Browsing Tag: Fly with Francis

0B5, aka Turners Falls Municipal Airport in Turners Falls, Mass. This is the airport where my AvGeek obsession first took flight, and I finally got to land and take off there this month. – Photo: Katie Bailey

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

My obsession with airplanes is directly attributable to a very loving grandmother’s attempts to settle down two very rambunctious young brothers. She’d drive us to nearby Turners Falls Municipal Airport to get ice cream and watch planes carrying parachutists from the local skydiving club while sitting on the hood of her beige 1969 VW Beetle. The high school I attended is located adjacent to the airport as well.

So, this spring, nearly 50 years later, with my relatively new pilot certificate in hand, I traveled back home and rented a Cessna 172SP from Monadnock Aviation in Keene, NH. Standard rental restrictions, such as a requirement for multiple checkout flights and having a dedicated rental insurance policy, made it easier to simply ask the folks at Monadnock to assign me a flight instructor to fly along on the trip to negate the need for the checkouts.

I’d planned out the route in advance, so I was well prepared for the flight. We’d start and end at Keene airport (KEEN), fly south over the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, land at Orange Municipal Airport (KORE), fly northwest to my collegiate alma mater (University of Massachusetts Amherst), land at Turners Falls Municipal (0B5), and fly back to KEEN.

It was a pleasant day, with a very high overcast, light winds, and smooth air. I’d never flown over this area in a small plane, although I’d seen it from 20,000+ feet out the windows of commercial jetliners plenty of times flying home for visits. Trust me when I tell you the views from 3,500 feet are much better.

The New England landscape is gorgeous, much lower in elevation than what I am used to in western Washington state and remarkably green this time of the year. The airspace is also much, much quieter – we didn’t encounter a single bit of air traffic the entire flight. Contrast that with flying out of Boeing Field, where there are dozens of aircraft aloft at any given time.

By way of a nerdy statistic, 0B5 had 17,100 aircraft operations in 2011 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), or an average of 47 a day, while my home airport, KBFI, had more than 180,000 in the same period, or an average of 493 a day. According to the FAA, Boeing Field has the third-busiest airspace in the United States (New York City and Teterboro, NJ are numbers one and two, respectively). Western Massachusetts was a much more chill environment in which to fly.

It was my first pilot-in-command flight outside of metro Seattle, and I was pleased to discover that my flight planning matched up with the reality I saw outside the window. Seeing vistas that I’d previously only seen in postcards as a kid was an unforgettable experience. Having a very experienced local CFI beside me also made dealing with the unfamiliar airspace quite easy, although I only had to ask him for advice once, as it was all really pleasant and straightforward flying.

On final for KORE. Katie Bailey photo

On final for KORE. Katie Bailey photo

The airports were all easy to find, and the sightseeing was fantastic. One thing I noticed was that, if there had been some sort of in-flight emergency and I had to do a forced landing, there were not a lot of fields available; the whole region is very heavily forested save for the Connecticut River Valley’s famously productive farmland.

Suffice it to say we had a great time. It was a bit surreal landing for the first time at the small airport I grew up next to, seeing my home area from a very new perspective, and I still managed to grease the landing. I’m planning to make this a regular part of hometown visits going forward.

Flying over Reykjavik in a PA28

Flying over Reykjavik in a PA28

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

The flying weather continues to be dismal in Seattle – I’ve lost track at how many training flights have been canceled due to low ceilings, low visibility, potential icing, etc. – I stopped counting after 14. Even by Seattle standards, we’ve had an exceptional stretch of bad weather this winter.

However, during a recent trip to Iceland with Icelandair (watch for upcoming stories about their maintenance operations, fleet and route plans, plus an economy-class flight review), a series of fortuitous introductions led to my being able to do something I’d only dreamt of – fly in Iceland.

That experience more than made up for all the weather-based frustration with my stalled Seattle flight training.

The Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior we flew that day

The Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior we flew that day

Always lots going on at BFI - that's an Air Canada B737 MAX 8 fresh from the Renton plant, landing next to one of Galvin's C172s

Always lots going on at BFI – that’s an Air Canada B737 MAX 8 fresh from the Renton plant, landing next to one of Galvin’s C172s

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

A few weeks ago, I completed the written pre-solo exam and Cessna 172S checkout paperwork. Both tests are specific to Galvin’s flight school/rental program. The former test covered lots of flight-safety topics, while the checkout test covered aircraft-specific things like performing weight and balance calculations, flight planning, fuel consumption, takeoff and landing distances based on hypothetical weight and balance figures, and so on.

Taking a spin around the west side of TIW

Taking a spin around the west side of TIW (Tacoma)

I’ve had to back off the frequency of flight training a bit; this is definitely an expensive exercise. I’ve gone from flying two or three times a week to three times every two weeks to stretch the budget a bit. This is, based on conversations with fellow students, also nothing out of the ordinary.

That pacing, though, has made me feel like my skills have been stagnating a bit. I had a frustrating flight a week or so ago, where nothing seemed to go smoothly and my memory of the required procedures needed refreshing by the instructor, rather than my just doing them without prompting; it was disheartening.

There have been a couple of flights like that.

I told you Boeing Field's airspace was busy. That's a USAF KC-46 Pegasus tanker returning from a test flight and a bizjet taxiing to the right; Galvin's ramp is in the foreground.

I told you Boeing Field’s airspace was busy. That’s a USAF KC-46 Pegasus tanker returning from a test flight and a biz jet taxiing to the right; Galvin’s ramp is in the foreground.

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

I passed the FAA written exam two weeks ago. I’ve never been so excited about what amounts to a B+ on a test. But it was a solid pass, as a 70 (or the equivalent of either a C or C-, depending on where you’re from) is the minimum required.

Those free online practice tests are really helpful for exam prep, but I credit the combination of dedicating tons of spare time to studying, along with all of the knowledge and tips shared by Robin, our most excellent ground instructor.

You can’t just toss the books after the exam, though – keeping on top of this stuff seems to be a never-ending task, as several more exams of differing complexity await, as well as a series of so-called stage checks. These are flight-skill milestones, the first of which is probably the most daunting — stage 1, which, if successful, sets you up to do your first solo flight, and the checkride done with a different CFI for both safety and evaluative reasons.