Lesson 14: Crabbing in the rain | 06/21/15

Although we had planned to fly my first cross country over to Allentown, PA, today’s lesson sat between two storms and we didn’t want to risk getting caught in the second one, so we rescheduled my first cross country to the week after next.   But it all worked out nicely; it was father’s day so we convinced my dad to come flying with me for his first time.   Our takeoff was a little shifty because of the strong crosswind but once we got to cruising altitude the flying got much smoother.   We flew over to the Tappan Zee bridge just under the NY class B airspace and  did some sightseeing over the Hudson.   I tried to set up the GoPro to catch the view of Manhattan, but for some reason I couldn’t turn it on so I abandoned it; in the future I will only use the GoPro if I set it up on the ground so all I have to do is press record.   We then made our way to Greenwood lake, constantly monitoring different ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) and ASOS (Automated Surface Observing System) stations to make sure the weather didn’t  sneak up on us.   However other than some high altitude broken clouds, the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day.   We tracked the Sparta VOR inbound to Greenwood Lake airport but the crosswind was too severe to land at that small of an airport so we made our way back to Caldwell.   Caldwell Tower told us to enter left downwind for runway 28 (a very unusual and uncommon pattern entry) and although this was my first landing on runway 28 in a while, I pulled off a pretty good landing.   We taxied back to Fischer to drop off my dad and then we took off again from runway 22 for some pattern work.   There was a pretty heavy crosswind in the low teens so I got some long awaited crosswind landing practice.   I noticed when I looked at the GPS flight overview that my patterns at caldwell were rectangular however my downwind legs tended to bend a little towards the runway; I have to better adjust for the wind on downwind in the future.   We got about 10 landings in and I got some valuable practice and experience with crosswinds.   I learned the crab method of counteracting a crosswind, and I have found that my favorite crosswind approach is keeping a crab on final and then switching to a slip just before flaring.   Towards the end I started to see the clouds that the weather reports had promised and the wind ramped up to the lower 20s.   On the last couple of touch and goes it began to rain; my first time piloting an airplane in the rain.   My last few landings were pretty hairy but I had gotten enough practice to pull them off.   One thing I need to practice is better airspeed control; partially due to the gusts and partially due to the amount of things that I had to cycle my focus through, the airspeed of the plane wavered from 80 knots to 60 knots, 70 knots being the appropriate approach speed.   However I stayed in control and Bob never had to take the controls.   Our third to last landing was especially intense.   The windshield was being pelted by heavy rain, fog was beginning to engulf the airport (although we still had plenty enough visibility to do pattern work in), and the crosswind ramped up to the lower to mid 20s.   But Bob was not satisfied.   To test me even further, he requested a short approach, and cut the throttle, giving me only five words of advice: “Get me to the runway”.   I immediately turned crosswind knowing that the heavy winds could make me lose altitude fast.   I then put down 10 degrees of flaps and turned final, battling to maintain altitude, track the centerline, and keep my airspeed; a stall or spin from that altitude would not be good news.   I brought down thirty degrees of flaps when I had the runway made and slowly brought the airplane down.   Although on the centerline, my landing was not the best; I kept my nose down because I was afraid of stalling out, but I kept it a little too far down, and I landed partially on the nose wheel.   It seemed like a smooth landing at first, but the small bump on the nose wheel caused it to spring back up and pull the airplane back into the air (and the crosswind).   Bob immediately stepped in and stopped the porpoise that ensued.   This taught me a valuable lesson on emergency landings.   Although the landing was successful, I have to remember that I can’t float too high above the runway without an engine, but I can’t land on my nose wheel either.   I have to make sure to be extra focused and keep that small envelope between a stall and a porpoise, making sure the nose wheel is above the ground on landing, but only by a few inches.   I learned many valuable lessons today and I look forward to my next bout with crosswind landings.


Flight Overview

Flight Overview

Enlarged view of our flyover over Greenwood Lake airport

Enlarged view of our flyover over Greenwood Lake airport

Enlarged view of the CDW traffic pattern

Enlarged view of the CDW traffic pattern

Lesson 13: The Secret to Perfect Landings | 06/13/15

Lesson 13 (6/13/15) — C-172 (N811JD)

