Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to earn your Private Pilot's License

Start your training here

Good Afternoon!

I've been asked a lot recently about the process of earning a private pilot's certificate. Generally speaking, there is no right or wrong way to do it, but there is a process to do so. Most Private Pilot License-seeking applicants go through their local flight school (part 61 in most cases) with a certified flight instructor (CFI) to earn their required hours and skills before taking their checkride with either a designated pilot examiner (DPE) or an FAA examiner.

Getting your pilot certificate is actually quite an investment of both time and money. Particularly when it comes to the actual flying part. Most flight schools rent their aircraft to you for usually between $100 -150 per hour wet (meaning gas and oil is included in the price). The flight instructor costs an additional $40-50 per hour. This meaning a two hour lesson, which is fairly typical, would cost you in upwards of $300. Like I said, it's expensive.

Many of my friends tell me that they have the money and time to do this, but their unsure that this is something they want to take up. So, a company affiliated with Bruce Hogan (a CFI, CFII, and MEI) created an online program with over 3,000 pages of exam prep and information to help you "test the waters" before getting fully involved with the flying part of your training.

Take my word for it, the flying part of the private pilot training is easy; it's the groundschool work that is the hardest. You will pay your flight instructor $40-50 per hour to teach you things that you could learn in this course. You will have a better understanding of things before you start your flight training. I highly recommend it.

So, are you interested? Click the link below to get started with Bruce Hogan's online training.

Start your training here

Monday, January 6, 2014

Flight Following

Here in the United States, we have an abundance of services presented to us on a silver platter. Just to name a few: flight watch, flight service, and of course our fellow Air Traffic Controllers providing multiple services; one of which is flight following.

Of course, flight following is recommended by the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), however it is certainly not required. You may want to think about requesting it on your next flight.

Take some time to think about pilots we all know who have violated airspace, inadvertently flown into weather, or collided or nearly collided with other traffic. If you can't think of any off the top of your head, take a few minutes and watch this video.


Notice the pilot's confusion when he is told of his inadvertent encounter with restricted airspace. What if he had been on flight following? Would this have happened?

Let's talk more about flight following.

Know what to do.

It is understandable that it may be slightly intimidating to speak on the radio of a busy Boston center or, New York Center. However, it is certainly not intimidating if you plan out what you should be doing and come prepared.

Firstly, make sure you know the proper frequency to call up. If you're departing an airport that has a tower, ask them for the appropriate flight following frequency. If you're departing from an uncontrolled field, call your local flight service station on the appropriate frequency and ask them for the flight following frequency in that area. Be prepared to give your current position and track.

Secondly, keep in mind that you will (obviously) need a radio and a transponder with Mode C. If you don't have a transponder with Mode C, it is likely that ATC will not approve your request for flight following.

Lastly, keep your ears open. ATC will be in contact with you under flight following.

What if something goes wrong?

We are all well aware of the fact that any given moment, an emergency can unfold whether we are prepared for it or not. However, you can rest assured at 3,000ft under flight following that if that engine does quit, or if that alternator gives out, there is someone to talk to right away that knows who you are, where you are, and can provide the fastest and most efficient means of assistance.

In the event that something goes wrong and you are not on flight following, you have two options. You can simply do your best to accommodate the emergency without seeking assistance, or you will have to seek assistance by calling up 121.5. Unfortunately, due to your lack of flight following, whichever controller or pilot you get in contact with on 121.5 is not going to know of your whereabouts. This leads to more wasted time trying to help the controller figure out where you are so you can get the assistance that you need.

Lastly, be professional.

We've al heard that pilot. The pilot who has seemingly no knowledge when it comes to the radio. This not only contributes to radio congestion and causes heartache for a stressed out controller on a busy day, but it also makes you look like an idiot. Don't be that guy.

I suggest periodically looking over the communications portion of the Aeronautical Information Manual. It's a good refresher for pilots of all experience levels and can help make our traffic system more efficient one radio transmission at a time.

Remember, when you're requesting flight following, it is not an FYI type of communication, it is a request and it should be treated as such.

Boston Center, Cherokee 8198G with request

Cherokee 8198G, Boston Center, go ahead.

Cherokee 8198G type PA28/G, 5 miles North of Griffis field, 3,500ft VFR to Albany, request flight following.

After that transmission, ATC will likely approve your request and give you a squawk code and altimeter setting. Acknowledge the transmission normally and comply with ATC instructions as appropriate.

Air Traffic Controllers may not be able to provide flight following if their workload doesn't permit. Regardless, if you are within the bounds of their airspace they will still provide traffic separation and it would be prudent of you to monitor their frequency to maintain situational awareness.

