Student Pilot Journal

I began flight training in May 2000 and passed my Private Pilot checkride that December. This is the journal I kept
throughout my training. My students have found it useful to read as they begin learning to fly. - Jason



Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave

First official flying lesson today, in a Cessna 150. The plane wasn't much to look at during the pre-flight, but I figured the instructor doesn't want to die either. May as well go up.

Dave had me do nearly all the flying during the lesson, with mostly verbal prompts. I flew last week with my friend Fred, so I knew what to expect from taxiing, which was a challenge the first time.

In retrospect, the takeoff was the most unsettling part of the lesson. Being at such a slow speed, with fairly wide yaw variations as you leave the ground, it almost seems that the plane could stall and fall like a rock. Felt better on climb out.

Practiced some turns and straight & level flight, which is quite challenging. Was a little bothered by the throttle control, which is a push/pull. I've gotten used to the lever on my sim controls (and my friend Fred's plane). Kept retarding the throttle when I meant to increase it. Although straight and level improved toward the end of the lesson, for the most part I found it difficult to maintain altitude within +/- 200 ft. I hope this will improve as I become accustomed to the plane's RPM settings.

I asked to do some stalls, because I'd heard some students quit after doing them. I figure, may as well get it over with and save money by quitting now. But it wasn't bad at all. The first one scared me - sort of an over-the-top of the roller coaster feeling. But once I knew what to expect, it wasn't so bad. It went pretty much like the textbook says. Reduced power, pulled back to bring the nose up, the airspeed dropped, and the controls started to get mushy. Then the warning buzzer started, and the plane noticeably died in the air. I dropped the nose (wheeeeee!!!), added power, and gently pulled up to recover.

Interestingly, I found it difficult to actually produce a full stall. The first two times I initiated the recovery when I heard the warning buzzer, and the plane did not fully stall. Then Dave helped me with it, and whoosh, were headed downstairs in a hurry! Once I got the feel of it, I was able to recover from a full stall having lost less than 200 feet altitude.

Descended to 1000 feet AGL as we entered the downwind leg and then ran through the landing checklist. Throttled down to 1000 RPM, air speed to about 65 knots, put the flaps down one level. He had me do essentially the entire landing, with minimal help (so he said). Made the turn to final slightly late, same as I do on the sim. Wasn't too far and was able to line up properly without trouble. Had difficulty estimating the glide path, as the Wurtsboro runway has no VASI lights. But I got lucky and put it into a fairly decent glide path. Dave helped me mainly with keeping the nose wheel off the ground.

I was surprised at how the landing went. Felt pretty good. I know now that we well overshot the numbers, but not too badly.

Very good lesson, cant wait to go up again.

Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave

There was a brisk crosswind when I arrived at the airport this afternoon. Dave had just landed with another student, and they both remarked on how choppy it was below 2000 feet. We stood outside and mulled over the conditions for a while, until Dave said, "Lets fly." So up we went, and things quickly got very interesting.

Had to continually work the rudder during takeoff to track the runway properly. I was pleased that I improved my technique on climbs today. During my last lesson I was wimpy about pitching the nose up. But today I took note of the optimal climb rate for the plane (68 knots), and kept it there with good results.

After climbing the road smoothed out a bit, and we practiced turns. My 30° banks were OK, but I had trouble with banks of 45°. When I looked to check the angle I would gain or lose altitude without realizing it. So Dave had me look at the attitude indicator to set the bank, then look at the horizon over the engine cowling. That way I knew what the angle should look like, and could keep the nose from pitching. That helped a lot, and I was starting to have success. But then, I started getting sick.

I am not prone to motion sickness of any kind, so this took me by surprise. But as I got the hang of the heavily banked turns, Dave had me do several in succession. With all that turning (and inadvertent altitude fluctuations due to imperfect technique), it all started getting to my stomach. Although I didn't come that close to vomiting, I was close enough that it was very uncomfortable. At about this time Dave said to begin practicing stalls, so I told him the problem and we agreed to put it off until next time.

Instead of stalls we practiced slow flight, which was mercifully devoid of sudden turns and altitude drops. Turn on carb heat, throttle down to around 1500 RPM, and try not to lose altitude. This puts the airspeed at just above the stall speed. If you hear the stall warning, just drop the nose slightly. Started to hear the warning twice, and it stopped with a very slight drop of the nose.

We'd been in the air nearly an hour at this point, and I was definitely ready to be back on the ground. Although I felt a bit better during slow flight, the trip down to pattern altitude quickly became unpleasant. Below 2000 feet it was very bumpy, and our landing was quite an experience. At one point I asked Dave, "Are we supposed to be flying sideways?" It looked to me like we would have to go around, but Dave put it down. While the landing on my first lesson was serene and even easy, I walked away from this one not really knowing how we got there. Crosswind landings are going to be a challenge.

While I was at the airport a British plane from 1950 came in. It was beautifully restored, and made the C150 I'm flying look like a turd. I noticed Dave had a look of envy too.

Cessna 150
Instructor: Rich

Went up with a different instructor today, partly out of curiosity, partly because I just wanted to get some air time. Rich's plane was cleaner and nicer than the one I previously flew, but I don't think Rich is my kind of instructor. I can't really say exactly what put me off; maybe I just like Dave better.

The seats in his plane were a little higher than the other plane. I found it easier to look over the cowling. We did some turns, straight & level, and stalls (power on and off).

The stalls we did were very aggressive compared to when I do them with Dave. He kept telling me not to use ailerons to level the wings once into the stall. I finally had to take my hands off the yoke and just use the rudder. Really, we were doing spin entry and recovery. I found this a bit scary. We pulled an extra G or two when pulling out of one of them. Rich finally demonstrated one that was VERY aggressive. I was handling it OK until then, but that one scared me. Really felt like we were about to auger the thing in.

Cessna 150
Instructor: Dave

Did 90 minutes in the air today, and it was very productive. I did the preflight, taxi, and takeoff myself. Only minor help from Dave, and all of the takeoff was mine. There was a crosswind and I had to crab to maintain a straight ground track.

I sat on a cushion to raise my view a bit, and I think it helped a lot. Feels more comfortable to have a decent view over the engine cowling.

Practiced 360° turns, and I am getting better. I wasn't afraid to bank the plane over, and after some practice I was making good turns with minimal altitude change. I don't think I would pass a check ride right now, but I'm improving.

Did some more stalls, and they went much better. I was hesitant going into them at first, probably because of my experience with the other day. So Dave demonstrated one to show me what he expected and then I did some that were much better. No spins.

Did a touch and go at Orange County that could have been much better. I misjudged our approach, and Dave had me put down full flaps. That made us drop like a rock and we had to add some power to keep from falling too fast. Ended up coming down at the middle of the runway.

Went back to the airport and Dave had me do the entire approach and landing. He told me he would try to be quiet and let me work the whole thing. I asked questions as I went, and sort of narrated my actions so he could comment or make suggestions. I overflew the runway 1000' above the pattern, and noted the wind coming right down the runway. Dave said it was gusting and would probably be a crosswind by the time we got down there.

Made a wide loop around so I could enter the downwind leg at the proper 45° angle, and by that time I had dropped to pattern altitude. I think my practice on the computer may actually have helped at this point because the scenery and airport layout seemed so familiar. I've flown this approach lots of times on the simulator.

I announced our downwind leg and intention to land with full stop, and then ran through the checklist. Dave reminded me a couple of times to keep an eye on my airspeed, and also OK'd my plan to take a long downwind leg so I could have a longer final approach. I wanted the extra time to adjust for the expected crosswind.

The descending turns you make in the pattern are tricky at that low airspeed, but I did manage to make them relatively square. Was on base for a very short time (which I think is correct) and then turned final. This is much easier in real life than on the computer. I can actually see where I'm going. Made a good turn, and I was lined up fairly well for final. It again took me a little extra time to confirm in my own mind that we were on a good glide path and headed for the numbers. I knew then that I could make the runway, pulled the power, and just worked the rudder a lot to keep a straight track. I put it down fairly well, but with some side load on the gear. Didn't make such a good transition to ground control though, and Dave had to help me control and straighten the roll out.

I was very pleased when Dave said it was an excellent landing, and that I had controlled for the crosswind component very well. I wasn't really aware of that part - I wasn't thinking much about the wind. I just felt that I was keeping it lined up. He told me that he didn't touch the controls until after we were on the ground! I walked away with a major buzz from my first real landing!!!

Cessna 150
Instructor: Mary

Went through the preflight and learned some new things. Where the static ports are, and the inspection ports where one can see into the wires and pulleys that go to the empennage. On takeoff I noticed the airspeed wasn't indicating anything. We turned around, landed, and that was it. Mary said that had we been on a cross country flight or something, she might have covered up the gauge. Better to see nothing than erroneous information, she said.

Can't say I really cared for Mary's teaching style either. I didn't know when I was supposed to be doing things and when she was. On the landing I finally gave up and said, "You have the plane, Mary."

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

First time with Long, who I hope to stay with. He is a young man who teaches very systematically and thoroughly. He gave me a beginner lesson on pre flight, taxiing, and straight & level flight. Went through the taxi and takeoff quickly since I'm already comfortable with that. He also quizzed me on a few things, like adverse yaw, which I was still fuzzy on. He talked me through the landing and I did most of it. The runway at the Monticello airport is very thin compared the the other airports I've been to. Long tells me that if I learn to land here I should have no problem just about anywhere else.

It was a good lesson, and I like Long. Although I liked that Dave let me do a few things ahead of schedule, I appreciate Long's more systematic approach. Will be flying with him again on Friday.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

I've now taken four lessons with Long, and I think I'm going to stay with him. I like how he teaches systematically, and that he is available all the time. I'm getting a feel for the Warrior, and I like it. I'm getting comfortable in normal operations, and am gaining confidence. These last few lessons have been mostly review, but I need the practice.

Some procedures are very different in the Warrior compared to the Cessna. Stalls especially are different. The Warrior is more powerful, and requires hard right rudder when you give it full power during a recovery. Long is also a bit more specific about the steps into and out of the stall. In the Cessna is was just power back and pull the nose up until it breaks. In the Warrior we put in flaps incrementally with each drop of 10 mph indicated airspeed. Then pull up, and keep pulling up because the plane does not stall easily (which is a great characteristic – the Warrior is very forgiving). When it breaks give it full power and hard right rudder and take out one flap. When you get a positive rate of climb begin taking out the other two levels of flaps while maintaining straight and level and heading.

Next lesson will be on 360° turns. Soon we'll be into landings and emergency procedures. At this rate, I should solo in the next few weeks.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Turns around a point are very challenging. Long explained that the reason for practicing this maneuver is to develop precision flying, and to learn to concentrate on several things at once. During 360° turns he told me to, of course, keep the plane going in a circular path, while also maintaining altitude & speed, and watching for traffic. Just keeping the circle going was about all I could concentrate on. The trick is to bank the wings correctly to account for the wind. Too much or too little correction will make the circle lopsided. Very challenging. Long tells me that actual pattern work - that is, flying the plane in a big square or rectangle, is a lot easier.

I was also pleased that I was not lost when it was time to head back to the airport. It's very easy to get disoriented up there, especially after doing all kinds of circular turns. But I'm learning various landmarks.

