Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rain, rain, go away!

So many people claim to love rainy days. You get to sit in and curl up with a good book, clean your house, fire up a wood stove, even play in the rain. But I'm starting to hate rainy days, at least rainy Sundays. It means I can't fly, yet. When I have an instrument rating (IR) this will be a non issue. But that's sadly a ways off (50 hrs more after I finish the PPL). Even when I complete my PPL I'll have to fly under visual flight rules (VFR) which will still keep me grounded in the rain. The term itself suggests to me the relationship between a parent and a teenager. It may be hubris for me to consider myself that old. I hope hubris doesn't need a hyperlink too.

It's interesting how my desire for an IR grows in direct proportion to mother nature's thwarting of my plans. Man sometimes seems obsessed with conquering nature. It often leads to folly. The delicate balancing act between living with nature and conquering it hit mainstream media long ago. But I'm not sure you can have all of one or the other. I mean, I'm sitting here in my house all nice and dry. Yet, the construction and maintenance of my home and the energy it requires consume natural resources. Sure, I could in theory build a more energy efficient, "greener" home, etc... But that would consume more resources. The same can be said for so many components of modern day life. Clearly I find myself with too much extra time on my hands, not being able to fly today. So it would seem as though I'm whining along instead in some sort of verbal masturbation. Please excuse the mess.

I guess the balancing act is something I (we) can at least strive for. Perhaps catching up on my flight manuals would be a good way to do that. Meh, I'm feeling quite the adolescent today. Good grief, I can actually hear a Cessna overhead right now. Must be somebody training for an IR. *sigh*

Balance ... schmalance.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If it's cool enough for a two year old ...

Without a doubt, blogging has added another dimension to my flight training. I suspect many bloggers notice as well. Foreknowledge of writing about an experience at a later date affects the experience itself. Conversely, feeling compelled to write regularly about a subject can often put a strain on the Muse's structural integrity. So when in doubt, exploit small children. My most recent photo download included shots from today at the airport as well as from a party I hosted last night.

This is my friend Matthew's son, Barrett, showing me his toy plane and how it flies. He's two years old. He understands that there are machines like this that like birds, fly. He thinks they're cool, not as cool as trains perhaps but I suspect in the top five of all things cool. Granted he's smarter than the average cub. But still, good enough for me. At the very least his raw senses of wonder and simplicity are some things I should occasionally strive to keep more in the forefront of my mind.

I remember attending a welcome speech at Cornell back in 1987. The speaker, a senior, was quoting from a recently published book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." He included bits of wisdom like: share everything, play fair, don't hit people, etc... I think you get the idea. While effective rhetoric for incoming college freshmen, I've always remained a bit uncomfortable with some of the implied logic that glosses over the inherent complexities of most situations. Surely the subject is one for debate. Keeping simple rules in mind can often serve us well. I remember learning a design technique in computer science: KISS (keep it simple stupid). In fact, while flying I might do better to try and remember some of the simple rules. But the fact is, there are MANY simple rules that need to be remembered at the same time in a type of mental rotation. If you forget them you can (in the worst case) kill or severely maim yourself and other people. That's probably not a good thing to tell kids in kindergarten and I doubt Barrett would want to hear about what happens when a plane really crashes. I guess balancing the child mind with all its potential for awe and wonder with the adult mind that understands responsibility and consequence is at the very least an interesting mediation for me to consider practicing more.

I have no idea why I'm ending all my paragraphs with conclusions about things I "should" do or do more often. Maybe I'm feeling subconsciously that if I repeatedly tell myself the right thing to do, next time I'll do better. I guess blogs can be a form of self-help, literally. I suppose it's better than me telling people what "they" should do. Take it all with as large a grain of salt as you need.

Anyhow, my regular Cessna 172 wasn't available today. Seems like she's having some trouble with her nose gear. Blessing became fortune as I had to fly a newer (2004) model instead, a 172SP. She's newer, has more power, fuel injection, GPS, autopilot, and a spiffy modern cockpit.

