Saturday, June 28, 2014


After four long, often stressful days working in the thought mines, each day bookended by a nominal forty-five minute commute, I start to question why I'm voluntarily running such a fatiguing mental marathon. By Thursday evening, I'm wiped out mentally and a form of physical fatigue often makes itself known, the physical wear not so much resulting from any kind of meaningful physical exertion, for it is, to a very large degree, a notably sedentary profession that I engage in, but because getting up every morning long before the dawn cannot help but take a toll. Ask any rooster, and keep in mind that it is people like me that wake them up.

"Why?" I ask myself.  Why am I doing this??"

Because... Friday.

As regular as the phases of the moon and the planet's orbiting of the sun, Friday rolls around and reminds me of the benefit garnered from the four-day cost.  Friday is now also known as Myday. My day to do as I choose (for the most part - every now and then I have to make the cross-town trek to clean up loose ends carried over from what I call "everything's broken Thursday"), answerable to no one but the laws of physics and the vagaries of meteorology.

And such it is that I found myself airborne early Friday morning. The plan was to meet The Jackson Two at Knox Co. airport (4I3) where we would catch a shuttle over to nearby Wynkoop airport, where the annual Waco Reunion would be held.  Not being Waco owners, we were unable to land at Wynkoop itself.

What?  What's a "Waco?" Wouldn't a Waco Reunion be held in, you know, Waco, Texas?

Good question, Strawman. You sure have a penchant for asking exactly what I hope to be asked at precisely the right time.  Keep up the good work.

So, the very first thing you need to know about Waco vs. Waco is that one of them is, in fact, a city in Texas. A close second on the "you gotta know this" scale is that the pronunciations are different.

The city of Waco is pronounced so that it rhymes with mako, as in "a mako shark."  The 'a' is like the 'a' in 'hay', if I may say.

The Waco is a brand of airplane. It is pronounced to rhyme with 'taco'.  Don't worry if you can't remember this because if you mispronounce it in front of a pilot that does remember it, you will be swiftly corrected, every single time.

All well and good, that, but so what?  Well, the Waco is not just any airplane, it is one of the venerable biplanes that dominated the market in the 1920's to late 1940's.  Interestingly, they are still made today, albeit by a brand new company and with more modern (read: safe) materials and designs.

There is also a Waco museum in nearby Troy, Ohio, where the original factory was located.  You can expect a report of a trip to that museum in the near future. For now, though, here's some deeper detail found on Wikipedia:
Waco's history started in 1919 when businessmen Clayton J. Brukner and Elwood Junkin met barnstorming pilots Charley Meyers and George Weaver. Although their initial floatplane design was a failure, they went on to found the Waco company in 1920 and established themselves as producers of reliable, rugged planes that were popular with travelling businessmen, postal services and explorers, especially after the company began producing closed-cabin biplane models after 1930 in addition to the open cockpit biplanes. 
The Waco name was extremely well represented in the U.S. civil aircraft registry between the wars, with more Wacos registered than the aircraft of any other company. Production types including open cockpit biplanes, cabin biplanes and cabin sesquiplanes (known by Waco as Custom Cabins) as well as numerous experimental types.
There wasn't enough fuel in the plane to reach Knox Co. with the FAA-mandated (and common sense) requirement to have a 30 minute reserve, so my first stop was MadCo to pick up some fuel. I was Bolton Tower's first customer of the morning and received quick, cheerful service as I requested a taxi to takeoff. The winds were calm (and would remain so all day), so I was stuck with the mile long taxi to runway 4, itself being designated for some unfathomable reason as the 'calm air runway'.  With good ambient pressure, fairly low temps, a slight (yet virile) pilot-in-command, no passenger, and only six gallons of fuel, we were off the runway in just a few hundred feet and already at pattern altitude while abeam the midfield control tower. The vigorous climb rate of 1,200 - 1,400 feet per minute got us quickly to our cruising altitude of 2,500' for the short ride over to Madco.

