2020 has not been a great year for my personal flying. My company was – and still is – affected by the global travel restrictions of the Corona pandemic and I have been a bit reluctant to go out and fly. As a result I am very rusty. On paper (my last log entry is 10 months old) and also in my head.
Private pilots have do do a check ride with an instructor every other year. Usually that is a pretty relaxed affair. An hour or so to make sure that the pilot has not developed too many bad habits. My Biannual check ride is due and for the first time, I did not fly the required number of hours in the 12 months prior to the check ride. That means that the check becomes a bit more formal and a bit more intense. It is now more about making sure that I have not forgotten too much.
I arrive at the flight school looking forward to flying as well as the obligatory coffee & gossip. I will be flying with an instructor I have not met before. We go through the preparations and he asks many questions to assess what I still remember and what I might have forgotten. I instantly like his quiet, methodical style.
Our chariot of fire today is “Foxtrot Mike”. A Cessna 152 from the 1970s. We both go way back. My first ever international trip was on “Fox Mike” as a navigator, before I even had my license. Later I did my night rating on her and the first trip with my wife to the coast was on “Fox Mike” as well.
We are getting her ready and talk about every step on the way. When we finally take to the skies, three three hours of intense flying begin. Navigation training, touch-and-goes, air work, emergency drills. The instructor lets me sweat like I have not sweated in an airplane in a long time. The training is hard work for me and much appreciated. When we are finally back at the home base, I am exhausted.
I am current again and I spent a great day in the air. But more flying on a regular basis still beats the crash course!
The days are getting longer, the sun is coming back from its winter break – time to shake off the frost and get into the air! My destination for today is the island of Rügen. It is just under one flight hour away but a different world. I love coming here in the summer for the beautiful beaches and the fresh fish.
Todays trip will be in the spirit of pickled Hering. It is a great tradition in general aviation to go places for the purpose of having a meal. It does not always have to be a hamburger, and it is almost never limited to 100 dollars any more. But the „100 dollar hamburger“ still has a nice ring to it.
Flying to the beach with the family is one of my plans for the coming summer. Todays objective is training, scouting, and just having a good time in the air!
The visibility is okay and the clouds are few and high. I file a flight plan, because when I think about it, I realized how long I have not done that. The waypoint is the Friedland VOR (FLD) and the CDI needle is glued to the center in the smooth air.
The island airport is not big and there is no easy-to-spot landmark close bye. I remember the smirk on my flight instructors face on my first visit here. I did not spot the runway until I was almost in the pattern. This time I know what to look for.
It is early in the season and there is not much going on. A tired Cessna is flying the first tourists over their vacation homes. The Restaurant will be buzzing in the summer, but now only one other table is occupied. We quickly start chatting, a flight instructor and his student.
The fish is excellent and all the way home I am looking forward to my next visit here in the summer.
Private pilots have to take check rides with a flight instructor every other year. This is to make sure that they do not take on funny habits – or that they stick to the ones their instructors taught them.
The day at the office is light, the weather is good and so I decide to fly a Cessna instead of my desk today.
When I leaf through my logbook, I realize that it has been over a year since I last flew „Kilo Sierra“. I read up on the most important check lists and speeds. I also familiarize myself with the cockpit again. I have made it a habit to take pictures of the instrument panels of all the aircraft that I fly. Studying the photos helps me to remember the differences between the planes.
Flying with a passenger
When I arrive at the flight school, a new student is finishing a theory lesson. The flight instructor asks me if he can come with us. Of course he can!
I remember how much I appreciated being a passenger on numerous occasions during my own training. It is motivating and great fun. The experienced instructor knows this.
Our trip today will be a triangle. EDAY-EDAV-EDON and back to EDAY. We will do touch-and-go’s in EDAV, air work on the way to EDON and navigation training on the way back. EDON will be a waypoint for is today, not a stop.
Easy does it
We are in a weather inversion. The visibility is not great but gets much better above about 2.200 feet. „Kilo Sierra“ and I are still friends. On final approach into EDAV, I’m a bit too fast for the instructors taste. Other than that we are both happy.
The sun is shining. By the time we start making our way over to EDON, it is pretty much in our face. Combined with the climbing inversion, this makes for very limited visibility forward.
