Thursday, March 28, 2013

Letter to the Editor: Flight Training Magazine

In response to a few articles in a recent issue of Flight Training, I wrote the following letter to the editor.  I did receive a warm response from Ian Twombly, but only the first two paragraphs were printed in the most recent edition.  I wanted to post the entire letter here.

Dear Editor;

Despite fulfilling my dream of earning my pilot certificate nearly a  year ago, I continue to enjoy reading *Flight Training* as a source of continued learning and development.  In this issue, two things came up that really caught my attention.

First, I was very pleased to see an article that talked about how clinical psychology can have a positive impact on the aviation industry in general and pilot training in particular.  My only quibble was to note that if a person has a true phobia of stalls, he or she will evidence panic attacks when exposed to this feared situation.  This is far beyond what we typically think of as fear and apprehension, but instead can be paralyzing.  However, the general principles of graduated exposure (or finding ways to expose the student to stalls in a fashion that moves from least to "most" threatening) and combating irrational fears with real information *and *experience is a way that any flight instructor could help that person who has a general fear.  But please leave the treatment of the true phobias to the licensed mental health professionals.  This boundary was implied in the article, but not clear. But thank you for showing that plenty of psychology is involved in pilot
training.  This segues nicely into my next point.

I was also very happy to see the articles about women in aviation, and I think it highlighted a number of learning differences that are probably relevant to both men and women.  The stereotype put forward in the article is that women need to know why things work and not just how to do things, but many men are the same way.  It was not until I understood *why* a stall and its subsequent recovery worked that I was less fearful of doing them.  In fact, I suspect that I would have driven many instructors crazy with all the questions with which I peppered my instructor.  He also took my fear of stalls seriously, and what is in violation of the injunction to "man  up" did many of the things suggested in the article referenced above.

In a very male-dominated community where "manning up" is the expectation lest one lose status by admitting a weakness, I suspect many women *and* men are dissuaded from asking questions or expressing fears that are blocking their progress.  My hope is that we might look at how our group culture might negatively impact our interests in growing the female and male pilot population.  I bet that is why GIFT [note: a training center that is geared toward the needs of women specifically referenced by the author] is so successful.

I appreciate these women who are paving the way for people like my daughter, a young lady who is not at all afraid of stalls.  When I took her on her first flight, she simply could not contain her excitement and exclamations of "cool" and "this is awesome."   As we taxied back to the
ramp after our flight, she asked something that was music to my ears:

"Daddy, can I learn to fly an airplane?"

Yes, honey.  Yes you can.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Rain, the Cold, and the Presidential TFR

Yesterday, I attempted to take a little fight for myself in our club's Archer.  You know, the weather gods are just not being very kind to me these days. 

I was hoping to be wheels up by 11 am, but marginal VFR weather that was scheduled to clear up before another system worked its way into the area late afternoon pushed back my departure time.  Adding to my joys was a campaign stop of the president to push for green energy technology, and apparently Argonne labs was the place this had to be accomplished.  So much for sequestration, right?

Finally getting more clear weather (or so I thought given the weather observations), I pulled out the plane and was finally wheels up with my unique squawk code and heading southwest toward Illinois Valley Regional (KVYS) where I intended to so some landings, some air work, and then a return to DuPage.  I had a few extra stops on my flight plan just in case the humor was on me. 

As I lifted off of 20R at DuPage, I immediately noticed complete CRAP to the west.  As I leveled off at 3500 (4500 would have put me in Bravo airspace) and started to get trimmed out for the ride, the next piece of bad news hit... rain on the windscreen.  Now, I've never really flown in rain before and they were light showers.  Had it been 50 degrees outside and getting stuck somewhere was not a big deal, this could have been a fun experiment.  But the icing SIGMET and near freezing temperatures at the surface really got my attention.  Just as Aurora Municipal (KARR) was passing under the nose of the aircraft, I asked the center controller about the weather en-route or to see if I needed to go off frequency to get it.  He informed me that I would be in rain showers all the way there but that my destination was reporting decent VFR weather.  The controller was probably kind enough to help me out because I transmitted in the blind for him to a helicopter that was out of communication. 

After another few minutes, I decided that this trip was just not worth the risk of continuing into IMC or becoming a test pilot with iced wings.  It was still wet rain that was just sliding off the plane, but who knows what I would have flown into.  On a normal day as a VFR pilot, I could just make a 180 and return to my departure airport with no problem.  When flying under a presidential TFR, it is always best to get a clearance for such things so that there are no unpleasant surprises waiting for you on the ground. 

