Some Days You Don’t Fly…And That’s OK

Right, then…



Discretion is the better part of valor.  For my flying lesson last Tuesday, I experienced:

The Cherokee that I usually fly was down (a pin in one of the engine cover latches was gone; having this potentially fly open at altitude could prove to be problematic).

The second plane I tried to get was not on the flight line where it is usually parked.  After walking around on the apron for 20 minutes, I headed back to the clubhouse and saw that I walked right by it, parked in front of a repair shop with the landing light removed. So that was no go.  Now, a bit pissed that this was not taken out of service on the scheduler.

OK, take 3:  I head to the clubhouse to check out a newer (read: more expensive) 172SP – the one I took my discovery flight in, in fact.  Up to this point, I was agitated, but optimistic that once I got this plane checked out, everything would be cool.  As I walked in someone was in the process of checking it out so he and the owner could do touch and go’s.

At that point, my instructor walked in and I told him how things were shaking out.  I had been keeping him posted on my saga with the first two planes, so I’m sure he understood my agitation when I apprised him of the situation.

He – in his calm way – said “OK, first:  We don’t have to fly.” To which I responded “OK, then I’m calling it.”

And that was that.  The guy that got the third plane offered to pay the extra $15 difference for me to rent the final remaining 172SP, he felt so bad.  I went of my way to assure him that it was cool because I was pretty much done.  Things just went too far and my head wasn’t in it.  So while I was already thinking about calling it off, my instructor helped me get across that line.  Also, I really wanted to fly the Cherokee.

But this just reinforced what I’ve heard to date:  We don’t ever have to fly.  Typically, flights get called due to weather.  But poor mental state – tired, distracted, upset, aggravated – is just as dangerous.

Besides, this is supposed to be fun.  There are guys that have to fly – they’re Professional Airline Pilots.  I’m a hobbyist.  I’m paying to do this – no need to pay to have a shitty experience.

So, instead, we did ground school stuff.  Talked about questions I had, some issues I had with the last lesson and general aircraft discussion.

Of course, I made an offhanded comment about toying with the thought of buying an aircraft to train in and that I thought it was a dark alley to explore.  This led to a 20 minute discussion as to why it’s not as expensive as I thought.

Aw shit, son.

Of course, he said that the break-even point is about 100-hours of flight/year which, admittedly, I’m not there.  There’s also the point that until the GF and I buy a house, I’d win douche of the year award if I bought a plane.  So, until then, I rent.

But it’s an entertaining – and pricey – thought.

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Inching Closer to the Edge

Right, then…

Had a few more lessons since my last posting, but not every week.  Normally, every week is preferred but between then and now, I’ve experienced a) an aging mother that was (in my opinion) prematurely released from a physical rehab facility, and b) a series of fairly stout storms in the Bay Area.

As for mom – after spending 6 weeks in a PT facility, they up and decided to send her home, saying she only needed minimal help, which was a shocking lie.  She needed assistance with literally everything, so my 2 day stay wound up being 8 days while I worked with MediCal and lined up a caregiver.  I’m paying for the caregiver out of pocket until MediCal kicks in, but – as a friend stated – it was like making bail:  It was the only way I was going to able to go home.  So, expensive, but somewhat worth it.  Regardless, that was one week that I missed a lesson.

I think the week I returned, there was a series of heavy storm systems that pummeled California, giving us much needed rain…all at once.  So, in addition to real problems like flooding and the Oroville Dam almost failing, I had my flight lessons interrupted.

I got a couple of lessons in, then last week, when there was no storms and beautiful weather, the only available plane that I had reserved was down:  It was recently maintained, but some critical paperwork was missing.  So, I played around with Aero FS (simulator) on the iPad.  Not the same as flying, but a nice distraction.

Now, I don’t know if the simulator actually has any value other than entertainment, or if something sort of clicked in my head, because today’s lesson was different than most.  Up to now, I’ve been doing things more or less by rote:  Pull back power to 1500 RPM when I’m abeam of the numbers on the runway, 1 notch of flaps, slow to 80 kts, turn base, slow to 75 kts, 2 notches of flaps, turn final, slow to 65-ish, 3rd and final notch of flaps as I’m over the pond before the runway, power to idle as I go over then fence, point the plane at the numbers and then level off and flare at some unknown point, touchdown.