With the sun rising behind me and the glass smooth sky supporting me, I couldn't help thinking that it is moments like that that pay for the four days leading up to Myday.

Visibility was good, but not unlimited. It looked like it would be a humid day.  Having departed to the east-ish from Bolton, I set myself up for a left downwind to runway 9 at MadCo since that's where what little wind there was was coming from.  That, and it would allow be to conveniently fly a full traffic pattern rather than make a straight in approach.

I did that with a complete disregard for what was going to happen when I turned back to the east to land, when I would be facing into the sun on a hazy day.  Note how the formerly clear air becomes anything but.

After fueling up, I set a direct-to from MadCo to Knox Co.  As luck at cartography would have it, that route would just clear the airspace around Port Columbus Interstellar airport.  An inch is as good as a nautical mile in the modern world of GPS, though.  Back in the day, I would have given it a much wider berth.

With the autopilot firmly in control (in truth, the air was so calm that very little effort was required), I planned ahead for my arrival in Mt. Vernon by checking the Info pages in the Skyview. I was aghast at the precision required with the reported traffic pattern altitude (TPA) - I'm not sure I can hold an altitude as precise as 1,999 ft.  I made a command decision: I would throw caution to the wind, thumb my nose at the FAA, and fly it at 2,000 ft.

What a rebel!

As I was descending to somewhere between 1,999 and 2,000 ft., the gal that lives in my Skyview chirped up to, yet again, alert me to a nearby threat. I sure do like these new avionics! Despite the (ludicrous) idea that pilots can simply "see & avoid" espoused by federal regulatory agencies, it is extremely unlikely that I would have seen this guy. Yes, he was a good 700' below me and not an immediate risk, but forewarned is forearmed and while we had good vertical separation, horizontal was a different issue indeed.

I arrived precisely at 9:00 am, as is my wont (and a healthy dollop of blind luck) to find The Two already there, and having already found that the promise of a shuttle to the other airport might have been overstated. We discussed the idea of hoofing it, but wiser heads prevailed and a shuttle ride was eventually procured.

So, after long last: a Waco!

Gorgeous, no?

I never knew that I too wanted to be a "Man of Consequence" until learning that such a thing is even possible. I didn't get a chance to talk to Mr. Heins to determine the requirements for such a distinction, though, so I don't like my odds of achieving it in the short term. For once, even Wikipedia fails me.

This isn't a Waco, but it is a wonderful visual metaphor for a perfect Myday.

Back to Wacos.

While we were wandering around, I kept hearing a strange mechanical sound occurring at a somewhat regular rate of once per second or so. I asked Kyle, Lead Sound Engineer for The Jackson Two, if he could identify the sound.

"Sure," he replied confidently, "it's the very old fuel pump they have here."

"Ah, makes sense."

To which, he laughed.

Argghh!  Got me at my own game!

Not one to be bested in my home court, I said, No it's not, it's an ice cream maker."

Unbelievably, that one was ingested hook, line, and two sinkers.

I was still crowing about having gotten even with him when, to my utter chagrin, we tracked down the source of the noise.

I was an ice cream maker.

'Tis an old place, Wynkoop.  Rustic.

It's the perfect ambiance for these guys.

Getting hungry, we put our heads together and decided to fly south to Lancaster for lunch. I would be my second time there in less than a week.

With the airports being so close together, it seemed a shame not to fly over Wynkoop for a picture.

Here's a short video of the event, if you care to watch.

At Lancaster, Kyle and I visited the helicopter school. One of the things on my ever-growing Attainable Bucket List is "Hover a helicopter."  I have no need for the full license (which is good, because it would cost $7,000 and leave me with a license for which I will never have a need), but I would enjoy a lesson or two just for the experience. I had found this school on the internet and was happy about the close proximity, but their marketing materials stressed how focused they are on the full licensing program. I didn't know if they would be amenable to a single lesson or two.

