Flight Lesson #6 – Landing in Downtown Kansas City (MKC)

October 6, 2011

Flight Hours: 1.1

Hours to Date: 6

It’s a nice Thursday morning, perfect for getting a little flight time in.  Today we’ll be heading to the Downtown Kansas City Airport (MKC) to work on landings.  Lots and lots of landings.

I’m excited to fly into MKC for this lesson because it’s such a cool airport.  It’s nestled in the heart of downtown Kansas City, between a series of bends in the Missouri river.  It’s a multiple-runway airport and while not as busy as a major commercial airport,  it can still see a significant amount of traffic moving in and out throughout the day.

A view of Downtown KC from the ramp at MKC airport

Up to this point, I’ve been practicing landings at relatively low-traffic airports which has made communications with the tower and navigating the traffic pattern a fairly straight forward task.  Flying into MKC, however, should prove to be a bit more difficult as I’ll have to deal with a) busier air-traffic controllers who will be speaking a lot more quickly they may give me instructions that I haven’t encountered yet, b) more traffic in the pattern at the same time, and c) a more difficult visual reference set to deal with in regards to making 90-degree pattern turns.

The first thing you notice when flying into MKC, other than the downtown KC skyline, is the fact that the runways are offset.  Rather than the straight north-south (360 – 180, or runway 36/18) I’m used to, MKC’s are on a heading of 010-190 (runway 1/19) and 030-210 (runway 3/21), meaning they’re angled slightly to the northeast (or southwest depending upon which way you’re coming from).  When approaching the airport for a straight-in landing, this isn’t really that much of a big deal since you’ll be lined up with the runway all the way in.  What does make it tricky, however, is that your visual reference points have to be realigned.  Typically when you’re turning on the various legs of the traffic pattern (departure leg to crosswind leg, crosswind to downwind, downwind to base, and base to final approach) you can use roads around the airport to help serve as visual reference points to make sure you’re squared up with the runway.  Roads are great visual markers since the vast majority of the time they run straight north, south, east, and west, and the consistent spacing between city blocks makes them great references for judging your distance from the runway while in the pattern.  When the runways are offset from the roads, you’ve got to deal with the resulting optical illusion while avoiding the temptation to look straight ahead and follow the road, rather than look out your window at the runway the whole time.  If you rely on the roads you’ll end up with the problem of either drifting away from or moving in closer to the runway itself, making your next turn(s) a bit trickier.  As an example, if you’re following a road that runs due north while flying left traffic (making left turns on each of the pattern legs) to land on runway 21 (southeast), you’re going to end up moving progressively closer to the runway and your turns from downwind to base and from base to final will end up being tighter than you would otherwise want.  Making sharp turns while flying in the pattern is especially dangerous because it puts you at greater risk of stalling and maybe even spinning.  When flying in a steep bank, you have to keep your plane flying faster to maintain enough lift to keep from stalling.  If you were on your base leg and you happened to already be at your final approach speed of 65 kts and then had to enter into a steep banking turn in order to get aligned with the runway, you’re suddenly teetering on the verge of a stall at only ~500 feet above the ground.  It’s a recoverable situation, but definitely not one you’d like to find yourself in.

National Airline History Museum's Lockheed Super G Constellation at MKC

We go wheels up from OJC at around 0830 and, just as with my first lesson, directed my flight path towards downtown KC’s MKC airport.  The air is pretty unstable today so the ride is pretty bumpy and I’m already starting to think about how tricky things are going to be trying to bring my Cessna down into a busy airport while trying to contend with turbulence.

As we hit the border of OJC’s airspace we call the tower and request a frequency change.  This will effectively sign us off of the OJC controller’s screen and allow us to contact MKC’s tower for clearance into land.  It’s a pretty short trip between OJC and MKC, only about 20 miles, so the transition between control towers is a pretty quick one.  At about 10 miles I call up the controller to let him know that we’re 10 miles to the south, inbound for stop and go’s.  He tells me to enter a right pattern for runway 19 and to call when entering the downwind.  We bounce along at 3,500 feet and start a slow descent towards 1,800 feet which will be our pattern altitude.  Crossing the Missouri river, we’re now on the downwind portion of the traffic pattern so I call the tower and am cleared for the option on runway 19 which means I can do a stop and go, touch and go, or make a full landing and taxi to the ramp.  Austin and I decide to make this one a stop and go so I can practice setting the plane down and then run through the flow check (check fuel selector, fuel shutoff, flaps, and gauges) without being too rushed prior to setting off again.  I make the turn to base and then to final and am on a decent glide path to land.  As I get closer to the runway the turbulence really starts picking up, likely from the wind swirling up and around the buildings of downtown.  It’s really bumpy, especially for a newby like me, but I plod on down towards the ground anyway.  It’s at this point I experience two problems: 1) I’m trying to correct for every single bump along the way.  If a wind gust kicks me to the left, I try to yaw us to the right and correct with ailerons.  Wind to the right, I kick rudder and aileron to try and get us back to the left.  It’s basically the equivalent of someone ratcheting the steering wheel hard to the right or left to correct for a small drift while driving on the freeway.  One thing’s for sure, doing this too much won’t make anyone happy; not me, and especially not someone prone to airsickness.  Austin tells me to just keep a grip on the controls and to fly through the bumps and to not try and over correct for every little jolt along the way.  Problem number 2 is the fact that it can be kind of tough to accurately judge your forward momentum versus your rate of descent as you approach the runway.  It really looks like I have us lined up to touch down just past the numbers, but Austin is chattering in my ear that I’m on a path to put us down closer to the edge of the runway, well in front of the numbers.  I swear (in my mind, not out loud) that my eyes are telling me that we’re headed just past the numbers, but sure enough, we start drifting down at the edge of the runway so I make the instinctive move and try to pull up ever so slightly.  This, however, is a mistake.  We’re already slightly below our normal touchdown speed and pulling the yoke back is only going to bleed even more airspeed, meaning we’ll sink even faster and touch down even sooner.  I add a bit of power and Austin gives me an assist by easing the yoke forward and sure enough, we glide forward and touch down just past the numbers.  This instinctive pulling-up move is going to be somewhat difficult to break, I’ll just have to make sure I coach myself to be more disciplined and think about the laws of physics instead of the laws of Playstation (or X-Box or Wii).  With that assist from Austin, we touch down and slowly roll to a stop about 1/3 of the way down the 6,827-foot runway.  Bring the flaps up and then a quick check of the relevant gauges and control’s, followed by application of full throttle and we’re on our way again.

The airplane rotates at 55 kts and then we make our Vy departure at 74 kts, making a right turn to re-enter the traffic pattern once again.  This is where is gets a bit tricky.    The Cessna 172 is a high-wing plane which also means that as I make my right turn into the crosswind leg I can’t see the runway because my wing is in the way, making it difficult to figure out if I’m squared up or not.  Normally this isn’t too much of an issue because at the airports I’m used to I’ve got some good visual cues (roads, squared off acres of farmland, etc.) to tell me if I’m turning at a 90-degree angle to the runway or not.  Departing to the south from MKC, all I’ve got is a bendy river and a smattering of industrial buildings which means that I’ll have to go more by feel than by visual cues for now.  Anyway, I make the crosswind turn and then the turn to the downwind leg.  I’m a bit off kilter from the runway, flying at a bit of an obtuse angle as I try to follow a straight line road when I should be flying parallel to the offset runway instead.  I make a quick adjustment and correct my heading as best as I can before calling to the tower for clearance to land once again.  Heading corrected, I put my thumb over the microphone button on the control yoke and get ready to make the call.  The problem is that the controller is busy talking to another airplane on approach.  By this time I’m well past the center point of the runway on the downwind and I still don’t have any kind of clearance.  I wait a few more seconds.  Controller is vectoring another plane now.  Dang.  I’m at the hash marks of the runway and still nothing.  Finally, the controller jumps in and tells me to extend.  In my mind I know what this should mean, but in the midst of my anxiety about not having clearance and my perceived rush to make the turn to base I draw a blank.  It doesn’t help that I haven’t heard this ATC command yet in my short time flying, so I give Austin a deer in the headlights look and he tells me to just stay on the downwind leg and that we’ll just make the turn to base as soon as the controller says its okay.  I look down at the runway and see another small plane taxiing onto the end of the runway for departure.  Ahhh, it makes sense now.  I’m glad I didn’t panic and stupidly make my base turn before being cleared.  I fly in this downwind leg for what seems like an eternity and the controller finally comes on and says I’m cleared in for the option on runway 19 again.  I acknowledge this command and start my base turn.  The problem now is that the runway is so far behind me I can’t see it out of my window and since I don’t have enough experience with ground markers at MKC I can’t accurately use ground references to make sure I’m making that nice, square turn I need to get set up for final approach.  So I make that right turn as quickly as I can in order to see where the runway is.  I do this and realize that I ended up squaring us off at some kind of funky angle which means I’ll have to make course corrections as I turn to final.  The good part is that I’m so far out from the runway at this point, I’ll have plenty of time to make those corrections.  The bad part is that I’m so far out from the runway at this point, I’ll have to think for a longer time on approach and I’ll have to deal with more bumps and jolts on the way down.

