Advantages of studying in the US for the EASA PPL holder

At the first glance it does not look very natural to go study to the US if the final goal is the EASA CPL, but I’ve chosen this way on purpose.

First of all, my final goal is not only EASA license but both EASA and FAA. That is because I consider job opportunities all over the world, and in some places FAA license can be more valuable. But even for Europe it makes sense to consider studying in the US:

  • the flight hour is way less expensive – in 2018 I got Cessna 150 for $100 per hour;
  • the flight experience is much more interesting – usually there is more traffic, mush more various airports (both controlled and uncontrolled), more complicated airspace. Additionally, usually there are no landing fees almost everywhere;
  • ATC speaks English. They talk really fast and provide a lot of information, and if you struggle with communications, it’s a great way to learn. Moreover, the ATC is really great almost everywhere;
  • it’s always fun to travel somewhere. I believe that it’s a great advantage for a (future) pilot. And flight experience in a different country could be a great vacation time.

Cost-wise I believe that my way was even less expensive than the “standard” EASA PPL, night, IR and CPL.

I still consider my US experience as the most valuable one during the entire training towards CPL, but, of course, there are some drawback too:

  • a student visa is required;
  • TSA flight training approval is required for Instrument Rating and Multi-Engine Rating;
  • living expenses are a little higher;
  • you should travel and live far from home.

I consider that the drawbacks are negligible compared to advantages. For some more details about the differences between Europe and the US please the post.

Fly safe!

Seaplane Rating

Now I am studying theory for the EASA ATPL exams, and sometimes it is very tiring and boring (sometimes it is fun though). Anyway, I decided to take a small vacation and go flying (I am a pilot, right?)

I mentioned that I have been training for my IPC, and since I am in the US it makes sense to have some fun apart from essential tasks. I decided to get a seaplane rating. It still counts towards my total time, but adds a very different experience.

I’ve chosen Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base due to good reviews and very nice and clear communication. The costs are also not so high in Florida, and the school is not so far from the place I am doing my IPC.

They offer training in different airplanes, and I’ve chosen the least expensive one – Piper J3 Cub. It’s light and easy to fly, and I suppose it’s perfect for initial training.

Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base

I don’t have enough words to describe the experience, it’s absolutely unique and amazing. Piper Cub does not have an attitude indicator and turn coordinator, only CDI, ASI and RPM meter. I asked my instructor just in case if there is an attitude indicator, he laughed and replied: “look out of the window – isn’t that enough for you?” =) It’s true stick-and-rudder flying!

Piper J3 Cub on floats

I have some tailwheel experience, and this Cub flies very similar to Citabria, both in the air and on landing. During the take-off it is essential to keep the nose slightly up (but not too much), and during landing the stick should be pulled very gently and constantly.

Ready for take-off

The airplane is really slow, and out-of-engine glideslope is terrifying at first. Floats add a lot of drag and weight. But the main difference is still in taxiing, take-off and landing.

For example, there is a step taxi procedure, when the aircraft lifts a little bit allowing the wings to carry some load, but still maintaining contact with the water surface. It’s like a high-speed boat ride. Taxi turns in this mode are frightening at first – it looks like the plane is ready to rollover, but in reality it does not even bank, just sliding.

It’s possible to turn almost in-place, like in a sailboat. A lot of fun.

Probably some of you are curious how to do a run-up without stepping on the brakes. So, it’s perfectly possible, the only difference is that the airplane is moving, so make sure that you have enough space ahead ๐Ÿ™‚

As I already mentioned there is no attitude indicator, turn coordinator and GPS, so the visual piloting skills are essential. The landing is also some more tricky – seaplane is much less tolerant to high vertical speed on landing than the cessna trainer. The water seems soft, but in reality it is not, and it is also somewhat ‘sticky’.

Another fun is a confined area takeoff. It is the procedure when you start the takeoff with a crosswind and slowly turning into the wind upon gaining speed. There is no runway on the lake, so it is perfectly possible and useful if the lake is not so big.

One of the most complicated maneuvers is a glassy water landing. When you try to land on a glassy surface you cannot really fell the height, and it’s possible to either flare too early or meet the water with a high vertical speed, so you should not flare as usual. Instead you should find a landmark where you still see the ground, then keep the landing attitude and wait for it. Probably wait for it pretty long, but it’s the safe way to meet the surface with low vertical speed and proper attitude. That requires longer landing distance.

Sometimes it is impossible to find a landmark. In that case it’s possible to fly closer to the shoreline and use it as an altitude perception. It it is not an engine-out landing, better to configure the airplane for landing earlier – it will take more distance to land, but it is safer. And never ever use a glassy water as a surface reference.