She also has five drain plugs under each wing that need to be checked plus three under her belly. That's thirteen total fuel drains that need checking instead of just three on the older 172 I normally fly. Safety means more pre flight time filling and staring at a bottle of highly refined, light blue petroleum product. Perhaps Regan sensed that it was going to take me a bit longer to check out this bird since I was less familiar with her. Either that or he's just coming to accept the fact that I'm sometimes slow. Regardless, I had a few extra moments to snap shots of precisely the kinds of things that we check.

Here's a flap strut. Flaps extend the wing and generate more lift. They're used when flying at slow speed and for landing. You don't want any cracks in these struts and like everything else on the plane all nuts and bolts should be secure and snug.

Here is an infamous "piano wire" hinge. There are three on each wing of this particular plane. They attach the ailerons to the wing itself. It's important that the wire is visible, unbroken and bolted down at the end.

Lastly, although there are of course many more items on the checklist, here is part of the tail elevator assembly. I still haven't braved how to set manual controls on my camera, so please excuse the excessive shadow here.

After a slightly longer pre flight inspection I was raring to go. New plane, beautiful day, ground reference maneuvers here I come. I already know some of the issues involved with flying a new plane for the first time. Gauges and controls can be in different places. Engine horsepower varies. Like many things in life, however, nothing substitutes for the real experience. Regan has commented in the past about potential challenges related to flying different planes. Today I found out about some of them first hand in real life detail.

There was a modest crosswind which I managed to successfully deal with at takeoff. I think I have that one down now. You can simply feel the controls push back to a more neutral position. As always, a light touch on the yoke goes a very long way. This is likely to be a main area of work for me in coming weeks.

One particular maneuver Regan showed me today was steep banked turns. Basically you tilt the plane 45 degrees while turning a full circle. It's fine when you're doing it yourself. But when someone else is, the G forces don't seem to mix well with the chemicals in your stomach. I scrambled for some ginger gum but was a bit late. My adrenaline was up. So while I was more or less able to repeat the maneuver, I fumbled a relatively easy one we tried afterwards.

There are a couple of different types of stalls. One involves slow speed and not enough air over the wing. Another involves full power but too steep an angle of attack. IE., the plane is pointed too far upward. When we tried this maneuver before, I loved it. It's fundamentally a very simple one. Today however, some combination of my raised adrenaline plus the virtue of this plane's dynamics put evil ball in a bad place. So I overcompensated. Overcompensation can often lead to this negative, oscillating feedback loop where you struggle back and forth with the controls eventually leading to very uncoordinated flight. The thing is, a stall plus uncoordinated flight can lead to a spin. Spins are bad, very bad, 'nuff said.

In fact, my main problem was not applying enough right rudder pressure. All the fight instruction videos talk about this. You have to apply pretty constant pressure to the right rudder to compensate for the propeller, engine rotation and slipstream. The 172 I normally fly doesn't require very much. But this plane did. I'm still getting used to maintaining constant rudder pressure. It's a bit like your car's accelerator pedal, but there are two of them and they need constant adjustment. Even more tricky is that the tops of the pedals are the brakes when on the ground. Anyhow, lesson learned, hopefully. A bit more of a relaxed and constant control on the pedals will likely lead to more rewarding flight experiences in the future.

I'll have to ask Barrett what he thinks about all this, skipping of course the details of a spin and any other life threatening possibilities. Something tells me he wouldn't mind putting a plane into a full nose dive. Regardless, knowledgeable yet gentle, even playful control remains an almost zen-like objective for me. There, now my self help prose can go into the new age section. Whatever it takes, as the stakes go up from here.