For whatever reason, during today’s lesson everything started to click.   I’ve been steadily improving my landings with the advice and guidance of my CFI, Bob Smetana, and today they were especially on point.   I’ve also been reading “The Secret to Perfect Landings” by Jason Schappert from MzeroA.com recently and talked to Scott Carson, also from MzeroA.com, about pulling off better landings.   From these sources I’ve picked up numerous tricks for making better landings.   One of the main pieces of information I picked up was that a perfect pattern truly does make a perfect landing.   For me, this meant pretending from the moment I started preflighting the airplane that I was taking my FAA checkride. I did everything as perfectly as possible, not taking any shortcuts or skipping anything.   When I looked back at my GPS flight track (I didn’t get the whole flight because my phone ran out of battery, but I got my first two touch and goes) I saw a visible difference in the pattern; look at my GPS flight track from my last flight and look at it from this one and you will see that my pattern was much more rectangular and tight on today’s flight.   Well, by no coincidence, my landings from today were far better than my landings from last week.   After noticing this I knew that Jason was right when he repeated his favorite phrase over and over in his book: “A perfect landings starts with a perfect pattern”.   I felt like instead of struggling to keep the glide slope after turning final, I was already on the glide slope when I turned and just had to drift down and transition for landing (I have taken the advice of Jason and Scott and removed the word “flare” from my vocabulary and replaced it with “transition to landing”).   With help from my CFI, from information from FAA books, and from information from MzeroA.com, I feel much more in control of my landings.   As a supplement to anything you are using to help your landings now, I would 100% recommend MzeroA’s numerous resources on their website, on youtube, and in their books to any student or private pilot struggling with landings.    But enough with the shameless endorsing, let’s get on with the flight.

This was the flight track from the first two touch and goes – the dot on downwind was when my phone ran out of battery

This was the flight track from the first two touch and goes – the dot on downwind was when my phone ran out of battery

We started out on the ground talking about planning a flight to Allentown for next Sunday (I’ll be videotaping that – I’ll probably get some good shots of big airplanes and of the NYC skyline so check out next week’s post for that).   Then we preflighted and got rolling ASAP to get as much flight time as possible.   I remembered to lean the mixture and keep my yoke in the proper position to counteract the wind when taxiing and we took off on runway four after having a brief altercation with a deer (the ground crew took care of that).   I flew my perfect pattern, as you can see above, and had a few landings that were not too shabby, if I may say so myself.   We did one simulated engine failure (a success) and one more short field touch and go before making our way to Lincoln Park.   My first landing there was a simulated engine failure.   Bob cut the power when we hadn’t even entered the pattern yet at 2500 feet so I was only focused on getting to the runway, not worrying about actually being able to land on the shorter Lincoln Park runway.   I came in on final too high and too fast for Lincoln Park (maybe would have pulled it off at CDW) so we went around.   I most likely would have made the landing (might have gone off the end of the runway and into the grass a bit) if it were a real emergency, but too close to risk on a simulated failure, so no landing for me.   My next landing, however, was really good and we were able to turn off on the second taxiway (the first is at the beginning of the runway), so I was happy with that.  Over all a great lesson, and I will practice the skills I learned on the flight sim at home.   I’m looking forward for my first cross country next Sunday.

Lesson 12: Welcome To Morristown | 06/10/15

Lesson 12 (6/10/15) — C-172 (N811J)

My first lesson in about a week and a half, yesterday’s lesson was a little bit of a recap.   I arrived a little late due to traffic on I-80 and as a result the preflight was a little rushed and the lesson was a little shorter than usual.   I didn’t set up the camera this flight due to lack of time, and we got rolling as soon as possible.   There was a light crosswind at CDW, but after two touch and goes we headed over to Morristown (my first time over there) in pursuit of what the ATIS claimed was a moderate crosswind (more than at CDW).   We arrived to find pretty much the opposite of a crosswind – the windsock was lightly blowing parallel to runway 23.   Although we did not get any crosswind landings in, we got two solid touch and goes, one of which was behind a jet so I got some practice landing with air vortices.   Over all a pretty standard flight.   Here is a picture of our route (recorded with the trails app – meant for hiking but works just fine for aviation):


Catch up: Lessons 1-11 | 03/07/15 – 05/31/15

I have neither the time nor the memory to go into more detail about each of my first eleven lessons, so here are the notes that are in my logbook so you can get a general sense as to what I have been doing:

Lesson 11 (5/31/15): C-172m (N811JD) - Radio communication, traffic pattern, soft field takeoffs and landings, simulated engine failure, short field takeoffs and landings.   11 day Landings, 1.4 hours flight training/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 10 (5/24/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Normal crosswind takeoffs and landings, VOR interception + tracking, IFR [VOR tracking], recovery from unusual attitudes.   8 day landings, 2 hours flight training/total flight time SEL, 0.4 hours simulated instrument.   I recorded some video from the flight:

Lesson 9 (5/17/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Normal takeoffs and landings, short field takeoffs and landings, soft field takeoffs, simulated engine failures, traffic pattern, no tower field operations, no flap landings.   11 day landings, 1.9 hours flight training/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 8 (4/26/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Soft field takeoffs, Normal and crosswind takeoffs and landings, radio communication, traffic pattern.   8 day landings, 1.1 hours flight training/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 7 (4/19/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Crosswind takeoff and landing, ground reference maneuvers; turns around a point, rectangular pattern, s-turns across a road.   1 day landing, 1.2 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 6 (4/12/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Traffic pattern, crosswind takeoffs and landings, soft field takeoffs, simulated engine failure.   11 day landings, 1.3 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 5 (4/3/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Normal takeoffs and landings, traffic pattern, radio communication.   12 day landings, 1.4 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 4 (3/29/15): PA-28 (N8350R) – Piper Cherokee intro, preflight, taxi, slow flight, normal takeoff and landing, power off stalls, power on stalls.   1 day landing, 1.1 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 3 (3/24/15): C-172m (N811JD) – Climbs, descents, turns, power off stalls, power on stalls, normal takeoff and landing,             IFR [straight and level flight, turns to a heading, climbs, descents, turns].   1 day landing, 2.1 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 2 (3/22/15): C-172m (N5253R) – Preflight, taxi, crosswind takeoff and landing, turning climbs and descents, slow flight, power off stalls.   1 day landing, 1.1 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

Lesson 1 (3/7/15): C-172m (N5253R) – Welcome to Fischer – Intro flight; preflight, taxi, climbs, descents, turns.   1 day landing, 1.0 hours flight instruction/total flight time SEL.

My flight training resources

I have used many resources in my flight training. Here are some of the most significant:

Microsoft Flight Simulator X: FSX is a great program that has substantially increased my level of performance in the air.

I have configured FSX to look and feel as realistic as possible to provide a more accurate source of flight training:

Me flying a Cessna 172 over Manhattan

Flying a Cessna 172 over Manhattan

Over the years I have improved my hardware in addition to my software, allowing me to practice using controls similar to those of a real aircraft:


My flight simulator paused as N811JD is on final approach for runway 22 at CDW

With the FSX learning center I can fly with a simulated instructor, allowing me to learn techniques as well as new information while on the ground:

The FSX learning center

The FSX learning center

Flying a lesson with Rod Machado in a Cessna 172

But I have taken FSX one step further with VATSIM , a network that works with many different flight simulators, including FSX.   With VATSIM, I can connect to a network of pilots and ATC, allowing me to communicate with ATC and with other pilots on CTAF, and see other VATSIM pilots’ aircraft on my simulator.   VATSIM has allowed me to become much more confident with flight procedures and communication and paired with FSX it’s a very effective learning tool (vatsim.net):


And when I’m not in the mood for intense training, even though it can be used as a great tool for learning, FSX is, after all, still a game:

Me flying an SR-71 Blackbird over NJ

Flying an SR-71 Blackbird over NJ

But aside from FSX, I learn from many other sources.   I have a large collection of books that I have picked up over the years from gifts from friends and family and from Amazon (Don’t worry if you don’t see the FAR/AIM – I keep that in my flight bag):

IMG_1371IMG_1373To study for the FAA written exam, I use King Schools’ online course (http://www.kingschools.com):

The homepage to my King Schools course

The homepage to my King Schools course

A lesson being taught by Martha King

A lesson being taught by Martha King

Although I haven’t purchased their private pilot course, I am subscribed to MzeroA.com on youtube and I have read many of their books.   Although King Schools is undoubtedly a great course, just based on the helpfulness of their youtube videos and books, I would have to recommend MzeroA over King Schools – but it all depends on what kind of learner you are.   Here are some of the MzeroA resources that I use:

Jason Schappert of MzeroA.com talking about VFR flight following

Jason Schappert of MzeroA.com talking about VFR flight following

Jason Schappert of MzeroA.com talking about VFR flight planning

Jason Schappert of MzeroA.com talking about VFR flight planning


Three books from MzeroA.com that I have found immensely helpful

Three books from MzeroA.com that I have found immensely helpful

Although I’m not that organized of a person, when you’re flying, being organized is key.   I try to be as organized as possible when flying so as to keep my focus on flying instead of trying to find my sectional, for example.   I keep all the resources I use frequently in flight in my kneeboard and other resources I use less frequently close by in my flight bag.   Here are two pictures of my kneeboard and it’s contents:

My VFR kneeboard (I plan to have seperate kneeboards for vfr and ifr)

My VFR kneeboard (I plan to have separate kneeboards for VFR and IFR)

The contents of my VFR kneeboard

The contents of my VFR kneeboard – An E6B is hidden somewhere in there

And here is a picture of my flight bag and headset case:


My flight bag and headset case

Finally, although it has little to do with actual aviation, here is how I record my videos in the sky:

A GoPro action camera in a skeleton case, a Mini F9 Sport DV action camera, and a Mypilotstore GoPro audio adapter attached to a RAM suction cup mount

A GoPro action camera in a skeleton case, a Mini F9 Sport DV action camera, and a Mypilotstore GoPro audio adapter attached to a RAM suction cup mount

Having sufficient and organized materials for flight training is imperative to staying on top of your game.   Everyone learns differently, but these resources have greatly helped me while learning on the ground and while flying in the air.

