Category Archives: Flight Lesson

Flight 10: Basic maneuvers and landings (5/17/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

After 4 canceled lessons over the last 2 weeks, today I was finally able to fly.  The day brought with it clear skies and calm winds.  If you schedule enough flight lessons, one of them is bound to have great weather!

I drove out to Caldwell and got there at 7:45am and I preflighted the plane before Tomoharu got there at 8am so that we’d be ready to roll when he showed up.  When he arrived we hopped right in and got down to business.

After taking off and flying to the practice area, we did some basic maneuvers.

  • Slow flight.  I like to fly my slow flight as slowly as I can.  At times I was flying at 40 knots, but I like to keep it around 45 knots so that I have some buffer before hitting the stall speed.  I climbed 100 feet during the maneuver (which of course I shouldn’t have, I was too focused on my airspeed and wasn’t watching my altimeter), suggesting I could have eased up on the throttle.
  • Power on stalls.  I told Tom how my power on stalls were poor when I flew with Tom Fischer because they ended up as spins instead of stalls.  So we went over them again and I made sure to let the speed slowly bleed off before pitching for the stall.  Things went a lot better this time (i.e. I entered a stall instead of a spin), though I forgot to hold right rudder (since in that situation you’re moving slowly while the engine is at full throttle) and had to be cued to do that.
  • Steep turns.  I mentioned how Tom taught me to do steep turns without the trim tab, and his cue to keep the horizon on the same spot on the cowl during the turn.  This is probably the best steep turn cue I’ve ever gotten, and I was able to do steep turns with ease.  The worst part of my steep turns at this point is that my initial 45 degree bank will slowly become less steep if I’m not paying active attention to my bank angle.  I can pretty easily hold altitude and come out on the correct heading.

After that we went to Orange County airport (MGJ), and rather than Tom saying “turn X heading to get there” he told me to pull out the sectional chart and find my way there.  I got to do some navigating!

It was a great day for flying, and to be expected there were a lot of people flying out of and into the airport.  At times we had to extend portions of our pattern to put space between us and other traffic, and we had to do a lot of traffic-sighting to stay aware.

For the first two landings I turned onto final and found myself too high, so I went around.  I did three landings after that.  A common thing that I do wrong when I hear the main wheels touch the ground is that I relax back pressure and the nosewheel hits the ground abruptly.  Tom said that my landings were pretty good (compared to my previous landings–which I’d describe as “rough”) and that with only a few minor corrections they could become great landings.  As far as I could tell, Tom wasn’t helping control at all and was only giving me verbal cues.

Here are some of the mistakes I still make while landing:

  • Forgetting to throw in flaps on the base leg.
  • Not descending during the descent stage of the landing.  As a corollary, rolling out of the turn onto final approach too high.  When I’m high, Tom will say “you can pull the power to idle since you’re too high” but I don’t yet have confidence I’d make the runway from as far out as he tells me to do that.
  • At times descending too quickly (i.e. > 500 feet per minute).
  • Flying too wide or narrow of a traffic pattern.  I have a tendency to turn downwind too late or crab in towards the runway on the downwind, shortening my base leg.
  • Coming in straight for a landing but being off the centerline.
  • Not holding back pressure after wheels touch down.

I was surprised my landings went so well after not flying for 2 weeks.  I felt more relaxed and more aware, even though as I said it looked like Tom wasn’t holding the yoke at all.  I find that sometimes I actually dream about flying and flight lessons, so maybe that was some “extra practice time” or perhaps my mind finally reconciling new information I’m trying to learn.  It’s akin to periodically taking a week off from exercising to come back stronger and well-rested.

Soon enough it was time to head back to Caldwell.  My landing at Caldwell was good as well, and after that we secured the plane and another lesson was in the books!

