Hear Ye! Since 1998.
Nov 15

Inching towards a license to fly

Still inching along towards getting my private pilot license. The weather hasn’t been cooperating lately, and there was a stretch of about 6 weeks where I only flew once. I’m currently sitting on about 55 hours of flying, which is about average for the stage I’m at. It’s definitely taken longer than I thought it would, given that I started in mid-March.

I took the private pilot knowledge test a couple weeks ago. It’s a computer-administered test. 60 multiple choice questions over 150 minutes. There’s an outline book you use to study it, and you can get through it in a couple weekends. Compared to the MBE for the bar exam (200 multiple choice questions over 6 hours), this one was a piece of cake. Took me 60 minutes for a 97%, but I think if you eyeball the questions requiring chart reading and calculation and make educated guesses, you should be able to get through the whole thing with a passing grade in under 40 minutes. Not that a pilot wants to just scrape by on a test like this – the main person that’s going to lose out if they don’t actually know the materials is the pilot.

KPAO-KSTS-KPAO: 7.00pm Thursday 11/19 (3.1 hours) – 824LB

Earlier this week, I met my night flying requirements. Before you can take the checkride (the practical test that’s the final hurdle to getting a license), you have to clock 3 hours of night flying, including a cross-country flight of at least 100 nautical miles. You also have to perform 10 full stop landings at night.

John was kind enough to accommodate my request to fly north up to Santa Rosa in Sonoma, which would be a much more interesting route than going south to sleepy Salinas (another popular training route). The weather over San Francisco is always a bit iffy, but fortunately the weather held and we had a beautiful calm, clear night under a waxing quarter moon.

By the time I arrived at the airport after work, it was almost completely dark. John was caught up in rush hour traffic on the 101, so he texted me that he would be a bit late. Preflighting was a challenge, as was seeing around the cockpit. There wasn’t enough gas in the tanks, and fuel service had closed for the day, so we had to taxi over to the fuel island where I got my first chance to refuel a plane. It’s almost exactly like refueling a car, except that you first need to ground the plane with a metal cable, there are two tanks to fill, and there’s no auto-shutoff valve so you have to watch the tank closely to see when it’s getting full. The Cessna I was flying holds 53 gallons of usable fuel.

With the tanks all full, we were ready to go. The route we plotted would take us into San Francisco’s Class B airspace, up along the 101, over the city, between the Golden Gate and Alcatraz, into North Bay and up to Santa Rosa. On the way back, we would fly via the Skaggs Island VOR and Oakland.

Flying at night was equal parts beautiful and unnerving. Shortly after we took off, we were handed off to San Carlos Airport’s tower and were directed to transition their airspace while keeping the 101 off our right side. Ahead of us, two trickling streams of white and red – El Camino Real on the left and the 101 on the right – traced their way up the Peninsula through the glistening city lights.  On the right we could see the black surface of the bay waters, framed by the lights of East Bay towns flickering in the haze. On the left, city lights extended for a short distance before abruptly terminating in an inky darkness. The foothills were there, but it was disconcertingly impossible to see them.

The night both sharpens and hides. While during the day other aircraft are difficult to see – beyond 3 miles, it’s difficult to spot anything other than large jet airliners – at night the distractions and background fades away, leaving just the moving flashes of airline strobe lights. Traffic becomes less of a concern, and focus turns more to “terrain avoidance” and hoping that there isn’t a stray cloud right in front of you.

San Carlos Tower handed us off to San Francisco Airport’s tower and, for the first time, I got to speak with the same people that speak everyday to the airline pilots who take us to lands much farther than Sonoma.

“San Francisco Tower, Skyhawk 824LB, Level 1500.”

SFO Tower cleared us into their airspace and then went back to directing the big jets. “United 455, San Francisco Tower, Wind 290 at 5, Runway 28L, cleared to land.” Off our right side, we watched as pairs of airlines landed on the twin runways of 28L and 28R, while pairs took off on 1L and 1R, alternating in a graceful aeronautical choreography. “American 218, Wind 290 at 6, Runway 1L, cleared for take off.” Two points of light, Skywest 312W and American 218, started crawling down the runway, followed by a small shift in angle indicating that they had become airborne.

