I had a completely routine start, taxi and run-up except the right seat was empty. I was cleared for takeoff on 31R and entered right traffic. The takeoff went fine and I flew the pattern without problems. I was a little low on final so I didn’t put in the usual 30 degrees of flaps. It seemed to me that I was much faster than normal as I rounded out over the numbers. I started to flare and bounced on my main wheels. It just felt wrong and much too fast, I did the go around. I think the problem was too much airspeed, but I’m not sure.
The next time around I was again low after my turn onto final, I watched my airspeed more carefully and was at 65 KIAS over the numbers. The flare was a bit flat and I landed a little heavily on all three wheels. I then bounced just a little two or three times, it seemed that as soon as I tried to continue the flare I would pop back up into the air and then bump down. I suspect that I was a little fast and that I didn’t flare enough, it was an ugly landing. The next takeoff was fine and my altitude on final was better. However, the landing was almost a carbon copy of the first one. On the third landing I had determined that I just wasn’t continuing the flare enough so I had resolved to really bring the nose high on this landing. I guess I was too fast and possibly flared too fast, I ballooned up and started to drift to the left, I did a go around again.
So I was starting to get a bit concerned. Two bad landings and two go arounds. The next time around my altitude was good on final and the landing was fine, as good as I did previously on the stage check. I hoped for another good landing but it was not to be. It resulted in another go around when the flare went wrong and I started heading for the grass. The landing following that was also poor, I bounded a couple of times, I used a little power to help recover from the bounce and I may have either mistimed the power or put in just a little too much. Last time around went like a dream, another good landing. I decided to end on a high note and terminated for the day.
I’m not at
all happy with the landings on the solo flights. I’ll practice again
tomorrow, but my landing problems are definitely not behind me.I had the
GPS in the front seat for the first time and whatever it did the track
it recorded was terrible, it clearly kept losing enough satellites to
have an accurate fix.
Sunday October 13th 2002, 12pm, N4754D, 0.9H
My third solo today and more pattern work at RHV. I started a little later today, so the wind was 310 8 knots, it was warm at 22C. Had a completely normal re-flight, taxi and run-up. Then Tower gave me a clearance for 31L and a frequency change to 126.1. They use the second frequency when there’s two controllers on duty usually on the weekends. Had a good takeoff and entered left traffic for 31L. I really had no significant problems today. The pattern work was good, from the GPS ground track I can see I’m flying a pretty good rectangle around the airport, the turns are fairly consistent with no overshoots on final. The five approaches to 31L were fine, although I’d like to get more consistent on my altitude during the turns to base and final. I rarely hit the glide slope right on and so I’m adjusting on final with power. I think I’m not controlling the airspeed well during the turns either letting the nose drop too much or not enough. Still, it’s easy to correct on final as long as you do it early and don’t leave it until your on short final. The flares today went much better, none were great and a couple ballooned a bit. But in general, I kept the nose high and didn’t have any flat or 3 wheel landings. A couple of times I came down on the main wheels a little hard.
I got to “back taxi” for the first time today, after landing the first time on 31L I was told to make a 180 turn and taxi back on the runway. I hadn’t done this before, but it went fine. I think I did this after 3 of the landings on 31L. After the fifth landing on 31L I was told to cross 31R and taxi back on taxiway Y and to change back to the usual tower frequency of 119.8. It was really hot in the plane as I taxied back and the sweat was just dripping of me. I made the last takeoff on 31R for right traffic. Had a good trip around right traffic and extended my downwind for another plane coming straight in for 31R. The landing was poor, I flared a little hard, ballooned up, added a little power, but still bumped down a little hard. I figured that it was too hot and I was getting tired so I called it a day and terminated.
So today was about building more confidence in flying solo. The landings were better than yesterday, though still not up to what I was doing flying dual last week. The pattern and radio work is also good. I’m starting to get sick of flying circles around RHV, so it will be nice to get signed off to go down to South County and Hollister tomorrow.
Monday October 14th 2002, 3pm, N4754D, 1.7H
Today was a really nice flight. The weather was good with variable winds at 5 knots in RHV, some scattered clouds at 20,000’ and it was warm at 27C, a little hazy with 10 miles visibility. I was early, and Grainne turned up about 2:45pm. We went over today’s plan. A flight down to Hollister (3O7) to do some solo landings and pattern work, and then a stop off in South County (Q99) for the same. We would also try to get flight following from Bay Approach along the way to see how that worked. Flight following is where you ask Air Traffic Control to issue you with traffic alerts using their radar, which they provide if they aren’t too busy.
Normal pre-flight, taxi, run-up and take off on 31L with a downwind departure from left traffic. I took off behind a Cessna 152 and followed him South, as I was a bit faster and climbed a bit better we gradually overtook him, he was the only traffic we encountered until Anderson Reservoir. Grainne, tuned into Bay Approach and after initially telling us to stand by, they gave us a transponder code to squawk and started issuing traffic warnings, none of which were much use. Firstly, they never told us about the C152 1000’ below us, and then over Anderson Reservoir another Cessna 172 flew right passed us only 500’ above our altitude. They did however tell us all about the big jets on final approach to San Jose International, none of which were anywhere close to us. However, it was still cool flying along hearing your own plane’s call sign and also listening to all the big planes getting their approach clearances into San Jose. Bay Approach terminated flight following about 12 miles North of Hollister, we had expected them to pass us off to Monterey Approach, but they just told us to squawk 1200, the VFR transponder code, meaning we were back on our own.
I tuned into the Hollister CTAF frequency about 10 miles North of the field and asked for a traffic advisory, one plane replied that he had just taken off into a stiff headwind from runway 24, which is the shorter of the two runways. I had spent some time before hand working out the traffic patterns for the airport as this was my first visit down here, we took a quick review as I started to descend from 3500’. About this time another plane called in from Southeast of the field looking for a traffic advisory, so I passed on the info I’d just got. He said he was just doing a touch and go and entered the left 45 as I crossed the field at 2000’. I did a descending right 270 degree turn which brought me in on the 45 for left downwind. One of the more complicated pattern entries but it worked beautifully. The other plane was just turning base as I entered the downwind and he was already departing when I got onto final. The headwind was really blowing, I kept checking my airspeed which was 65~70 KIAS on short final, but we still seemed to just crawl towards the numbers. I would guess the wind was at l2~15 knots, but at least it didn’t appear to be gusting. The landing was reasonable. I cleared the runway and dropped Grainne off by some hangers. Then taxied off to do two solo landings. These went reasonably well, but the pattern was a bit sloppy, especially trying to keep parallel to the runway. It didn’t feel too bad at the time, but the GPS shows I was angling in towards the runway on both downwind trips. This shortened the base leg, which pretty much made them continuous turns instead of two turns. Another plane landed as I flew the second trip through the pattern. He pretty much just came straight in for the runway. I don’t think your supposed to do this, but at least he told me what he was up to so it wasn’t a surprise. The first landing was good, on the second I ballooned up and had to add some power to keep from dropping back in. I think it looked better from the ground than it did from the plane because Grainne didn‘t seem that upset when I taxied back to pick her up. We took off and made a right crosswind departure, it was real bumpy as I climbed back up to 3000’
Once we got back to cruise altitude Grainne told me it was my choice if I wanted to go to South County, I guess she thought I might be tired, I felt fine so I tuned in South County CTAF and started a descent. There was one plane on the ground saying he had just landed on runway 32, so I planned to fly wide of the field and then make a left turn onto the 45 for right downwind. The pattern entry was good, but something wild happened to the turn onto base. I came out almost passed the end of the runway and so overshoot badly on the turn to final. Then I overcompensated trying to get lined up for final. At this stage I figured this approach was so screwed up I’d just go around and try it again. I really wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, I’ve flown the pattern several times before without problems. I had just climbed back to pattern altitude of 1300’ and made the turn onto crosswind when some guy came on the radio and said he was the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) and that the wind sock was now showing the wind favored runway 14. I was flying the downwind for 32 at this point so I was a little lost as to what to do. I figured I’d take a look at the windsock for myself and then decide. So I said on radio I was going to fly parallel the runway and take a look at the windsock, to which the FBO guy replied, “I can see it from where I’m sitting and it favors 14”, he sounded kind of mad that I didn’t believe him or something. But he’s on the ground and I’m in the plane so I’ll be the one who decides which f**king runway I’m going to land on. The windsock did favor 14 so I made a left 180 degree turn and came in on a very long base leg. The landing was reasonable, and we did the touch and go. Grainne said we’d do a downwind departure and head back for home. There was more interesting radio work on the way out, another plane was coming in from the South, and it was a comedy of errors while he tried to determine what planes were flying, instead of listening to what people were saying he kept asking where people were. Along the lines of “where is the plane in the air?” (I hope he knew there was only one) and “who is still on the ground?”.
I had a pretty uneventful trip back to RHV. Called the tower at 3000’ over UTC and was told to come straight in for 31L. Started a nice stable 90 KIAS descent and the approach went well, though I got changed to 31R at the 3 mile report point. I added the full flaps a little early and so had to add some power coming over the Mall. I even tried a little side slip to account for the minor crosswind (I had too much rudder, but any practice is welcome). The landing bounced once, but recovered in a reasonable fashion - not good though.
So today was fun, a new airport, more solo work that’s really not scary now and some real interesting pattern work at uncontrolled airports. Now I’m endorsed for both Hollister and South County so I have the run of the south practice area on my own. On Wednesday I’ll do an hour of ground work to plan the first cross country flight with Grainne, and we’ll fly it on Saturday. I’ve also signed up for some solo flights on Thursday and Sunday so I’ll head down south and practice some maneuvers and landings.
Saturday October 19th 2002, 10am, N5766J, 2.0H
I didn’t get to fly on Thursday, the wind was 14 knots when I arrived at the airport and my solo limit is just 12 knots headwind. So I was really keen to get into the air today. This was my first cross-country flight. We flew from RHV to Castle (MER) near Merced in the Central Valley.
had spent about an hour of ground time with Grainne on Wednesday evening
to preview the flight planning, we picked out the route and landmarks,
measured the leg distances and calculated the headings given an assumed
wind. All this using the high tech cardboard E6B flight computer. I also
called Oakland Flight Service Station (FSS) and got a standard weather
briefing, unfortunately I forgot to tell him I was a student and he rattled
through the briefing so quickly I barely wrote down 10% of what he said.
Still, I got the feel for what was going on. I studied the ground school
CD’s for the cross-country on Thursday night and finally learned
how the E6B is really used (I was a bit bemused with what Grainne was
telling me the night before). For a child of the computer age, having
never even seen a slide-rule I was amazed at how clever the little gadget
was - in fact better than the electronic version I’ve been playing
with in my Palm Pilot - much more intuitive. For the aviationally challenged
an E6B is a rotary slide-rule setup for doing common aviation calculations
like “how many minutes to fly 15 miles at a speed of 115 MPH”,
or “how much fuel is used in 15 minutes with a burn rate of 8.6
GPH”. The back side also has a very clever method of calculating
how the wind effects the direction and speed of flight, for example finding
how much headwind or tailwind you have and how it will effect your ground
speed and your direction.
So Saturday morning the marine layer fog was a solid
overcast when I arrived at the airport at 10am. Grainne and I planned
to spend an hour getting the current weather conditions and making the
final calculations for the flight plan. This all went well, we started
by going through the weather on DUATS which is an online service contracted
by the Government to provide pre-flight information. Then I called the
FSS again and remembered to tell him I was a student and got a standard
briefing. No bad weather once the fog burned off. The guy must have repeated
“Don’t go until the fog is gone” about three times.
I filed the flight plan over the phone, you can do this by just leaving
a recording, pretty cool. In the end we waited until 12:00pm until the
sky was clear enough to get going. I finally got to use the kneeboard
I bought back in August. I got it after the flight in 8276E which had
no side pockets. After that flight I never bothered to use it because
it just seemed like overkill and I never flew in 8276E again. Normally,
I just have my checklist card, with a small note-pad attached to it with
a bull-dog clip and a pen slipped over the top. The knee board is a fancy
thing full of pockets that attaches to your knee with a strap and holds
all the goodies you need for cross-country flight.