They are.  Kyle and I are going to set a Myday date in the near future for our intro lessons in the Schweitzer 300s.

Lunch was at a new restaurant adjacent to the airport.

Excellent meatloaf!

Having learned my lesson about calling Bolton tower with a "to the east" location when actually southeast, I amended my approach. Instead of going around Rickenbacker, I went over it so that I actually was to the east. That worked out famously.  I got home just at the end of the normal Myday workday, which left plenty of time for... mowing.

There's a story to be told about that as well, but duty calls: Cabot has to go to the vet again, which will be the 2nd Saturday in a row. Last week, his eyes puffed up such that he looked like a really angry Pit Bull, which was rectified through a Prednisone shot, and this week he has a hematoma in one of his ears that has it so puffed up he looks like he swallowed a grape which somehow missed his throat and ended up in his ear.

Poor little guy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Voices in the Ether

We are in a karmic retribution phase here in Central Ohio, at least when it comes to nice flying weather. I would have to be churlish indeed to cast aspersions at the season that gifted us with such nice weather only a week and a half ago, but, well, it is what it is. The weather, while not completely impossible to deal with, has been uncharacteristically muggy and uncomfortable. Or at least it has seemed that way every time I have had the opportunity to fly, those events having been admittedly curtailed to a large degree by the fluctuating moods and energy levels I am prone to during the seemingly interminable work week.

It having been at least two weeks if not longer since Jeff's last "lesson," an opportunity arose for a short flight Sunday morning. The mission was to deliver a pillow (well, not just A pillow, but THE pillow) to Co-pilot Egg, who had forgotten to take it with her on her semi-weekly trip back to her at-school home in Lancaster.

It truly was a short flight - it's only a fifteen minuet flight - but it would still be of some utility to Jeff who, having not flown for awhile, would benefit from a refresher in standard practices. This need was proven by the relative difficulty he had in getting his seatbelts fastened.  While that sounds like a trivial thing to get tangled up over, it really isn't, at least until you have done it a few hundred times and run across every little thing that you can get wrong. The most common error, and the one that Jeff tripped over, is to not lay out the shoulder straps before climbing into the plane to ensure that they don't get crossed over left-to-right. If that happens, and it is terribly easy to do once you're sitting in the plane and have limited rotational flexibility, everything will seem normal except for the fact that the slotted ends of the should straps will not fit correctly into the lab of the left belt strap.

Engine start and taxi went well enough and we were soon climbing into a clear morning sky, with a great contrast between the June green flora and the cerulean morning sky. The downtown Columbus skyline, such as it is, stood out quite well. As I am confident in Jeff's ability to climb us out and turn us on course, I was able to grab my camera to get a great morning shot.  Alas, I had failed to retrieve the memory card from my PC - there would be no pictures today, at least not of any higher quality than that available from my cell phone.  The moment was long past before I could retrieve and ready said phone, so... no picture.

I had Jeff route us around the Class D airspace around Rickenbacker even though we probably could have climbed to a high enough altitude to just go over it in order to give us a little more flying time. He would need a few minutes to regain his straight and level mojo, but once he seemed comfortable again I wanted to start moving away from that kind of simple flying and into the more advanced maneuvering stuff that comprises the majority of the airwork in the training regimen. I had introduced him to the subject of stalls early in our flying, my thought being that he will have learned about them in his training videos and that some people get nervous and obsess about them. Having ridden through a couple, I thought, it would be less stressful for him when it came time for him to perform them himself. The precursor to stalls, though, is slow flight.