This was a very labor intensive lesson, but I enjoyed it. That's good, because I can see I'll be practicing to get it right.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

It was a bit gusty up there today, which made rectangular pattern flying even more challenging. We saw a Cessna take a go-around just before we took off. The wind really moved it around as he came down. We caught a big gust ourselves just after getting airborne and I had to bank hard to correct our track. Long made the observation that such an occurrence would have scared the hell out of me during my first lesson. But now, it's just wind!

We flew a rectangular pattern around Sullivan County Airport, which was closed for repairs today. So we had the pattern all to ourselves. I found the rectangular pattern easier than circular turns around a point, but still very challenging. Long also had me announce each of our turns so I could get used to the workload involved in airport operations. We did left and right patterns, and then practiced some more circular turns around a point. I got us back to the airport, and flew the pattern. Long landed us today because of the winds.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Nice day for flying today, which was fortunate because we started work on landings. The object of today's lesson, "low approaches", was to NOT land. I was to do a normal landing procedure, but then fly straight & level over the runway center line. Long informed me that I would owe him a soda for every time the wheels touched the ground. So I'll need to pick up a six pack of Coke on my way to the airport tomorrow, but I did get the hang of it.

I found two things very difficult - keeping the airspeed constant during my base leg and final leg turns, and of course keeping the wheels off the ground. The trick is to come in low under little or no power, and then ease in some power when you are just above the runway. You can't pull the nose up too high or too fast or you'll flare out and land, or possibly stall if you're too high. Lots of coordination of the rudder and aileron to maintain a straight track over the center line. On the third time around I kept the plane floating pretty well before powering up for the go-around.

On one of the approaches Long coached me to actually land, without quite telling me so. The result was a soft landing that I didn't really expect. The object lesson of this was that by keeping the plane off the ground and under control, you will land gently if you bring the power back gently.

Another thing Long did today was attempt to distract me at various points by engaging me in conversation. So I had to split my attention between flying the plane, scanning for traffic, making radio announcements, and talking to him about the book he was reading! It was good practice, and I felt in good control most of the time. Just as we were turning to base on an approach I spotted another plane coming in for a straight-in landing. We hadn't heard it announce itself, although we might have missed it while Long was "distracting" me. Anyway, we aborted that approach, turned away, and came around again to reestablish our landing procedure.

Another labor intensive day, but a fun one. The only unfortunate thing was having to go back to Monticello. The runway looks like a toothpick after Sullivan County's 6000 foot long, 40 foot wide monster of a runway.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Long is an incredible instructor. The next scheduled lesson on my training syllabus was on crosswinds. And sure enough, there was a steady crosswind blowing at both Sullivan County and Monticello airports. I don't know how he does that.

I'd heard that crosswind landings are one of the harder skills for student pilots to pick up, and I can believe it. That kind of wind plays hell with your pattern, and makes the final approach extremely interesting. Today was a good day to do it because the wind was steady, but not gusty. As I'd read, the idea is to use a sideslip as you get down to the runway. In the pattern and on approach you can just crab to adjust your ground track, but the slip comes in as you get down low. Turn your wing into the wind using aileron, and use this to keep you on the center line. Use opposite rudder to keep the plane pointing straight down the center line. Pretty tricky. Long explained that it's even more difficult under gusty conditions because you have to keep adjusting your slip angle to compensate quickly.

So we did about seven landings, and I did all right. I was a bit annoyed at myself for making small errors, mostly out of distraction. Once I forgot to take out my flaps after climbing out. On one climb out I was watching the runway to keep a straight ground track, and didn't notice that we were climbing too slowly, and consequently moving 40mph faster than we should have been. And once I thought I saw another plane right near us, but it was just a bird. Scared the heck out of me.

The worst mistake came when we went back to Monticello. I put us into the pattern, and didn't notice that the wind was coming from a different direction. Makes sense - the Monticello runway is on a different heading than Sullivan County. I failed to compensate during my base turn, and we ended up waaaaaay off line. Had to go around and do it again. When we did put it down on the second try, I handed it over to Long as we flared. I thought we didn't have enough runway left to land, but Long put it down without any problem.

So although I feel fairly good about the landings, next time I want to try to stay more on top of the details. I've also told Long that I think I need to review some basics, especially airspeed configuration.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

I asked to go over airspeed configuration again today, and then we did some more landings at Sullivan County. I felt better about everything today, was more relaxed, and felt more "ahead of the plane". I also did the landing at Monticello, and found that we can land in the middle of the runway and still have enough room. Sullivan County's 6000' runway almost seems easy now.

Long tells me that I'm almost ready to solo. I told him that I could picture myself taking off and flying around by myself, but I don't think I'm ready to land without him there. We have to go over emergency procedures yet, and do some ground preparation before I'm ready. I told him that I am in no hurry, and only want to solo when he is absolutely sure I'm ready. He said that is the hardest part of his job - deciding when students are ready to fly solo. That must be quite a responsibility.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

We have done a good deal of ground work over the last few days in preparation for soloing. This has included airplane performance, weight & balance, and emergency procedures. After spending an hour in the classroom today, Long took me with him on an errand to another airport - the first time I've been on a cross-country trip of any length. This was only to Sussex, NJ, about twenty minutes away. I was happy to just fly and do the landing, and see what another airport was like. As we made our approach we heard a call from a plane almost directly above us that was dropping skydivers. That's a bit unsettling, although we knew we had time to get on the ground before any came close to us. Landing was OK, but I think I need to learn more about the flare and touchdown phase. My approaches feel OK, but I'm a bit vague on a few particulars of the flare. Should fly tomorrow if the weather is good.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Went up to practice emergency procedures and landings today. Once we got up to altitude Long pulled the power back to simulate an engine failure, at which point I promptly forgot what to do. He coached me through it: establish and trim for best glide speed (87mph in the Warrior), look for a landing spot, then go to the checklist to try an engine re-start. Mixture full rich, throttle open, carb heat on, electric fuel pump on, primer locked, change fuel tanks, check the magnetos. If that doesn't re-start the engine, get ready for a forced landing (at which point you actually start shutting off the fuel and electrical system, among other things).

Long also showed me that you need at least 1000' altitude to execute a 180 degree turn. That's means that during an engine failure on takeoff if you are not up to 1000' yet, you just land straight ahead. He simulated this (without warning) as we practiced landings at Sullivan County. Just as I was taking off he pulled the power back! Plenty of runway left to land, and the key is to keep the nose down for speed. Since you're not going that fast just after takeoff, if you pull the nose up you'll stall. So it's better to land a little hard than to stall and get killed.

Felt good about the landings today. Approaches and touchdowns felt natural and controllable. I especially noted the characteristics of ground effect today. When things are pretty well lined up on final, the plane just straightens out and floats. Although I felt good today, I have no idea what things will feel like when I solo. I'm looking forward to it, and feel confident, but am definitely apprehensive.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Landings, landings, landings. Went to Sullivan County and practiced for the solo. Did about eight landings, and it felt pretty good to practice and tweak, and make them as perfect as possible. I needed a little work on my flare and use of the rudder just before touchdown, and I think I have it worked out. Most of the touchdowns were pretty gentle, and proper use of the rudder (usually right rudder) eliminates a side load on the gear. I'm also able to understand how all the components of the landing fit together: the speed & power settings, use of flaps, and the coordination of everything to achieve a good glide slope.

I'm glad we did not do the solo today because I think I needed the practice. We'll see what happens next time. Supposed to be stormy the next few days, so I might have to wait until after the weekend.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

It was overcast today, and I didn't expect to fly at all. Long and I were scheduled to go over cross-country planning. But he surprised me by saying that although it was cloudy, were were within VFR minimums with calm winds. So I gladly put away the maps and flight computer in favor of flying!

As we have been doing lately in working up to the solo, we went to Sullivan County International to practice landings. Although I feel very confident on my approaches, the flare and touchdown phase is still giving me some trouble. Twice I bounced a landing, one time hard enough that I just powered up and went around without putting it back down. So I was a little upset with myself after a half dozen landings. But Long said although they weren't perfect, they were still pretty good. "We're just working on the nuances - trying to make them perfect," he said. And I did put down a few nice ones, so I guess he felt I was ready.

After another landing he asked me if I was ready to solo. Despite the flare problems, I felt pretty good about things and was eager to do it. So Long had me taxi off and he gave me a few last instructions before getting out. I watched him latch the door and looked at the empty right seat. I felt ready, confident, and just a little nauseous. I knew I could do it, and it was just a matter of getting it done.

So I taxied out, stopped at the hold short line, and ran through my checklist. I made sure to go slow and methodically. This was not the time to forget to turn on the fuel pump. I even did a magneto check to make myself feel better. Announced my departure, and was glad that nobody was around. I had Sullivan County all to myself.

I talked to myself a little bit as I took off, mostly reminding myself to just do it like I always did. And that's the way it went. Flew the pattern, began my approach, and made a pretty good landing. I was smiling as I taxied around to talk to Long. He came over to my window to ask me how it went. I said, "Piece o' cake!" So off I went to do a few more landings. They all went about the same. No problems, except for a slight soft bounce on my last one. Then I picked up Long and we went back to Monticello.

I had wondered how I would feel after my first solo, but as with most other milestones in my life - it just feels... normal. I was ready, and I did it. On to the next thing. Okay, I AM smiling a little bit more than usual.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Following my successful first solo yesterday, we went to practice more landings today. The difference was we did them at Monticello instead of Sullivan County. Much smaller runway, and there's a fence on one end that gives me the willies. The other difference today was that Long kept drilling me on emergency landings. I'd take off or just get established on downwind, and then Long would cut the engine power. Now that I have the procedure down (establish best glide attitude, etc.) it becomes a matter of judgment and finesse. Have to judge whether you can make it back the runway or not. Or maybe a different runway. Or maybe the field near the runway. Once committed to a landing site, then you have to finesse it in. May have to get creative with flaps and slips to put it down in time, or stretch the glide to the max to make it to your target.

I'm still having problems with the flare. My timing stinks, and I'm just not getting it. And you can't make a lot of mistakes landing at Monticello. Short and thin runway, with trees and roads right nearby. You had better put it down, or else. Well, I'll get it eventually. I think I'm at a temporary plateau, and I've seen those enough times when learning other skills not to worry too much about it. I'll get it in the end.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

My parents were visiting today, so I asked Long to accompany me on a sight-seeing flight with my mother. This was good experience actually, because I've not had much experience flying with weight in the back of the plane. Took a little longer to reach rotation speed, and a little slower to climb. It was a nice day, however, and we were able to fly over Woodridge and see our house and cars parked outside.

On return to Monticello I blew our first approach. I was a little close to the runway on downwind, and there was a slight crosswind coming from the right. So we got blown off course as I made the base turn. We went around and set it up properly, and I made a fairly good landing. Better flare, but not sure why. Maybe because I wasn't dwelling on it. I was concentrating on stopping the plane before we reached the end of the runway. A back seat passenger makes a difference!

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Practiced more landings at Monticello today in preparation for my second solo. In addition to the normal challenge of landing on the small runway, there was a gusting crosswind today. I felt my landings were so-so. One pretty good, one pretty bad. The rest somewhere in between. Got a little frustrated, but Long reminded me that all the landings were unassisted, and weren't that bad. That made me feel better, and I know I'll get them. If it were a bit calmer today I think I would have been much more comfortable. But it's good to learn under tough conditions. Sort of like playing basketball against someone much better than you. As long as you can keep from getting too frustrated, it will only make you better.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

What a difference a day makes! The wind was calm today, and it allowed me to really work on the landings and get comfortable on the small Monticello runway. We did about six landings, and then Long got out and I soloed for the second time.