“Cessna 4LB, fly to the control tower and then make one left 360.” They wanted us to make a circle to create some spacing for the jets that were taking off. I pointed the plane directly at San Francisco airport, flew overhead, and then started my left turn, 1500 feet above the ground. We had an amazing view of the airport.

“Tighten up the turn a little bit,” John said, as the plane pointed towards the foothills, still cloaked in blackness.

With the turn completed, we resumed our course and flew over the city, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge extending like arms from downtown San Francisco. Then we were in North Bay, with the city lights rapidly fading behind us, and the terrain rapidly becoming more rugged and less populated. It felt like we were leaving civilization – and more so when we were handed over to Oakland Center.

Airspace is carved up into different pieces for air traffic control to manage. Generally, the busier the airspace, the smaller the chunk that gets sliced off for an air traffic control facility to handle. Airport towers deal with the areas immediately surrounding the airport (and potentially neighboring untowered airports) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities can control airspace spanning thousands of square miles around them. Oakland Center, the callsign for the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), is responsible for millions of square miles of coverage – a staggering amount of almost 10% of the Earth’s surface area, mostly over the Pacific Ocean. It spends the majority of its time directing jet traffic at altitudes where even the tallest mountains don’t reach.

It is not unusual, but it is relatively uncommon for an ARTCC to be watching over a small Cessna crawling up the California coast at 6,500 feet. It was just an indication of how relatively remote things were even a short distance north of a major world city.

Mount Tamalpais was supposed to be off our left side but, without any lights, land, sea and sky had merged into an inscrutable void. Ahead of us, small islands of lights – the towns of Novato, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa – speckled in the void as beacons to our destination.

By the time we were about 25 miles out from Santa Rosa Airport, Oakland Center told us that the airport tower had closed for the night and then terminated our radar services, meaning that they were no longer tracking us. We were alone in the night.

At night, airports can sometimes be difficult to make out among the other city lights, but Santa Rosa airport was pretty easy to see. A slowly rotating green and white light beacon marked the airport. The airport had what’s called pilot controlled lighting. You tune your radio into the airport’s frequency, press your microphone button several times and then, magically, the runway illuminates, emblazoned with a frame of light. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to press a button at a distance of 10 miles and turning on a whole bunch of bright lights.

We landed at Santa Rosa and then returned to Palo Alto Airport without incident. Landing at night was not as difficult as I thought it would be and, after I had dutifully made ten landings, we called it a night. This was the longest flight that I had done to date, and although it was tiring (especially after a workday on which someone had decided to schedule a 7.30am meeting), it was one of the most fun flights I’ve had.

So, what do I have left to do? I have a couple hours of solo flying to complete, as well as an hour or so of hoodwork, and then it’s all down to preparing for the checkride. Winter is coming and with it, if you believe the meteorologists, the rains, so hopefully I can get it done before they hit.

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Oct 15
Oct 15

Flying Lesson Update: Cross-Country Solos

Over the last couple months I’ve been trying to get my cross-country solo requirements out of the way. For the purposes of meeting the requirements to get a private pilot certificate, a “cross-country” flight is any that involves you landing at a different airport than the one you took off from, where the airports are at least 50 nautical miles apart (in a straight line). I was a fair bit more nervous about the solo cross-country (XC) flights than my first solo flight, because you really are kind of alone up there. When you’re going around the traffic pattern, that’s familiar, but when you’re going to somewhere you’ve never been with before, and you’re in the skies sharing the frequencies with the airline carriers, it’s something else.

XC 1: KPAO-KSNS-KPAO (Palo Alto – Salinas – Palo Alto)

The first XC was a relatively easy one, as John had taken me on two XCs to Salinas before, so I knew what was going on.

At Palo Alto, I called ground control to ask them for a left Dumbarton departure with flight following to Salinas. A left Dumbarton departure is one where you take off from the runway and hang a left at the Dumbarton bridge, which is a couple miles North of the airport. Flight following is basically a service that air traffic control offers to VFR pilots. When you’re flying VFR (visual flight rules) – in other words, flying by looking out the window – you’re pretty much on your own.  You’re not speaking with air traffic control, and no one’s telling you where to go. (The exception is if you want to enter the airspace of a towered airport, then you need to talk to ATC.) When you pick up flight following, ATC keeps tabs on where you are. They help you spot traffic and guide you around it (although the pilot always has ultimate responsibility for avoiding traffic), and sound the alarm if your radar blip unexpectedly vanishes from their screen.

