Redundant Pilots                                       

04/17/2016 -

Four score and ten years ago....Christine started her private pilot training.  Below is the story of her adventure in flight training:

In January of 2005 I started taking lessons for my Private Pilot certificate.  I was pregnant at the time and had to discontinue lessons after only a couple months, as I was becoming airsick.  After Ella was born, I became extremely busy with not only being a new mom, but also starting the Cozy project.

Fast forward 10 years...  With both Ella and the Cozy seeming off to a good start John began repeatedly hinting that it was time for me to get back to flight training.  He then began colluding with a CFI friend during one of our brunch trips to Brainerd to get me back into lessons.  That and the Sporty's ground course I got for my birthday last fall was a good push to remind me I needed to get back to it.

At first it seemed to be information overload.  I was nervous going up.  Afraid that I didn't have the observational skills or attention to detail required to safely pilot an airplane.  Slow flight and stalls made me uneasy at first.  Slowing the little 152 to MCA (minimum controllable airspeed) felt as if it was about to fall out of the sky at any second.  And then in the does (even if it is just for a couple of seconds).  Turning maneuvers were much more fun.  Turns around a point, and S turns were the more enjoyable things to practice, like taking a drive on a winding road.  But eventually I became more at ease with slow flight and stalls as well. THAT was the hard part.  At first I struggled with using pitch to control airspeed.  Especially with pointing the nose down to gain it.  Pointing the nose at the ground (even though it's not a drastic dive) was just an uneasy feeling I had to overcome.  When the lessons began to focus only on take off and landing practice I knew that my first solo was coming up.

The thought of that first solo began to worry me.  The instructor is a bit like a security blanket once you're ready to solo.  You don't really need them just to fly around the traffic pattern and land, but you feel very vulnerable without it.  It scared me to think that I wouldn't have Mark to remind me of something I forgot to do, or to provide guidance on how to adjust the plane's attitude on final.  It was going to be just me, and if I messed up the consequences were real.  Encouragement from John and Ella reminded me that I was indeed very capable.  I also knew that it was something that obviously HAD to be done in order to become a pilot.  In the flights leading up to solo I began imagining that my instructor wasn't even there.  Trying to prepare myself for when he wouldn't be.

And then, on November 1st, 2015 we were practicing take offs and landings, and after one landing, Mark said "alright, I can't take this anymore, drop me off at my hangar."  I had no idea what I had done wrong, but I felt bad.  As we parked in front of his hangar, he gathered his stuff, handed me a cartoon describing the virtues of never giving up, and told me to go do 3 take offs and landings.  It was time.

As I taxied out to the runway my heart was racing.  I remember taking a deep breath as I got to the end of the runway.  The first thing that got my attention was how much quicker little 152 accelerated down the runway and lifted off.  It climbed faster than it had ever climbed before.  So quick in fact that the very next thing I thought was, "Yikes!  Now I have no choice but to land this thing!"  I kept reminding myself that to relax, remember my training, and that I could do this.  John always said his best landings were when no one was in the plane to witness them, maybe this would be the case for me too?  Turns out... he was right! (don't tell him I said that!)  My first landing was the best I had ever had.  That gave me a huge confidence boost, and the next two were also way above par for me.  I began thinking the instructor was actually a hindrance to my landings.  With the Solo Landings checked off, it was time to move on to actually using the airplane to GO somewhere.  Cross Country Flying!

My first dual cross country was from St. Cloud, to Brainerd, to Motley, to Alexandria, to Paynesville, and finally back to St. Cloud.  The first step was the flight planning.  I had been involved in planning flights in our Cozy, but mostly as a 'trip planner', not in the details of navigation, weather, or fuel management.  By the time we were taking trips with the Cozy, John was no longer using paper charts, so while I remembered the days when John would sprawl big paper maps out on the kitchen table and draw lines all over them, it was going to be a new skill for me.  In truth, I found the 'old school' flight planning to be rather fun.  Yes, it takes a lot longer than simply entering some airports into the tablet and letting it compute wind correction, ground speed, time and fuel, but there is a certain romance in doing it by hand with a sectional, a plotter, and an E6B.

The flight itself took a lot longer than I thought it would take.  There was a lot to take in.  How to actually navigate via pilotage and all those waypoints you pick out on the sectional, as well as dead reckoning, VORs, and what to do if I got lost.  The biggest lesson learned is what makes a good waypoint.  What things you can identify easily and what you can't.  Railroads for instance are tough around here as they're usually hidden by trees.  It was a long day that totaled 4 hours of flight time, but it was fun to leave the local area behind while training.

The next dual cross country was at night.  That really changes things.  It's very difficult to visualize a horizon unless there are some ground lights, and even then they can be misleading.  Depth perception is difficult, making it harder to make smooth landings.  Navigating by landmarks becomes nearly impossible unless the landmark is something like the "HOLLYWOOD" sign lit up at night.  I had a little bit of a heads up warning on this from John, so when my instructor told me to plan a night cross country I chose airports that all had VORs on field, my instructor said that was cheating.

