in front of cessna 172
In front of my trainer plane, a Cessna 172, N574SP. The weather hit -10° F today.

Finally, it's done! I received my Private Pilot's license today. I scored well on my written test and then took my checkride. I should receive my certificate in the mail in about 3 months. I'll probably continue with future lessons to get rated for instruments, commercial, multi-engine ... when I get some time. Thinking about flying? Feel free to email me dskelly@kagi.com.

ground school image
Well, I don't have my license yet, but I'm rather close. I simply need to take my written test and then my checkride. I can take my written test whenever I feel I'm ready and want to schedule it. To prepare for this, I'm making sure I'm good and ready, by finishing 675 pages of ground school. It can be rather dense, so it's taking me some time to work through. In the meantime, I've gotten myself some accessories. I decided I needed a decent flight watch, adn I got myself a headset too, so that I don't have to continually rent a set for $2 a pop. Mine'll pay itself off in only 175 more flights. Here are my watchimpressions: the watch is rather disappointing for it's cost. I really like it, but my $15 CASIO it's replacing has more functions. I guess that's what I get for ordering straight off the internet. Here is a list of the cons:
  • It has no light! I thought all watches had lights these days.
  • There are no numbers on the face. Even the earlier models at least had a 1, 5, 7, and 11 as references.
  • The dial is extremely difficult to spin when changing functions. Just poor design.
  • The band, while replaceable, has an odd latch that doesn't open far enough to comfortably slip my hand through when taking it off.headset

For my headset, I have no problems with it. I got the David Clark H10-60C. It's listed at ~22 NRR which is about average. It was also advertised as having a swappable cord so that I can interface with Helicopters if wanted. I'd think most headsets would be able to do this, but because this set specifically advertised it, I figured better safe than sorry.

Hmmm, it's a little past a year now. As you can see from my flight log, my actual flight time has diminished tremendously. My last 6 or so lessons have been canceled, mostly due to weather. I really only need one more flight with my instructor to verify that I'm ready to take my final test. It's been a trick getting that to happen though. I have found some good news though. C-R Helicopters Inc., based in Nashua NH, flys out of Rochester as well. They fly R22 helicopters AFAIK, which look something like the image below. Small, cheap, and easy to maintain, they make ideal trainers. After getting my fixed-wing license, I'll have gotten parts of piloting common to a rotor-wing license as well. I should be able to tack on a helicopter license for a few thousand more dollars and some more flight time. These birds, or so I've been told, are what makes flying fun. Fixed wing craft are stable and safe. Helicopters are inherently unstable and, in the event of mechanical failures, drop like rocks.
[photo from http://www.r22helicopters.com/images/r22spec.gif]

My last several flights have been canceled now. I haven't been able to fly in over a month. I have my minimum of 40 hours of flight- however, I need to log 3 more solo cross country hours, and 1 more cross-country night flight. Then I'll be able to take my final test. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so I can finally get over that last hurdle.

Well, I've got (another) new job now. Which means I've been able to start back up flying. I'm having a difficult time fitting it into my schedule however. My old job I worked the 3:30PM to 11PM shift, which meant it was easy to find time for flying in the morning. Now, I can't get to the airport until around 6PM, and I'm usually busy on the weekends. But my instructor has been able to make some time for me in the evenings, so hopefully it won't take me too long to finish up.

I've flown 3 different airplanes in my first 3 flights at Skyhaven. An older Skyhawk N7593G, a new Skyhawk N3543G, and a Cherokee N6450S. The Cherokee is a low-winged aircraft. It's a little faster, turns a little tighter, and doesn't float as far. One of the biggest differences I noted is that when turning, your view is unobstructed. In a high-wing Skyhawk, as soon as you start turning, the wing dips right down in front of your vision. With a low wing aircraft, the wing dips away, and you can see exactly where you're going.

Another interesting thing happened as I was taxiing to the runway the other day. Hovering on the end was a small helicopter. As I was beginning my run-up, the helicopter began moving backwards, nose down, and gaining some altitude. Then it dipped back down and recovered to hovering.. Having just seen an air show, and assuming this was a training flight, it looked like they were trying to do some tricky maneuver. I asked my instructor what they were doing. He said I'd almost seen a helicopter crash.

I've been slacking. I've moved, so my new airport looks like it's going to be Skyhaven, in Rochester, NH. http://www.ossipeeaviation.com. They appear to have a wider selection of training planes. It looks like I can get some experience in low wing planes or an older Cessna 172. Regardless, I have to try to transfer my "credits" and pick up where I left off. Which is night flying and cross-country flight. And I need to find a new job. Because my old one is now a 2 hour commute. Plus I hated it.

Haven't flown for about 2 weeks until today. With luck it'll take me another ... 2 months (?) before I get my license. Getting into the boring part of flying now. Navigation, instruments, flight plans, radio calls, etc.