I took the coastal route down to Salinas, flying over the Santa Cruz mountains, over Santa Cruz, Moss Landing and into Salinas. It was a nice, clear day, and a lot of GA traffic seemed to be heading down to Monterey. Palo Alto tower handed me off to Norcal Approach, and when I told them my intended altitude was 5500, they cleared me into San Francisco Airport’s airspace to get there (since it was above me at the time). SFO’s airspace is a category called Class B airspace, which is what surrounds all major U.S. airports normally up to 30 nautical miles in radius (the airspace looks like an upside down layered wedding cake). My flying club doesn’t allow students to fly solo into Class B airspace because it’s just a bit too busy in the Bay Area. (My instructor didn’t think much of that rule, and he gave me a Class B solo endorsement anyway, even though it’s just symbolic.) I declined the B clearance and ATC told me to stay underneath the Class B shelf.

After overflying the mountains, I realized that there was almost nowhere good to land – it basically was miles of densely forested hills. The alternative would have been to ask for a downwind departure and fly down the peninsula on the Bay side of the hills. But I’m not sure that it’s dramatically better – I guess you could land on the 280 in an emergency, but it’s still heavily populated, and the airspace is busier, especially as you skirt by San Jose’s airspace.

I made it over the Santa Cruz pier and headed across Monterey Bay. Salinas was somewhere in the distance, but the ground was a bit hazy. I was vectored for traffic briefly, before turning back to the short. The airport came into view after I passed abeam the smoke stacks of the power plant at Moss Landing.

Salinas’ tower works at a different pace to Palo Alto’s. The controllers speak slower and trip up on their words a little more, but on the other hand, there’s not a lot of traffic there so there’s no need to speak quickly.

I joined the downwind too close to the runway and overshot final by an embarrassing amount. No matter. I landed, taxied back, and took off for the return journey.


On the return, Norcal Approach twice asked me to confirm my destination was Palo Alto. The second time, I realized they were asking because they were curious – the direct route back to Palo Alto would have been via the Bay side of the mountains, but I was heading up via the mountains and then to Woodside, where I’d make a right turn and cut back in towards the Bay. But they didn’t know that, so I told them I was going to Woodside first. John told me later on that I should have mentioned any unusual routes when picking up flight following so they don’t get confused.

Our normal practice area is up near Woodside, and that afternoon was swarming with students doing maneuvers. “Cessna 1SC, caution multiple targets,” I was told. I always find that terminology peculiar, since targets connotes something you’re trying to aim at, and in this case you’re most decidedly not.

I cut back over the hills into more traffic. A Cessna ahead of me was also going to Palo Alto, and I was told to follow him. A Surf Air Pilatus was also crossing in front of my path from right to left.

“Cessna 1SC confirm you have Pilatus in sight, your 12 o’clock”

“1SC has traffic in sight”

“…and confirm that you have traffic you’re following as well”

“1SC has traffic in… uh… that traffic in sight as well,” I responded awkwardly as my eyes were glued out of the window.

Back in Palo Alto’s familiar airspace, I put the plane down and was exhausted.


XC 2: KPAO-KSCK-KSAC-KPAO (Palo Alto – Stockton – Sacramento Executive – Palo Alto)

The second XC was my “long” solo XC, which requires landing at 3 different airports, separated by at least 150 nautical miles. John set up my route to Stockton (where we had been once before) and Sacramento Executive (which we had not). Although both were large, towered airports, they were supposed to be relatively sleepy places.


I asked for a right Dumbarton departure, headed to my default Eastbound waypoint of the Sunol golf course, crossed Mission Pass and was in the Central Valley. Pleasanton to the left, Livermore below, wind farms, and then miles upon miles of fields. The weather in the Central Valley at this time of year is pretty consistent – warm to hot (low 30s Celsius) and clear skies with some haze.