My first Monticello solo felt really good. I did three landings, and they were the best I did all day. I touched down on the second one just as the stall horn sounded off, and it was light as a feather! I feel more proud today than I did on my first solo at Sullivan. You can make some mistakes there and still have lots of runway left, whereas at Monticello you pretty much have to get it right. So I walked away very pleased with myself, but with a reminder not to get cocky. Going to be away for a couple of days, so this was a nice way to leave off.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

After two weeks off because of a vacation and then bad weather, I was finally back in the air today to begin doing cross country training and navigation. We went over ADF's and VOR's in the classroom yesterday, and today I navigated us to Orange County Airport using them. This was my first time seeing what the workload is really like for a pilot. There's a lot to do, and a lot of small details one could miss.

My first mistakes were in the planning process. I left out a whole bunch of information, such as the pattern altitude for the airport we were going to, and runway length information. Then I had to re-check my VOR navigation plan. It gets confusing to track TO such-and-such a radial, and then FROM a different one.

Once in the air I departed the pattern to the wrong side, and had to swing a wide turn to line up with the VOR radial I wanted. Then there was fumbling with the nav and com radios, and oh yeah - watch for other airplanes! I definitely spent too much time today with my head down on the instruments.

Once at Orange County things went OK, except my landings were a little sloppy. I'd like to blame that on two weeks off, but... So we did some touch and goes, and then went back to Monticello. Had less trouble getting back, and did a decent enough landing. I dropped Long off and then did some solo landings, which I have to say weren't that good. I really need to learn to use the rudder to straighten out better on touchdown.

Piper Warrior
Solo Cross Country

Strictly speaking, today's trip wasn't really a cross country because it was only about 34 miles. But I loved it all the same! Today I experienced for the first time the freedom I've heard other pilots talk about. When you do pattern work and landings you're always so busy you barely have time to look out the window for non-business purposes. But today as I flew from Monticello to Orange County Airport, I had a few minutes to do nothing but watch for traffic and look around. I was far enough ahead of the airplane that I could take the time to think, "Wow, here I am all alone a mile above the earth!" Great feeling, but I didn't allow myself much time for that luxury. When you get complacent, that's when you get killed.

As for the flight itself, it was pretty good. The mistakes I made will be corrected with practice and experience. But it was mostly uneventful. I tracked the VOR with no trouble and had the airport in sight for a long time before I got there. I had a little trouble once I descended to pattern altitude for my entry. Once I got down to where I was supposed to be I lost sight of the runway behind a hill. Next time I'll take note of a landmark on the proper heading before I cut myself off like that. But it was no big deal and I entered the pattern and landed with no trouble. There was a moderate amount of traffic this morning. Just enough to keep it interesting, but not enough to make me nervous. I also got an advisory that there were some geese around the runway. So I watched for the geese, and fortunately for me they behaved themselves.

I taxied around and took off again and made my way back to Monticello. Really enjoyed the return trip until I had trouble finding my airport! I still can't figure it out. I was right where I was supposed to be, with landmarks in sight, and I just couldn't find it! Had to climb a little and circle before I got it. Felt pretty silly to be able to find a relatively unfamiliar airport with no problem, and then have difficulty finding my own backyard!

So I landed at home and then did a touch and go for one more landing. Very nice flight, but I'm going to have to really clamp down on myself about the navigation. If that happens at an unfamiliar airport I could be in some trouble.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Although I feel pretty silly after today's lesson, I must admit it was a valuable learning experience. Long and I flew together to Cherry Ridge Airport in Pennsylvania. I did all the flight planning, with some help from Long. OK, a LOT of help. However, I found that getting the plan done correctly isn't the whole ball game.

The plan was to track a VOR to Cherry Ridge, a technique I thought I could do. We had also plotted out visual checkpoints to track our progress, and I even remembered to start my watch when we took off to get them! I picked up the VOR signal and began my intercept. That was about the last thing I did correctly.

First, there were some fairly low clouds to avoid. So I had to periodically climb, descend, and go around them. Second, it was a very unstable day in the air. Lots of thermals, so we got bounced around a good deal. Very hard to keep an altitude. So I was distracted by this. Finally, I'm just not good enough at the flight planning yet. I just missed our first checkpoint, and then ended up flying right past the airport without seeing it! The dumbest mistake was that I flew right past the VOR I was tracking, forgetting that the airport was on the near side of it! That was STUPID. I should have known to turn around at that point, but I guess I was so distracted that my brain wasn't working.

We eventually ended up near Wilkes Barre, PA. At this point, Long said, "OK, you're lost. Admit it. The only hints I'm giving you are:

1. Don't cross that highway over there or you'll end up in the Wilkes-Barre airspace.
2. Get on the radio and talk to someone.

"So pretend I'm not here, and get yourself un-lost."

So I contacted the Wilkes-Barre tower, who in turn handed me over to Approach Control. I told them I was a student pilot, was lost, and needed to get back to Monticello. They had me "squawk" a transponder frequency so they could identify me on radar, and then gave me vectors. First they got me around some traffic, and then pointed me at Monticello. It was at this point that I saw Cherry Ridge, large as the day is long just off my left wingtip. Long was having a good laugh at this point. He saw that I missed it on the way there, but didn't say anything.

Back at Monticello I executed a so-so landing in a moderate crosswind. I was thankful to be back, but also glad for the experience. We talked about what to do when lost. The five C's: Climb, be Calm, Communicate, Confess (that you're lost), Comply with instructions. So it was a good lesson today. Everybody should practice getting lost.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

These last few days have just been full of really intense learning experiences. Between getting lost the other day, and doing intense drilling of flight planning, weight and balance, and performance my brain feels just about full. So what did we do today? Serious crosswind landings. No rest for the weary.

I'm not really complaining, because it was great practice. But those darn crosswinds are tough! It was blowing at about 10 knots today, at almost a direct right angle to runway 33 at Sullivan County. So we just went up and down doing touch & go's. Some landings were good, and I bounced a few too. Learned to put in just a touch of power to soften the touchdown, which is especially useful in gusty conditions. Have to watch the airspeed when that happens because a gust when you are going too slow could make you stall.

When we got back to Monticello I had to go around twice before putting it down. Very tricky on that runway in a crosswind. Bounced the heck out of that landing, unfortunately. But Long is smart. He is usually a real perfectionist (as he should be), but he also knows when to tell me to lighten up. He said that even experienced pilots would have trouble at Monticello in that kind of a crosswind, and that I put it down OK, if a little hard. I need to relax, fly the plane, and not get jumpy.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Things went a bit better today on my second attempt to fly us to Cherry Ridge Airport. Found the airport through pilotage without much trouble, except that the runway is very difficult to spot until you're right on top of it. I did however, make one silly mistake. I landed us at Cherry Ridge, we did some touch and go's, and then Long said, "OK, what's the plan for getting us home?"


I had finally made a good flight plan, and then neglected to make one for the way back! He laughed and said I could use the VOR to navigate back, which went without a hitch. Slight difficulty landing in the crosswind at Monticello, but I got it down. Need to work on that.

Tomorrow, if the weather is good, I'll fly solo to Cherry Ridge.

Piper Warrior
Local Solo Flight

Couldn't make the trip to Cherry Ridge today as planned. The weather briefing called for marginal VFR, changing to IFR later on. There was a bunch of precipitation moving through from the Willkes Barre area, which is exactly where I would have been going. So that nixed the trip.

But since it was OK locally, and would remain so for a while, I went up to practice landings at Sullivan County. My flare needs work. As I did a few touch and go's I noticed more and more tiny airplanes in the air. At first I thought they were model planes, and I looked around for the idiots who were operating them in the vicinity of an airport! Then I realized they weren't toys, they were aerobatic planes practicing maneuvers. That got me a little nervous, because these guys were doing loops and Cuban 8's, and probably weren't looking for traffic at all times. But it seemed safe for landing practice, so I continued.

I had then intended to practice some ground reference maneuvers like turns around a point. But when I exited the traffic pattern I spotted an aerobatic plane in my practice area. I was looking for a way around it when I realized that I was pretty darn close to it. Then I got really jumpy when I saw that I was DAMN close to it. I turned away, and then got on the radio to advise it of my position. At this point I decided to head home because I didn't feel comfortable tooling around the area with those guys.

After I landed at Monticello I found Long about to go up with another student. I told him to be careful around Sullivan County because of all the aerobatics. He said, "Oh, I know. They're having a big aerobatic competition there this weekend. Didn't you know that?" I shook my head. As Long smirked at me, I realized my mistake. I had gotten a briefing for a trip to Cherry Ridge, and it had not occurred to me to call again after changing the plan for a flight to Sullivan County. So I was not given the NOTAM about the aerobatics there. Good lesson for the future.

Piper Warrior
Solo Cross Country

Found Cherry Ridge on my own today. No problem. Did a few practice landings there, and made one very nice one. Got back to Monticello without incident and did a few more landings. That's the way things should go! Have to plan my next cross country this evening for a flight tomorrow morning.

Earlier today I took an introductory helicopter lesson! It was really a fun experience, but it's too expensive to pursue right now. Maybe after I win the lottery...

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Long and I went on a trip to Waterbury, CT today as part of my cross country training. It took me about five attempts to make the flight plan because the weather kept delaying us. But that makes for good practice, and when we finally did go this afternoon the navigation was close to perfect. What a relief to see that I can actually get us somewhere, and find the airport on the first try!

The landmarks I picked were pretty good, except for a few small ones. I like using other airports as landmarks because they're easy to spot, and it's always good to know where they are in case of emergency. Smaller things like railroad tracks I found a bit harder to spot. Have to look for big stuff on the map, and then fly a bit to the side of them whenever possible for easy viewing.

Long had me file flight plans for the first time today. That added a bit to the workload in the plane, and there were a few moments where I felt a bit overwhelmed. Also had my head down in the cockpit too much doing my navigation and stuff. We landed without incident, got a drink, and then took off for the return trip. We flew back at 6500', which is the highest I've been yet in the Piper. Very easy to spot the big landmarks from up there, which is very reassuring because you can visually SEE that you are on the correct course. However, Long did have us go over a cloud deck at one point, which is obviously not good for spotting landmarks.

Had one mildly scary moment when over the Wurtsboro airport we came pretty close to a Cessna heading the other way. The two mistakes leading up to this were me looking down at my flight plan too much, and forgetting to tune the radio to the CTAF for Wurtsboro when we got close to it. Good lesson, and I will fly it solo tomorrow if the weather is good.

Piper Warrior
Solo Flight

Couldn't go on my cross country today as planned because of the weather. Although the winds were calm, the ceilings weren't quite where I needed them. Would have been OK going to Waterbury, but getting back might have been a problem.

So instead I went up locally to practice some maneuvers. Did a few stalls, and that was no problem. Tried some turns around a point, and they did not go so well. I think I need some more coaching on that one. Then I went to Sullivan County and did a few touch and go's.

Monticello Airport is having a fly-in over the weekend, so I probably won't get to fly again until next week. I really want to do the trip to Waterbury solo.

Piper Warrior
Solo Cross Country

Got up very early today to make the trip to Waterbury, and that was a good call. Perfect VFR weather when I took off at 7:00 AM, and the only problem on the flight was bad sun glare, as I was on an easterly heading. My navigation was right on, and I made it there in exactly the time I planned! Easy landing at Waterbury, went in to close my flight plan and file one for the return trip, and off I went back home.