Obama cancels my flight lesson… again! (5/14/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

I had a flight lesson scheduled for today at 4pm.  The air was warm and the weather was beautiful!  However, Obama decided to grace NYC with his divine presence and shut down the airspace starting right when my lesson would have began.  My lesson got moved to tomorrow though it will likely rain.

Yet again, no flight training within the vicinity of the New York Bravo airspace.

Yet again, no flight training within the vicinity of the New York Bravo airspace.

Good thing Obama can’t run for re-election because at this rate he isn’t winning my vote.

Flight 9: Basic maneuvers with Tom Fischer (5/2/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

I took the entire week off this week and had a “staycation” with the intent of flying as much as possible.  Unfortunately the weather was bad almost all week and Tomoharu needed to travel to Europe for business on Friday.  Since the weather was finally clearing up, even though Tomoharu was gone I wanted to still get some flying in.  What better time than to get a flight in with Tom Fischer, who owns the flight school!  It would be interesting to get the perspective of a different instructor.

During the flight we reviewed basic maneuvers:

  • Slow flight.  I killed this and was able to enter slow flight and fly with the stall horn buzzing while turning to various headings.  I was flying so slowly I was ready for the plane to stall at any moment!
  • Power on stalls.  I was able to enter the maneuver fine, but every time I got the airplane to stall it would go straight into a spin.  Of course, “ain’t nobody got time for that”–apply rudder opposite the direction of the spin and then level the aircraft.  Tom thinks that the reason this would happen is that I wouldn’t let the speed bleed off before pitching for the stall.  I would go straight into a critical angle of attack and keep pulling back until I stalled, meaning that I was stalling at a much higher angle of attack than necessary and thus it was easier to cause a spin.
  • Steep turns.  I did these satisfactorily by using the “two turns of the trim wheel” technique.  After that, Tom asked “so try it now without the trim wheel.”  I had no idea how to do it, so Tom showed me–keep the horizon on a specific part of the dashboard at all times.  It’s that easy!

There were a few other highlights to the lesson:

  • Looking for traffic.  I was a champ at this.  Normally I’m like “hmm, I don’t see it…” but there were three different traffic calls I had to look for and I found all of them–and even handled the ATC communications for them.  Tom tuned us into the NY approach frequency and we heard them talking about us being at the 2 o’clock of an incoming aircraft.  I spotted him and Tom took over and we climbed 1000 feet.  As we watched him pass underneath us, it was clear that we would have come close to colliding with him if both of us just stayed straight-and-level on our paths.  The big sky theory would have you believe that potential collisions are a rare incident, but considering that on my 9th lesson I came into this sort of situation shows you that the sky may not be so big after all, especially around busy airports!
  • Silly (read: stupid) mistake.  When you’re working with an instructor you want to impress and try your best, but sometimes that desire to impress takes too much control and makes you do stupid things.  When we finally taxiied back and it was time to shut off the engine, I couldn’t find on the checklist where the engine shutdown procedure was.  In a rush to not sit there staring at a checklist like a bumbling idiot, I knew what I needed to do–pull the mixture to full lean and throttle to idle–but wait!  I forgot to switch off the avionics before shutting down the engine, and Tom made sure I knew that.  This is the sort of stupid mistake that I need to stop myself from making in the future and I will definitely be on the lookout to safeguard myself against it and to be more authoritative as pilot in command.  I need to stop worrying about what my instructor thinks of me and focus on performing my duties as a pilot safely!  First and foremost, that includes not skipping checklists.  I’m ashamed I made such an elementary mistake, but it’s better I did now than alone without an instructor to correct me.

Overall the flight was a lot of fun, and Tom Fischer has a notably different teaching style than Tomoharu.  There are two main differences:


  • Talks through things as you’re doing them.
  • Preemptively guides you to act.  If we need to descend to stay below a shelf of Bravo airspace or need to get the weather before landing, he’ll call it out in advance.