The flight to and landing at Stockton went fine. After landing at Stockton, I contacted the tower instead of ground because the flip-flop switch in 501SC is sticky and has a habit of flipping twice when you press it once (and I didn’t double check the frequency change). Tower set me straight. Then in the runup area, I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to switch over tower or wait until ground told me to switch (it’s meant to be the former), and ended up deciding to make a call to tower, except that I had forgotten to switch over to tower and was still on ground. Oh well. The tower kindly set up flight following for me to Sacramento. Stockton tower wished me a “safe flight” upon departing their airspace and I wonder if they chose that valediction because they figured out I was a student pilot.

I made a right 45 departure from Stockton and decided to set the autopilot. I told Norcal I was going up to 4500 and set the auto pilot. I mustn’t have set something correctly, because auto pilot blew through 4500 and I only realized when I was at 4600. I tried to fiddle around with the autopilot to try and fix it, and unthinkingly tried pushing down on the yoke with autopilot still engaged (to which the plane responded with a verbal reprimand, although I can’t remember what it said – something about trim). By the time I finally got with the program and disengaged the autopilot, the plane was almost at 5000 feet.

I found Sacramento Executive without much of a problem, made a good approach and then spoiled everything with a horrible landing. Ballooned, lost a bit too much airspeed, and came down a bit hard and bounced (at least it was on the rear wheels!). Then I slammed on the brakes and the tires were screeching (I wasn’t sure why because they don’t normally).

The departure was the worst part of the flight and a great learning experience. Sacramento Executive Tower had cleared me for a straight out departure and told me that I would get my squawk code “in the air” (the code that lets ATC track you when you have flight following). I took off and moments later was given my squawk code. I was about to type it in, when it was followed by a traffic advisory at 11 o’clock. So I diverted my attention to looking for an RV that was coming in to land and entering the downwind. In the meantime, my GPS navigation was showing that the next waypoint was off to the left, when it should be straight ahead, and I was confused. The tower radioed in again and asked me to set my squawk code. Followed by another traffic advisory. Meanwhile I’m trying to concentrate on take off and pitching to the right angle and bringing up flaps. Tower radios and asks me why I’m turning left. And I’m not trying to, but I had hit task saturation in trying to attend to the take off, squawk code, traffic, and the weird GPS issue. The result was that I dropped the ball on my heading and had started to drift off to the left. I had just finished setting my squawk code when tower radioed again, this time very irate, and told me to set my squawk and what the hell I was doing still turning left (he didn’t say “hell” – they keep the words professional in the air, although the tone sometimes isn’t). Still a bit confused, I asked what heading I should be on and was told that I had already turned so it didn’t matter, and that I wasn’t supposed to turn until I was told to. Later on, I realized the GPS was still using the previous flight plan and I hadn’t activated the flight plan for the next leg, so it was showing the old inbound track to the airport.

A few learning moments:

1. I could have asked to wait for the squawk code on the ground. That would have been one less thing to worry about during a critical stage of flight.

2. I had my priorities wrong and should have completely ignored the GPS – while I was under tower control, my focus should have been on following their instructions and not on something that really didn’t matter at that stage.

3. I could have set a heading bug when lining up on the runway.

4. I could have mentioned I was a student pilot.

Anyway, I was a bit shaken up after that. Fortunately, the final leg was the longest one, and I had a bit of time to relax a little and take in my surroundings. I set auto pilot again, watching the altitude like a hawk. It blew through my target again, but this time I was ready for it – I disengaged autopilot, leveled the plane and put the autopilot into altitude capture model. I had some great views on the way back, with Mount Diablo passing by my right wing.

Getting back to Palo Alto was relatively uneventful, although I had another poor landing. It was a 2.5 hour flight, but I felt completely wasted. When I got home I took a nap.

XC 3: KPAO-O27-KPAO (Palo Alto – Oakdale – Palo Alto)

You need to clock 5 hours of solo XC time, so I needed to do one more solo. This time, John sent me to Oakdale, which was near Modesto. Oakdale is a small, single runway untowered airport in whoop whoop. I had only been to one untowered airport – Half Moon Bay – and only once, when there wasn’t anyone else in the pattern at 8am on a weekday. I thought Oakdale wouldn’t be too bad because of its location, and the fact that my course in would be a 45 entry into the left downwind, so I didn’t have to do any maneuvering to get into the pattern.