Towards the end of today's lesson we practiced engine failure. Not something fun to think about but one I'll be glad to have at least rehearsed. First objective, keep flying the plane. Sounds simple right? You'd be surprised how even simple things get tossed out of your brain when you're in a plane at four thousand feet without power. Suffice it to say, there are procedures. I wish I had a video of me flipping through the emergency procedure checklist for engine restart while also trying to fly the plane at optimal lift glide speed and maneuver towards an open field where I would theoretically crash land. Some may have found it quite entertaining. If you were sitting in the passenger or back seat, however, perhaps not so much.

At this point I would imagine at least 50% of those who have expressed an interest in flying with me next Spring (or late Winter) are ready to bail. To them I say, "fortune favors the bold." Yet I also acknowledge that fortune also sometimes squashes the bold like bugs on a windscreen. There's that idea of balance again. Regardless, if we end up taking a road trip somewhere and you end up driving, I reserve the right to chuck water balloons (filled with a liquid of my choosing) from my plane down at you on the road.

Frightening as some of the aspects of flying might be it remains a fundamentally magical thing. I am sometimes very much like a child taking baby steps. So now this is me holding up an adult version of a toy plane for all of you to see.

Somebody had a very nice ride parked outside the flight school. I somehow doubt they even fly it. More than likely they pay someone else to. Ugh. I slap my hand to my forehead. But ...

Look, look, look, look! Jet engine impeller fins!!!!

Look! I said look! Are you looking!?!?!?! LOOK!!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back in the saddle ...

It was exactly two months ago since my wipe out with a Honda. Hard to believe it's been that long. Healing can be such a seemingly endless yet educational process. I remember the doctor telling me that it might be four to six weeks until I could exercise or ride my bike again. That was miserable. Even worse, that estimate eventually grew to even longer. My official "100% freedom of use" date was yesterday. I'm proud to say that I was promptly back on my freshly repaired ride, new helmet, and mended left hand all working seamlessly together ... in forty degree weather! Time and seasons unfortunately wait for no man, nor no man's hand.

Yes this is only tangentially related to flying. But since the irony of the accident coincided with my first "test flight" I feel oddly compelled to follow up. I have some bruises, scars and permanent lumps. But key systems appear to be functioning within proper operational parameters. Here are some follow up shots. I am indeed still snap happy.

Bike all nice and fixed with new rim and seat. Ms. mountain bike also got the bonus from downtime with new v-brakes! She hung in the shop along with Mr. Gary Fisher above. My F500 was the last Cannondale to come with the older style cantilever mechanism. I can't wait to join the ranks of not-so-sore forearms on the downhills.

Shiny new red helmet with removable visor and tension adjustment. Seems like head protection technology has advanced over the last fifteen years. Me likey. If only it had wireless 802.11g and Vonage.

Hand, v 2.0. Seems to be functioning OK. I was able to do my first two handed workout yesterday. It was a little sore this morning but manageable. Small red spot where I smacked the pavement. Did I mention I basically ended up with a stigmata from the accident? Not so much on my left foot but a solid three out of four for sure.

It's a mixed blessing with respect to flying. Being able to actually grip the controls without a cast or sharp spikes of pain shooting up through my wrist is a vast improvement. Yet I can also now grab the yoke a bit too firmly at times and yank the plane in all sorts of adrenaline soaking directions. Mr. Hand needs to re-learn a few things I guess. The whole ordeal has definitely been a powerful lesson in patience. Hopefully it is one I won't have to repeat anytime soon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Distance ...

In all honesty, I've been trying to make time to get ahead on my reading this week. But it just hasn't happened. I found myself cramming down information last night in preparation for today's flight. Even this morning I was watching videos on ground operations, airport runway rules and phraseology. Cramming is bad, mmmk? I think the mind you bring to a thing makes a big difference on the experience. If that mind is stressed out and worried you're increasing the odds of an uphill event. At least that seems to be how my mind works.

