The Quest to Land at All Arizona Airports

Flying once or twice a week, one can visit the handful of $100 breakfast airports within reasonable distance of Phoenix only so many times.  Instead of repeating the same flights over and over, why not set a goal to land at airports all over Arizona?  It’s a great way to see a lot of things you’d otherwise never see.  It’s also a great way to hone pilot skills since it presents many new scenarios to the pilot – new runways, new terrain, new enroute navigation experiences.

So, Dad and I have decided to set a goal:  Starting in October 2015, we are going to visit every publicly accessible NPAIS airport in the State (there are 58 of them).  We will use the Wikipedia List of Airports in Arizona as our checklist. We’ll get a picture at each airport, with something recognizable at that airport, as proof of having been there.  Here’s our progress …

Airport Airport Name City Visited Notes
1 KDVT Phoenix Deer Valley Phoenix 10/11/2015 Purchased N40MH from owner based at KDVT
2 E60 Eloy Municipal Eloy 10/11/2015 Breakfast
3 18AZ Skyranch Carefree Carefree 10/11/2015 New home base for N40MH
4 KPRC Prescott Muni – Ernest A. Love Field Prescott 10/13/2015 Ate at Susie’s Skyway Restaurant
5 P52 Cottonwood Municipal Cottonwood 10/31/2015
6 KPAN Payson Municipal Payson 10/31/2015 Good restaurant.
7 E63 Gila Bend Municipal Gila Bend 11/2/2015 No restaurant on airport.
8 KSEZ Sedona Airport Sedona 11/11/2015 Great restaurant with views.
9 KFLG Flagstaff-Pulliam Flagstaff 11/11/2015
10 KINW Winslow Lindbergh Regional Winslow 11/11/2015
11 P20 Avi Suquilla Parker 11/14/2015
12 KHII Lake Havasu City Airport Lake Havasu City 11/14/2015
13 KIFP Laughlin/Bullhead Int’l Bullhead City 11/14/2015

Kicked out of the Nest

Making good on my vow to venture out, I’ve now completed three cross-country flights – all within two hours of home. My early concerns were how my pilotage skills would pan out – so of course the best way to address that was to simply get out and do it. My first of three cross-countries was dead reckoning and pilotage, and it went well. At one point for about five minutes, I was not exactly sure where on the chart I was located at the moment, but it all came together as I progressed. I knew it would.

How does one reduce the risk of getting lost? I think it’s pretty simple:

1.  Thoroughly study the planned route, and surrounding areas, before you depart. I probably spent upwards of an hour looking carefully at the sectional chart where I had drawn my flight path, highlighted in bright pink highlighter (that’s what you get with teenage daughters around the home).

2. Select a sufficient number of checkpoints which allows you to see the next one before the previous one goes entirely out of sight. This may be a challenge in some areas such as the southwest deserts, but if you study the route on the chart enough, it’ll come together for you. Some will argue that this is an excess number of checkpoints, but you’ll find that some checkpoints are tougher to find than others – and having too many sure beats not having enough.

3. Prepare for the worst case scenario ahead of time: get flight following, or at a minimum keep the closest Flight Service Station radio frequency on hand. Remember, as you travel distances, the frequency you have may go out of range, so be prepared to try another known frequency if the first one proves unusable.  Flight Service Stations are limited in their capabilities, but they can provide other frequencies for further assistance if needed.

And, of course, it is best practice to always file a flight plan 🙂

A good pilot must feel entirely comfortable with pilotage, and be able to utilize navigational aids such as a VOR to supplement the efforts – and not depend on a GPS (which could malfunction at any point, right?) However, I quickly realized how nice it would be to have GPS as a backup on my next two cross-country flights.

Watch for my next blog post … I will walk you through what I learned about GPS and moving maps, and share information that I wish I had found consolidated into a single post when I began exploring how a portable GPS and moving map could help me.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Here I am, after 20+ years of no flying, fresh out of my Flight Review, signed off and approved to fly on my own. Now what do I do?

