up to KUGN where we would depart out toward Lake Geneva (they love this place), and then we visited Watertown, Wisconsin (KRYV).  As I advanced the throttle, she too made plenty of music with her excitement.  She said "cool!" at least 20 times as we flew around, and she was interested in how high we were.  She was disappointed that I would not go higher than 6500 MSL because it just didn't make any sense given the distances.  After I slowed down and did a few steep turns over Lake Geneva so she could see things, we turned toward Watertown.  It was "her airplane" for about two minutes... well, at least she thought so.  She kept telling me that she didn't think that she was allowed to fly the plane.  She gently banked the plane, but I figured out that after about 45 degrees there was no stopping in sight for her.  I said I didn't think it would be a very comfortable ride if we kept turning, and "helped" her back to level.  It was fun to watch her.  Took a few laps around Watertown's pattern with a few nice landings.  That Diamond is a heck of a lot easier to land than the Skyhawk.  The Banana was a bit unhappy that her ears plugged up, but we got that fixed.  We were on our way back to KUGN, and the Banana helped me look for traffic.  As we entered the pattern at Waukegan, the Banana was again chattering away and I had to keep reminding her that this was a time to be very quiet.  Two more squeakers made me very happy, and the Banana could hardly wait to get out of the plane and tell her mother what an awesome time she had.

Note: I started this post on June 8, but got pretty busy and was not able to finish it.  So these things all happened a bit ago.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

First Flight "Going Somewhere"

On Friday, May 11, I took my first flight "somewhere."  That is, it was the first time I got in the plane with a particular destination in mind and not because I was fulfilling some specific training requirement.  I lifted off from KPWK at about 8:30 in N378MA, a Cessna Skyhawk outfitted with one of those Bendix/King GPS systems that I have come to loathe.  I could not figure out how to input a flight plan, and that was annoying.  Not being particularly interested in spending more time figuring it out with the engine running and my wallet thinning, I elected to use the "direct to" function once I hit the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Once there, I set my first waypoint and called up Chicago approach for flight following.  Interestingly, I never managed to pick up flight following during my training but found it to be pretty straight forward. 

My first stop was KISZ - Cincinnati/Blue Ash Airport.  It seems that there are some rather controversial plans in the works to close this particular airport, and I wanted to put it in the log book before they did so.  My wife and I attended graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, and my initial plan was to return with a large payload of Graeter's ice cream.  This stuff really is the best ice cream I have ever eaten.  However, Blue Ash seems to lack an FBO with crew cars or ability to get anywhere.  Allegedly I could have rented a car, but I did not even try to figure that out because I was not going to pay a day's car rental to drive a 12 mile-round trip that would have taken less than an hour.  My emails to two of the FBOs on the field went unreturned.  Guess business was booming... except it was not.  While I was there I saw all of one other active aircraft.  Granted, I was there a short time.  I think I will have the store ship it to me instead. 

After picking up flight following again from KISZ, I was cleared into the class Bravo airspace on my way to KAID in Anderson, Indiana.  This was another first as Chicago's Bravo is so busy that they really don't want to deal with pesky VFR traffic if they do not have to.  Between KISZ and KAID, I was running parallel to another aircraft at the same altitude and speed.  KAID is very close to KMIE, which was the other plane's destination.  Normally this type of thing would have worried me since there is no such thing as a mid-air fender-bender, but since he was on the same frequencies as me I knew what he was up to and where he was going.

Once on the ground at KAID, I met my best friend from college, his wife, and two kids and then we had some nice conversation and food.  Now, this is a very good excuse to fly... hanging out with my friend and talking about stuff that matters.  I just need to work on getting my directions right.  As I approached KAID I stated that I was to the southwest of the field... except if you know anything about the geography of the area then you know I was coming from the southeast.  I didn't initially protest when I was given a strange instruction - to enter a right downwind for runway 18.  Odd choice, except it made perfect sense if I was coming from the direction I told the controller.  When I questioned the instruction, it was clarified where I was really coming from and the controller says, "well, that makes a difference, doesn't it?"  Ya think?  Already feeling sheepish, I didn't complain when he asked me to stay on a left downwind for Runway 12 to following a Hawker.  I had to extend my downwind so far that I could see my college Alma mater.  Guess that was worth it.