The flight instructor is keeping the eyes outside, I’m concentrating on the navigation and using the occasion to practice some instrument skills. An unexpected extra on this trip.
When we are done, I have a little more than one hour for my log book. I am familiar with „Kilo Sierra“ again and I think my passenger had a good time, too. That’s a successful day!
Visibility: More than 10 miles
Wind: 150°, 10kts
Equipment: Piper 28 (D-EITI)
We are on the way to the airport. My flying friend and I are full of excitement. Our passenger is eying the sky with suspicion. It has been gray and drewry for days and the sun has a difficult time to break through the clouds now. Neither one of the pilots is worried though. We have the been studying the weather for days and today is going to be gorgeous!
Our schedule is tight. We are planning a nice and relaxed summer day all crambed into the few precious sun hours of this short winter morning has to offer. The trip is about flying and about scouting the destination for future reference. The pilots are looking forward to the trip – the passengers have yet to understand the extend of our craziness.
On the way there we practice old fashioned visual navigation. My flying friend has made a detailed flight plan. GPS and auto pilot stay off and we are consulting over the map and try to identify the landmarks. We reach our destination within two minutes of the flight planned time. Not too bad!
Our trip today takes us to Moritzburg Castle. The sunlit beauty holds what the view from the sky promised. We have time for a harty lunch and a strol around the grounds before we need to think about the way back. The tour through the inside of the historic place will have to wait until the summer.
We will turn into a pumpkin at sun set + 30 minutes. This is when the airport will close. No time to waist, he takes care of the paper work while I preflight „Tango India“.
The return trip is my leg as pilot flying. We do a radio navigation excercise. EDAK to KLF VOR, then on to the FEW VOR before we make our way home on its radial 326. We have a strong tail wind which lets our ground speed peak at 139 knots. Not bad for the little Piper!
The sun is low already and we are past enjoying the last evening rays before we touch down – right at sun set. We even would have had a few minutes to spare. But you never make a plan that includes the last drop of fuel or the last minute of daylight.
The Cessna 172 is the Chevy of the skies. Affordable, reliable, easy to service and ist does not turn heads. In fact, I used to think they are a bit ugly. But beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and I have changed my mind when I learned to fly the 172. I have actually grown very fond of her sturdy reliability and easy handling.
Today I am flying the future of the 172. „Alpha Hotel“ has a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit as well as a diesel engine.
The G1000 avionics suit is the gold standard of glass cockpits in general aviation. The system typically is configured with a „Primary Flight Display“ (PFD) and a „Multi Function Display“ (MFD) – both large flat panel displays which dominate the cockpit.
The PFD is a large attitude indicator (artificial horizon). Some versions even come with a computer generated image of the terrain – very valuable in low visibility. Course, altitude and airspeed are displayed on a layer over the horizon. The information is easily accessible and comprehendible.
The MFD can be used to show engine information and is used as a giant navigation display.
The difference between traditional instrumentation and a „glass cockpit“ is enhanced situational awareness (no chance to miss that big horizon) as well as system integration. All relevant information is in one spot.
The piston engines of small aircraft are very reliable and light but also very old fashioned. Because of the very small numbers, technical development is slow and because of the emphasis on reliability, the adaptation of new and unproved technology is slow.
The power plant working in „Alpha Hotel“ is a major innovation. An electronically controlled diesel engine by the Thielert company. It has 135 horse powers and and adjustable pitch propeller. It runs smooth and quiet and it has great fuel economy. On top of that, the Thielert diesel engine burns jet fuel – Jet-A happens to be very close to diesel fuel. And Jet-A is much more common and way cheaper than Avgas.
Easier makes it harder
A standart 172 has two leavers in the throttle quadrant – power and mixture. The Thielert engine has two redundant electronic control units (ECU) to manage the engine. So I only have one leaver for power. Everything else is adjusted automatically. What has been standard in cars for 30 years has finally arrived in general aviation!
The adjustable pitch propeller is also controlled automatically. The blades of the propeller are pitched according speed. This further improves fuel economy and speed.