Slow flight is a flight mode in which the plane is slowed to just above stall speed and the student has to maintain both that slow speed and the target altitude. At speeds that close to the actual stall, the primary control for maintaining altitude becomes the throttle. Having heard the analogy of the throttle being similar to the gas pedal in a car enough times, it is possible that the student will always equate the throttle with being the thing to use to manage airspeed.  The actuality is that it is a little more complicated than that. While many texts insist that the elevator controls airspeed and the throttle controls altitude (which is starkly counter-intuitive to people used to thinking in only two dimensions), that too is not entirely correct and is an over-simplification. The reality is that there is a sliding scale of contribution of both controls to both flight aspects. In slow flight, the slider is very close to the "throttle = altitude, elevator = airspeed" school of thought, but still not entirely. In any event, slow flight teaches the student how to safely manage the flight of an airplane that is at or near a boundary condition, that condition in this case being an aerodynamic stall.

At the risk of (further) boring you, here is a description lifted from the FAA guide:
The maintenance of lift and control of an airplane in
flight requires a certain minimum airspeed. This
critical airspeed depends on certain factors, such as
gross weight, load factors, and existing density altitude.
The minimum speed below which further controlled
flight is impossible is called the stalling speed. An
important feature of pilot training is the development
of the ability to estimate the margin of safety above the
stalling speed. Also, the ability to determine the
characteristic responses of any airplane at different
airspeeds is of great importance to the pilot. The
student pilot, therefore, must develop this awareness in
order to safely avoid stalls and to operate an airplane
correctly and safely at slow airspeeds. 
Slow flight could be thought of, by some, as a speed
that is less than cruise. In pilot training and testing,
however, slow flight is broken down into two distinct
elements: (1) the establishment, maintenance of, and
maneuvering of the airplane at airspeeds and in
configurations appropriate to takeoffs, climbs,
descents, landing approaches and go-arounds, and, (2)
maneuvering at the slowest airspeed at which the
airplane is capable of maintaining controlled flight
without indications of a stall—usually 3 to 5 knots
above stalling speed. 
Maneuvering during slow flight demonstrates the flight
characteristics and degree of controllability of an
airplane at less than cruise speeds. The ability to
determine the characteristic control responses at the
lower airspeeds appropriate to takeoffs, departures,
and landing approaches is a critical factor in
stall awareness. 
As airspeed decreases, control effectiveness decreases
disproportionately. For instance, there may be a certain
loss of effectiveness when the airspeed is reduced from
30 to 20 m.p.h. above the stalling speed, but there will
normally be a much greater loss as the airspeed is
further reduced to 10 m.p.h. above stalling. The
objective of maneuvering during slow flight is to
develop the pilot’s sense of feel and ability to use the
controls correctly, and to improve proficiency in
performing maneuvers that require slow airspeeds.
Maneuvering during slow flight should be performed
using both instrument indications and outside visual
reference. Slow flight should be practiced from straight
glides, straight-and-level flight, and from medium
banked gliding and level flight turns. Slow flight at
approach speeds should include slowing the airplane
smoothly and promptly from cruising to approach
speeds without changes in altitude or heading, and
determining and using appropriate power and trim
settings. Slow flight at approach speed should also
include configuration changes, such as landing gear
and flaps, while maintaining heading and altitude. 

This maneuver demonstrates the flight characteristics
and degree of controllability of the airplane at its
minimum flying speed. By definition, the term “flight
at minimum controllable airspeed” means a speed at
which any further increase in angle of attack or load
factor, or reduction in power will cause an immediate
stall. Instruction in flight at minimum controllable
airspeed should be introduced at reduced power
settings, with the airspeed sufficiently above the stall to
permit maneuvering, but close enough to the stall to
sense the characteristics of flight at very low
airspeed—which are sloppy controls, ragged response
to control inputs, and difficulty maintaining altitude.
Maneuvering at minimum controllable airspeed should
be performed using both instrument indications and
outside visual reference. It is important that pilots form
the habit of frequent reference to the flight instruments,
especially the airspeed indicator, while flying at very
low airspeeds. However, a “feel” for the airplane at
very low airspeeds must be developed to avoid
inadvertent stalls and to operate the airplane
with precision.
In you didn't read all of that, the FAA also points out that learning to fly at slower than normal speeds is also a requisite for learning to takeoff and land the airplane.

