Captain’s Log 9.7.2023 The Acid Test

To me, this was the final exam, the acid test. Though I had fulfilled all the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements for an Instrument Rating, passed a rigorous checkride, and was officially an instrument-rated pilot, all my instrument time had been with either an instructor or an examiner riding in the right seat. The next instrument flight would be entirely on my own.

Today was the day–my first solo instrument flight. I had pre-planned my destination and kept a good eye on the weather for days. I picked Roanoke, VA because I could complete a round trip in about 2 hours, the distance qualifying the flight time as cross-country time, and it was an airport I had never flown into (except in my home simulator). I also liked the fact that it is in the mountains, which can have its own challenges. I pored over my various weather apps, and reserved the airplane 2 days ahead of time, hoping the weather would hold out. I wanted a little challenge while staying within my safety limits, and it proved to be just that. On the morning of this flight, the ceiling (cloud base) at Roanoke was high enough, the visibility long enough, and the winds/gusts low enough, all well within my conservative “minimums.” But with a cold front sitting just to our southwest, I knew the forecasted weather could change during the flight, and it did a little.

I filed a flight plan via my ForeFlight app in the early morning, planning ahead for a 9:30 departure, figuring I’d reach Roanoke around 10:15-10:30, allowing for any early fog to clear, even though no fog was forecast. In fact, the ceiling was supposed to be at 9,000 feet. My flight plan called for 7,000, high enough for the mountainous approach while keeping me below the clouds. That was the plan.

I ran through the checklists, fired up the engine, activated my IFR plan, and got my clearance to taxi to the runway. The takeoff and climb were uneventful (the way we like it), while starting communication with the string of ATC (air traffic controllers) who would follow me throughout the flight per IFR routine. I was soon at 7,000 feet and comfortable enroute to Roanoke. But the clouds ahead were not at 9,000 feet as they were predicted. As I neared my destination, the clouds came down to meet me, and I was soon flying blind inside them. I estimate the base was at around 6,800 feet.

Cloud base dropping while approaching Roanoke, VA in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Gradually entering the clouds, leading to a 20-minute white-out
Flying through light rain

Flying “blind” is the very essence of instrument flying. But you’re not really blind. The airplane’s instruments tell you all you need to know about the airplane itself (engine instruments), its attitude (orientation in space), heading, altitude, etc. Flying on an instrument plan guarantees you separation from other aircraft and clearance from obstacles (like mountains) because ATC has you in continuous radar contact. All you have to do is trust the instruments and follow the flight plan or ATC instructions precisely. So, that’s what I did, without anxiety. It was actually quite fun, and that’s when I knew I was a true instrument pilot. #novisibilitynoproblem

Roanoke, VA, with the airport near the center of the image

I negotiated my approach with ATC, and they commanded my initial descent. I was soon clear of clouds, with plenty of visibility below me. I easily spotted the airport while on my downwind leg. ATC continued vectoring me (prescribing headings and altitudes) until I was in position to enter the final approach course. I had the RNAV (GPS) Y Rwy 24 approach already loaded into the Garmin 530 nav-com, and used that and my G5 flight instruments to guide me horizontally and vertically down to the runway. It was a satisfyingly good landing, after which I raised the landing flaps while still rolling on the centerline, applied full power, and took right off again (a touch-and-go) as I had negotiated with ATC. I was soon heading back to Winston Salem.

Most of my flying for the past 2 years has been in pursuit of an instrument rating. During that time, I had to use a view-limiting device that restricted my vision to the dashboard instruments only. In other words, I couldn’t look out the window. So, this flight delivered an extra treat–It was a pure joy to again look out the windows and delight in the kind of views one seldom (if ever) sees. As I grow older, I take none of that for granted.

Areas of rain in the distance, departing Roanoke
Fairy Stone Lake State Park, near Martinsville, VA

Out of the mountains, I was soon out of any significant weather or terrain hazards. It was an easy ride back, and I executed a victorious landing at my home airport. It felt like the final day of the Tour de France, as the peloton circles the Arc de Triomphe, celebrating the end of a long race!

The following is a too-long video of the flight. PLEASE do not see it all; skim through the boring parts. The weather leading up to the landing at Roanoke is the best part. That landing is at about the 46:00 minute mark.

If you are still reading, thank you! I truly appreciate your interest. If you have any questions or comments, please throw them into a comment box.

Next mission: The $100 Burger

Captain’s Log 7.18.2023 The Instrument Checkride

Lilli Cook, CFII and me

July 18, 2023 was a big day–I passed an instrument checkride and earned my Instrument Rating.