The flight back to Monticello was even nicer because the sun wasn't in my eyes. The navigation was again pretty good, but I can only hope that will be the case when I go somewhere unfamiliar for the first time. The interesting part began just as I passed over the ridge near Wurtsboro. I started my descent at that point, and quickly encountered some brisk winds. Checking the Sullivan County AWOS, I learned that the winds had changed from calm to a nasty 14 knots, with gusts up to 19! Quite a change, and to make things worse it was a left crosswind on the Monticello runway. I got a little nervous because I knew this was well out of the minimums Long wanted me in (10 knots with no gust factor). I had the choice of landing at Sullivan County, but I decided to try an approach at Monticello. I told myself that if it was really bad I would abort the approach and go to Sullivan.

I entered the pattern and was careful to crab so I didn't get too close to the runway. I've made that mistake too often in a left crosswind, and was pleased that I handled that part well. Made a good turn to final, and then things got a bit wild. Very bumpy approach, and I decided to go in a little faster than usual for extra control, with only two increments of flaps. The last few seconds up to touchdown are kind of blurry in my mind. I remember putting in a sideslip, and having to really jerk it around. Landed a little hard and with a slight sideways skid, but I put it down.

From listening to the pilot talk around the airport, I gather that what I did today was more of an "arrival" than a landing. It definitely got my heart rate up, and I was very pleased to be safely on the ground. I'm sure Long was just as nervous as I was!

We had a Fly-In this weekend, and we got to see some really cool planes, including some military. The pictures can be seen HERE.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

First day of basic instrument maneuvers. In the classroom we went over the instruments, how they function during instrument flight, and how to scan. Also talked about the various ways the instruments can fail, what the consequences are, and how some instruments function as backups for the others. Then up we went, and I went under the hood for the first time.

Long gave me instructions as a flight controller might, such as, "Warrior 83X-Ray, climb and maintain 3800, and turn left to heading 090." Then I'd repeat the instructions (as you would when in contact with ATC), and make the maneuver on instruments while maintaining the airspeed. Or he'd have me change altitude and airspeed together, or sometimes all three. I think I did fairly well on the maneuvers. There's something very satisfying about keeping your needles centered where you want them. The hard part was simply remembering the instructions because he was speaking very quickly. When I got the hang of it he turned up the radio as a distraction. Then we did some of the same maneuvers in slow flight (60mph), which was more challenging. I found this lesson fun, if a little disorienting.

After an hour of this Long gave me a series of quick course corrections and speed changes, and then abruptly told me to take off the hood. He had placed us in the downwind leg of the Monticello pattern and I had to quickly reorient myself and land. I thought that was a bit of a dirty trick, but Long said that's exactly what happens during an instrument approach out of an overcast sky. You follow all these directions and maneuvers, and then PRESTO! There's the runway! Although the instrument portion of my training is only for safety purposes, it was interesting to have a peek at what awaits me when I go for the instrument rating some time in the future.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Second lesson on basic instrument flight. The objective was to navigate using VOR's while flying under the hood. We did this using intersections of Victor Airways. Here's the procedure:

1. Follow an airway to the nearest VOR. Enter the appropriate radial (either to or from the VOR), and fly the correct heading when the needle centers.

2. Set the second Nav radio to the radial which tracks the intersecting Victor Airway, but continue flying toward the first VOR.

3. When the needles for both VOR's are centered, you are at the intersection.

This is a very elegant method for figuring your position, but you have to be careful to avoid reverse sensing. I actually found folding the map while flying the plane on instruments to be the hardest part of this lesson! It's a lot of multi-tasking, and I found myself getting behind at a few points.

Long also demonstrated how easy it is to become disoriented during instrument flight. He had me close my eyes completely and put my head down on my chest as if I were asleep. Then I tried to fly straight & level. Yeah, right. What I did was put us into a "graveyard spiral" - a gradual descent in a shallow bank. It's so shallow that you can't feel it, so you MUST therefore rely on the instruments for the airplane's attitude. I told Long that if the object of this lesson was to scare me into not flying into IFR conditions, it worked.

We also did some power on and power off stalls, which were no problem. Then as we approached the airport Long cut the throttle and I had to perform an engine-out emergency procedure. This time I blew it. I thought I could land at Monticello, and put down my flaps. That was the wrong thing to do because we were too high. The correct action would have been to establish best glide, and then spiral down to bleed off the altitude. I eventually figured this out, but too late. I tried to spiral with the flaps down and would have landed waaaaaay short. So today I would have been killed, but I learned it for next time.


Piper Warrior
Solo Flight

Long is away for two weeks, so any flying is going to be solo practice in the local area. Today I practiced landings at Sullivan County and Monticello. My first landing was pretty poor. Lately I've been noticing that my flare is too late, so I decided I would concentrate on starting it a little earlier. Well I did that, ended up doing it TOO early and stalled the plane onto the runway from about 8 feet up. Not good. Although it didn't bounce, it sure felt like a ton-of-bricks landing. I was fairly upset with myself for that. The next few were better, especially when I reminded myself to try to keep the plane from touching the ground.

I also simulated a low go-around because I've never actually had to do one. No problem. The Warrior has enough pep that it develops pretty good thrust even with full flaps down. And it was fairly warm today, so I think I got a fairly good idea of what the plane can do in that situation.

There was nobody around for the most part at Sullivan or at Monticello, so I decided to try a straight-in approach at Monticello. This had the added allure of saving me a bit of time going around the airport to enter on a 45. Being careful of the power lines that are near the approach to runway 19, I did a pretty good landing. Did two more at Monticello before calling it quits.

Piper Arrow
Observed ILS Approach

I was at the airport today taking some photographs for a web site, and met John Needles. He got his instrument rating at Monticello, and was there today for some maintenance work on his Piper Arrow. The Arrow has a 200 hp Lycoming engine, retractable gear, and a constant speed prop. Although technically not considered high performance (it would have to be 201 hp for that!), it is classified a complex airplane. John and I got to talking while they worked on his plane, and he graciously offered to take me up with him as he tested the plane.

John explained some of the particulars of flying a plane with retractable gear and a variable speed prop, and talked a bit about instrument flying. There was a low overcast today, and by the time we reached altitude, the conditions really were actual IFR.

The Arrow is a nice machine. It climbs well even at a low angle of attack, which John explained is the result of the extra horsepower. The retractable gear and prop controls add a level of complexity, but that was nothing compared to the instrument flying that John demonstrated for me. Being almost completely ignorant of IFR procedures, I was very interested to see what it took to fly a precision approach. I won't try to chronicle the entire procedure, but here are the basics: He used the ADF to intercept the Monga NDB near Sullivan County Airport. Then he executed a series of standard rate turns at specified altitudes and headings to set us up on the ILS approach. When we got on the glide slope we began a 500 foot-per-minute descent. The glideslope instrument in the airplane showed us our horizontal position (as when tracking a VOR, but more precise), as well as our position with regard to the glideslope. John explained that the "decision altitude" for this particular approach is 1653 feet - which means that if you don't see the runway at that point, you have to abort the approach. Today we were able to see the airport some time before the decision checkpoint.

Satisfied that the approach had been successful we declined to land, and John dropped me off at Monticello in ever thickening clouds. It was a new experience for me to land at Monticello in bad weather. Being a student pilot I rarely see anything but high clouds. Once on the ground I reflected on the heavy workload that IFR pilots must manage. Right now it's all I can do to manage a comparatively simple aircraft under VFR rules. Very interesting to learn about a new plane and a new way of flying today. It may have given me a glimpse into how I will be spending next summer! Thanks John - I owe you some sushi!

Piper Warrior
Solo Practice

I hadn't intended to fly today, but when I saw the beautiful weather as I left work, my car just started heading for the airport of its own volition. Practiced stalls, turns around a point, and landings at Sullivan County. Nothing unusual to speak of. Stalls are good, turns around a point still stink.

The only exciting part came on my return to Monticello. My approach just didn't feel right, and I landed with a bit of a shimmy. So I made my first actual go-around, and then flew a much better approach for my landing.

Piper Warrior

Went up with my colleague Fred Saltzman in his IFR-equipped Warrior. First time I've flown right seat in a long time. Felt funny, but OK. I did one approach to landing, but Fred asked me not to actually touch down. Neither of us were entirely confident that I could do a clean landing from the right seat. Fred also flew the ILS approach into Sullivan County - second time I've observed that. I want to fly right seat more often so it's not so alien to me if/when I ever try for a CFI some time in the far flung future.

Piper Warrior
Stewart International

Went up again with Fred so he could practice flying from the right seat. That's pretty tough when you've had over 1000 hours in the left seat, as Fred does. He did several landings with no problem, except that he tended to drift to the right of center. It's tough to judge your position from the right side.

So after a few landings Fred said, "Let's go somewhere. You fly." So I asked to go to Stewart International to get introduced to controlled airspace, which in this case is Class D. So off we went with Fred coaching me on what to say to ATC and when.

When we were about 15 miles out Fred spotted another plane in their pattern. Then I thought, "He spotted a plane at Stewart from this far out?" Yup - one of the big C-5 transport planes the Air National Guard has based at Stewart. What a big bird!

So I called up ATC as we approached, and geez, but they talk fast! Ironically, they asked me to fly a right pattern to the big 11,000 foot runway. Ironic because usually I'm in the right-hand seat when I fly with Fred, which would have made this much easier! So I made a terrible turn to final, but I had come out pretty far on downwind and had time to get back on track.

Now the funny part. Stewart's big runway has a tremendous displaced threshold, and people often land on it by mistake thinking it's part of the runway. The controllers are apparently very touchy about this, and Fred cautioned me several times to be sure I landed past the numbers. As I lined up on final approach Fred noticed a truck on the threshold. He keyed his mic and said, "Stewart Tower, Warrior 9605 Charlie - do you realize there's a car on the runway?"

The controller came back in a nasty tone. "Sir, that is the THRESHOLD. What you need to do is land past the numbers, on the RUNWAY." Fred shook his head incredulously and mumbled an affirmative. Never did find out what the truck was doing there, but I guess all they were concerned about was that we landed past the numbers.

Fun trip, and it may save me from making a few mistakes when I go there with Long.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Long got back the other day, and informed me that he has been hired by an airline! So I now join the ranks of the many who have become suddenly instuctor-less in the middle of training. But I'm not worried because a new instructor is already lined up. Stu is a nice guy, and I have already flown with him once. I think we'll get along fine, and if things go well I'll get him to teach me instruments next summer.

Today Long and I finished up my basic instrument training. The object of the lesson was for me to recover from "unusual attitudes" while under the hood. So I did some basic instrument turns and climbs to get back into the feel of instrument flying. Then Long took the airplane while I closed my eyes and put my head down. He maneuvered around a bit, then told me to open my eyes and recover the plane.

I didn't find it that difficult. The hard part was sitting there with my head down while he twisted the plane around. He had some real G-forces going there, which isn't too comfortable when you don't have visual cues. Makes you queasy. The surprise was when I opened my eyes to find that he had covered up the attitude and heading indicators. I soon found that navigating by compass is a pain in the ass. You have to remember that in addition to the errors due to magnetic dip, the plane turns around the compass. That means that you fly opposite where you want the compass to turn. Weird.