Got to CFC and Regan had that look in his eye that told me even before he had to say a word, "It's bumpy up there." While not directly confirmed, the weather reports suggested some potentially turbulent and changing conditions. My old friend, Mr. Crosswind was also blowing away on the tarmac again. If conditions were good, we were actually going to have some fun practicing the finer points of flying "S" and constant radius turns. I was looking forward to those. Every once and a while it dawns on me that I'm actually learning how to fly ... pausing on each of those last four words like a mantra, meditating on both their individual and whole meaning. As I walk around town these days I sometimes look at birds and just grin to myself.

The weather has been quite rainy here in Charlottesville the last few days. Consequently, most of the planes haven't been flying lately. Today's blustery weather also kept most recreational pilots home. So it was just me and the birds out there. They sat like quiet horses tied to posts, just waiting for someone to ride them.

There's an austere beauty to the General Aviation area of the airport. Being a large, flat piece of land, the sky's presence is very pronounced. Simply being out there near the runway puts you in a different position than you normally might find yourself. You're much closer to the action, near that point of departure where people leave the earth and take to the sky. In a sense, it's like an altar, or shrine, at the very least a place where some kind of transformation takes place. Up in the air today, a majestic army of puffy angels slowly marched overhead inviting me to come play.

My pre flight kung fu has improved. I managed to get the fuel and plane checked in pretty reasonable time. The cold weather and howling wind no doubt motivated an extra spring in my step as I walked around the plane. So I went about my normal pre takeoff business, starting the engine, taxiing to the runway, running up the engine, testing various systems. Still getting used to driving with my feet.

I set up everything for a crosswind takeoff and began to accelerate down the runway. Seems like my last attempt may have had a bit of beginner's luck. Guess what happens if you have ailerons turned into the wind at takeoff and DON'T turn them back in a timely manner? You leave the runway and suddenly the plane quickly rolls to one side, reminding you that the luck your life hangs by is tied to a very short, thin string. Right out of the gate today my adrenaline was jacked. As I rose above the airport, the wind tossed me around like a kernel in a bag of microwave popcorn. Yum, more adrenaline.

I spent the rest of the lesson trying to remember the proper technique for getting out of a stall and generally keeping the plane balanced. Bumpy air definitely makes for a challenge in pretty direct proportion. After a while it all started to come back to me. I think my liver had also processed most of the adrenaline. "S" and constant radius turns will have to wait until next time. Nice to have things to look forward too.

As I calmed down and settled back into my groove I was able to enjoy being close to those puffy angels. They were still a bit overhead but much closer in reach and far clearer in view. Like silent older siblings they seemed to be keeping a watchful eye over the novice yours truly. There is much to learn from their example.

Regan did a great job landing in some tricky wind. I've never been in a plane skidding sideways on the runway. Actually, I didn't know they could even do that. I'll venture to say that most people would prefer to skip the experience altogether.

So it's not always a stellar session. There's lots for me to practice. There's even more for me to learn. I've never kidded myself that getting a pilot's license would be quick. But I think you never really get a sense of how long a thing will take until you start getting into the thick of it, much like running a marathon I suppose. I've never run one but do jog and exercise. Sometimes in those arenas my body sends me messages like, "we would like to stop now" which I almost always ignore. No voices are speaking as such here. But the whole notion that this stuff doesn't come easy perhaps speaks in a related voice. It speaks of an epistemological distance that I think is important to make peace with as I settle in for the longer haul.

My hope is that being aware of the distance will encourage me to be more wary of stupid moves like random sprints and crams at wisdom before lessons, taking deep breaths, even walking a bit if my mental diaphragm aches. I can tell you this, however, a set of running shoes like these would improve ride quality significantly.

This is a Pilatus PC-12. Like a Rolex, it's Swiss made and expensive ($3 million on average ... used) . I'd taken a photo of this plane a while back but didn't know what it was at the time. I also just picked up a Canon Powershot A590 this week, so I'm a bit snap happy. The plane is particularly noteworthy as it's the largest single engine turboprop I (or any private pilot) can fly without special certification. It can take nine passengers and fly at commercial aviation speeds. It's gorgeous, fast, comfortable ... and one that I will likely never fly.