We spend about five minutes at it. The short span was because 1) I really just wanted to introduce Jeff to the concept so he could reflect on it prior to our next flight, 2) I don't like doing it in the RV-12 because a small (but not indiscernible) amount of exhaust creeps into the cockpit, and 3) we had an appointment with Co-pilot Egg.

With the radio tuned to the destination Unicom, I could tell that our arrival would be to a relatively busy airport. I narrate what I learn from listening to the chatter in the hopes that Jeff will start to learn how to build a mental picture of what's going on at the destination long before we get there, one of my pet peeves being arrivals that barge into the pattern with no clue as to the current situation and then simply demand "an advisory" to make up for their own shortfall. We had already consulted the automated weather observation and learned that the winds were light out of the east. That indicated a landing on runway 10, but by monitoring the Unicom we learned that there was a helicopter flying right traffic touch and goes to runway 28, apparently willing to accept a slight downwind on landing. I guess I would be fine with that too if my touchdown speed was the same as theirs, which is to say zero knots.

Another arrival, this one a Cessna, also was setting up for a 28 arrival, possibly due to having to work his way around the helicopter. There were also jump planes jumping up and down to drop parachutists into the mix. I keyed the mic and reported our position as seven miles west, inbound for left traffic, runway 28.  A brief pause, then something unusual came back in reply:

"Experimental two eight four delta golf?"

I replied back in confirmation of that being our tail number.

"Hi Daddy!"

Ah, so our appointment would be on time. I replied back with a quick "Hi, Egg."

 the Cessna had landed by the time we, but the helicopter was still parked on the runway.  He finally flew off as we made our turn from left base to final.  The wind was definitely noticeable on our tail as we came down the final approach, but not too much to really matter. The landing was fine and we were able to make the midfield turnoff.  Egg met us at the plane.

Egg had been talking to the local airport mavens and had learned of a small museum on the airport premises. We decided to take a look, and having loaded up into her tiny little car, would also head into town for brunch. The museum was nearly as small as her car, but what was lacking in quantity was offset by variety. I would share some pictures, but the cell phone only manage to capture two before some unreported malfunction caused all of the others to just be black rectangles.  It was a bad day for photo-journalism.

This is a Folland Gnat Mk 1:

Jeff had expressed an interest in buying a kayak, so despite knowing that it would cause a flood of puerile jokes from Egg, I suggested that we follow up our brunch with a visit at the nearby Dick's Sporting Goods. After that, it was back to the airport for the short flight back to Bolton.

Monitoring the tower frequency, it seemed that there two Cessnas in the pattern doing touch and goes, and that the active runway had changed from our calm-air departure on runway 4 to a six knot wind favoring runway 22. Coming from the east, I had figured on being given either a midfield left downwind for 22 as the least likely possibility, and a left base entry for 22 as the most likely. What I failed to consider was that our diversion to the south to get around Rickenbacker would actually put us southeast of the airport, where an entry into the left downwind would be the most expedient course. Having misreported our position, we were given the expected entry into the left base, but we were in actuality far south of a location from which that would easily work. I took over the controls and headed north while still well outside of the tower's area of concern.

Knowing we were going to be trying to fit into the pattern soon, he directed one of the touch and goes to make right traffic, thus clearing a path for us to follow the other Cessna, he being already at midfield left downwind. The tower was going to be expecting us to fit in between the two Cessnas. To make that match work, I needed to get in place quickly, so I stoked the furnace back up to full steam. It all turned out fine; we followed the first Cessna, the second was instructed to extend his left downwind until the tower cleared him to turn base, and I made an expeditious approach by keeping our speed up well into the base leg, then landing precisely far enough down the runway to allow for a very efficient clearing of the runway at the first usable taxiway.  It ended up being somewhat more efficient than the tower had expected - there was a pretty big gap between our clearing the runway and the second Cessna landing.

Still, it was a very good example of monitoring the airwaves, determining how events are likely to turn out, and the utility of being able to manage the approach and touchdown point to suit the current needs.