Tom Fischer

  • Talks very little.  This was weird to get used to, since Tomoharu is the opposite.  Jodi in the office (Tom’s wife) warned me of this.
  • Observes you and lets you act, likely to see how you respond in certain situations.  He doesn’t tell me “descend so you stay clear of the Bravo” or “you should probably get the weather now,” he just watches me to see if I do it.

It seems from his teaching style that Tom Fischer has much more experience flying with students than Tomoharu.  Tom Fischer’s observation and silence takes balls when you’re flying with a student for the first time.  However, it lets him deduce your strengths and weaknesses from your actions, and regardless he seems to have developed a keen intuition into reading what students are thinking.

One thing I realized is that it is valuable to have both styles of instruction.  Tomoharu’s style of teaching is great because he is quick to point out things to help you learn, and that atmosphere might make you feel more comfortable asking questions.  Also, I’m a “learn by example” kind of guy so learning via repetition and seeing how Tomoharu does things help me better understand how I need to do things.

On the other side, Tom Fischer’s style is very helpful because now that you know all this information he shuts up and gives you a chance to be pilot-in-command.  This lesson I felt like I was given more responsibility than I have been given in any previous lesson.  I climbed when I wanted to what altitude I wanted, turned when I wanted, navigated us to the practice area, navigated us back via pilotage to the airport, stayed clear of the Bravo airspace on my own, and did 90% of talking to ATC (he only stepped in when Tower asked us if we wanted to land on a different runway because of wind conditions).  Both styles of teaching complement each other;  I couldn’t have flown with such authority with Tom Fischer had I not been endowed with Tomoharu’s knowledge.

I didn’t realize I’d uncover so much about teaching styles and how beneficial it is to work with other instructors from time to time from just one lesson with Tom Fischer!

Flight 8: Pattern work (5/1/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

This lesson we did more touch-and-gos in crosswinds.

I did a little better than my last lesson, but the wind made it a challenge.  There was less gusting and more of a consistent, strong wind, and on the first landing I had to get used to crabbing into the wind.  Academically I know why I need to crab into the wind, but when you’re in a plane it feels disorienting to be pointed ~15 degrees away from the runway centerline (into the wind) and see yourself still tracking the ground in a straight line.

Another result of the wind was that on my first few base-to-final turns I overshot the runway because I didn’t account for wind.  When I began turning earlier I was able to come out mostly lined up.

Tom mentioned that, paradoxically, being more relaxed during landing would help me get better.  He jests that I have a “vulcan death grip” on the yoke, and we practiced rolling into turns and gentle descents and climbs to show how “gentle” you can be while still controlling the aircraft.  Since you have less fine motor control when you’re gripping the yoke for dear life, your control motions cannot be as fluid as if you had a more relaxed grip.  Additionally, you are more prone to overcorrecting and creating pilot-induced oscillations.

Flight 7: Traffic pattern and landings (4/25/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Today we had direct crosswinds and we got knocked around a bit.  This was my first day of “pattern work,” which is simply flying around the traffic pattern over and over again practicing takeoffs and landings.  When talking to ATC you tell them you want “closed traffic,” meaning that you are just going to stay in the pattern.  

There were some fairly strong gusts, and my first landing was pretty shoddy–a combination of strong winds, a gust, and a lack of directional control meant that we almost veered off the runway after landing!

Another highlight was being too low on one of the approaches–4 red lights on the VASI.  There’s a saying: “4 red, you’re dead.”  Not already dead, but a way of saying you are too low on approach and need a correction (such as adding power) to ensure you don’t make premature contact with the ground.

Two of the landings I decided to do a go-around.  On one I was too high, and on another I just didn’t have good control of the airplane and couldn’t stay aligned with the runway centerline.

My takeoffs got a lot better after Tom cued me to add more right rudder as we got closer to takeoff speed.  Without it, we were being blown to the side and almost heading down the runway at a slight angle, causing an odd sensation (and able to tell something was noticeably wrong) with the wheels slightly skipping.