While some variation of that happened today, the thought process was different.  It was not so much “I do this now, because I am here” but more “OK, I’m looking to do this, so I’ll try that, and if that doesn’t work, then I’ll try something else, so long as I maintain the right airspeed and altitude for where I am in the pattern.”  It was almost like I was actually flying the plane instead of merely following instructions.  True, some of the landings were a bit harsher than others, but I did all of the touchdowns (per my instructor).

Of course, there are things I need to work on, such as when I’m going too fast and I pull back on the yoke, I need to not pull back so hard that I climb.  I also need to pick a definitive point when I’m going to flare…this is hard because there’s no good visual.  Also, I haven’t done any radio work, really, other than taxiing and takeoff.  There’s still another world of comms that I need to get in to.

For the next lesson, my instructor set a rule that if I go below 65 kts or over 75 kts, I’m to do a go around.  The purpose is twofold:  1)  to better stabilize my approach speed (I suspect) and 2) to have experience performing go arounds.

But at 22.4-ish hours, I think I’m approaching solo pretty damn quick.

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Take Offs Are Optional; Landings, Mandatory

Right, then…

To date, I’ve had approximately 17 hours of flight training.  As I’m a bad student, I haven’t been tallying my log book entries, so I’m not exactly sure of that.  But I think it’s about right.

During my lesson last Sunday, I had the sneaking suspicion that my instructor did not assist with at least one touchdown.  I say that as it was a bit more harsh that the other 6 or so.  But I didn’t give it much thought.  Yesterdays lesson, however, was different.  5 or 6 of the 8 times I was the one flying on touchdown.  A somewhat frightening thought as I really have no idea what I’m doing, yet somehow I’m doing it.

OK, that’s not right – I have a novice’s idea of what I’m doing, I guess.  I just lack the cohesive understanding and confidence to fully comprehend what I’m doing.  Regardless, I was in control when the plane connected with the runway, unsmooth as it was.

And I have apprehensive joy over this.  Yes, it’s a milestone – sort of a major one, when you consider the importance of landing.  Moreso when you consider the additional importance of a) being able to walk away from it, and b) not breaking the plane.  But still, my less-rational mind recoils in horror, muttering “Ye, gods.”

There’s still a lot to work on, though.  My calibration as to too high/too low on final is still in need of adjustment.  Sometimes I recognize the situation and correct it, sometimes I don’t recognize it at all, sometimes I recognize it but wait too long to correct it.  Sometimes I come in too flat and wind up punching the throttle in order to clear the fence.

I still have this fear of pointing the plane at the ground.  When I’m at 500 feet, not a problem.  But, if you do that long enough, you’re eventually at 200 feet, then 100, then 50…that’s when the urge to pull back on the yoke kicks in, and my right brain is yelling “We’re flying into the ground, and you’re about to trip on the goddamn fence for fuck’s sake!”  The problem with this, is that by pulling back on the yoke, I’m slowing the plane down, getting close to stall speed.  If I get too close, the plane will stall – of course – and then drop until there’s enough air going over the wings to stop the stall.  At 3000 feet, not a big deal; at 50 feet, much more problematic.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out.

Regardless, my instructor informed me that his ultimate goal is to be able to nap [figuratively speaking] while I take off and land the plane.  I think we’re getting a lot closer to that.  About 4 or so hours ago, he said that I’d be ready to solo in about 7 or 8 hours.  So in the foreseeable future, I might be soloing.  A thrilling, yet terrifying thought.

$10 Wine

Right, then…

A friend of mine once told me that it’s easy to find a good bottle of wine for $50, but if you can find a good bottle for $10, then you’ve really found something.  Sage words, those.

On round two of my drinking career, I’m venturing out.  So instead of simply having my normal standby – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – I’ll either try a different brand, or different type.  Most recently, there’s been more IPA than I’d prefer, as it’s somewhat ubiquitous.  But beer makes me bloat, and I’m already bloated enough, so I’m trying to spend more time with wine.

Buying the motorcycle, and getting a free case of Chardonnay thrown in helped break my avoidance of whites, but I still prefer reds.  In the old days, I stuck with what I knew:  Napa Valley Cabs and Merlot’s and Central Coast Pinot’s.  But all of those breached the $10 threshold.  Now I’m trying random reds, with varying effect.

If I had to pick one that I could always drink, it would be Menage a Trois, in all variances.  I think it’s some sort of Pinot Blend, but to be honest, I can’t really tell and never cared to look.  Tastes great at the first pull.

Not being a great note taker, I’ve had a couple of decent bottles in between, but all of those benefitted from some oxidation – either in the glass, or after a day in the bottle.  Of course, I’ve since bought a vacuum cork, so not expecting much in-bottle oxidation, now.

