Browsing Tag: Flight Training

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 - this wasn't from our mountain-flying day, but it's too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article. Katie Bailey photo

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 – this wasn’t from our mountain-flying day, but it’s too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article

 

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

The lousy Pacific Northwest early spring weather notwithstanding, I’ve made good progress towards learning both the Garmin G1000 instrumentation and the Diamond DA-40 aircraft. We recently got a decent break in the weather that allowed a flight from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Ellensburg for some basic mountain flying training.

Cruising westbound at 6,500' over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience. Katie Bailey photo

Cruising westbound at 6,500′ over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience – Photo: Katie Bailey

I’ve got about 10 hours in the DA-40 now, all but one of them with Carl, my ever-patient CFI. I finally felt comfortable enough with the plane to take it out on my own last week, even though Carl had deemed me ready to do that about five flight hours previously. I just wanted a bit more time with the plane, as it’s quite a bit different than the Cessna 172, especially in that it’s a lot faster and a bit fussier when it comes to controls, and it’s got a constant-speed propeller (also sometimes referred to as a variable-pitch propeller) that needs tending to via a dedicated control lever.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ll have read a bit about route-finding through mountainous terrain in my December, 2020 story about my certification checkride. There are, pardon the pun, mountains of information and classes available concerning mountain flying. Here in western Washington state we’ve got a large mountain range to both the east (the Cascades) and the west (the Olympics), so it’s pretty much required reading if you want to fly beyond the Puget Sound area. Flying over and through the mountains also requires different training than is needed for landing in mountainous areas, so I’ll be tackling the landings next as my post-certification training continues.

The lakes at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass are quite distinctive and make great visual navigation checkpoints. Katie Bailey photo

The lakes at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass are quite distinctive and make great visual navigation checkpoints – Photo: Katie Bailey

Route-finding through mountainous terrain is definitely about avoiding the granite, but it’s also about doing your best to make sure you have options if something goes wrong in the air. If you need to land in a hurry, for whatever reason – be it mechanical issues or being surprised by unexpected bad weather – you want options. So, both the outbound and return routes followed Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, which offered lower terrain, and a four-lane highway as an option for emergency landings, as well as a couple of mountain airstrips along the way. We flew the outbound leg at a higher altitude, and the return at a lower one to gain experience with both options.

Here we're adjusting the autopilot to turn a a bit more to the left while passing over Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state. Katie Bailey photo

Here we’re adjusting the autopilot to turn a a bit more to the left while passing over Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state – Photo: Katie Bailey

On a clear day with relatively smooth air, it was a glorious flight eastbound over the mountains at 9,500′, taking less than an hour to cover the 93 miles from Seattle to Ellensburg (which, for comparison, takes more than two hours by car via I-90).

On the downwind leg for landing at Ellensburg, Wash. Katie Bailey photo

On the downwind leg for landing at Ellensburg, Wash. – Photo: Katie Bailey

We practiced using the autopilot as much as possible, but it does require constant monitoring and adjustments to avoid clouds, while watching for other aircraft traffic, etc. Also, the DA-40 requires manually switching the two wing fuel tanks every 30 minutes to keep the load balanced, so watching for those alerts on the G1000 becomes part of your instrument scan.

Touching down on runway 29 at KELN. Katie Bailey photo

Touching down on runway 29 at KELN – Photo: Katie Bailey

The outbound flight went by quickly. After stopping to stretch our legs a bit at Ellensburg, it was back in the plane to enter the new flight plan into the nav system and head back to Seattle, this time through the pass at 4,500′ to 6,500′ (south and westbound flights are at even altitudes plus 500′, north and eastbound at odd altitudes).

While at ELN, we all visited the small mailbox outside the FBO containing the stamp for our Fly Washington passports. It’s a fun (and free) program to encourage pilots to visit airports in the state and log their adventures. If you’re a pilot (or have a pilot friend) in or near Washington state, I definitely recommend checking it out.

On short final for runway 32R back at KBFI. Katie Bailey photo

On short final for runway 32R back at KBFI – Photo: Katie Bailey

We had planned to fly at or below the tops of the mountain peaks traversing Snoqualmie Pass, but there was a fair bit of mountain-wave turbulence at 4,500′, so we climbed to 6,500′ into clear air – the DA-40 feels like it gets tossed around a bit more than the C172s in rough air. Mountain-wave turbulence happens on the downwind side of terrain, such as we experienced flying westbound into headwinds passing over the peaks. Mountain-wave turbulence and rotor waves are but two of the more uncomfortable/dangerous types of turbulence encountered in mountainous regions. Rapidly-forming clouds are another, especially when the temperature and dewpoint are within 3˚C of one another, so very thorough weather awareness, both pre-flight and updating in flight, are essentials.