After a very thorough briefing and explanation of the systems, we take-off. The majority of my flying as private pilot has happened on Cessnas. So I am a bit surprised when I have considerable troubles with the approach.
I am used to aircraft with fixed pitch propellers. On a stabilized approach, very little manipulation of the power is needed. Once the desired sink rate is established, the speed is mainly controlled with the pitch.
On short final with slow RPMs, the propeller of „Alpha Hotel“ pitches high in order to be effective for a possible go-arround. At the same time, this setting increases the resistance of the propeller in the air stream. It acts like a big air break on my nose, bleeding down the air speed fast!
I push the nose down and the instructor tells me to also increase the RPMs. The landing is pretty lousy. On the next couple of approaches I am more careful with the combination of pitch and power but I don’t ever feel fully in control of the situation.
We debrief the flight over a cup of coffee. I am a bit down about how many problems I had with an aircraft I thought I was comfortable with. A humbling experience.
We make a new appointment and this time I am more prepared for what to expect. I concentrate on the power/pitch settings on final approach. After an hour of pattern work I am still not happy with my landings but they are at least more or less under control. I’m keen on getting better with „Alpha Hotel“ and book her for a solo trip the same week. I do patterns for a while with okay landings but not much improvement.
Then I climb to 2.000 feet and turn north. I will take an advanced radio class at a flight school in Kyritz (EDBK) next week. Today I plan to fly there to pick-up the books. The flight is about 30 minutes. Enough time to start playing with the auto pilot and to dig deeper into the powerful G1000 suite. It will take a long time before I can make full use of it. But the basic functions are so intuitive that it is a joy to use the panel.
The approach into Kyritz is a bit hectic. There is a lot of traffic and I am number 2 behind an aircraft that simulates an engine failure. The runway is much smaller than the one in Schönhagen and I am a bit tense. And then it happens – a greaser of a landing, right on the numbers, perfect speed and so smooth that it makes this pilot smile. Looks like „Alpha Hotel“ and I will be friends after all.
Visibility: very low
Location: EDGF (Fulda)
Equipment: Hotel sauna
One of the few advantages of winter in northern Europe is visiting a sauna. My flying buddy and I have been sitting in the mist on the airfield for a while before we decided that it would be better to sweat in the sauna than to sweat in minimal weather.
When taking to the skies, a very informed and very critical look at the weather is crucial. We are planning a long trip, so the weather observation is complex. We have postponed our trip from Thursday to Tuesday because a weather system was moving through southern Europe. Today, our route looks good but we ave problems getting started.
The aircraft is stationed at EDGF, a grass field at an altitude of 1558 ft. The cloud base is almost touching the field, a few of the hills we have to cross are actually in the clouds. No point in getting worked-up about something we can’t change, though. This is VFR flying in the winter.
After two days of waiting for the weather to improve, we decide to postpone out trip once more. My flying buddy goes home and I visit family close by.
Visiting an old friend
A few weeks ago, my dear LISA was moved from Schönhagen to Egelsbach. I am staying just a few miles away from the airport and so I decide to go see her. The local weather is not great either, but a number of small planes are in the pattern. So I take LISA for a spin – for old times sake.
I fire-up the ipad and make a flight plan for EDRY, about half and hour to the south. I have been meaning to visit the Technic Museum Speyer for a long time. I’m on my own, I have no schedule and no pressure. Great conditions for a training flight in less than optimal weather. If it should get dicey, I can just turn back. No danger of get-there-itis which can cause oh so many problems…
The flight is demanding. The visibility is not bad but the cloud base is low and with rising terrain, there is not all that much room to maneuver. All within legal limits but when I get in between two hills, I keep looking over my shoulder to make sure the escape route is clear.
Finally the terrain is getting lower. I navigate around the controlled airspace of EDFM and very soon I see the city of Speyer on the river.
In the pattern at EDRY, I have the last demanding moment of the trip. There are individual clouds in the pattern. Like big, puffy sheep they are blocking my path and I have to navigate around them.
The airport staff at Speyer is extremely friendly and on a day like today they have time for a chat. I even get a discount coupon for the museum. Nice gesture but I would have gone anyway…
In the afternoon the winter sun has had enough time to raise the cloud base and has even burned a few holes into it. The trip home is delightful and much easier.
