Friday, June 12, 2015


Milestone: a term we use to connote an accomplishment or passage of some significant event or marker.  Recently, I had two such happenings that seem worth sharing. 

Call me "Captain."

If you've been reading anything my posts in the last year, then you know that I have been working on my commercial certificate.  The logbook entry from June 2, 2015 says that I successfully completed the commercial practical test.  It was a doozy!  

We actually conducted the oral examination on the Saturday prior, but the weather was not going to permit any VFR flying.  Great instrument day, and I really wished I could go out and shoot approaches.  It would have honestly been more fun as I can say I was not as well prepared for this thing as I thought I was.  My previous experiences with check rides were that I presented myself fairly well, knew things pretty well, learned a few things that I didn't know, and the like.  This time, the ante had been seriously raised and I did not totally appreciate that.  

When my examiner put in his instructions that he was expecting a presentation, I think he may have literally meant a powerpoint or something.  I did use the PAVE model to formulate my discussion of the flight I was asked to prepare, but some of the things I needed to talk about I did not for two reasons.  First, I got nervous and just forgot to talk about some things such safety equipment and terrain over the flight path.  Second, I had in my head that this flight would really go off IFR since it was pretty much IMC for most of the projected flight I did not discuss things like flight plans and flight following - I mean, if it's an IFR flight those things come with the package.  I also think that because I have expressed interest in pursuing the CFI, the examiner was giving me some push for my edification.  It became hard for me to know where was I not doing well as a commercial applicant and where was I being shown I had work to do for CFI.  

Sometimes it was just packaging and I could tell that.  For example, we discussed my chosen altitude.  I explained my reasoning, which can be (and from his view should have been) encapsulated in legality, safety and efficiency - in that order.  I'd argue that I caught all of those things but didn't quite say it that way. 

Needless to say, I was very happy that I was not going to fly on Saturday.  I was not feeling good about my performance, and I was pretty tired.  The examiner and I agreed on Friday as the day to fly.  

After I got home, I looked over the weather and things did not look good for Friday.  The plane became available on Tuesday, and we negotiated an earlier day to fly.  It was a beautiful day.  

The schedule was pretty tight because I needed to drop my kids off at school at 9, drive 75 minutes to the airport, preflight and fly to meet the examiner all by 11 am.  The examiner wanted to start earlier as he had a phone meeting at 1 pm, but I really could not get there much earlier.  Making matters worse, KDPA was full of NOTAMed taxiway and runway closures.  I ended up with a nearly 2 mile taxi and wanting for 15 minutes after announcing ready to depart.  

I made best speed to KUGN in the Arrow (25 squared, baby) and cut as close to ORD as the airspace and my low altitude tolerance would allow.  Three miles out I was cleared to land runway 5.  From 2500 feet and 130 KIAS, I pulled power to 15 inches, dropped the gear once below Vlo, ran the pre-landing flow and BAL-GUMPS checklist (boost pump on; autopilot off, landing light on; and the usual GUMPS features... and you know, Gear down, Undercarriage down, Make sure the gear is down, Put the gear down, See if the gear is down).  I then started applying flaps once below Vfe.  At three-quarters of a mile I was on airspeed and on glide slope - and was rewarded with touchdown on the 500 foot markers as planned.  "LIKE A GLOVE!" 

I shut down and deplaned, and the examiner met me on the ramp.  We looked the plane over, he asked a few questions to make sure I knew what those scoops and such were, and we got ready to go.  My inner Ace Ventura was silenced as the damn plane would not start.  "Isn't there a hot-start procedure for this plane?"  Yes, yes there is.  It's essentially the same as the typical one and we got the POH out to have a look.  After a solid 8 minutes of trying to start the plane, it FINALLY fired up.  Not a good start..... 

As expected, the flight began with demonstrating that I could use pilotage and ded reckoning.  This went well as I was pretty much on course and on time... despite the fact that I almost NEVER do this with any precision.  I follow the charts along my course line, but I don't do much ded reckoning.  Confidence returning. 

Next we went through several of the maneuvers.  Steep turns were fine once I stopped losing altitude.  I didn't bust PTS, but I was on the margin.  Slow flight and stalls went well.  Chandelles were nice.  Lazy Eights - my nemesis - were passable.  I was a bit high and fast (how the hell does that combination happen, anyway) on my last 180, but still within limits.  Emergency descent was good, steep spiral was nice.  I was just recovering from the steep spiral at 1400 feet AGL when the examiner decided that this was the time for an engine failure.  Sigh.  Well, I took a bit longer to get with it than I had hoped, and turned in to land too quickly.  Without enough time to circle back, I called an audible and said that I'd land in the field ahead of me, dropped the gear and flaps, and slipped to demonstrate that I could do that.  I said how I'd secure the aircraft, and then said, "well, I'd like to go around any time."  