And so ends the basic instrument portion of my training. Now it's on to controlled airspace, night flying, and a few more cross country flights.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

Took a trip to Stewart International and got some more practice with air traffic control. Having a kneeboard and the flight guide entry for the airport made things a lot easier. Once again I had to fly a right-hand pattern, but to the smaller runway. When I reported abeam the tower as instructed, they had me make a 360° circle to wait for other traffic, then cleared me to land.

My girlfriend was in the plane too, and the three of us went out to dinner in Newburgh. Afterwards Long suggested taking a sightseeing ride down to the Statue of Liberty. We took off in darkness, which was new for me. Then we received a clearance to fly down the Hudson River into Manhattan. This was one of the most spectacular experiences I've ever had! It was a clear night and all the buildings were lit up, and it was just incredible. As we passed by Yankee Stadium, Long asked for permission to overfly the field. Surprisingly, they said yes! So I took us over the stadium, and was surprised and thrilled to see that there was a night game in progress! We could see the players on the field, and the crowd in the stands, and it was unbelievable! Then we got to the statue and did a few circles so we could take pictures. On the way back we flew up the East River and over Central Park, which was quite dark. We were just breathless as we picked up the Huegenot VOR to head back to Sullivan County.

Night flying is interesting. Much easier to spot traffic because of the lights. I rather enjoyed it, although I found landing a bit disorienting. Long and I will do a bunch of night touch and go's some time in the next few days.

Piper Warrior
Solo flight

Did my solo flight to Stewart International's Class D airspace today. I had no problem dealing with ATC, but my actual stick & rudder skills were pretty bad. I'd like to blame a significant crosswind, but probably shouldn't.

I got to Stewart without any trouble, and since they weren't busy they allowed me to do some touch and go's. Flying the right-hand pattern didn't give me trouble today (come to think of it, that's the first time I've flown right-hand traffic solo...). Two of my landings were pretty bad, one was fairly good. I paid more attention to the crosswind, put in a good sideslip and held it throughout the flare, and landed nicely. After that I asked for a full stop landing so I could taxi around, get my breath, and practice dealing with the ground people for departure. No problem with that, and off I went toward Monticello.

The crosswind situation had actually worsened a bit since I had left. It was variable, around 8 knots gusting to 14. So I got a little jumpy considering that I didn't feel all that good to begin with about my skills today. Entered the pattern at Monticello having first checked for traffic. Then just as I was getting to the key position, I heard another plane call out the same position as me. I quickly looked around and was startled to see another plane about 300 feet off my right wingtip! They asked if I was Long. I said no, and asked what they intended to do. Without answering, they veered off to the right. I announced that I was aborting my approach, powered up and went around the pattern. This little encounter shook me up, and after setting up again I flew a terrible pattern. Got blown away from the runway, and then almost tried to overcorrect. It's so tempting to just bank a little further over to get back on final, but it has been drilled into me that this is a BIG no-no. So I went around again, and flew a better pattern the third time around.

I would say I "arrived" rather than landed. Came in too high, bounced, and had to brake hard as I was running out of runway. But I got there in one piece. Long told me I should have come in the other way because the wind was slightly favoring the other direction. So actually I had made matters worse for myself by coming in with a slight tailwind. Good lesson today on watching for traffic, and taking the time to do the arithmetic on which runway the wind favors.

NEXT DAY: I have been bothered all day by my flight yesterday. A day's perspective has brought the following insight: Between the crosswind and the other plane crowding me in the pattern, I allowed myself to succumb to "get-down-itis". I was so desperate to land that I conducted a poor procedure - one that I would normally have aborted. I should have gone around on that last approach instead of forcing the plane onto the runway. There shouldn't have been any rush - I had plenty of gas, and could have set up another approach at my leisure. Or even more sensibly, gone to Sullivan County and used the big runway. In any case, it was poor judgment and I hope I have learned from it.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Long Tan

I met Long at Sullivan County Airport for my introduction to night flying, which was actually my second time doing it. We stayed in the pattern and just worked on landings. It's almost like flying under the hood. A bit disorienting, but I enjoyed it. We did several normal landings, and then did some with various flap settings. One aspect I found challenging was simply the addition of a step to the landing procedure - you have to turn on the landing light. On my third landing I forgot to turn it on, and then couldn't figure out why I couldn't see the runway centerline! Dumb!

The really fun part came when we started turning out lights in the airplane on purpose. We purposely kept the landing light off for an approach, so I had to use only the runway lighting. Then we turned off all the cockpit lights! Long had had me listen carefully to the engine at the crucial power settings so I could estimate where the power was without checking the gauge. So I took off and flew the pattern with no instruments whatsoever. I found it challenging to judge altitude throughout the whole lesson because there is little at night to give you a real reference as to size. Long said it was better to be high than low, especially at night. So I kept it high and did the approach, being careful to keep the nose down and the airspeed high enough to not risk a stall. Challenging, but fun.

Throughout the lesson I found myself coming close to being overloaded. In addition to remembering extra bits of chores (landing lights, etc.), Long and I were chatting in an effort to simulate what might happen when I have a talkative passenger along. So there were a few times I was late taking out flaps, or starting a turn.

Then he started cutting the throttle on me. Out of three times I got us down OK twice. On the unsuccessful attempt he had cut the power as I was coming abeam the takeoff end of the runway in the downwind leg. I wasn't sure what to do in this situation, thinking that I wasn't far enough down the runway to safely execute a 180 and land. So I tried to cut in toward the runway and land straight ahead, but would have run out of room.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable lesson. I really liked flying in the blacked-out cockpit - that may have been what it felt like to fly in the 1920's or 30's. Made a few nice landings too.

Piper Warrior
Solo Flight

Had hoped to make my cross country to Norwich/Eaton Airport today, and all looked good. Perfect weather forecast and conditions from the briefer, and it sure looked great outside. But Long returned from flying with another student to tell me that there was a great deal of haze in the air. What? I called weather again and they kept calling for unrestricted visibility. Then another pilot came down to say that he had tried to go Elmira (not far from Norwich), and couldn't get through the haze

So instead I tried to go over to Dutchess County Airport in the other direction to practice with Class D airspace. But as soon as I left the traffic pattern and gained some altitude, I could see the haze hanging over the ridge near Wurtsboro. So I turned back and tooled around the traffic pattern at Monticello for a while, working on landings.

Today was Long's last day, and I bid him farewell with the gift of a set of juggling balls. Stu will be here in about two weeks, and I hope to make a push to finish my training in November. If the weather holds, I may be able to do it.



EAA Young Eagles

No lessons today, but I did lots of flying just the same. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) holds Young Eagles events where they give kids aged 8-17 free airplane rides. It's a nice event, and the pilots are very nice to donate their time (and money, in the form of airplane time) so the kids can have a very unique experience.

I took some photos of the event (click HERE), and went on a few rides so I could take pictures of the kids in the air. They all seemed to enjoy their rides, and I was pleased to see some of the kids from the school where I teach.

Later in the day when things were slowing down a Navajo Chieftain (see photo above) came in for some maintenance. The Navajo is a 10-seat, twin prop plane used for business commuting and charter flights. Their landing gear door had been popping open during flight. Mike, the A&P mechanic and owner of TML Aircraft fixed the door, and then said they should take a brief flight to test it. Always interested in riding in new aircraft, I quickly asked to go along. So did a lady photographer who had been taking pictures of the kids at the Young Eagles event. So we climbed into the Navajo and sat behind Charlie the pilot, and Mike who rode in the copilot's seat.

The Navajo is one of the largest airplanes that is capable of landing on Monticello's runway, so I was very curious to see what the approach would look like. However, I found the takeoff even more interesting. It used up almost all of the available runway space on it's ground roll. It was very disconcerting to be going that fast and still be on the ground that far down the runway. After rotation, the Navajo climbs quickly and we were soon tooling around at about 2000'.

Mike then turned around and yelled to me over the sound of the engines, "We're going to raise the nose abruptly." Then indicating the photographer to my left said, "Warn her."

I wasn't sure how to prepare her for the maneuver I was expecting, so I simply told her to hang on to something. She looked worried. Mike then jerked the nose of the plane up so hard that we pulled around 2 g's! I was pressed hard into my seat for a moment, then had the stomach dropping feeling of going over the top on a roller coaster as we leveled off. The photographer shrieked and grabbed at the seat in front of her. I was startled too, and thought the plane might stall.

Mike repeated the maneuver, and then did a quick dive that brought negative g's. I then realized that he was maneuvering roughly on purpose to see if the gear door would come open. After that we headed back to Monticello, where Charlie did a nice, but fast landing. He told me afterward that his strategy is to simply put it down quickly. On a runway that short there isn't time to flare and float much, so he accepts a slightly harder landing than usual.

The photographer walked shakily off the plane. She was sweating.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Took my first lesson with Stu today, and we covered a good deal of ground. We did short field takeoffs and landings, steep turns, and slips. Stu is certainly a different presence in the cockpit than Long. Although just as methodical, his demeanor is quite different. A bit more easygoing and talkative. Although I could happily have finished my training with Long, I am glad to have another instructor seeing me fly. Brings a different perspective to things. And I think Stu and I are going to get along well.

We went over the short field takeoff maneuver, and that went pretty well. I enjoyed the steep turns a lot. Much better than when I did them in the Cessna at Wurtsboro. As then, I was shy about banking the plane so far over. It's tough when I've been coached for so long to NEVER exceed 30 degrees of bank in the pattern. So Stu encouraged me to "Tom Cruise it" and really crank it over. That worked well and felt really cool!

After practicing more turns we did some side and forward slips, with Stu showing me the difference between the two. A sideslip keeps the nose of the plane going in the direction of travel, whereas a forward slip turns the plane's fuselage into the wind. It spoils the aerodynamics of the plane by inducing lots of drag, and causes you to lose altitude very quickly.

Finished the flight with some short field landings, which went pretty well. Nice flight, good lesson. Tomorrow morning I'm going to attempt the Norwich/Eaton trip.


Piper Warrior
Solo Cross Country

FINALLY got to do the trip to Norwich, and it was great! I flew the IFR equipped Warrior today, so I had to get used to the fancier radio equipment. And this trip gave me plenty of opportunity to practice with VOR's, talking with controllers to get on Flight Following, and activating flight plans.

As in my previous cross country trips, I was somewhat hesitant to believe my own navigation. Although I trust myself to do a good flight plan, I always worry that maybe the winds might change and throw everything off. But not to worry, I flew a good course over the mountains to Norwich and found the airport without any trouble. I used VOR's to track my progress, using FROM flags to check the radials I was crossing. My only tense moment came as I entered the pattern at Norwich. The downwind leg is right over a mountain, and very low down. I grabbed my Flight Guide to make sure I had the pattern altitude correct. I did, but it sure looked low to me. Thought I could reach out the window and grab me some fall foliage.

The return trip was uneventful for the most part. To open my flight plan I had to do that little trick where you transmit on one frequency, and listen through a VOR. Then Flight Following brought me up short when they asked me (after having me on radar for 20 minutes), "What's your position?" My first thought was to ask, "Don't YOU know?!" After all, they have radar... But I didn't say that. I told them where I was (at least where I THOUGHT I was) and they didn't question it.