I am very glad that I did get to fly after all. And the trip was great training. Over the next couple of days I will monitor the weather development closely to see if another window opens up for the big trip!
Visibility: CAVOC, more than 10k
Temperature: -9°C, clear and cold night
Wind: 070°, 7 knots
Equipment: D-EKKT (Cessna 172)
It is one of the sunniest days in weeks and while everyone else enjoys the sunshine, I anticipate sun set.
Dusk is turning the clear sky to shades of dark blue when I arrive at the airport. I have double checked the batteries of my pilot flash light, I will need it tonight. The office of the flight school is packed. Pilots are standing around in groups, chatting, laughing. It’s like a cocktail party but without the booze.
Night VFR is a separate endorsement to the private pilots license in Germany. The airport has longer hours for night training once a month. I will have my second or third lesson tonight.
The apron is illuminated by flood lights and I don’t really need my flash light for the preflight check. But I’ll be damned if I don’t use it tonight! A student pilot asks if he can come for the ride. Of course he is welcome.
On my first night flight, the full moon was reflected by the full cover of snow. Easy conditions for starters. Today there is neither moon nor snow – but stars.
The plan for tonight is a trip north to the Friedland VOR (FLD), close to the coast. The tower opens our flight plan and we are off into the night. The air is cold and glassy smooth. The large Lycoming takes big, hungry bites out of it and we climb fast despite three people and a big load of fuel.
The radar frequency is busy with coordinating airliners for evening flights into the two major airports. They don’t have much patience for us and seem glad when they can hand us off. The new frequency is almost silent and the controller is chatty. The lights on the ground are getting fewer and further apart as we are leaving the perimeter of the Big City. And all of a sudden I realize that the black void under the stars on the horizon must be the Baltic Sea. Magic.
“Kilo Sierra” is a lady with a lot of experience under her wings and not a lot of upgrades since she left the factory. She is kept up very well but her condition is pretty original. So I know exactly how a pre-GPS student in the 70s felt. The illumination on the control panel is pretty minimal. Some of the instruments have dim lights. Others – like the artificial horizon – have no illumination of their own. There is a small, adjustable map light with a red bulb close to my head. I use that for the instrument panel and after a period of adjustment, it works surprisingly well. I keep my flash light on the seat. It makes me feel better but I only use it once or twice.
On the way back we fly towards the lights of the Big City. A different kind of magic. Suddenly we encounter light turbulence and the lights disappear. We are flying into a cloud that I did not see in the dark. I was trained to focus on the artificial horizon when I loose visual contact to the ground. It is quite amazing how difficult it is to keep the airplane straight and level once you don’t see the ground any more. I am grateful for the training with the IFR cap I have had.
Back at the home base, the pattern is still busy. It is both important and difficult for a novice to build a mental picture of the positions of everybody in the pattern. I will need a bit more time for the night VFR rating and a lot more until I feel comfortable flying at night. But I’m very much looking forward to the process!
To be continued…
(originally posted on April 18, 2014 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/night-flight/)
Visibility: more than 10k
Wind: 200°, 5 knots
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: D-EFNK (Cessna 172)
It is the nicest day in weeks. The clouds are orange with the morning sun against a blue sky. The instructor is very upbeat when I arrive at the flight school. The gray weather of the last couple of weeks demoralized not only his students.
Last night, I talked to the examiner on the phone. He gave me the route for today so that I can prepare the flight. I get busy on the flight planning sheet, fill in this mornings weather. It takes me a long time to complete the calculations. I am nervous.
The examiner arrives and is very relaxed. He is new and my instructor pays a lot of attention to the questions he asks and the things he checks. With a cup of coffee, we go through the papers. After I answered all of his questions about the registration and the radio certificate, he wants to go fly.
I’m after a mouth full of letters: PPL-A JAR-FCL. That is the “Private Pilots License for airplanes” (PPL-A) after Part “Flight Crew Licensing” (FCL) of the “Joined Aviation Requirements” (JAR) of the “Joined Aviation Authorities” (JAA) of Europe. One of the joined requirements is the rating for “Controlled Visual Flight Rule” (CVFR). I am scheduled for the check ride this morning.