I make the turn for final approach and get us relatively lined up, but now I’m falling victim to an optical illusion.  When you’re in your car on the highway, you’re trained to drive squarely within your lane and to not straddle the dividing line or the lane markers.  If you’re driving on the left side of the road in the fast lane, you’ve got the visual marker of the solid line to your left to help guide your path.  But when landing an airplane you need to try and put your nose wheel down on the center line.  It doesn’t seem like that big of a difference in principle, but when you’re on approach to the runway there’s a small piece of your subconscious that tries to guide you over to the left (or right) so that you’ll be in your “lane” instead of straddling the line.  Looking at the runway, I feel like I’m lined up for the center line, but in all actuality I’m lined up to the left of center.  I guide us to the right just a bit, but now it feels like I’m sitting right on top of that line and my mind wants to take us back to the left again and we start drifting without me  realizing it.  The good thing is that Austin realized it and he gently reminds me that I need to correct the flight path to get us lined up again, which I do, and it feels weird yet again.  I figure out that my visual marker on approach will be such that it feels like the center line is running right underneath me.  I get that squared away and continue my glide path to runway 19 and yet again it’s bumpy and, yet again, I’m trying to correct for every one of those bumps along the way.  I yell at myself in my head to knock it off and to fly the plane instead of trying to fly the turbulence.  The runway gets closer and it looks to me like we’ll be touching down on the numbers.  Then Austin tells me it looks like I’m getting a little runway shy and, sure enough, our glide path starts to bring us down well before the numbers.  This is going to be a tough thing to get used to.  Maybe I should act like I’m aiming further down the runway instead, maybe that’ll help make it so I actually land where I want to land.  I add a bit of power to help stretch the approach, but this time I end up floating us long and I end up awkwardly putting us down almost halfway down the runway.  It’s a good thing this is a nice and long runway so I’ll still have room to take off without having to taxi off and then get reestablished.

This final approach looks a lot better than mine did...

We come to a stop on the runway, finish the flow check, and then head back up for another go.  I run into the same problems of finding turning references and busy controllers, and this pattern sequence sets me up almost exactly the same as the previous landing.  It really seems like the air traffic is picking up, so Austin says we should work in a couple of touch and go’s before heading on home.  So we do, and then we do.  One quick thought about touch and go’s though, they’re a little trickier than I thought they’d be since you have to continue rolling along the runway at a relatively high rate of speed while simultaneously checking your gauges and bringing the flaps up before applying full throttle and taking off again (60-65 kts feels fast if you’re new to the game and trying to fine-tune rudder coordination).  Since you have to lean well over to the right to bring the flaps up, you really have to focus on keeping your feet on the rudder pedals with the right amount of force to keep you tracking straight, instead of letting your left foot relax and slip off, shooting you to the right as a result.

All in all, this was a pretty decent flight.  I landed feeling pretty frustrated that I kept jacking up the glide path and overcompensating for the turbulence, but at the same time I was happy that it was somewhat of a stress inducing series of landings.  It seems like I learn better under pressure and in higher stress situations, so I think the lessons of the day will stick with me…I hope.

Next up:  Learning from a bad pattern and approach.

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Flight Lesson #5

October 5, 2011

Flight hours: 1
Total hours to date: 4.9

Had a nice 1-hour flight today, well, nice once I got off the ground that is.  I practiced a forward slip, engine failures, and landing setup.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be blatantly honest and say that I felt like a complete fool right before my pre-flight and I learned another important lesson as a result…ALWAYS CHECK YOUR TAIL NUMBER.

Up until this point, the airplane I’ve flown in has always been tied down in the same spot  on the ramp, and walking in to the flight school I glance over and notice my -172 sitting right where it should be in slot #2.  I head to the front desk, grab the keys and folder for 5258Y, check the squawk sheet and head out to the plane.  As I’m walking across the ramp, I’ve got my head down as I remove the plane keys from the folder.  Head still down, I walk to the plane, duck under the wing, open the door, and start to document the times listed on the tach and the Hobbs meter.  That’s weird, the numbers don’t match up at all.  I start to back out of the plane to double check the tail number when I hear “Uh, are you sure you’ve got the right plane?”.  Crap.  I pull my head out of the plane and standing behind me is another flight instructor with his student in tow.  Sure enough, I’m starting to do pre-flight on 1053X and not on 5258Y like I’m supposed to be doing.  I mumbled something completely inaudible and unintelligible, ducked my head in shame, and then did a Charlie Brown shuffle over to the next plane in line…5258Y.  Talk about feeling like an idiot and beginning the lesson with an inauspicious start.  Even worse was the fact that the student pilot was a physician who completed his fellowship at Duke and I had been wanting to talk to him since that’s where I did my residency.  Great introduction Hampton…  Oh well, lesson learned.  Always check your tail number!  What was confusing to me, however, was the fact that my key opened the wrong plane’s door.  Apparently some keys can be interchangeable which means I’ll need to exercise due diligence so I don’t succumb to the fallacy of “well, the key opened the door so it must be my plane”.  I definitely don’t want to be “that guy” that takes the wrong plane and leaves another student pilot stranded on the ground.  I don’t think that would make me a very popular guy around the flight school!

So with that misstep out of the way and after the requisite ribbing, Austin and I head out to the practice area to knock out some maneuvers.  First up:

I'll call this a slip...an extreme example (note right rudder deflection and left wing lowered) -Jason Newburg and his Pitts Viper @ Offutt AFB, 2011-

Forward Slip
The forward slip is kind of a fun maneuver that feels a little odd at first, primarily due to

