Sunrise, Sunset

What a week. I didn’t fly once. We had lousy weather almost every day, the lousiest of which was always at exactly the time I was scheduled to fly. On the one day of the week where the weather was actually great for flying, I was scheduled to brief at 4 in the afternoon. With an hour and half to brief, and sunset at 6:14, half of the “day contact” flight would have been in the dark. When I brought this to the attention of the Flight Duty Officer, I was told to come in an hour or so early so I could get my flight in. But the airplane and instructor were still on their same schedule for the previous flight. Things went exactly according to plan and the brief started at 4. The instructor concluded that we couldn’t get enough training done to justify the flight, and we cancelled. That was the most frustrating part of the week, since they basically scheduled me for a flight that was impossible to fly, even if the weather was perfect (which it was).

It’s been nice to have the time off, but I’m ready to get back to doing what I’m here to do. Tomorrow will make 10 days since my last flight.

I went camping with my scouts again on Friday. The weather is really getting nicer for sleeping outside. It was cool enough to make a nice big fire and I even had to wear a jacket for a while in the morning. The Florida winter is settling in… sure a lot better than the real winter we had in Albany!


Cloud Surfing

It doesn’t look good for me to go flying today. Nothing but rain clouds for a hundred miles in any direction. But we’ll see. Maybe I’ll at least get the briefing done so next time I can just go fly.

Friday, on the other hand, was a wonderful flight. It started off looking like we might not be able to do everything we wanted because of a broken cloud layer around 5,500 ft. There were reports of lowering clouds, decreasing visibility, and a squall line north of the field. But after careful analysis of the weather situation, my instructor decided to launch. Montgomery was reporting clear skies, so we would head north.

He called it right. Once we punched through the squall line, the visibility got better. We found a hole in the cloud deck and headed for it. On the first attempt, we were about 400 feet of altitude shy of making the hole, so I did a level 360-degree turn to accelerate. On the second try, we were charging toward the base of the cloud hole at over 150 knots, and we vaulted through into the bright sunlight on top of the clouds. Our working altitude put us only a thousand feet or so above the tops of most of them, but we had to turn frequently to avoid some of the taller ones.

On a clear day, it sometimes seems like we’re just hovering up there. But with all the clouds close to us, there was a definite sensation of speed. “Cloud surfing” is one of the great pleasures of flying.

When our “high work” was done, it was time to head down. The presecribed method of descent for this flight was my introduction to the “spin.” A spin is basically just an aggravated stall that results in autorotation of the airplane at about 150 degrees per second and a descent rate of 12,000 feet per minute. I’d been dreading it, but I was feeling good on the airsickness meds the doc had given me, and it was time to face the music.

The hole we’d come up through was now about three miles wide. We set ourselves up over it at 9,500 feet. Power off, 30 degrees nose up, rudder at the shakers, full rudder at the stall… The airplane flopped over on its back to the right and settled about 45 degrees nose down with the whole world spinning around us. After a few turns, my instructor put in full left rudder, and in a few more turns the airplane stopped spinning. It took at least five more turns for my head to stop spinning, but I’d survived, and I felt fine. Now, suddenly, we were only at 6,500 feet.

The clear skies over Montgomery had by this time worked their way south into our practice area. Our northernmost outlying field was totally clear and beautiful. After about 7 laps around the bounce pattern, we headed home, back into the goo. By the time I left the base, though, the skies were clear all the way down to Pensacola, and we enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather this weekend. Life is good!


Hundred-Dollar Hot Dog

Ahhhh, Columbus Day… Nice to have Monday off, right?

Yes, it is. But instead of me getting a three-day weekend, they just made last week a six-day work week. I had two flights yesterday. Fortunately, they’re my last two under the hood for a while.

I almost didn’t get to go flying. The instructor I flew with really grilled me on my emergency procedures during the brief and promptly convinced both of us that I really don’t know them as well as he thought I should. He almost gave me a “ready room unsat” which would mean not only no flights, but some extra disciplinary paperwork in my training folder. Ouch.

Fortunately, he didn’t, and we went flying. Fortunately again, I flew much better than I briefed. My partial-panel timed turns were so good (on one of them I rolled out within two degrees of the assigned heading) that I got my first 5 in the airplane. Most of the other procedures were 4s.

On the first leg we flew out to Florala, AL and did all of our high-altitude work. Luckily, we didn’t do any partial-panel or unusual attitudes, so my stomach was in great shape for the free lunch they had for us out there. The FBOs (Fixed-Base Operators) that sell fuel at the little airports around here give free/discounted food to fuel customers. So it’s common practice for training flights (armed with government credit cards) to go out, buy fuel, have lunch, and fly back, thereby accomplishing two training flights in one day. It’s also quite a boon to the local general aviation business. I’m pretty sure most of these places wouldn’t even exist if not for military “fuel customers.”

The trip home introduced the dreaded partial-panel unusual attitude recoveries. These require getting the plane back to straight-and-level flight with no outside reference and no “artificial horizon” or heading gyros in the cockpit. All I had was a turn needle (tells the rate of turn and in which direction), an altimeter, and a vertical speed indicator. All of those instruments have a considerable lag in their responses, and so using them to recover from an unusual attitude is a process of bracketing and oscillation until the airplane finally settles back down.

