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Archived Posts for April 2015

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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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Apr 15

Silicon Valley (TV series)

I gotta say, I find the HBO TV series Silicon Valley absolutely hilarious, but I wonder how many people outside of the Valley understand all the jokes?

The thing is, with a lot of the stuff on the show that seems exaggerated… that shit actually happens IRL. And, being a Valley lawyer, I found this exchange on the last episode priceless where the lawyer is listing out all the “boilerplate” things Pied Piper is being sued for:

Ron LaFlamme: “…breach of non-solicitation and the hiring of someone named Donald Dunn.”

Richard: “That’s Jared. We call him Jared.”

Ron: “Changing his name to get out of it. Clever, but irrelevant…”

And then in an example of how stuff seems exaggerated but it’s not:

“We’re going to have to lawyer up.”

“Waaaait. Aren’t you our lawyer?”

“I’m not a litigator. That’s what you need.”

“Another lawyer. Really?”

Lawyers, Richie. You don’t wanna mess around here.”

In recounting this exchange, one reviewer observed how LaFlamme “immediately distances himself from the hard work of the lawsuit,” but the truth is, that’s exactly what a corporate lawyer in the Valley (and outside the Valley for that matter), would say.

And in season 1 there’s a scene where Jared (the biz dev guy) creates a scrum board to manage the team’s projects. A couple weeks later, I walk into a meeting room at work, and the biz dev guys had put up a scrum board on the wall. (I then printed out the picture below and stuck it on their board. They took it in good humor.)


Click here to see the full scene.

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Apr 15

Ground Lesson: Weather

It’s never great when you’re scheduled to fly and the METAR prints “OVC 010” and doesn’t change when you get to the airport despite the forecasts (that’s overcast skies at 1000 feet, which is no good when you’re a student pilot flying VFR). Fittingly, we did a ground lesson on weather instead.

I learned about Synopses, area forecasts, TAFs, AIRMETs, SIGMETs, pireps, MOS, and a litany of weather abbreviations.

I also learned about weather systems and the explanation for why San Francisco is so cold and foggy. The reasoning goes something like this: warm air rises and denser colder air tends to move in to take its place. Especially in summer, the inland Central Valley heats up a fair amount relative to the coastal waters (which are quite cold as they tend to flow down from the arctic). This draws in a mass of cold air from the ocean, but it typically is blocked by the coastal range of hills that extends up and down the west coast. The bay inlet that the Golden Gate Bridge spans is the only sea level break in the hill range for hundreds of miles in either direction, so the cold air and mist pours in through that opening and swamps the city in its trademark summer foggy coldness. When the temperature imbalance is too much, the mist can roll over the hills, but that’s relatively rare and explains why the peninsula can be so sunny when San Francisco is not.

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Apr 15

Flight 11: PAO-PAO

6.30am Friday 4/17 (1.2 hours) – 501SC – Winds Calm – Sky Clear – Visibility 10 SM – 10°C

I don’t normally fly on Fridays, but John had a student that had a Thursday check ride so we had to push. Apparently the student had been trying to schedule a check ride since February but it kept getting cancelled due to weather. He finally got to take it and passed.

We started a half hour earlier than usual today because I needed to get to work to take care of a transaction that was signing.

The airport is pretty quiet at dawn, so much so that I was cleared to taxi to runway 31 “at my discretion”. There are two routes to the runway from the flying club – via the hangar side (left) and via the terminal side (right). I got to pick today as it seemed there wasn’t any ground traffic.

Today was landing practice. John let me do 8 of them – I think all but one or two were unassisted. I had a string of decent ones, then a couple of terrible ones, then finished with a couple of ok ones.

PAO is doing runway maintenance works over the next couple weeks and also refreshing the paintwork. They are halfway through the repainting because it looked like a lot of the markings had been wiped off, including the demarcation line on 31, which threw me off on the first couple of landings. They also had switched the VASI lights off so I only had my eyes to rely on to figure out if I was on glide path.

I know what a good landing feels like now but, on average, I’m still hunting around a bit at each stage — timing when to idle and glide in (I keep thinking I’m too low when I’m not), when to start the round out (I kind of get this) and, most of all, how quickly to flare. I have a tendency to balloon after yanking back too quickly after the round out (especially when I see the plane’s shadow swoop in). Then, after the plane settles, I don’t flare enough and bump down hard.

Also, on my final landing, for some reason I pushed the yoke forward after the back wheels had touched down, which is always a no-no when landing.

I’ve gotten the hang of pattern work mostly now. Need to work on stabilizing the cruise downwind when levelling off at the 800′ pattern altitude — I get a bit confused when I’m turning into the crosswind or downwind leg, I hit the pattern altitude, and then I need to respond to the tower if they clear me for the option at the same time. The sequence is: hit pattern altitude, use yoke to set level pitch attitude, wait until speed picks up, reduce power to 2200rpm and trim. Steer the plane while doing it and monitor comms.

There wasn’t any traffic in the pattern today, but John said if there was, we’d extend downwind by slowing down – reducing power to 1600rpm, applying full flaps at under 85 knots, adjusting pitch to hold altitude, and then bumping the power back up to ~1900rpm to maintain pattern altitude at 65 knots. We’d then maintain that speed through the rest of the pattern.

This weekend John wants to teach me the last two maneuvers — power on stalls and emergency descents, then we can head out to Central Valley to do some ground reference maneuvers.