Overall, I saw some noticeable improvement in my landing ability over the course of the lesson.  Although I had intuited it before, I am now able to see that getting good at landing is simply a matter of a lot of time and practice.  You may hear advice to get to your solo in as few hours as possible, but at this point I am able to appreciate that it will happen when it happens.  Everyone learns at different rates, and you’ll solo when both you and your instructor feel you’re ready–regardless of the hours.  Worrying about hours simply takes mental capacity away from what you set out to do in the first place: learn to fly and enjoy doing it!

Flight 6: Traffic pattern work and power curve mistakes (4/19/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Today was a day of relatively high crosswinds which made things challenging.

We practiced slow flight and some power on/off stalls.  My stalls were “up to PTS” (Practical Test Standards) according to Tom, but my slow flight was pretty terrible–for some reason I thought that I had to hold power at 1900 during slow flight, and didn’t realize that I’d have to add power as I got closer to slower speeds in order to maintain altitude.  I was dropping altitude even though I had nailed the airspeed, and was perplexed as to why.  Even though I’ve read about the power curve, I failed to recognize it applied here and that’s what caused my issue.  Tom said to maintain slow flight without descending, you’ll probably end up with the engine at around 2250 RPM.

After that we did some more steep turns, and they too were in my opinion sub-par–although we ended up at the altitude we started at, we lost about 150 feet throughout the turn before ascending again.  It’s likely just a factor of practicing them, and for now it’s definitely something I could use some work on.

Then we turned towards Orange County (MGJ) and did a few touch-and-gos in the pattern for Runway 3.  There was a significant crosswind on this runway.  I think we had one go-around, and then 3 or 4 landings.  My first landing I rolled out too far before taking off again and we had to do a full-stop.  During the other landings I was getting blown around a little bit.

One mistake that I made was not fully putting up the flaps before taking off on the touch-and-go landing.  I need to fully retract flaps and visually verify that they are up before adding full power and removing carb heat.  I was rushing the process (with my experience I don’t have a good gauge of how much runway room I have) to ensure I could get back into the air with runway room to spare.

The biggest problem I had during these landings was not adjusting the power adequately after adding flaps.  Sometimes I would find myself at 1300-1500 RPM after adding full flaps, having never adjusted the power after each increment of flaps.  Again, this is a mistake related to not understanding the application of the power curve.  When noticing I was sinking too quickly, I’d add power but also pull back a little too much on the yoke and come in too slowly (and thus have little margin between my airspeed and the stall speed).

Tom’s main advice was to pitch for airspeed (aim for an approach speed around 75-80 MPH or 65-70 knots) and use throttle to control altitude.  If I was going to undershoot the runway, add power; if overshooting, reduce power.  Through either of these scenarios, pitch the nose to keep airspeed at approach speed (65 knots).  Today, even though I added power when I noticed we were descending too quickly, I primarily tried to extend the glide by pulling back on the nose–which is dangerous!  Despite learning about power off stalls and how critical it is to avoid them at low altitudes, it’s natural to want to extend the glide to the runway on final by pulling back on the yoke.  I was making this undeniably dangerous mistake, and now I know more concretely what I need to do to correct it.  In a sense, it’s good that I’ve made this mistake during training because now I know: I want to avoid managing altitude via the elevators during landing; that I have a greater tendency to make this mistake than I may realize; and how to correct that tendency–by changing how I mentally approach airspeed and altitude management during the landing procedure.  Again–it comes back to being behind the power curve.

Afterwards, Tom and I debriefed.  I knew my flying that day was sub-par, and Tom noted that it was a challenging day with the winds and that–while nothing I did was explicitly dangerous–I was flying in a manner that left very little margin for error.  I think this was his way of saying he got a little nervous at times without trying to dishearten me, but after making mistakes that border on dangerous I am able to take the criticism.  I believe safety is the most important aspect of being a pilot, and I put the ego aside and take any safety-related feedback very seriously.

