Night Flying and Crazy Landings

Wow. That was probably the most interesting flight yet. We started off heading to the Northwest tracking Sparta VOR. Tom made me don the hood and do some climbs and descents while tracking the VOR. I did a 180 degree turn and setup for some maneuvers. First a power-off stall, then a power-on, then some steep turns. All went well (I could’ve been quicker with the flaps on the power-off, and I did lose 100 feet in the steep turn, but not bad.) Somewhere in there we also did some unusual attitudes – it’s all a blur now. We headed back to Caldwell… and that’s when the fun started.

SPOILER ALERT (if you’re flying with Tom) I needed to do 8 more night landings to reach the requirement of 10. This is how they went:

First Landing: The first one was normal. We were coming from the West, so we entered a left base for Runway 4.

Second Landing: For the second landing, Tom turned off my landing light, so I couldn’t really see the runway markings. As we were landing, I said, ” Thanks for turning my landing light off.” He replied, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” He was right.

Third Landing: My landing light stayed off for takeoff and while we were on the downwind, Tom turned all the cockpit lights off. I couldn’t see any of the instruments. I asked if I could use my flashlight. He said, “No.” The landing was fine and done by feel. Could it get more interesting?

Fourth Landing: I still had no instruments or landing light on takeoff. I setup for another landing. I put the flaps in at 10 degrees like normal. I turned base. It felt kind of weird. We didn’t seem to be descending like normal. I pulled out some power and raised the nose. I put in 20 degrees of flaps. Turning final, it was apparent we were going much faster than normal. The runway closed in quickly and I had the power all the way out very early. I didn’t put the rest of the flaps in… I figured we could land fast. We landed fine and very smoothly. I went to put the flaps up right away and realized they were already up. That’s when I figured it out. Every time I put the flaps in, Tom was taking them out. Ugh. But it worked.

Fifth Landing: On the next one Tom asked, “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” By now I’ve learned that the bad news means he’s going to pull the power. And he did. The good news was that he gave me my lights back. Yay – as if that was going to last long.

Sixth Landing: Yup. What one hand giveth, the same hand taketh away on the next landing. This was another engine-out approach, but this time with no lights. “How am I supposed to know if I’m at the best glide speed?”, I was thinking. I didn’t know, but I did land it and that’s what mattered. I believe my comment after landing was, “Holy crap.”

Seventh Landing: I got a break on this one. I had engine power, but I didn’t have a landing light, cockpit lights, or flaps. By this point, however, I was getting quite used to getting all the cues from outside. I mentioned to Tom that this really gets you connected with the outside. It was really all by feel. It was a fast approach, and a bit of a smack onto the runway, but not terrible.

Eighth Landing: I got my cockpit lights back, but not my landing light. At about 100 feet, Tom says, “deer on the runway!” For the first few seconds I thought, “I don’t see a deer” and “How the hell does Tom see anything on the runway, there are no lights on it?” Then I realized he just wanted me to do a go-around. And that’s what I did.

Eighth Again: And the grand-daddy of them all… a complete failure. No engine, no landing light, no cockpit lights, no flaps. Luckily I still had aileron, elevator and rudder. We landed smoothly and we were done. Amazing.

That was really a lot of fun.

Plane: N677DM (C172)
From: CDW
To: CDW
Duration: 1.8

Night Cross Country to Allentown

It was not too long after takeoff that I was able to spot the intersection of several roads that were on my map. It was all lit up and easy to see. The air was really smooth and the view was great.

I flew to that intersection and turned on course to Allentown. I cross-referenced several landmarks from my map to the outside and it looked like we were flying a perfect course.

We passed our first checkpoint (the 360 radial of Solberg) a little late, but understandable because of the climb out turns. We called Allentown approach a little while after that. But, before we reached our second checkpoint, we were being vectored for the approach into Allentown.

The airport was still a ways away (10 – 15 miles), but it was easy to spot the beacon. We headed for it. As we got closer, I had a hard time picking out the runway lights, since I wasn’t too familiar with the airport. I found them, set the heading bug and flew the downwind. We followed a helicopter in and did a stop and go. The approach was going very well, but I pulled out the power a bit too soon, so we landed slightly hard.

We headed back out and turned on course to Caldwell. We flew over a very pronounced cloverleaf intersection. I found it on the map and realized we were a bit off course. I was able to correct that. About halfway through the trip back, Tom asked where we were. Apparently, pointing to the map and saying “here-ish” was neither as accurate nor as precise as Tom would have liked. So, we started lost procedures.

I found our exact location and Tom said, “take me to Andover.” I plotted the new course and we were on our way. We found the airport and circled it a couple times trying to get the lights on using pilot-controlled lighting. It wasn’t working. We gave up and headed back to Caldwell. The tower had just closed, so the airport was now a Class E. We announced ourselves on the CTAF and landed.

It was a nice trip and night flying is quite amazing.

Plane: N677DM (C172)
From: CDW – ABE -
To: CDW
Duration: 2.1

Cross Country to Allentown

Whenever I fly to Allentown, I get Billy Joel stuck in my head. Anyway…

The flight required quite a bit of communication. After we left Caldwell, we had to call Morristown to transition through their Class D airspace.

We set our calculated heading for Allentown. After a little while, we crossed our checkpoint – a radial from the Solberg VOR. And then a little while later we didn’t know where we were – at least I didn’t. So, we slowed down and started a turn while we figured it out. Using two VOR radials, we found ourselves to be several miles North of our intended path. We re-figured the path to Allentown and continued the trip.