As I prepared to return to KPWK, I kept calling the tower at Anderson but was getting no response.  I pulled out my A/FD and confirmed that it was still supposed to be open.  Finally, someone was kind enough to tell me that they were closed for the day.  Dandy, please make a note of it in the A/FD will ya?  I rocked the wings a bit as I lifted off to "wave" goodbye to my friend and headed back.  It was a simply beautiful day for flying or whatever else might tickle your fancy. 

Today was also the first time I used my iPad for charts.  Gosh, was that a heck of a lot easier!  I hate paper charts with a passion though I certainly have them handy should lightening strike twice and both the GPS and iPad fail at the same time.  I found it easy to put the iPad on my lap and follow the string of reference points. 

It was a great time, and entered 5.1 hours in the logbook - the most I have ever flown in one day.  Good times.  Now I remember why I started this journey.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Jet Blue Pilot Goes "Nuts"

JetBlue Captain Clayton Osbon has made quite an impression with his reportedly erratic behavior on a flight from New York to Las Vegas, which required diversion and passenger intervention to subdue the captain. No doubt this was a horrifying experience for those on board this flight, and kudos are due the first officer and cabin crew for their intervention. I have had more than one patient ask me my opinion about this situation, and thought I would share some ideas.

First, a very important caveat. I am not diagnosing Capt. Osbon with anything. Rather, I am asking questions that I believe are ultimately an attempt to be charitable to him without excusing poor behavior. With that said...

I saw a number of stories about the requirements for a first class medical certificate as well as the frequency with which a pilot of Captain Osbon's age would be required to have another medical exam. But I am not sure that any exam could have caught this problem. While it is possible for someone to lie about just about anything on that form, I have serious questions at this point about whether or not that is a useful explanation. Let me explain: the behavior described by passengers suggests paranoid ideation. Capt. Osbon reportedly was ranting about terrorists, Iran, others who don't like America very much, and the sins of "Sin City." When the general public hears this, they tend to think of serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder with psychotic features. But it is unlikely that a person would have a first psychotic break in his 50's. Those who have known this pilot for years are simply shocked about what has happened here, yet if he were truly suffering from a serious mental illness then those who have known him would have seen strange behaviors and thought patterns. Person's with life-long struggles with that kind of serious mental illness are not usually able to hide it quite this well. Personally, I would not fly with someone I new had a penchant for this type of behavior.

There are other explanations worth considering. I started to wonder about medication changes, some type of toxicity, or the development of a new physical illness that could cause delirium. I hope that in addition to a proper psychological workup, Capt. Osbon was also given a thorough medical examination to rule out these types of problems.

Based on the evidence in the media at this point, it seems that some compassion may be in order. There is no evidence that this pilot wished ill on anyone, or that he has ever had any type of incident of this sort. If that existed, my guess is the media would tout it. And that brings me to another point: the causes of psychological distress are many, multifaceted, and complicated. There is often not a simple explanation, and certainly no single explanation covers all instances. Rather than focusing on failures of the medical certification system or the alleged psychosis of the pilot, perhaps it is better to wait until all the data are available before making a conclusion. If you were involved in some type of incident, would you not want the same consideration? Would you want to be tried and crucified in the media? I wouldn't.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Private Pilot

Today I finished my private pilot check ride, which was very cool. We started on Friday, but the weather just did not want to cooperate. I'm riding pretty high tonight. I will have some thoughts about the process later.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Lesson in Overconfidence and *&^% Presidential TFRs

Today I had my "mock check ride" to see if I am ready to take the real check ride. It was quite affirming to hear the examiner's comments, which he apparently passed on to my instructor since he called to ask when I wanted to schedule the real thing. Nice. As expected, I had two big things to work on: putting the blasted plane where I want it when landing and tightening up instrument flying. The former didn't shock me too much, though I was a bit miffed about the latter as I just was having one of those days.

Overconfidence. So, there I am minding my own business trying to fly N399JA sans auto pilot (since it doesn't have one) and dealing with some in flight calculations (my favorite combination... ok, so indicated altitude and, oh fly the plane, and OAT, and oh fly the plane and.... what was I doing again? Oh yeah, flying a plane. You get the idea) when the examiner decided it was time for a simulated engine out. I thought, "No worries! I'm at 8500 feet, there is an airport over there somewhere close at about 800 feet MSL, so I got this." Pitch to best glide speed and trim, turn toward general direction of airport and use GPS to get specifics like distance, heading, and CTAF, and then run through a flow and check list. Funny how none of that works during a lesson. So, I find the airport and start making some radio calls. I talk about what communication procedures I'd use, transponder and how I'd secure the plane for landing. I get in position and circle. So far so good. As I turn into the downwind at about 900' AGL (not too shabby) I start to wonder how the heck I got so close to the runway. Let's just say that I had to do quite a bit of maneuvering and a forward slip to make a survivable landing on that runway. Ok, I am being a bit hard on myself because when I started this maneuver I envisioned a squeaker on the numbers and instead I would have touched down about mid-field and maybe run off the end of the runway. But, we would have survived... that's the good news.