It was a long and exhausting day of flying.  To end the day on a comical note, Tom mentioned that maybe the reason I’m struggling a bit is because I can’t fully reach the rudder pedals and thus can’t deflect the rudder to its limits.  After he said that, I thought about it and it might indeed be the case–while taxiing I have to rely on braking a lot more than I’ve always thought I should because I couldn’t fully deflect the rudders during a turn.  I’d always have to stretch out under my seatbelt to try to squeeze a little more rudder.  He mentioned that I should try using a “cushion” next time to put me more forward in the seat–and I’ll be bringing a pillow to the next flight to see if that’ll help!

One final note: AOPA is a fantastic organization with huge amounts of quality information.  Become a member if you haven’t already–there’s even a discount for student members and it will save you $10 on your written test fee!

Further Reading:
Behind the Power Curve (includes a great analogy of the power curve to other areas of life)
AOPA: Slow Down

Flight 5: Steep turns and pattern work at MGJ (4/17/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Today was a day with great weather.  We took off on Runway 22 at November.  I’d never heard this before, and didn’t even know it was possible that ATC could tell you take off on a runway from a taxiway intersection.  I read back the instructions improperly (I thought she said runway 28 via alpha november, where we usually take off, but she actually said 22 at november) and she corrected me, and after learning that you can indeed takeoff from a runway without taxiing to the beginning, we taxied over and took off.

"Runway 22 at November" means Runway 22 where it intersects taxiway November.

“Runway 22 at November” means Runway 22 where it intersects taxiway November.  You do your engine run-up where the red arrow is pointing, and after you get ATC clearance for takeoff you turn onto the runway and depart.  (Ignore the big brown circle, that’s from another part of the airport diagram)

After taking off, we did some power on/off stall practice and then while flying Tom pulled out the throttle and said “your engine just quit!  What do you do?”  So of course: the ABCDEFG checklist!  I trimmed for 70-75 knots (best airspeed for gliding); found a landing spot–an open field ahead; and then spoke through the rest of the checklist.  I remembered that the G means “gas tanks to off” but forgot it also means to put throttle full idle, mixture full lean, magnetos off, and master switch off.

I also practiced leaning out the mixture.  The way you do this is to turn the mixture knob to the left (counter-clockwise) continuously until you see a drop in RPM.  Then you turn it back to the right (clockwise) until you see the RPM rise again, and after that give it two more full turns to the right.  This ensures that you’re not burning excess fuel and that you’re getting maximum fuel efficiency.

After that I learned steep turns, which are turns at 45 degrees while holding altitude and airspeed.  After doing your clearing turns and you’re trimmed straight and level, pick out a landmark that you are heading towards to use as a visual cue and roll into the bank.  In the Cessna 172s we train in, add one full wheel of trim at 30 degrees bank and another full wheel at 45 degrees.  Then, hold the 45 degree turn while maintaining coordinated flight, within 10 knots of the starting airspeed, within 100 feet of starting altitude, and within 5 degrees of a 45 degree bank.  Since you need to maintain altitude, you also need to apply back pressure–in a 45 degree banked turn you experience 1.4 G’s when you’re maintaining altitude.  Once you’ve almost turned 360 degrees, level out at the original heading within 10 degrees.  After that, do a steep turn in the opposite direction, following the same guidelines.  Once you’ve done your left and right steep turns, reduce power to cruising (2200 RPM for our planes) and remove the two full wheels of trim you added during the start of the turns.

After this, we went over to Orange County Airport (KMGJ) to practice some landings in the traffic pattern.  MGJ is an untowered airport, so you self-announce your actions and intentions on the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency) and constantly monitor the frequency to remain aware of other traffic.  We did a bunch of touch-and-go landings on Runway 21 and practiced flying in the traffic pattern.  The biggest mistake I was making was forgetting to use my flaps (derp!) throughout the base and final legs of the pattern.  Sometimes I would also not allow myself to descend and find myself too high on final.  One of the landings was shoddy enough to require a go-around–so carb heat off, full power, first notch of flaps out immediately, and nose level; second notch of flaps when over 70 knots; and last notch when a positive rate of climb has been established.