the cross-control of ailerons and rudder required to execute the maneuver.  Before I get into that, here’s a little on what a slip is and how it can be beneficial.
An intentional slip can be a useful maneuver to, a) help reduce altitude without increasing airspeed (just like using flaps), and b) maintaining a straight track when flying in a crosswind.  The slip is a nice trick to pull from your bag if you’re coming in for landing on a runway where there are obstructions near the final approach portion of the landing pattern, if you’ve got to set the plane down in a hurry during an emergency (engine failure, forced landing, etc.), or in the event that you’ve got flap failure.
To properly execute a slip, you’ve got to dial up the perfect combination of forward movement and side movement so that you’re basically flying “sideways” but maintaining a straight track along the ground.  When you fly sideways, you’re altering the way in which the wind strikes the plane and this results in a significant increase in drag.  This increase in drag will decrease the ability for the airplane to climb, i.e., make it easier to descend.  So how do you perform a slip?  This is the fun part.  To be done correctly, these control inputs should occur simultaneously, but I’ll talk about them sequentially and work under the assumption that we’re flying straight at the time, i.e., that we’re using the slip to lose a little altitude without gaining speed; something that would be helpful if I were too high when coming in to land and I didn’t have any flaps to work with.
1.  Using the control yoke, lower one wing
2.  Using your feet, apply opposite rudder in an amount that will keep you tracking       straight over the ground
3.  If further altitude loss is needed, you can dip your wing even more but you need       to make sure that you add enough opposite rudder so that you keep moving         straight.
Typically, the amount you can lower your wing is limited by the amount of rudder travel you have available.  If you’ve got your left wing lowered at 10-degrees but you’ve got full right rudder already depressed, then you’ve hit your practical slip limit and you’re basically limited to that 10-degree bank.  Any additional aileron input beyond this point will result in a turn in that direction of the raised aileron (turn the yoke or move the stick to the left, the left aileron raises and left wing lowers).  That’s not good if you’re trying to maintain a straight track on a short final approach to land.
Today, I’ve got a pretty decent wind coming out of the west so Austin and I set up to practice slips to keep our track straight across the ground.  I mentioned earlier that it’s a pretty cool yet weird feeling, and I don’t think that’s too much of an overstatement.  We cruise along for a bit, flying directly along a road that we use as a guide to detect drift.  It only takes a few seconds to realize that the road is drifting further and further to the right even though it feels like I’m flying straight.  Time to try a slip!  First, I kick in some right rudder and get a shifty feeling in my stomach as the tail of my plane jets out to the left and the nose moves to the right, into the wind.  [I’ll stop here and prevent the loss of a man card by saying the shifty feeling I felt was a good, roller-coaster-like feel, not an “aw man I need a sick bag” feel.]  I simultaneously drop the left wing just a bit so that we maintain a straight track over the ground while maintaining my current altitude.  I do this for a few seconds when all of a sudden, Austin leans over and pulls the throttle to idle and tells me that I’ve got an engine failure.  Time to run through the emergency landing procedure and the mnemonic:

ALARMS
This mnemonic could be a life-saving one if there’s ever an engine failure so all student pilots need to get this committed to memory ASAP.
A – Airspeed
L – Landing Spot
A – Air restart
R – Radios
M – Mayday
S – Secure Aircraft

Trim wheel in my Cessna 172

Airspeed – Since I theoretically don’t have an engine at this point, I’ll need to adjust my pitch to maintain a best glide speed of 65-kts.  To help maintain this attitude, I’ll need to make liberal use of the trim wheel so I don’t have to fight with the yoke while I’m simultaneously trying to find a good landing spot.  My attention should be focused more on the outside so I can find that perfect spot to set the Cessna down, bringing us to…

Landing Spot – The best place to land would obviously be on an actual runway, so the first thing I’ll do is hit a button on the GPS receiver to see where the closest landing spot is.  One mile away?  That would be perfect!  Fifteen miles away?  I’m probably not going to make that, especially if I’m flying at only 3,500 feet.  So in the absence of a runway, I’ll be looking for a long stretch of road that’s free of power lines and telephone poles.  If that’s not available, I’ll look for a nice open field and ideally one that’s not littered with farm equipment or other obstacles.  If for some reason that’s not available I’ll start looking for other options like football fields, unpopulated parks, or any other flat stretch of land that’s sitting out there beckoning for a shiny Cessna 172 to perch upon.

Air restart – If I ever have a real engine failure in flight, there’s a chance I could get the engine restarted before having to undergo a forced landing so I’ll run through a quick flow check to try and bring that Lycoming engine back to life.  First, I’ll make sure the fuel shutoff valve is pushed all the way in.  Next, I make sure the fuel selector valve is set to “both” so that fuel is being pulled from both tanks.  Then I’ll try the auxiliary fuel pump in the event the engine-driven fuel pump has failed.  Finally, before I turn the key to restart the engine, I’ll make sure the fuel mixture is set to “rich”.  At this point, if the propeller is windmilling, the engine should start on its own.  If the prop isn’t spinning then I’ll turn the ignition to try and get it going again.  If it doesn’t start, then it’s time to commit to landing.

Radios – I’ll change my radio frequency to 121.5 and set the transponder to squawk 7700, the emergency frequency.

Mayday – After switching to 121.5 and squawk 7700, I’ll call out my position and intentions so that ATC is aware of the problem and help can be dispatched.

Secure Aircraft – I’ll need to make sure that seats are in the upright position, seat belts securely fastened, and tray tables up.  Quickly turn around (or have the passengers turn around) to make sure there isn’t anything heavy floating around in the back seat that could smack us in the back of the head during landing.  Then I’ll make sure the fuel lines are cut off so that I don’t inadvertently set off a fireworks display when setting the plane down.  Once I’m sure I’ve got a landing site squared away and landing is imminent, I’ll shut down all of the electrical equipment to reduce the risk of an electrical fire upon touchdown.

We finish this maneuver, but I feel like I’ll need to practice it a bit more because it’s really hard to get a feeling of a true emergency when I know that I’m not actually going to complete the procedure, i.e., force a landing, during practice maneuvers.  The sense of urgency that would be present during an actual emergency is hard to recreate in a controlled environment so I’ll have to coach myself to think it’s truly life or death during subsequent practice sessions.

[Since I’m already nearing 4-pages of long-windedness, I’ll just say that we returned to the airport to work on landing set up.  The next lesson will focus heavily on landings so I’ll wait until then to talk more about how to actually get set up for this as well as how to fly in the airport’s traffic pattern.]

Back at the airport, Austin signs off on my log book and I’m now up to 4.9 hours of flight time.  It’s not a lot, but it’s putting me closer and closer to my goal of getting my private certificate and ultimately my P-51!  (Assuming Hypersonic Supplements takes off that is…:) )

Sun rising on my dream. (P-51D "Gunfighter" of the Great Plains Wing of the CAF. Taken in Gardner, KS 2011)

Next up:  Landings at the KC Downtown airport in a busy traffic pattern and an offset runway.

Flight Lesson #4

Control yoke of my Cessna 172

September 28, 2011

Flight Hours: 1.1
Hours to date: 3.9

0800 on a Wednesday.  Air Associates of Kansas.  Kind of hoping for some wind today since the plan is to work on ground reference maneuvers and the windier it is, the more I’ll benefit.  But walking through the front doors of the flight school I look up at the windsock to see that it’s just hanging there motionless.  Absolutely no wind…  Oh well, at least flying the maneuvers in calm air will give me a bit extra practice and a better idea of how to fly the actual pattern.  Grab the keys, preflight N1053X, then Austin and I launch from runway 18 and head to the practice area for a relaxing morning flight.
On the docket today:  S-turns across a road, turns around a point, traffic patterns, and landing set-up.

S-Turns Over a Road
A Cessna 172 is a small plane and it’s very susceptible to the effects of wind….very susceptible.  Sometimes it feels like someone standing at the end of the runway blowing at my plane would knock me off course by about 10-feet.  So to say that a slight 5 to 10-knot wind can blow a pilot off course relatively easily is an understatement, especially if they’re not prepared to deal with the drift.  Making S-turns over a road is a maneuver that’ll help me compensate for wind drift while turning, I’ll learn to orient my flight path with references on the ground, follow an assigned path, arrive at pre-specified points on the flight path, and divert my attention so that I’m doing all of this at once.  Ideally, I’ll be using visual flight cues to maintain a constant altitude and airspeed instead of focusing on my gauges.  You really want to maintain vision outside of the cockpit so you can a) watch for traffic, and b) learn to develop a feel for visual and kinesthetic flight in the event your gauges ever quit working while in flight.  The only problem today is that there’s absolutely no wind.  On any other day I’d be ecstatic to be flying in such smooth air, but today I was really hoping to test my piloting skills in at least a stiff breeze.  That’s alright, I’ll save the turbulence for another flight.
This maneuver starts with me finding a nice, long, straight road that runs perpendicularly to the “wind” and I find a nice looking one running north-to-south.  The goal will be to fly directly across the road with my wings level on a heading of 270 (west) and then immediately start a 180-degree turn to the right.  I do a quick check of the altimeter and airspeed indicator (ASI) to get my baseline altitude and speed before entering into a 20-degree bank to start the turn.  Ideally, I’ll finish up on a heading of 090 (east) turn at a wings level attitude at the exact second that I cross the road again.  As soon as I get to this point, I start a 180-degree turn to the left and do the same thing, hoping to go wings level as soon as I hit the road again.  I finish these two turns, look down at my gauges and get pretty excited.  I finished off the maneuver at the exact altitude and speed as when I started!  Granted, this was a bit easier since I didn’t have any wind to contend with, but it was still gave me a feeling of accomplishment at having finished a relatively lengthy maneuver exactly the way I was supposed to.  I was able to use visual cues to help gauge my altitude, I used the sounds of the airplane to judge my airspeed, and I used kinesthesis and proprioception to judge whether we were “slipping”  or “skidding” in the plane.  [A slip is something that occurs if a pilot doesn’t use enough rudder during a turn.  When you enter a bank, you start by turning the yoke or moving the stick in the direction you want to turn.  As the turn begins, the wing lowers (the wing on the side in which you’re turning) and the raised aileron on that wing creates more drag than the opposite wing does (the raised wing).  This causes the airplane to want to yaw towards the direction of the raised wing (i.e., away from the turn).  To counter this, the you need to add coordinated rudder input in the same direction in which you’re turning.  Not enough rudder and the airplane skids or slips.  A skid leads to the feeling of being flung to the outside of the turn (kind of like when you take a high speed left-turn in a car and you have the feeling you’re moving towards the passenger door).  A slip is the feeling that you’re moving to the inside of the turn, like you’re falling out of your seat to the left in a left-hand turn.]
With the S-turn complete, I move on to:

Turns Around a Point
This maneuver will help me further develop the skills I learned while executing the S-Turn maneuver.  Using visual and physical references, I’ll pick a point on the ground and then try to fly a perfect circle around that point while maintaining airspeed and altitude.  To make sure I’m keeping that circle in order I’ll start my turn, dipping my wing so that the tip lines up visually with that point on the ground, in this case a water tower.  If my wingtip deviates from that point, I’ll know I’m off track and I’ll have to tighten or loosen the turn in order to get that wingtip lined back up again.  The entire time I’m in the turn, I have my eyes out the window and not on the gauges.  I have to rely on that engine sound to be my primary indicator if I’m gaining or losing altitude.  If I gain altitude, the RPM will drop a bit and the engine will get quieter.  If I lose altitude, my airspeed will increase, the RPM will increase, and the engine will get louder.
This maneuver is a bit tougher than the S-turns were since I have to keep a steady bank for a full circle instead of 2 half-circles separated by a significant control input.  At the end, it came out alright but I lost a couple hundred feet of altitude so it definitely could have been better.  It’s really amazing how quickly you can gain and lose altitude in an airplane.  Just a small deflection of the controls can shoot you up hundreds of feet before you know it.  You may not even realize you’re adding any control input at the time which can be very tricky, so finishing up the turn at 1,900 feet instead of 2,100 feet isn’t horrible, I guess…I’ll just have to try to tighten this up a bit because I think I may have to keep it within 50-100 feet of my original altitude when I ultimately take my check-ride with the inspector (I’ll have to look this up though…).

With ground reference maneuvers complete for the day, we change headings towards the New Century Airfield in Gardner, KS (roughly 10 miles to the southwest of Johnson County Executive) to practice some pattern work (flying in the airport flight pattern) and stop and goes (land, stop, then takeoff again).   Since we’re heading for a different airport, I have to change frequencies so I can get permission to land from the controller at New Century.  This means I have to grab the map of the airport that Austin fortuitously printed ahead of time and then find the frequencies I need to program in to the radio.  First, I need to dial up ASOS (Automated Surface Observing System) to get the latest weather and airport information.  Next, I dial in the tower frequency to let air traffic control who I am (Cessna 1053X), where I am (about 5-miles to the east), and what I want (to do stop and go).  The controller tells me that I’m cleared for a straight-in approach to runway 36 so I start getting prepped for landing.  When I’m about 2 miles out, the controller calls me to see if I’d mind changing things up a bit by entering into a left traffic pattern for runway 18.  No problem, just change my heading a bit and I enter into the downwind leg, turn base, then final and try to hold a nice steady glide path down to the surface of the runway.  The winds aren’t bad so that’s a plus, but even in this nice still air the plane starts buffeting around as we get closer to the ground.  I feel the need to try and correct for every bump and jolt, but all this does is make the ride even rougher and the approach more difficult.  I’m going to need to learn to just keep a firm but loose hand on the controls and resist the urge to overcompensate if I want to make these landings smooth…
I ease the Cessna in but it wants to drift to the right at the last minute which to the uninitiated, which I am, can be a bit unnerving.  The only thing on my mind at this time is that I get it it set down on the runway, tracking straight.  If I come in at an angle, it’ll put a huge side-load on the landing gear which is definitely not good.  Austin lends me a hand, we set it down, and then roll to a stop about 1/3 of the way down the runway and I get set to takeoff once again.  Before I do this, I need to roll through a quick “flow check” that consists of checking the fuel selector.  Set to both – check.  Flaps – up.  Mixture – rich.  Instruments – set and within normal limits.  Ease the throttle all the way in to 100% and we’re off!
We do this a couple more times before heading back home to OJC for the debrief. It was a pretty fun flight, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of aerial multi-tasking, but I really need to get a feel for the landings…

Next up:  More landings

Third Lesson: September 22, 2011

Flight Lesson 3
September 22, 2011

Flight Hours: 0.9
Hours to date: 2.8

Back from vacation, time to hit it hard!

Laurel Hill State Park - Pennsylvania

Wow, it’s hard to believe my last lesson was 2 entire weeks ago and it’s even harder to believe that aviation can gain such a firm hold on you in such a short time.  I’ve wanted to fly for what seems like forever and I’ve had to wait 33 long years to get to this point, but after only 2 relatively short lessons and 1.9 hours of flight time aviation has a grip on me that’s tighter than I thought was possible.  So tight, in fact, that I’m not sure how I survived to this point without flying on a regular basis!  There’s absolutely nothing like slipping into the left-hand seat, running through your pre-flight systems checks, turning the key and listening to the sweet sound of that engine roaring to life.  I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel (and sound) like to one day do that in my own Merlin-powered P-51 painted in the same colors of the fighter squadron that my Grandpa served in during WWII – The 78th fighter group, 82nd fighter squadron.  (I will earn one, I will earn one, I will earn one.  Just have to keep telling myself that and keep working hard to hit that goal…).  Anyway, on to the lesson.  Today we’re going to do power-on stalls, cover the HELL check, and work on spin recovery.

Austin and I sit down for our now standard pre-flight briefing to cover the maneuvers and then I’m off to take care of the pre-flight.  Walking across the ramp towards the plane, my steps seem to echo the sounds of “check…the…oil.  check…the…oil.  check…the…oil”, and I listen to them because I don’t want to feel like an idiot again.  Preflight (thankfully) goes off without a hitch and we taxi out to the runway, positioning the plane on the runway’s centerline for takeoff.  I close my eyes for a split second to visualize the takeoff run and think ahead to the different control inputs I’ll have to execute to maintain a nice, smooth climb out.  Eyes open.  Throttle to 100%.  Speed building.  Slowly add more right rudder.  55 knots.  Nose wheel up.  65 knots.  Main wheels up.  Little more right rudder.  Maintain steady pressure on the control yoke.  74 knots.  Climb to 1,600 feet and make a right turn towards the practice area.  This takeoff actually went pretty smoothly without too many deviations from our ideal rate of climb.  Now it’s time to practice some maneuvers.