With my clearance on the tape, I completed a 180 and returned direct KDPA.  Winds were calm so I was given my choice of runway.  Since I had to put fuel in the plane before putting her to bed, the best choice would have been 15/33 or 10.  But because I could not see that well, I wanted the one with the brightest lights and chose 2R, or 2L, or whatever... It got questions from the controller and changed, and probably sounded like a complete idiot as I clarified that I was cleared to land 2L.  Well, I knew it had a 2 in it.  I said to the controller, "better to sound silly and land on the right piece of concrete."  His reply was "roger, that." 

So, here we are again.  Complaining about winter and early spring flying weather.  I got all of .6 in the logbook with one landing (that was nice, flare on the numbers and on center line) rather than what I had planned for.  I also got weathered out of an instrument lesson on Tuesday, though I did fly with another club member last Saturday and got four practice approaches and other hood time in. 

Will this lousy winter NEVER end? 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Flying? What's that?

I intended to take a short flight today, so of course we are getting slammed with a nasty snow storm.  Such has been my luck since December.  So, I might as well talk about a few flights that I did manage to get in despite the weather. 

2013 opened with my first instrument training flight, which doubled as a transition to our club's Archer.  Since I had all of six tenths of an hour in any Piper as of that morning, this was an interesting challenge. 

First, some thoughts on the Archer.  As anyone who flies both Skyhawks and Archers will tell you, these planes just fly differently.  If the Skyhawk feels like a truck compared to the Diamond DA-20, the Archer is like a cement truck.  It just feels heavier and tighter in the cockpit.  Things just work a bit differently, and approach to landing just felt like I was going to slam it into the ground.  Flaps work pretty differently as well.  I don't like that lever. 

Instrument flying that day consisted of developing a good scan, being able to track navigation aids and compass turns.  Given that this was a new-to-me plane, I think I actually managed these tasks fairly well.  I felt like I was doing ok with these, and got a few challenges tossed at me as a result - like a simulated circling approach.  My first and second Archer landings were not so bad - it felt rough but it was still respectable. 

Then, a bunch of scrubbed flights ensued along with many of the club planes being down for upgrades, annuals, or a trip to the Bahamas (that is our club Arrow, so I'm not flying that one yet... soon.  Very soon).  I think if I could have 1 hour in the log book for every scrubbed flight, I'd have a solid 15 hours. 

Then, I took a little currency maintenance flight in a Skill plane from KUGN to KJVL.  You can see that my ground speed was awesome with an IAS of 118 kts on my way back to Waukegan, but you know what that means for my flight there. 

I was over the Illinois/Wisconsin border, and this is a shot of Lake Geneva looking from the south.  It's a nice little place that many Chicagoans sneak away to in order to relax.

It was bitter cold that day, and there is a restriction on pattern work when it's that cold.  I sneaked in an extra trip around the pattern at JVL.  Three greased landings. 

The following week, I took my children on a flight from KUGN to KMSN to the Jet Room.  Whether had been forecast to be marginal all week, and I was scheduled to fly in the G1000-equipped Skyhawk.  So, I decided that I would plan a flight to a familiar place to increase our chances of going.  But we had a BEAUTIFUL day.  The Jet Room was again a big hit - in the picture below I already lost my sausage

There was a sweet jet that taxied up as we were getting ready to depart, which increased my already pretty sexy curb appeal. 

The Banana enjoyed her time with "her airplane" on the way up to MSN, but the Boy chose to sleep.  He was asleep before takeoff, I think.  Things had been good, but about 20 feet AGL the Banana let out a blood-curdling squeal because her ears were hurting thanks to a cold.  Fly the plane.  Fly the plane.  Fly the plane.  We had a great day, but mine was not over. 

After taking my children home, I went and had my second flight of the day.  Only a month and a half later do I finally get to have my second instrument/Archer-transition lesson.  New plane, slow flight under the hood, stall recovery under the hood, a few flurries, long time since last flight, and night time all conspired to make it an interesting trip.  I did ok with my scan and tracking, and had some ok landings at DKB.  Most fun was on my last approach I was about to touch down and the instructor told me to go around.  But slow flight felt like a disaster... I simply could not hold altitude.  I know that I got so focused on holding altitude and not losing airspeed that I let everything else go to hell, and of course I could not hold altitude either.  I didn't like the power setting I was told, but what do I know?  I flew the ILS to runway 10 at KDPA, but then circled to land for 2L.  I was low on my glide path the whole time, which was really starting to agitate me.  Still had a nice landing despite this, so that's good.  Yeah, I'm a little focused on landings because I have struggled with them so much that I'm pleased that I feel like I'm improving in this area. 

So I have been trying to get out and do some solo flight in the Archer so that I could work on maneuvers, stalls, steep turns, and slow flight under VFR.  Landing practice would be good, too.  But here we are again back to complaints about the weather. 

Maybe Friday, or the fly-out to KMIE on Saturday.