Once I got back to the Monticello area I was a bit irritated that the wind, although not strong, was variable. Every time I checked AWOS it had moved significantly. When I got to the airport I began to go in on runway 19, but then realized the winds had shifted. So I overflew to look at the windsock, decided to land in the other direction and flew around to make that approach. The wind shifted AGAIN, and I finally ended up putting it down on 19 in a right quartering crosswind. Made a decent landing. I might just be getting the hang of the crosswind thing.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

After having lunch I returned to the airport to fly some more with Stu. We did a short field takeoff, then practiced a bunch of maneuvers. We did steep turns, power on stalls, power off stalls, slips, some instrument work under the hood, and a short field landing. It was good to have sort of a review session with many of the skills I've learned. I'm starting to see where all of it is leading, and am confident I will be ready for the checkride when the time comes.

Piper Warrior
Solo Flight

Went up by myself this afternoon to practice the maneuvers we've been working on lately. After pre-flighting the airplane I waited for about 30 minutes for the winds to calm down a bit. They did, and up I went. I'm glad I waited - don't want to develop "go fever".

This was a very productive flight. I took a moment earlier to plan out what I was going to do, and I accomplished it all: short field takeoffs and landings (at Monticello and Sullivan County), steep turns, power on & off stalls, and forward slips. I went out past Sullivan County, did my clearing turns and went to work.

I felt more in control of the airplane today than ever before. My steep turns were good, and felt terrific. It all came together on my last few attempts. I was able to split my attention between maintaining altitude & bank angle, and anticipating the rollout onto my original heading with visual landmark. That's a nice feeling when it all works.

Stalls were also pretty good, although I need to work on the power-on. I think I'm porpoising instead of doing a smooth recovery. My short field takeoff was OK, but I need to nail the airspeed a bit better. Short field landing was better, especially the first one I did at Sullivan. After that I climbed up a ways and did some forward slips to lose altitude. In retrospect, I realize I didn't check the wind first. Have to remember that next time so I can slip into the wind.

Tomorrow Stu and I will attempt my night cross country flight to Syracuse.


Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Weather prevented us from trying the night cross country to Syracuse, so we went to the next thing on the list, which was soft field landings and takeoffs. Interesting. It's weird to take off in such a nose high attitude, with the stall horn going off. As Stu observed, we as pilots are trained to get AWAY from the ground as quickly as possible. Floating in ground effect to pick up speed is a bit counterintuitive, but makes sense when you think of a muddy or bumpy field.

It was getting late when we returned to Monticello. We did a low pass over the runway to scare any deer away (that's no joke - we have had a number of "deer incursions" on our runway), and then landed. Quite an experience to put it down with nothing but the landing light and no airport lighting. I wouldn't attempt it on my own.

Next week we are going to try to get in the night cross country, and get me ready for my long solo cross country. We spoke about maybe going to Islip and Groton for that trip. Can't wait!

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Stu and I made the trip to Syracuse today, and covered a lot of instructional territory. We knew the weather was going to by questionable, but Stu has been wanting to take me into IFR conditions. So we went knowing that we'd probably come back on instruments.

My cross country planning was fairly good, although the winds were a bit stronger than predicted. The approach in to Syracuse was cloudy, and we had to go in on the ILS. Stu flew the approach and then gave it to me to land once we had the runway in site. I flew a good sideslip into the crosswind. Learning the forward slips with Stu has really improved my understanding of a crosswind landing.

Syracuse has an Air National Guard station right next to the general aviation FBO, resulting in our Warrior sharing the ramp with five F-16's! I have to go back with my camera some time.

Stu filed an IFR flight plan and we headed back to Monticello. We very quickly ended up in the clouds, and my first real IFR experience. Flying in a cloud is just as disorienting as I've read. I know the basics of how to scan the instruments and make standard rate turns and such, but it really is very disconcerting to have to believe the instruments and not your body. For a good ten minutes as we remained in a cloud, my body was telling me we were in a bank when the instruments said we were straight and level. And though I knew you MUST trust the instruments, it was still a struggle. That will take a lot of getting used to when I start formal IFR training.

As we climbed through the clouds we began to experience icing - another first for me. The windshield iced over almost completely, and then it started building up on the leading edges of the wings. Stu had me turn on the carburetor heat and pitot tube heat. Then we descended a few thousand feet and the ice began to dissipate.

We followed VOR radials back to Sullivan County International and then canceled our IFR when we knew we had the airport in sight from about ten miles out. We then decided to conduct another night landing at Monticello, which was the same somewhat harrying experience it was last week.

Going into actual IFR conditions was a very enlightening experience. In addition to getting more instrument and VOR work, it helped convince me NEVER to blunder into such conditions through carelessness. That kind of flying is beyond me at the moment, and I have serious doubts about my survival were I to end up in those conditions on my own (this further supplements the article I read recently which stated VFR pilots who inadvertently enter IFR conditions have a life expectancy of around three minutes).

The end of my training is in sight. I have yet to do my night cross country with Stu, my long solo cross country, and some test preparation. If I get lucky with the weather I could test in the next two or three weeks!

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Went up with Stu today to practice flying and landing in gusty conditions. This was another good lesson in that I am that much better prepared for when I encounter unfavorable weather on my own.

It was quite bumpy up there today. We started out doing landings at Monticello and then went to Sullivan County at my request. Stu had me work on making my approaches more elegant by establishing a descent attitude, and maintaining it throughout the landing. This involved trimming for an airspeed (say, 70mph on final), and holding the airplane in that attitude. Then all I had to do was control altitude through the throttle. It was a bit strange to not be pointed a bit more downward, but the exercise showed me how slow I can fly the airplane under control.

We also did some short field and soft field takeoffs, and I'm getting the feel for those a bit better. Rotating at such a slow airspeed during the short field is a bit scary. Feels like the airplane is about to stall, especially since the nose is pointing upward. But it works amazingly well: climb at Vx until you clear the hypothetical 50' obstacle, then pitch down for Vy. Very strange to be that high above the runway that quickly.

For the soft field takeoff I found I must push down pretty hard on the yoke to keep the plane flying in ground effect. It really wants to go higher, but you need to stay down to safely accelerate. After all, you are intentionally rotating at a speed where the airplane would normally stall.

Finally, I instigated an engine out scenario. Cut the power as we were in the downwind, but I still couldn't bring it in! My mistake was that I tried to land on the numbers. The Sullivan County runway is so large that I should have just turned base over the runway and landed on the second half. Dumb of me to try to finesse it into a normal landing. After that Stu pulled the power on me during a takeoff and I handled that better, with a decent straight ahead landing.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

FINALLY got the night cross country in. The way the weather has been behaving lately, it didn't look like we'd ever fly again. But we got a nice calm night for our trip to Republic Airport in Farmingdale, NY. Took off from Sullivan County International, opened my flight plan, got on Flight Following with NY Approach, and followed the Huegenot VOR toward the Hudson River. All pretty routine, except the VOR's still give me trouble sometimes. I need to stop second-guessing myself - I understand how they work and I just need to relax and utilize them.

NY Approach terminated radar service as we dropped down below the Class B airspace surrounding New York City, and advised us of the common air traffic frequency for the Hudson River. We cruised over the Tappan Zee and George Washington bridges at 1000', then got on radar again with Newark, who in turn handed us off to the JFK tower. I never thought I'd be dealing with the JFK tower in a Piper Warrior! But there we were, with the controller vectoring TWA flights and a string of other heavy jets all around and above us. We could see them lined up to shoot the ILS approach into JFK. We were warned to stay clear of their wake turbulence, and it is indeed a bit eery to see one of those big planes pass overhead, separated by only a couple thousand feet or so.

We dropped down to 500' to skirt the southern coast of Long Island, passing by Long Beach and Jones Beach. Very cool to be that low and that fast, and it was comforting to know that if the engine quit on us, we had miles of nice soft sand to land on just below us (which would probably result in the airplane nosing over, but it looked comforting all the same...).

Got the ATIS information from Republic and we were about the only traffic going in there. So we flew a normal left pattern instead of their usual right hand traffic and landed. My only problem was getting oriented to the runway. We had been cleared for a left base to runway 32, and I couldn't see the runway. I had expected that to be the easy part, but all the lights were lost in the suburban sprawl of Long Island. Stu got me headed to the airport, and I then couldn't pick out the correct runway. This whole thing took me aback because I had expected the Republic controllers to provide vectors. We figured out where to land, and Stu later told me I could have asked them for vectors if I'd really wanted.

I felt very good on this flight, especially in dealing with the controllers. The JFK guys talked very fast, but didn't seem to get upset when I asked them to repeat once or twice. I was able to copy down instructions and repeat them without much trouble, and I felt in control of the airplane. Nice trip, and I can't wait to do it in the day time so my pictures of the New York skyline will come out!

Piper Warrior
Solo Long Cross Country

Finally got my long cross country in, and it was definitely an experience. The weather was good in the morning, and forecast to stay that way. So Stu and I agreed that I would try to make the trip, taking off when the airplane became available around 1:30. The long cross country must include landings at three different airports, be at least 150 nautical miles total, with at least one leg being a straight line distance of 50 nm miles or more. I spent the morning planning the flight along the following routes:

Leg 1: Takeoff from Monticello and use pilotage and dead reckoning to fly southeast past Orange County and Stewart International airports.

Leg 2: Track inbound to the Carmel VOR, and then follow it outbound to the south. This course would take me in between the cities of Stamford and Norwalk, Connecticut. Verifying that my course would not encroach upon the NY Class B airspace, I would then cross Long Island Sound and enter Republic Airport's Class D airspace where I would land.

Leg 3: After getting my logbook signed at Republic, depart and head north to cross the Sound again on course to Sikorsky Airport in Bridgeport, CT (another Class D facility).

Leg 4: Depart Sikorsky and head home via pilotage, with a course nearly following Leg 1.

This plan was complicated by a few factors:

* The area near West Point, which lay almost directly on my flight path, was restricted until 3:00.
* The idea of crossing Long Island Sound made me nervous.
* Republic and Sikorsky, both Class D airports with operational control towers, were unfamiliar (Although I had gone into Republic the night before with Stu, I couldn't say that I was familiar with it's layout to the point that I was comfortable).
* The later my departure, the greater the chance that I would return in darkness and have to land at Sullivan County.

So after reviewing my plan with Stu, off I went into the wild blue yonder. I had resolved that I would, unlike my previous solo flights, tell everyone I talked to that I was a student pilot. So I got on radar with NY Approach and then began my track, slightly left of my planned course to avoid the West Point area. Everything went fine as I moved inbound toward the Carmel VOR. I then made a good intercept of the radial I needed to set up for my water crossing. Although I could clearly see I was headed exactly where I wanted to go, in between Norwalk and Stamford, I had my controller (who had kindly offered help at any point I felt I needed it) verify that I was not about to inadvertently enter the NY Class B.

Satisfied that I was on course and the airplane was healthy, I went "feet wet" and crossed Long Island Sound, headed for Farmingdale, NY. I was cleared to enter a downwind leg for landing, but then ran into my first problem of the day. I couldn't find the freakin' airport, and then made the classic mistake of immediately turning to where I THOUGHT it should be (the correct action being to continue straight ahead and then figure it out). Not wanting to get myself in serious trouble this early along, I immediately called the tower and told them I had gotten turned around and could they please nudge me back in the right direction? They did so, having me fly along the Long Island Expressway to the airport, which annoyed me because I should have thought of that myself.