I was essentially focused on congratulating myself for executing a near flawless engine out landing rather than flying the plane. Hopefully, that will teach me in the event I need to deal with the real thing.

Presidential TFRs. One of the things that really stinks about living in the Chicagoland area is that we get those lovely Presidential TFRs from time to time. Those really are an annoyance, and I'm not looking forward to the NATO summit here in May or the campaign season. Although, we are unlikely to see the president here except maybe for one of those $30,000 a plate meals for the people since the last Republican to win Illinois was probably Reagan. I was pleased as punch when they moved the G8 to Camp David, and I could care less if it was moved for a more "intimate" meeting with these leaders where our president can get to know Putin (you know, the president really should have thought about that answer because it sounded like he wanted to drink vodka and play Twister) or to avoid pictures of wacky protesters in an election year. They can take NATO, too. Between the TFRs for dignitary movement and the enormous tax bill, they can't take it away soon enough.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Flying Lessons and Flying Anxiety

My faculty position has brought me to sunny south Florida so that I can teach some of my students about personality assessment. Of course, this meant that I had to suffer the indignities of commercial travel (even if I had my private certificate, there is no way my employer would reimburse my travel expenses if I flew myself). Oh, the joys... Let's see, my first pleasure was forgetting to remove the small pocket knife I always carry with me from my pocket before leaving home... or my car... you get the idea. I figured this out, talked to one TSA agent who told me I could mail it home to myself (for a MINT as it turns out). Another agent chewed me out for not telling them about it when I put it through the scanner. Come on! I did put it all by itself in a dish, and if your colleague had not been patting me down I would have been able to do just that. Then, I get to my destination only to find that the zipper was ripped off of my luggage. I wish I could travel for 8 days and get it all into a carry on.

But I also discovered something very interesting to me. I have always had a mild fear of flying. Nothing that kept me from actually doing it, but I would worry about it and really have to use some breathing exercises until we were airborne for a few minutes. It was bumpy up at FL370, and it turns out that Boeing 767s shake, too. Not nearly as bad as the little Diamond I zip around in, but enough to make passengers uncomfortable. Seemed like the pilots were looking for the smooth air based on what felt like altitude changes (I know, I couldn't see the instruments and I didn't really have a horizon). Interestingly, none of this disturbed me. Though I would have had an increased heart rate in the past, I was only annoyed that my computer did not want to stay in my lap. To what can I attribute this change?

Flight training. I kind of know what's going on and why it is happening now. In my business, we call this exposure. When one is exposed to an anxiety-provoking stimulus and is not able to escape from it, one learns to cope with it. It becomes less frightening for a host of reasons - like the bad thing that is feared does not happen. When one has a phobia (def: irrational fear of an otherwise neutral object or situation that produces severe anxiety and panic attacks) or even mild anxiety about something, exposure often reduces or eliminates that anxiety. This is a basic principle of psychotherapy, and just about any effective form includes some variety of exposure. Each may explain it or use it differently, however. The term "exposure therapy" is most commonly associated with cognitive behavioral therapy, and is direct exposure to the feared stimulus or situation while not permitting the person's usual ways of responding or escaping. If one is afraid of flying (when that is the only real phobia) then one moves closer and closer to actually flying and then does it. There is even a virtual reality application that I saw at an American Psychological Association convention a few years ago. A psychotherapist practicing from a psychoanalytic view point also uses exposure but very differently. Often, it is an emotion, perception of self or others, or an expected reaction from others that is feared, avoided, and defended against. The psychologist will help the individual identify and modulate these feelings. Often, this involves acceptance of the emotional experience.

Flying lessons. A great and fun way to overcome a fear of flying. But please, if you have a phobia of flying (panic attacks are a hallmark of this) or you become very disorganized and upset when you fly, perhaps this is not the first thing you should do. If you are not sure, talk to a psychologist who can work with you to figure it out.