We talked to Allentown Approach, then Allentown Approach again, then Allentown Tower. We did a touch and go on Runway 24 and were headed back home.

We got off course again. It seems that my heading indicator had precessed and I forgot to reset it. Oops. Fixed that, but had a very tough time finding any landmarks to determine position until I came across a giant lake. A little while after that, I could see Morristown Airport and then Caldwell.

I’m glad I live in the times of GPS – that would have been much easier.

Plane: N272LP (C172)
From: CDW – ABE -
To: CDW
Duration: 1.6

Loosening the Leash

I went out today for my first unsupervised solo. I decided to stay in the pattern and work on my landings. I was out for an hour and did seven landings. Two of them were full stop, so I spent some time taxiing back. The first was a go around… that’s nothing new (have you seen my first solo video?)

I did a bunch of touch and go’s. They were decently smooth, but I don’t have the perfectly smooth landing down. I’m much better at transitioning into the flare than I use to be. I still have to work on squeezing back slowly to get a real smooth one.

Also, I learned that pushing the plane back on your own is kinda hard.

Plane: N272LP (C172)
From: CDW
To: CDW
Duration: 1.0

Allentown in Actual IMC

What a trip! The weather looked a bit dodgy, but I decided to head to the airport anyway figuring it might change. It did, but got worse, then back. We were supposed to do a cross country to Allentown (ABE), but there were these big clouds in the way. We decided to plan the trip anyway and file an IFR flight plan.

Flying in actual IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) isn’t required for Private Pilot training. Actually, it’s not even required for IFR training interestingly enough. The most that’s required is simulated instrument training under the hood, but hey, this was awesome.

What you don’t get during normal VFR flights is the feeling of punching into a cloud, getting jostled around for a bit and breaking out the other side to see absolutely spectacular views. I wish I had a camera. There were towers of cumulus clouds everywhere and pockets of clear air where you can see both the ground and the blue sky.

Tom worked the radios and the navigation… I flew. I got to do a localizer approach to Runway 6 at Allentown. We were out of the clouds for the landing, but if we weren’t, we could fly down to about 200 ft off the ground to try to spot the runway. That was pretty low.

Plane: N272LP (C172)
From: CDW – ABE -
To: CDW
Duration: 1.8

Cross Country to Sullivan County

I flew to Sullivan County Airport (MSV) on my first cross country training trip. We spent a good amount of time planning the trip before we left – figuring out landmarks to use, how long it’ll take, and how much fuel we would use. We filled out a flight plan and I called 1-800-WX-BRIEF to file it. That way “they” know to come look for us in case something happens.

We dialed in the frequencies we would need into both radios – Tower, Millville FSS, New York Approach, and Sullivan County. We opened the flight plan with Millville once we leveled off at 4000 feet. We then contacted NY Approach requesting flight following – they tell us what other aircraft are nearby.

We landed at Sullivan just fine and I called to close our flight plan. I could have opened the other one at the same time, but Tom wanted me to use New York FSS. The interesting part about that is they receive communications on one frequency, but transmit on another. So, we transmitted on a COM frequency, but then had to listen to them on the VOR Navigation frequency.

On the way back, we got so engrossed in the descent to stay out of the Class B and looking out for the traffic NY was reporting that we forgot to check the time over our last checkpoint. No matter, Caldwell was in sight and this was familiar territory.

It was a good trip all in all. One really nice thing about flying is that it brings everything much closer (not really, it doesn’t bend space, but it does make it faster to get there). During my planning for this trip, I realized that Bel-air would be just miles from our course. Bel-air is a place in the Catskills that I spent most of my childhood summers. It always seemed so far and the drive so long, but now…

Plane: N677DM (C172)
From: CDW – MSV -
To: CDW
Duration: 1.6

More Shorts and Softs

We had to check off a few more short and soft landings before we went on to the cross-country training. I’ve got the short and soft field takeoffs down – those are easy. I’ve gotten better at the short field landings and can usually hit the mark. The soft field landings are trickier, though. I need to keep the wheels off the runway for a longer time and really get that stall warning horn going. They got better when I started pitching up higher earlier, but definitely something to work on.

Plane: N272LP (C172)
From: CDW
To: CDW
Duration: 1.1

Off on My Own

I had my last supervised solo today. Before I went off alone, I flew with Tom out to the practice area. A couple mistakes that will never happen again: I descended too quickly on the way back and would have conflicted with Lincoln Park’s traffic pattern. I also descended too far below Caldwell’s pattern (200 ft below). Finally, I forgot to go through the cockpit checks on landing, thus missing to enrich the mixture.

After landing (which could have been more on the centerline), I dropped Tom off, and headed back for another takeoff. My goal: fly out to the practice area, do an S-turn, do a turn around a point, and find my way back. So I did. I felt like I was intensely focused for the whole trip – to the point that I had to consciously relax my back muscles. But hey, it worked. I stayed at the right altitudes, didn’t forget to lean or enrich the mixture, and completed the maneuvers. During S-turns and Turns around a Point, I need to keep the upwind shallower for longer.

And now I have the privilege of soloing whenever I want (weather permitting). Now that’s sweet.

Plane: N677DM (C172)
From: CDW
To: CDW
Duration: 1.8