more photos to be added soon!
January 2001 - bike ride with Peter Nilsen-Goodin
7 February 2001 - first lesson
25 March 2001 - first solo
26 March 2001 - solo plus 1
9 April 2001 - first night lesson
13 April 2001 - second solo
24 April 2001 - Pinehurst State Airport
27 April 2001 - first night cross-country
5 May 2001 - first solo cross-country
19 May 2001 - Cirrus SR20 demo flight
27 May 2001 - solo flight, practice session for the checkride
18 June 2001 - final practice session for the checkride
19 June 2001 - "Interesting flight."
28 June 2001 - "Congratulations, Captain!"
12 Jan 2002 - first actual IMC!
26 Mar 2002 - United Flight 40, Boeing 777 from Kona to San Francisco
"Forgetting any obstacles for the moment, is there anything you'd really like to do?"
"Well, I'd love to learn to fly."
"What's stopping you?"
Hmm. He had me. I mentioned how much money and time I'd have to dedicate to the process, and how much it might hurt if I turned out to be a complete failure as a pilot. But Peter's queries had already broadened the horizon of possibility in my mind. I came home and started researching flight schools...
But not to dwell just on the psychology of it. I also had a lot of fun! I had met Certified Flight Instructor Landon Marsh as the friend of a friend (second friend? friend once removed?), and he teaches at Eagle Flight Center at the Hillsboro, Oregon airport (HIO). Landon immediately put me at ease by combining real friendliness with thorough attention to detail. This first lesson was in a Cessna 172 (4-seat light prop plane), which felt — to this novice — calm and forgiving. After some ground orientation and inspecting the plane, Landon had me taxi (it's hard to steer with my feet!), take off with his assistance, climb, trim for straight and level flight, do left and right turns, descend, adjust airspeed, and fly at very low speed to simulate a landing approach. It was a lot for the first day (I asked for it by continuing to say yes when Landon asked if I wanted to try one more thing). I look forward to reviewing some of the maneuvers during lesson two, this Saturday!
As recently as Tuesday I felt somewhat lost and at odds with the plane, particularly on landings. That day Landon had me do about 6 touch-and-go landings in a row. I nailed most of the final descents pretty well, but repeatedly leveled out too high above the runway and ended up dropping a foot or two onto the gear (I hear the imaginary passengers gasping when that happens). I also kept overcorrecting with the controls, something I normally don't do anymore. The landings were safe but not very pretty or graceful. So Tuesday was a frustrating and humbling lesson. I also got my first taste of night flying, the sun being well below the horizon when we returned from McMinnville (a small uncontrolled airport where we did the touch-and-gos) to Hillsboro. Although I first had trouble locating the HIO airport beacon amid the city lights, actually approaching the runway on a clear night felt great — huge lines of lights welcoming me down. My first night landing ended up fine but still a little harder than I wanted.
When I met Landon on Thursday for another lesson, I told him up front, "I'm determined to get these landings right." We talked for a while about the problems, and I resolved to look farther down the runway just before touchdown (instead of looking at the ground right in front of me), and to make small, gentle corrections before landing. And it worked! My first landing that day was my best yet, and a few of them got even better. One time I even greased it, feeling almost no thunk as the wheels kissed the pavement. What a massive relief to know that (at least occasionally) I can do this! Much praise came from Landon, too, so I knew that something had really clicked for me.
After that breakthrough lesson, Landon told me to bring my presolo written test to the next lesson. When I got to HIO today Landon and I reviewed every question, making sure I knew the correct answer and the reasoning behind it. At that point he asked for my logbook and student certificate while I went out to do the preflight check, and I had a hunch he was certifying me for soloing. Landon came out and announced we'd fly to McMinnville again for some more landings. But Hillsboro traffic looked light, so he changed his mind and had me do three touch-and-gos right there. After the third landing Landon took the plane and quickly taxied us back to Eagle, where he opened the door, grinned, and asked if I felt ready to solo. "Yes!" I answered, though with a healthy dose of trepidation. Landon assured me I was flying well and told me to go fly two touch-and-gos and then come in for a full-stop landing. Then he got out of the plane!