Apart from glassy surface, the landing is almost as in a landplane: watch the ground, flare, touchdown.

Lake View

I highly recommend this experience for every pilot. It is usually not what we have during flight school (like out-of-aerodrome takeoffs and landings and pure stick-and-rudder flying). Have fun and fly safe!

FAA IPC

It is essential for every pilot to be not only current but proficient. Without practice skills degrade and can even fade away some day.

That’s why FAA requires BFR (Biannual Flight Review) for any type of flying and IPC (Instrument Proficiency Check) for instrument pilots who did not fly enough instrument procedures during the last 6 months. To be more specific, one needs at least 6 instrument approaches during previous 6 months to act as a PIC for flying IFR.

If a pilot do not have the required approaches, and it is less than a year since a pilot was current, it is still possible to fly the approaches under simulated instrument conditions with a safety pilot. Safety pilot can possess just a PPL without Instrument Rating since the flight can be conducted under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions).

After a year if the requirements are still not met a pilot must pass an IPC with a CFII (Certified Instrument Flight Instructor) or a FAA examiner.

It is different in Europe where the Instrument Rating must be just renewed every year with an examiner. Another difference – in Europe during training of flight tests one should just fly under IFR, even in VMC without view-limiting devices like foggles or hood.

My FAA IR currency already expired, and I decided to regain my skills and pass an IPC. I still don’t have a EASA IR, and I have no idea where I can find a FAA CFI in Europe, that’s why I decided to fly to the US. It could be even less expensive due to flight hour prices.

What can I say about it? More flying is better! And it always pays off to renew theoretical knowledge. I greatly recommend to take some courses from https://www.faasafety.gov (a lot of them are free!) and use these books.

During all this ATPL theory preparation I really missed flying. So good to take off again!

In The Sky Again

Since the beginning of the year I spend almost all my spare time on exams preparation, and now I have only 3 subjects ahead. One of them is Meteorology (which is not so easy), but it’s still only three exams of 14.

I foresaw that it would be very challenging, but still did not know it would be THAT challenging. Mainly it’s because of psychological pressure – you should constantly study all the time, every day, every free hour. I still have a full time job which made it even worse.

I am assured that health is essential though, so I decided to make a small break, and the most rewarding part of all that is flying. I made a gift to myself and went to the US to renew my Instrument Rating and fly some hours for staying current and, eh, just for fun.

Today I have my first flight in a low-wing airplane: really, I’ve never flown low-wing before! I’ve chosen Piper Arrow. I used to Cessnas, and I did not know what to expect, but it turned out that it is not that different in the air. The landing differs, you should take into account stronger ground-effect, but apart from that all principles are the same.

I must say that the practice is crucial. After long breaks, especially with not so many flight hours under the belt, skills are deteriorating. Landings are dirtier, patterns are less rectangular, approaches are not as smooth as I want.

I enjoy flying. Every flight hour, every minute in the airplane. It’s the best reward for all study hours and sleepless nights. I am so happy, it’s going to be a great vacation time!

Multi-engine Checkride…

… or the story about letters collection.

I’ve already written about my oral part of the multi-engine checkride. The weather have not become acceptable for it that day, so I got a Letter of Discontinuance. It means that the checkride was interrupted for some reason (the weather in my case).

The weather still did not improve the next day, so my checkride was moved to Friday. It is not a big deal, in overall I was waiting for less than two weeks, which is not so long in Florida.

The weather this Friday was great: there sky was clear, and there was almost no wind.

During the checkride the student should demonstrate the proficiency in various tasks. It started from normal takeoff and landing, and I did a good job.

Short field takeoff and landing were good too, and the approach was very stable and smooth. It was not so hard to maintain the flight path in that weather.

There is one small detail in our airport: we have a powerline rather close to the runway, so touching down at the numbers is kinda dangerous. I asked to use a different target point, about 1000 feet from the runway threshold. It is totally OK to touch down at the selected point to simulate the short field, but you must tell the examiner that you’re going to ‘shift’ the beginning of the runway. Moreover, it can be even considered as a good decision making. The goal is to check the ability of precise airplane control, so if you make it as you planned, it’s much better than always using the real beginning of some long runway and brushing the trees.

During the next takeoff the examiner cut the power of one engine. I set engines to idle and stopped the airplane.

We took off once more, then approximately at the pattern altitude the examiner started to very slowly pull the power lever of one engine. I recognized that it was an ‘engine failure’ exercise too late, so I failed today.