After that, we flew back to Caldwell and took a few minutes to enjoy the sights on the nice day.  There are some common landmarks we’ve been using throughout our flights:

  • Greenwood Lake, which you can spot because of it’s long and narrow with two islands in the middle of the lake plus Greenwood Lake Airport (4N1) at the southern end of the lake.  Coming from the north, it is just over a hilltop.
  • Wanaque Reservoir, south of Greenwood Lake, which has a longer island inside of it closer to the north side.
  • Lincoln Park Airport (N07), which is just north of the Class D airspace of Caldwell.
  • Boonton Reservoir, which is a VFR waypoint for Caldwell and identifiable by the small lone island in the middle.
  • Willowbrook Mall, which we used this flight as our reference point for lining up with runway 22 at Caldwell.  It’s a cluster of white buildings to the north west of Caldwell, and you fly towards a point slightly to the north of them.    Then you turn to Caldwell when you’re in line with the runway to put yourself onto a 3 mile final approach for runway 22.

As a followup after we parked the plane, we went over all of the checklists and steps for each flight procedure.

Slow Flight

  • Clearing turns
  • Pre-maneuver checklist (LC-GUMPS: lights, carb heat, gas to both, undercarriage fixed in Cessna 172s, mixture full rich, propeller RPM to desired setting, and seatbelts set)
  • RPM set to 1900 (we want to fly straight and level in slow flight, so we use 1900 and not 1700)
  • First notch of flaps when less than 110 knots
  • Full flaps when in the white arc
  • Fly at 50 knots.  You’ll likely need to increase power at this point since you’re “on the other side of the power curve” to maintain altitude.  Carb heat will come off if you need to increase the RPM high enough that you are in the green arc.

Recovery from Slow Flight and Power Off Stalls

  • Full power (applied over 2 seconds) and carb heat off
  • First notch of flaps up immediately
  • Hold the nose level to pick up airspeed
  • Second notch of flaps come up when greater than 70 knots
  • Last notch of flaps comes up once you’ve reached a positive rate of climb

Power Off Stalls

  • Clearing turns and pre-maneuver checklist
  • RPM to 1700; aim for 500 foot-per-minute descent at 70 knots
  • Pull the power to idle
  • Stall the plane
  • When the nose dips, immediately recover using the list above; be careful not to induce a secondary stall.

Power On Stalls

  • Clearing turns and pre-maneuver checklist
  • RPM to 1300; fly level to reduce speed to 65 knots
  • Carb heat off, apply full power
  • Pitch for a stall
  • When the nose dips, immediately center the nose on the horizon and pick up airspeed; be careful not to induce a secondary stall.

Now time to study these lists and aim to impress during the next lesson!

Flight 4: More slow flight and stalls (4/13/14)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

Today we got to fly in N811JD, which has a newer interior and instruments than N5253R.

N811JD, another Cessna 172.

N811JD, a Cessna 172.

We preflighted the plane as usual, and there are a few minor differences between this plane and 5253R.  A lot of this stuff is becoming routine now–preflight has almost become second nature, as well as the context of everything that we’re doing throughout the entire process of a flight lesson.

We started the engine, got the weather, called ATC, taxied to the runway, did our engine run-up, and took off.  Today is the lesson that I finally started to be able to notice adverse yaw as it was happening and correct with rudder.  I did a fairly nice takeoff–it helped that there were minimal winds–and was sure to counteract the plane’s left-turning tendency as we climbed out.