As I tuned the com radio to get the most recent weather info, I noticed my right leg trembling with nervousness. I got clearance to taxi, and went to the runup area to check all of 505's systems once again. Everything looked great and in my still-nervous state I made the first of two small on-the-ground mistakes: I called the tower early and requested departure clearance before I had taxied over to the runway hold line. The controller caught my mistake but mercifully didn't berate a sweaty-palmed student. He simply said, "Proceed to Alpha-7 [where I should have been already] and hold short for takeoff clearance. I'll get you out when I can." I then waited 5 long minutes as I watched plane after plane land in front of me — all of a sudden there were a lot of aircraft flying the pattern around HIO. That provided plenty of unwanted time to think about what I was about to do. I vacillated between anxiety that I'd make a dopey mistake or a terrible landing, and the calm that comes from knowing I had been taught well. When the tower finally cleared me for takeoff, I happened to be swinging toward calm, and that mood stayed with me for the rest of the flight.
I turned onto Runway 30, gave the little plane full power (at 110 horsepower, it's not exactly neck-snapping), and lifted neatly off the ground at 55 knots. With almost no wind, very little course correction was necessary to fly the legs of the right-hand rectangular pattern around the airport. Landon had drilled the pattern into me pretty well. At 700 feet altitude I made my first turn for the short crosswind leg, then quickly turned again to the downwind leg (parallel to the runway) and leveled off at the standard 1200-foot pattern altitude. No time for sightseeing on this flight! At midfield downwind I reported my position to the tower, who told me I was second in line to land. I easily spotted the plane in front of me turning base (the last short leg before final). So I went through the GUMPS check (Gas, Undercarriage [are the wheels still there?], Mixture, Propeller, Seatbelt) and started slowing the plane down by reducing power and adding 10 degrees of flaps. By then I was at the right place to turn base and add more flaps. I turned to the final approach, added the last bit of flaps, and brought the plane down at exactly 60 knots. The approach felt great and I touched down smoothly. I thought briefly, "Wow, I can really do this!", then raised the flaps, added power, and took off again.
That time the tower asked me to extend my pattern a little to accomodate traffic that I couldn't see because the sky was getting hazy. The controller told me when it was safe to turn base. My second landing wasn't quite as smooth but felt okay. The third time around I had a quick scare when several birds crossed right in front of me. On that landing I ballooned a bit, corrected decently, and finally got down just slightly crooked. I pulled off at a taxiway, stopped to contact ground for taxi clearance, and taxied right back to home base. Landon and Gary, another instructor, stood at the flight school door waving. I pulled into a parking space and immediately noticed to my chagrin that I had forgotten to "clean up the plane" by going through a short post-landing checklist. It was my second error: in the excitement of being alive and keeping 505 intact, I taxied without first completing the checklist. Landon ran over after I shut down the engine and said "Great job!". But I was momentarily bummed about my ground mistakes. Gary had said to Landon, "Hey look! There's someone taxiing with the flaps down. Could that be Nolan?" Landon answered, "Nah, he knows better than that." Oops. But they were both happy for my success, and we took a few pictures of me and 505. My name will go up on the "Recently Soloed" list at Eagle, and I now have 0.6 hours of Pilot in Command(!) time logged.
Despite lousy weather most of the day, we happened to fly during a short window of clear sky. At 4500 feet I got distracted a few times by the sheer beauty of night flight: I could see the distinctive lights of Hillsboro, Beaverton, Portland, Newberg, McMinnville, and even all the way south to Salem! One of my favorite rewards of flight is the sense of perspective it grants, and I find nighttime scenery simply thrilling. One vividly clear night on a commercial flight I could simultaneously see the lights of Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Toronto nestled along the black voids of Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Flying confronts me with the bad news that my innate sense of direction is primitive at best. Through the last several flight lessons I have paid much more attention to my heading on the directional gyro (a gyroscopic compass). Tonight I was able to fairly easily navigate my way back to HIO, and then the real fun began. Landon had warned me that students new to night landings tend to level out too high over the runway. Keeping that in mind, I made a nice first approach, leveled out too low and, um, double dribbled. A couple landings later I began to feel more comfortable so we moved on to nighttime short and soft field landings and takeoffs. After my sufficient humbling and (I hope) sufficient learning, we called it a night.