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Apr 15

Flight 10: PAO-PAO

1.00pm Sunday 4/12 (1.3 hours) – 2407N – Winds 3kts – Sky Clear – Visibility 30 SM – 25°C

After a false start earlier this week, Spring seems to be in full swing and the METAR for Palo Alto was showing near perfect conditions. A light 3 knot wind, 25 degrees, and a clear sky.  I usually fly 501SC or 824LB, but one of those had been grounded for some maintenance issue and the other was booked, so I had 2407N today.  I’ve gotten my preflighting down to about 15-20 minutes and the routine is slowly beginning to stick in my mind.

John turned up at 1.30pm.  I did a few of the radio calls, but I’m still having trouble hearing ATC and remembering what they say when they shoot off a whole list of information in about 3 seconds.  The climb out was slightly turbulent – John mentioned it was due to a temperature inversion.  A 3 knot wind near ground level colliding with a 14 knot wind at a higher altitude made for a choppy transition.  Once we were above 2500 feet, though, the ride smoothed out.

Out by the coastal area, John asked me to do a transition to slow flight, which I hadn’t been expecting for this lesson, but after a few seconds of hesitation, the procedure came back to me.  I was rushing the pitch up a bit too much at the start instead of waiting for airspeed to start falling past Vg, thereby gaining too much altitude.  It probably was the warmer weather, but the stall speed of 47 knots I was used to was not the stall speed today, so I was holding the speed at 47 quite steadily feeling a little proud of myself when John said, “I don’t hear the stall horn.” Which was reinforcement that stall is a function of angle of attack – not airspeed, and today the first indication of stall angle was at a slower airspeed.

Next up, John made me do a few steep turns.  I was having trouble getting the right “picture” out of the windscreen and lost 200 feet on my first attempt.  I had a tendency to let the nose dip and would have to wrench back on the yoke, creating a sinking roller coaster feeling.  I had a couple more attempts which were better, but still subpar.  I also needed better speed control entering into the turn – 95 knots and stabilized flight.

Next we practiced the approach to landing stall.  It was ok.

As we were climbing back up to 4500 feet, John yanked out the throttle.  Engine failure.  I started to run through the checklist calmly.  A little too calmly.  I needed to have the initial response done in a 10 second burst – turn away from bad terrain while pitching for glide speed. 7-up flow. Then identify a good landing spot. I picked a nearby field while completely ignoring Half Moon Bay airport which was borderline in range. It might have been more comfortably in range had I pitched for glide speed quicker.

“Have you landed at Half Moon Bay yet?” John asked. I said no, and he dialed it into the GPS. Then he changed his mind since the winds weren’t to his liking. He yanked out the throttle again.

I made another attempt at a steep turn and the last one turned out pretty decently.

It was then time to head home, and by that time we had moved North up the coast more than we usually did.  I’m normally quite decent with spatial awareness around the Bay Area – my favorite seat on commercial flights is by the window and I have flown over the Bay Area countless times. However, today I managed to mistake the San Mateo bridge for the Dumbarton bridge.  John made me feel better when he recounted that on one of his first solos he mistook SFO for SQL, and only realized it when a 747 flew overhead!  (Though for some reason, I was having trouble picking out traffic today as well.)

Weekends are busy around PAO so we worked into the traffic pattern.  I sorted out flying the landing pattern pretty well when there’s no one ahead of me, but when I’m second, third or fourth for landing and need to extend downwind, I’m still at a bit of a loss about how to set flaps and power.  It’s much easier on the early morning weekday flights when the airspace is pretty quiet.

I did two unassisted landings which came down a little hard (need to flare up a bit more at the end when I see the ground rushing up), but at least now I have 4 of them under my belt.

Back on the ground, we spent a few minutes talking about inoperative equipment and minimunm equipment lists. He asked me to walk him through the regs and I had barely gotten a couple sentences out when he said, “Even the lawyer gets it wrong!” (Which I maintain I didn’t really… he just didn’t let me finish.)

It was still a nice day and I had a little time to burn, so after seeing a Quora post about the nearby Duck Pond being a good place to watch planes coming into land, I drove over, dialed in PAO Tower on my iPhone and watched planes take off and landing.  I’m starting to get the hang of the range of radio calls that PAO Tower makes, but this is probably going to be the biggest struggle for me.  I’m the sort of person who finds it difficult to talk and drive at the same time when too many things are happening on the road… and this is after having 15 years of driving experience.

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Flight Blog

I started flying lessons a few weeks ago and am going to blog about it when time permits since I find that recounting what happened helps to reinforce the learning.

I’m flying out of Palo Alto airport (PAO) and training on Cessna 172SPs with G1000s. Apparently PAO is one of the busiest single runway general aviation airports in America and the skies around it are also pretty crowded. SFO of course is a huge presence, but there’s also San Carlos (SQL – surely an IATA code that’s a nod to its tech surroundings), Moffett Field, SJC, Half Moon Bay and Reid-Hillview. On the other side of the bay, there’s Oakland, Hayward and a bunch more airfields.

I normally fly a couple early mornings before work and on the weekend. The weather is generally great on the peninsula but the issue is that it can get quite windy and sometimes there’s low cloud cover in the morning.

This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time – it’s overwhelming at first, but a lot of fun!

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