Monday, August 27, 2012

Learning to Trust My Flight Instruments

It was a cold, dark, and humid morning on June 12th 2011. There was a low overcast hanging over Long Island. It was a perfect day for a flight, that is, if you enjoy flying through the clouds. Some people fantasize about the splendid view that can only be seen through the windscreen in an airplane, the skylines, seascapes, and the occasional fluffy white cloud rolling by. However, as a young aspiring pilot it was time for me to begin learning to fly solely with reference to the instruments.

Flying instruments is not for the faint of heart, it requires skill, intense concentration and trust in the flight instruments. While learning to trust the instruments is not easy, many pilots fly coast to coast and across vast oceans without so much as a glimpse of the ground. They do so by instrument flight. Today was the day that I tested the instruments for myself.

My flight instructor Robert and I met in Atlantic Aviation at Farmingdale’s Republic Airport where we got the weather and held a preflight briefing. After inspecting the airplane we fired the engine. With our clearances in hand we taxied to the runway. Eyes on the instruments cautioned Robert, we’ll be in the clouds in no time. Indeed 14 seconds after takeoff we were completely engulfed in the puffy white fluff.

Why are you turning? Robert questioned me. To me it felt like I was correcting for a gentle bank that I came out of, but no, there was no turn and we were now off course. After I corrected the error Robert cautioned to always trust the instrument because they don’t lie. We broke out of the cloud tops just below 7,000 feet. We then descended back through the clouds to commence the approach.

We tuned the Instrument Landing System equipment and followed its guidance. Just a few hundred feet above the ocean the clouds suddenly disappeared and it was a sight to behold, crystal clear blue water, a string of islands with pearly white sand and finally out in the distance we were perfectly aligned for a smooth landing on Groton New London's runway 05.

The friendly staff at Columbia Air Services refueled and attended to our Cessna 172 N441QF while Robert and I went inside to discuss how we would slip the surely bonds of earth once more and sail through the clouds back whence we came. The return flight was much of the same, however, once we completed the approach to Farmingdale’s runway 19 it was clear to me that the instruments are installed in the aircraft because they can get you to places that your eye cannot see.

As long as a pilot is knowledgeable and proficient in the ways of instrument flight and has the fortitude to follow said instruments, a route can be flown from takeoff to landing without reference to the ground.


Some footage I took of N441QF taking off into the sunset at KFRG
and landing

Friday, August 3, 2012

Looking for a new flight school

It is high time to start instrument training, the need for a flight instructor/school and a craft arises. Who to choose? Do I continue with one that I did my private with or do I choose a new one? I wish I could continue with the instructor who helped me wrap up my private certificate, or the one who introduced me to complex airplanes. But they're 318 nautical miles east so the search must begin.

I've been through three flight schools, two flight clubs and nine flight instructors on the road to my Private Pilots License. If there's a gimmick or a catch chances are I've stumbled across it on my journey. I heard all the spiels and sales pitches. I've chosen what I want, what works. A relaxed (not carefree) professional instructor who flies because he loves it and teaches because that's what he's good at. That's the kind of person you want. As for the bird, keep it simple, first learn the basics, then upgrade. You'll save yourself heartache, time and money.

I tried out a flight school close to my home, they have a decent operation, but they don't allow rentals outside of the training syllabus. That's a big NO in my book. Isn't the idea to be able to rent when you want to go where you want? So the search moves north to the airport in my colleges backyard, Beaver Countys KBVI. there are two flight schools on the field, among other reasons I pick the one with the most familiar airplanes (remember keep it simple to save time), Cessna 172s in steam gauge and a 182 TURBO G1000 with a sprinkling of Piper Warriors. I wish they had a tail-dragger, but I guess that will have to wait.

I meet my prospective instructor, I'll learn that he's my style, no nonsense in the plane yet fun to be around. He gives me a tour of the facilities before we head out to the ramp to see all the aircraft. While I do the preflight inspection he tops off the tanks and then we climb in. It's just going to be a short flight, I simulate a short field takeoff with a right turnout to the north practice area. Jeremy points out the different landmarks before we follow the Beaver river back to the blue bridge for a 3 mile final. I execute two touch-and-goes with left hand turns and finally a full stop landing. I won't lie, some of the pattern work wasn't from my finest examples but I saved it on the smooth landings. I got my currency back, and I believe my quest for Mr. Right CFI is complete.