At the Controls Again

It’s been quite a long time I did not fly: my previous flight was in Warsaw in October. I was studying ATPL subjects since then and did not practise at all.

Today I made a flight to renew my SEP (Single Engine Piston) VFR rating. We used Cessna 152, and I remembered the feeling of acceleration with 2 people on board on a grass runway – it seemed way too slow.

The weather was not perfect, but nothing critical, so we performed all required maneuvers. It’s so good to feel the flight controls again!

The bird
The weather does not look so good

Commercial Pilot

Today was The Day I was waiting for so long: I passed my commercial checkride. Now I have a FAA Commercial Pilot license ASEL (Airplane Single Engine Land).

The checkride in the US has two parts: the oral and written one. During the oral part the examiner asks about airspaces, airplane systems, weather and other parts of the commercial pilot course. Apart from that, the student should make a weather briefing, prepare a flight plan, compute mass and balance, takeoff and landing distances, fuel, wind corrections – in other words, make a complete flight planning. It’s OK to look into FAR or POH (but better to know which part). It’s better to remember critical parts (for example, airplane speeds or most common regulations). My oral took about 1.5 hours, and as I know it’s not so long. Everything was professional and thorough.

The practical part starts from flying according to the flight plan. In my case the oil temperature started to rise during our climb, and almost reached the red zone. I pointed that out to the examiner and said that I want to go back, and she agreed. To save some time, she asked to make a power-off approach and landing (simulated engine failure). We had enough altitude and distance to make it to the runway, so I prepared the airplane for a normal landing. We have a long runway and a very light wind, so the runway was the best option even with a tailwind. I made it almost at the numbers.

After taxiing to the ramp we found one more airplane. It was booked but the instructor who booked it was late, so we were able to use it for the checkride. It was a pure luck, I suppose ๐Ÿ™‚

We flew to the East. Did I already tell about the weather in Florida? Of course some towering clouds already started to form. I decided to adjust the course to the South to avoid the dangerous cloud. The examiner asked whether I know about the other airport nearby. I knew about it, pointed the direction and said the approximate time to reach that airport.

The next part was the maneuvers. Commercial pilot should demonstrate the ability to fly steep turns, chandelles, lazy eights, steep spirals, eights on pylons and some different types of landings: normal landing, short field, soft field, power-off 180. All the maneuvers should be performed according to the commercial standards.

It’s critical to use checklists, constantly look for other traffic, demonstrate the appropriate qualification and knowledge during the maneuvers, and scan the instruments. And, of course, fly withing the margins for the altitude and speed. The only recipe to do it properly is to practise more and feel the airplane.

The landings were not perfect ‘minimum sink touchdowns’, but good enough and withing the selected touchdown zone. The most challenging part could be a short field landing at the numbers since that airport has some trees not so far from the runway, but it’s allowed to select the touchdown point not at the threshold for training or examination purposes. Of course, that should be done way in advance, not just before/after touchdown.

We had landed, and after some paperwork I got a temporary commercial license. Now I am officially a commercial pilot!

IR Part 141: Checkride

After about 2 months of flying, studying and waiting I am going to have an Instrument Rating checkride. Actually I am very happy since I was waiting only 2 days after my end-of-course check, it is not common at all.

We’re flying to Brooksville, the controlled airport nearby with ILS approach available. The weather is not perfect for a runway with ILS today, but probably we could have a low-pass. I am planning ILS, LOC and RNAV approaches there and RNAV approach at the home airport.

I am always a bit scared of exams. It is not about confidence, but just because a pressure is higher than usual. Apart from that, there will be nothing more than I’ve already done: flight planning, weather briefing, working with charts, unusual attitudes recovery, holding, airplane control and instrument approaches. One more good thing is that the ATC in Brooksville is usually absolutely amazing.

As a result, now I am a legal instrument pilot. I have a bit strange license now: EASA PPL, piggyback FAA PPL based on the EASA one, and the US instrument rating based on this piggyback FAA PPL.

What’s next? I am going to obtain a FAA CPL to eliminate the necessity of maintaining my EASA PPL for executing the privileges of the FAA one. In other words, it will become a normal standalone FAA Commercial Pilot License with Instrument Rating. Then I am going to pass the EASA ATPL theory, and obtain a standalone EASA CPL. I can count my future US flight time towards EASA minimums too.

Why am I going that way? Why two different licenses? Basically to increase my chances of being hired anywhere: I am neither the US citizen nor the EU citizen, and aviation-related things are complicated in Russia. Basically our general aviation is nearly dead. I suppose that I need as many credentials and as much experience as possible. And it’s fun at the end: I love flying.

IR Part 141: The End-of-course Check

Part 141 course requires the internal school check flight before allowing students to have a checkride. Usually the school chief pilot or some senior flight instructor performs this check. In my case this is the school owner, Tom Davis.

The weather is fine today, and I have to demonstrate that I am ready for a checkride. It means proper flight planning, good airplane control, correct unusual attitudes recovery demonstration, correct holding procedures and nice stable approaches.

The most challenging part is approaches, they require precise piloting, proper estimation and performing multiple tasks at the same time. Surprisingly holding procedures are a bit difficult for me too, especially teardrop entries: heading calculation at the beginning of the procedure is not so easy when you have to stay on the proper holding side.