Well, here's a quick update. I soloed the plane! I did a few practice landings with my instructor- then he hopped out and I went back up. Did 3 touch and goes and came back in. (Touch and goes are a landing and then taking off again without stopping.) Then I had my shirt cut off of me... so tradition goes. Soloing wasn't so hard to do, it was just a little different. Knowing I had to handle everything on my own judgment, without someone next to me to defer to. Look at that smooth landing above. Full flaps, right on centerline.

The next lesson however, I really felt like I was going solo. I showed up at the airport, and my instructor was already out flying. So I got the keys and took off. I flew out over the practice area and worked on maneuvers. After about 1/2 an hour I headed back in, entered the pattern, and did a few touch and goes. At the back of my mind I was always thinking that maybe I was forgetting something, so it made me a bit anxious, but I pulled it off without incident. I really enjoyed this flight because I got to fly where I wanted to. I spent a little time circling over landmarks that I'd only really seen from the ground, and spent a bunch of the time just looking out the windows. I didn't bring my camera, however, because I didn't want to distract myself. Next time.

My last lesson was soft-field landings. Lebanon airport, where I usually fly out of, is big and clear with plenty of paved runway. It's also set up on a bit of a plateau. I didn't realize how easy it was to land at Lebanon until I tried landing on this tiny grass runway. Small hills to the left and right front, trees on either side of the 80 ft (my original guess was 40. geez, guess it just feels that way) wide runway, and only 2900 feet long. Use full flaps to land and use 10º flaps for take-off. Keep the plane moving on the ground at all times, and remember to hold full back pressure on the elevators so the nose wheel doesn't plow into the grass. When I first saw the airport, it looked exceptionally small. Once we got closer and closer to the ground however, things seemed to look a little bigger. Room for error, however, was quite a bit tighter than I was used to. It didn't bother me though- I feel like I've got pretty decent control over the airplane by now, so I can make it do what I want- most of the time. The ground was rather bumpy, but smooth as far as grass runways go. They routinely tow gliders out of this airport (Post Mills). I can't imagine only getting one shot at this runway- if you don't set up just right, you'll end up in the trees. Guess it takes a bit of experience.

Taxiing back in after my first solo, with N574SP, the plane I usually fly. The other plane I use is N5268C... which is slightly newer. I like it better, but it's not always available.

And while it lasts... you can see my name on the front of the Signal Aviation web page for soloing. If you don't see it, it's probably been removed by now.

Well, solo quiz complete. Medical exam complete. If I get good weather I'll be going up this Tues.

I've done some aerial maneuvers recently. Turns around a point, S-turns, and rectangular turns. I've also been working on power-on and power-off stalls. Get a good amount of altitude, pitch up until your airspeed drops low enough that the wings don't produce any lift, and then try to recover when the plane starts dropping. Note that it's not the engine that stalls, just the wings. While not "easy" to recover from, it's relatively straightforward, and after the first time, it's not nearly as scary. This is so that if on take-off or landings, say on a short field, if I do happen to stall, I know how to recover.

What still makes me anxious, however, is the landing. As of this writing, I've currently accomplished 20 (Logbook). And as I recall, there has only been 1 which I've been relatively proud of. Sure, I've managed to put the plane on the ground in 1 piece the other 19 times, some with very little instruction. And now I actually feel like I can handle it in most situations.

The problem is that the critical part of landings take all of about 30 seconds. The setup and the approach to get me in line with the runway take a little longer, and the flare (just before touchdown) takes about 6 seconds. Which means, by my estimates, I've only had about 10 minutes of practice so far. Each landing is a little different. Sometimes there's a crosswind, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes it's a left hand pattern, sometimes it's a right hand pattern. Sometimes I land on runway 36, sometimes 18, sometimes 25- I haven't landed on 7 yet. Sometimes I come in too high, sometimes too low. And sometimes I come in too fast, sometimes too slow. This just means that, since the landing is never the same twice in a row, I cannot repeat my actions until I have that particular landing configuration down- I have to do them all at once.

I've noticed recently that one of my main problems seems to be that I come in too fast. Maybe I just try to err on the side of caution. I'd rather go too fast and miss the runway than go too slow and fall short. Of course, this doesn't work because instead of missing the runway completely, I just force myself to make the critical decision of whether or not I can put it down without going off the other end. Or I just balloon down the runway. For instance, I came down in a very nice glide path the other day. I was actually quite pleased with myself. Until I tried to flare and then I realized I was going too fast. I went up 10, 20 feet... not where I wanted to be. In order to land, the trick is to come down at ~70 kts, then pull the nose up when the plane is about 4 ft off the ground. This will cause the plane to float down the runway, while slowing down in airspeed. Eventually it will just drop onto the runway for a smooth touchdown. If you're coming in too fast, like I was, when you pull back the nose, instead of floating, you'll rise. Then you're about 20 feet off the ground and losing airspeed, which means the plane is going to drop a long ways. It's possible to recover- add a small amount of power, don't make any abrupt pitch movements, and then land "again". It's just not very graceful.

When I land with too much speed, I've actually got plenty of runway to work with. I probably only actually need a quarter of the 5,496ft runway for both takeoffs and landings. That's plenty of safety margin for a Cessna 172. But my goal is to come down slower and improve those landings. I feel like right about now I can actually concentrate on the finer details of landing, and not just trying to come down in one piece. Every time I fly I've got to land. I might as well get it polished as soon as I can.