This is my fourth check-ride. I start with a very thorough pre-flight check and talk about everything I do. The examiner has a lot of questions but I am prepared. Last time I did not know the alternator from the starter – this is not going to happen to me again!
Our route will take us into the controlled airspace of the big city today. We plan a low approach at the international airport before we leave to the south for navigation drills and air work. All in all the small triangle should not take us more than an hour.
The home base is very close to the class D airspace of the big city. So I need to check in with Air Traffic Control (ATC) quickly after take-off. Before I call the controller, the examiner tells me that I can announce that this is a check ride if I like. Some examiners will not let you do that as the controller might then treat you differently.
The frequency is not very busy. After I have announced our intentions, we are cleared for the controlled airspace right away. The examiner picks up the mike and talks to the controller again “we would like to do a low pass” he says. My mind is on high alert. Did I not just announce that to the controller? I thought I did. In fact I am almost certain that I did! The controller comes back after a perceivable pause “yes,…that is how I understood your intentions” she says. I am relieved!
The flight through the class D airspace is uneventful. I announce the compulsory reporting points and the controller acknowledges it. Except for these exchanges, there is no traffic on the VFR frequency. I have time to relax and to enjoy the flight.
The timing for our low pass is good. We are cleared for the approach and I turn from base to final. The perspective on the massive runway with its landing lights in front of us, is quite spectacular.
Trying to keep the time we block the approach sector as short as possible, I do not set flaps and fly in fast. A few feet above the ground, I round out, close the carburetor heat and push the throttle forward. The large Lycoming in front of us rumbles to life and pulls us out of the Airbus territory. The first part of the check ride is over.
I have come to like VORs very much. These “light houses” of aviation are a bit anachronistic but very reliable. We determine the course to the VOR on our route, then I determine the wind influence and follow the examiners instruction to approach the VOR on a different course. He asks and I answer. Only once he succeeds in confusing me a bit, but I manage to regroup.
We are on course back to the home base. The last items on the protocol are steep turns. A full circle at 45 degree bank with holding altitude and speed is a difficult thing to do and I need three attempts before the right seat is happy.
The landing is the best I have done in weeks. Perfect approach and a smooth landing, my instructor will be proud.
After the engine is shut down, the instructor smiles. I have passed!
To be continued…
(originally posted on February 14, 2013 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/cvfr-jar-fcl/)
Visibility: more than 10 kilometers
ceiling: more than 5.000 feet
GAFOR: “C” clear skies!
Wind: 300, 10 knots
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: “Kilo Sierra” (Cessna 172)
A check ride is a test of the pilots nerves. Your instructor will not sign you up before he is sure that you are ready. The examiner is not interested in failing you either. So the only thing you realy have to worry about, are your own nerves.
I have had several check-rides. The first one, for my sports pilots license, was the worst. In the beginning, my hands were shaking from nervousness. In the end I passed and found out, that the examiner was both understanding and doing his best to help me calm down.
Today I have my next check ride. I will try to get the class rating for single engine piston aircraft with up to 2 tons of maximum take-off weight.
The day starts with coffee and sandwiches in the flight school. The office manager tells me later on that she always gets sandwiches on the day of a check ride. She found that a snack gives the examiner a good mood and helps the student relax. She is great!
And what does this do?
Kilo Sierra is waiting for us on the apron. We start with a thorough pre-flight check. I keep talking and comment the checks I perform. I learned early on that this is important. The examiner follows me around the aircraft and asks many questions. More than I expected. And then he gets me.
He points at the air intake behind the propeller. A small device, driven by a belt is mounted there. “So, what does this do?” he asks.
My instructor is very much a pilot and not so much a technician. We never took the cowling off, I have never examined the engine except for the parts visible through the oil filler door. “Alternator, generator, starter…?” I try to guess. The examiner smiles, “yes, one of the above”.
After he tells me that we are looking at the alternator, he wants to see me fly.
Turn, stall, glide
We take-off and go towards Neuhardenberg. On the way over there we do full circles in various degrees of bank as well as some stall drills and slow flight. Nobody answers my calls in Neuhardenberg (as expected) and so we use the runway for a low pass and go-arround maneuver.
