Monday, August 17, 2015

Hanging Out in the Skies

I am currently working on getting through my cross country fight training. Every time I get to climb into a plane is an opportunity to learn something. In between my own flight training I have had the privilege to ride along and fly with my friend Jordan who is currently working on getting his CFI and building hours to further his training.

Getting to do some right seat time is a different perspective. Different hands on different controls, gauges are harder to read because of parallax and, the view out of the aircraft is from the 'wrong' side. It is a blast though and I look forward to every time I get to climb into an aircraft. Yesterday the three of us (me, Jordan, and my flight instructor Andy) took a flight in a Cessna 177RG Cardinal up to Boeing Field. We landed and visited the Museum of Flight before taking off again and heading back to Aurora. It was one of the most fun times I have had in an aircraft yet. Good company and a high performance aircraft to try out and some crazy complicated airspace to contend with. Not to mention beautiful scenery.

My own flight training has been going great as well. This week I will be doing the first of my dual cross country flights. Flying out to Kelso and returning to Aurora. The difference between this flight and some of the other 'fun' flights being though, I have to do all the planning, radio work, and navigating. A lot of things to juggle at once. Should be fun!

I love it when a lesson can be both fun and informative. (Really, they all are but, some more than others.) There has been a lot of smoke and hazy in the valley lately due to wildfires that make visibility a thing. Not so much a thing to reduce visibility to un-flyable levels but, enough to make it a bit challenging anyways. During one lesson in the haze I was practicing diversions. Changing course to different airports and mentally calculating how those changes will affect the flight. Fuel burn, estimated time in route, course to follow, etc. I have flown around this area enough that in normal conditions I could just point the aircraft at just about any local airport and just go there. The haze made me work for it. It was a fun challenge flying to all these places when I couldn't readily see them.

During another lesson while talking about how much it would be nice to get out of the haze I asked if we could go higher. We ended up going *much* higher. It was my first time getting to fly at 12,000'. Not only was it just really dang pretty up there but, I learned a lot too. Engine performance and leaning the fuel mixture, the Diamond still does a respectable 500 fpm climb even at 12K'.  I also learned a lesson I wasn't expecting to learn. At around 10K' I was starting to receive more frequent reminders to watch my heading and attitude. I was getting frustrated at the fact that I seemed to be unconsciously turning. It took a few minutes to realize that with my nose pointed up in a climb and the diminishing ground references due to the altitude, that I was experiencing nearly instrument conditions. Even though it was nice and clear out, it was getting harder for me to judge my position by visual reference alone. I had done some simulated instrument time under a hood but never had it sneak up on me 'for real'. Once I started trusting and monitoring my instruments more, things got a lot better. On arriving at 12K', we turned around and started a descent back to the airport. In perfect timing I was instructed to go under the hood and fly back using VOR navigation by instrument reference (which was part of the original lesson). Coming down from that altitude I had plenty of time to get a feel for the lack of visual reference and just fly the plane. It was a very cool lesson. Sometimes the things that stick are the lessons you were not planning on learning.  

DA-20 at 12,000' looking west about 30 miles from the Oregon coast.

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