It has been much, much, MUCH too long since I’ve written about my journey to getting my Private Pilot’s certificate! And so much has happened since then that I can’t wait to tell you about. Life’s been busy and I haven’t been making the time to blog like I want to. I’ll finish catching you up where we left off.
After my dual cross-country on August 11, 2015, I went up a few other times to practice maneuvers and landings.
One day I SO wanted to get up in the air (I know…shocking…I ALWAYS want to get up there!), but it was pretty windy and gusty. I texted Ted, saying that maybe I shouldn’t fly? He said probably not, but did I want to practice some crosswind landings with him?
Is this even a question?! I said absolutely, if he was available!
He replied, “Funny girl! I’ll be there in ten!”
Once he got there, we taxied out to the runway, but when we did the engine run-up and checked the magnetos, one of them was running really rough. For my non-flying friends, that is not a good thing! You have two magnetos supplying voltage to the spark plugs so that you have a back up in case one should go out during flight. So you don’t really want to start out your flight with one already running badly.
So we went back to the hangar and took off the cowling and cleaned the spark plugs…and I got to help 🙂 Ted showed me out to clean out the lead build up, sandblast, wire brush, and put them back on the plane.
When we were finished, Ted asked me if I wanted to test it out. I said yes (of course!) and he laughed, “Of course you do!”
So we got to practice crosswind landings after all!
Anna wanted a flight for her birthday, so I paid Ted to give her a flight lesson (and I sat in the back of the plane, because who is going to pass up a chance to go flying?!).
Anna loved it. Ted told me I could give Anna the safety briefing and show her how to use the seatbelts and latch the doors. Instead of trying to explain it to her, I decided I’d show her, so I told her, “Okay, Anna, get in there!”
Ted laughed and said, “What kind of briefing is THAT?!”
Anna replied, “A sister briefing!”
“But you helped her!” I protested.
Ted showed Anna how to use the shoulder harness (which is nothing like a shoulder harness in a car and took me several lessons to master 😀 ), and he told her, “Now, this took Jessica a long time to figure out!” Then he helped Anna adjust it and said, “Look at that! She got it right away!”
As Anna taxied out, Ted told me, “Jess, you need to take a lesson here…see how well she’s doing!” 😀
“Okay,” I replied, “I’m taking notes!”
Once we got up in the air, Ted told Anna to find our house. Anna looked around and said, “I have no idea where I am!”
Ted laughed and said, “You’re just like your sister! You must be related!”
Which is so true…I get lost so easily! I can be facing east, knowing I’m facing east, but my internal compass is telling me that I’m facing west. It’s ridiculous! It’s getting a little better, and for some reason if I can visualize where Lake Michigan is, that somehow “recalibrates” my internal compass and I can get on track, lol! Also, I have since been comforted to know that I’m not the only pilot who gets lost if I don’t have a compass in front of me. One of my pilot friends shared the cartoon below and said she was the girl in the pink, and I felt so much better.
Give me a compass and Lake Michigan, and I’ll be okay.
Night Cross Country
My night cross-country is probably THE highlight of my training. There’s something magical about seeing the stars twinkle over you, and the city lights sparkle beneath you…it’s just amazing!
I hadn’t been up at night before this, and different members of the Mentone Flying Club told me how amazing it was and how much I would like it. Oh my goodness! It was amazing!
On August 20, 2015, I COULD NOT WAIT to get to the airport. I got everything ready and had supper and waited, and waited, and finally at 8:00 p.m. I announced to anyone in my family who was within earshot, “Alright!!! I’m LEAVING!”
(I told Ted about that when I got to the airport and he laughed and said, “You are so pathetic!” That is one of his favorite phrases to use on me 😀 )
I got to the airport around 8:15 but the sun hadn’t set yet. In order for flying at night to “count” in your logbook, you begin counting “night flight” one hour after sunset. Ted teased me that I was keeping him up past his bedtime 😀 We took off at 9:35, but before that we went over my flight planning and some other flying stuff while we waited for it to get dark enough.
Part of the requirements for getting your Private is that you have to complete at least 3 hours of night flight training, and you must fly at least one “cross country” flight of 100 nautical miles. (You might remember from my dual cross country post, but in order for flights to count as “cross country”, your destination must be 50 nautical miles from your starting point.)