I am eager to do our cross-country lesson this coming Saturday (Hillsboro -> Newport -> Tillamook -> Hillsboro), and a night cross-country after that.
It's now a personal goal of mine to fly into Pinehurst. At 3650 feet altitude, though, and 30 feet wide, surrounded by trees and hills, I would want to be thoroughly familiar with my aircraft and the weather. Someday.
A burned out landing light and a closed fuel station combined tonight to change my life. For almost 30 hours I've been training in a Cessna 152, one of the tiniest (and cheapest to rent!) planes available. After carefully planning our night flight to Chehalis, WA (halfway to Seattle), both of Eagle's 152s confronted us as being unflyable: one had a shot landing light and the other needed fuel. Landon explained that we weren't allowed to replace the landing light, and that it required tools we didn't have anyway. And we discovered at 9:05 pm that the fuel service at HIO had been closed for five minutes and they couldn't or wouldn't get the truck back out for us.
I really wanted to fly, so I said I'd be happy to pay the additional cost of taking a Cessna 172 instead. We did and I felt like a different pilot! The 172's increased size and weight made it feel much more stable and easy to fly. I had so much more fun flying it that I decided immediately that I'd finish my training in the larger plane. My conviction was clinched when halfway home from Chehalis Landon told me that I seemed really at home and flew the 172 better than the 152. The bigger plane is also far better equipped, with two communications and navigation radios, distance measuring equipment, a lot more horsepower, and of course two more seats! It's good that I didn't try a 172 earlier (except for that dazzling first lesson) because it saved me a batch of money. And I'm glad to have first flown the lighter, twitchier 152 that forced me to pay attention and make many small, smooth attitude corrections.
Anyway, the flight itself mostly felt great: smooth and fast takeoffs, clear visual navigation from 4500 feet (the nuclear reactor cooling tower at Kalama being an obvious lighted landmark), and mostly decent landings by me. We first flew to Toledo and my first 172 landing, at night at an unfamiliar airport, worked out better than I could have hoped for. The second landing, at Chehalis, underscored my student pilot status. I flared much too early and high, mushrooming us back up to 10 or 20 feet over the runway. Not thinking fast enough to just initiate a go-around, I asked Landon to take the plane and land it (only the second time I've done that in several months, and I hope it was the last). He recovered gracefully and easily put the plane down. I resolve not to give up so easily next time...
En route back to Hillsboro, the 172 seemed nearly to fly itself. Nearing greater Portland, all of a sudden the suburban lights gave way to a huge patch of dark ground: Forest Park, the largest park within American city limits. Seeing all those undeveloped acres at night underscored Portland's wonderful bent toward "green" urban planning.
For many months I've been reading about the revolutionary SR20 from Cirrus Design, and today I got to spend over an hour flying one! Yesterday I drove up to Seattle for work, making my traditional en route stop at Boeing Field to visit the Museum of Flight and survey the scores of interesting airplanes (the original 747 prototype, for example) surrounding the Boeing facilities. I also knew that Wings Aloft, a flight school and rental club at BFI, had 5 Cirrus planes on its flight line, and I hoped that I could at least see one up close. Cirrus sells the planes directly from the factory, so while Wings Aloft isn't a sales depot, they do offer Cirrus training and demo flights. Inside the lobby I met Kevin Lane-Cummings, Wings Aloft's Cirrus Training Manager. Kevin greeted me warmly and spent about half an hour exploring my interest in, and knowledge of, the Cirrus planes. Then he took me out to see, and sit in, an actual SR20. Seeing the aircraft up close revealed no surprises, as the many photos available on Cirrus-related websites had shown me what to expect. The skin of the plane is made almost entirely of composite material instead of metal, resulting in an extremely smooth, curvy surface without speed-robbing rivets sticking out. And unlike the Cessnas' clunky interior design, the SR20's four-person cockpit looks and feels like it belongs in a luxury car, or at least in a recent Honda. Kevin pointed out where all the controls are, how they work, and then we fired up the avionics to look at the fancy GPS navigation equipment. The Garmin GPS units possess a multitude of features; Kevin's brief overview was more than enough to impress me. Overall, on the ground the SR20 appeared to be a well-engineered, beautiful, nicely appointed airplane. I already liked it better than any other small plane I've seen, but I really wanted to fly the thing.