So what. Here's an eight mega pixel shot of my gal.

Just as cute as she ever was.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Behold ...

I originally wanted to title this entry, "Practice makes perfect." But in reality, my success today flying had little to do with practice. Ok, maybe more than a little but given that I only fly once per week and don't use flight simulator software I think there's also something else at work. Certainly going over the same maneuver repeatedly helps, much like learning a language or musical instrument. But it's not like I've done these things hundreds or even dozens of times yet.

Ironically, this past week I had absolutely no time to review my flight lessons, textbook or videos. I was a bit worried about this yesterday to tell you the truth. But towards the end of the day I began to wonder if just really trying to apply what I already know along with some basic common sense might get me farther along. I've been all about "learning" on many fronts these days. I read Java docs, create classes and methods. I yawn my way through old math textbooks. I chuckle along to instructional flight videos. I think often about my world, trying to see where I can improve my kung fu both mentally and physically as well as in many less tangible ways.

The fact is, I knew that today would be a review. I know how to take off, turn, climb, descend, use flaps to fly at a snail's pace, and pull out of a power off stall. I may not know all these things like second nature, but I do know them. So today I decided I would just DO them. If nothing else, I was determined at least to try and do them correctly. I will move the yoke, press the rudder, apply throttle, set trim, and make the plane do what I want, dammit. I am after all the pilot. I think I've actually been over thinking and perhaps a bit overly preoccupied with too narrow a focus towards learning all this stuff.

Driving out to the airport is always a joy. My route winds through some lovely Virginia countryside. After some twists and turns through tree-lined two lane, the road opens up into a vast expanse of sky as you near all the clear, flat land around the airport. The Blue Ridge rise majestically to the West. This time of year through most of the afternoon the sun is usually hanging low in the sky above, making an almost endlessly slow decent. The clouds often paint lovely brush strokes in random directions all over the surrounding sky.

The ante was upped immediately upon my arrival at CFC. Regan told me straight out that it was bumpy up there today. My old nemesis had seemingly returned to spar with my new "just do it" mentality. Even more challenging, there was a crosswind. I already knew this posed some issues for takeoff. Regan explained quite clearly, however, that all it really means is doing everything I have already been doing, plus one more thing. Simply put, you pre-compensate by keeping tabs on the wind's relative direction (the flight compass has a marker for this) and turning the yoke completely into or away from it. It's an odd feeling powering up to full throttle cruising rapidly down the runway with your hand on the yoke fully turned to one side. It triggers the automobile driver inside me who wants to turn the wheel back in order to control where I'm going. Nope. It's all feet. But as the plane accelerates and you approach takeoff speed you start to ease off on the crosswind compensation. The plane is actually pointed somewhat sideways as you leave the ground. You're flying in a straight line (if you're doing it right) but the plane is slightly off axis as you adjust for wind trying to blow you in different direction. Neat.

We went over some of the same routines today. I would like to get quicker at my pre flight inspection so that I'll have more time in the air. At the same time, it's not something you want to rush through. Specifically, it becomes about efficiency. I'd like to remember to take out the stepping stool first so I can check the fuel, pour it back through the caps on top of each wing, then physically inspect the fuel levels. Similarly, I'd like to get a better flow of checking the flaps, then piano wires on the aileron hinges, then look back at the wing's surfaces, instead of going back and forth. I refuse to time myself because that starts getting into the rushed mentality. But the idea of efficient flow is one I'm gonna stick to.

