Back to School

Since my onwing had duty somewhere else today, I pulled an interesting job: Berryhill Elementary School. I was scheduled to spend two hours there this morning, and not really told what I’d be doing. I ended up in the fourth-grade class of a very brave substitute who seemed glad for some extra adult supervision. A few minutes after I got there, another guy from my squadron showed up. The sub wasn’t sure what to do with us, but the kids seemed to know. I guess it’s a standing arrangement with teh squadron to have “VT-2 volunteers” at the school. It was a good, deal, though, and the kids loved having us there. We even got a school lunch on the house. Brought back a lot of memories. School lunch has sure come a long way in the last 15 years, too.

Yesterday’s flight went wonderfully. Of course there’s still plenty for me to work on, but my airwork is, in the estimation of my instructor and myself, coming along nicely. I think they’ll make a pilot out of me yet.

The best part about the flight was I got to do five touch-and-go landings at an outlying field. Pattern work is probably my favorite part of flying, because it’s challenging and bears so heavily in the evaluation of any pilot’s skill. Good, solid airmanship in the landing pattern covers a multitude of other sins in the cockpit. The first few passes were kind of rough, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Naval landing patterns are much tighter and faster than civilian traffic patterns. Instead of two 90-degree turns and a base leg before the final approach, the naval pattern uses a single, descending 180-degree turn which should spit you out on a short (1,000-ft.) final approach with 10-12 seconds before your wheels hit the pavement. It feels like even less time than that. By the third lap around, I was setting the plane down on centerline, on the right spot, and even with a nice little bit of flare for a reasonably soft landing.

Hopefully they’ll have me on the schedule for my fourth flight tomorrow. The weather here is amazing this week- clear, not humid, and not even hot. It’s a shame I’ll be back in the simulators for a week or two after tomorrow’s flight. But after that, it’s only about 10 more flights until I get to solo!

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Clear and a Million

“I’m already running late,” I thought to myself as I got ready to run out the door this morning. I looked at the clock. 5:03 am. It occured to me, at that instant, that no one, anywhere, should ever be late for anything at five in the morning.

I wasn’t late. I got to Whiting Field just after 5:30 for a 6:15 brief. My brief wasn’t actually scheduled until 10:15, but my onwing was flying the same hop with the guy before me, so he let us brief at the same time, allowing for a quicker turnaround and getting us all home sooner today. So I had to get up earlier, but I got to be done and home for a late lunch, and I got to fly before the hottest and bumpiest part of the day.

It was a beautiful day to fly today. 60 degrees at dawn. Ceiling and visibility were, as we say on days like today, “clear and a million.” I was a little disappointed to have to wait my turn for almost two hours on the ground, but it gave me a few more minutes to study the maneuvers and, more importantly, plenty of time to just sit on the bench behind the line shack watching the planes taxi in and out and enjoying the cool, clean morning air. In that time I was able to wake up, calm myself down, and get my mind in exactly the right spot to have a very solid second flight. I flew well, and even though it was bumpy and hot down low on the way home, I made it through the flight without even “passive” airsickness this time.

There are still a few things I need to work on, but for the most part my airwork was very much improved today. I’m even getting the hang of taxiing the T-34, which is harder than it looks since the nosewheel pivots but is not directly steerable by the pilot. My instructor said in the debrief that I’m already performing above average for this stage in the syllabus, even though the grades on the first four flights don’t count. He pulled duty for tomorrow, though, so I won’t get to fly again until at least Monday. Believe it or not, I’m actually quite contented to have a three-day weekend.

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It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s DAVE!

Well, today was the big day… my first ride in the mighty T-34C! We had massive thunderstorms rolling through all day yesterday, all night, and into the morning today, but just before I left for my brief this morning, the rain stopped, the clouds broke, and everyone and their dog at Whiting Field made a mad dash for the flight line to go fly. My brief ended up being delayed by about an hour while I waited for my onwing to get back from his previous flight. But I had a good brief and we went out to fire up our plane.

The flight went about as well as it could be expected to go. It was quite a rush to go zooming past puffy clouds at an effortless 170 knots. We flew around the practice area above and around the clouds, checking out important and defining landmarks below while we practice some turns and stalls. My airwork was far from perfect, but I actually got above the course standards on several maneuvers.

I got a little woozy doing some of the airwork, but after a few minutes on oxygen and a sip of water I was feeling better. When we went back down low for the trip home, though, we got down into some bumpy air again, and I really started feeling it. I didn’t throw up, but what happened counts as “passive” airsickness. By the time we landed, I’d pretty much drained our oxygen bottle. But that little thing got me home without seeing my lunch again, so it’s the hero of the day in my book. I’m sure I’ll be fine once I acclimate, probably with just another flight or two.

The T-34 is really a fun little airplane. It’s very responsive, but also quite stable and I don’t think I’ll have much trouble at all getting it to fly just how I want it to on future flights. It’s basically a 4,400-lb. Beechcraft Bonanza with a 425-hp. engine on the front of it. And for the next six months, it’s my office.