But it’s not always great.  I just dumped 1/2 bottle of Red Velvet Devil (or something like that…it had a screw off cap.  It started out real thin and oxidation helped the first glass a bit…but things just sort of went south after that.  That’s the nice thing about $10 bottle – there’s not much invested, so there’s not much reason to keep drinking it.  I’m going t have to keep taking better notes, so I can remember the ones I like, while avoiding the ones I don’t.


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Inadvertent Adventure

Right, then…

So, on Monday, I didn’t need to be in until 9am, so I thought I’d ride all the way in from home – about 23 miles, judging by Google Maps.

Not that hard of a distance for me as I’ve done it before, even though I’m not in the greatest shape these days.  However, on this particular occasion, I was riding my new/old mountain bike as the Bob Jackson is now in the shop getting a generator hub, headlight, single speed crank and new handlebars.

The mountain bike is what I bought about this time last year. I had the frame powder coated this cool burnt orange color, transferred the good stuff from my old, unused FSR over and added a front rack.  Cool looking, not horribly heavy, but…it felt slow.

No matter, I gave myself 2.25 hours to go 23 miles…this should be doable.

In the old days, I used to consult maps and make a cue sheet.  With the advent of omnipresent GPS, I’ve come to rely on the iPhone.  I like Google Maps app and think it works fine, but the iPhone does not do well in cold weather; it dies at inconvenient times.  So, I went back to the old way:  Making a cue sheet.  Which was convenient for a while, until I could no longer find the road that I was supposed to turn right on.  This led to several minutes (longer than I thought, as it turns out) spent backtracking and trying to find my turn.  This went on at various parts of the trip between Menlo Park and Sunnyvale.    Ultimately, I rolled up to my office.  I figured I was maybe 1/2 hour or so late.  When I get inside and warmed up the phone to start it, I checked the time:  7 minutes after 10.  Holy shit.  In a panic, I checked pages and e mails for anyone that was looking for me and happily found none.  Showered, changed and at my desk a full 1 1/2 hours after I was supposed to be there.  It was not until after lunch did I finally warm up from the ride.

I took the time to map out the route, backtracking and all.  The original route was supposed to be 23 miles; I rode 31.

In the post mortem, I learned a couple of things:  1)  Don’t ride a new route if you have to be somewhere by a particular time; 2) Wool clothes do a fine job of keeping warm, but a beanie would have helped; 3)  Missing one minor side street can derail you’re entire navigation plan; and 4) despite all of the articles now saying you ride just as fast on wider tires, someone as heavy as I still needs to jack up the pressure, somewhat.  (this is why the bike felt slow, I reckon).

I was able to get through the day, but it was tough.  However, I wasn’t out of the woods, yet; I still had to get back home.  As I was rather tired after work, my boss (who is also an old friend that I ride with) took pity on my and gave me a ride to CalTrain.  As there was no recent train that would stop at my house, the thought was to ride it north to a particular station, cross over and pick up the southbound train that arrives a few minutes later and get off at my stop.  Well, my train arrived late, so I missed the southbound train.  There was another train in about 5 minutes that would get me home in 1/2 hour.  Wanting to get home sooner, and not wanting to walk the 1.5 miles home,  I decided to walk over and see if there were any cabs in the parking lot – there weren’t.  3 minutes until the next train comes, so I turned back…then I heard the horn.  The fucker showed up early.  Shit…legs too dead to run, I could not get to the crossing before the guards came down, trapping me on the wrong side.  While I could have gone under, that’s a $250 fine which I did not want.  I hoped against hope that maybe the guards would go up after the train had stopped; they didn’t.  So, I got to stand there and watch as everyone loaded up and took off.  Pissed, I put on my headphones, cranked up some music and hoofed it out of there, finally making it home about 1/2 hour later.

I’m happy to report that the first shakedown ride went very well, however.  Tahn builds a damn fine bike.  I still need to tweak some things (still getting numbness in the hands, even with ergo grips and padded gloves), but I like the bike.

But sometimes you get more exercise than you bargained for…



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Flying, Health, Puppy

Right, then…

Thought it was time to write a little bit about the flying lessons.

Today, like most weekends, I had a flying lesson.  Early in the process, my instructor focused on the basics:  Turning, altitude changes, taking off, etc…  Having gotten somewhat OK with those, we’ve spent the past 6 or so lessons focusing on landings.  Specifically, we’ve been doing touch and go’s while staying in the pattern.  My instructor stated that we’ll be spending lots of hours practicing these as a) they’re hard to master, and b) they’re a critical part of flying (take offs equal landings, and all…).