Had a standard pre-flight, taxi, we got off the ground at 12:32pm and departed downwind towards Anderson Reservoir. Did the climb checklist and for the first time actually called Oakland FSS to open my flight plan. Then we called Bay Approach and got flight following, this worked well though I’m still a little nervous talking to the big boys. They all sound so busy and hearing all the commercial air traffic makes me feel like I’m interrupting a bunch of busy people at work with my little joy ride to Merced. We climbed to 5,500’ and the first checkpoint on the trip, I arrived 1 minute late to my calculated value. It was then a short 2 minute trip to the first and only turn on the route, over the south shore of Anderson. We turned inland to head towards Castle. The air was smooth but there was a lot of haze so visibility was only about 7 miles. The next checkpoint was a line of three peaks, we were supposed to pass just to the right of the middle one. I thought I could see the landmark ahead of me. But it didn’t seem right, then Grainne pointed out a peak on my right we were just passing that seemed to be the one. Mountain peaks like these make poor landmarks, but there wasn’t much else around I could have used. About this time Bay Approach handed us off to Stockton Approach. The next landmark was easy, a road and railway parallel, running between two towns with Gustine airport off to the right. With the low visibility, I couldn’t see Castle, but I started my descent when the watch said I should and we saw the field about 7 miles out (I was also cheating the whole time, because I had my GPS fixed to the yoke with rubber bands - this was real useful for making sure the heading I had calculated was right). In the event the wind wasn’t as strong as forecast, so my heading had us drifting northwards a little, you can see the little kinks in the ground track where I made corrections.
Once I got Castle in sight, I reported I could see it to Stockton Approach and they terminated flight following and told us to squawk 1200 again. I couldn’t raise anyone on the Castle CTAF frequency to find out the runway in use so I over-flew the windsock at 2000’, it seemed to show a crosswind, but slightly favored runway 31. Castle is an old Air Force base, it has an 11,800’ x 300’ runway that can take B52 bombers, you could land five Cessna 172’s in formation on the runway it’s so huge. I started a left 270 degree turn to come in on the right 45 for runway 31 when Grainne pulled the engine to simulate a failure. I made it around the turn though it was a bit messy as I was trying to pitch for best glide at the same time. Didn’t bother with checklists and just headed straight onto the base leg. I was way high coming in over the numbers, but who cares I had 4 time the usual runway to land on. The landing was good. I was worried that the enormous scale of the runway would cause me to mistime the flare, but it didn‘t. Even the center strip painted on the runway was about 4 times wider than I was used to. The place was empty, we saw one Cessna 152 on a taxi way and another plane landed while we taxied back to the start, that was it. I believe there is a cool aviation museum somewhere close by, but we went straight back to the runway to head home.
Grainne had me try my first soft field takeoff which was poor, I didn’t realize just how much forward pressure is needed to keep the plane in ground effect. Still we got off OK. We were just climbing through about 200’ when she pulled the engine again to simulate a failure on take-off - life would be nice is these only happened on 11,800’ runways. I still had half the runway to land on. Got myself configured to land and would have made it easily when Grainne said to go-around, so full power again and flaps back up and we made a crosswind departure. About this time Grainne asked me what I had forgotten in the post-landing checklist - I couldn’t think of anything until she told me. Duh, I had forgotten to close my flight plan - if you don’t close it they fear the worst and come looking for you. Grainne took care of this as we climbed back up to 4,500’. It was a bit finicky, you have to transmit on one frequency on the radio and listen on another frequency on the navigation radio for the reply, it took a couple of tries but she finally got it to work.
On the way back we used radio navigation as opposed to the pilotage and dead reckoning we used on the way out. We intercepted the 260 degree radial on the Merced VOR (a special type of transmitter that sends radiating spokes of signals out in all directions). This radial gave us a straight line course back to Mt. Hamilton. The ride back was nice, but really started to get bumpy over the top of the mountains. Mt. Hamilton is 4,200’ high, I was really quite nervous flying over at just 4,500’ so I let the altitude creep up to 4,700’ as we crossed over. The view of the lick observatory was spectacular. We got the current ATIS and I called into Reid Hillview Tower, they told me to enter on right base for 31R and report two miles. I started descending, but this is tricky on this approach to RHV. The mountains drop away very steeply just about 4 miles east of the field, so even if you just clear the last ridge line you are still way too high to land. So we did a forward slip to loose the altitude - which once again went poorly. Grainne had to help me get into the slip and the plane was yawing every which way. Still we got down and I was cleared to land on 31R when I reported in at 2 miles. The landing was fine. Today was a really fun flight and I’m looking forward to more cross-counties.
I didn't get to fly solo on Sunday, the marine layer fog had created a solid ceiling over the airport when I arrived at 10am. It had started to burn off, but the visibility never got above 5 miles and my limit is 10, so another solo flight scrubbed. This is frustrating, it was a beautiful day except for the reduced visibility.
Today, the weather was nice, warm and sunny with just a bit of haze, the visibility was about the same as yesterday, but today I was flying with Grainne so we only needed standard VFR conditions. The plan was to do some hood work in the practice area and then come back to RHV to practice short and soft field landings and take-offs. I would be flying in 4754D again, this is the plane that gave me all the radio problems that I have now blamed on my headset. The last couple of times I borrowed a headset from Tradewinds and these worked, though the loner headsets are pretty crappie. Last week I created a jig that has a socket for my headset microphone connected to another microphone plug. The idea was that if the particular mic plug on my headset was causing the problem (it seems slightly longer compared to the plug on Grainne's headset) then the jig would convert my funky mic plug for a more standard one. I still borrowed a headset in case it didn't work.
Had a normal pre-flight, my own headset seemed to work with the new jig, normal taxi and run-up and a much better attempt at a soft-field takeoff compared to Saturday. The soft-field takeoff (and taxi) is all about keeping moving and protecting the nose wheel. The idea is that if you're on a grass, snow, gravel or mud surface then your liable to sink in if you stop moving - so always keep moving once you start and your nose wheel tends to want to dig itself into the soft ground so keep as much pressure off it as possible. When you takeoff you apply a lot of back pressure, the nose wheel pretty much lifts off the ground as soon as you apply power so the initial takeoff is done on just the main wheels. As you gain a little speed the plane will lift off, its flying in ground effect so you have to keep it there (within a wingspan of the ground) to gain more speed, this actually takes a surprising amount of forward pressure. As the plane accelerates it just lifts itself out of ground effect into the air.
We made a downwind departure and once I completed the climb checklist Grainne had me put on the hood - this restricts your vision to just the planes instruments and try's to simulate what would happen if you flew into a cloud by mistake (though I've read that a cloud is much more disorientating). Grainne had me fly a heading of 120 degrees as we climbed, then a heading of 090 as I leveled off at 4000'. This was fine and I had much better control of my heading compared to the last time I did hood work (better rudder control). Then we started to practice "recovery from unusual attitudes". If you fly into a cloud and become disorientated then it is very likely that you lose control of the airplane. I read a statistic that most VFR pilots find themselves in a spiraling dive within 90 seconds of entering a cloud - this is a scary thought. The recovery from unusual attitudes is supposed to simulate this situation and ensure that you can recover control with just instruments and fly yourself out of trouble. Grainne took control of the plane and had me close my eyes, she said that she was just doing clearing turns but with your eyes closed the G-forces are your only guide to how the plane is moving (a very misleading guide). It felt like she was throwing the plane all over the place. Then she says "your plane" and you have to quickly determine what its doing and recover.
The recover was actually fairly easy. I thought it would be a bit scary but just staring at the instruments makes the situation feel almost artificial. Sure, the attitude indicator shows that your pitched down almost 45 degrees but it would feel very different if you could actually see outside of the plane, a pitch like this is way out of the ordinary and would be a bit disconcerting. We did five or six recoveries, all of them except one were nose down with varying degrees of roll and speed. The hardest was actually a quite shallow wings level dive, but was very fast, it took a long time to pull the plane back to level and I overshot the pitch on the up side. One was nose high, just getting close to a stall (the stall horn was sounding when she gave me the plane). Then it was hood off and back to RHV. We got a straight in approach to 31L that got changed to 31R when a Commander slipped in beside us on the left. The approach was fine though I felt really slow compared to the Commander, he passed me and was on the ground before I got onto final over the Mall. I attempted a soft-field landing which turned into a more standard landing when I failed to keep the plane in ground effect long enough.
We proceeded to do 5 more takeoffs and landings. The first three were soft-field technique and the last two were short-field. I got better at the soft-field stuff, it's strange, but a poor soft-field landing qualifies as a pretty good normal landing. I can't really point to any one thing but my landings have been getting steadily better over the last few flights. I got the hang of the soft-field takeoffs and did a good job of keeping in ground effect until the plane was ready to fly for real. The short field takeoff is fun. You lineup as close to the start of the runway as possible, stand on the brakes until the engine has developed full power, brakes off, zoom down the runway, rotate at 51 KIAS and pull the plane into the sky at 59 KIAS (Vx). Its fast and relatively easy, but you need to be confident of your pitch control. A few weeks ago I would have been scared of stalling on the climb out. The short field landings are fun as well. The idea is to come in as steeply as is possible and then stop in the shortest distance possible. You get steep by keeping above glide slope and then descending with a full 40 degrees of flaps. The pitch is high because you also want a slow speed, about 60 KIAS. The flare is more tricky - you shouldn't spend anytime flying level, just a smooth transition from the descent to the flare. Then yoke all the way back to transfer as much weight to the main wheels and brake hard. You are also supposed to dump the flaps as quickly as possible to lose as much lift as you can - this also brings weight onto the main wheels and helps to brake. The first landing wasn't great, the glide slope was not steep enough, however the second was much better. Today's flight was a lot of fun, I'm really looking forward to getting out and practicing some of this stuff on my own - if the weather ever get good enough to fly solo. Next flight is my first full night flight and we're going to San Jose International, so its also the class C airspace experience.
Tuesday October 22nd 2002, 6:30pm, N4754D, 0.9H
Today is my first night flight, I've already done a couple of full dark landings so I'm not too worried about it. However, its also my first trip into class C airspace which is a little more scary. It was almost dark when I arrived at the airport. The marine layer was already rolling in which is much earlier than usual. I was just reviewing San Jose Airport in the A/FD when Grainne showed up. We went over the radio procedures and the usual entries and exits we could expect for SJC. Basically RHV is so close to SJC, you tell RHV Ground Control you're flying VFR to SJC and they get you a transponder code before you leave the ground. The pattern entry for runway 29 (the shortest runway in SJC, 4600' long) is usually passing over mid field at 1500' and then doing a descending turn onto the 45 for the downwind leg.
Did my first pre-flight in the dark with a flashlight, it took a bit longer but was otherwise OK. The panel lighting in 4754D is great, much better than 5766J (in fact now that I have the radio thing fixed, 54D is becoming my favorite plane). We had some fun with the radios, but this time it wasn’t us. It was the tower. When we tuned into Ground Control there was a really loud buzzing sound. Grainne called the tower and told them about it, at which time another plane chimed in said they had the same problem. So we were cleared to taxi down Zulu while the tower guys figured out there problem, helping them with various radio checks along the way. Finally about halfway down they got it working and thanked us for our help and then asked us what our departure request was. We told them and got a transponder code just before the run-up area. Had a normal run-up and did a straight out departure running along the east side of I-680 to stay out of class C.
We were cleared to change frequency to call SJC Tower just about the time I leveled off at 1500’. They asked for our altitude and for an IDENT on our transponder and then confirmed radar contact. As expected we were told to over fly the field at or above 1500’ and enter left downwind for runway 29. Right about this time I realized there was a cloud right off my right side and as I turned towards SJC we hit the bottom of the ceiling, I started descending and was at about 1400’ as we got close to the field. I was kind of worried about the clouds and being lower than instructed (though Grainne pointed out that the transponder was still showing 1500’ which is what the tower would see). In the confusion I was cleared to land as I passed over the center of the field, and I repeated back that clearance. I went out quite far beyond the field to make sure I had plenty of time to descend to pattern altitude and get established on the 45. A left 180 degree turn brought me in on the 45 at 1000’ and I turned downwind. It was kind of hard to make where the end of the runway was in order to judge the turn to base leg and of course this time I didn’t have any familiar ground references. Just about this time the Tower said, “Be advised traffic on final for the parallel runway is a Boeing 757”, this was pretty cool, I’m used to getting traffic alerts for rather smaller planes. The 757 was a lot easier to see than the usual Cessna’s and whatnot around the RHV traffic pattern. I made the turn from base to final early and angled onto the final approach trying to stay as far away as possible from the big iron landing on the runway next door. The final approach and landing went pretty well and Grainne called for a touch and go. As we climbed out the tower asked where we were and I said we had done a touch and go. At this point we realized that we only had a clearance for a landing not for the option (to do the touch and go). Tower asked us what we wanted to do, we decided that with the ceiling coming down fast at SJC and having just pissed the Tower guys off we’d better get out of Dodge, so we told them we would go back to RHV. They said, “make an immediate left turn and cross the field at 1500’”. Of course, the ceiling had dropped some more and I only got to about 1350’ before we hit the clouds. Grainne called the Tower and told them we could only maintain 1350’ crossing the field, they didn’t seem to mind and were probably just glad we were leaving before we screwed anything else up. A little passed the field they told us radar service was terminated, to squawk 1200 and contact RHV. So ended my first foray into class C airspace.