All too soon, Kevin and I both had to be elsewhere, but before I left he found a Cirrus instructor who could go up with me the next day. It was hard to concentrate on anything else last night, and I woke up this morning eager to fly. I arrived early at Wings Aloft to meet Jason, my CFI for the day. Soon we were out on the flight line preflighting the same SR20 I sat in the day before, N181CD. It was easy to adjust my seat and strap myself into the four-point retractable seatbelt system, leaving lots of freedom to reach controls. Under strong deceleration or impact, inertial locks clamp down and hold you in place just like with car seatbelts. The most unusual Cirrus checklist item required verifying that the safety pin was removed from the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System. Yes, this aircraft carries a single parachute large enough to lower the entire plane in a severe emergency. Jason told me he'd heard some Cirrus owners talk about difficulties starting the engine, but that he had a never-fail procedure: 10 seconds of priming, turn boost pump on, crack the throttle, and fire it up. It worked perfectly for me as Jason talked me through it. The 6-cylinder, 200 HP engine is a little quieter than a 172's, and after warming up it felt extremely smooth.
Since the SR20 doesn't have a steerable nosewheel (it just freely casters), I worried beforehand about taxiing using only the left and right brakes. It turned out to be much easier to steer than I anticipated. BFI's big runway was closed for some ongoing earthquake repair work, so we took off from the shorter 17L runway. (Jason handled all the radio calls on this flight since I'm not familiar with the Seattle landmarks nor all the Class B airspace rules.) As soon as I shoved the throttle wide open I knew this flight would be fun. The Cirrus accelerated quickly to its 70-knot rotation speed, and we were off. Jason had me climb to about 500 feet and then turn right toward the water, away from downtown. Using the side yoke immediately felt comfortable: it provides beautifully precise control, firm and even feedback, and a great sense of flying something fun. Two-axis electric trim, autopilot engage/disengage, and push-to-talk switches are nicely placed on the yoke. And the integrated throttle/prop control falls naturally under your right hand, making for an ergonomically sound cockpit orientation.
With clouds at 2500 feet, and the plane climbing very fast, I had to be pretty careful not to overshoot my altitude ("...and wipe that silly grin off your face, too", I thought to myself). I reduced power, leveled off at 2000, and found it fairly easy to trim for straight and level flight. Kevin and Jason had both told me that an SR20 pilot finds herself making tiny corrections at the yoke. Jason showed me how to engage the autopilot, which can hold both heading and altitude. I'd never flown with an autopilot before, and I found it fascinating to watch the plane magically track through the sky. The airspeed indicator showed 152 knots, 1.5 times the speed of the Cessnas I usually fly. Streaking along just under the clouds increased my sense of moving at great velocity. I had almost no time to play with all those state-of-the-art avionics components. Just as I settled in and started glancing at the moving GPS map on the bigscreen display (now showing us clear of the SeaTac airspace), Jason suggested we slow down slightly and try some basic maneuvers. He pointed out Bremerton nearby, showing me how far we'd come from BFI. After shallow clearing turns I moved into doing steep turns. Even at a 45° bank the SR20 stayed beautifully coordinated with almost no rudder input. Jason pointed out how responsive the controls are and encouraged me to try switching quickly from left to right turns. Quick movements of my hand brought immediate delusions of flying a fighter jet. But I was being timid compared to what Jason wanted to demonstrate — he took the controls for a minute and raked the yoke from full left to full right, then leveled the wings and pushed the nose over hard enough for a bit of negative g, and finally brought us out of the dive pulling a few positive g's. "Your plane." By this point my grin felt permanently attached.