The lesson before, Tom told me that I needed to be more assertive with my actions flying the plane.  This was valuable feedback, and I took this as a cue that I needed to trust what I was doing but also that Tom had been giving me the complete freedom to fly the plane as I saw fit and wanted me to utilize that freedom.  With this understood, I was a lot more assertive and confident in my choices during this flight, and I feel like that will be the case in the future.

We did most of the things we did the previous lesson–slow flight, stalls, and the engine-out emergency checklist.  Everything in this lesson I performed better than I had the previous lesson (the day before).  I attribute it to calmer winds as well as more experience.  Keep in mind–by the end of this flight, I will have only accumulated 5 hours in the air!

My approach to the landing was great compared to the day before, and I was able to hold the runway centerline pretty easily.  On landing I wanted to flare out sooner than I think I should have (Tom said “wait, wait, not yet”), and as a result we had a small bounce on landing.

After clearing the runway, I taxied too quickly on the ride back and we ended up experiencing a nosewheel shimmy.  From what I’ve read, the correct action to remedy this is to pull the power to idle, pull back on the yoke to try to pull weight off of the wheel, and ride it out while maintaining control of the aircraft.

Lastly, after parking the plane you need to tie it down (you can see in the above photo of N811JD that the plane is tied down with ropes).  This is something that after 4 lessons I’ve failed to learn, so I am studying to prevent this from being a pain point during my next lesson.

Flight 3: Radio comms, slow flight and stalls (4/12/13)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

After a series of 3 canceled lessons due to rain and TFRs, I was finally able to get to my third flight.  It was a beautiful day with almost no clouds.

After meeting up with Tomoharu (I’ll call him Tom, not to be confused with Tom Fischer), we went out and preflighted the plane.  Sunday we were going to fly in N811JD and Tom accidentally thought we were flying in that plane, so we ended up doing a preflight of the wrong plane!  After figuring this out, we went and got the keys for our trusty N5253R and I did the preflight for that plane too.  Not so bad, I got a bunch of preflight practice that day!

After starting the engine, getting the weather from ATIS, and setting our instruments, it was time to call Caldwell Ground to request taxi clearance.  Tom asked me, “how comfortable are you with talking on the radio?”  My first radio exchange went something like this (imagine an air of nervousness in my voice):

Me: “Caldwell Ground, Cessna 5253R is at Fischer Aviation with information sierra, requesting VFR departure to the north”
Caldwell Ground: “5253R, taxi to runway 28 via taxiway alpha november”
Me: “Runway 28 via taxiway alpha november for 5253R”

When making a radio call, you should use the format “who, you, where, what.”  When looking at the above transmission:

  • Who you are calling (Caldwell Ground)
  • You (Cessna 5253R — you usually include your plane type before your call sign)
  • Where you are (Fischer Aviation).  You also let the controller know which weather information you have by appending your location with “with information _____”.  In the above exchange, I had weather “information sierra” from the ATIS.
  • What you want (VFR departure to the north)

In response to your initial transmission, the ground controller will usually give you taxi instructions to the runway.  In the above dialogue, the ground controller told me I would be taxiing to runway 28 via taxiway A and then turning onto N.  After you hear the instructions you’re supposed to repeat the pertinent information.  In the above case, the controller needed me to read back the runway and taxiways.

After taxiing and doing our run-up and things looked good, we pulled up to the hold short line for runway 28 and called Caldwell Tower.

Me: “Caldwell Tower, 5253R is holding short of runway 28, ready for takeoff.”

Usually after this, the tower will tell you to continue holding short or clear you for takeoff.  Again, you need to repeat the pertinent instructions from the controller.  I don’t remember exactly how it was worded, but in this case the controller cleared us for takeoff, so I had to repeat that.

Me: “Cleared for takeoff, 5253R.”

After that, we pulled onto the runway and took off.  I didn’t add right rudder after takeoff and we veered to the left a bit, so that was something I’d have to make sure I controlled on the next takeoff.