Lastly were performance landings.  My heart sunk as the examiner said that we should go to Westosha (5K6) to do a short field landing.  I HATE this airport.  The approach sucks in either direction (over trees to runway 3, and over a drop off for 21), the runway is like 38 feet wide, and is chewed up.  Did I mention pattern altitude is like 650 feet AGL?  I bounced hard and went around.  He asked me what happened, and I said that I was never stabilized and should have gone around sooner.  Second attempt went just fine.  Relief.  

Back to Waukegan to finish up performance landings.  A solid soft-field landing and take off, then the moment of truth.  The dreaded 180-degree power-off landing.  For the uninitiated, this maneuver requires cutting the power on downwind abeam the agreed-upon target and gliding it onto that spot... +200/-0 feet.  The Arrow has the glide ratio of a truck, though I have practiced this many times and usually get it right.  This day, I flared at the right spot and then ballooned on flare.  I still got it there, but not in a pretty way.  

Checkride passed.  Temporary Commercial certificate issued.  Sweet. 

Mom, You're Going to be a Grandmother... Again.

There comes a time in every aviator's life where he figures out that what he wants cannot be had without drastic measures.  I have been salivating over the thought of co-owing an airplane, and driving my wife crazy with such discussions.  
I really love my flying club.  Fox Flying Club is a great group of aviators with four really nice planes.  Ok, I have decided I hate Skyhawks but there are two nice Pipers from which to choose.  And honestly, almost all missions that I fly are adequately accomplished in any of our aircraft.  But not all.  Sometimes, I need a plane that goes faster or a plane that has a better useful load.  We were working on a program where a Bonanza became available on leaseback, but this took a lot of work and eventually fell through. 

Then a few months ago I went to breakfast with a man who owns a Bonanza and a club instructor with whom I needed to fly for my semi-annual checkout.  Turns out the instructor and another man were talking about partnering in a Bonanza, and I got interested.  So did the owner referenced above.  The short version is that the four of us have partnered in the V35A Bonanza that the first guy owns.  

"Mom, you're going to be a grandmother again." 


"Yeah, but not in the way that you think."  

"Explain, please."  

"You have a grand-plane."  ;-)

Hi, Grandma!!!

N2458A is a Beechcraft V35A.  Yes, a Vee-tail and it's immaculate.  The good thing is that one of the partners has owned the plane for the last 18 months, and we therefore know it's most recent history.  He did an amazing job searching down information and making sure that what he purchased was solid.  Thus, we all feel pretty confident that we probably don't have too many big, expensive surprises waiting for it.  Yeah, can happen and it sucks to split that bill four ways instead of 60 ways. 

I am stoked, but the transition training is going slower than I'd like.  I have completed the online portion of the Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program, but I have not gotten much time in the plane yet.  We need to have the dual yoke we rented installed so that we can take instruction in the plane, and then one of the partners will get me going with a high performance endorsement and initial transition training.  I'll then make an appointment with the Bonanza-Sensei up at Poplar Grove (C77) to do the flying portion of the BPPP.  

But overall, this is sweet.  One of the partners took the plane to the east coast this past week, and made it from the western suburbs of Chicago to Frederick, Maryland in just under 3.5 hours.  Nice! 


  1. Join Beechtalk. It's a great community of pilots.

  2. Congrats!!! On the ticket and plane!

    I second what Colin suggested, BeechTalk has great info and owners that have years of experience to share.

  3. Congratulations on both counts! Your comment about not being able to get what you want without drastic measures really struck a chord with me: I had that exact thought before I bought my airplane 11 years ago. I still think it was one of the best decisions I ever made (my financial planner might disagree, but you only live once, right?) Of course, you really go yourself into a far more capable machine than what I have. I'm looking forward to hearing all about it. My hangar neighbor has a Bonanza (straight tail) and talks casually about flying it from Rochester, NY to Tacoma, WA. My Cherokee may be more of a "go someplace" airplane than the Cessna 150 I learned to fly in, but the Bonanza is obviously in a completely different class. Congratulations!

  4. Thanks, guys. I am looking into Beechtalk. I have found ABS to be a great resource so far.

    Chris, I figured I was not alone. As much as I wish I could have a plane that is only mine, it was just not possible to get close to what I wanted without a few partners. As a sole owner, I could own it but never fly it... Which makes no sense at all.