It took a couple of tries but the Tower at RHV finally answered and gave us the option of left or right traffic, I’d pretty much reached I-680 at this point so right traffic for 31R made the most sense. We did five landings and they were a lot of fun. The first was normal and went well. The second time around Grainne pulled the engine about mid downwind and I did a dead stick landing that worked great. Grainne’s only quibble was that I used 40 degrees of flaps to get down. I had shortened the downwind to make the final leg intentionally short and high. I wanted to land about a third of the way down the runway and I figured “altitude is options” so better high than low. As I was plenty high I needed all the flaps to get down. Grainne’s point was the plane is harder to control with full flaps and no engine, but at least I got down. On the third time around we were going to practice a forward slip. Grainne told me to take the engine to idle and pitch for 70 KIAS abeam the numbers. I’m not sure what she was intending. I extended the downwind a little, but of course we were descending faster than usual so we ended up on glide slope as I turned onto final (even without any flaps). So no need for a slip as it is used to lose unwanted altitude without gaining speed and we didn’t have any unwanted altitude at that point. Grainne had me do a no-flap landing instead, basically the same as a normal landing but the nose is pitched quite a bit higher. The landing was fine. The next time around there was a plane coming in on final approach so we had to extend our downwind a little bit anyway. I just kept at pattern altitude but slowed to about 70 KIAS on base. So of course we were high and long as we turned onto final - exactly what I wanted to practice the slip. For the first time I got into the forward slip, held the center line of the runway perfectly, lost exactly the altitude I wanted and exited without a flaw. It was great, I’ve had problems with this maneuver every time I’ve tried it until now. The actual landing went fine after than. On the last time through Grainne pulled the power again. This time I turned a little too early and ended up much higher than I wanted, I also resisted putting in the last 10 degrees of flaps so we were staring to run out of runway. Grainne said to pitch down for a speed of 80 KIAS to get down quicker. We got down with the end of the runway rather close to us, Grainne said “lets try to stop without running off the end”, I don’t know why she was worried, we stopped without problems and terminated for the night.
Tonight was a lot of fun. Landing at San Jose was a blast. Skimming along just under the clouds we cool and the landings as RHV went pretty well. Not just basics to get in the requirement for 10 night landings, but a chance to practice the dead-stick and slips as well. Next Thursday is scheduled for another solo flight but the weather looks iffy. On Saturday we’ll do the long cross country, we’re going to Pine Mountain Lake which is at just under 3000’ a little Northwest of Yosemite Valley.
Thursday October 24th 2002, 5:30pm, N5766J, 0.9H
As expected the weather didn’t cooperate for another solo flight. This time the wind and visibility were fine, but there was broken cloud at 3,500’ and it looked like more solid cloud was moving in from the West. However, Yoed was hanging around outside at 4pm when I was supposed to be flying so I asked him if he was available. He had one student for an hour, but would go up with me afterwards. I hung out at Tradewinds working on the flight plan for Saturday’s long cross country and I had 5766J pre-flighted and ready to go when he got back down a little after 5pm. We planned to stay in the pattern at RHV and practice short & soft field landings & takeoffs.
I made a dumb rookie mistake that I’ve never made before, I forgot to call Ground Control before starting to taxi - I was just about to go when Yoed says “Are you just going to start?”, then I realized what I had done - oh well, maybe I should write that one in on my checklist. We had a normal run-up and takeoff from 31L. I was just about the call the Tower when they told me to expedite crossing 31R and takeoff. That break in routine caused me to make my second rookie mistake - I forgot to turn on the transponder and landing light (the usual “lights, camera, action” checklist just before takeoff). From now on I’m going to just turn them on at the end of the run-up unless there’s a long line of planes waiting to takeoff (meaning I’ll have time to remember it then).
We proceed to do 7 takeoffs and landings. All the takeoffs were a combo soft & short technique. Basically, holding the nose wheel off the runway and then flying in ground effect to build speed, then climbing at best angle of climb to simulate clearing an obstacle at the end of the runway. Yoed made a good point, many soft fields are also short so its not unusual to have to combine the techniques. The first few takeoffs were a little ragged with a lot of drift sideways flying in ground effect. Yoed really drilled me on keeping the center line during the takeoff - more right rudder and use the ailerons. This paid off and the last couple of takeoffs were right down the line. Of the seven landings, two were soft-field and the rest were short field. I really had fun with the short field landings. 40 degrees of flaps brings you in steep, the flare is very positive and you really try to plant your wheels on the aiming spot. Two of the landings were my best ever, I aimed for the numbers and planted the mains right down on them, not hard, but just firmly enough that you knew you had arrived. Yoed commented that one was “commercial standard” whatever that means. We only had one go-around, I’m still not sure what went wrong. I believe, I was a little fast and I started to flare early and too much. So I ended up about 15’ above the ground and then started to just drop in. Yoed called for power and then a go around. He seemed real concerned which bothers me because I think I would have still attempted the landing (with just adding power to soften the landing). I’m not sure what exactly I missed that made it so bad. The two soft-field landings were a mixed bag, one was reasonable, the other felt more like a normal landing - I will have to practice these more.
Tonight was fun, Yoed is always nice to fly with - he’s precise and picks up on a lot of little stuff that Grainne lets slide. He’d probably drive me nuts if I flew with him every time, but great for a brush up on technique.
The weather started off foggy, but was burning off quickly when I got to the airport about 11:30am. We were scheduled to fly at 12pm and I needed to complete the flight plan calculations given the forecast winds. I had the first half of the trip completed when Grainne showed up. She had a few questions about the route I had picked but nothing too serious. I had planned to fly a right 45 departure from RHV which is basically due North, climb to 4500’ and then turn East directly over Livermore and climb up to 5500’. That would set me up for a straight line course across the central valley passed Tracy and Oakdale and on to Pine Mountain Lake. For practice I had flown the route on FS2000 the last night and most of the landmarks I’d picked out seemed easy enough to see. The route back would use the 251 degree radial to the Manteca VOR which would take me neatly to the entry to Stockton class D airspace. Grainne had already told me we would probably not land at Stockton, but instead divert to somewhere else, I still had to plan it out though. I filed a flight plan for the outward journey.
A normal takeoff and as we climbed towards Calaveras Reservoir I called Oakland Flight Service Station and opened the flight plan, the guy was real nice, he needed to get my name, I guess the recorded message I left when I filed the plan garbled my it and he gave us a frequency for filing pilot reports (PIREPS) and position updates during the journey. We were just leveled off at 4500’ when I called Bay Approach to request flight following. I completely screwed it up, I forgot to tell him where I was, how high I was and what I wanted and I think I forgot to repeat my call-sign a couple of times. In the end he just gave me another frequency to call. I was completely flustered. I started from scratch on the new frequency and thankfully got it right this time - I’m still intimidated by talking to Bay Approach along with all the “real” air traffic in the congested Bay Area. The sequence is not hard, basically you initiate the call with “Bay Approach, Skyhawk 5766J, request”, then wait for them to reply usually with “Skyhawk 5766J, Bay Approach state you request”. Then you tell them where you are and what you want, “Bay Approach, Skyhawk 5766J, 10 miles North of Reid-Hillview, 4,500 feet, request flight following from Reid-Hillview to Pine Mountain Lake”. They then give you a transponder code to squawk, “Skyhawk 5766J, Squawk 0433 and IDENT”. You have to repeat the code back to them to make sure you got it right, “0433, 5766J”, enter it in the transponder and push the IDENT button, this will make it flash on their radar screen so they can pick it out easily. After that they will come back and confirm radar contact, “Skyhawk 5766J, radar contact at 12 miles north of Reid-Hillview, 4,600 feet” and they might ask you to confirm the altitude, “confirm altitude 4,600 feet” to which you reply “Affirmative, 4,600 feet, 5766J”. So you see, a piece of cake really. I was happily heading toward Livermore when they told me I was cleared to climb to 5500’ at my discretion and after that I didn’t hear from them until I was handed off to Stockton Approach somewhere over the Altamont Pass.
The flight went well out to Tracy, I was just a little south of my course at the intersection of I-205 and I-5. The next checkpoint was an intersection of a road and some power lines just outside Oakdale and we hit that one more or less on time. I missed the next checkpoint, it was supposed to be a intersection of a road and a railway, but I never saw it for sure. By this time I knew I was getting fairly close to Pine Mountain Lake, but I was not exactly sure where I was. Finally, I found a bridge that was unmistakable and would have been a much better checkpoint in the first place. Right then I realized that I knew just where I was, the road running across the bridge was highway 120 which is basically the route to Yosemite and I’ve driven it many times, there is a big hydro-electric plant close by that was easy to pick-out near a place called Priests Grade, that’s an incredibly steep hill that worth driving up, but will burn your brakes driving down (I know I’ve done it). Right about this time I saw the airport.
I was a little south of the field so as I descended I flew across it to enter on the downwind leg. I then proceeded to completely screw up the pattern entry. I flew way too close on the downwind, overshot a lot on the turn to final and decided to go around. As I climbed out two planes entered the downwind leg ahead of me so I was now number 3 to land. The wind was brutal, a lot of turbulence and it seemed to be coming from rapidly changing directions. I overshot final again and did another go around. This time Grainne started to talk me through the landing. Third time it worked, the approach was much better. We were just about 50 feet above the ground and for some reason the plane was just floating even with 40 degrees of flaps, suddenly the bottom dropped out and we headed for the ground fast. The flare worked and the actual landing was reasonable. We must have hit some kind of updraft followed by a downdraft just above the ground, it was no fun whatsoever.
Pine Mountain Lake is a “fly-in” community. People actually have houses right next to the taxiways and hangers instead of garages. We taxied to the transient parking and got out to stretch out legs. Grainne once again had to remind me to close my flight plan, which I did by phone. A few minutes on the ground and we decided to head back. Grainne had me do one more loop of the pattern and another landing to make sure I could be more consistent at an unfamiliar airport and to give me a confidence boast that the first landing wasn’t a fluke. The second landing was fine and we did a touch and go. This was probably a mistake because the altitude made the climb out much closer to the trees than either of us would have liked. We departed straight out and I had little trouble picking up the 251degree radial from the Manteca VOR. The air however was really bumpy, the worst turbulence I’ve been in so far, though Grainne said it was only “light”. Once we were back at altitude Grainne had me put on the foggles and I flew on instruments tracking the VOR. This was only hard because of the bouncing around and I did a passable job of staying on course. Of course, once I took the foggles off I had no idea of where I was, other than on the radial so Grainne picked the perfect time to decide to divert me to Lodi. Whether by design or accident Lodi happened to be right on the fold of the map, with the airport on one side and all the associated information on the other. The plane was bouncing around and taking most of my attention to keep it straight and level and I was trying to plot a course to the new airport. The first problem was I didn’t know where I was. I tried triangulating with the Linden VOR and got a rough idea, close enough to very roughly get a course of 285 degrees. Grainne suggested I use the DME (Distance Measurement Equipment) to get the distance to the Manteca VOR, thankfully this agreed fairly closely with my first estimate. Once I’d decided that about 280 was reasonable Grainne had me calculate the ETE (Estimated Time Enroute), the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and the fuel required. Once that was done, I just set the GOTO on my GPS and it gave me a heading of 270 degrees and an ETA that matched mine to the minute (by luck I think).
Actually finding the airport turned out to be a little difficult, there were two airports marked close together on the chart, I could see one below me, but I couldn’t see the other so I wasn‘t sure if I had the right one or not. The ETA (and the GPS) were telling me I’d was over the right airport so I decided to descend and get a better look. I did a descending right turn and as I came around I saw the second airport confirming that I was in fact over the right place, Kingdon Airport. I did a thankfully uneventful entry into left downwind and made a fine landing. There were no taxiways, so we just turned around at the far end of the runway and took off again - there was really no significant wind to force us to take off in any particular direction. We did a crosswind departure which was basically towards home and Grainne told me to just find the fastest way back to RHV.