I didn’t puke this time, but I was sucking oxygen all the way home and was feeling generally miserable for quite a while. I’ve got an appointment first thing Tuesday morning to see the flight surgeon about my airsickness. I’ll probably be on drugs for my next few flights. Kinda scary, huh?


Fly-By-Night Operation

After three days in a row of double-pumping through the Basic Instruments simulator flights, I finally got a little break! Yesterday I didn’t have to fly until sunset, which gave me a chance to sleep in. I made out all right in the sims, though. My last flight got me all 4s.

Things went pretty well in the airplane last night, too. Taking off at sunset was beautiful, and the air at 13,000 feet was cool and smooth. The plane handled (surprise!) a lot like the simulator, and there weren’t really any surprises on my maneuvers.

The big surprise came in the form of how much my vestibular (and digestive) system didn’t like the unusual attitude recoveries we did. After an extreme nose high (nose 35 degrees up, airspeed below 100 knots), for which the recovery is to bank the plane over 90 degrees, then use the rudder to slice the nose down below the horizon, level the wings, and gently pull up, we did another one kind of like it. I flew them both well and by-the-books, but after that I started feeling a little woozy. So we had to knock it off and head home. I made it most of the way back all right, but suddenly as we were lining up to land, well, you can guess what happened. If you still can’t, I’ll just say that the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was brush my teeth.

It’s about par for the course, though, and it doesn’t stop me from flying two more flights tomorrow (Saturday). The good part about flying on the weekend is I fly from the civilian airport right by where I live instead of driving all the way up to Whiting. We’re gonna fly out somewhere on the first flight, grab some lunch, and fly back. Should be an interesting day. And best of all, I get Monday off!


Double Time

As advertised, my operational tempo has been stepped up. Today I had not one but TWO simulator flights. The first one went extremely well. My altitude control was dead on for my constant-angle-of-bank turns. The instructor said he never saw deviation of more than +/- 25 feet, if that much. The course standards are 100 feet, so that was good enough to earn me my first “5″ in my flight training career. A “5″ is the highest score possible, and is reserved for performance clearly exceeding course standards. The rest of my grades on that flight were all 4s. I was having a good morning. The second flight, after lunch, wasn’t as good. I got an even split of 3s and 4s. I guess I’m just not as sharp the second time around.

The “simulators” I’m flying aren’t what you’d probably picture as a flight simulator. It’s a T-34C cockpit mounted on hydraulic rams to provide some sensation of motion, but there is no outside visual reference. I perform all of the maneuvers on instruments alone. So far, though, I’m doing better with my basic airwork on instruments than I was in the actual airplane with a distinct horizon and a million miles’ visibility. Go figure.

I’m scheduled for two more sims tomorrow. At least I don’t start until 9:30. That’ll get me almost three more hours of sleep than I got last night. If I get two more sims on Wednesday, I’ll be done with sims and back to the airplane by the end of the week. Even if I only get one a day, I could still be back in the plane by Friday.

Two events a day is exhausting, but it’s really nice to be bashing through the syllabus quickly. It may be hard for someone not familiar with flying to understand how a couple of “flights” in the instrument simulator can wipe you out like a full day’s work, but I can’t readily think of anything else that demands so much focus and multi-tasking as flying a plane on instruments. It’s tough sometimes, but it’s not lost on me what an amazing opportunity I’ve got here. This place really is the Julliard of aviation. Life is good!


…3 …2 …1 …Happy (Fiscal) New Year!

It’s been said that if God had meant for man to fly, He would have given him more money. Laws of aerodynamics notwithstanding, it’s well-known in the community that the primary force which holds aircraft aloft is not “lift” but rather “funding.” Even military flight training is not exempt from the grasp of the all-powerful bean counters.

So, I was quite lucky to get my fourth flight in on Wednesday. At least half of the squadron’s flights were cancelled. On Thursday, the only sorties were a section of two aircraft going out on a formation flight. I’m not sure if anyone flew on Friday. But Monday, I’m told, is a new “fiscal” year. And while this has no actual physical significance, it does mean that our squadron’s purse will be fat with flying hours to spend. Word on the street is “stand by.” Apparently there are a lot of instructors getting anxious to get more hours in the cockpit, and the training schedule is expected to intensify greatly.

I’ve got a few things left to do before I get back in the cockpit. I have three more simulator “flights” left in the Basic Instruments syllabus. The first one was last night (Friday) at 6:50. The Mrs. and I were both thrilled when we saw that on the schedule. Much more fun than the camping trip we had planned. But it went well for me. I followed my instructor’s advice with regard to instrument scan patterns, and it payed off. I nailed all of my maneuvers and exceeded course standards on everything we did. I guess I just felt like I’d better not be spending Friday night at work if I wasn’t going to do a good job.

The next two sims are scheduled for Monday. If I do the fourth on Tuesday, I could be back in the saddle by the end of this week. I’ll have three instrument flights (in the back seat with a big hood over me so I can’t see outside) before I get to go back to the Contact syllabus with my onwing. At the expected operational tempo, though, it might not take very long at all to get there.