Made an uneventful landing at Republic, and taxied to the FBO I wanted without too much trouble. Jumped out of the plane, closed my flight plan and re-filed for my next leg, got my book signed, jumped back into the plane and got ready to go to Bridgeport. I didn't want to be in a hurry, but I knew I was fighting the remaining daylight. Things were slowed down for me however, since Republic was very busy that day. This actually made finding my way around the airport easier with instructions like, "Follow that Cessna down the taxiway." I ended up sitting at the departure end of the runway for about 20 minutes watching plane after plane land and take off. Finally, after another arrival the tower told me to taxi onto the runway and hold position. I could see that they were simply waiting for the twin that had just landed to get clear of the runway before quickly sending me on my way to make room for another arrival. It was kind of cool to sit there on the runway with my hand poised over the throttle just waiting for the word to go. The moment the twin turned onto the taxiway I was cleared to depart, and did so without delay. I flew the runway heading to 1000' and asked to turn north, which they approved immediately.

So off I went across the Sound again toward Bridgeport. This was a short leg, only about 25 miles. I had the airport in sight very quickly, and this is where the trouble began. I was told by the tower to, "Report a 1-mile left downwind for runway 24." I dutifully consulted my flight guide to be sure I was headed toward the correct runway (there are 4 at Bridgeport), but it took me a moment to clarify it. By the time I had it figured out I had gone past where I should have been, and wasn't sure what to do about it. My first reaction was to circle back over land instead of water. I began to do this, but then realized that I would be encroaching on the approach path of the runway I was supposed to be landing on, and I knew there were other planes in the area. So I turned right over the Sound, at which point the tower controller wondered aloud just where the heck I was. For the second time that day, I was forced to admit that I had gotten turned around and needed some help. Since I was now headed back the other way, they had me turn base immediately and then land.

I'm not sure if it's possible to taxi and airplane sheepishly, but if it is, I did it. To make matters worse, I couldn't figure out how to get to the FBO, which flustered me further. With help, I got to the FBO and was met by a guy in a car asking if he could have a word with me.


Feeling like I was being pulled over by a cop, I grabbed my logbook and jumped down from the plane. Turned out he was the airport safety inspector, and not with the FAA. He made a point of telling me he was not there to report me or get me in trouble, but did want to talk about my arrival. I explained what I thought I did wrong, and he mostly agreed. He gave me some tips on how to orient oneself in that situation, and explained that I needed to plan ahead carefully to avoid this sort of thing. I said that I thought I HAD planned ahead, but apparently not well enough. He was very nice about it, and even offered to sign my logbook to show I had been there!

I climbed back in the plane, and carefully checked how I would taxi to the runway. After starting up the engine and listening to the ATIS, I contacted ground control and told them I was ready to go. They gave me taxi instructions which I promptly screwed up. I was so embarrassed at this point that I briefly felt an almost irresistible urge to hide under the seat. But I was shortly airborne again, very grateful to have Bridgeport behind me.

The trip back would not be difficult, and traffic would be even easier to spot since it was getting dark. Since I wasn't in the mood to talk to anybody after my experience at Bridgeport, I just flew VFR with no radar flight following. It was an uneventful flight in nice smooth air. Although not technically night flight since it was less than an hour after sunset, it was dark nonetheless and I turned on the cockpit lights. I monitored the common air traffic frequency to aid my scans for traffic, and also called out my position as I approached the various airports along my route. Stu was in the air with a student and answered one of my calls, asking how my trip had gone. I said I'd tell him later (if he didn't receive a phone call from the FAA first, that is...), and he said he'd pick me up at Sullivan County.

I conducted a careful landing at Sullivan County, thereby ending my trip. It was cold, and I sat huddled in the airplane while I waited for Stu. The airport was deserted, so I had some quiet time to think about my flight. I was pretty ticked about what I felt were the stupid mistakes I made. I resolved to pay much closer attention to taxiing and learn my airport runway marking signs cold. On the plus side, my navigation in general was good. I felt in control of the airplane, even when I had to do things out of order or in a hurry. And I can't help but learn from such an experience, if only through embarrassment and sheer determination to never let these things happen again.

Some time soon, the whole thing will be funny... I hope.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Having completed my solo long cross country flight, we now have only to prepare for my checkride. Stu wants us to get in three hours of dual instruction time to practice maneuvers and such. Today we sat down and did a pre-flight briefing on the weather, aircraft performance, and weight & balance. We then did a slow and thorough preflight of the airplane, and had to execute a cold start with the primer since it was so frigid out today (19 Fahrenheit).

Stu had given me a list of maneuvers we were to accomplish today, and we got right into it with a short field takeoff. We then did a number of maneuvers including steep turns, slow flight, and power-on stalls. Then it was hood time, and on instruments I tracked into the Huegenot VOR, and thence outbound toward Wurtsboro Airport. I'll be taking the checkride at Wurtsboro, so Stu wanted me to become reacquainted with operations there. The ridge is still as big as ever, and it took me a few landings there to get used to it again.

We did a soft field takeoff and a few landings, two of which were awful. I asked to do a couple more and did a better job on those. Got scared at one point when I looked down to see an airplane towing a glider about 700 feet below us. They fly a lot of gliders out of Wurtsboro, so I should have been expecting that.

After departing Wurtsboro we headed back towards Monticello and did some S-Turns over Rt. 17, and then turns around a point around the Concord Hotel. Then it was up to 3500, which is a thousand feet above the Monticello traffic pattern. Stu had me perform a forward slip down to pattern altitude, which brought us into the downwind leg for the runway. We stayed at that altitude until lined up on final approach and then did a forward slip to a landing, which I'd never done before. That was really cool! Flew sideways in the slip all the way down, took the slip out just over the runway and set it down, all with no flaps! I shouldn't be so surprised - that's the way it was done for years before airplanes were commonly fitted with flaps.

We went back up and into the pattern, and as we came midfield in the downwind I asked Stu what kind of landing he wanted. "This kind," he said as he pulled the power off. I made a pretty good emergency landing on the runway, putting in the flaps on final approach when it was certain I had the runway made.

I felt pretty good when we were finished. My power-on stall recovery needs work, as do my turns around a point (always my weakest maneuver), and I'd like more practice on the performance takeoffs. But I think I will be well prepared for my test. Hopefully we can get it in this coming week.

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Stu and I did our second test preparation flight today, again covering the gamut of maneuvers required in the Private Pilot Test Standards. Although the weather looked great according to the eye and the briefing, once again I found it doesn't always stay that way. It was quite bumpy as we went through slow flight turns and stalls, which made it very difficult to hold an altitude.

The turbulence got worse as we arrived at Wurtsboro because of the funky air currents around the ridge there. Great for the gliders I guess, but not fun for us. Practiced short and soft field landings at Wurtsboro, and I wasn't too pleased with myself. Had a hard time getting the plane to descend properly, and I came in too fast on a few legs. On top of that, the close proximity to the ridge makes me nervous - I don't like seeing treetops just below me.

The turbulence got worse and worse, and although I was irritated at the time, I now can say that that's good. Rather than it being an insurmountable obstacle, I can now view strong wind like that as a nuisance that can be (carefully) dealt with.

We then did a few turns around a point near Wurtsboro, and at this point I started to get a little queasy. Only the second time that has happened to me in the airplane. Now that I think of it, it was in the same conditions: turbulent day, doing continuous maneuvers. Have to be careful of that in the future. In any case, we were just about finished for the day anyway. After a pause to get my stomach under control, Stu had me track into the Huegenot VOR and then follow it outbound on the 348 radial to Monticello. I did a straight-in landing, and realized after we were on the ground that I hadn't turned on the fuel pump as per the checklist. Here's the lesson I learn from this:

I've read a good deal about air sickness in the cockpit. It's a problem, can lead to more problems, etc. But just as the human mind cannot truly imagine pain, neither can it truly comprehend sickness until it is actually experienced. I got pretty rattled by feeling airsick today, and I wasn't even about to vomit - I simply felt uncomfortable, and even this caused me to overlook basic skills and procedures. Airsickness is no joke, and I'm going to be careful about it in the future.

I will take the checkride as early as Monday if the weather is favorable. Although my maneuvers are not perfect, I do feel competent and ready to take the test. I feel my strong points are landings, stalls, steep turns, cross country planning, and general aeronautical knowledge. My weak points are performance takeoffs and landings, and turns around a point. But even those I feel I can perform adequately, so I think I will do all right. I think what I fear the most is what Apollo astronaut Pete Conrad called, "...making a dumb s--t mistake."

Piper Warrior
Instructor: Stuart Hirsch

Flew twice today in preparation for my test, which will probably be tomorrow since the weather forecast is favorable. Stu went up with me for a short time to do an emergency descent. I then dropped him off and went to Wurtsboro to practice performance takeoffs and landings.

The wind was mercifully calm today, although there was quite a lot of glider activity. Came pretty close to a few of those damn things, and it got me a little jumpy. I also stopped in to the FBO for my cross country assignment and weight & balance problem. I am to plan a three leg trip from Wurtsboro to Groton, to Poughkeepsie, and back to Wurtsboro.

I then returned to Monticello and got lunch. Studied for a while, then made a practice flight plan for my last bit of preparation in the airplane. Went up solo and did more performance takeoffs and landings, turns around a point, steep turns, and a little VOR work. That went well, although I bounced a couple of landings at Monticello when I was finished. That's OK - I go by the old theatre tradition that if you have a poor dress rehearsal, the show is going to be good.

I've spent the last several hours preparing everything I can think of for my checkride. Stu and I plan to leave Monticello at 7:30 tomorrow morning, but there will be a good deal to do even before that. There's a lot of paperwork to bring along, and of course I must finish my flight planning by making wind computations with up to date numbers.

All things considered, I think I am well prepared. There are certainly holes in my training, and I have weak points. But overall I believe I fly well, and have to hope that I will show it on the test. Although I would be disappointed to not pass, I don't think I would fault the system. Flying is no joke, and it's good that there are some pretty tough standards imposed on the activity. Nobody wants to have less than competent people tooling around the skies.

So for now, I've done all I can do. Now I just have to take my time, follow my checklists, and do what I know how to do.

Piper Warrior
Examiner: George Barone, Wurtsboro Airport (NY)


I've read many descriptions of student pilots' flight tests, and most were very interesting. Hopefully mine will be too - the experience was definitely memorable for me.

I was up late last night doing my flight plans and double checking that I had the paperwork and tools I needed for the test. Woke up shortly after 5 AM to get a weather briefing and do the wind computations for my navigation. It was one of the most boring weather briefings I've ever received - wind calm, visibility unrestricted and expected to stay that way. Stu called me as I was finishing my flight plans and asked how I was feeling. I asked him the same, thinking that maybe he was a bit nervous too since I was to be the first student he has approved for a checkride. We each reported feeling well and excited and agreed to meet shortly at the airport.

It was still dark when we got to the airport. I went into the hangar to pre-flight the airplane while Stu got out some paperwork we would need to bring. My pre-flight inspection was thorough, as I knew it would be the kiss of death to bring a less than airworthy plane to a flight test. Since I would technically be Pilot-In-Command (PIC) during the flight test, it would be my responsibility to verify that the airplane was flyable (I've read of test applicants who failed because they proposed to fly the examiner in a questionable airplane). Then Stu and I sat down to fill out forms, which took a while. It was just after 8:00 that we took off for Wurtsboro, I in the Warrior and Stu in a Piper Comanche.