Before venturing out on a solo cross country I needed to get some instrument flight training.  For those not familiar, this is when you control the airplane solely by reference to the instruments, when you can't see outside the plane (while in a cloud for example).  When I first started flight training, I found I had to remind myself to look outside the plane instead of focusing on the instruments.  Now I was going to be wearing special glasses that blocked my outside view and forced me to use the instruments.  The difficult part for most students is ignoring what there inner-ear senses seem to be telling them, and trusting the instruments to guide you in what direction the airplane is orientated.  In the Cozy I can't really see outside all that well to begin with, and being John is instrument rated we've done a fair bit of flying in clouds.  So I already have a somewhat natural trust of the instruments in an airplane anyway.  Unusual attitude training was especially fun.  The instructor has you close your eyes while he puts the airplane into some sort of strange attitude (usually a turning climb or descent), and then you open your eyes and right the plane solely from the instrument information.

Now it was time to put all the skills together and venture out into the great blue yonder on my own.  As with the other cross country flights this one started on a sectional on the kitchen table.  The requirements for the flight were that it had to be at least 150 miles total length, have stops at 3 airports (one of which had to have a control tower), and at least one leg of the flight needed to be over 100 miles.  So with those requirements in mind, I started looking at the sectional for ideas on where to go.  I decided it would be fun to go visit my parents in Albert Lea, so I planned a flight to Glencoe, Albert Lea, Mankato, and back to St. Cloud.

Of course the weather doesn't always cooperate, and the first day I planned to make this trip was one of those days, with low clouds that prevented me from going.  A week later the weather cooperated and I ventured out away from my home field on my own.  The feeling of independence and self reliance on that first solo cross country was both exhilarating and scary.  At first I was pretty nervous, but as I identified each of my waypoints in turn, and landed in Glencoe, I began to relax.  I took off from Glencoe with more confidence that the rest of the trip would continue smoothly.  The closer I got to Albert Lea, the more excited I got to have my parents see me arrive and land all by myself.

The only real trouble I had was trying to get the self serve fuel pump working in Albert Lea, fortunately there was an attendant at the airport who was able to get the pump working so I could refuel for the trip back.  The delay was costing me precious time though, and I was going to have to cut my visiting with Mom and Dad a little short to ensure I was back in St. Cloud by sunset.  The rest of the trip was also uneventful, and after landing back home and putting the airplane away, I was able to relax and let the realization set in that I had successfully piloted an airplane halfway across the state and back.

I needed to make one more short cross country (this time just to Brainerd) in order to fulfill the number of cross country hours required, and then there were a few more lessons with my instructor to review maneuvers and various types of takeoffs and landings.  All of which to prepare me for the practical test with the FAA examiner to get my license.  There are two parts to the private pilot exam.  First is the written exam, which is computer based, much like written part of your drivers test.  The second is the practical test with an FAA examiner.  The practical test has two parts, an oral part where the examiner questions you regarding your flight planning, weather, and regulation knowledge.  The second part is an actual flight to demonstrate flight maneuvers and navigation abilities.

The written exam I took and passed with no trouble a month or so before my practical test.  The day before the practical test, I had the last of my review lessons with my instructor, and as luck would have it, not only was it an INCREDIBLY windy day, but they started working on a runway expansion project to our main, 7000' runway (31/13).  That left only the crosswind 3000' runway (05/23).  And CROSSWIND it was!  Winds were 180 at 17-25Knots.  It was great practice for right before the exam, but the fact that the main runway was closed and might not be open by the next morning added to stress of preparing.

The next day I went out early to the airport and prepared the plane, and myself, for the exam.  I was very nervous at the start, but the examiner put me at ease quickly.  He was very calm and gave me a brief overview of structure of the test.  We started off with going through my official application for the license, easing our way into questions about aircraft systems, regulations, flight planning and weather.  By the time the oral portion of the test was complete, I was much more relaxed.  Then I learned that they had finished the weekends work on Runway 31/13 and it would be open in just a couple of minutes.  More pressure lifted.

After pre-flighting the airplane I climbed in and just a touch of nervousness came back.  This was evident in my initial communication with the tower.  But again the examiner put me at ease again, even joking a little.  It was again windy, though not as bad as the previous day.  The good part about windy, turbulent conditions is that the examiner is a bit forgiving about holding steady altitudes (within reason).  All of the practice the previous day on s-turns and turn around a point in windy conditions gave me a lot of confidence during the exam.  As I completed the maneuvers I knew I had that part nailed.

We returned to the airport to demonstrate take off and landing procedures.  To begin with my landings were acceptable, but not my best.  Finally, on the last one it was near perfect, a great way to finish out the exam.  During the taxi back the examiner didn't really say much, and I began wondering how I did.  I taxied back to the hangar, completed the shutdown checklist, and as the propeller stopped the examiner said "Congratulations, you passed."  I don't think my smile could possibly have gotten any bigger!

During the post flight discussion the examiner had printed off my temporary license and presented it to me to sign.  My hands were shaking so bad with excitement I could barely sign my own name.  As I signed my temporary license it began to sink in that I was no longer going to need my instructor's signature for future cross country flights.

I went back to the general aviation building to share the good news with John and Ella, and when I walked in I found a number of our friends had gathered and John and Ella had brought cake (complete with red baron snoopy decor) and Champaign in anticipation of a successful exam.  As we all celebrated I proudly turned to Ella and told her: "You're Next!".