HELL check
This is something we’ll do before every maneuver and it’s designed to keep us out of a certain place of the same name.  Just like in medicine, aviation utilizes a lot of acronyms to help streamline the pilot’s thought process while executing maneuvers, preparing for takeoff and landing, or dealing with emergencies.  This particular acronym is going to help make sure our airspace is clear, we’ve got the altitude we need to safely execute a maneuver, that our systems look good, and that we’ve got a potential spot to land in case of emergency.  In this case, HELL stands for:

H – Height (Do we have the altitude we need to maneuver?)
E – Engine (Is the engine running smoothly?  All gauges in the green?)
L – Location (Do we have a location to land if needed?  Runway?  Road?  Field?)
L – Look out (Look for other aircraft in the area)

After mentally putting a checkmark next to each step, we’ll execute a clearing turn in the form of either one 180-degree turn or two 90-degree turns to the right and left.  The purpose of this is to a) increase the visible profile of our airplane to make it easier for other aircraft in the area to see (and alert them to stay clear), and b) to make sure we’ve  looked a full 360-degrees for other traffic in the area.  The last thing you want to do is have a midair collision with another airplane because you didn’t do your due diligence in making sure your “box” was clear.

So HELL check complete, Austin takes the controls to demonstrate a power-on stall.  This maneuver is designed to simulate a stall that could happen on takeoff, a dangerous scenario that could be potentially disastrous if not properly dealt with.  Just as a little background, a stall is something that happens when airflow over the wings is disrupted and they stop producing lift.  If you’re not producing lift then the counter force of weight takes over and you sink, so it’s not a stretch to say this is less than ideal to have happen as soon as you takeoff.  The way to recover from a stall is to get your airplane positioned so that airflow over the wings is restored and you start producing lift again.

Power-on Stall
Following Austin’s demonstration it’s my turn to try the power-on stall.  First thing I need to do is reduce our speed to 74-knots, i.e., our takeoff speed.  I need to maintain a constant altitude when doing this so it’s going to be an exercise in throttle control, pitch control, and trim control.  Reduce the power to 1,500 RPM and the nose wants to drop due to the decrease in thrust so I’ve got to pull back a bit on the yoke to compensate.  As we slow down, more and more back pressure is required so I adjust the trim to reduce that pressure and make the plane more neutral.  Got it, 74-knots.  Now I move the throttle to 100%, pitch up at 20 degrees, and hold in some right rudder to compensate for the extra torque that’s wanting to yaw the plane to the left.  Slowly, the speed bleeds off and I have to keep adding more back pressure to the control yoke until we reach our stall speed of 47-knots.  The plane starts to shudder and the stall horn blares.  Air has officially stopped flowing over the wings (at least enough to generate lift) and we’re now in a stall.  The way to recover from this point is to release the back pressure on the yoke and allow the nose to dip slightly.  This will restore airflow over the wings and allow the airspeed to increase once again.  I do this, but rather than immediately recover from the stall and resume straight and level flight, we move directly into the next maneuver…

Spin Recovery
At the point in which the plane stalls, forward speed is basically reduced to nothing which means that the combination of torque P-factor are really trying to kick the plane to the left.  Now I’ll preface this by admitting that Austin told me I’d need to keep a good amount of right rudder in to make sure that we didn’t spin off to the left, but wow…I didn’t realize we’d need that much.  At the peak of the stall I apply a little more right rudder and try to drop the nose, but I didn’t have nearly the amount of rudder that we actually needed.  So instead of resuming a nice straight and level flight path, my plane’s nose dives to the left and we’re in a very minor “spin”.  The easiest way to correct this is to add a bunch of right rudder (i.e., add counter-rudder) to halt the spin to the left and then lower the nose slightly as the spin terminates in order to pick up some forward airspeed once again.
I set up for a power-on stall once again and this time it goes smoothly since I’d just taken that mental note of how much right rudder I’d have to put into it.

We’ve been in the air for close to an hour at this point so we turn to the north and make our way back to Johnson County Executive Airport and park the plane at Air Associates once again to finish off the lesson.

I’m not going to go into the landing here because I’ll have a lot more on those in the next couple of posts.  In these early lessons I’m guiding us in on final approach, but I can feel a decent amount of control input from Austin during the actual touchdown phase.  This is actually fine by me because the landings are pretty tricky, especially during the early stages of flight training.  Learning the right “feel” for landing means the brain essentially has to develop new neural pathways as it teaches itself to subconsciously execute the movements involved with the landing process and, unfortunately, this process doesn’t exactly happen at hypersonic speeds.  On the plus side, I’ll get plenty of practice in upcoming lessons…

Coming up next: Ground reference maneuvers, traffic patterns, landing

My little wingman playing with sand on vacation

 

Lesson 2: September 9, 2011

Lesson #2
Flight time: 0.9 hours
Total flight time to date: 1.9 hours

September 9, 2011

It’s a pretty cloudy Friday afternoon and the rains look like they’ll be moving in soon, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get at least a little flight time in today.  I arrive at Air Associates at 1500 and work my way to Austin’s office where we’ll hold our pre-flight briefing and talk about what maneuvers we’ll be working on today: maintaining a constant altitude and airspeed in both straight and level flight and in turns, getting into landing configuration, slow flight, and power-off stalls.  Should be fun!

           Not my Cessna

The briefing lasts about 35-40 minutes and then I head outside to take care of my pre-flight inspection.  I’ll be flying in the 58-Yankee today so I collect the key to the plane from the front desk and then check the “squawk sheet” to see if there are any outstanding issues with the plane that need to be addressed before we fly.  Basically, if there were any problems with the plane on a previous flight, the pilot would note this on the squawk sheet so the next pilot won’t get hit with any surprises.  Looks like there is a frayed right grounding wire noted on the right elevator.  Shouldn’t be anything to delay the flight so that’s good, but I’ll make sure to check it out and see how bad it really is.  I get out to the plane and check the Hobbs and tach, flip on the master switch, check the fuel, lower the flaps, and check all of the external lights.  Looks good!  On to the external inspection.
I try to look at everything as methodically as possible, moving from the left door back to the empennage and then around to the other side.  I check out the frayed grounding wire and it doesn’t look too bad, but it’ll have to be changed pretty soon.  I finish up the inspection, I mean I think I’m finished, when Austin comes out and notes a little bit of oil residue on the cowling.  Crap…I didn’t notice that.  Double crap, I didn’t check the oil yet either.  We pop the access door and pull out the dipstick and sure enough, we’re about 1 quart low and we have to call maintenance out to bring us some before we can go up.  Lesson 1 learned.  No matter how thorough I think I am, there’s probably something I’ve forgotten to check.  I make a mental note that I’ll need to double my efforts and increase my focus.  I can guarantee you this though, the oil will never go unchecked on any airplane I ever fly again!  Feel like a fool on my second flight?  Check.
The oil is added to the plane and now it’s starting to rain.  Looks like this may be somewhat of a short flight…  We climb on board and run through the start sequence, get clearance from the ground to taxi and move out next to the end of runway 36 to do our engine run-up and systems checks.  Everything is in the green so its time to call the tower and get clearance to take off with a southwest departure out to the practice zone.  I move out to the centerline of the runway and add power.  I do alright with managing the right rudder, but it feels like as soon as we take off we catch a gust of wind and start to drift a bit.  I’m trying to keep right rudder into it since we’re climbing at full power and the plane is still wanting to yaw to the left, but it’s kind of tough to keep the plane at the right attitude to maintain our ideal climb speed of 74 kts.  With the engine at full throttle, the nose keeps wanting to pitch up so I push the yoke forward, but that causes us to nose over and pick up speed.  Ease the yoke back a bit to raise the nose and get us back to 74 kts and all of a sudden we’re pitched up at 20 degrees and the speed drops to 65 kts.  Lesson 2 learned here: Small control inputs can have a larger than anticipated effect.  This info gets mentally catalogued into the “developing the ‘feel’ file”.  I’ll have to pull that back out on my next takeoff.

What my pitch up may have looked like, minus the burner, vapor, and Viper...