I could see Mt Diablo in the distance. Reid-Hillview was too far to come up on the “nearest” list on my GPS, but Livermore did so I set that as my destination. I’m pretty familiar with the central valley around Stockton and Tracy so it was easy to set myself up in the right direction. Coming over the Altamont Pass again I could see Mission Peak in the distance, Calaveras Reservoir is right in front so we just made a beeline for familiar airspace. I tried to get a radial from the San Jose VOR, but the mountains got in the way and I didn’t really need it anyway. I got the RHV ATIS and called into the tower over Calaveras. We did a completely standard approach to right traffic for runway 31R though my attempt at a soft-field landing left a lot to be desired.
The trip was fun, though somewhat tiring, almost 3 hours flying and over 200 nm traveled. Other than the problems landing at Pine Mountain Lake it was a good experience. I really didn’t screw anything up badly. I think once I get some more local solo experience I’ll be more than ready to attempt one of these trips on my own.
Sunday October 27th 2002, 12:30pm, N739YE, 1.4H
I’ve fallen a bit behind in my journal so I’ll keep these entries short. Finally the weather started behaving and I could fly solo again. The last solo I’d done was almost two weeks ago when I was checked out to land in South County and Hollister. I was keen to finally get out into the practice area on my own, all my other solo‘s were in the pattern at RHV. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, no wind and 10 miles visibility. I was supposed to be flying N5766J, when I asked for the book they told me that the last pilot had squawked it for the low voltage light coming on. I know that some of the planes will flash this light if the engine is at low RPM and you have the landing light and transponder on so I decided I’d take it and just keep a close eye on the ammeter. I got thought the external pre-flight and started on the internal checklist when I discovered that the ALT FIELD circuit breaker was popped. I reset it, switched on master and it popped again - there was some problem with the alternator so 5766J was grounded. I was lucky that someone had just cancelled 739YE so I got it. Another pre-flight and this plane was ready to go.
Everything went well until I got to the hold short line of 31R. I called the tower and got no response, I tried ground control and same result, Oh no, he we go again with the radio problems. I turned back around and parked myself in the run-up area again to see if I could work it out. It only took a minute, the speaker jack had pulled out of its socket so I couldn’t hear anything. I got it plugged back in, got back to the hold short line and was cleared to takeoff.
I didn’t have a real firm plan what I was going to practice, other than some landings at South County. I really just wanted to get away from RHV on my own and enjoy flying without too much hard work. I flew down past Anderson Reservoir to give myself some margin from anyone else practicing and just enjoyed flying, did a couple of clearing turns and then a steep turn to the right and another to the left. Did another couple of clearing turns and tried a couple more steep turns. These all went well, held altitude and airspeed fairly constant and came out pretty much on the heading I wanted. At this point I turned around to head to South County. There was one plane in the pattern and as I descended over the golf course East of the field another plane entered the right downwind and I turned to follow him onto the downwind leg. With three planes in the pattern I ended up extending my downwind leg a bit to leave some spacing.
I tried a short-field landing, and it went really well, nice and soft and an easy turn off onto the first taxiway. The plane ahead of me had done a touch and go and the other took off again as I taxied back to takeoff. I did two more landings at South County and they were both spot on. Its really nice to nail the landings on a consistent basic. After the third takeoff I headed for home. The trip back was uneventful, I had a nice stable straight in approach for 31L, got changed to 31R at the 3 mile mark and made a forth great landing to close the day. All in all a very enjoyable flight and another shot of confidence after my first solo trip away from the RHV pattern.
Monday October 28th 2002, 2pm, N8276E, 1.1H
Another perfect solo weather day. I ended up with 8276E today, a plane I’d only flown once back in August and the oldest most worn Skyhawk in the Tradewinds fleet. The pre-flight went well, although I couldn’t make much sense of the audio panel, I used my full headset to call up for fuel because I couldn’t work out how to make the cabin mic work. This plane is hokey, the avionics are old and everything about it is worn around the edges. I had a normal downwind departure and headed back to the same area as I’d practiced in yesterday. My plan was to practice slow flight and stalls and then do some landings again at South County.
As I flew passed Anderson Reservoir I started to get what I can only describe as “the jitters”. Even though I’ve done stalls and slow flight in every other plane in the fleet, 8276E was sufficiently different to make me nervous. I decided to skip the stalls and just do some slow flight and even then I started getting scared about stalling by mistake. It was as if all the confidence I had built up over the previous solo flights had evaporated. Truly I got myself more scared and nervous then my very first solo flight. I slowed down to 55 KIAS and just flew it straight at that speed just practicing maintaining my altitude - this was pretty basic stuff, but I just wasn’t ready to try anything more difficult. As I powered up again event the engine sounded wrong to me - even though it was just fine. It was like my mind was just looking for things to stress me out. As I was at 4000’ I decided to do a forward slip to get down. This is a fairly basic maneuver and it went well, I kept my heading and airspeed pretty constant and lost about 1500’ before coming out of the slip and turning back towards South County.
There was no one else in the pattern at South County as I entered the right 45 for runway 32. I had a pretty normal approach, just aiming for a standard landing with nothing fancy. It went badly wrong in the flare. The plane ballooned up and then started slipping sideways to the right. I added some power but the bottom dropped out and I clunked down onto the runway at a slight angle. My front wheel came down quickly and started to shimmy. It was a mess, I got the weight of the nose wheel and it stopped complaining. This was by far my worst landing in a very long time and it did nothing to help my already diminished confidence. Based on the theory that you climb right back on the horse that you just fell off, I decided to do another circuit of the pattern. I had just powered up for the takeoff when I realized my window was open, so I quickly brought the power back and closed the window - so much for following the checklists. This time through the pattern the approach was good but the landing was only marginally better. I still ballooned up and drifted sideways a bit, but I didn’t come down as hard or as uncontrolled. Still, it didn’t help boast my confidence much. I decided I’d had enough and tookoff for home.
On the straight in approach to 31L the jitters started again in earnest. I had to keep telling myself, I’ve done this plenty of times, its just the same, just follow the standard sequence. The approach went fine to spite being nervous and the landing was ok, if a bit flat. After the ballooning down in South County I under-compensated and didn’t really flare enough. Still, I was happy to be back on the ground in RHV. Today’s flight was really no fun. I didn’t realize just how much an unfamiliar plane would effect me and was surprised at how debilitating the fear could be. It was an unpleasant lesson but one well learned.
Wednesday October 30th 2002, 6:30pm, N5766J, 1.8H
Tonight the weather was picture perfect for flying. The air was clear and cool and visibility was better than 10 miles. There was the usual evening breeze from the Northwest blowing almost straight down the runway. The flight planning for this trip to Napa County Airport was a bit rushed. I had planned to get it done the night before, but I ended up having dinner and a couple of beers with some friends so I wasn’t in the mood when I got home. Instead, I spent lunch time at work getting most of the planning done and then finished up the last bits when I got to Tradewinds about 5:30pm. Grainne was waiting when I got there and we went over the plan. She had told me to avoid SFO’s class B airspace, so I planned a route following I680 up to Concord and then track in towards Napa on the Scaggs Island VOR. I was going to use the DME (Distance Measurement Equipment) to determine my turn point towards NAPA. The distance was 59nm and it should take about 39minutes to fly. After Grainne was done checking the flight plan I filed it and we headed out to find 5766J.
5766J had just been washed and was sitting out behind the Tradewinds hanger. It turned out it hadn’t been flown since I found the alternator problem the previous Sunday. We had checked the maintenance log, the alternator regulator had been replaced and this had fixed the problem. I completed a dark and cold pre-flight and the long taxi out to the runway. Tonight we were making a straight out departure from 31R just following to the East of the freeway to stay clear of SJC’s class C. The takeoff and departure was fine. I got Oakland Radio on the climb out and opened my flight plan and then managed to setup flight following like I knew what I was doing. We leveled off at 4500’ over Sunol more or less right on time. The view was spectacular, the whole Bay Area was a sea of lights spread out under us.
The flight North along I680 was smooth and uneventful, we were passed to Sierra Approach just before Livermore. There was a lot of traffic on the radio, I guess it was the evening rush hour of planes into and out of the Bay Area. I turned onto the Scaggs Island VOR radial over Buchanan Airport in Concord and started out over the Benicia Bridge into San Pablo Bay. I tuned into the Napa ATIS and got the weather. There was a 7 knot wind at 150 degrees and runway 18R was in use. This was no surprise its the main runway with lights. Its real dark out over the water, when I planned the trip I thought it might be difficult to find the airport, I had planned using the DME to time my turn towards the field. In the event it was really easy to pick out the airport and I didn’t need the DME. I called the tower and was told to enter right downwind for 31R, it sounded like there was no other traffic flying at the time.
I turned right and started the descent and made the same mistake I’d made at Pine Mountain Lake, I got way too close to the runway on the downwind. This time at least I recognized what I was doing wrong and tracked away from the runway on the downwind to give myself more space on the base leg. The approach was fine and I thought the landing was fine, though Grainne got a bit excited. I was starting the flare and she kept saying “just hold it level”, I could see her almost grabbing the yoke. 18R is another big runway like Castle (5900’) with wide runway markings. I guess I flared a bit high because the “normal” sight picture I’m used to in RHV or Q99 fooled me into thinking I was lower (that is a big runway far away looks the same as a small runway close up). Either way we touched down pretty gently. The tower told us to taxi to the ramp on his frequency and we had fun finding a taxiway diagram to work out how to get back to the start of the runway. Napa is one of those triangular airports with three runways making up the sides, this makes the taxiway layout a bit complicated. Luckily we didn’t get lost, got a clearance to taxi for takeoff, found our way back to the start of 18R and were cleared to take off. I closed the flight plan on the way up.
The flight back was relaxing, just using pure pilotage, no dead reckoning. Grainne had planned some hood work, but by the time I got flight following setup we were over Concord at 3500’ and pretty much hemmed in by the mountains on both sides so no more hard work tonight. I flew us down 680, over Sunol, Sierra Approach gave us the RHV ATIS and terminated flight following. I called RHV tower along side Mission Peak and was told to enter right downwind for 31R. We were just on the downwind when Grainne pulled the power on the engine for yet another dead stick landing. It’s amazing how the engine always quits over Lake Cunningham. Got best glide and turned onto base and final. I had 10 degrees of flaps in and hummed and hawed about putting more in, finally putting in 30 degrees over the Mall. The landing was so gentle, the plane’s wheels just kissed the ground hello, really good! I let her roll to the last taxi way and we headed for parking. Tonight was pure joy, perfect weather, the air was smooth as glass and everything went exactly to plan. I’ve got another solo flight tomorrow. Grainne wants me to do the Stage II checkride on Saturday so I’ll just stay in the RHV pattern and practice the short & soft field takeoffs and landings.
Thursday October 31st 2002, 3pm, N5766J, 1.5H
The weather this week had just been so perfect, it feels like the last gasp of summer. The wind was 290 at 10 knots and the temp was 21C with 20 miles of visibility, there were just a few scattered cirrus at 20,000’. After last nights flight all my problems of last Monday were forgotten, 5766J is just a friendly plane to fly and she’s never been bad to me unlike that treacherous 8276E. No problems whatsoever with the pre-flight, taxi or run-up. Took off on 31R and entered right traffic and once again was flying solo. I have to remind myself that its only three short weeks since I soloed for the very first time. It’s like night and day - no fear only the enjoyment of getting into the air.
I stayed in the air for 1.5 hours. Previously I’d have been exhausted doing pattern work for this long. Now I’m easily ahead of the plane, the focus is just on refining technique, its not tiring, its just fun. I feel like I’ve been climbing a mountain and suddenly the hill got a lot less steep. After the problems getting too my first solo and then finally getting it over with, the progression has just been so fast. Back then I thought it was a stretch goal of getting my license by Christmas. Now its looks easily attainable if I’m lucky with weather in November. Granted, I’ve been flying a lot this month almost 19 hours since my solo, so I’m probably just on track with the average, its just I’ve compressed it into 3 weeks.
I did 10 landings and one go-around. I focused on short field landings because they're most of the soft field technique anyway. The first three floated a bit and I touched down farther along than I wanted. Then I tried just slowing up just a little bit on final, a touch under 60 KIAS and bang, right on the numbers they started working. On most of the landings I was able to get off on taxi way Bravo which is the very first available taxiway, I never went beyond taxiway Charlie. Not a single landing was out of control. It was just landing nirvana today. I mixed in some short field takeoffs and these went well. The go-around was caused by another pilot, one of the Japanese students from Nice Air. The tower thought he asked for a downwind departure, he obliviously thought he was doing closed pattern work. Either way he ended up on final when the tower asked him what the hell he was doing because he had no clearance to land. He then got into a debate with the tower whether he asked for closed pattern work or a downwind departure. All this time there was another plane holding for takeoff on 31R. By the time the tower had stopped talking the Japanese guy was on short final and the plane holding on 31R had never got a clearance to takeoff. So the Japanese guy got told to go-around because of the plane sitting on the runway. I had just turned onto final following the Japanese guy so I got told to go-around as well.