So I planned a flight to Angola (KANQ), which is 60 nautical miles from Rochester (KRCR). But instead of just coming right back to Rochester, we went to Fort Wayne (KFWA) after we landed at Angola. That was my favorite! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My flight plan
We climbed up to 5,500 feet (MSL), and I could see the lights of Fort Wayne almost immediately…it was amazing! I had asked God to give me a clear night, and He definitely did. Like I said before…the stars twinkle above you, and the city lights sparkle beneath you….oooooohhhhh!
First, Ted had me practice finding my checkpoints. Finding towns is easier in the dark…they’re all lit up!!! I had picked Mentone and Warsaw as a couple of them, so after identifying them and checking with my sectional (map), Ted had me put on “the hood”. This might be like the Cone of Shame in aviation…it’s not all that fun to wear 😀 And the one that our club has is very old and uncomfortable. Trying to put a headset over the hood kept the seals around my ears from blocking all of the noise out, so it was loud, and then the hood kept sliding down too far, lol! It was an experience!
The purpose of the hood is so that you can’t see out the windows, and then you’re forced to only focus on the instruments. This simulates flying in a cloud, or any time visibility is bad. As a Private pilot, you aren’t allowed to purposely fly into these conditions, but they want to you to have at least some instrument training in case you would find yourself in that situation.
Here’s what a “hood” looks like (but this one looks more comfortable than the one I wore :D)
There’s a better option, called “foggles”. They do the same thing, only they’re more like wearing safety glasses that have had the top half of the lenses “fogged out”. It’s a lot easier to wear underneath a headset. However, at the time the hood was all we had. Later on someone donated some foggles to the club. (Thank you!!!).
So I flew for what seemed like a very long time “under the hood”. Ted hold me what altitude and heading to hold, and I had to keep checking to make sure that the gyro compass was lining up with the magnetic compass. Gyro compasses like to precess and can start to show the wrong heading, so you have to realign the gyro compass to match the magnetic compass.
Sometime while flying the airplane, listening to (and trying to understand) the chatter on the radio, and having this hood on my head. I suddenly felt overwhelmed. I felt overwhelmed a lot during my training, but never so much that I wasn’t still having fun. It was the kind that was challenging and enjoyable. I always reminded myself to only focus on what Ted was giving me at the moment. If I started thinking about all that I still needed to learn, it was too much.
But for the first time, I felt discouraged and overly overwhelmed.
Thoughts started going through my head. “Ted says that you’re getting closer to taking your checkride…but you don’t feel ready. You can’t even understand what they’re saying on the radio right now! And you want to fly bigger planes someday?”
I suddenly realized where this was coming from. This was not the regular overwhelm I was used to feeling. This was discouraging-beat-you-down-you’ll-never-make-it kind of overwhelm. I’m not someone who is looking for a devil behind every bush (or every cloud in this case, ha! ), but I do believe we do have an enemy who likes nothing better than to steal our joy. It seemed like a long while, but I think it was probably only a couple of minutes when I finally realized where this was coming from.
I said, “Alright…get OUT of this plane. I’ve been looking forward to this flight for a long time and you’re not going to ruin it.”
And he did 🙂 The devil did. Not Ted. I wanted Ted to stay in the plane 😀
Only I didn’t say it so Ted could hear it…I didn’t want to freak him out.
After that…I enjoyed every minute. It was still overwhelming…but I was having fun!
We made it to Angola, and I clicked on the runway lights before we landed. You’re going to laugh, but I think it’s so much fun to turn them on from the air. You have the power!!!
If you click the mic button 3, 5, or 7 times in a row (for low, medium, and high intensity) while your radio is tuned to that airport’s frequency, it will turn on the runway lights, or brighten them. It’s pretty cool to click your mic and see a runway appear!
(A side note…once I was driving by Rochester at night and saw the runway lights. I subconsciously reached around my steering wheel so I could brighten the lights…and I realized I was in my car…not the plane. Rats!)
I landed, taxied back, took off, and landed again at Angola. The second time I took off Ted had me do a “best angle of climb” take off. Which means your airplane’s nose is pretty high in the air, and you’re climbing more steeply. This type of climb is good if you have trees or other obstacles that are near the end of the runway that you don’t wish to run in to 😉
Below is a diagram that illustrates this:
Next, we headed to Fort Wayne. I remember noticing that the Fort Wayne approach controller was a lady 🙂
She then handed us off to the tower controller, and he told me to tell him when I had the runway in sight. It was having trouble picking it out with all of the city lights around, so they asked if I’d like them to brighten the lights for me.