Norcal terminated flight following, and I switched over to the CTAF frequency for Oakdale (the common comms frequency that people talk on when there’s no tower). I was immediately hit by a barrage of position calls for Oakdale.

“Oakdale traffic, Young Eagle 123 is over the candy factory, making left traffic for 28, Oakdale.”

“Oakdale traffic, Cessna 12345 is turning final for 28, Oakdale.”

“Oakdale traffic, Young Eagle 234 is over the ammo depot…”

At 1500 feet, I was having trouble spotting the airport. And I hadn’t the faintest clue where the candy factory or ammo depot were. They weren’t landmarks on the charts. And what was Young Eagle?

I immediately began to get very nervous. It was clear there was a lot of traffic in the area, and I didn’t know where any of it was.

A plane – it looked like an old military prop plane – materialized off my right wing. He was flying on the 45 for a left downwind entry like me, and I didn’t know what to do. I recalled something about a plane on the left having right of way or something (the correct answer is actually that the plane on the right had right of way), but in the time I was searching my memory banks, the other plane had quickly sped ahead, resolving that problem for me. I fell in behind him.

I sighted the runway and made my call: “Oakdale traffic, Skyhawk 824LB entering left downwind for 28, Oakdale.”

Except that it wasn’t the runway. It was just a road. I frantically looked around for the airport again and, with relief, located it. I didn’t know what to do regarding my erroneous position report and I had probably just confused everyone else in the area. There was so much comms traffic that I was trying to listen to, I didn’t end up correcting my call. I just made it again when I was actually on downwind and hoped no one would get hissy. More people were reporting over the chocolate factory and ammo plant. (One day I’ll have to head back there and check out the chocolates.)

“Ok, I think I’m number 3,” someone said over the radio. Hmm. I started quickly scanning the pattern. There’s one plane on short final. Another turning base. Don’t see anything else… that can’t be good. Is number 3 behind me? What number am I? Then I saw number 3 ahead of me on the downwind. I put in 20 degrees of flaps and slowed down more, waiting for the plane to turn base and final and pass me before I turned base. Ok I hope I’m number 4 and I didn’t cut someone off who thought they were number4 . I finally got on final, saw the plane ahead clear the runway, and relaxed. The landing was a decent one.

On the ground, there seemed to be a bunch of people in older military-style planes going around, but I taxied past them all back to the runway and didn’t get a good look.

On the way back, I got vectored around some skydivers and had some traffic to look out for, but otherwise had an uneventful return.



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Oct 15

The Martian

Just saw The Martian. Best movie of the year for me.

I watched it with a group of five friends – each with a PhD* in various fields – biology, quantum physics, applied physics, and two in electrical engineering. (They could’ve stood in for the crew in the movie!) They thought the film was pretty legit in the science department, so I’ll take their word for it.

If you like science or space, go watch it. If you have young kids and you want to see if you can kindle or stoke their interest in science, go and watch it with them. Really enjoyable, engaging movie.

A couple other thoughts.

I found their casting decisions to be really positive – it felt more diverse on the racial and gender front than I would have expected for a Hollywood production. I think it must have been a conscious decision to cast a woman as the mission commander – she has to make some very tough decisions to make in the movie, and she makes them in a way that unambiguously shows she’s a strong leader. Fictional characters can make great role models, and the women leaders in The Martian can inspire the girls who watch the movie to aspire to the same.

I also found that the Chinese tie-in was interesting. There’s of course the heartwarming angle about scientists cooperating free from politics (and it’s a good reflection of how scientists around the world really do collaborate on all manner of projects). But ironically, politics has also probably influenced those scenes being in the movie.

That’s because the political climate of the day often dictates who plays the villains in movies. During the Cold War, the Russians were always the bad guys. These days, the Russians are making a comeback of sorts – there are so many movies and TV series these days where the Russian mob is involved. On the other hand, I think Hollywood has backed off from casting Chinese as the bad guys. My theory is that it’s driven by financial interests. The Chinese movie-watching market is a huge one, and you don’t want to alienate such a large audience by casting their country in such an antagonizing way. The Chinese are also starting to reach out to Hollywood with financing (did you notice the Alibaba Pictures logo at the start of the latest Mission Impossible?). It’s also not good to antagonize your funding sources. The Chinese tie-in also recognizes the rise of China as the world’s second largest economy and the ascendancy of its space program.