All in all today was a great flight even if it was just circles around the airport. I never made a mistake, the radio work was good and the landings were great.
Saturday November 2nd 2002, 11am, N739YE, 2.0H
Today was my stage II checkride. Like the stage I check this is 2 hours oral test and then 2 hours flight test. The focus this time is on cross-country work, weather and decision making. Its not really a test, but its organized the same way as the FAA checkride so that your first time flying with a stranger isn’t when its the FAA examiner. We had a hard time finding a senior CFI to do the checkride, but Grainne set it up with a part time instructor called Todd Shara. Todd is an Air Transport Pilot flying for Sky West which does short haul commuter flights in California. Grainne had told me to prepare a flight plan to Fresno and to have all the weight and balance calculations done. I like to have the AOPA airport directory pages in my kneeboard and I’d managed to forget to print out the ones I needed on Friday, so I headed into work early printed the diagrams I needed for Fresno and some other airports along the way. I also got the DUATS briefing and completed the flight calculations. I managed to get all this done and get to RHV for 9am - It was an early start and I arrived just a couple of minutes late. Todd was waiting for me, he is a big fresh faced guy, quiet spoken.
The oral test went well. We started with the route I’d picked out which was basically a straight line from RHV to FAT. Todd had a problem with simply flying over the mountains to the east of San Jose, firstly would the plane climb fast enough to clear the 3500’ peaks and the fact that there is no place to land if the engine quits. He would have chosen to fly south to Frazier Lake and then follow highway 152 into the central valley. He asked me various questions about the airspace along the route, how I’d get information on weather, how I’d find the frequency for Air Traffic Control. He had a bunch of what if questions, like “What if you’re at Los Banos and Oakland Radio tells you that the Bay Area is fogged in from Oakland to Hollister, good night”, answer go land somewhere like Merced and stay the night. We went through the Sectional making sure I could read the airport information, VOR info etc. The test was supposed to take two hours, we finished in a little over one. The plane wasn’t back so we just chatted while we waited for it to arrive.
The pre-flight and taxi went well, I didn’t forget anything. I had some problems with the run-up, the left magneto was really rough. Like I’d been shown I ran the engine up to 2200 RPM for 10 seconds to burn off any carbon deposits, when that didn’t work I tried full power for 20 seconds. That still didn’t work so Todd showed me a trick, you lean the engine (adjusting the mixture to get max RPM) and then let it run there for about 30 seconds. This makes it run hot - its not recommended but better than grounding the plane for a bad magneto when in fact the plugs are just a little fouled. This did the trick and we were ready for takeoff. I did a fine short field takeoff and downwind departure.
The first checkpoint was the Top of Climb, we hit it 2 minutes late, but within the spec. (inside 5 minutes) and leveled off at 5500’. I established the plane in cruise and finished the checklist and then got the Salinas VOR tuned in and identified as I planned to use a radial to confirm my next checkpoint. At this point Todd tells me to divert to Salinas - I’m thinking this is too easy, I’ve just setup the VOR so the DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) will tell me the distance and time to the VOR for free. Todd realizes this just about the same time I do and says, “Wait, Salinas just shut down, divert to Monterey”. We had talked about my one trip into class C (on the night flight to San Jose International) and Todd decided this would be a great opportunity to get some more class C experience with Monterey. The weather was perfect, I could see all the way to the coast out to the Monterey Peninsula so pointing the plane in the right direction was pretty easy. Still, I remembered to note the time, got a new heading worked out (195), measured the distance on the chart (45 nm), used the E6B to calculate an ETE (24 minutes) & ETA (12:22) and worked out the fuel in my head (3.5 gallons). However, I forgot to change my altitude for the new heading, Todd reminded me and I descended to 4500’. Then he had me try and look up the AFD to find out whatever I could about Monterey (I hadn’t anticipated Monterey ahead of time so I didn’t have the AOPA directory sheet in my knee board folder). I managed to get the various frequencies, runway lengths and pattern altitude, but it was messy trying to read the book and fly the plane at the same time. We discussed how to get into Monterey class C, I knew about calling up Monterey Approach, but I wasn’t sure about how I’d give them a position fix. Todd suggested we head to Moss Landing (a huge power station, right on the coast, just outside class C) and call them from there. By this time I’d lost a bit of altitude and I was playing with getting back to 4500’ when he told me I really had more important things to think about, like getting the ATIS and getting in contact with Air Traffic Control. I made a dumb mistake getting the ATIS, I’m so used to just tuning out the Reid Hillview ATIS once I’ve got the winds and altimeter setting that I did the same here. So of course I didn’t find out what runway was in use. Todd asked me what runway I was going to use and I sheepishly turned the ATIS back on to find out. I got a hold of ATC just over the power station, they replied with my call sign and told me to standby for a transponder code. Todd, asked me, “Did I think I could enter class C?”, I said, “I believe so” and he said “so do I”, - we had established two way communication with ATC. A good trick he told me was to make sure my altitude was above 4200’, the top of class C airspace, that way I couldn’t blunder in by mistake without clearance. We were finally given a transponder code and told to ident, then told to ident again, finally the controller asked, “Are you the plane directly over the mouth of the Salinas River?”. I looked down and sure enough there was a river, so I told him I was. At this point he told me to contact the tower. We were still almost 10 miles out, but they gave a clearance to land on 28R (the shorter runway). No other instructions, no preferred pattern entry, nothing. Usually a tower gives you more explicit instructions like “Make left traffic for 28R, report 2 miles on the 45”. So I assumed a standard left traffic pattern and aimed for the 45 entry to left traffic for 28R. Other than committing my usual sin at unfamiliar airports of getting too close to the runway on downwind the pattern entry and landing were fine. Todd told me to do a short field landing. I couldn’t understand why the plane floated so much down the runway. It turned out I left just a little bit of power in and so I turned it into a perfect soft field landing.
We called Ground Control and asked to taxi for takeoff. I was told to standby for a departure instructions and then they came back with, “Depart straight out, after the freeway turn to heading 340, Monterey Approach frequency 127.15”, I read this back and they confirmed I’d got it right. I called the Tower again at the hold short line and got a takeoff clearance, an Eagle Air commuter jet took off beside us just as I lined up on the runway. Todd told me to make a soft field takeoff, I did a passable job, but really didn’t get into ground effect until I was already going fast enough to takeoff normally. I climbed out over the freeway, turned to heading 340 which takes you out over the bay. At about 1800’ I was told to contact Monterey Approach. They told me to resume my own navigation above 2000’, so I turned back towards dry land as soon as I got the chance. Todd, told me to let him know when we were clear of class C, this was fairly easy, there is a kind of lagoon on the coast that marks the boundary. Once out he had me put on the hood for some instrument work.
He had me level out at 3500’, fly some headings and determine the radial I was on from the Salinas VOR. Then we did some recovery from unusual attitudes. I think we did three, two nose down and one nose up almost in a stall. I messed up the first one a bit, not leveling the winds before pulling out of the dive. I was a bit confused about cross checking the turn coordinator with the attitude indicator. Previously I’d been told check the attitude indicator first - then quickly cross check the turn coordinator to make sure. Todd told me to do the opposite, because of the possibility that the attitude indicator has tumbled. So spent too long looking at the turn coordinator, trying to level the wings, I thought they were coming level and I started to pull up the nose, then I looked at the attitude indicator and saw my wings were still banked left - so then I leveled them using the attitude indicator. The plane ended up straight and level, but Todd wasn’t happy about not leveling the wings first. I got the hood off and he told me to head for home.
A little passed Frazier Lake Todd asked me was there a checklist in the side pocket, this was just a ploy to get me to take my hand off the throttle which he promptly pulled out. I established best glide speed and thought I could make it to South County, he kept saying are you really sure, I said I thought I could but that it was close to the limit of the glide. Then he said assuming I couldn’t then where would I land, so I turned the plane around and started heading for Frazier Lake, which in hind sight was the right answer in the first place. So I fell for the Frazier Lake ploy again - forgetting this little airfield is there. he told me to turn back for home, took over flying the plane and gave me a lecture on how there was no way he would have tried to make it to South County when there was a good airfield so close and how even if there wasn’t he would have put it down in a field rather than try and fly into a built up area without being sure of getting to a landing spot. So lesson well learned - go for the sure thing when the engine fails.
Had a nice uneventful flight back to RHV. Todd had me do a short field landing which went perfectly this time. Other than the recovery from unusual attitudes and the emergency landing he said I did fine on the stage check evaluation - ready for my solo cross country. The flight was fairly long, but it went well overall. I really feel ready for flying cross country on my own.
Sunday November 3rd 2002, 12pm, N5766J, 2.2H
A big day, my first solo cross-country flight. Reading back to some of the early entries in this journal, I’m amazed how much I’ve learned, how far I’ve come. Many of the later entries have almost become routine, I flew here, I did that and so on. They fail to capture the wonder and excitement of flying. Now, a little over two months since I started, I’m to be set loose with a plane all on my own to take it somewhere I never been before, fly through unfamiliar airspace hopefully proving that I’ve learned something in those last two months. It should feel like a big deal, but truthfully I feel more than ready for it, no nervousness, no jitters, just keen anticipation to be in the air. I talked with Grainne last night, she told me the destination for my first big excursion is to be Davis, “Yolo County/Winters/ Woodland/Davis Airport” to be exact (stupid name for an airport, you can just imagine the various bodies arguing over the name and eventually deciding to call it that just to keep everyone happy), its code is 2Q3 and I’ll call it that to save on hard disk space. I got all the preflight planning done last night and I arrived early to get the DUATS briefing and make the final calculation for the forecast winds. Grainne checked through everything and then endorsed my log book and license for solo cross-country with another endorsement for this specific flight. The route I will follow is up I-680, past the east side of Mt Diablo, over the top of Travis Air Force Base, over the top of Nut Tree Airport and then down into 2Q3 for a trip of 74 nautical miles. I’ll come back via the Scaggs Island VOR and Buchanan Airport following pretty much the same route as the night cross-country home which is 92 nautical miles.
Had a nice normal preflight etc. and tookoff on a right 45 departure to head over the top of Mission Peak, climbing to 4500’. I called Oakland Flight Service Station and opened the flight plan I had filled on the ground. Then called Bay Approach and got flight following. Got passed off to another controller shortly afterwards. I flew almost due north over Livermore and reached Mt Diablo just 2 minutes later than I’d calculated. I got passed off to Travis Approach and stayed with them as I flew right over the top of the base. There are two huge runways (similar to the one I landed on in Castle) and I could see dozens of C130 Transports lined up on the Apron. I got passed off to another Travis controller as I turned over the base to head for Nut Tree. This is a small airport right next to I-80 and a big restaurant - I’ve heard the restaurant is closed now, but the airport is still open. Nut Tree was my planned start of descent and I turned onto what I thought was the right heading and started down. I couldn’t see 2Q3 and my trusty GPS attached to the yoke with rubber bands was telling me it was well left of the direction I was flying. I finally decided to believe the GPS and turned more to the left and hey presto there was 2Q3 (I worked out later I turned onto the true heading, not the magnetic heading, which meant I was off by 15 degrees). I called Travis Approach and terminated flight following, he warned me that there was parachute jumping taking place on the east side of the airport. This was fine, I planned to come in from the west. Got tuned into the CTAF frequency for 2Q3, there was one plane in the pattern doing touch and go’s and another plane with the parachute jumpers. I got down to pattern altitude well west of the field and made a wide right turn to come in on the left 45 for runway 34. Its a big wide runway and I got down without any trouble. I taxied off the runway and just parked in an empty spot (there was a lot of empty spots), shut off the plane, got out, closed my flight plan over the phone and smoked a cigarette. It was a long was to come just to have a smoke, but there was f**k all else there. The time I recorded when I got to the parking spot was 13:53 which was 59minutes after I took off from RHV and 10minutes longer than I’d originally calculated it would take, the headwind was just a bit stronger than forecast.