  1. Practice, practice, practice
  2. Become comfortable venturing outside of the Class-D airspace of my home airport

So, the first thing I did was go out and shoot ten landings in 1.4 hrs. Thank you, Dean, for videoing my landings (I had no idea you were doing this, guess I was too busy concentrating on what I was doing).

vorNext, it’s time to get comfortable with traveling some distance. This weekend I will venture out to the Colorado River, then to the northcentral part of Arizona, then back to the Phoenix area … for a total of 4 planned full-stop landings.  It will be an opportunity to sharpen my dead reckoning and  pilotage skills, learn how to effectively use a VOR, and validate it all against the Garmin 430.  Best of all, my co-pilot will be my 82 year old dad who has an impressive 67 years of pilot experience in everything from a Luscombe 8A to a Casa Saeta fighter jet.

It’s all about practice, practice, practice.

License To Learn

A week ago, I decided I’d studied enough on my own, and that it was time to get up in the air to get some recurrency dual and ground school with a CFI. I anticipated it would take me several hours in the air, over a 2-3 week period, before the CFI would turn me loose – so I was a little uncomfortable during the initial phone meeting with my CFI when he kept talking as if we’d knock out the Flight Review in a couple hours on the first day. I expressed my concern about this – I wanted him to know that it had been more than two decades since I had logged PIC time and that I have a lot to review.  His response was something like “don’t try to fly to my expectations, just fly the best you can and we’ll see how it goes”.

I showed up early Friday morning for my first lesson in many years. My CFI and I spent two hours doing ground school – he reviewed the written test he had asked me to complete, and he looked thru the flight planning I had done for a cross-country flight he’d asked me to prepare.  We spent some time discussing airspace, and had a deep dive into aviation weather.  When we wrapped up, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed – but eager for what was next … to go up in the air.

Next, we spent an hour up in the air, most of the time in the local practice area.  After going thru all the basic maneuvers – slow flight, power-off and power-on stalls, steep turns, and a simulated engine failure – the CFI commented that I was doing a great job and that if he could see me perform some good landings, I would be signed off (yikes!).  Unfortunately, though, there wasn’t enough time to practice landings, so we headed back for a full-stop landing – which was executed by the CFI.  Bummer … I didn’t even get an opportunity to try my first landing in 20+ years.

On the way back into the flight school office, the CFI offered that if we could fly again later that afternoon, we could likely finish up the Flight Review.  I was in near disbelief that we could finish all of this in one day – after all, it had been so long since I’d flown solo – but I was eager to give it a try.

Later that day, we went up and did 10 landings.  My first two were awful (fortunately the CFI was right there to save me), but after a couple more, I was doing very well.  I demonstrated soft field, short field, and flapless landings, and then he announced that we were done – and that he was signing me off.  That was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time!

I could not believe what had just happened …. I had passed my Flight Review in one (very long) day, after 24 years of not flying.  I’ve got lots more practice to do – but at least I’m not chained to an instructor to do it.  They say a Pilot’s License is nothing more than a “license to learn”.  Now it’s time to keep on learning.

Relearning Basic Concepts

As I wrap up my independent ground school prep for the Flight Review, I found two very basic and important concepts in need of in-depth review…

turncoordinatorSkids and Slips – To fully understand what a skid and a slip is, and their implications to flight, a pilot should be aware of not only how to correct a slip or skid, but what causes it.  It’s pretty basic stuff, however since my initial flight training a couple decades ago, I had not retained the in-depth definition of these conditions so I had to dig further into it. I found an outstanding article written by the late John E. McLain which explains the nuts and bolts of slips and skids – you wouldn’t think one could write this much about the concept, but it’s worth the time to read through the entire article:

Beyond the Checkride - Howard FriedWhat, really, is a stall? Such a basic concept, if defined simply as a speed (such as Vs).  However, did you know that Vs is the stall speed only under certain circumstances, and that an aircraft can stall in any attitude and at any speed? A nose-down attitude or having lots of airspeed is no guarantee you won’t stall. Howard Fried, in his book Beyond The Checkride, will give you an entirely new perspective on stalls:  it’s all about angle of attack (AOA),  and AOA is the angle between the wing’s mean chord and the direction of relative wind.  Howard drills down into the concept and helps you really understand what a stall is.  He also elaborates on many other topics – this one is a must-read for a pilot at any level.

Prep for the Flight Review

300px-US_pilots_certificate_frontI just got my 3rd Class Medical (that was the easiest task on the list), and got the new hard-card version of my Private Pilot certificate from the FAA … now, the only task left is to get a Flight Review signoff.  I could immediately begin work with a flight school and a CFI, but I realize there are a number of things I can learn on my own, before I start shelling out hard-earned savings to pay for ground school.