So, for your next cross country, you may want to consider flight following. It is a great service and in my opinion, it is 100% worth the minor inconvenience.

Happy flying and be safe.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Engine out over NYC

Earlier this evening, a single engine Piper Cherokee landed on a highway just outside Manhattan. Fortunately, there were no injuries to the three passengers and the only damage to the aircraft was to the landing gear, likely due to a hard landing on the tight expressway that the pilot landed on.


Let's all take a moment to appreciate what happened. The aircraft (N9409J) was returning from a sightseeing trip, likely returning from a flight through the Hudson River Exclusion. At some point during the flight, while the pilot was flying the aircraft back to Danbury, CT the engine failed. The pilot contacted Air Traffic Control accordingly and initially began maneuvering towards La Guardia airport, however, after the pilot realized he could not make the airport, he decided to line up with the Major Deegan Expressway around East 233rd street. Luckily, during that time, DPW crews who were working on the expressway noticed the aircraft in distress attempting to land on the expressway and cleared traffic in order for the aircraft to make a landing; which it did so, successfully.

I think we can all learn from this. The pilot did an excellent job by the way things look by firstly, ensuring the safety of himself, his two passengers, and people on the ground. Secondly, he clearly kept his cool by attempting to go to La Guardia, and then changing his plans when he realized it wouldn't work. Lucky for him, he had a nice strip of pavement cleared of traffic for him. Lastly, you never know when this could happen. You might be flying conveniently over a sparsely populated highway, or you may be over one of the most populated cities in the world. 

I'd like to know what you would like to see written about on this blog. I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cross Country to Baudette (KBDE) and Thief River Falls (KTVF)

As I wake up at 6 this morning for work, I am thinking to myself whether or not I will fly tonight. I have lesson three of the CPL (221) flight course this evening at 1730 local. The weather is gloomy, a high overcast with isolated showers far and few between. Although, the TAF of two airports 7 miles apart is quite different. One is calling for light rain showers by 1500 local, the other calling for a high overcast layer with otherwise clear skies and good visibility. Well, I guess the only way to know for sure is to wait and find out!

Later on in the day, the weather is looking more promising. With the exception of gusty winds, there is not much to complain about. Sure enough, two hours later I am printing off my weather briefing and going to meet my instructor. I discuss my thoughts on the weather with him, and we agree that it is safe to go ahead with the flight. After our pre-flight briefing, we are soon dispatched an aircraft. I decided to do the exterior pre-flight today, and my instructor gets to work on the interior pre-flight. The airplane is in one piece with full tanks and we are good to go.

The engine, after repeated attempts to start, is now flooded. We wait about 2 minutes, apply full throttle with mixture to idle, and she finally gets going. Mixture rich, throttle about a 1/4 inch, and we are in good condition. After our takeoff briefing, we are now taxiing to a very busy runway 17L.

Before takeoff checklist complete - time to get going! Full power and we are now approaching 54 knots to rotate and begin climbing into the skies over Grand Forks. Normally, our departure procedure here requires us to maintain runway heading up to 2,500ft and then turn 30º on course, once we reach 3,500ft we then turn on course. Luckily, tower lets us turn on course right away. With the early start, our groundspeed at the first checkpoint is relatively accurate.

Cockpit at 5,500ft enroute BDE

Left wing while enroute to BDE

Another cockpit photo while enroute at 5,500ft to BDE

After a relatively uneventful one hour flight, we are now beginning to descend into Baudette, MN. We descend quickly, and enter a 45º left downwind for runway 12. 200ft AGL and we are established on a stable approach. I begin to flare over the runway and we touchdown. Nothing too smooth or too firm. We stop on the runway, clean up the airplane (retract flaps to 10º for takeoff) and configure our flight plan to TVF. Full power now, 54 knots, and airborne. We quickly turn on course and soon enough we have reached our cruising altitude of 4,500ft. There is continuous light turbulence, with the occasional moderate chop. We run into some light rain showers along the way - still maintaining VFR. Of course, with the airmet zulu in effect, we turn on the pitot heat while in the precipitation and ensure the OAT is above freezing.

As we get closer to TVF, we begin the descent checklist and do the approach briefing. We are planning on doing 2 stop and go's, one short field, and one power off 180º landing - then back to Grand Forks. The short field landing and takeoff goes perfect, with great accuracy even with the wind gusting up to 20 knots. On the second approach, we are now abeam the numbers and I pull power to idle and begin the power off 180. I immediately start a turn to the runway at 68 knots (best glide) and go through the emergency checklist from memory. I'm now heading directly at the numbers, I start adding flaps and touchdown firmly with 20º of flaps on the second centerline stripe. Not bad. Bring her to a stop, configure the flight plan back to Grand Forks, and off we go.