We get squared away and head out to the practice area which over some open farmland a few miles to the south of the airport.  On the way there, Austin teaches me about keeping the plane on a straight and level heading while maintaining a constant altitude.  Pitch, power, trim.  I’ll be hearing this a lot in the future I’m sure.
Step 1: Pitch.  Once I hit my cruising altitude, I adjust the pitch of the airplane to straight and level.  At this point, I’m still having to hold some significant forward pressure on the yoke to keep us at the same altitude so I move on to…
Step 2: Power.  Reduce the power to cruise setting.  This actually takes a decent amount of pressure off of the yoke and I don’t have to push as hard to keep us level, but I do still have some input and the goal is to get the plane neutral with as little input from me as possible.
Step 3: Trim.  By moving the trim wheel forward I adjust the small trim tab on the elevator which disrupts the airflow.  The end result is that I can high-five myself and the plane will stay straight and level even though I don’t have any hands on the controls because I’m too busy high fiving myself.
Anyway, back to the cruise out to the practice area.  It’s starting to rain a bit harder but the view is unbeatable.  We’re flying over emerald green fields, the sky is a deep shade of steel blue, and I can see about 6 distinct rain showers happening all around me.  I really wish I had my camera with me, but I didn’t so I’ll just have to rely on the mental snapshot…  Austin says we should fly a simulated traffic pattern and get configured for a simulated landing.  We do two 90-degree turns to make sure there’s no “hidden” traffic in the area and then we pick out a rectangular section of farmland to practice flying the downwind, base, and final approach portion of the pattern.  After a “landing” at about 1,000 feet above ground level, I do a right-hand and a left-hand 360 to practice keeping constant speed and altitude.  Winds are starting to pick up a bit so we have to hustle through the rest of the lesson and Austin takes over to demonstrate a power-off stall and then its back to Johnson County Executive for our post-flight debrief.
It was a fun flight, but I realize the whole “feel” of the airplane is something that’ll have to come with time and I can’t expect to just get it right away.  It’s kind of like riding a bike for the first time.  At first things are shaky and you’re wobbling all over the place, but before you know it things are smooth and you can’t believe there was a time where you were less coordinated.  I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later, I really like running up the learning curve instead of flattening it out and making it take forever.
I finish off the day with a weird mix of excitement, depression, and excitement again.  Excitement because I get to go to the Fort Leonard Wood Cannon Range to watch A-10s tearing the place up the next day, depression because I’m going to be leaving on vacation for 2 weeks and won’t be able to fly during that time, and excitement again because I get to go on vacation for 2 weeks!

–Jeremy                                                                     http://www.FinalApproachPhotography.com                             http://www.HypersonicSupplements.com

 

My little wingman on vacation!

Next lesson: Power on stalls, HELL checks, and spin recovery

Morgan on vacation

First flight – Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ahhhh the first flight.  The day I’d been waiting on for the last 28 years finally arrived and it couldn’t have fallen on a nicer day.  Clear blue skies, 80 degrees, no wind.  Perfect.

Quick Pre-Flight Family Picture

 

My flight was scheduled for 1500 in the afternoon and I remember driving into work with  somewhat of a fear addled mind.  I wasn’t the slightest bit afraid about flying, not even close. I was just worried that, like every other time I had to be somewhere at a specific time of the day, I’d have a trauma present to the Emergency Department 5-minutes before it was time to leave.  On a normal day I’d be looking forward to a chaotic day in the ED, running around with my hair on fire with 15 emergencies happening at once, all requiring quick treatment decisions and forward thinking, but today was definitely different.  Apparently, word got out that I was slated to leave on time so I could meet the Breitling representatives and take my first flight, because on this sunny Tuesday afternoon the residents of Kansas City decided not to

shoot each other, get in car wrecks, or have heart attacks.  It actually turned out to be a pretty slow day and I was miraculously able to walk through the ambulance bay doors towards my car at the precise minute I needed to leave.  One quick pitstop at the house to pick up my son, daughter, wife, and Mom and then it was off to Air Associates of Overland Park Flight School where I would slide out of the cockpit of my Mustang (Ford, not P-51…yet) and into the driver’s seat of a Cessna 172!
My family and I arrived at the airport and were greeted by my instructor, Austin Palmer.

David Martin's Breitling-sponsored Extra 300. It looks fast sitting still.

Ethan and Morgan helping with pre-flight

Roughly 30 seconds later, I looked through the lobby windows to see a beautiful red   and yellow 2-seater Extra 300 adorned with the Breitling logo taxi to a stop right outside.  Stepping from the cockpit were David Martin – Breitling’s US aerobatic pilot (2001 US National Aerobatic Champion, former F-4 Phantom and F-16 Viper pilot) and Patrick Cawthorne – Breitling’s United States South Central Sales Representative.  We gathered in the flight school’s conference room for introductions before moving out to the ramp to get some photos in front of “my” Cessna and the Extra 300.  Shortly after this, we returned to the conference room to hold a pre-flight briefing before moving out to the 172 for the pre-flight inspection.  This first pre-flight was especially fun because my son and daughter both helped out in making sure the plane was ready for Daddy to go fly.  Maybe there’ll be a couple more pilots in the  family in a few years 🙂
With pre-flight complete we said goodbye to David and Patrick, and Austin and I climbed into -53XRay to take flight.

The Flight
Flight #1 — 1.0 hrs
Total flight time to date — 1.0 hours

Engine start.  Checklist complete.  Time to get ground clearance and taxi.  So begins my first official flight lesson.  It feels amazing, here I am sitting in the left seat of a Cessna 172 and I’m actually fully in control.  It’s a little bit of a paradigm shift using the rudder pedals to control the plane on the ground and I end up going through a series of overcorrections before settling in somewhat.  Taxiing requires basically the same number of simultaneous inputs as driving a car, but everything is out of order and it’s almost as though you’ve got to develop a new neural pathway to develop the coordination needed to do it smoothly. Instead of controlling the speed with my feet and direction with my hands, in the airplane I’m controlling the direction of the plane with my feet (rudder/nosewheel steering) and the speed with both my hands (throttle) and feet (brake).  It’s a slightly odd feeling but I settle in and start to get the hang of it (for the most part).
Ground control grants me clearance to taxi via taxiway Bravo towards Juliet where I’m then approved to cross the runway to Alpha for a full length departure.  I make it to the end of the runway via Alpha (which feels like it takes forever) and turn into the wind for the final pre-flight check.  Since the Cessna is powered by an air-cooled engine, turning into the wind will increase the amount of air flow to cool the horizontally opposed 4-cylinder Lycoming engine.  I apply full brakes and increase the RPM to 1,800 and everything is looking good.  A quick check of both magnetos reveals a ~150 RPM drop each.  Perfect.  A quick call to the Tower “Executive Tower, this is Cessna 1053XRay ready for takeoff with a Northeast departure”.  The tower clears me to depart runway 36 and I move carefully onto the centerline of the runway.   I slowly come to a full stop and shimmy the rudder pedals to make sure the nose wheel is tracking straight ahead and then slowly apply full power.  I understood the concept of P-factor and the torque generated by a propeller driven aircraft so I was ready to compensate with a little right rudder as my speed increased.  What I wasn’t ready for, however, was the amount of right rudder I’d actually have to apply.  As the speed continued to increase, the P-factor became more prominent and the plane really started drifting to the left.  I eased more right rudder into the roll and we tracked back towards the centerline again.  Airspeed indicator reads that we’ve hit 55 knots so I slowly draw the control yoke backwards to lift the nosewheel off the runway.  We roll a couple hundred more feet and we’re airborne!  “Newton’s law?  Ha!  I scoff at you Newton because I’m never coming down” I think to myself as I ease the plane upwards trying my hardest to maintain the best rate of climb (Vy) at 74 knots.  This is kind of tough to do at first because the natural inclination is for me to want to continue to let the nose drift up to gain altitude.  But climbing too steeply will bleed airspeed which could induce a dangerous stall, especially bad when you’ve just left the runway.  Austin coaches me on lowering the nose to hit my mark of 74 knots again and we’re off.
We decide to take a scenic flight for this first lesson so we depart to the Northeast towards downtown KC where we’ll do a low pass over the Downtown KC airport (MKC).  One of the first things that strikes me is that my perception of distance is completely shot from up in the air.  The airport I’ve just departed from is about a 30-minute drive from Downtown, but as soon as we hit an altitude of 1,600 feet I can see the KC skyline rising up on the horizon.  Our current altitude makes it look like the city is only a few miles from us and I realize that I’m going to have to retrain myself and develop an enhanced perception of distance.  Luckily, the GPS tells me that we’re about 15-nautical miles from the downtown airport but I really don’t want to have to rely on this to find my way, especially if I were ever to experience power failure while in flight.
In what feels like a few short seconds, we’ve already been cleared on final approach to runway 3 at MKC.  Austin instructs me to do a low pass over the runway, keeping the plane just above ground effect until we clear midway point at which time we’ll turn to the East to make a couple of circles around the city.  Flying in on approach, I’m amazed that Flight Simulator (Microsoft FSX or Laminar Research X-Plane) actually does a great job in recreating the experience.  I practiced a few landings on the sim at home a few days before my flight and I couldn’t believe how closely the physics, airplane handling characteristics, and visual flight cues actually matched up!  As we neared the airport I picked a target on the runway and then lined it up with an imaginary point, aka gunsight, on my windscreen.  The low pass goes well and we make our turn to cruise around the city.  It’s getting close to dusk at this point and the golden hour light makes the city look great, making me wish I had my camera with me.  Unfortunately, mental pictures will have to suffice for now.  I spot my hospital just to the south and I have to point and laugh at those stuck working while I’m up flying.  I feel bad for a bit, 0.002 seconds to be exact, and then the feeling yields to unbridled joy once again.
We start our turn back to Johnson County Executive (OJC) where we’ll ultimately land on runway 36 assuming there’s not a dramatic wind shift before we get there.  First though, Austin gives me an introductory lesson in flight characteristics and the effect that various control inputs will have on the plane.  My favorite demonstration was one where Austin placed a pen on the dash, entered into a climb and then abruptly nosed over to induce a transient state of zero G.  Talk about fun!  I can’t remember what I did when I felt the gravitational force melt away, but I think I may have squeaked or something.  It really made me hopeful that one day I’ll be able to get my own plane (warbird or aerobatic) so I can experience that feeling to a much greater degree and much more often.
Fast forward a few minutes and we’re on final approach to OJC for a landing on runway 36.  I’m still in control of the plane at this point and I get really excited that I may actually get to land the plane on my very first lesson!  Sure enough, I’m allowed to guide it on in!  I drop a notch of flaps to help us reach our touchdown speed of 65 knots and we slowly touch down.  I’m sure Austin was helping me out with some control input at this point in the game, but it was still an exhilarating feel nonetheless.  After touching down I taxied back to the Air Associates ramp, moved the mixture control to idle cutoff and shut her down, thus ending my first lesson.  If I could describe the experience in one word, it’d be “absolutely freaking amazing”!
In the end, it was an exceedingly awesome day.  David Martin and Patrick Cawthorne were amazingly nice individuals and I really, really appreciated them making the long flight from Texas just to come up for the first flight.  It was a blast talking to David about flying, especially the parts about what it was like to strap on an F-16 and fly in full burner.  Amazing.  Patrick, the resident photographer of the afternoon, was also an exceptionally interesting individual and he even brought me some awesome Breitling gear loaded into a sweet Breitling backpack!  That backpack has now become my flight bag and I carry it with me on every flight!