Here are the resources I am using:

Airplane Flying Handbook – this is a basic publication from the FAA that, honestly, is pretty dry reading – but if you can endure the borderline boredom, it’s a great way to refamiliarize yourself with terminology and get your brain back into the flying groove.  This book is available in an easy-to-digest format on iTunes for $2.99.

Sporty’s Flight Review – this is a nicely assembled collection of indexed videos which review a number of Flight Review topics. It’s easy viewing, and the iPhone app version ($29.99) is well worth the money spent. 

Local Used Book Store – I found several resources for casual reading at a local used flyingthatbook store (in many cases, 10 year old flying books are as useful as currently published book).  One book I found for only a few dollars was a hard-bound book called “I Learned About Flying From That” – this book is a collection of articles published in Flying Magazine which discusses pilots’ brushes with near disasters – a great way to learn what not to do.  It’s well written, and a good way to heighten your awareness of potential issues and to discourage complacency in the cockpit.

Brendan’s Flight Training Video – Brendan is a CFI out of the Bay Area.  He has put together a 3-disc series of DVDs that show complete detail of a flight across busy Class-B and -C airspaces in a Cessna 172.  His video includes flight planning, weight and balance, pre-flight, and the flight itself.  In particular, listening to his communcation with ATC was a great learning and refamiliarization opportunity.  The cost of the 3-disc series is a little pricey, but I think it was worth the cost. 

Next Adventure: Air Time
Once I have sufficient self-taught ground school under my belt, I will schedule time with a CFI to begin official preparation for my Flight Review.  Hopefully, the work with the instructor will be more productive as a result of my pre-study efforts.

Where do I start?

It’s been nearly 25 years since I logged PIC (Pilot in Command) time.  This isn’t like getting onto a bicycle – there’s a lot more to reacquaint myself with.  I feel as if I’ve retained much of my pilot skills, but the more I dig through online ground school training resources, the more I realize I’ve either forgotten, or has drastically changed since I last flew.  So, where do I start?

After a fair amount of research, here’s my to-do list:

  • Start Learning Now – begin preparing myself with informal ground training self-study – reading and videos. This may end up saving me some expense with formal ground school instruction later on.
  • Updated Certificate – get the new plastic card version of my Private Pilot Certificate (when I was originally issued my cert years ago, it was a paper card … now the FAA uses a plastic card – similar to a credit card).  The old paper certificates are no longer useable.
  • Medical Exam – obtain a 3rd Class Medical Certificate from an AME (Aviation Medical Examiner) – to prove that I’m physically fit for piloting.
  • Get up in the air – schedule time with a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) and an airplane, to begin preparing for the Flight Review that I must pass in order to act as PIC once again.
  • Join the AOPA – the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the group that supports and fights for pilot rights, and is one of the greatest sources of information available on the web to pilots.

Student-PilotThere are some good (and not so good) resources on the web – here are the ones that I’ve found most helpful at this juncture:

I’m getting excited about this.

The Flying Bug Bit

As an incredibly lucky teenager whose parents owned an FBO, I grew up around aviation. I got tons of right-seat time in aircraft that many would only dream of flying … twin-Cessnas, warbirds such as a Stearman, AT-6, and a Casa Saeta, and of course the “mundane” aircraft such as 152s, 172s, and the occasional Skylane or Cherokee. Little did I know at the time that those planes being  “mundane” was merely a perspective and that someday I would truly appreciate these simpler aircraft for what they are.

I was privileged to begin flying lessons early on, and to solo on my 16th birthday. How many kids can say they flew solo even before they earned their driver’s license? Later on though, real life kicked in and flying took a back seat.

Nearly 30 years later, at age 46, I read Dr. Richard Komm’s book, Cubs to Bonanzas, and once again the flying bug bit.  It bit hard.  It’s time to start flying again – whatever it will take.

Here, I will document my return to flying in the new age of General Aviation – one in which avgas is $6.00+ per gallon and “real” pilotage seems to be a thing of the past. They say “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. With teenage children soon to be college bound, getting active in aviation will no doubt require lots of “will” – such as “Honey, will you support my flying addiction?”  I’m blessed that my fiancee supports flying.

Stay tuned for my adventure.