Takeoffs are optional. Landings are mandatory.

Completed 5 takeoffs and landings in a row today, in ~55 minutes. Phew. I think I might actually be starting to get the hang of this.

Ok, so today is my fourth actual flight in the air. My previous two lessons composed of ground school due to inclement weather. Today I'm going to be reviewing some of those lessons. While the weather looks fine to me, apparently there's a low pressure area moving in from the south, low visibility towards the horizon, and a bit of wind around 4000 ft. That's ok, we're just going to stick to the local area anyways. We takeoff runway 18 heading south-southwest. Takeoffs aren't that difficult. Just keep the nose on centerline and pull back on the yoke when you hit around 65 knots. At first, it's intimidating. It's the feeling that you're only gaining speed, so the faster you go, the less time you have to think, and the more devastating any mistake you make will be. While trying to watch the centerline, I glance at my myriad of gages, try to find the airspeed indicator. I'm trying to determine whether I can lift my nose. Where is it again? Oh yes, that one. What were those numbers again? I look up- am I still on the centerline? Shoot, now what was my speed again? I don't know, but it's certainly increasing fast. Well, I'd better do something sometime, this looks about right. We pull off the runway smoothly and start our climb. I'm flying. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if I knew what I was doing.

We fly for about 15-20 minutes south into a monstrous headwind, making some radio calls, me trying to navigate by map, and keep my altitude at 3500 feet. Two thousand feet away from any clouds. How far away is that cloud? Your guess is as good as mine. When the ground is 3500 feet below you, and all you've got is empty space between you and a puff of water vapor, it's rather difficult to judge distances. Better give it a little extra room just in case. Why does this headwind make me nervous? It's not the turbulence- that makes the flight rather interesting, actually. It's the fact that I know I'm going to be needing to set up for a landing with a terrible tailwind. More speed is the last thing I need.

We pick a point and turn around. I can feel/see the airplane slipping as the relative wind shifts direction on my craft. The return trip is fast.

Now, to set up for landing. Make sure my power is reduced. Watch that altitude. I'm too high. Less power. I'm still too high. I think I'm supposed to make some sort of radio call to the tower in here. "Watchout, student pilot trying to land, everybody get out of my way?" That sounds about right. Now we've passed the northbound tip of the runway, almost time to make a righthand turn onto base leg. Still a bit too high. The wind has shifted slightly, pulling us off course. I make right hand turn number 1, then righthand turn number 2. This crosswind is going to make landing a bit difficult. Must crab into the wind- ie, aim right so that I will land straight. How's my altitude? No idea. Power? Also a blank. We seem to be closing in fast though, I hope I set things correctly. No, it looks like I'm dropping altitude a little too fast. Yes, I'm definitely going to land a little short. I hope I manage to avoid all those 18 wheelers on the highway before I slam into the ledge just before the runway. My instructor says to "add some power". Ok, add power. Add power quickly. And whatever I do, don't adjust the throttle the wrong direction. Wrong direction being out, so ... spin the pressure lock left, push in the throttle for a few hundred RPM's (how much power do I need?) then reset the pressure lock. I see white stripes pass below me. Ah, yes, I just avoided death. Nicely done. Now to float the airplane just above the runway, settle down lightly, and apply some brake. I've landed a little hard on the nose wheel. I'll have to watch that next time.

Ok. So I've just completed my fourth flight. I did pretty well, but I still only have a vague idea of what occurred throughout. Me stumbling through some slightly familiar routine ... that I know I have to complete correctly or ... major consequences. Time to study some more. Lesson 5 on Friday.

Views from the cockpit.

Well, I managed to find a job, finally! Next, lessons.

cessna 12.1.2004
If you were wondering ... I'm 24 years old. I grew up in Lyme NH, and I've created the programs you see on my web site as a hobby. I decided to sell them for extra money. Currently my goal is to enroll in flight lessons and get my pilot's license. It depends on the flight school, but I'd probably be training in a Cessna 172. Once my private pilot's license is obtained, I can continue on to get my commercial rating if I wish to continue on that career path. Flight school is not cheap! It will probably cost me around $9,000-$10,000 for my initial training, with more afterwards. It runs approximately $200 for one lesson. Ack! Where I'm headed after I obtain my license, I'm not exactly sure. I need to obtain at least 1000 hours of flight time before I'd start to be competitive for a decent job. What would I like to do? Well, for starters, I'd love to fly something like search and rescue, firefighting, or even sightseeing tours, in, say, Denali National Park, Alaska. Just lofty speculations at the moment, of course. Until then, I'm going to be stuck on the ground for a while. That's a Cessna 172 on the right that I "borrowed" from images.google.com. As soon as I actually fly, I'll put up my own pictures.

But before I fly, I need to find a decent job. Yes, I'm currently searching for one, so if you know of any, feel free to let me know! As soon as I manage to get some decent income I plan on getting started.

©2000-now David Skelly