Forty-one years after my previous flight on Jan 12, 1979, I again took to the skies on Nov 13, 2020 as PIC (pilot in command). That already took some doing, as I was plenty rusty. I had a lot of prep work to do to get back in the air. Then, after polishing my basic flying skills and learning the new GPS-based navigation systems and equipment, I started training for an instrument rating. The goal was simply to become a better flyer, as I’m unfortunately too old to get a job as a commercial pilot. So I guess you can consider this a hobby–a REALLY COOL hobby that brings me a ton of joy!

I had a few setbacks, especially a hip replacement and cataract surgeries, but they were a resounding success. There were also more mundane things that got in the way, like bad weather, airplane availability, and especially work. Oh, and I published a novel last year, Mission 51. But I chipped away at the flying and made slow, steady progress. I passed the FAA written exam with high marks. I completed a comprehensive Part 141 training program, and was finally cleared for an official checkride with an FAA examiner. We prepped long and hard for it.

The hard work paid off on July 18, 2023. The oral portion of the test was stressful enough, but not nearly as much as the actual flying part. It called on everything I learned in the past two and a half years. But I’m glad to say that I passed it. I am now a Private Pilot with an Instrument Rating, and I’m fairly proud of this accomplishment at age 68.

Rusty Pilot final update 11-17-2020

This is yet another follow-up to my previous posts about returning to flying, 43 years after earning a Private Pilot Certificate and VFR (Visual Flight Rules) rating. Now, I’m glad to report that this is the last time I’ll refer to myself as a “rusty” pilot.

Here’s what’s happened so far:

  • I repeated a ground school course, even though my Private Pilot Certificate is good for life, but I wanted to refresh what I learned long ago.
  • After researching the best online ground school for me, I chose Fly8MA, completed their ground school course, and reviewed a number of their other course offerings.
  • Dozens of YouTube and other videos help with specific questions.
  • I use Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook, an excellent reference book, to complement my other efforts.
  • After doing the online portion of the mandatory flight physical at FAA MedXPress, I consulted a local Aviation Medical Examiner for a thorough flight physical which I’m grateful to have passed.
  • Next, I updated my contact information with the FAA, and they sent me an updated Private Pilot wallet card.
  • So with my license and my medical updated, I was good to go flying!
  • I’ve started back in planes with traditional avionics while studying the Garmin aviation GPS/Nav/Com programs and the rest of the digital instrumentation you find in modern “glass” cockpit panels.
  • ForeFlight is an indispensable flying app with too many features to mention. I hesitate to call it an app, as it’s truly a full-featured program for pilots. I specifically bought an iPad Pro 11 with built-in GPS to run ForeFlight, as recommended in several online reviews.
  • I transferred my ancient, handwritten logbook entries into digital format in ForeFlight using ConvertMyLogbook, though I could have probably spent hours figuring it out and doing it myself. I can definitely recommend ConvertMyLogbook — they did an excellent job, quickly and at a good price.
  • Another big purchase was a fabulous headset, a Lightspeed Zulu 3. I decided my hearing was worth the expense, and I’m grateful I can afford it at this point in my life.
  • Now I’m a regular at the Piedmont Flight Training school at our local Smith Reynolds Airport. After I regain currency/proficiency and pass a required flight review, I’ll start working toward an IFR rating.
  • You can check out the school’s planes on their website. Though I flew the Cessna 172, I gravitated to the Piper Archer IIs since I learned on Pipers and feel totally at home in them. The school’s Archers are IFR equipped, so I’ll be spending a bit of time in them (and I’ll also use the school’s simulators for some of my IFR training.) Later, I’ll also fly their Pipistrel Alpha Trainers, even though they’re only VFR equipped, because they are less expensive to rent, they have some digital avionics, and the main reason… because they’re flat-out cool!

A 1978 Piper Archer II
A 1976 Cessna 172M

The avionics in this old Cessna 172

The Pipistrel Alpha Trainer

As you can see, it took some doing, but it is totally worth it. I can’t describe the feeling of finally being back in the air, flying these old planes, and looking forward to the modern ones. There is a healthy, fun excitement to it. I’m doing it carefully and methodically, safety being the key consideration. It is a mental and physical challenge, involving moment-to-moment problem-solving. For me, this is heaven!

Rusty Pilot update 10-17-2020

This is another follow-up to my previous posts about possibly returning to flying, 43 years after obtaining my Private Pilot Certificate and VFR (Visual Flight Rules) rating. So far, things are going better than expected.

Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:

  • I decided to repeat a good ground school course, even though my Private Pilot Certificate is good for life, and I do not need to repeat the written and oral exams.
  • After researching the best online ground school for me, I decided on Fly8MA, and I’m quite happy with that decision.
  • I have now completed the ground school course, passing the quizzes after each section.
  • When I need more detail, I consult Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook, an excellent reference book I purchased to complement my other efforts.
  • I’m now finishing Fly8MA’s Rusty Pilot course, and I’ll certainly take a few others since I’m paying a monthly fee to access all their courses anyway.
  • I did the online portion of the mandatory flight physical at FAA MedXPress, then scheduled my medical exam. A local Aviation Medical Examiner then gave me a thorough flight physical, reviewing every detail of my past medical history, and I passed!
  • Next, I updated my contact information with the FAA, and they’re sending me an updated Private Pilot wallet card.
  • So now I have my license and my medical, and I’m good to go!
  • Mastering the Garmin aviation navigation programs is next on the list. I’ve already gotten my feet wet with it, and what they’ve accomplished during my absence from aviation is astounding.
  • Learning how to use ForeFlight is equally important, and to optimize its functions, it really needs to run on an iPad with a built-in GPS. So I just purchased the model that was recommended in several online reviews.
  • After that, I’ll be ready! The Piedmont Flight Training school at our local Smith Reynolds Airport is close by and convenient. I’ve already picked out the instructor who I think will work well with me to bring me back up to speed. I decided I can do that while working toward an IFR rating at the same time.
  • Before I approach the school, I’ll also be well acquainted with the POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) for the Pipistrel Alpha, which is the reason I started doing all this in the first place. Isn’t it cool!?! I’m on a mission to fly it!
The Pipistrel Alpha Electric

In these past two days, I had the extreme pleasure of sharing my aviation enthusiasm with wife Gail and stepson Eric. It happened like this: The same company that makes the beautiful airplane shown above is now introducing its remarkable 4-seater called the Pipistrel Panthera. It’s currently on a country-wide inauguration tour, and they just happened to make a stop here in Winston Salem. We went to see the plane and got to take a ride in it. It was a memorable experience for all. This was important because everyone needs to be “on board” with this project if it’s going to go forward, and for now, all systems remain GO!

Gail and Eric in the fabulous Pipistrel Panthera

At Signature Flight Support, Smith Reynolds Airport, Winston Salem, NC

Backseat pilots!

Birdseye view of our autumn terrain

The Pipistrel Panthera’s all-digital avionics

Yeah, two thumbs up!

Back on the ground, safe and sound

Until next time!

So there it is. I’ll post more updates as things develop.

Rusty Pilot update 10-5-2020

This is a follow-up to my previous post where I reminisced about earning my Private Pilot Certificate in 1977, but then put it on hold in 1979 when medical school, marriage, children, jobs, etc, etc, etc made it impossible to keep flying. Now, 43 years later, after stumbling into a beautiful little Pipistrel Alpha at our local airport, I’m suddenly wanting to pick it up again.

So here’s what I’ve done about it in the past 4 weeks:

  • I decided to repeat a good ground school course.
  • After researching the best online ground school for me, I decided on Fly8MA.
  • I enrolled in their ground school course, and I’m 75% through it so far, passing the quizzes after each section. (I’m surprised at how much I remember from 43 years ago!)
  • When I need more detail, I can consult Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook, an excellent reference book I purchased to complement my other efforts.
  • Then I’ll take Fly8MA’s Rusty Pilot course, and probably a few others, since I’m paying a monthly fee to access all their courses anyway.
  • After that, I’ll learn how to use the Garmin aviation navigation programs. This part will be totally new for me, and I’m sure it’ll be a blast.
  • Meanwhile, I found a local Aviation Medical Examiner and have scheduled an appointment for my flight physical. I need to pass this if I’m going to get off the ground at all. I’ll be prepared with my latest eye exam reports, as that is my weakest link, but I should be good to go.
  • I did the required online portion of the flight physical at FAA MedXPress.
  • If I pass the medical exam and they give me an updated Medical Certificate, I’ll be technically approved to fly. But I’ll update all my knowledge before I approach the flight school, including learning how to use ForeFlight.
  • The Piedmont Flight Training school at our local Smith Reynolds Airport is close by and convenient. I’ve already picked out one or two of their instructors who I think would work well with me to bring me back up to speed.
  • Before I approach the school, I’ll also be well acquainted with the POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) for the Pipistrel Alpha, which is the whole reason I’m doing this in the first place. Isn’t it cool!?!
The Pipistrel Alpha Electric

I plan to be the best Rusty Pilot they’ve ever encountered!

I’ll post more updates as this project develops. 😀