Priorities Update: FAA CPL

It looks like I have to change my priorities compared to my December plan.

Currently I have to stay in Moscow due to my job, so I am not flying now. Meanwhile, it is becoming some more difficult to obtain the US visas, and risks of not getting F1 at all are becoming pretty high. So it is safer to obtain my FAA CPL now, using my M1 visa, and postpone (or even abandon at all) CFI/CFII/MEI programs. Anyway FAA CFI(I) license is useless anywhere out of the US.

I need about 100 more flight hours total time for meeting CPL minimums, including about 15 complex hours (retractable gear, constant-speed prop, flaps) and 2 night hours. It is not so much, and with a proper dedication it’s doable in two months. I am pretty well prepared for a written test, so I can fully utilize my free time for flying.

I contacted some Polish flight school for the ATPL theory classes, and they have a program starting this October. That perfectly aligns with my current schedule!

So, my new plan is the following:

  • FAA CPL under M1-visa before the end of this summer;
  • EASA ATPL theory before spring 2019;
  • EASA IR after passing ATPL theory exams;
  • EASA CPL after obtaining the EASA IR.

Of course, I will try to find a job just after getting my FAA CPL, but it seems highly unlikely for a brand new pilot with a FAA license who is not a US resident. I knew that even before start. But currently it’s better to concentrate on getting my license than on thinking about far future: I will think about it later. Our life is challenging, and flying is fun just the way it is 🙂

Air Taxi

Usually our school students from abroad use Tampa International airport for arrival or departure. It’s about 100 km from here, and the most common way to go there is Uber. But we are flight school students! From my opinion, we should use airplanes! Anyway a lot of us need more flight time, so why not to do something useful?

Actually large international airports require some experience, and it’s also better to have a special endorsement from the instructor, and book a slot. But in the US there are a lot of airports, including small satellite airports around the major ones. For Tampa the most obvious option is Tampa Executive (KVDF).

Tomorrow I am returning home, so I asked one of my friends to fly with me to Tampa Executive and return the airplane back to the school. Yes, the fuel and airplane renting costs are almost the same as Uber, but it’s a valuable flight time! And it’s fun!

Lakeland

Today I decided to fly to Lakeland for some more VOR practice. Anyway it will be a VFR flight, but our Cessna has a VOR, and it’s better to refresh my skills.

Today the airspace here was very busy. A lot of small light aircrafts, some turboprops, and even a jet… The radio communications are rather intense. It was a good experience: the ATC gave me instructions to extend downwind, then to orbit for giving a way to some faster airplane. The controller was extremely nice and even apologized on final for the delay 🙂

Cross City

The route from Crystal River to Cross City is considered rather simple, and a lot of students from our school fly there almost every day. I’ve been there only once, and even that time I wore ‘foggles’, so I’ve seen almost nothing. So today I planned to visit that airport.

The route is really easy: it lays almost along the shoreline, and it’s really impossible to get lost. The airport itself is very nice: large concrete runways, predictable winds, no traffic. It was a very nice trip!

KCTY
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Night Flight

FAA CPL applicant should meet some requirements in aeronautical experience specified in 14 CFR § 61.129. For example, it requires a night cross-country flight and 10 night landings at the controlled airport. I have some days before returning to Moscow, so I decided to obtain some night experience.

Flying at night is really cool. Wind is often calm, and the airplane is very stable and predictable. I had a very similar feeling in Czech Republic at 5 am.

The landscape is very different too: a lot of lights, clearly identifiable highways and towns, airport lights. Landing at night does not differ a lot from a daytime one, but the approach seems more challenging.

I believe that after instrument experience it’s easier to fly at night since the procedures are the same: trust your instruments, don’t rely on your feelings.

Another very important thing at night is proper using of airplane lights, especially enabling and disabling landing lights at the appropriate time. Probably it is not a very big deal to forget about them at the daytime, but at night it’s critical.

Winter Haven

Winter Haven (KGIF) is an extremely beautiful place. There are two concrete runways and one water runway. Some day I will try it out too in a seaplane, but now I am flying an ASEL (Airplane Single Engine Land) so I have to use concrete or grass runways 🙂

Flying without GPS is amazing. This airplane has a VOR, but I am trying to stick with a compass, clock and paper maps. Today I am not flying along a coastline, so it is a bit more challenging.

Actually there is one area along the route where there are no landmarks at all: it’s a large forest area. Basically I use my clock and fly the calculated course, and after finding some clear landmark (after some time) I am trying to figure out where I am and how far I am from my route. It’s fun! After about 10 minutes of flight I was about 1 mile off-track. Not so bad for a visual flight and plain magnetic compass.

I am attaching some photos for showing the beauty of the area 🙂

VFR Again

The next logical step for Instrument Rating holder is a Commercial License. Finally I can fly without ‘foggles’ or ‘hood’! It’s so beautiful outside!

I decided that it does not make sense to follow 141 route for my commercial course. I already have some flight time under my belt above private+IR course minimums, so at the end of 141 course I would have about 250 hours anyway, which equals part 61 requirements. But for 141 due to my school policy I should fly the entire course in Cessna 172 (of course excluding complex and ME hours), and for part 61 I can use Cessna 150, which is way less expensive.

So now I am flying VFR-only Cessna 150 without GPS. It seems much lighter than 172. For flying alone I had to pass a check flight with one of the instructors and sign renter’s agreement.

It’s a bit unusual to fly visually again, and even more unusual to fly without GPS. It was hard to find an unfamiliar runway again. But it’s totally amazing to try flying with paper maps, compass, clock and my eyes.

Visual flying in Florida is easy: ocean coast to the west, ocean coast far to the east, straight wide North-South and East-West highways and a lot of landmarks. Even Czech Republic is not so straightforward for navigation!

This airplane cruise speed is just a little less than C172’s, but the rate of climb is much slower. Fuel consumption is less too, but due to smaller tanks we still have only about 4h of endurance. And I love this model: I started my PPL in that airplane.

This C150 has only one comm without other frequency monitoring possibility, so it’s better to quickly grasp ATIS messages and return to the active frequency ASAP. Probably that’s how our grandfathers flied: pure VFR with minimum of instruments. Even all Czech school airplanes had GPS and 2 radios, but basically the compass, clock and paper maps are enough, so I enjoy this experience 🙂

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 🙂

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.