Apparently I did quite well at maneuvering the plane today. Getting the flaps down and flying slowly went well as did pulling out of a stall. Flying is so incredibly analog with a very sensitive and potentially unforgiving interface. But within that sensitivity lies a unique degree of autonomy. You never have full control, nature does. But you do have some input into what's going on. You can use as much of it as you like. So in the face of what you could consider complete helplessness, you also have great power. It will bite you if you abuse it and slap you if you don't. I'm reminded of the phrase from the Upanishads about the razor's edge. Piloting is so very much about precisely that.

I had a real feeling of being at the controls. I don't want to say I was "in charge." But I was determined from the outset and seem to have successfully asserted what the engineers of the Cessna 172 can provide. Move this and go there. Move it more and go there more. Combine those movements correctly, watch what you're doing, and you can actually do it right ... insofar as there is such a thing.

We did practice one new maneuver that was quite fun: correcting for a takeoff made with too high an angle of attack. Thankfully, I perform all my practice at altitude. It is practice after all and having the ground 100ft beneath me would seriously reduce the margin for error. So while up in the air you slow the plane down, then simulate takeoff by applying full throttle and pointing the nose of the plane almost straight up into the sky until the screaming stall warning starts to sing. As they say around here, yee haw. Correction comes simply by pointing the nose back down while maintaining a climb. Easy, and like I said, fun.

My relationship with the evil little ball is getting better. I'm learning more about what coordinated flight really means. It's not just about keeping the plane nicely lined up and preventing it from pitching, yawing and rolling to and fro. It's also, and perhaps more, about giving input through one control and then using another to compensate or compliment what you're trying to do. So if the wind is blowing you one way, forcing evil little ball to one side, you apply rudder to that side AND compensate with the yoke. In retrospect I want to say "duh of course." But for some reason this aspect of coordination dawned on me today much more than previously. In taking action to affect change, multiple aspects of control must be applied.

So all in all a good day. Regan said it was my best lesson yet. I had absolutely no problem with the turbulence. Until next time, nemesis. See what you get for not doing your homework? Well that's not completely true. Sometimes you do your homework in other ways. Sometimes when it's showtime you wing it confidently based on the work you've already done. I guess the trick is knowing when you can in fact do that versus when doing so is potential folly. Sometimes you "just do it" but also need some idea of exactly what to do. As I got the plane set up for landing, not something I can do yet, it started to hit me again that while incredibly fun, rewarding and more wonderful than I had ever imagined, flying isn't a game. Or if you want to call it that, it's a serious one.

Ok, now for the obligatory photo shoot. That sexy Avanti was on the ground as I walked out to inspect my plane. Man, if this plane were a woman, I'd marry it. The picture sadly comes nowhere close. I'm almost tempted to buy a real camera just so I can snap shots of this machine.

But by the same token all planes are beautiful, just like people, right? Ok, maybe not. But my little bird really is. The Cessna 172 that's been helping me learn so much is a cute little gal with no hidden surprises, unlike some I've known. She's got heart, character and class. Never pretends to be something she's not. See for yourself:

What makes her beautiful isn't just the shiny white paint or speedy stripes down her side, but the overall design, built in safety, cotter pins holding nuts in place, vinyl seats, ample engine power, cruise speed of around 130mph, location of the flight instruments, feel of the controls, the fact that she's almost forty years old, still going strong, and has likely taught hundreds of people to fly. Beauty perhaps really is in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Message for Mr. Obama

I've been on the fence about writing anything related to the recent election. Like so many, I'm very glad that Barack Obama will be our next president. But also like a few, I remain cautiously optimistic. What is required to really change so many globally unhealthy directions will take a tremendous amount of work. People (ie., the nation) don't change that quickly. But perhaps "the long road" that Barack spoke of is something we will actually start walking down now. I can only hope the pendulum of our collective short attention span doesn't forget that this will take a long time, longer than one season of American Idol.