I moved into slow flight (which felt mushy but predictable) and then into an unbelieveably gentle power-off stall. The Cirrus just buffets slightly and the nose drops, almost correcting itself without intervention. Trying a power-on stall, Jason recommended using partial power so we wouldn't rocket straight into the clouds above. With power on and no flaps, the stall felt almost as benign as in landing configuration. Again, just a little buffet before nosing over, without any of the wing-dropping tendency I notice in the 172. Then, all too soon, Jason asked if I wanted to head back to BFI in time to shoot some landings. "Sure!"
Again the Cirrus amazed me by its speed and smoothness in flight. Nearing downtown, we headed directly for the new Safeco Field with its retractable roof. Several miles out the controller asked us to slow down to allow proper spacing for a Cessna; Jason and I grinned at each other as it's pretty rare for single-engine fixed-gear prop planes to get that request! Very soon we entered a straight-in approach to the Boeing Field runway and I reduced power further, added 50% flaps, and trimmed for 85 knots airspeed. A mile out I added the rest of the flaps and trimmed for 80 knots, finding myself on the correct glideslope for landing. The approach felt solid but I expected everything to feel different this time compared to my 150 or so Cessna landings. I just tried to keep the Cirrus on the right slope while listening to Jason's even coaching. As we neared the runway threshold the approach looked good, although I felt a little nervous at our apparent high ground speed. But the SR20 remained very stable as we skimmed above the runway bleeding off speed. Jason had me add a bit of power at the last moment to smooth our touchdown. And it worked pretty well! I was thrilled and relieved as I raised the flaps and poured on power for another takeoff.
Around the pattern I learned how far you have to retard the throttle to keep the speed manageable (i.e. to not run over planes in front of you). My second approach was a bit high, and I backed off the power on short final. The sleek plane started losing altitude very quickly. Jason said "Add power" and I did, then added some more and we were still coming in low. I didn't think I'd make it and was about to go around when Jason took control, shoved the throttle on hard, then almost immediately backed it off as we crossed the threshold. He set the wheels down beautifully and I pondered the value of a good flight instructor. That second landing was the one time during the flight when I was clearly "behind the airplane". Jason watched me dig myself into a hole, told me how to get out of it, and took over flying only when more talking would have taken too long to get us out of danger. The Cirrus flies so beautifully that during my flight I mostly forgot about my lack of time in that plane (and as a pilot in general). But Jason's landing rescue reminded me that each aircraft and each landing is unique, and that nothing can ever substitute for experience. I took back the plane, tried to keep in mind what I'd learned, and went around for two more landings, both of which I felt proud of.
Back at Wings Aloft we tied down the SR20. Our debriefing was indeed brief since Jason had another student waiting. But he took time to compliment Landon, saying that the Cessna-to-Cirrus transition was often difficult and that I had managed it pretty well: "You must have an excellent instructor." I assured him that Landon was indeed the best.
What an excellent day. Now I just have to figure out how to become part owner of one of these Cirrus wonderplanes...
Today I learned what makes me nervous. Flying with an FAA examiner makes me nervous! But I'll get to that.
I got up this morning eager to fly. I did some last minute review work over breakfast, then drove to HIO to meet my examiner, whom I'll call Carl. Carl seemed friendly and helpful, and also a bit enigmatic. We jumped right into the oral portion of the test, which Carl made very practical by quizzing me on specifics that would apply to our own flight that day. After nearly two hours we had covered FAA regulations, flight planning, weight and balance calculations, the physics of flight, aviation weather, and chart symbols. In general I felt well prepared for the oral test, though a number of small details escaped me and Carl asked a few leading questions to help me sort things out. He seemed to enjoy taking the items I missed as pedagogical opportunities, which I appreciated.