Got setup for takeoff again with a quick run-up just short of the runway. Did a left crosswind departure and contacted Rancho Radio to open the return flight plan, then got setup for flight following again with Travis Approach. I made a bit of a mess getting onto the radial I wanted for Scaggs island, but eventually worked out that my Heading Indicator had wandered off and it worked just fine when I reset it to the compass. I climbed up to 4500’ and flew over the top of Napa County Airport. Just passed there I turned south to intercept the outbound radial from the VOR and descended to 3500’. The view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge was spectacular. About this time I got passed off to Oakland Approach who shortly passed me back to Travis Approach as I passed over the Carcinas Bridge. I turned south again over Buchanan Airport in Concord and started following I-680 south. I got passed off to Bay Approach on the way down who finally gave me the RHV ATIS and terminated flight following just over Sunol. RHV Tower had me enter the right downwind for 31R and I had a nice uneventful landing. Time on the ground was 15:10, just 56 minutes after taking off from 2Q3 and just 3 minutes longer than my original calculation.
So that was my first solo cross-country. 166 nautical miles and almost 2 hours flying time. It was blissfully uneventful, no problems, no major mistakes and nice and safe the whole way. A good start to what I hope turns into a long cross-country flying career.
Words coming soon...
Words coming soon...
Sunday November 17th 2002, 12pm, N739YE, 1.3H
Today was my first dual lesson in a while after all the cross-country flying. It’s nice to have Grainne back in the right seat, not that I minded being on my own, but the stress level goes way down with a CFI and an extra pair of eyes. The weather is once again really beautiful, its hard to believe we’re past the mid-point of November, its sunny and warm with clear blue skies and just a few high clouds. Today’s flight is really the start of the last part of my training. Its all about practice for the checkride, getting my flying up to PTS (Practical Test Standards) and preparing for the kinds of situations and tasks I can expect in the checkride. Grainne has a new attitude, she pretending to be an FAA examiner. This means, she no longer tells me how to do stuff (unless I ask) and just tells me the maneuver she wants to see. We planned a flight down to the south practice area to go over the basics, steep turns, slow flight and stalls.
4754D is still grounded due to an oil leak. 5766J was grounded because of a bad battery and 8276E had something wrong with its rudder. It was lucky I had happened to book 739YE, the only 172N that Tradewinds still had flying! Had a nice normal pre-flight, taxi except for the lecture I received from Ground Control. On my first call some stood on my transmission and he missed part of it. He said something like “Aircraft at Tradewinds say again”, so I repeated the call, but omitted to say I was parked at discovery. He told me to taxi, and as I was on my way down Zulu he proceeded to lecture me for giving an incorrect location that screwed up his taxi instructions. “Just because your a Tradewinds aircraft doesn’t mean your parked at Tradewinds, you guys were parked at discovery and that’s what you should have told me”. I’ve have heard enough pilots arguing with either the tower or ground control to know its a waste of time so I just apologized and promised not to do it again, this usually keeps them sweet and massages their ego enough so they leave you alone.
I did a standard takeoff with the usual downwind departure. We climbed up to 4500’ and over Anderson I stated with a couple of clearing turns and the maneuvering checklist. Then a steep turn to the left and another to the right - these were damm near perfect. I lost about 100’ on the left turn, kept my altitude spot on the right turn but lost a little airspeed near the end. Then slow flight, power to idle, flaps all the way down, and pitched until I heard the stall horn, just above 40 KIAS and power back up to 2000 RPM to maintain altitude. Grainne had me do a few turns trying to maintain the 40 KIAS (stall horn blowing all the while), these were really quite hard. The plane turns on a dime at that speed so you make a 90 degree turn before you know it, plus the controls are really sluggish. It was also pretty hard to not let the airspeed creep up. After a few turns I setup for some power-off stalls. I did one of these on the stage II checkride, but that is the only one I’ve done in a long time, my lack of practice showed. The first one, I didn’t pitch far enough forward and lost about 200’ before recovery. On the second I pitched way too much forward and ended up pointing the nose almost straight down - this was dramatic and would have scared me to death before, this time I just laughed and said I believed I had the correct pitch bracketed on both the high and low sides. The third attempt was a bit better, but my heading veered to the right a bit. Hard to believe, but I need to practice stalls some more. We got turned around and tried a power-on stall. This went fairly well, but I find it hard to judge the amount of right rudder needed in 739YE when I put in full power. I remember glancing at the turn coordinator as I was pitching up for the stall and seeing the ball way over to the right. A touch of panic set in, an uncoordinated stall gets you into a spin. Sure enough, as the stall broke the plane veered right. But I got enough rudder in to have it straightened up as I pulled up after recovery. So Grainne was happy and I only had to do the one.
Finally, we tried an emergency descent, these are no longer on the PTS, but I wanted to do one so that if I ever needed it I have done at least one. There are two schools of thought on the emergency descent. One says, point the nose down and dive or spiral down at the limit of the yellow arc. The problem with this is you reach 1000’ doing an ungodly speed that you then have to loose in order to land. In addition, it puts a lot of stress on the airframe which you may not want to do if your plane is on fire and you don’t know the damage that may have already been caused. The other school says, slow to 85 KIAS, drop in full flaps and descend in a tight 45 degree banked spiral. This had the advantage of keeping you at a sane speed when you level out to try and land, but it assumes you still have the capability to use the flaps. I’m not sure which one gets you down faster, but I elected to try the second one. Being cautious I climbed back up to 4000’ to try it out. Power to idle, slow to 85 KIAS, put in full flaps and then pitch to keep 85 KIAS. With full flaps this points the nose down pretty steeply. Then spiral down. This was a lot of fun, we got a descent of about 1200 FPM, but I wasn’t very aggressive with the 45 degree turns, so I think I could have probably got down faster. You could get a descent rate of 1200 FPM out of a forward slip and I’ve read that this is a useful trick if your engine is on fire, because the nose is pointed sideways in a slip, you can get the smoke, flames, oil and odd engine parts to fly over the other side of the plane and not obstruct your view of the landing.
Grainne gave me the
choice of going to South County or back to Reid Hillview to practice some
short/soft field landings and takeoffs. I decided, time was limited so
we would go back, that way we could get the maximum done without having
to work out how long it would take us to bring the plane back. Over UTC
she asked me what I’d do if I had a full electrical failure so I
gave the usual talk about carefully entering the pattern and looking for
light signals - personally I think I just go land in South County and
call Tradewinds to come pick up me and their dumb plane. So while we decided
not to simulate the radio failure (and I’ve had a couple of real
ones already) but we would do a no flap landing. Thinking I should lose
a little altitude I set the power a bit low (1500 RPM) and then waited
half a minute before realizing that I was descending at almost 1000 FPM
at 110 KIAS. I got slowed back to 90 KIAS and 500 FPM, but I was way too
low as I came in over the hills south of RHV. Grainne pointed out my mistake
beautifully by simply asking where I thought I’d land if my engine
quit. I realized that except for a real difficult spot down by the freeway
I would be toast. So point well taken, keep on glide slope all the way
in. I know that I’ve been guilty of not doing this on my last few
straight in approaches to RHV.
We had requested the option so I was cleared to cross 31R and taxi back via Yankee for another takeoff. I did a short field takeoff which was so so, I was a touch faster than Vx but otherwise ok. Then around right traffic and this time did a short field landing. The plane floated just a little and I didn’t get my wheels down on the numbers. Grainne said that the flare was just a little off, but I’m not sure exactly how. We did a touch and go and then a soft field landing that was pretty bad. I was kind of preoccupied with controlling the power that I let myself drift a little to the right (that crosswind again) and for the first time in a long time Grainne put her hands on the controls during a landing to bank just a little left to stay out of the grass. So from picture perfect on the first landing to beginner on the last. Still, its shows I need to really go out and practice the soft-field technique.
Today’s flight was good overall. Grainne says I’m on track for the stage III checkride at the end of the month. I just need to get caught up with study for the written test and get it scheduled sometime before the end of November. I finished all the CD’s in the Cessna Pilot Center kit so now its just studying the Glime Answer Book to make sure I’ve got the actual questions down.
Monday November 18th 2002, 2pm, N739YE, 1.1H
Another dual flight with Grainne, this time its some hood work (the last of the FAA requirements I need to meet before the written exam and checkride) and a trip over to either Palo Alto or San Carlos, either one will be my first time there. The weather is again fabulous for flying pretty much the same as yesterday. I got to Tradewinds about 15 minutes early and spent my time getting all the frequencies it needed and traffic pattern altitudes for PAO and SQL. Grainne showed up and we went through the flight, a right 45 departure, some hood work until we got to Sunol and then a diversion to either PAO or SQL, with the full task of working out the heading, ETE, ETA and fuel for the diversion.
I had a normal preflight and tuned into Ground Control, the controller and some pilot were having a grade old conversation about how it was a pity to have to work on such a great day, the guy in Ground Control was saying it was especially bad working in a fish bowl. When I finally got a word in, I called “Reid Hillview Fish Bowl” instead of Ground Control, he got a laugh out of that as he gave me my taxi instructions. I attempted a soft-field takeoff but it didn’t work, I though I was off the ground and lowered the nose, I wasn’t off yet, then when I did lift off and tried to pitch forward to stay in ground effect I put the wheels back on the ground. Not much good and lots more practice required. I made the right turn and Grainne had me put on the foggles as we climbed. She had me fly various different headings and at some point I tried to level off at 4500’. This isn’t easy using just the instruments (and is not typically required in a checkride), but I managed a passable job. Then it was time for a couple of recoveries from unusual attitudes. The first one was nose low and I recovered pretty quickly. The second was nose high and it took a little longer - Grainne had trimmed the nose all the way up, so it took a lot of forward pressure to get it down and try to adjust trim at the same time as getting straight and level. Then the foggles came off and Grainne asked me did I know where I was, luckily we were just over a lake that was easy to pick out on the chart. See told me to divert to PAO.
I did a good job of getting a heading and got a measure of the distance, unfortunately my plotter doesn’t have a TAC scale, so I planned to use the Sectional scale and divide by two. In the event I used the WAC scale and got an answer of 40 miles. This worked out to be over 20 minutes flying time which just seemed too long, so I decided it must be 20 miles and about 11 minutes. I worked out the fuel in my head. The only mistake I made was not turning to the heading right away. I knew I should, but I also knew that class B airspace was in the way and I was trying to get the chart sorted out before I headed in that direction. So while the heading I originally picked out was right on for PAO, by the time I turned it brought me out further north than I was expecting. I started descending once I’d made the turn and got slowed up to 90 KIAS. I learned today, that slowing up the plane so you can keep up in busy airspace it a great idea. Also having all the frequencies written down in front of me made a big difference. There was enough to worry about without trying to read the chart to tune in the ATIS or whatever. We ended up at 1400’ over the KGO radio towers (which Grainne informed me was a useful landmark for calling a position in to PAO). I called the tower and was told to follow a Cherokee in that was on my left. I really didn’t see the airport until I say him make his turn onto downwind. I had gotten down to the 800’ pattern altitude following him across the water. I turned onto downwind a little early (over compensating for my tendency to fly too close on downwind in strange airports), so I had a long crosswind leg. This got me a little low and I had two red lights on the VASI on final. This was where Grainne informed me that this was an automatic failure in the checkride. This was news to me, I’ve committed this sin so often, I’ll have to be a lot more careful in future. We did a normal landing and then taxied back for another takeoff this time staying in the pattern.
I tried another soft-field takeoff and this wasn’t much better the first attempt. By the time I got off the ground, I was already at 60 KIAS so there was no need to stay in ground effect. I think I’m not pulling back hard enough during the takeoff roll. Flew a right traffic pattern but was again too low on final. I think the smaller runway was giving me the illusion that I was higher so causing me to fly lower. I’ll really need to practice this some more. This time I tried a soft-field landing and this wasn’t much better than the attempt yesterday, at least Grainne didn’t have to reach for the controls this time. We taxied back and asked the tower for a VFR departure to RHV. They told us to make left traffic and we did. I was pretty much abeam the tower when they told me to contact Moffett Field the next class D airport south. I called Moffett and they told me to follow 101 and cross San Jose at or above 1500’ then handed me off to San Jose Tower. I called San Jose and they told me to over fly the field. Did I mention that its a good idea to fly at about 95 KIAS just to keep the plane going slow enough so you have enough time to talk to all these folks. We were just past San Jose when they passed us off to RHV who told me to enter left traffic for 31L. I flew a nice pattern and made another marginal soft-field landing and we finished for the day.
Today’s flight went well other than the soft-field stuff. I’m going to take another solo flight just to practice this technique. with all the cross-country flights I haven’t done too many landings recently and its scary how quickly you go rusty. The radio work with all the various control towers went very well. I’ve never really had a problem talking on the radios and it feels pretty good to navigate such complicated airspace without screwing up. Grainne is going to setup the stage III checkride for the weekend after Thanksgiving. I going to fly at least twice more with her before then and probably one more solo for the pattern work.