A clear, new and bold direction seems both obvious and necessary. FDR helped build highways, bridges and dams. What might be the 21st century equivalent? Perhaps a truly new infrastructure beckons. Wouldn't you like to ride in a space elevator? We need some fundamentally different ways of thinking about technology, energy, people, transportation, exploration, science, and our ability to reach way beyond ourselves. Space is called the final frontier for a reason. Among the most wondrous things President Elect Obama cited that Ann Nixon Cooper had seen in her life were when "a man touched down on the moon" and "a world was connected by our own science and imagination." Please, Mr. President, tap into the latent human energy, inspiration and drive that currently all lay so dormant. Help them give this and future generations even more wondrous and amazing things to see. Help us forge nothing less than our very own mythology. There are millions of jobs to be created (people can more easily afford health care with good jobs), boundless discoveries, innovation for energy, medicine, and countless ways to improve every single glorious facet of our human existence.

Here is one example of what I feel is an excellent start in the right direction.

It's one of the most poignant examples of "thinking outside the box" I've heard about in a while. Aside from the video link above, which I think is amazing, they have a website. The Washington Post even picked up an editorial on the subject recently.

One of the personal reigns I've taken up in the hope that "yes we can" is precisely this, the rhetoric (in the best sense of the term) needed to help people look up to the skies and see more, to get in touch with the deep knowledge that we are a part of that shimmering twinkling tapestry. It is one of our great destinies to reach out to it and explore. As our ancestors stepped out of the ocean and walked on land so must we now resume our steps up to the Cosmos. Quite possibly, if we play our cards right, it might even help us in the process.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

First take off...

Colleagues and I have been out of town celebrating Twenty Years of Play over the last few days. Hence I haven't had a ton of time to review and brush up on recent flight lessons. The inherent mania of helping put on live electronic music shows is also still coursing through my blood along with a few other things I'm sure.

So I didn't feel as though I had my A game on at the outset today while we reviewed flying at slow speed and learned how to pull out of a zero power stall. Yes, that's where you cut power to the engine and the plane actually starts to plummet out of the sky! Ok, just kidding. Stalling is a misleading term. It's when the airflow over the wing is disrupted enough so that it is no longer generating lift. There's an hysterical screaming (analog) siren that announces a stall. I'm sure the sound is actually not quite so funny to most ... with good reason. But the thing does literally start to scream and crackle like a hoarse vocalist the worse the stall becomes.

Neither of these maneuvers are particularly difficult things to do. But both need to become second nature. Getting out of a stall or slow speed flight is basic training for pulling out of an aborted landing. Flying at slow speed is necessary for final approach. I never knew you could fly these planes at a crawling 40 mph.

After run up, where you rev the engine with the brakes on to test some key systems, Regan unexpectedly had me try my hand at taking off. But you see, I'm still learning how to steer the thing on the runway using my feet. The stick and yoke (a plane's version of a steering wheel) have absolutely no effect on what you do on the ground. It's an odd feeling but I'm getting used to it.

For some reason I just assumed it would be a while before I could actually steer the thing at full throttle down the runway. Trial by fire works sometimes I guess. After all systems checked out, I confirmed with Regan that both he and the plane were in fact insured and away we went. Without any major fanfare or commotion I managed to successfully take off. Before I knew it we were airborne. Cool. It's actually much easier than I thought.

Lots of bright yellow trees on the ground today.

I'm starting to settle in. My routine involves showing up at CFC, picking up the keys and "the can" (an aluminum binder with flight documentation), then heading out to the runway for external pre flight inspection of the plane. Through practice it is getting easier and I'm not so concerned that I've missed some lose bolt or frayed cable. I actually enjoy looking over the plane. It also gives me a chance to spy around and drool. As I strolled out onto the runway today I was met by this lovely bird, clearly marked as a military plane.

I originally thought it was some beautifully restored WWII fighter. But then I noticed the modern looking landing gear and composite material propeller. It turns out this is a T34 Mentor trainer aircraft, a very muscular looking plane. Given that my tax dollars helped pay for the thing I wonder if they'd let me take it for a quick spin?