Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Photo Album

"Grumman 26896 holding short at 29 and Delta"

They don't like it when we fly over the lighthouse :/

One of the big regional jets parked at the end of taxiway Alpha


Both runways after take-off

Cruising beneath the clouds

A view of my hometown from the air

Lake Zoar and the surrounding Autumn leaves

Approaching Oxford Airport

Leaving Oxford Airport (It was a busy day for ATC there)

Flying base to land on runway 24

Monday, November 4, 2013

Navigating: Aviation Style

My flight lesson this Saturday involved me having to fly up to Oxford Airport and back down to Bridgeport with several landings at Oxford in between. Another step towards getting signed off to solo; my first solo flight will only consist of myself taking off and preforming a few landings at Bridgeport; another solo later on will be flying a little further out to the New Haven practice area and back, the third will involve planning a cross-country flight of at least thirty miles and then navigating those 30+ miles by myself.

Navigating on a plane can be rather similar to navigating a boat out at sea. Your primary guides are your maps (in my case, sectional charts) and your compass. A plane actually has two compasses; one true compass located overhead at the top of the front window, and a second magnetic gyro compass on the dash (this one needs to be adjusted to follow the true compass, and sometimes needs to be readjusted during flight). A sectional chart is a map of a region from the air (the one I have to use covers New York, PA, and all of New England) and displays various airports, air-spaces, airways (routes that IFR pilots will follow on cross-countries), and obstructions a pilot needs to look out for along their way. In addition to displaying airports, a sectional chart will also have listed next to an airport their radio frequencies for the tower and ground control. Many airports will also have VOR services --> stations that transmit a certain frequency along a specified compass direction. A pilot will use a VOR to tune into said frequency and then follow along the direction the VOR is transmitting from to reach their destination.
Masuk High School-- See, there's the football field!

Oxford Airport off the right wing
Navigating is more than just a compass and a map however. I'll often use landmarks to help place where I am, and how far I'm from my destination. For example, there is an island 5SM (statute miles) out from the end of one of the runways at Bridgeport that I use as a land mark. I can also navigate back to Bridgeport from inland by looking for the red and white smokestack (affectionately nick-named the Candy-stack) that is out by Harbor Yard. Half the time I know I'm flying over home because I can see the football field out the window.

Lake Zoar-- You can see the dam at the bottom
A secondary navigation aide I've used is the plane's GPS. These are slightly different from the car variety (No U-turns or strange roads). A plane GPS is basically a computerized sectional chart. It displays airports, their airspace, and also can find the airports nearest to you and report your distance from their location. The GPS will also usually double as the radio, capable of setting several different frequencies for radio communication and VOR tracking.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Crossing wind

This day flying was my first experience landing in a cross wind. Often when landing, the plane lands on the same runway it took-off from, going into the wind. What happened when I landed was this: while on final approach (getting ready to land on the runway) the wind switch from coming directly at me to coming in on a left diagonal at the plane. This forced me to to move in at a crab (a slanted/angled approach opposed to flying straight in) to prevent being blown off course. 

Ordinarily had the wind changed like this and I was at a different point in the traffic pattern, the tower might have had me land on a different runway where the wind wasn't as strong or on course. Because I was already on final and was getting close to the runway, I was able to land, although it was difficult to keep the plane on course. But a cross wind is still better than turbulence on landering right? :)

No backseat flying Dad!

This flight lesson my dad decided to come along for the ride (he took the pictures for this post and the video at the end) to watch me fly. Like my instructor and I, he also had a headset (headphones and a mic) so that he would be able to communicate with us if necessary; but he was actually quiet most of the ride.

The coastline from above

Here's a pic dad took as I came in to land

On this lesson, my instructor had me take initial control the plane during tack-off while he manned the throttle (Something I have yet to get the hang of). Once we were in the air at a nice altitude of 3,000ft we began to go over and practice emergency landings, to be used if say the engine caught shut down. 

