The boring part of flying

Hi gang! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. We sure did.

I’m still heading up to the airport two to three times a week. Bit by bit I am learning to apply the things I read to the things I do. I’m sure the guys in the tower get a kick out of me. This is what I sound like on the radio:

[click] Hillsboro ground, Cessna 34859er ………..[click]….[click] I’m in the parking lot and I uh…I’m ready to move now…permission to taxi to the run up area, please?[click]

[click] Hillsboro tower, Cessna 34859er on…uh…(frantically search for airport signage as I’ve forgotten where it was I turned, even though they told me exactly where to turn and I repeated it back to them) Alpha 8…I wanna….well, I’m stopped now, can I have clearance for departure? [click]…[click] oh! I have information Golf too! [click]

[click] West Practice Area, Cessna 859er at 3000 feet and climbing over….(to my CFI) psst, where are we again? [click]

[click] Cessna 859er on the downwind for 31 right [click][click] LEFT!!!! SORRY! I MEANT 31 LEFT!! [click]

And their absolute favorite,

[click] Cessna 859er, can you say all of that again but this time a lot slower? [click]

I have learned that pilots have come up with clever names for certain traffic controllers that are well known for being humorous or difficult to understand. I’m sure the traffic controllers have some nicknames for us too. Although I honestly wouldn’t know if they have come up with one for me yet. They have been nothing but exceedingly nice and patient with me so far.

When I’m not attempting to talk on the radio I’m learning about stalls, emergency field landings, engine failure and radio failure procedures and taking in the beauty of the mountains. On clear days you can easily see Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier. Out the other window you can see the Tillamook State Forest.

When I’m not in the air I’m enduring the absolute drudgery that is ground school. Here’s a taste:

Indicated altitude is the altitude measured, and displayed, by your altimeter. Pressure altitude is the vertical distance above the standard datum plane, while density altitude corrects pressure altitude for nonstandard temperature. True altitude is the actual height of an object above mean sea level. Absolute altitude is the actual height of the airplane above the earth’s surface over…..sorry, I fell asleep there for a minute, where was I? And no, none of that sunk in.

I can almost fill out a weight and balance chart and figure out the pressure and density altitude by myself. Almost.

I’ve arrived at the part of my training where not everyday is the most fun ever. Some days I am stuck reading this phone book:

It’s boring as hell but at least there’s a section in the back about UFOs.

Then there is the Jeppeson text book, the Test Prep guide, the Cessna operating manual and a handful of other materials from the FAA. All riveting reads, let me tell you. (yes, that was dripping with sarcasm)

I know it’s all important stuff. I know it will probably turn up on my written exam or check ride. Heck, it’ll be important to my basic, everyday safety. But it is really challenging to stick with it. The minute I start to glaze over reading about noise abatement procedures or fuel selector valves there is an adorable puppy asking to go for a walk, or a husband asking what’s for dinner, or a glance at the clock tells me I have to be at work in 20 minutes. What’s that over there? Right, a pile of laundry, I’ll just take a quick break from these books and before I know it whole days have passed and no studying has been done.

I’ve resorted to taking books up to work with me because at least when I get a break up there all is quiet and free of distraction. Except yesterday someone brought Christmas cookies and left them in the break room. See, that sort of thing draws a crowd, and I may have chatted away all of my breaks with colleagues. It beats tracing that picture describing classes of airspace for the umpteenth time because I’m still confusing Class B with Class C.

Some of aviation education is really boring. At least it is punctuated by opportunities to climb into a plane and fly around a bit.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

Mt. St Helens (right) and Mt. Rainier (left)

On Stalling and Stalls

Fall has arrived in Oregon.


 Every morning an enchanting fog wraps around the brightly colored trees. Above it layers of clouds sweep across the sky. The rain comes and goes leaving pilots to wager against Mother Nature in a guessing game that changes each hour, no, each minute.

For the past two weeks I had been awaiting a flight lesson on stalls. Each day I would optimistically head to the airport only to find once again my lesson on stalls had been stalled on account of weather.

On the bright side I have knocked out a ton of ground school.

But yesterday it finally happened. Somehow I managed to schedule a flight lesson during a time when the sky above the airport was blue. Granted, only the sky above the airport and a patch just a little south of the airport. Ever up for adventure, my CFI and I hopped in and went up…prompting everyone else who had been scratching their chins and staring at the sky to get in line behind us.

Going up on a day like yesterday with ever changing weather (some of those clouds had hail in them, others frost, others just rain) was actually a real treat. We steered clear of the more ominous looking weather and caught the little patches of blue that popped up here and there. I’m learning to make good calls. I was offered a chance to fly above the clouds and opted to stay beneath and between them. What would happen if we got up above them, and they all converged and we couldn’t get back down? Plus, how would a VFR pilot like myself have any shot at navigation with nothing but clouds below? And who is to say how high those clouds really go? The weather was morphing into a new configuration each minute. Do I really want my first formal lesson on stalls to be coupled with a bout of hypoxia?

And so, encircled by weather of every sort, with ephemeral rainbows flashing all around us, I finally had my lesson on stalls. We incorporated the types of stalls we did with the type of weather we were dodging to get from one patch of blue to another. Power on stalls. Power off stalls. Turning stalls…..the beginnings of spins! Recovering from spins. The “falling leaf” that results from not recovering a stall – that one was fun. My CFI had me open my window and stick my hand out to feel the effect of the wind as we fell 600 ft/min. For all of the hype and fear-mongering I’ve heard about the lesson on stalls, it was actually fun.

I left that day encouraged once again at how fun flying can be…and more queasy than I’ve felt in a long time. Next time, I’ll know to bring along some ginger ale.