Once Carl decided I possessed enough theoretical knowledge to pursue piloting, we took a five-minute break. I tried to suppress my internal elation at passing half of the checkride. Indeed I got pulled right back to work as we proceeded with the most thorough aircraft preflight check I'd ever done — it took another hour. We walked around 53161 together and Carl grilled me on nearly every part. ("Which is the bottommost fuel drain in the system?" "What does this metal strip on the aileron do?" "Tell me what's connected to each of these five antennas.") Having been preflighted with NASA-level scrutiny, trusty 53161 did appear airworthy.In the aircraft, Carl instructed me to forget he was there and just fly normally for the practical test. I thought, "Yeah, while I'm in awe of your immense aeronautic knowledge and while you're evaluating me?" But I settled in and went down the checklists, then checked ATIS and taxied to runway 30. Soon we were airborne and on an initial course toward Eugene (Carl had asked me to come to the checkride with a prepared flight plan to Eugene). Five minutes later I noted with alarm that I had missed a ground checklist item: putting the transponder in altitude reporting mode just before takeoff. I hurriedly made the switch as Carl wryly stated "I wondered when you would get to that." Crap. It was the first of several small (and uncharacteristic, I hope) mistakes that plagued me that day.
I had just gotten trimmed for correct airspeed, altitude, and course when Carl pulled back the throttle and announced that our engine had failed and I should find a place to land. I set our best glide speed and started spiraling down toward a promising field just outside a small town, then worked my way through attempting engine restarting, making the emergency radio calls. During these procedures, of which I felt pretty confident, Carl seemed antsy, finally asking if I wouldn't rather land at an airport he pointed at off our wing. Sure enough, the town was Newberg, home of small Sportsman Airpark (2S6). My heart sank — I'd landed there a couple times with Landon but somehow missed seeing the airport this time. I had a sectional map open on my lap, picked a heading toward Sportsman, and started planning my approach. Flying the pattern worked fine until I got to short final, when I realized that I remained too high to make the runway. I considered putting the plane in a slip but that would mean raising the flaps at low airspeed. Finally I decided only a go-around would be safe. Carl agreed but now my confidence slackened. He pointed out my wobbly altitude as we flew the pattern again. I was still trying to figure out what went wrong with my first descent when, incredibly, I came in high a second time. This time I sensed my hesitancy to fly low over the buildings and cars right in front of the runway. I announced to Carl that I needed another go-around, to which he assented without eagerness. My third approach felt lower and better but my determination to land on the short runway ended up crippling me. I set the plane down hard enough to bounce, tried to salvage the landing by adding a bit of power, made a second smaller bounce, and knew that I was still too fast and quickly running out of runway. Utterly humiliated, I poured on the power and took off yet again. Crap, to say the least. Clearly dissapointed, Carl said, "That landing obviously did not meet Practical Test Standards." When I asked him if I'd get another chance to do a short field landing he said something vague about trying it back at Hillsboro.
Devoid of enthusiasm Carl intoned, "Well, I guess let's see if things go better during flight maneuvers." We departed Newberg and found a straight road to use for S-turns, a square field for flying rectangular patterns, and a lone tree for flying circles around a point. I flew them all well, and then climbed a few thousand feet for clearing turns, slow flight, and stalls. Those went fine, too, but my recovering confidence took another hit when Carl asked me to don the hood for basic instrument maneuvers. It wasn't the instrument flying that bothered me; it was that I forgot to bring a hood to the plane after Carl had mentioned it in passing during our break. Crap. Carl was visibly grumpy as I admitted it, but to his credit he still helped me out by unfolding a sectional map and arranging it around my side of the windshield, largely blocking my view of the ground. But at least I performed the instrument maneuvers well.