  • The first thing you'd do were this to happen would be to try and restart the engine.
  • Failing that then the pilot needs to look for an open area to land (A nearby runway or a big open field would be the best)
  • Then you proceed with the normal landing procedure (extend flaps, pitch for 70 knots on final approach)
  • The pilot also needs to broadcast the mayday signal so that surrounding planes and ATC towers are aware of the emergency (transponder code 7700 for general emergency)
Hopefully I never run into such a situation, but its important for me to practice emergency procedures like these just in case if such an incident occurs.

videoAnother part of my lesson was touch-and-go landings. We would land the plane on the runway and once the wheels touched the ground, the flaps went back up, and we went full throttle back up into the air. We managed to squeeze in four landings that time!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ground School Part 2

This next day of ground school covered instrument reading; the interpretation of the various indicators and meters located on the dashboard of an airplane. Learning to fly by sight and handling the controls properly is important to get down as a beginner. The flight instruments are supposed to serve as reference for flying; second to your senses.

I find that the most important instruments to pay attention to are:

  • The altimeter (displays the height of the aircraft)
  • Airspeed indicator (VERY important, especially during landing and take-off)
  • Also the attitude indicator (displays the orientation of the plan on a horizontal and vertical axis)
Before I really started flying, I had no idea how to read/interpret most of the instruments. I would rely on my eyes alone to judge how to fly. My instructor helped me to understand the flight instruments, and to use them practically while flying.

This altimeter displays an altitude of 1,400ft
The way the altimeter functions is similar to an analog clock. It has numbers 0-9 marked with increments of fives in between and three hands: 
  • The small thin one displays 10,000s of feet
  • The small wide one displays 1,000s of feet
  • And the long one displays 100s of feet
Each hand moves based on the plane's altitude above sea level. On the type of plane I fly, the 10,000 needle rarely moves (above 10,000ft requires oxygen supplement). An altimeter with the small needle between 0 and 1, the wide hand pointing at the 4 marking, and the long needle at the 2 marking would read an altitude of 4,200ft. Simple once you get the hang of it.

The airspeed indicator is also easy to read, since it is very similar to the mph dial on a car, just measured in knots not miles. The various colored markings show speeds to be used in certain conditions, and a warning red line to mark the maximum (never exceed) speed of the airplane.

Knowing how to fly by sense and instinct is only half the battle. With the knowledge provided by the flight instruments, a pilot is better prepared, and has a better idea of an airplane's movement and limitations.


When my instructor told me that day that I would be learning to stall an airplane, I was very nervous. For some reason, whenever most people (myself included) hear the word stalling in conjunction with flying, we all conjure up something like this: an airplane climbing at an impossible angle, then suddenly loosing power and falling down from the sky.

In reality, stalls aren't even remotely scary. They aren't even anything like the description I just gave. In reality a stall is what occurs when an airplane tries to climb at a slow enough airspeed that the nose of the plane dips down a bit in order to regain enough airspeed to maintain lift. My instructor had me take the airplane into a gentle climb, about 500ft per minute. Then he reduced in an the throttle to about 1500 RPM (that's pretty slow for a prop engine). The airplane tried to climb, but after a few seconds of hearing the stall horn (an annoying buzzing noise) the nose dipped down gently in an attempt to regain speed (we were only going about 60 knots when the stall occured). The nose dropping isn't very drastic either, it feels rather like a small amount of turbulence.

Though at first I was afraid to learn how to stall, I discovered that it isn't quite as scary as I first thought, and is actually fun :D

First day of (Ground) School!

Ground School. Used to be a long written class pilots had to slog through before they started flying. Now it's more of a crash course in how to pass the FAA written test. I know that some of the things I'm memorizing I won't use or even recall after the test. However most of the material I'm learning will have a practical use while flying.

This first night was just going over the basics of flight: The main controls of an airplane and basic aerodynamics. Lift, weight, drag, thrust, those sort of things. Lift is the force that moves the plane upward, whereas weight opposes it and drags the plane down. Thrust moves a plane forward while drag pulls back. 

Another piece of aerodynamics is Bernoulli's Principle. This is the idea that low pressure creates faster moving winds, and slow winds are created by high air pressure. This is the reason why the wings of a plane have such a unique shape; wind moves over the curved part of the wing in the same time it takes for wind to move under the wing. In other words, the air pressure under the wing is greater than the pressure on top; this causes the plane to rise and take flight.

In some aspect, flying is instinctual. You really have to see what you are doing; experience is the best teacher. However learning why and how airplanes operate gives a pilot  a better idea of how to control the plane and also why the plane works in a certain way.