Many thanks to Patrick Cawthorne (center) and David Martin (right)

I’d like to thank David and Patrick once again for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet my family and myself and I’d especially like to thank Katie Adams, Breitling’s US PR and Events Coordinator for making this all happen.  She has been absolutely fantastic throughout this experience so far and I look forward to working with her throughout the flight training process!

Next up:  Lesson 2 – level turns and slow speed flight.

My Flight Blog: Part I; A little about me.

Have you ever dreamed of taking a break from terrestrial life by taking flight?  Have you thought of getting your private certificate, aka private pilot license (PPL) but you weren’t sure what it would take or how involved the process would be?  If so, this blog is (hopefully) for you!  I am currently working to earn my PPL and I will be discussing my progress, the trials, the tribulations, the joys, and the frustrations that I experience throughout the process.  I’ll talk about how the lessons are structured and what you may expect should you decide to pursue a PPL for yourself.

I’ll start here by talking a little bit about myself and how I actually got the opportunity to start my flight lessons.  It’s been a pretty exciting personal journey that I’m still having a hard time believing, but each time I hear that Lycoming engine fire I’m reminded that yes, this really is happening.  Before I get too far into my life’s story, I’ll start at the end (hopefully of the chapter, not the book!).  First, about the title “My Wingman”.  In June of 2010 I became the extremely lucky and ecstatic grand prize winner of the 2011 Brietling aviation photography contest.  As the grand prize winner Breitling (www.Breitling.com) has provided me with unbelievable opportunity to earn my PPL!  So why is the blog called My Wingman?  The photo which won the contest was of an awestruck little boy gently touching the elevator of a Laird Swallow biplane in Wichita, KS. The little boy?  My son, my buddy, my little wingman.

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I’ve been an aviation fanatic since I was four years old (coincidentally the same age as my son) when I had my first ride in an airplane, my Uncle Michael’s red and white Piper Tri-Pacer.  One morning, my family and I headed out to the local airfield to meet my uncle for a day of flying.  On the way there, possibly as a means of getting more flight time for himself, my cousin tried to scare any desire to fly from my impressionable mind by saying that an airplane had to be lifted up by a crane and balanced on top of a tall tower, then be allowed to fall before it could fly.  Apparently Descartes didn’t intend for “the Cogito” to apply to 4-year olds because I actually believed my cousin’s inane story.  (I didn’t think, therefore…I wasn’t?  That’s a whole new can of philosophical worms…ha ha, Platohelminthes.  Man I’m a dork…)  Anyway, it was only after some persistent prodding by my Dad that I finally decided to climb into the back seat and go for a ride around the town of Bolivar, MO.  I’m infinitely thankful I did because the moment that Tri-Pacer rotated was the exact moment that I knew I’d be unhappy leading a terrestrial life.  I was bitten by the bug and it suddenly became imperative for me to find some way to get back into the air.  Thus the dream of becoming a pilot in the US Air Force was born.  Unfortunately, much like Platohelminthes (really?  I’m trying that again?) that dream was prematurely crushed by the dirty shoe of myopia.  My vision simply wasn’t good enough to be a candidate for flight school, thereby preventing me working in my dream office…the cockpit of a supersonic fighter (or even a subsonic heavy for that matter).  I’ve since had LASIK and now have a 20/10 set of eyes thanks to the miracle of laser beams, but still no Raptor cockpit to sit in.

So what does a guy do who has just found out that he can’t become a pilot in the military?  He does the next most logical thing and goes to pharmacy school.  In 2002 I graduated with an undergraduate degree in biology and then started pharmacy school at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Pharmacy where I graduated in 2007.  Following this, I completed a residency at Duke University and then returned to Kansas City where I’m now a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) and a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and Clinical Specialist in Emergency Medicine practicing in a Level I trauma center, treating a fairly steady stream of people getting shot at 2 in the afternoon over an argument about who gets the last moon pie.  Seriously, it’s absolutely amazing the kinds of things that people will shoot and stab each other over sometimes.  Stop in front of me in the grocery store while I’m trying to walk?  That’s a stabbing.  Shovel snow the wrong way?  That’s a capping.  Bring home cube steak instead of flank steak?  You’re getting stabbed with a skewer in the flank.  At least things stay pretty exciting though.  I’m one of those who can be easily distracted by something shiny in the corner of my eye, so it’s great to work in a place where new, intellectually taxing problems crop up every 20 minutes or so.  Since I’m also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Pharmacy, I take students on rotation which means they get to see this crazy stuff too which is something I would have loved as a student myself.

Anyway, back to aviation…the dream of leaving terra firma has never left me and I’m still holding onto the sliver of hope that some how, some way, I’ll be able to take flight in a military aircraft at some point in time.  I realized though that until that time comes, I’d need to figure out another way to get up in the air or at least get closer to high performance aircraft doing their thing.  I thought for a bit and decided that aviation photography would probably be a good way to be close to the planes and the aviators who fly them, so in the summer of 2010 I took up aviation / airshow photography.  I had always enjoyed fumbling around with point and shoot cameras but I figured that kicking it up a notch would likely involve the acquisition of a DSLR camera.  After a little ebay’ing and Craigslisting, I pocketed enough to pick up a new Canon 50D DSLR in June 2010.  From that day on it really seemed tat things started to take off, both figuratively and literally.