We get back to Grand Forks a bit earlier than expected. As we approach the field, approach assigns us to enter via "East Ponds," a VFR reporting point used by ATC to manage traffic flow into Grand Forks. We report East Ponds, and get handed off to Tower where we report "Lagoon" at 1600ft. Soon after, we are on short final into runway 17L with full flaps. 200ft and the approach is stable so we continue. I begin to flare and the plane is really lagging, so we touchdown very firmly. In hindsight, I realize I didn't have the trim set correctly which made it harder to flare the aircraft, but it makes you realize how complacent you can become on the last leg of a long cross country.

We taxi in and shutdown uneventfully. The flight is good and we are onwards into lesson 4.

I'm back!

Well, it has been a while since I have written a blog post on here. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I've been busy throughout the spring semester - mostly just settling into the new environment and school that I'm currently in. In January of this year, I transferred to the University of North Dakota. So far, no regrets. It has been going great so far - my grades for the spring semester far exceeded my expectations at the beginning of the semester.

I completed the flying course at UND known as "112." This course serves two purposes: to ensure that the applicant indeed meets the requirements in the Practical Test Standards for being a Private Pilot, and also to introduce the new student to UND policies and procedures. It's a relatively short course, it only has 7 lessons - 4 local flights conducted within one of UND's practice areas, 1 cross country, and a "stage check" (UND terminology for checkride) consisting of an oral exam and a practical exam. I definitely never thought I would be taking the Private Pilot checkride over again. To put it in perspective, the course I took had 7 lessons. A student who came to UND without a private pilot's license would have to take a total of 28 lessons.

Anyway, I will be blogging as many flights as I can on here. Also, below this post, I put up pictures of a lot of the flights I've done so far here at UND. All pictures were taken during a non-critical stage of flight above 3,000ft AGL. Enjoy!

Observing a flight from the backseat - looking out to the west while on downwind for runway 35L at Grand Forks.

G1000 Avionics

Someone took a picture of my takeoff!

Flying over a scattered layer of low clouds north of the airport towards Manvel.

UND Flight line on a slow day.

Found an airplane in the maintenance hangar with a bit of damage. I'm happy to say I didn't cause it!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Do you need assistance?"

Over the past few weeks I have become increasingly more confident in windy conditions. I have been gradually working my way up through moderate crosswinds and even went up around the pattern with winds gusting up to 15.

Today, however, the METAR is holding steady with winds 200@15. No gusts yet, but the TAF is showing plenty of text. To give you an idea of the situation, the OAT was about 60º F with a cold front approaching from the West. Over the next 12 hours the temperature is forecasted to drop about 30º F. That's a pretty significant change!

Anyway, after a few hours, I check back with the METAR. As expected, I am looking at about 190@17G20 with peak gusts at 22 kts about 10 minutes ago. I feel confident. I remember very well the day of my scheduled first solo flight the winds were gusting to 25 kts, although I couldn't fly alone, I went up with my instructor and actually had some pretty smooth landings in the conditions.

Pre-Flight Complete...

The plane is in one piece and we're ready to fly. I load myself and my one passenger up and soon enough 160 horses are stretching themselves out. As we start the long taxi over to runway 15, I am holding the flight controls according to wind direction to ensure the aircraft doesn't flip over.

Cleared for takeoff

Run-up is complete with solid mag checks and engine indications. I line up and come to a complete stop before applying full power, almost as if it were a short field takeoff without flaps. Shortly after the breaks are released I can feel the wind pushing us back yet still speeding up the flow of air over the wings. There's only about a 9kt crosswind component.

After takeoff I turn towards Oswego to do some sightseeing with the passenger. We climb up to about 3,500ft with no relief from the wind. Soon enough the controller asks me what my intentions are in Oswego, it almost feels like it is getting more windy as we progress towards Oswego. I ask him to standby so I can get AWOS from Oswego. Sure enough, the winds are gusting over 25kts there, so it is a definite no go. I inform him I am turning back to the field for a full-stop.

On approach to 15, we are really getting tossed around. Although the ATIS says there is no more wind gusting, it is apparent that that is not true, the airspeed indicator gains about 5 kts everytime there is a wind gust. Soon enough we are over the runway, I am holding steady with full flaps, right wing dipped into the wind, and no side sweeping of the airplane. The mains touch and at that exact moment a giant gust puts us back into the air. I quickly apply full throttle and call go around. The controller asked me, "Do you need assistance?" I quickly responded no, we just ballooned a bit. I still wonder if it's standard procedure to ask, or if I sounded frantic over the radio. Either way, the second landing was a kiss and my passenger and I walked away.