Monday November 25th 2002, 3pm, N5766J, 1.3H
Wednesday November 27th 2002, 2pm, N9552A, 1.4H
Saturday November 30th 2002, 2pm, N5766J, 1.3H
Not a lot to say about today’s flight. After the debacle of trying to land at Frazier Lake last Wednesday, I needed to get some landing confidence back before tomorrow’s stage check so I booked some solo time to practice landings in the pattern at RHV. The airports was really busy, when I contacted Ground Control he warned me of delays and that was pretty much how it went. I did just seven trips around the pattern, 6 landings and one go around because I let myself get too high on final. This took a full 1.3 hours to accomplish. There was a lot of radio work, watching for traffic and extending downwind for incoming traffic. I really should have been practicing short and soft field technique, but it was enough to just do standard landings with all the other distractions. None of the landings were terrible, but none were great either. I’m not sure it really gave me back all the confidence I wanted, but at least I could land the damm thing safely.
Sunday December 1st 2002, 10am, N5766J, 1.9H
Today was my stage III checkride. This is the final internal test that Tradewinds requires before you can go for your FAA checkride. Grainne had setup for me to fly with John Sircable, another of the senior CFI’s at Tradewinds. I meet him briefly last Wednesday and he had given me a flight to plan to Chico in Northern California. I had finished the actual navigation log on Friday night, but I had to head into work early to get print out the DUATS weather briefing and calculate the actual headings and ground speeds for the current winds aloft (I need to get a working printer at home!). The weather in the Bay Area was perfect for flying, winds calm, 15 miles visibility, just a few clouds at 3000’ and 17C. However, over the Central Valley it was a different story. Solid IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) over a wide area from Livermore north to Sacramento, mostly just winter ground fog that was forecast to clear by 1pm. I knew to expect a diversion, and when I made the plan I guessed it would be to Livermore or Tracy. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen now, with both these airports fogged in, as were any other likely destinations along the planned route.
I arrived about 30 minutes early and spent some time rechecking the weather on one of the school’s computers. John turned up on time and we started into the oral part of the stage check right away. With work being so busy lately I felt unprepared going into this and it really showed. We started by going over the flight plan. I had planned a route directly north from RHV towards Travis AFB (a reuse of the plan from my first solo cross-country), then following a radial to and from the Williams VOR into Chico. John was happy with the route and rechecked some of the calculations - they were all good. Then he started to ask questions from the chart. I mostly did OK, but missed a couple of easy questions on class E airspace. I needed to check the sectional key to remember which color denoted class E starting at 700’ and 1200’, was a little fuzzy on which side of the line the airspace changed and missed a question on an area where class E abutted class G and how high class G went (14,500‘ in this case). I also got asked for the VFR visibilities, cloud clearances and ceilings in every type of airspace, day and night and Special VFR rules for day and night. I got most of this right, but missed a couple of questions on class B visibility (3 miles), horizontal clearance from clouds in class E above 10,000’ (1 mile) and limitations on night SVFR (need to have an IFR rated plane and pilot). John also asked questions on aero-medical factors such as hypoxia and carbon-monoxide poisoning, and how you would know the difference. A bunch of questions on various aircraft systems such as the engine and instruments. For example what would cause detonation, what would happen if you had carb ice and what the engine would do when you switched on carb heat, what instrument would fail if the pitot tube was blocked. In the end we took the full two hours on the oral portion. Somewhere along the way I told John the sorry story of last Wednesday’s landing attempts at Frazier Lake, this would come back to haunt me later.
The preflight, run-up and taxi went without problems and we took off at 12:20 on a right 45 departure taking us north over Calaveras Reservoir. On the climb up we simulated opening a flight plan with Oakland Radio and skipped getting flight following. Once we got above the lake it was clear that the fog was still solid from Livermore north - a solid, dirty brown haze just stretched across the horizon. John told me to level off at 3500’ and when I finished that to divert to Frazier Lake - looks like I was going to get a chance to finally land on the grass. I got the plane turned around and heading in the general direction and noted the time. Then drew the course line in on the chart and measured the distance at 35 miles. I moved the plotter over to the SJC VOR radial on the sectional and marked the radial for the heading. However, the chart is so crowded in that area it took me a while to actually read off what radial it was, finally I got 135 degrees. Then I calculated the ETE (20 minutes), arrival time (12:49) and the fuel (2.7 gallons). It took me seven minutes in all to calculate the diversion. My control of the plane was a not great, after I had turned around it decided to oscillate around 4500’ and I got too wrapped up in plotting the diversion to really get it straight and level. John told me to just fly the course and then let him know when I had the airport in sight.
I got the airport insight a good ten miles out and John said we would start doing some maneuvers before we went to try landings. We started with slow flight. I did my clearing turns and checklist and we did a couple of turns, as usual its was hard to roll out on the right heading without also gaining some airspeed. This type of flight really takes total concentration, the controls are sluggish, the nose is high and the stall horn is pretty much going off the whole time. Then we recovered back to cruise and tried some stalls. John had to keep reminding me to do the clearing turns - stupid on may part, you just have to remember to do turns before each and every maneuver. I guess, you often save a little time with instructors by only doing them every few maneuvers or so, but this sets up a bad habit for the checkride. We did a power-off stall, I let the nose drop a little far on the recovery and John demonstrated one and then made me repeat it, this one went better. A single power-on stall was fine. More clearing turns and then a steep turn to the left. This went badly wrong. I let the bank angle get way too steep, almost 60 degrees. I could really feel the G-force pushing my arms and legs down, which scared me a little. I lost almost 300’ feet of altitude on the turn. What I should have done was just terminate the maneuver went it started to go wrong, instead of following it through to the end. John had me do another to the left which was perfect and then two more to the right which were also fine. I don’t know why I let the first one go bad, but I’ll have to take more care on the checkride.
We got turned around more or less in the direction of Frazier Lake and then John closed the throttle and told me the engine had failed. I got best glide speed and said that we could make Frazier Lake. John told me to just pretend there was no airport near and to pick a field instead. There was a nice big plowed field straight in front of us so I told him that was where we were going. Got through my cockpit checks and checklists, simulated an emergency call and made a couple of calls on Frazier Lake traffic to let them know what I was doing (we were only about 2 miles west of the field). The emergency landing was fine, I glided down parallel to the field on a downwind leg, then turned base and final at which point John told me to go around. We climbed back up to 1100’ (Traffic Pattern Altitude for Frazier lake) and entered the right 45 for runway 23. This time everything went fine and I made a passable soft field landing on an actual soft field. It really isn’t as hard are you expect, it just takes more power then usual to taxi and you have to go easy on the breaking. We got off the runway and taxied back to the start of the strip (the taxiway is paved). You have to make sure to get the plane ready for the takeoff before you get on the grass. I forgot this and John had to shout at me to hold short (I had the mic button pressed, announcing I was taking the active - so I could hear him in my headset). So we stopped, did the correct pre-takeoff checklist including 10 degrees of flaps. Taking off, you need a lot of power when you first get on the grass to taxi to the center, then full power without stopping and keep the nose high, but no so high that you can’t see the end of the runway. On grass you know exactly when your main wheels are off the ground, then fly in ground effect until the plane just takes itself into the air. We did another circuit of the pattern, this time John told me to make a short field landing on the soft field. Apparently this is a favorite trick of the FAA Examiner. So how do you do a short field landing on grass - basically the same as a short field landing anywhere else. Put you wheels down where you want them, don’t add the power on touch down (as in a soft field landing) but keep the nose wheel as high as possible and break as hard as you dare on the soft surface. The landing went well, the grass is more bumpy but it still feels firm, its not nearly as difficult to land on as I had been expecting. We took off, made a crosswind departure and headed back toward RHV.
John had me put on the hood for some instrument work on the way back. We did some turns to headings, a climb and level off, a descent and level off and a couple of recoveries from unusual attitudes (one high and another low). All the usual stuff, I was in an instrument grove today and the flying was spot on. The instrument work is one area where I’ve never really had any problems. Once the hood came off John asked what I would do if I had an electrical failure, we discussed coming into RHV without radio’s, transponder or flaps, how you would enter the pattern and look for light signals and so on. He said we would do a no flap landing at RHV, but to hold 1500’ until he told me I could start to descend, then to do a forward slip to get down. I got the ATIS and called into the tower. As usual we were told to make straight in for 31L and call in at 3 miles. At the call in point I was told to change to 31R and cleared to land. Just a little short of the Mall, John told me to descend. I made a passable job of getting into the slip, but let the airspeed stay about 80~85 KIAS so we were still way high as we came over the numbers. We went around, one circuit through right traffic and then I made the no flap landing without a problem, we did float a little, but got down pretty gently.
Saturday December 7th 2002, 12pm, N4754D, 1.3H
Grainne wasn’t able to fly today, but she setup for me to fly with Scott Bunch, one of the other CFI’s at Tradewinds. We got some rain last night, but today is beautiful with blue cloudless sky and no wind. I arrived pretty much on time and Scott arrived just after me. We talked a bit about the stage check last week. I needed to do some turning stalls, I hadn’t ever done them with Grainne and John had asked for one last week. We also decided to go to Watsonville as that is a favorite diversion airport for the FAA examiner. We would practice some slow flight, steep turns and stalls along the way with some soft field landings down at Watsonville.
N4754D was in good shape, this is the plane I’m booked to do my checkride in and I haven’t flown it since my solo cross-country to Sonoma (during which it apparently sprung an oil leak I didn’t even know about until later and was grounded for nearly 3 weeks). I want my last few flights to be in the checkride plane so I’m really used to its handling on the big day. The preflight, taxi and run-up went well. I did a good soft field takeoff and we made a downwind departure heading for Anderson Reservoir. On the way up Scott showed me the Loran that is installed in 4754D - I guess you need to know how to operate everything in the plane you take on the check ride and I’ve never used this particular box before. Apparently it works like a ground based version of GPS with pretty much the same functionality. I’ll play with it some more before the checkride.
Over Anderson, I did my clearing turns and maneuvering checklist and then entered slow flight. This went reasonably well, but I lost about 80’ because I didn’t add quite enough power in. We did a couple of 180 degree turns and this time I managed to roll out on the right heading, but as usual I had some problems letting the plane gain some speed on the turn. We flew a little further south to avoid San Jose class C airspace and then turned towards Watsonville. I could just make out the runway in the distance. Along the way I did some steep turns, one to the left and two to the right. These went well except that I let the bank angle get a little shallow on the right hand turns.
Scott talked me through a turning stall. basically its just the same as a straight ahead stall except you do it in a bank. This means you don’t have to worry about keeping a heading, but you do need make sure the turn is coordinated. We tried two, both power-off. You do the normal setup of slowing down getting in full flaps, then you start the turn as you pull out the power, no more than 20 degrees of bank and start pulling back to create the stall. The main mistake is not pulling back far enough to get a clean break on the stall. The first one worked pretty well, as soon as you start the recovery, its easy to level the wings. The second, I really didn’t pull back hard enough and then kind of preempted the stall break. Still, not too bad for a first attempt - I’ll try some more next weekend just to make sure I’ve got the hang of it.
We were over the mountains just southwest of South County so it was a short trip over to Watsonville. Tuned into the CTAF, it was apparent there was a lot of traffic around the airport. I made a fairly high pass over the eastern end of the field and then made a descending right turn to come in on the left 45 for runway 20. There was yellow biplane ahead of me in the pattern and we passed another couple of planes (rather closely) as I came in on the downwind leg. The biplane was extending his downwind to let some traffic on the ground takeoff. We watched a Cessna Citation (a business jet) takeoff as we flew downwind. I was quite distracted by all the traffic and radio chatter so I left it a bit late to start my descent. So I also flew a long downwind. This was supposed to be a soft-field landing, but I screwed it up. I landed flat (just about on three wheels) and didn’t add the power to keep the nose wheel up. I’m not sure why I made the mistake, but I think it was mostly the distractions of all the other planes and a new airport. We taxied off the runway and back for another takeoff. This one was a short-field takeoff and it went well. Once around the pattern again, this time watching a Lear Jet take off while I flew downwind (there must be a lot of rich strawberry farmers down in Watsonville). This soft-field landing was textbook, no problems at all. We did a touch and go and a downwind departure heading eastwards.
It was a nice leisurely flight back over South County towards Anderson. Over the lake, Scott had me try a power-on turning stall. This was even easier than the power-off stalls and we just did the one. Then back homeward to RHV for a short field landing. This went well, I put the wheels down pretty much where I wanted them, but a little harder than I’d like - Scott didn’t seem to mind. He said that most short field landings come down firmly anyway.