Finally it was back to HIO for normal, soft-, and short-field takeoffs and landings. I think I still felt a little frayed because I came in fast on one landing and we floated quite a ways before touching down. Also, I forgot to put in 10 degrees of flaps on a soft-field takeoff. As I shut down the engine back on the ramp, Carl confirmed my worst fears by saying, "Interesting flight. How do you think you did?" I admitted it wasn't my best flying day but assured him that it was also atypical. Actually he told me that most of my work was fine but that my soft-field takeoff and short-field landings were not up to standards. So after 5 trying hours I did not go home with a license. That left me the most depressed and self-doubting I've felt in a very long time.
Landon was exceptionally encouraging to me after that blow, and we went back up the very next day to review soft- and short-field landings. He insisted we go back to Newberg so I wouldn't be intimidated by that airport. And indeed after a couple turns around the pattern my confidence started creeping back. I nailed several landings there. Within a few days Landon had arranged with Carl that I'd complete my checkride the next Tuesday. Carl said he wanted to have me do the landings at Scappoose, a runway shorter than Hillsboro but nowhere near as short as Newberg. And I would not have to repeat any other parts of my checkride. So Landon and I went for a practice flight at Scappoose, too, where I did a large batch of landings of all types. I felt ready again...
On my checkride day I got up early, reviewed everything I could think of, picked good clothes, and tried to get completely psyched up. Today, though, I decided not to make such a big deal of things. I did some work and errands in the morning, wore jeans, and didn't brood about flying. I'm pretty sure my intentional relaxation helped out when I met Carl once again around noon to finish my checkride. Although I was all prepared to fly to Scappoose, on the taxiway Carl casually suggested that we just do a few landings here at Hillsboro and see how they go. So I did: one normal takeoff and landing, one short-field set, and one soft-field set. They all went perfectly. And that was it! Carl didn't need me to repeat anything else, and as we taxied in he smiled and said, "Congratulations, Captain!" Although it all seemed anticlimactic, pride and relief flooded over me. I resolve to make the best of this new freedom to fly and learn. And now that I know what a checkride feels like (and what it feels like to screw it up) I resolve to always pass the first time from now on.
Yowza! Today, on only my second flight in the ATC system, I spent 1.7 hours flying totally blind in real clouds. After about 10 hours of instrument lessons under the hood, Landon wanted me to get some actual IMC experience. And today I sure got a taste of it!
Today Denise and I are coming home from a Big Island vacation on this fast, roomy, and efficient United 777 aircraft. We're cruising at 38,000 feet, and we just got a spectacular view of what we must look like. Midway over the Pacific the captain came on the PA and mentioned that our sister flight, United 32 from Lihue, could be seen abeam our left side just 1000 feet down, racing us to SFO. I was in an inner seat in Economy Plus so I grabbed my camera, leaped over Denise (she knew how I'd react), and bolted to an available window. Incredible! There was a United 757 cruising along just ahead of us, down, and 2000 feet to the left as we slowly overtook them at Mach 0.85 -- the 777 is a slightly faster machine. I shot several photos of Flight 32 and its white contrail against a lovely sunset sky. It would have been difficult to arrange a better photo opportunity. Other people started looking out their windows, marveling and murmuring. A hippie guy nearby asked me how fast the planes were flying, and a wealthy-looking young woman eagerly ran over with her baby to get a look. At least a few folks pulled themselves away from the movie long enough to wonder at the beauty available to us from seven miles up.
I choose United Airlines as often as possible, partly because of the wonderful "From the Cockpit" audio channel that lets passengers listen to all the live radio calls. I've learned a lot about how IFR traffic works, how friendly most controllers are, and that even professional radio conversations can be fun. On our trip over to Kona a week ago I overheard our pilot chatting plane-to-plane with several other United pilots over the Pacific (there's apparently very little ATC communication once those long overwater flights are on course). Besides comparing notes on headwinds and turbulence at their various altitudes, they arranged when and where they'd all meet up for drinks in Hawaii that night. Somebody also mentioned a set of Porsche keys left in the company pilot office at SFO: "Old So-and-so's gonna be grumpy when he can't get into his car!"