I believe that I am ready for the checkride, but mastering all this stuff will require much more time and constant practice. Anyway, I passed, and in some days I will have a checkride. It’s been a great journey, but it’s only the beginning!

IR Part 141: Stage III Check

Stage III mainly considers cross country flights and everything related to that: weather briefing, flight planning, reading and interpreting NOTAMs, fuel, weight and balance computation and so on. So for checking these skills we should make a cross country flight too.

Today the weather is not perfect at all: there are wind gusts and pretty high thermal activity. All I can say about the weather was already said by our chief pilot after my first landing today: “What the hell was that?”. It is not easy at all to smoothly land the airplane in that weather ๐Ÿ™‚

The third stage or the Instrument Rating course is the most peaceful and calm one. The flight planning part is essential, but one could take time during this process, and there is always an opportunity to postpone the flight if the conditions are above the pilot’s personal limitations. In other words, there are less external pressures and much more time than when you’re actually in an airplane. The workload during the enroute part is also much less than during the approach, the course assumes that the student is already mastered approaches in the previous parts. Or at least he is comfortable enough with them to not mess everything up.

So the course is almost done. I need now only an end-of-course check and a checkride to obtain my first instrument rating ever.

IR part 141: Stage II check

Probably the most important stage in the Instrument Rating course is the stage II, when the student learns to fly approaches. It requires precise and correct piloting, correct radio communications, attention, multitasking skills, and attention again. Of course, it’s important in every flight including visual piloting, but instrument flight is even more demanding.

It is not so scary as it was at the beginning, but today we have wind gusts, which makes piloting some more difficult, especially on the glideslope. I had to fly 3 different approaches: ILS, VOR and GPS. I feel still a bit overwhelmed sometimes, but more and more confident with practice.

Stage Check

Part 141 IR course requires a proficiency check after every stage of training. Totally there are 3 stage checks and a final end-of-course check. The part 141 course also requires the strict defined lessons order, so one cannot start next stages before the previous stage check.

I have been waiting for the first stage check for three days due to the examiner availability and the weather, and finally flew it today.

Actually it should not be scary: it is not a checkride, and the instructor should not sign the student off for it if the latter is not ready. But it is a little disturbing anyway.

The student should perform the following maneuvers: steep turns, stalls, standard rate turns, climb and descend with a defined rate, unusual attitude recovery. And, of course, takeoff and landing. We also made one GPS approach as a bonus, the first one in my life.

Our chief pilot (he was my stage check examiner today) is a former fighter pilot. It’s a pleasure to fly unusual attitude recovery with him! I will definitely ask him about spin recovery training some day ๐Ÿ™‚

We made only one hour which seemed for me to be at least two. And now I can move on!

IFR English

Today I passed my practical IFR English exam. In Europe it is a requirement for Instrument Rating. I don’t plan to get European IR now, but my English is pretty good, so why not? It was nothing special even in spite of the fact that I don’t have any IR experience except one flight as a backseat passenger in Cessna C172. Of course I don’t consider my flights as an airline passenger because I don’t hear any communications ๐Ÿ™‚

In the first (written) part I had to define some terms like “straight-in approach”, “jet stream” or “alternate current”. I did not find any unfamiliar terms, and it was harder to express it than understand. After that I had to unfold some abbreviations.

In the second (oral) part I described approach plates (RNAV and ILS) and answered some questions about them, and finally there was a simulated communication with ATC.

Everything was OK, and now I have one more important document ๐Ÿ™‚

EASA PPL Checkride

Finally I did it! To be honest, I was worrying that I would have to return to Moscow before finishing my PPL, because I did not have any possibility to stay here after the 1st of July. It is much easier to take an exam right after finishing the course because of fresh skills, and I highly desired to do it before leaving.

I got an unexpected route via Prague CTR, and I had never flown it before. During my training I was flying through another CTR in Karlovy Vary, and it happened only two times. Besides, today I had an airplane that I had flown only once on my long cross-country.

On practice everything was not so scary as it sounds. I flew as usual, I contacted a controller, and he approved my request for flying my route. After leaving a CTR I contacted an ATC one more time and reported leaving a controlled area.

I think that the most difficult part was the weather. Thermal activity was pretty strong causing a bumpy ride. I saw hanggliders on some aerodrome, and they were climbed very fast. In those conditions the approach was a little tricky: for example, I experienced altitude changing from about -5 to +5 and vise versa just in some seconds without any power adjustment. At least it was not boring ๐Ÿ™‚

I am very happy that I made emergency landings without any stress, I was just calculating a new path and turning at a proper point. During engine-out procedures there is no more feeling that I fall like a rock.

Thus, now I have almost 60 hours and an EASA PPL. I am accepting congratulations ๐Ÿ™‚

One More Exam

Today I had one more check conducted to sign me off for navigation flights. That check is internal, and it is mandatory for all students according to our syllabus. It was nothing special, just a usual cross-country flight using a paper chart. We flew a very beautiful route today.

I am not afraid of the navigation flights. To be honest, on one of my previous lessons, I miscalculated my heading and deviated about five miles off course, but after that I saw Pilsen, and it was impossible to get lost as it is a very big city. Of course I flew without a GPS that time, and today flight was also without a GPS. In any case, I feel that I don’t have any problems with cross-countries.

The flight was very relaxing as the wind was calm and the landscape was absolutely awesome. One more record to my logbook!