We climb out and go over to Eggersdorf for the more demanding part of the check ride. Various start- and landing drills. We perform a short field landing and take-off, a landing without engine power and a landing without flaps. Finally we simulate an engine failure shortly after take-off. In this maneuver, everything has to be very fast (nose down, flaps out, watch your speed, flare, land). We have trained this many times and I know the drill.
The examiners check list is complete and we go back to Strausberg (track of the route, Google Earth plug-in required). I land and while we taxi back to the apron, he asks me for the times of the landings in Eggersdorf. He’s got me again, I did not write them down. Stupid mistake! I tell him that I will have to call the tower in Eggersdorf and ask for the times. “They will role their eyes at you” he says and tells me that he has got them.
I’m unhappy about the stupid mistakes. The examiner is cool about it. He smiles and congratulates me. The rest must have been enough for the rating.
To be continued…
(originally posted on August 15, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/check-ride/)
Today was great! I saw the big city from above, almost flew over my house, saw a new airport and had an Airbus waiting for me – but one thing after the other:
The big city has two international airports and a no-fly zone in between them. So everything west of my home airport is controlled airspace. I have been flying around it for two years but never ventured into it. Until today.
The sky looks dark towards the west and I can see rain showers. We hit the rain shortly after take-off on climb. Kilo Sierra is shaking but the shower is very local and we can go around most of it.
Rain and gusts up to 39 knots
We check in with the controller an I announce our intention: “VFR from Strausberg to Schönhagen, via Echo and Bravo, low pass over the runway of SXF (the larger one of the two international airports), exit via Sierra to Schönhagen”. The controller informs us that he has rain and wind gusting up to 39 knots. My instructor is not worried. “It always looks worse from the ground”. The controller is cool with us trying as far as we can make it.
“Delta Kilo Sierra has reached Echo 2 at 2.000 feet”
In the control zone I have to stick to a set route from one compulsory reporting point to the next. The first one is Echo 2 at the intersection of a train line and a highway. I announce our position, the controller acknowledges it and we are in. Easy as pie.
We fly over the suburbs, over the outskirts and then over the city. Before we reach the no-fly zone over the city center, we turn left towards the airport. The rain has moved to the east and the sun glitters on the wet roofs of the buildings. Between Echo 1 and Bravo, I can see my house. I’m loving it!
“You guys are lucky if I can get you in a gap to cross the field”
SXF is being expanded and transformed into the cities new international airport. The terminal building, the new control tower and the new runways are directly in front of me now. I see the traffic on the ground (very cool) and a number of approach lights coming out of the dark clouds to the left (a bit frightening). I ask the controller for clearance for a low pass over the runway but there is no chance. The weather has delayed the afternoon rush hour and there are a bunch of large jets waiting to get in. In between two of them, we manage to cross over the airport at pattern altitude and make our way over to the next reporting point Sierra.
15 minutes break
From Sierra, it is not far to Schönhagen, south west of the big city. It is a very popular airport for the general aviation community. We land and taxi by a number of different aircraft on our way to the tower.
After a few minutes and a nice chat with the clerk at the desk, we take-off again. We fly north and re-enter the control zone via the Whiskey route. Whiskey 2, Whiskey 1, Bravo and another attempt for a low over pass. This time the traffic situation is more relaxed. We see two easyjet Airbus A319s lining up for take-off on runway 25 right. The first takes-off and by the time we are cleared for the downwind of the pattern, the second one is on the runway already.
We are trying to do this as quickly as possible. So we are not slowing down much on base and are not setting flaps. I turn into final approach and there it is: Runway 25 right, 2710 meters by 45 meters of illuminated concrete. Wow.
We are coming in fast (for a little Cessna) and I’m still caught-up in the moment when we see another Airbus waiting at the holding point. So we stop dawdling, I push the throttle to the fire wall and we are out of there as quickly as we came.
Getting so close to heavy metal was much less frightening than I thought!
To be continued…
PS: See the entire flight here (you will need a google earth plug-in). The tracking is provided by CloudAhoy.com, a great service that lets you track flights using an iPhone and analyze it online – free of charge.
(originally posted on July 17, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/sfx/)