The movie also kind of gave a shout out to lawyers as well! I actually studied space law in law school and participated in an international space law mooting competition, so it was cool to hear the bit about space pirates!

Anyway, go see the movie.

* Yes, I am the Wolowitz of that group:

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Sep 15

Where do you come from?

“Where do you come from?” is an awkward way to ask someone what their origin is. For anyone who has a multicultural background, it’s hard to figure out if you’re being asked where you were born, where your parents came from, where you spent your childhood, where you currently live, or what’s your ethnicity. Adding “Originally?” to the end of that question only removes one of those possibilities, and it also can generate snide comebacks. “Yes, I was originally from Australia too.”

I find when I ask that question, I’m trying to find out where the person spent most of their formative years – where they got their accent, where did get their early education, where they were with their parents. I heard someone ask a version of this question a while ago that has now become my go to question: “Where did you grow up?” This invites the person being asked to answer how they want, without loading the question with any awkward assumptions.

Then, if you want, you can follow up with – did your parents grow up there too?

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Aug 15

  stuloh I HATE @comcast. Worst company ever. I would lose them in a second if they didn't have a monopoly on Internet in my area.

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Jun 15

First Solo Flight!

Haven’t posted for a while, but thought this lesson warranted one.

On Sunday, John told me that today was a possibility for my first solo flight. He would go a few rounds with me, and if he was happy with my landings, he would step out of the plane. On Monday night, the weather forecast was showing IFR conditions and mist at 8am, but happily the sky was pretty clear when I woke up.

John jumped in the plane after another battle with traffic on the 101 which allowed me to catch up on some work emails while I waited for him after pre-flighting, and we took off. Even though my flight was at 8am, someone had taken the plane out for a couple hours earlier in the day so the fuel tanks were only half full. As a result, the lighter plane handled differently and I ballooned the first couple of landings quite a lot. John was silent the whole time, and I know he was just trying to simulate me not having him next to me on a solo, but I was struggling not to interpret the silence as sullen disappointment at the landings.

We then did a short approach and I came in way too high and had to go around.

To my surprise, after another couple landings, John said that he was going to step out of the plane and let me try flying it alone – the standard three take offs and full stop landings for the first solo. But we were going to taxi over to transient parking first to refuel so that the plane would handle more familiarly (especially given that John would no longer be in the plane). John signed my solo endorsement, wished me luck, and I was alone. It was very quiet in the cockpit.

“Palo Alto Ground, Skyhawk 501SC is a student pilot on first solo, at transient parking with Foxtrot, taxi for closed traffic.”

I was a little nervous, but far less than I had expected. I forgot to lean the mixture after starting up the engine until I got to the run up area, but otherwise I got up into the air fine. The traffic pattern was thankfully fairly quiet – a few others coming and going, but nothing confusing.

The first landing attempt felt wonky during the round out and I went around.

On the second attempt I had what was probably my best landing in a long time – a greaser. I pulled into the parallel where John was observing with his dog, and he gave me the A-OK sign.

My second landing was not so good – I dropped the plane in a little at the end. Taxiing back down the parallel, John was waving his hand at me, palm down. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with mediocrity.

My final landing was ok – a few issues with the rudder saw me bounce a bit from wheel to wheel on landing, but the flare was fine. Done!

I taxied back to the club and was switching off the plane when John arrived and congratulated me. I have to say, it felt pretty awesome.

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Jun 15

  stuloh Things are at the stage where every second day at work I'm telling people, "Hey that happened on an episode of Silicon Valley!"

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May 15


After eyeing this place for the last 6 years, I finally bit the bullet and visited Baumé in Palo Alto last week. I posted my review on Medium.

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The Restaurant at Meadowood

We had the opportunity to visit The Restaurant at Meadowood up in Napa a couple months ago. I posted my review on Medium.

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May 15

Cancelled Flight

No flight today (Thursday 5/22). On my preflight inspection, I discovered a big chip in the propeller of 824LB, so that was that and we returned to the club to issue a grounding squawk.