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Love is in the Air

And I should be, too, come Tuesday. The title of today’s long-overdue post, however, takes inspiration from the sudden and overwhelming appearance of what the locals call “love bugs” which, by my scientific estimate, have taken over the entire state of Florida. These bugs fly around all day, well, let’s just say, in VERY close formation. The trouble is, in this state, they lose any semblance of maneuverability and frequently collide with people, cars, other bugs… everything. It’s annoying, at least, and kind of disturbing…

Anyway, in other news: I’ve officially jumped through every hoop to start flying. Friday I did my “Fam Zero” with my “onwing” (the instructor I’ll have for 9 of my first 12 flights) and now I’m ready for “Fam 1″ as soon as the schedule clears up. My instructor was unavailable to fly me tomorrow, so instead of just giving me the day to study and adjust, they scheduled me to stand watch as Squadron Duty Officer from 8 in the morning to 8 at night tomorrow. For 12 hours, I’ll be sitting behind the front desk at the squadron, in khakis, and not doing much more than answering the phone. I’m really not excited about it at all. But, it’s better than getting the PM shift (from 8 at night to 8 in the morning) so I really shouldn’t complain too much. At least I’ll have plenty of time to study and maybe even do some recreational reading.

Friday night I went camping. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here or not, but I was asked by my church to be scoutmaster when I showed up and they found out I’m an eagle scout. Friday was the second time I’ve been camping with this outfit. It was a good time. The boys are all really good. The other leader is a salty retired firefighter known to his friends as “Butch” and to the boys as “Brother E.” He’s a great guy and he’s been doing a phenomenal job with the scouts, but he’s getting older and has trouble keeping up with them. That’s where I come in. I’ve committed to take them camping on the third Friday of every month. It’s tough to spend a Friday night away from my wife, but it’s a good thing for the boys and it’s a good chance for me to pay back some of the good I got from my time as a scout.

This time I messed up and accidentally took my wife’s toothbrush camping with me… I was sure I’d be in the doghouse when I got home, so I stopped at the store and got here a new toothbrush and stuck it in the middle of a boquet of flowers. By the time I got home late in the afternoon, though, she’d pretty well gotten over it and we had a good laugh. And, after hardly seeing me at all for the last six days, it was finally her turn to have me for the rest of the weekend. Today we spent the afternoon cooking an Indian feast of beef-and-spinach curry, naan, and mango lassi. We emptied the dishwasher before we started and had to run it, jammed full, as soon as we were done. But the apartment smelled like a five-star Indian restaurant, and the meal was phenomenal- well worth the effort. Once again, life is good.

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The Longest Day

Ground school is still going swimmingly. I had my second test today and only missed one question. I’m still right on track for the commodore’s academic award. I’ve also been doing Cockpit Procedures Trainers (CPTs) this week. Today was the first one with in-flight emergencies. Even when I know it’s not real, there’s still something unnerving about seeing that big, red “FIRE” light flashing at the top of the panel.

I’m finding out that it’s one thing to be able to remember an emergency procedure from a flashcard while you’re sitting on your couch, and a different thing entirely to do it while you’re sitting in a mock cockpit with red lights flashing and your altimeter unwinding before your eyes. I imagine it’s more difficult still to do it in an actual airplane, which is why I’m grateful for the training I’m getting now, even if it is kind of tricky.

The hardest part so far is just the schedule. Tuesday, the day after a lovely three-day weekend, I eased back into this stuff with a 13-hour day, starting with an exam at 6 in the morning and ending up with a CPT at 4 in the afternoon. I got home at 6:30, had dinner, watched a movie with my wife, and collapsed into bed at 9. Yesterday wasn’t so bad- another early morning, but I was home by about 5. Today was actually quite civilized, and tomorrow will be fine, too.

But having a different schedule every day is difficult for the human body, which likes to find equilibrium and predictability in sleeping and eating patterns. I guess it’s all part of the program to get us acclimated to the demands of operational aviation. My mind truly enjoys the variety of doing things a little differently each day, but it’s just hard for my body to keep up sometimes. When the body shuts down, the brain might as well go offline for a few hours, too. Speaking of which…..*yawns* …..

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Sipping from the Fire Hose

I sure am glad it’s a long weekend. It’s only fair that a long weekend should follow such a long week!

This week was my T-34C Systems Familiarization Course. Basically, that means that in three days of class from 8-4 (plus studying at home every night) I have learned way more about every mechanical and electrical component of the old Turbo Mentor than I ever wanted to know. I only missed one question on the exam, which means the first score on my card for primary is a 98%. I’m satisfied.

In the midst of doing all that, I’ve been getting ready for the work I have this coming week: Cockpit Procedures Trainers (CPTs). For this, they put us each in a fully-functional mock cockpit and have us go through cockpit checklists and emergency procedures. Each event lasts about two hours. I’ve got one every day. The first one will be fairly easy, as it’s just the “normal” checklists for starting the plane up, taking it off, flying it around, and shutting it down after landing. All checklists are to be read (we’re told NOT to memorize checklists), so the first one should be pretty easy. But after that they’re going to throw in emergency procedures, which MUST be memorized. So by the end of this week I will have memorized all 32 emergency procedures.

There are also two more written exams which I have to complete on my own time (the classroom training is on the computer from here on) in addition to a few other lectures sprinkled throughout the week.

But in two more weeks I’ll be back with my squadron and ready to get on the flight schedule for my first ride in the front seat of a T-34.

Life is still good, even if my work schedule leaves me gasping for air sometimes. It’s tough, but enjoyable. So far, so good. We’ll have to see how it goes in the “cockpit” this week…

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