My First Post: Inspiration


As a member of a family steeped in aviation, I have always walked the earth with one eye skyward.   My grandfather, Frank Piasecki, was an aeronautical engineer and an early pioneer in the development of vertical lift aircraft.   He invented the PV-2, the second successful helicopter to fly in the United States, as well as many other helicopters such as the “Flying Banana”, the first successful dual rotor helicopter, and the VZ-8 Airgeep, a flying jeep contracted by the military in 1957.


Frank Piasecki receives the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan

My six aunts and uncles (his children) have taken the baton and carried aviation through their generation, five of them going into aviation related jobs at some point in their careers and all six receiving their pilot’s and/or helicopter pilot’s license.   Because of the close relationship our family has had with aviation, I have had plenty of contact with aviation throughout my 15 years on this earth.   I have flown with my Uncle Fred numerous times and have even interned at Piasecki Aircraft, a company formerly run by my grandfather and now by two of my uncles.   I also remember playing a game called Roplanes 2 in my early childhood, a game where oe controls an arrangement of blocks somewhat resembling an airplane and flies other boxes dubbed cargo to different islands.

But even with all this contact with aviation, the moment I decided that I wanted to be a pilot was surprisingly not related to any of my family members.   It was on a fall night at a small airport in New Jersey.   My family and I boarded a small single engine plane chartered by a small regional airline.   Because all the passengers seats were occupied, the pilot asked me if I wanted to sit in the co-pilot seat.   I accepted, excited to fly in the front seat of an airplane for the first time.   I remember looking in awe at all the instruments and wondering what they meant, reading the small vague words next to them and trying in vain to determine the use of each one.   As we took off my eyes drifted from the instruments and looked to the sky.   As we smoothly climbed through the cool fall air, the horizon sank and eventually disappeared below the dashboard.   All I could see were the stars, illuminating the night sky and twinkling down at me.   After this experience, a part of me became determined to learn to fly.   I had always known that I wanted to fly, but I never before had been truly determined to do whatever it would take to become a pilot.   As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return”.

I talked to my uncle, Greg Piasecki, who talked to me about what I could do to learn how to fly.   He said that I was too young to get my license but that he would help me begin the process of learning how to fly.   And help he certainly did.   He gave me a subscription to the AOPA magazine, sent me many books that he had once used in his training, and recommended that I look into getting Microsoft Flight Simulator to begin to learn the basics of controlling an airplane.   He also provided me with encouragement and information as I struggled through the dense textbooks he had provided me with.   I have no doubt in my mind that if it weren’t for my Uncle Greg, I would have never begun to learn how to fly.   I also must attribute much of my inspiration to my Uncle Fred, as he has helped me in numerous ways as I have been learning to fly.  He has encouraged me sit in the copilot’s seat of his Cessna Skymaster on many flights and has given me advice and instruction as well as sometimes letting me take the yoke when at cruising altitude.   He and my other uncle, Uncle John, have provided me with a plethora of knowledge concerning Aviation during my time interning at Piasecki Aircraft and he has provided me with many learning materials throughout my journey to learn to fly.

When I got FSX, my flight training took a turn for the best.   A refreshing break from the dense information and procedures in my many textbooks, FSX was as educational as it was fun, reminding me of why I had wanted to fly in the first place and giving me as close to real world flying time as I could get.   I even took lessons from a simulated instructor in the learning center.   My dad noticed my dedication to flying and gave me a yoke, rudder and throttle for FSX as well as a promise that he would get me real world flight lessons once I received my virtual private pilot’s license on FSX.   I plowed through the many lessons in the FSX learning center, all the while continuing my reading of the many aviation textbooks I had at my disposal.   Sometime in early 2015, I began to take a crack at the practical test.   The simulated examiner was one ruthless computer program.   I remember being immensely frustrated after being failed because I had slightly diverged from the 10 degrees of bank and speed of 120 mph that the examiner requested, a feat that required the use of every spare horsepower the simulated plane could muster and extreme concentration, all while following a VOR, keeping the plane coordinated, and constantly asking myself why the examiner wasn’t satisfied with a normal rate of climb.   But after many attempts at the checkride and many revisits to the learning center, I finally completed the checkride, almost as excited at knowing that I would never have to listen to the incessantly annoying voice of the examiner again as I was at receiving my private pilot’s license.   I printed the certificate and showed it to my dad who congratulated me and began his search for a flight school.   After talking to many pilots, he settled on Fischer Aviation, and arranged me to have an introductory lesson with Bob Smetana.   I had finally begun flight school.