That said, it was not a good example of accuracy in position reporting.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers Day

As I don't get all wrapped up in what I call "Hallmark Holidays," I don't expect or demand much out of Fathers Day, but if it means Co-pilot Egg is willing to spend some time with me doing stuff that perhaps only I consider to be fun, then who am I to argue?  Not that I can ever win an argument anyway...

In a fairly rare twist of meteorological serendipity, we had three glorious days of good weather aligned perfectly with the three days that I had to spend recreationally, which is diametrically opposed to the normal pattern which finds me observing good weather wistfully from behind the obstructing layer of an office window. 

So.... flying!

We started with an early morning flight down south to Portsmouth where we would have breakfast with the father/son Jackson Two. (1)  From there, we would come north as far as Circleville (2), where we would buy gas. That leg would also keep us clear of the Brush Creek MOA for the next leg.  From Circleville, we would head to the west to visit my parents (3), and from there backtrack to the east to return home (4).

Egg flew the first leg, but there wasn't much for her to do. The air was glass smooth, so she really only had to concentrate on tracking the GPS and maintaining altitude, neither of which is particularly challenging for her - she's been able to do that since early childhood. It's time to start weaning her off of the panel as her sole means of reference, though.

Breakfast was at the Skyline Restaurant, which is actually a diner located right on the Portsmouth airport rather than one of the more enticing but far less apt for breakfast Skyline Chili franchises that are common in southwest Ohio.

Since Egg was buying, I splurged ($7.95) on the steak and eggs. I always get a kick out of them asking how I want the steak cooked, because no matter what I say it comes out two levels above well done. Still tasty, though, but more than a little chewy.

The flight back north to Circleville was a good opportunity to exercise the autopilot. I like to use it now and again to make sure that it's working.  The Traffic Information Service (TIS) came in handy when it reported an airplane coming right at us at only a 200' altitude differential. This proved a good example to demonstrate the difference between Nav hold and Track hold. Nav hold would have kept us centered on the purple line that showed a direct course from Portsmouth to Circleville. Track hold just goes wherever I put the light blue marker (called a 'bug' in the parlance) that you can see on the right side of the screen, up at the top just under the '011' in the magenta box. I just dialed in a 15 degree offset to provide spacing from the oncoming traffic.

The long leg from Circleville to Darke Co. - Versailles was also an autopilot leg. Egg was feeling a tetch queasy in the belly and the ride was getting a little rough at the lower altitudes, so we climbed up to the smooth air at 6,500'. That was also high enough to keep us clear of the controlled airspace around Dayton. It was a nice ride, but there's no Netflix on the Dynon (yet - I have high hopes for version 15 firmware) so the co-pilot amused herself by seeing how much of the world the Dynon knows about.

The answer is "a lot!"  We were only 5,656 miles from Japan!

We flew over Springfield-Beckley which is where I did my tuition-paying six years in the Ohio Air National Guard after I had finished my five years in the active duty Air Force. Back then they had a squadron of A-7s, which were eventually replaced by F-16s. To all appearances, they seem to now have a squadron of nothing at all.

Another fine use for the 'Track' mode on the autopilot - this time we offset our arrival at KVES to put us in position for a left downwind to runway 9.

The winds were picking up a bit, so I tried out my new tiedown straps.  They're miles too long - I'm going to have to cut off some of the excess strap, or get some kind of Velcro wrapping straps.

We brought our small airplane-sized fishing gear, but I hadn't had a chance to stop anywhere for live bait. We compromised and picked up a little can of meat that is so atrociously smelly that it's more than a little surprising to learn that it actually isn't bait, and/or cat food.

It ultimately proved to be useless as bait - it wouldn't stay on the hook. She ended up using the "bait" as bait for better bait - she dumped out the sausages and used the can for digging up worms. Must have learned survival skills from Lost or Walking Dead or something - damn sure didn't learn it from me! I want fish, I go to Long John Silvers.