More to come about mountain flying and, hopefully soon, the start of instrument training.

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After a year and a half of concerted effort, I’ve finally completed my initial training and earned my private pilot certificate in early November. It’s a great feeling!

For those who’ve been following along on my adventures at Galvin Flying, it’s been a long process of successes and setbacks, many of which were weather related because I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the local joke says that it only rains once a year — it starts raining in late October and stops raining on July 5 (it always seems to rain on July 4).

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go. Screen capture courtesy FlightRadar24

Anyway, I did several mock checkrides in the weeks leading up to the actual FAA one, and had to complete Galvin’s end-of-course checkride before that. The end-of-course checks are designed to be more difficult than the actual checkride to ensure that pilot candidates are as prepared as possible.

The FAA examiner, also known as a designated pilot examiner or DPE, selects from a long list of information and flight maneuvers for the actual checkride known as the Airman Certification Standards. The check airman who oversees the end-of-course checks runs through the entire list to be sure you’re ready.

In the traffic pattern at Boeing Field. The view doesn't suck - that's Mount Rainier on the horizon, and the airfield is on the lower-right side of the image

In the traffic pattern at Boeing Field. The view doesn’t suck – that’s Mount Rainier on the horizon, and the airfield is on the lower-right side of the image.

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After six weeks, which went past in a seeming eyeblink, I’ve completed ground school. Drinking from a fire hose is an appropriate analogy. Still, I passed all three written stage tests, and just passed the written comprehensive finals, which consisted of two separate tests over two class sessions. Next up will be scheduling and taking the proper FAA written exam before all this hard-earned info leaks out of my brain.

I’ve also been flying quite a lot with my CFI (aka my instructor) – two or three hours a week on average. I’m learning new skills like crazy, but am also burning through money like a Silicon Valley startup. In contrast with most of my stories, I don’t have very many photos to share for this series, not at least so far. Learning how to fly is hard, and if I’m on the controls the whole flight, there’s no time for taking photos. I’m considering finding a way to mount a GoPro either inside or outside the plane so there’s at least some video to share.

Anyway, we started doing pattern work a week or so ago; that means pretty much flying in the airport’s prescribed traffic pattern, doing a touch-and-go, then re-entering the pattern. Lather, rinse, repeat. At Boeing Field (BFI), you can get about six laps around the pattern into a one-hour lesson.

The first time we did this, it was utterly demoralizing. I’m flying a plane, which is amazing and fun, but landing is *hard*. Especially when dealing with BFI’s notoriously squirrelly crosswinds.

The business end of a Cessna 172, the type of plane I'll be training in.

The business end of a Cessna 172, the type of plane I’ll be training in

Yep. I’m finally doing it.

After close to a decade of talking about taking flying lessons, and after a couple of false starts, I’ve plunked down my money and started ground school last month with Galvin Flying at King County International Airport, aka Boeing Field, aka BFI, in Seattle.

Flying is both a spendy and time-intensive process. I’ve taken a number of introductory flight lessons, and at one point I actually started flight training with a private instructor and self-guided ground school (that’s the experience that made me realize a formal program would be better for me). I’ve also ridden along with several friends and their instructors on their own training flights.

Of course I needed a model C172 to help with training

Of course I needed a model C172 to help with training

Anyway, here I am, about halfway through ground school. Now, as JL has already told you, formal ground school is optional, as there are many legit self-study options available that will prepare you for the FAA written exam. Key to any learning endeavor – especially one for folks for whom school of any kind is a couple of decades in the past – is knowing your learning style preferences.

From experience, I know that my most effective learning style is a combination of books and a human instructor, hence my choice of classroom-style ground school. Other folks might prefer videos, still others might choose a self-paced pre-packaged program; all those options are available.

Student pilot requirements get their own chapter in the FAR/AIM, which is the combined set of Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). It’s the bible for flying in the U.S. I’m here to tell you that it definitely contains lots more rules and regulations than the real Bible.