We instead covered the pre-solo written test materials and a single engine checkout form that my flying club requires to be completed before first solo. At least it was a step towards solo!

No lessons until Sunday next week as I’m heading to Japan for a week.

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Flight 19: PAO-PAO

7.00am Tuesday 5/19 (1.0 hours) – 824LB

Today was a good day for landings. Much better than Sunday, which was pretty shite. John wants to use the next lesson to head out to refresh maneuvers. Getting close to the first solo flight now.

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Flight 18: PAO-PAO

9.00am Sunday 5/17 (1.0 hours) – 824LB

More landing practice. It’s been a case of two steps forward, one step back. Today was the step back. For some reason the worse days tend to be on the Sundays, and the better days are the early hours of weekday mornings – which is kind of weird because I’m so not a morning person. Flaring was all over the place for some reason and it wasn’t clicking like it did for the last two lessons.

There were a few interesting moments in the pattern when the tower momentarily ‘lost the flick’ of what was going on and spooked a bunch of people out. Interestingly, I totally stumbled across an awesome video shot by the student pilot of another Cessna 172 SP that was flying the pattern with us that day (N501SC), and it turns out that I was flying in the slot in front of him for a few circuits.

On one of the circuits I even got a critique of my flying from him as we were both on a long final and he was watching me from behind. We were high (definitely two white VASI lights), and we were also flying the full length of final at 65 knots for separation. Despite my unstabilized approach, I thought the video was pretty cool:

“Ok, I don’t see where is our traffic.”
“He’s way too high.”
“Oh he’s… eh.”
“And he’s flying, I don’t think he’s landing.”
“I think so, I think they’re coming in from the high side.”
“He’s climbing! … He’s gonna go around. … I don’t think they’re attempting to land.”
Number one, cleared for the option 31, 4 Lima Bravo.
“Maybe they’re doing a short field landing where you purposely come in a bit steeper.” (Alas, we were not!)

I find that listening to the comms takes up a huge amount of my mental bandwidth and if I tune it in and there’s a lot of comms traffic (as there was during downwind), I get sloppy with the flying, and of course if I tune it out, I miss radio calls (which you can hear when tower calls me number 1 and John had to jump in to respond – we had already been cleared as number 3 so I wasn’t listening for a further clearance call). You can hear both instructors (John and Mark) also jumping in during the periods of confusion during crosswind and downwind.

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May 15

Flight 17: PAO-PAO

7.00am Friday 5/15 (1.0 hours) – 824LB

Second day with a few decent landings to start off with, but I seem to get worse the more I do in a row. Fatigue?

John introduced me to power off landings today as well. They are basically short approaches simulating an engine failure when you’re roughly abeam the numbers on downwind. Some differences to a normal landing:

  • The turn to base is done sooner (accounting for wind). Flaps are kept up, pitch for best glide speed and trim.
  • The turn through base and final can be less squared and more rounded (cutting the corners, so to speak)
  • By the time you reach final and aiming at the numbers, you can be coming in at a slight angle instead of straight in.
  • Flaps full only when landing is assured.
  • If too high, need to slip to lose altitude without picking up too much additional speed
  • If you come in too fast, you’ll need more runway (obviously)

Slipping is a bit of a weird sensation that I’ll need to get used to.

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Flight 16: PAO-PAO

6.30am Wednesday 5/13 (1.1 hours) – 824LB

Missed last Sunday’s lessons due to thunderstorms at DFW, through which I was transiting. After boarding the plane, we were notified of a ground stop due to thunderstorms in the vicinity. No personnel could work out in the open while there was lightning nearby, so basically we couldn’t load catering, luggage, or refuel. I was listening to DFW Ground and Tower on my iPhone’s LiveATC app for the hour or so we were delayed (which caused me to misconnect) and the usually busy frequencies were eerily quiet.

I also pushed Tuesday’s lesson to Wednesday because work was holding an early all hands to welcome in Zander as Exec Chairman.

Today, the landings finally clicked, like John said they would. First three landings of the day were good. Then the next few were not so good. But I know now what I need to look out for – not rounding out too soon, and not flaring too late when I sense the aircraft dropping, and then not flaring too quickly when I sense the aircraft dropping.