All in all a good flight, no major problems except for the poor landing down at Watsonville. Scott seems to think I’ll have no problems on the checkride, I wish I felt as confident.
Grainne showed up about 5 minutes late and we went over the results of the tests and she gave me the endorsement. We talked about yesterday’s flight and decided that today we would fly up to Sunol and do some slow flight, followed by a diversion to Tracy (a likely spot for the FAA examiner to take me). The preflight was fine, tee-shirt weather - you’ve got to love California. Nothing of consequence on taxi and run-up. Grainne asked for a short field takeoff - I was just running up the engine to full power when the tower asked us why we weren’t off the ground yet (he must of been having a bad day), we were rolling by the time Grainne got on the radio to reply.
We climbed up to 4000’ and flew done the valley over Calaveras Reservoir. I did my clearing turns and maneuvering checklist (remember the item about picking out an emergency landing spot - I missed it today). Then throttle back to 1500 RPM, flaps to 10 degrees, keep pitching up to maintain altitude, flaps all the way down once your in the white arc, then power back in to 2100 RPM to maintain the altitude with the airspeed hovering around 40 KIAS and the stall horn blowing merrily in the background, set the trim to keep it all stable. We just did a couple of 90 degree turns - the hardest part is keeping the airspeed slow. As you turn, the nose wants to dip and its really easy to pickup 5 to 10 KIAS of airspeed. The key is to add enough power when you start the turn and to really watch the pitch as you roll out of the turn. Once you can keep the stall horn sounding the examiner should be happy (and don’t lose more than 100’ altitude). I recovered to cruise flight and Grainne gave me the diversion to Tracy.
I got the plane turned in the right general direction and noted the time. Then drew the course line on the chart, it went right through the restricted area west of Tracy so I started a climb up to 5500’ which would take me over the top of the restricted space and was the right VFR cruising altitude for the course anyway. A quick check on the chart and I had the heading and the distance, then I calculated the ETE, (Estimated Time Enroute) and ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and the fuel required. I’ve really gotten rather good at doing this now. I had Grainne find Tracy in her Airport Directory and she gave me the TPA (Traffic Pattern Altitude), CTAF and AWOS frequencies. We also tried to get the Tracy NDB tuned in, but it didn’t appear to be transmitting so the ADF didn’t work. There was no signal on the AWOS either (I just checked the NOTAMs, the AWOS has been out of service since September 12th, but nothing about the NDB). It was really hazy as we came over the Altamont Pass and I was almost on top of the airport by the time I got it in sight. I had the CTAF tuned in and we could hear folks landing on runway 30. About this time Grainne killed the engine to make this a simulated engine out landing (another favorite trick of the FAA examiner). I had started descending, but I was still way high, so I flew roughly parallel to runway 30 to get a look at it and then made a wide right turn to bring me in on the left 45. I was still a little high on the 45 but I was at pattern altitude by the time I turned downwind. I flew a wide downwind and as I turned base I felt a bit low so I decided I didn’t need any help from the flaps to get down. I got on final and made a passable landing pretty much exactly where I wanted to - no engine and no flaps. I even remembered all my checklists. We taxied to the end of 30 and then turned around and took off on 12 - the wind was calm and there was nobody else in the pattern.
On the climb out it was apparent that the haze was really bad - probably below VFR visibility. I made a right crosswind departure and the haze cleared up a bit as we climbed higher. Grainne told me to take us back to RHV. I wasn’t really sure of the heading, so I plotted it on the chart and got it from there. The highest part of the mountains east of San Jose were between us and home so I kept climbing to 6500’ to give myself plenty of margin. On the way up Grainne asked me to intercept the 175 degree radial to the SJC VOR. I got it tuned in and identified, worked out that to get on the 175 degree radial with a to indication you need to setup the 355 radial on the VOR (this is another FAA examiner trick question). I made a bit of a mess working out the intercept angle, I verbally said I wanted to intercept at 90 degrees, but I was actually flying almost due south, so it would have been a long time before I intercepted it on that heading. When I realized this I turned west (the correct intercept). If I had continued on that course I would have intercepted the radial, but somewhere on the final approach to San Jose International and deep in class C airspace - so I’m not sure what Grainne was thinking giving me that one to intercept. Either way, by this time we were coming up on Mount Hamilton so I got the ATIS for RHV tuned in - to hear nothing but silence. I left it on for a while, and we did hear part of a transmission, but I believe they were in the process of the hourly update. In the end I called the tower with negative ATIS and was told to enter right base for 31R and report at 2 miles, he also gave me the wind and altimeter setting. I started the descent and as usual even when you just clear the last ridge before the valley you are still pretty high. So I did a forward slip which worked like a dream, got down to pattern altitude pretty much at the same time I called in the 2 mile check and got a clearance to land. Grainne had decided that this was to be another no flap landing and it went like a dream. The trick is to be really carefully to pitch for the airspeed you want, its harder to fly slow without the flaps and you have to anticipate the fact that it will be a shallower glide to get down.
I really enjoyed the flight. Everything went to plan, no major mistakes. I’ve already setup the FAA test at Nice Air for the coming Tuesday. Hopefully, I’ll fly once or twice next weekend and then its the checkride!
Tuesday December 10th 2002, FAA Written Test
I’m writing this almost a month after the fact so it will be brief. I took the whole day off work, even though the test wasn’t scheduled until 4pm. This gave me a chance to finally finish the Glime book and study some of the tricky bits that I keep getting wrong (like altimeter errors, compass errors and once again going over the FAR’s). It was actually a nice relaxing day laying on my couch with all the aviation books spread around me.
I got to Nice Air a little early. The receptionist had me fill out an application form, checked my ID and log book and then asked for an $80 check to do the test. The actual testing room is a tiny (hot) room just behind the front desk, it had three computers and there was one other person doing a test when I got started. I was allowed to bring in my chart plotter, E6B and a calculator. The test starts by asking you to reconfirm that all the personal details entered on the application have been correctly entered into the computer. Then it asks gives you some demo questions (not related to flying) to show how the software works and some other screens that explain the various controls. Finally it asks you if you want to take a practice test (I declined). At last it gets to the real test (after asking you about three times whether you really want to start the test).
The actual test was really a breeze. I think most of
the questions I had already seen from the Glime book. Basically, if you
complete a ground school class like the Cessna Pilot Center and study
something like the Glime book then it really shouldn’t be too difficult.
many of the questions can be answered very quickly, you either know the
answer or not - for example all the FAR related questions. The ones that
take time are the performance calculations where you really need to take
care to read the example performance charts. There were questions on takeoff
and landing distances using that complicated combo performance chart -
take the time to actually draw in the lines on the chart, its really easy
to make a mistake trying to just eyeball your way across. The cross country
calculations (like calculating ETE from one airport to another) also need
care and attention, in most cases the available answers are only a couple
of minutes different so any inaccuracy measuring the heading or calculating
using the E6B can easily put you closer to a wrong answer than a right
one and don’t forget to add any time given for climb out from the
airport. There was one question on weather depiction chats that asked
what the weather would be like for a flight from southern Michigan to
north Indiana. I laughed when I saw this, I was born in Ireland, and while
my geographical knowledge of the western USA is fine, I’m really
hazy about all those scrappy little states in the mid-west and east. I
had seen this question in the Glime book this morning and actually went
and looked up an atlas to find out where Michigan and Indiana were - thank
goodness for that.
Tuesday December 17th 2002, Checkride - Part I
I spent an hour last Sunday with Grainne going over N4754D’s maintenance logs making sure I could find everything and getting my final endorsement for the practical test. Grainne called Mike Shiftlett the Pilot Examiner who is going to do my checkride and I was given Paso Robles as my cross country destination - that was lucky, my long cross country was to San Luis Obispo and I flew right over Paso Robles so I can reuse most of the flight plan. Mike is a senior CFI over at Nice Air, he has his own web site at www.checkrides.com which has a lot of useful info on the usual dumb mistakes and how he typically conducts a checkride. Grainne had told me about this last week so I read through everything he had to say and we took some time to make sure all the documents, endorsements and logged hours were correct and in line with his requirements. I had booked flying time with Grainne on Saturday and Sunday and solo time on Monday, but the weather has just closed in, so I haven’t flown since the 8th, not a great lead in to the checkride.
So the big day has arrived, exactly 99 years since the Wright brothers flew for the very first time, what a great day to gain your Private Pilots License! what a pity then that winter had finally arrived in the Bay Area and the weather sucks.
I arrived early to get a briefing from DUATS, it sucked. Ceilings of 2000~4000’ forecast all the way down the coast, embedded thunderstorms and a freezing level at 4000’ with intermittent rain showers. You might be able to fly, but only by staying low and playing dodge with rain clouds and always having a handy airport to land at quick if the weather closed in - so an easy choice that I wouldn’t fly today. The test was supposed to start at 10am, but Mike called about 9:30am to ask if I wanted to fly (nope), then he said we could just complete the oral part of the test today and at least get that finished. This sounded fine and he said he would come over at 11:30am instead. This was just as well because as I put the phone down I realized that I had forgot to bring my checkbook to pay the exam fee and I had to drive home to get it (not having $350 in cash in my back pocket).
I got back to Tradewinds about 10:30am and spent some time going over bits and pieces in the FAR and various other things I thought I’d screw up. I was just in the middle of asking Yoed (a Tradewinds CFI I’ve flown with a couple of times) about some tricky class E/class G airspace boundaries over the Serria’s when Mike turned up. He was pretty relaxed and asked what my question was, joking that he could check if Yoed got the answer right (he did). He spent some time talking with Yoed about IFR stuff in Europe, apparently Mike spent time training RAF pilots in the UK, and telling us about the book he had just written called “Fitness for Pilots”. All in all he comes across as the total Californian dude, head-set in one hand, surf board in the other. Finally, we got settled down to start the test.
He started by explaining exactly how the test would be conducted. The various options on how it could end (pass, fail or discontinue) and then checking my eligibility - all the various endorsements and logged hours. Grainne was on hand, which was just as well because she had to go fill out some stuff on logged ground school hours and stick it in my log book. Once he had checked everything, he asked for a $150 fee, I’ll have to pay the other $200 when we get to do the practical test. We started with the planes maintenance logs, although he explained we would have to do this again when I actually flew to make sure the plane was airworthy. He asked questions on when all the required inspections needed to be carried out, the Annual, 100-hr, ELT, Pitot-Static and Transponder. The only one I missed was how often the ELT needed inspections, I said I thought every it was 24 months and he said “do you want to check the FAR before you make that your final answer”, I checked and of course it was every 12 months. In general, he said anything you didn’t actually have to know in the plane, you could look up. I remember he asked questions about the planes systems, what was the suction pump for, what would happen to the engine if the master switch was turned off and what instrument would fail if the pitot tube was blocked. He asked some aero-medical questions like what are the symptoms of hypoxia and what would you do if a passenger was hyperventilating. He asked what color the lights on a sides and far end of a runway were at night and what color taxi way lights were. He asked about night currency for carrying passengers, and he asked if the 3 landings were to a full stop or would touch and goes be ok and what time would the landings need to be performed at. He pulled out a chart and asked me to identify al the various airspace types and about the various VFR minimums for each and about SVFR requirements. He picked an airport and asked me to tell him everything I could read from the chart about that airport. He asked what would happen if a piece of equipment failed, this was kind of open ended and we got into a discussion about the minimum equipment requirements, the required equipment in the POH, marking it INOP, the only bit I missed and had to look up in the FAR, is that the piece of equipment must be deactivated as well, he also asked if I could simply remove it, I said not without invalidating the weight and balance. He didn’t check my flight plan to Paso Robles in great detail, but he did ask where I got the TAS from, I said de-rated from the POH figures which was the right answer, he said many folks say “my CFI told me” or “my rule of thumb is...”. He asked about Vx and Vy, what they were for my plane, as a “bonus” question he asked if a headwind would effect the time to climb to a particular altitude, which I got right (no effect).
And that was it. He told me I had passed with no problems, it really was easier than I was expecting and all in all it took just slightly longer than an hour. He gave me a “Letter of Discontinuance” due to the weather, as long as I get the practical test done inside 60 days I’m done with the oral part. I’ve got a date of January 20th scheduled for the checkride flight and I’m on his waitlist if a slot opens up earlier. I’m going back to Ireland on Sunday for a 2 week Christmas holiday, so I’ll be back in San Jose on January 6th ready and waiting to fly some more and try and get sharp for the checkride. Grainne emailed me later and told me it was one of the shortest tests she’d every seen Mike do and that he could see I really knew my stuff.
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