There’s a thing that is a little counterintuitive about this process.  Normally, we think that we control altitude changes by either pushing or pulling on the yoke, and we control the speed by working the throttle.  In fact, during most of normal flight, this remains true.  However, while landing, we’re in slow flight, which means that these actions are reversed:  The yoke controls the speed and the throttle controls the altitude.

Counterintuitive, but it does make sense.  If I want the plane to move faster, I point it towards the ground (push the yoke forward) and let gravity do the work.  If I want it to slow down, I point it towards the sky (pull the yoke back) and…well…let gravity do the work.

As for altitude, increasing prop speed (via engine speed) increases air flow over the wings, which creates lift, which then lifts the plane.  Slowing it down does the opposite.

It took me a while to process this, but I’m getting better and remembering which control to actuate when I want speed and/or altitude.  But it’s not that simple.

When landing, you are effectively flying the plane to the ground, leveling off just above the runway, and then pulling the nose up (flaring) to slow down the plane, which causes it to lower on to the main gear, and then touch down the nose wheel.  I’m struggling with the “flying the plane to the ground” portion.

Now, logically, I know that in order to land, I need to get…closer…to…the…ground.  But when I find myself on final approach, with speed maybe a bit too low, I point the nose down to increase speed.  I then incorrectly think that I’m too low, so I give it throttle to gain altitude…which gets me too high.  That, apparently is where I’m hosing thing’s up.  Part of this is my perception of how low I am, vs. how low I need to be, and part is my belief that I’m going too slow (65 Kts is fine, but always seems too slow for some reason).  Regardless, I find myself effectively pointing the plane at the ground while applying power which feels a lot like “Mother of God, I’m going to fly straight into the goddamn ground and they’ll be digging bits of me and airplane out of the goddamn marsh!”.   This feeling with followed by the thought “You’ve done some stupid shit in your life, but this one beats all.”

The good news is that the instructor feels that I am, in fact, improving and that I’m not, in fact, different than other students.  He thinks I have another 7 or so hours of flight before I can solo.  Absolutely terrifying.

One new thing today: I did some talking on the radio with ground control and the tower.  Listening to KPAO tower – or any one, for that matter – on Live ATC is intimidating, but I was told is that there’s only a limited number of things to say with a limited number of responses, generally.  So today I worked with ground to taxi to the run up area, then spoke to the tower to get clearance for takeoff.  While flying, my instructor worked the radio, as he feels (correctly) that it’s more important for me to learn how to fly the damn plane.

So I got that going for me, which is nice…

On the health front, I’ve been sick.  Started out as throat and nose, then descended to URI. So bicycling is out for a few days, which is a fucker as I’m trying to more consistently commute on the bike.  I even have a route mapped out from home to work.  Now, I wait.

Final thing:  Puppy.  It’s amazing how an 8 pound puppy can completely immobilize you.  All she has to do is lay on some part of me and I’ll be stuck for hours as I don’t want to disturb her.  It doesn’t help that she’s soft, either.

OK, enough of this…

The Random Things

Right, then…

A quick post.

I’m down in Fresno this weekend for Thanksgiving.  Having a little time this trip, I finally dragged my scanner down so I can get copies of some of the old pictures my mom has stored in a box.  While I’ve been planning on doing this for years, my brother’s passing brought it to the forefront.

While picking out pictures to scan (pics of brother, pics of me as a baby and teen to show the GF just who she’s involved in, random posterity pics from the 70’s), I came across this:


Unbeknownst to me, my first bike was a Mixte

That there is my first bike.  Now, if you had asked me, I would have said that my first bike was blue, and had orange and yellow pinstripes that our neighbor put on it, and had knobbies that I got one year for my birthday.  Of course, I would have been wrong.  I had forgotten about this one.  What I remember most about this is the non-pneumatic (nonmatic?) tires.  I think the rear tire had split by the time I upgraded to the blue bike (of which I found no pictures of).

You’ll also note – for posterity’s sake – the long shag carpeting that had to be raked.  Of course, not being Fancy People, we did not have a carpet rake so we used the steel rake that we had for the yard.

Another angle, showing the rest of the living room:


The 70’s used to be slightly out of focus, it seems.

This – it should be noted – was the Living Room, where no mortal entered unless they were Company.  You can just imagine what the rest of the house looked like.

Ye Gods.

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