As a result I got a Letter of Disapproval, it means that I have to fly once more. Luckily the examiner had some time at the next day. So today I called my instructor, and we practiced engine failures some more today.

It was a sunny Saturday… Today I was ready to any examiner’s actions. On engine failure exercises, if the examiner touched power lever, I reacted even earlier than I had felt any turning tendency.

We flew all the required maneuvers, minimum control speed demonstration. During the actual engine shutdown (there is an exercise for that) I did not manage to start the engine in the air. It just did not start even with excessive speed, I believe that it did not fully return to a fine prop blades angle. I used the corresponding checklist and finally started it using the starter after some attempts.

Then we continued with instrument flying, followed by GPS approach. During the maneuvers I found out that attitude indicator partially failed: it showed some bank angle during a level flight. I cross-checked it by some small turns, closely monitoring the attitude indicator and turn coordinator and confirmed the malfunction. So I had kind of a real-life partial panel during an instrument flight.

All went well today. Finally we landed, and the examiner congratulated me with a new shiny rating.

It took 20 flight hours: 15 I made towards my complex endorsement, and 5 additional hours just to improve my skills. I can’t understand how some people can make it in just 5 hours ๐Ÿ™‚

Multiengine Checkride

Some days ago I passed the FAA Commercial checkride (ASEL, Airplane Single Engine Land). During my flight time building I made some hours in a multiengine one since I wanted a AMEL (Airplane Multi Engine Land) rating too.

Today the weather was great for a checkride. My exam started from an oral part, and it was rather challenging. The most complicated part was airplane systems, procedures for flying with one engine and limitations. In overall it lasted about two hours.

When we have finished with the oral part, Florida summer weather showed up. Cumulus clouds, wind gusts and thunderstorms covered almost a half of Florida including our airport.

Anyway, at least the oral part is done!

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!

FAA Commercial Requirements…

… or how to waste some money.

Firstly I’d like to tell about the FAA check-ride situation in Florida: there are a lot of flight schools, there are a lot of students, and there are only 5 DPEs. In practice it means that usually one have to wait for a checkride more than a month. We are a little bit lucky, because one of our instructors is also a DPE, and if somebody cancels, we have a priority. Of course one can apply for a FAA examiner, but waiting time is even longer. Usually much longer.

So, I met my commercial requirements according to FAR 61.129 about a week and a half ago, and scheduled a checkride. I was lucky, somebody had a cancellation, and I was expecting a checkride at July 16. And on Tuesday somebody canceled a checkride on 12th of July, and I took that slot. That is I expected my commercial checkride today. It did not happen. It has stopped even before we started an oral part, during a logbook analysis.

So, what happened? We can see the following in FAR 61.129:

(i) Ten hours of instrument training using a view-limiting device including attitude instrument flying, partial panel skills, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, and intercepting and tracking navigational systems. Five hours of the 10 hours required on instrument training must be in a single engine airplane;

During my instrument training I got 38 instrument hours, and I considered that I’m done with that. But the examiner used this and this FAA letters. In the first one we can see that 61.65 training hours (i. e. towards instrument rating) do not qualify towards 61.129 requirements (commercial). The opposite works. The letter is for helicopter rating, but nevermind, for airplanes we have the same. The second letter says that the training can qualify, but it should meet 61.129 requirements. I. e. if the CFII explicitly states that in the logbook during your instrument training, you are safe. But the problem is that I was on a part 141 during my instrument. It is a structured training with an approved syllabus. Nobody mentioned anything about 61.129. Actually standards are the same, and training is the same. But legally it does not work without explicit mention of 61.129 in the remarks section. And the DPE’s position is that I need 10 hours more instrument time (dual) after 141 instrument program.

Possibly it was naive, but I supposed to have almost exactly 250h TT before my checkride. It will not happen, I should fly 10 additional hours. I hope I will have a long cross-country tomorrow (the concern is the weather…). Later I will just plan ahead more carefully. During my commercial training I had a small doubt about this requirement, but I did not pay attention on it, and neither my CFI did.

So, I need more hours, my checkride shifts by some days, and I cannot even imagine when I can have my multi checkride. Flight hours are OK, they always matter, especially instrument hours, but I am disappointed about longer waiting time.

P. S. when I already realized that I would not fly today, I figured out that the airplane for our checkride had only 1 hour before 100h inspection: somebody flew a cross-country yesterday night, so the practical checkride part would probably be cancelled anyway during the preflight inspection.