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May 15

Flight 15: PAO-PAO

7.00am Thursday 5/7 (1.2 hours) – 824LB – Winds 4kts – Skattered clouds at 1500′

The club just got three new planes – two of them are C172SPs with G1000s, so that will make scheduling a plane easier. They also had to get a new cash register drawer to store the new keys. When you check out a plane on the computer, the drawer automatically pops open so you can fish out the key, but today it wouldn’t give it up so I was left twiddling my thumbs for 20 minutes until someone came along and helped.

We had to cancel Tuesday’s lesson because John had a flat car battery and couldn’t make it up on time. Despite my protestations, John decided to comp this lesson because of the last minute cancellation. He’s really a stand-up guy. (Also, I better not cancel last minute myself and expect a hall pass either.)

As for the lesson, it was take off and landing practice today. First time taking off on runway 13. Then the winds changed and we switched back to 31.

Still having trouble nailing the flare.

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May 15

Flight 14: PAO-PAO

9.30am Sunday 5/3 (1.1 hours) – 824LB – Winds 4kts – Skattered clouds at 1500′ – Visibility 6 SM – 14°C

Landing pattern practice. The landing flare is still giving me a bit of problems. Gradually figuring out the right rudder and aileron inputs for the round-out but suffering from pilot-induced oscillations. I need to:

  • Apply left rudder in the round out to counteract the right-turning tendency due to p-factor
  • Apply ailerons to stop any lateral drift
  • Stop jiggling the yoke and let the airplane settle if it oscillates
  • Flare to level and wait for the plane to settle before flaring smoothly up to landing attitude
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Apr 15

Flight 13: PAO-PAO

Well it looked like a good day to practice pattern work – skies clear and wind calm. But at 600 feet the wind went from calm to 22 knots, which was enough for John to call quits on the lesson only three landings in. Only 0.7 hours on the Hobbs tach. The landings were ok, but still having trouble with radio calls.

A few planes struggled to land this morning – several go arounds, and one plane managed to overshoot the tarmac and end up in the dirt. Hopefully Sunday I can get some real practice in.

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SF vs NY

The difference between living in New York and San Francisco. Yep.

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Apr 15

Flight 12: PAO-PAO

9.00am Sunday 4/26 (1.1 hours) – 824LB – Winds 4kts – Sky Clear – Visibility 30 SM – 17°C

This was the first flight where we had a passenger. A colleague was visiting from Dublin office and he rode in the backseat today while we did our lesson. Interestingly, the extra weight made a noticeable difference in the way the plane handled.

Palo Alto airport finally reopened after completing a phase of runway maintenance, and the Sunday morning weather was great for flying. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea and the place was the busiest I’ve seen so far. The line up area was full and the radio chatter was almost non-stop. After I completed the run up, I switched over to tower and was about to request clearance to depart when I heard “824 Lima Bravo, Palo Alto Tower, hold short at runway 31″.

I was confused. I hadn’t even contacted the tower yet and he was clearing me up to the runway. I looked at John and gestured I had no idea what was going on. He looked a bit puzzled too. He took over the comms. “Ok, we didn’t call for take off yet, but we’re ready and will take it, 8 Lima Bravo.”

The tower realized he’d made a mistake and quickly corrected himself. “Correction. 2704 November, hold short at runway 31.” Then after it was read back, “824 Lima Bravo, you’re number 2.” And then only seconds later the departure queue was 5 deep.

We headed out to the coastal training area. This was the first lesson I’d had in almost two weeks, and it was immediately apparent I was rusty. John taught me the last two basic maneuvers I needed to know – power-on stalls (which are pretty straight forward) and emergency descents (which are also pretty straight forward). John had me practice a transition to slow flight (I drifted off my heading) and steep turns (which I really struggled with – the extra weight was throwing me off). We did a simulated engine failure as well, which was sloppy. So, lots of things I need to work on.

On the way back to the airport, the skies around the airport were a zoo. As I was focusing on flying the plane, I was vaguely aware of the stream of radio chatter in the background, but it all kind of washed over me. Apparently there were people missing radio calls and stepping on each other. Once we were on final, things were better. My landing was… passable.

Looks like we’ll be heading out to east bay to practice ground reference maneuvers in the not too distant future.

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