When we got back to the airport for the flight home, we found winds that were far in excess of forecast: 9 gusting 20, out of the south. This was bad news in a number of ways, but the two primary causes of concern were the direction and the relatively large difference between the constant state wind speed and the gust speed.  The direction was bad because winds from the south get all roiled up by the stands of trees on the south side of the east-west runway. The large-ish variance in the constant/gust wind strength means that when the gusts hit, it's like a linebacker blind tackling you from the side.

The takeoff in those conditions was, in a word, crappy.  Early in the roll on the runway 27 departure, the turbulent air tumbling over the trees gave me fits in trying to find the right about of brake pressure needed on the right side brake to counteract the left turning tendency brought on by the wind. We ended up drifting pretty significantly left of the center line. Then, just as we were reaching the speed where I could transition to steering with the rudder, we cleared the trees and got blindsided by a strong gust. That drove us even further to the left. I plopped in a big steaming mess of right rudder, but by that time the wing was starting to carry enough of the weight of the airplane that the tires had very little grip. That caused quite a bit of sliding, which tires being tires, came with a healthy dose of squealing, matched in frequency and intensity by the co-pilot. Just after that, I got the plane into the air, hoping that I would have more control in pure flight mode than in the grey area of almost flying, still "driving."  That would have worked out better if we hadn't also simultaneously hit a little downdraft that pushed us down the two or three inches of vertical separation from the pavement that we had achieved, right back onto the runway. The tires resumed their squawling, but at an even louder, more obnoxious level. Not for long, though, as two bounces were enough to launch us back into the ever more forgiving air.

We flew back to the east at 4,500' where there was still some chop, but nothing untoward. By the time we got back to Bolton, the winds were back down to a more manageable eight or nine knots. It was still a bit of work to land, but nothing unusual.

With a little more Fathers Day remaining in the bank, I then did what ground-bound dads do: turned on the U.S. Open, and took a nap.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Another student?

I have shifted course a bit on the pursuit of Project Pilot. The more enmeshed I got in the process of preparing for the written, oral, and flying tests required to achieve certification as a flight instructor, the more stressed I became. There is a lot to learn, far more than I had assumed. For example, I figured that written tests ought to be a breeze - how hard can Fundamentals of Instruction be for a guy that aced Psych 101, right? And I passed my IFR written test with a 98 - surely the pilot knowledge test wouldn't be that much harder. And the flying? Dude, 800+ hours. I know now to fly. Or thought I did, anyway.

A little studying in the prep guides and a flight with an instructor disabused me of those notions. This is going to be hard.

I don't shirk from hard work - I do it every day when dealing with the vagaries and outright hostility of computer hardware and software. With no higher authority to appeal to, the buck stops with me when it comes to apparently unsolvable, intractable problems. There is no small amount of stomach-churning stress in being faced with a very thorny problem that makes me wonder if I can solve it at all, and having no one to turn to for help. So no, it was not the apparent difficulty that concerned me, at least not in and of itself.

No, it's a question of time. Time, and overall capacity.  I got to thinking that I am just too busy with day to day stuff to spend hours studying. But I started down that path anyway, only to find something in the chapter about FAA regulations that gave me pause: the CFI certification only lasts for two years, after which I would have to re-certify, which would entail going through a lot of this all over again.  There is an "out" for people that can maintain their currency by taking five students all the way through checkride within the preceding two years, 80% of whom have to pass on the first try.

I am never going to be able to maintain that level of currency, at least not until the day when I can throw off the shackles of a full-time day job.

With all of that looming over the horizon, I had to re-assess why I am doing this in the first place.  The answer to that was easy enough: because I enjoy it!  Certified or not, I am free to teach people to my heart's content. They just can't officially log the time. The obvious decision was to defer the CFI training until such time as I am ready for it.

Reaching that decision should have felt like having a heavy burden lifted from the preternaturally slight shoulders, but there was a snag: Jeff.