Bartow

Today I finally succeeded in my efforts of trying to wake up early at the weekend. Actually it was a good reason to do it: much more chances to fly cross-country wherever you want before thunderstorm activity. Today I was going to Bartow. It is an airport in about 70 miles to the South-East. Close enough to have a breakfast and go back before significant weather activity.

Today it was a typical Florida summer day near the Gulf of Mexico: after about 11 am the South would be closed by thunderstorm lines or at least isolated thunderstorms. So, I decided to go to Bartow. It is a controlled airport in a class D airspace. I was expecting practicing my communications. I checked tower working hours, and everything seemed OK. With that weather and my working hours I was able to fly South-East not very frequently.

I decided to ask for a flight following: it’s a good practice for IFR flight communications (of course, not exactly, but close enough). And it is a good idea to get a traffic information in that area. I climbed to 5500. The air was calm and cool there, the weather was perfect. Today there were no clouds, so nothing prevented me to climb to that altitude.

About 15 miles to the destination it’s better to get ASOS information: the weather and a runway in use at the destination airport. Apart from that, I heard something like “the restaurant is closed”. Oh, it seems that I have no breakfast today.

I landed and vacated the runway, then asked for a clearance for taxiing to the FBO. I mean taxiing to something that I supposed to be the FBO, but… “N7692U, the FBO is in another direction!”. “Request progressive taxi…” How can I know that the FBO is the small building with a 4-plane parking? I thought that it is a group of hangars and a large airplane parking area nearby… No signs at the airport, no markings on the airport diagram. BTW, thank you very much for understanding!

The airport itself was a cozy place: I found an interesting small museum and a free cup of coffee available. The tower controller was also very friendly ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, it’s time to go back. The weather still looked good, and I was done with my coffee.

On the way back I decided to ask for a flight following again: there were some clouds on the way, and it was a good idea to have traffic advisories. I had a VFR-only airplane, which means that I cannot enter the clouds under any circumstances, and possibly I even could not manage to go direct. In that case flight following can be a good advantage.

I requested 4500, but the controller asked me for 3500. OK, why not. After some time I have been seeing clouds straight ahead. OK, then 4500 could be a good choice. Clouds were still somewhere in front of me and were getting closer. 6500. No way, still below the tops somewhere in front of me. Damn, I supposed that those tops should be at about 4000-5000! I had absolutely no wish to try to go through that labyrinth. So, I should either try to go higher, or descend and proceed below them. OK, descending back to the summer hot. I was not able to continue direct, I didn’t want to go back, so I had to make 360s, like a spiral. 6000, 5000, 4000, 3000. Still almost at the cloud base. 2000. OK, at least here I am well below them. I could proceed to my destination, and it was easy to find a labyrinth path when you are below it.

After about 10 miles the clouds became something between few and scattered. Every day in that place I can see almost the same. Two more hours, and there will be thunderstorms here. But at that moment it was still good.

What a nice weekend! =)

Lake-City

At the weekends I used to fly from the early morning, but this Saturday I decided to sleep some more: it is not a good idea to fly if you’re tired.

Today the weather was good, so it was possible to fly to Lake-City. So, why that place? First of all, the weather is much better for northbound routes, and that airport has the ATC – it’s always good to practice. The weather in Florida is the most critical factor in summer: for example, today it is not a good idea to fly more than 100 miles from the airport, because after about 4 hours there is some possibility of thunderstorms here.

As I said, the weather was good, but not perfect. The cloud ceiling was at about 2500-2700 feet, and I had to maintain about 1500 feet for about 20 minutes from the home base. I had to avoid large cumulus clouds too: they are dangerous, and it’s better to change a course a little than fly directly under them.

I suppose that almost everyone who flew in Florida heard about KCDK. It is a small airport at the shoreline with a concrete 1500-feet runway. Our school policy prohibits to fly there (as many others do), but the weather there is usually good even in summer, so at the very worst case it still can serve as an alternate. But it’s better not to count on that. 1500 feet is not so bad, but psychologically can be surprising after all of wide luxury concrete runways in Florida. Most of them are usually at least 4000-feet long.

After about 30 min of flight the cloud base became higher, and the clouds almost disappeared.

The route itself is very easy: it’s enough to follow the road.

While on weekdays the airport is controlled, on the weekends there is no ATC there, so I should act like at uncontrolled airport. I landed and vacated the runway. There were some Airbus on a taxiway, but I did not see a single person in the cockpit or around.

On the way back the weather became even better, and I was able to fly directly to the airport without avoiding clouds. A very nice day.