OHMYGOODNESS! I suddenly saw it light up beside me…like, “Tada…here it is for you!” 😀 It was like Christmas…the centerline was all lit up and it was beautiful!
This is actually a picture of Nashville from when I went to the conference, but this post NEEDED a night flight picture 😉
The tower told me to let him know when to dim the lights (the bright lights can be a bit too bright when you’re landing), so when I told them to, they dimmed down, and Ted told me, “Look at that! You have the power!” 😀
As we were landing I was thinking to myself, “We’re flying into Fort Wayne International!!! I’m actually landing on their 11,000 foot runway in my little airplane!”
We did a full stop landing. And the runway is so long (almost two miles), that I just took off again right from my landing spot instead of taxiing back to the beginning of the runway. Then I came around and did it again.
Two more night landings, and two more tower landings…DONE!
As we were flying back to Rochester, I thought to myself, “I’m one of those airplanes up in the night sky!!! I’m one of those little flashing lights I see at night! This is AMAZING!”
I could hardly believe that I got to be “one of those lights”, too!
Not long after we took off out of Fort Wayne, Ted said, “Oops! You’re electricity went out!” and he shut off the GPS and the instrument lighting.
Oh dear! A simulated electricity failure!
He had brought along a flashlight, so I flew most of the way to Rochester with a flashlight in my left hand so that I could see the instruments. Then he had me start picking out my checkpoints again…I didn’t have a GPS to tell me exactly where I was anymore.
He’d ask, “What town do you think this is?”
I’d look at my map and guess, “North Manchester?”
He’d reply, “Okay.” As if to say, “If you say so.”
I was thinking, “No, no! TELL me for sure which town it is!” But I knew why he wasn’t telling me if I was correct or not…he wanted me to rely on myself instead of on him to verify that I was navigating correctly.
He also kept on me to stay exactly on my heading, because between holding a flashlight to look at instruments and looking down at my map, I would drift off a couple of degrees, and then correct it, drift, and correct.
So it went for a while, until he pointed to a town to the right of us and asked me, “What town do you think this is?”
I looked, and I thought to myself, “Oh no! I’ve drifted off so much, that’s Rochester!”
Rochester should have been in front of me, but here was a town to the right that looked so much like Rochester. I thought I saw a black area which would be Lake Manitou, and I saw the airport beacon as well. I told Ted I thought it was Rochester, so he said, “You can go and find out!”
So I completely turned off of my heading and went towards the airport beacon.
Yep….there’s the lake…there’s the airport beacon…wait a minute….I don’t know where we are…but this is not Rochester! That was not a lake…it was a field!
What did I tell you about getting lost?! 😀
Ted showed me how to use the VOR to pinpoint where I was (I talk about that in the last post if you want to know how this works 😉 )
Well…I was over WARSAW!!! Good grief! However, I was glad he let me “get lost” and that I got to practice “finding myself” 🙂 It was also a good lesson to stay true to your heading.
We finally landed at Rochester at 12:04 a.m. Poor Ted! He of course kept teasing me that he was tired and old and I was keeping him out past his bedtime. 😀
When we stopped to fuel up, he was trying to put the shoulder harness up, and they do not retract nicely like they do in your car. You have to fold them and put them in a holder “just so” over the door. He said, “I’m going to hang myself on this shoulder harness you make me wear!”
I replied, “Well, you make me make you wear it!”
“Don’t confuse me!” he said. “Remember, I’m tired and I’m old!”
Anna for some reason thinks that Ted looks like Hans Solo from Star Wars. She had told me to “tell Hans Solo” that she said hi. I passed along the message, and he thought that was pretty funny. Then he said, “Hans Solo…man…those movies were made way before you girls’ time. I see what she’s saying now, she’s saying I’m OLD!“
I replied, “Well, Anna likes Hans Solo, so I think it was supposed to be a compliment!”
We put the plane away, and then we debriefed. I didn’t get home until 1:00 a.m., and Mommy was so kind to wait up for me and let me excitedly talk her ear off for another hour! I didn’t get to bed until 2:oo a.m. 😀
When we were taxiing back to the hangar and Ted asked me, “So, do you think you’re ready to do your solo cross country?”
I replied, “Uhhhhhhh…..”
“Yes,” he answered for me, “yes you are!!!”
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