Having started well down the path of getting him licensed, I felt like I would be abandoning him. It isn't in my nature to deliberately strand someone, or to back out of a deal, not matter how informal the contract is. That was something that would require a great deal of thought, so I did what I usually do in situations like this: I thought about it while mowing the yard.

I decided that it wasn't that raw of a deal for him after all, although I still felt more than a slight twinge of guilt over it. The reality of it, though, is that he is only out-of-pocket from the Private Pilot training videos that I encouraged him to buy, and I still contend that those were a wise, long-term investment. I bought them for myself too, using the same logic. They are great for keeping my knowledge of the more arcane aspects of flying up to date.

On the brighter side, I thought, if he does decide to pursue a rating through a "real" CFI, he will have the benefit of a great head start. The minimum hours for an LSA rating are 15 hours dual, 5 hours solo. It is pretty rare for a brand new student with no experience at all to get the rating in the minimum hours. In fact, I think you could safely add 30% to those hours to arrive at a more accurate figure. If I keep flying with him, it should be a breeze for him to get through in the minimum time, which would equate to a significant cost savings. Using a CFI with a Commercial rating would also allow those hours to be applied to a Private Pilot's license, would not be true of the hours logged with me. The hourly rate of a paid CFI is the same either way.

I have decided to head down the same path with Co-pilot Egg. She has been flying with me for her entire life, and being able to teach her how to fly as a pilot rather than a participating passenger was one of the reasons I selected the RV-12 as my airplane to build.

We had our first "lesson" last night.

In the interest of time, we skipped the traditional first ground lesson, which is where we would have very slowly gone through the preflight inspection. We got a fairly late start, and we had to be back on the ground before Civil Twilight, which is typically 28 - 30 minutes after sunset. We would have to be back on the ground no later than 9:28 pm.

Building on my experience with Jeff, I anticipated that she would not be able to much more than fly in a general direction and hold an altitude of "whatever."

For the first few minutes, that proved true. This was only her second time flying in the new plane, and her first ever time flying from the left seat. That caused a little bit of consternation, but within ten minutes she settled down and her prior years of flying by reference to the instruments paid off: we were on course and on altitude, and staying that way.  She was so comfortable cruising along following the course to Jackson (I43) that I mixed things up a little bit and asked her to turn left to a heading of one two zero.

That through her for a (metaphorical) loop.  It is clear that we are going to have to talk about compass headings and the like. Her skill at piloting the plane had caused me to forget that she has not had any book learning to back it up. On the plus side, she accomplished the turn quite well.

By the time we landed on filled up the tank, time was running short. That presented a problem as neither of us had eaten. Fortunately, we know people in Jackson and we were able to borrow a car. Egg insisted on driving, but again was met with an unexpected level of complexity - we borrowed a very nice yet thoroughly modern car that was intimidatingly fraught with fancy screens and such.

Once we got rolling, she felt much better about it all.

The airport in Jackson is very rural, so the empty roads suited her initial trepidation at being behind the wheel of a much larger and heavier car than she is used to.

I have to admit to being somewhat worried by the fact that my nurse-in-training loudly proclaimed her excitement at seeing "Horses!"

Said concern is mitigated by the fact that she is not my veterinarian-in-training.

After an absolutely hideous dinner from the local Dairy Queen, we were able to socialize for a half hour before the pressure of the setting sun forced us to embark for our trip back to the north. The view was quite spectacular!

We landed with fifteen minutes to spare.

To be continued...


From the mail bag:
Your CFI does need to be renewed every 2 years, however there is still an easy way to do that. If you log on to the American Flyers website, they charge $100 for a lifetime membership to their online flight instructor refresher course. All you need to do is go online every 2 years and click through their presentation, there are tests after each section but they are easy and open note. They also can be redone until you pass them. If you have the motivation to get your CFI, keeping it current/renewed is no big deal. On the other hand, teaching without it can be rewarding as well.