Prior to 2010, I’d head out to the local airport on the Friday before an airshow to watch the practice show and would wonder how in the world the handful of people on the ramp were allowed to get out there while I was relegated to the parking lot.  After being told that these were various members of the media, I decided that I’d like to try and become a member myself so I could join the Friday few.  I contacted the interwebs best digital airshow magazine, AirShow Stuff (www.AirshowStuff.com), sent them some photos and was subsequently allowed to become a contributor.  Finally, a way to get in for the Friday shows!!!  Mission one – check.  I was able to attend 3 airshows in the summer of 2010 as photographic media and was afforded the opportunity to obtain some unique shots of aircraft that I may not have otherwise been able to get.  After the show season ended, I figured it was time to start my own photography website (www.FinalApproachPhotography.com) if for no other reason than to share photos with family and friends.

In December 2010 I was adding a few new pics to my website and on a whim decided to post a few to the Boeing Store’s Facebook fan page.  The two pics I submitted were later selected as the “Photo of the Week” which left me riding high with a new sense of confidence, thinking “Hey, maybe I can actually do something with this!”.  Then in February 2011, seemingly from out of the blue, Boeing’s director of brand management and promotion contacted me to see if I’d be interested in flying to Seattle to photograph the unveiling of the new Boeing 747-8i.  The sound that came out of my mouth as I said yes could only be described as the sound which would emanate from 14 year old girl at the premier of a new Twilight movie.  The important thing was that the word actually came out and one short week later I was on a Seattle-bound Saturday morning flight with my wife. I had an amazing trip and my Boeing Store hosts were amazingly gracious, allowing me to see and do things that I never would have dreamed of just a few months earlier.  Go on a VIP tour of the Boeing production facility in Everett, WA?  The kind of tour that is typically reserved for foreign dignitaries and heads-of-state?  Be led on a tour by a very nice gentleman who had recently given national hero Neil Armstrong the same tour? Check!  Overdose on aviation by also going to several aviation museums in a 24-hour stretch, even seeing a real MiG-29?  Check!  (I should rephrase and clarify by saying that it’s physically impossible for me to overdose on aviation, it’s really just more of a great thing that is completely unaffected by the law of diminishing returns).  Go on a Boeing Store shopping spree and walk out with a ton of ridiculously cool stuff?  Check, check, quadruple check!!!

After I returned home from this whirlwind tour, the inevitable depression of “nothing this cool could ever happen again” began to set in and I was kind of dragging through work for a while.  Patient gets shot and ends up getting an emergency thoracotomy in the ER and I have the opportunity to massage the heart?  Meh…  I want to fly!  (note: I hope that doesn’t sound calloused because I really love my job and Emergency Medicine really allows one to make a huge impact on patient outcomes.  I guess you could say that it’s kind of like eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, which you love, but you’re still thinking of that cherry vanilla ice cream the whole time.)

It was at this point I decided I would develop and implement a goal-driven strategy for one day owning my aviation dream…a P-51D Mustang (oooh, with 78th FG, 82nd FS markings.  I waaaaaant that).  I knew this would be impossible with my current financial arrangement so I thought about alternative approaches for goal attainment. Being a PharmD, I’ve been trained to critically evaluate pharmacologic studies, trials, and medical information to determine optimal therapies for specific maladies, so I decided to use this knowledge to develop my own line of evidence-based dietary supplements.  In May 2011 I formed my own business called Hypersonic Labs, Inc. (aviation themed of course) and started by developing 4 dietary supplements:   (www.HypersonicSupplements.com)

Drink Wingman – The hangover preventer that actually works very, very well.  It locks on, engages, and destroys hangovers before they get you.

Hypersonic Energy – The cost effective alternative to energy drinks that provides more energy and doesn’t give you that energy drink “crash”.  It costs 1/10th as much as the leading energy drink and works better, by far.

Hypersonic Focus – The evidence based supplement designed to enhance memory, focus, and concentration.

Hypersonic Diet – An evidence-based supplement that sheds pounds, but it does it safely (as opposed to virtually every other diet supplement on the market).

I’m currently working on a word of mouth campaign (the word has definitely been good thus far!), and plan to continue to develop and expand as I work towards my goal of warbird ownership. (If you’d like to try some, drop me an email and I’ll send you a sample!)

Fast-forward just a bit to a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I’m researching potential formulations for my supplement line and I take the obligatory detour to Facebook to see what’s going on in the world of “stuff”, when to the right of my screen I see an ad that reads “Win your pilot license”.  Intrigued, I click on the link to find that it’s <gasp> an aviation photography contest being held by Breitling!  Submit up to 5 photos and then hope to be selected as a finalist?  I can do that!  I sift through my aviation photos, picking the 5 that I think might best capture my love of aviation.  I send them in and then look through some of the other 5,000 entries, losing hope of winning with each subsequent photo I look at.  I re-read the terms and conditions and see that the finalists will consist of the top-10 vote getters from the Facebook community and 10 photos selected by Breitling.  Looking at all of the fantastic entries I quickly lose hope that I’ll be selected by Breitling and I know that there’s no way I’ll be in the top-10 vote-getters simply because I’m not a good Facebook vote solicitor.  A few weeks later after having almost forgotten about the contest, I receive an email from the Breitling offices stating that I’ve made it through to the final round of the competition and my photo will be sent on to the panel of judges for final evaluation!  The panel of judges included John Travolta, Katsuhiko Tokunaga (world famous air-to-air photographer), Yves “Jetman” Rossy (flew across Grand Canyon with his self-designed rocket pack), Jaques Bothelin (leader of the Breitling Jet Team), Brian Jones (co-pilot of the first hot air balloon to fly non-stop around the world), and Tony Velocci (editor-in-chief of the magazine Aviation Week).  I was suddenly in the running to either win the Grand Prize of a pilot’s license (lessons to be paid for by Breitling) or the First Place Prize of the opportunity to fly to France and experience a once-in-a-lifetime flight with the Breitling Jet Team!  I logged onto the Facebook page to see which of my photos was selected when I received an infarct-inducing shock.  I didn’t have one photo selected…I had TWO!!!  Suddenly, my excitement knob was turned to eleven and my thoughts consolidated to one-track…flight.  The email said the winner wouldn’t be announced for another couple of weeks which meant I’d have a hard time concentrating for a while and I’d have waaaay too much time to allow my imagination to run wild and my hopes to be built up.  After what seemed like an eternity, June 15, 2011 arrived.  I was sitting in the Emergency Department when I heard that familiar Apple email “ding”.  I ran to my computer to see that I’d just received an email from Breitling.  Could it really be the email I’d been hoping for?  Surely not, there’s no way.  <Click>  “Congratulations!  You’ve been selected as our winne…..”  I couldn’t focus on the rest of the sentence because I was emanating some sort of guttural, half-grunting, half-squealing sound and patients were looking at me funny.  Talk about an unbelievably impactful moment that I’ll remember exact details about forever!  It took a second to penetrate my brain (which it still hasn’t done fully yet), but I finally realized I’d just won an international aviation photography contest and I’d be able to obtain my private pilot license!!!  A nearly life-long dream of taking flight soon to be miraculously fulfilled!

Since I was 4 years old, this quote has been very apropos:

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”  –  Da Vinci (?) [some attribute this to Da Vinci, although it’s not definitely proven the renaissance master actually said this]

And now, thanks to Breitling, it’s to the sky I’ll return!

At the time I’m writing this, it’s September 2011 and I’ve just started my flight lessons.  In this blog I’ll be talking about my flight lessons, the good things, the bad things, the trials and tribulations, and everything in-between.  If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get your license, this blog will help to answer that question.

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy Hampton