We went out to the practice area and we reviewed slow flight once more, and then I learned power on and power off stalls.  Power off stalls (stalling with the engine at idle, hence “power off”) are for simulating a stall on landing.  Usually this will happen because you’re going to end up short of the runway and you pull back on the yoke to try to stretch your glide.  By doing this you exceed the critical angle of attack and stall.  The correct response to stalling in a power off scenario is to apply full throttle, remove carburetor heat, immediately retract the first notch of flaps, and fly straight-and-level to pick up airspeed.  At that point, you’re in the same situation as a recovery from slow flight, and you can then climb back to pattern altitude to execute a go-around.  Ideally you want to lose no less than 100 feet of altitude during the stall recovery, since in this scenario you’re landing so you would be close to the ground.  Additionally, it’s important to manage adverse yaw to ensure that one wing doesn’t stall before the other and you end up going into a spin.  Power off stalls and slow flight are critical elements that one must master to be a great pilot–if anything wrong happens close to the ground, you need to recover as quickly as possible.  It’s practice time that must be taken absolutely seriously.

After that, we learned power on stalls, which simulate a stall on takeoff.  Even though you’re at full power on takeoff, you can still stall!  It’s incredibly hard in a Cessna 172 to stall with full power–to the point that it seems like one would implicitly know they are about to stall the plane simply by how much you need to pull back on the yoke.  Like with power on stalls, it’s important to manage adverse yaw and you’ll see quite a bit of it in power on stalls because you’re flying slowly but with high RPM.  When the nose drops, simply bring the nose back up to the horizon and fly straight-and-level while you pick up airspeed, and once at a suitable airspeed you can continue your climb.

Then we went through the checklist/procedure for emergency landing–if your engine quits, what to do.  Like seemingly everything in aviation, there is a checklist: ABCDEFGH.  Easy enough to remember the acronym.  It means:

  • Air speed.  Set the plane to the best glide speed to get the most horizontal distance for your altitude.
  • Best landing spot.  Seek out the best place to land within your available gliding distance.
  • Checklist for engine failure.  This includes ensuring the mixture is full lean, carb heat is on, throttle is not set to idle, cycle magnetos, and try to restart the engine.
  • Declare.  Tell ATC you have a problem and squawk 7700.
  • Egress.  Open the door and prop something in between so it can’t get jammed shut if you crash and leave you stuck inside.
  • Flaps.  Lower the flaps to slow you down once a landing is guaranteed.
  • Gas.  Ensure that fuel is set to OFF to minimize the chance of fires in the event of a bad landing.
  • Have a drink (optional).  If you can walk away from the landing, have a drink and reflect.

The first two things are absolutely critical to take care of right away to allow the best chance for locating/gliding to a suitable area to land.

After a lengthy lesson in the air we were ready to head back.  Tom took care of the radio communication related to landing and we got into the pattern.  It was somewhat windy and I made a fairly poor turn to final and didn’t do so great holding the runway centerline.

After touching down on the runway, we got into a situation where I didn’t hold left rudder and we came about two car widths from veering off the runway.  Fortunately Tom helped out with that–and he mentioned afterwards that I need to be more assertive and not afraid to fly the airplane.   This was fair feedback and something to focus on for the next lesson.

Obama cancels my flight lesson

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

I had a flight lesson scheduled for this Friday, April 11.  Today it was announced by the FAA that Obama will be visiting NYC on Friday and they issued NOTAM 4/6928, a temporary flight restriction (TFR) encompassing the LGA/JFK/EWR Bravo airspace.


NOTAM 4/6927 is shown as the three orange shapes.  There is another TFR shown as the small red circle for tonight’s Orioles/Yankees game.  Source: SkyVector

Unfortunately, flight training is one of the things that is “not authorized within this TFR” so my lesson had to be canceled and rescheduled for Sunday.  I think in the future I may schedule three lessons a week instead of two, since at this rate at least one of them will be canceled and I’ll still get to fly twice a week!