I started to get excited when we got airborne. The weather wasn't just good - it was PERFECT. Clear and calm, with no wind to speak of. It was also cold, which gave the airplane increased performance. Stu later claimed it was the single best flying day all year. I took off first and Stu followed. Having never flown in formation before, I just flew straight & level and let him worry about keeping his distance from me. It was thrilling to see Stu pull up a few hundred feet from my left wingtip. The Comanche is a fast airplane, and Stu actually had to fly a couple of 360's to keep from overtaking me in the Warrior. I was smiling with anticipation and excitement as we flew together toward my test.

As we approached Wurtsboro Stu said he would go in first so he could watch me land. It was just like the movies as he banked the Comanche and peeled off to turn into the Wurtsboro traffic pattern. I followed behind, a bit too close as it turned out because I felt some of his prop wash. I slowed down the Warrior and followed Stu through the pattern. I was on final as he landed, and didn't really believe that the Comanche's wake would create sufficient turbulence to be a problem as I came in.


As I approached runway 23, the controls began to get mushy. The stall horn emitted a few peremptory chirps, which it shouldn't in an 80 mph approach. I suddenly had the feeling one gets on a bicycle when you KNOW you going to fall in the next three seconds, and quickly shoved the throttle full forward to initiate a go-around. The plane climbed smartly upward, and I let out a big breath as I realized it would not have boded well for me to have stalled and crashed the plane on my way to the checkride. It was good that I had taken the precaution of wearing my lucky shirt - apparently it worked.

So I went around the pattern again, lined up on final, and proceeded to execute the BEST landing of my LIFE! I didn't even know I was on the ground it was so smooth - barely a squeak from the wheels. At that moment I adopted a take-no-prisoners attitude toward the test, and had a feeling I would fly very well. Stu was waiting for me as I climbed out of the plane and remarked that he hadn't heard me land either. We were both grinning as we went into the FBO.

The FAA examiner, George, has a reputation for being a fair and non-intimidating tester. However, the first half hour was a bit awkward. There were people milling in and out of the office, and George was interrupted several times as he and Stu went over my paperwork. So far he hadn't even spoken to me, even referring to me in the third person a few times. I began to wonder if we had caught him on a bad day. There were also a couple of minor problems with the paperwork. It really got weird when he noticed my address is a P.O. box. He said I would have to draw a map to my house.


Draw a map. Here's some paper. I looked quizzically at Stu and he affirmed the request, saying that he had to do it too once when he lived in a rural area. Incredulous, I thought maybe they were indulging in tease-the-test-taker. Perhaps it's a right of passage when you take your checkride? I said with a half smile, "Are you guys messing with me or what? I feel like next you're going to send me out for a bucket of prop wash." They assured me they were serious, explaining that it was necessary for the FAA to be able to actually locate me. I shut up and drew the map.

After what seemed an eternity, George took me to an adjoining office to begin the oral segment of the test. I was relieved to be free of interruptions and paperwork, and to be talking about flying. I handled most of the questions easily. He stumped me only twice - once with an obscure marking on the sectional chart, and once on an equipment/airspace question. Each time I confessed to being stumped, but demonstrated that I did know where to find the information. He patiently allowed me to look up the answers in the FAR/AIM book that I had brought along, and I also conjectured correctly on one question without using the book.

We took a short break to help move some airplanes around in the hangar (which I suppose demonstrated that I knew something about the ground handling of aircraft), and then did another half hour of oral questions. Then it was time to fly. George explained that he would ask me some questions during the pre-flight, that we would depart with a short field takeoff, and fly a short way on my planned cross country before turning back and doing some maneuvers.

I breathed a mental sigh of relief that I had gotten through the oral portion, and reminded myself to be slow and methodical in my flying. George watched me inspect the plane as I verbally worked through the checklist. He didn't ask me many questions, possibly because I kept up a running narrative explaining what I was doing as I worked. Soon we climbed into the cockpit, and I did what I had reminded myself of many times in the last few weeks.

During a checkride, the applicant is technically the Pilot-In-Command. The examiner is considered an observing passenger. This means that, as required by FAA regulations, you must give the examiner a safety briefing on the use of seat belts and emergency cabin egress. I've heard of more than one applicant who failed to deliver this briefing, thereby earning a pink slip on their test. So I dutifully informed George, a pilot with thousands of hours of in numerous aircraft, how to operate the seat belt and shoulder harness in a Piper Warrior.

During the taxi out to the runway George remarked that the wind was virtually nonexistent. "So you have no excuse for not holding your heading and altitude today," he said gently with a laugh. I laughed with him, as I was genuinely not worried. I felt good, and while I was paying careful attention, I did not feel nervous. I was ready to show what I could do.

We departed with a short field takeoff, and I explained what I was doing at each step. I held the climb a bit longer than necessary, and when I announced that we had cleared our hypothetical 50 foot obstacle George wryly replied that we certainly had.

I climbed up and alongside the runway and began my navigation track, again narrating what I was doing and why. Once on course I explained that I would normally call flight service to open my flight plan at this point, and did he want me to do that for the purpose of the test? He said no, to which I replied, "Good, because I didn't file one." I guess I was feeling comfortable enough to joke a little. After logging the time at first checkpoint, I said that I would normally call New York Approach at this point to get on flight following. I thought he might want me to actually do that, but he again said no. A few minutes later we reached the second checkpoint exactly on time. George surprised me by saying that that was enough, and to turn to a new course heading for some slow flight. I was glad that I had apparently passed that section, but briefly reflected that I could have forgone most of the two hours of navigation I had done the previous night.

Slow flight was uneventful, with George watching me fly straight & level and turn to headings. Then it was on to simulated instruments with the hood. After flying straight & level and doing some turns, George then had me look down at my map so he could place us in an unusual attitude. He gave me the plane in a banking descent, and after leveling the wings I found that the trim had been placed full forward. I uncranked the trim as I gently pulled up and leveled off. George joked, "Looks like your electric trim failed on you, huh?" Then he had me track a VOR and intercept a radial. When he was satisfied that we were headed toward the VOR he had me take off the hood and asked me to tell him where we were.

There was an airport just to our left that looked like Wurtsboro, but I thought that would have been too easy. So I took out my map and plotter, dialed in a second VOR, and began to triangulate our position. Being careful to divide my attention between flying the plane, scanning for traffic and working the problem, my hand slipped as I drew one of the lines on the map. So naturally I came up with an incorrect position, and began to say that the airport I saw was in fact Wurtsboro. It was at the base of a ridge just like Wurtsboro, so I thought it was plausible. George asked me if I was sure, and I quickly reversed myself as I realized the runway numbers weren't correct for Wurtsboro. I re-tuned the VOR's and looked back to my map, and saw that the line was drawn perfectly straight... and no where near the VOR radial. I showed George and conjectured that my plotter had slipped while I was drawing the line. I did it again, and correctly determined our position to be just Northeast of Resnick Airport in Ellenville. Resnick is a few miles from Wurtsboro on the same side of the ridge, which is what had thrown me.

George asked me to divert to another airport on the map, and I again divided my attention between airplane and map as I plotted a course and figured out how far it was. Satisfied with that, we climbed up and away from the airport and did some stalls and steep turns. These are among my strongest maneuvers and were no problem, apart from the airplane not wanting to stall in the cold, dense air (that's why I love that Warrior - it's so forgiving!). Then we descended for turns around a point, one of my weaker maneuvers. This was made easier with the calm wind, but just to be sure I narrated my actions, thinking that if I messed up he would at least see that I knew what I was SUPPOSED to do.

We then executed a climbing turn to 5500 feet. I guess I had a brief mental lapse at this point, because I should have known what was coming. We were heading right over the Wurtsboro airport when George reached over and pulled the throttle down to idle. I blinked momentarily and went into my emergency procedures, establishing best glide speed and figuring out how to land.

I feel this was the best piece of flying I did all day. My first reaction was to turn right and try to spiral down to land on runway 23, where we had taken off from. I worked the problem in my mind for a moment, and decided to reverse my turn and land on runway 5. The wind was calm enough that I didn't need to worry about a tailwind. Once I had us headed where I wanted us to go I took out the checklist and ran through a simulated engine re-start and subsequent preparations for a forced landing. George prompted me to make a radio call, which I did immediately: "Wurstsboro traffic, Warrior 1483 X-Ray, simulated engine out over the airport. We're going to spiral down and most likely enter the left downwind for runway 5, Wurstsboro."

It was with great satisfaction that I maneuvered the airplane into the downwind, and arrived abeam the numbers of runway 5 at exactly the traffic pattern altitude! I knew I had it at that point, as I needed only to execute a normal power-off landing. When it was clear that I had the runway made George told me to go around. I was so thrilled to have nailed the emergency landing that I almost made a bad mistake. I don't know what made me do this, but instead of throttling up for the go around, I began to retract the flaps. Hastily stopping myself, I advanced the throttle to full and waited for a positive climb before taking out the flaps, mumbling that I didn't know what had made me do that. George didn't appear to notice, and instructed me to do a short field landing on the next approach.

My short field landing was good, with a nice soft touchdown. We taxied around and then did a soft field departure. This was another maneuver that had given me trouble in practice, but I did it well this day, thereby upholding the tradition of many test applicants doing their best flying on their checkride. George then asked for a no flap landing, which meant forward slip. I think that's just plain fun, and although I used a bit more runway that I would have liked, it seemed good enough and I then heard the words I had been waiting for - "OK, let's taxi back and park. We've gone through all the items on our list."

Yes! It was done! All I had to do was park safely, and I passed.


George hadn't exactly said I had passed. He just said we had gone through all the test items. Could it be that I had done something wrong that I didn't know about, and was about to be pink slipped? I asked him a bit shyly, "Um... have we SUCCESSFULLY completed all the items on the list?" He replied, "You should already know that."

I parked very carefully, as I felt certain my passing status could be easily revoked were I to bump wings with another plane on the flight line. I felt like I was still up at a thousand feet as we climbed out of the Warrior and walked across the ramp to the FBO. I did it! I'm about to be a pilot!

We had ordered Chinese food earlier with some of the airport folks, and it was waiting for us when we arrived. It felt a bit anticlimactic to come in from the test only to sit down and have a quiet meal. Afterward they typed up my Temporary Airman's Certificate while I called Stu. He let out a whoop when I told him I was a now a pilot, and said he would be there shortly.

I talked with some of the folks around the airport while I waited, and was told that everyone had come outside to watch when they heard me make the call for our engine-out landing. They said they knew I was going to pass when it was clear I had the runway.

Stu arrived and we clapped each other on the back and took some pictures in front of the airplane with my new license. He then suggested that we fly over to Orange County Airport for a celebratory snack. I smiled as I pre-flighted the plane, rejoicing in the freedom of not having to get a logbook endorsement to make the flight. I could just go! Orange County was busy, and I was extra careful as I entered the pattern and landed. Didn't want to foul up on my first flight as a new Private Pilot. We sat in the snack bar and had a de-brief of the test. It was getting dark, so we soon departed for home. I enjoyed the flight back very much, and felt triumphant as I landed and parked the plane at it's home base in Monticello.

I feel that my checkride was a good experience, in that I learned a bit in addition to completing it successfully. The conditions were such that I was able to show my ability well, and I think I did some of my very best flying. I can only hope that I will disprove the theory that a pilot is never again as good as the day they pass their test. The challenge is now to keep learning, and stay vigilant and cautious.

And of course, start learning to fly IFR!

Holding my new Private Pilot's license, along with CFI Stu Hirsch

This site is © Copyright Jason Catanzariti 2014, All Rights Reserved
Web templates