Practice makes perfect.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pilots n' Paws -

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending my flying club's monthly meeting. It was very informative and I am glad that I went! Anyway, the reason I mention it is because one of my newest friends, BrianR, also a reader/commenter of this blog, informed me of the possibility of going flying tomorrow for Pilots n' Paws. I have been dying to do a flight for this organization. I have had 3 potential flight plans, but each was cancelled due to problems with previous legs of the transport. BrianR kindly asked me if I'd be willing to go, and, why wouldn't I!?

I woke up this morning to another infamous Upstate, NY day; clouds, rain, and gusty winds dominated the current METAR and TAF. With this information in mind, I figured this trip would be a no go. Not long after however, my phone is buzzing and before I know it I am walking into the FBO to meet Brian R for today's flight. The weather has cleared up to a scattered layer of clouds at about 070 with isolated, ever so very isolated showers. However, the winds were still gusting to just under 20 knots, certainly a flyable condition.

This is the first time I will fly in a high performance aircraft. This aircraft, in fact, is a Cessna 182 skylane. It is truly a beautiful airplane. As Brian does the pre-flight, I am walking around it admiring its beauty. It feels nice to be back in a high-wing airplane - I haven't flown in one since, 2 years? 3 years? I can't remember.

Pre-flight is complete and we are taxiing to, that's right, runway 33! Winds are favoring this often disregarded runway today at the home airport. As Brian completes the runup, I think about what 210 horses at full power will feel like on takeoff. As Brian applies full throttle, I can feel myself being pushed back into the seat - this feels nice. What felt like a half of a second later we are climbing through 2,000 feet, this baby climbs fast! I think we were doing over 1,000fpm if I can recall, with full tanks of the most expensive liquid on the planet.

As we approach the cloud layer, we find a nice hole and begin ascending towards it. This will be my first time VFR over-the-top, and so far it's looking great. There's something about climbing over the clouds, truly an amazing feeling. As we reach 9,500 ft, our initial planned cruising altitude, we are still looking like we are going to skim the tops of some clouds. I stupidly recommend climbing to 10,500, an incorrect VFR cruising altitude for our heading. Oops! Soon enough however, we are at 11,500 enjoying the view.

Climbing above the clouds for VFR over the top

Cruising at 11,500 feet

A strong tailwind can do wonders for you. Let me put it this way: our trip TO Nashua, NH was about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Our trip FROM Nashua, NH was about 2 hours and 3 minutes. So, as expected, with about a 180 knot groundspeed, we reached Nashua in no time.

The dog we are picking up today is named "Missy," a very cute and small 6 pound Yorkie. As we secure here safely in her back seat crate, we begin taxiing to the runway to begin our second leg of the trip: Nashua, NH to Watertown, NY. It is about, if I can recall, 5pm for a departure time. Winds are gusty and are beginning to calm in time for sunset. The clouds are quickly burning off however they are still around. We will have a stiff headwind, but it should be another great VFR over the top flight. Full power and another 10 seconds later the airport is disappearing to our 6. 210 horses feels great!

As we climb through about 5,000 feet, Brian offers me the controls! With no hesitation, of course, I accept the offer and I begin logging time in a high performance aircraft. I need to get my high performance endorsement; this airplane is awesome!

We reach our cruising altitude of 8,500ft, and again are in danger of skimming the tops of clouds. We begin climbing to 10,500 feet and are satisfied. The sun is beginning to set under the clouds. We should be in Watertown by 7:30.

"Missy" enjoying the flight at 10,500 feet

Cruising at 10,500 enroute Watertown as the sun begins to set

As we cruise of the central part of the Adirondacks, ATC informs of an approaching C-130, at our 12 o'clock. This is gonna be good.... I can already see the smoke trail of the C-130 far ahead, he is coming right at us at about 11,000 feet! As he continues to approach, I try to snap a picture but the camera on my iPhone only wants to focus on the bugs stuck to the windshield. Oh well, I guess I'll just get the next C-130 that happens to fly 500 feet above.

Cruising at 10,500 enroute Watertown.

As we approach Watertown, it is hard to distinguish between the airport beacons of Fort Drum AFB and Watertown airport. We finally find the airport and Brian establishes a downwind leg for runway 10. 10 feet over the runway he puts the throttle to idle and rotates for a smooth touchdown. Now the hard part: taxiing to the ramp. After one or two 180s mixture is to idle and we are shaking hands with Missy's new caretakers.

30 minutes later, we are back at the home airport safe and sound. What an awesome day.