CA: Learn to Fly Here

Knowledge Test Nightmare!

Yep… you got it.. if you were sane, you would pack your bags and bee-line to California. They really know how to treat their pilots…

If you follow my blog, you already know, I learnt to fly in California. It is for no small reason they call it Sunny California. I had some of the best flight instructors in CA, the weather is terrific all year round, and California has the most airports to be found in a State in the United States (245), and even better most have a restaurant on the field for that vegeburger or hamburger.

What would you say if you took a partial day off, from a tight schedule, showed up to take a FAA Commercial Knowledge Test and the proctor is a no show?

I never needed to worry about my written FAA  knowledge tests in CA, since every flight school I learnt to fly in CA offered computer testing on site. I just needed to be ready, sign up and show up.   Obviously, in the east coast, they need everyone to take a day or half day off to test, since hardly any test center offers testing on the weekend.

Is it lack of demand, I wonder?


Eights on Pylons

“Is there an emergency gear release?” I asked my instructor, as I scanned the aircraft and almost immediately located it on the floor between the pilot and passenger seats. While we had done a lot of pattern work during the last two flights, we hadn’t touched on this topic.

It’s been almost a month since my last flight, but good to be back in the air.

As we neared the practice area, I sub-consciously noticed my instructor pull out a circuit breaker. I should have realized then, that he was about to test me on the emergency gear release 🙂

Until now, I have only ever practiced in the Arrow, so it was good to try some emergency gear extension in the C172RG, some slow flight, stalls, steep turns, and emergency descents.

With time to spare, I even got to practice some eights on pylons.

Despite a month off the air, I, and even my instructor thought I did okay. It’s good to be on track. I still hope to be done by the end of July!

Commercial Knowledge Test

The aircraft I am training in for my Commercial rating is down for it’s annual the next two weeks, so it seemed like the perfect time to gather up my books and prepare to take the FAA knowledge test again for the Commercial Rating and also start reviewing the material for the Commercial Oral Exam.


I first took this exam back in 2008 and I still have all the study material from then:

Jeppesen Instrument & Commercial Manual
Jeppesen Knowledge Test DVD
Gleim Commercial Flight Maneuvers
ASA Commercial Knowledge Test
ASA Commercial PTS
ASA Commercial Oral Exam Guide


Four and a half years ago, I scrambled to get the rating out of the way, before my knowledge test expired and never managed to.

Two years ago, I tried again. Almost restarted everything – sign off from my current instructor to take the written again and acquired new material from a friend who had just gotten his commercial:

ASA Knowledge Test DVD
ASA Commercial Knowledge Test
ASA Commercial PTS
ASA Commercial Oral Exam Guide

Again never did. Too much time and too much money down the drain for someone who already had a complex sign-off, all the requirements down and just needed to master the maneuvers to PTS standards to pass the test.

This time I am resolved to see it to the end and finally take the elusive commercial check-ride.  Flying the C172RG is a whole lot easier than the Arrow considering I fly the C172 on a normal basis. I’ve acquired newer and more current books:

ASA Commercial Knowledge Test
ASA Commercial PTS
2015 FAR/AIM
Kurshner’s The Advanced Pilot’s Flight Manual

So, I am well armed with several versions of the material to prepare me for this challenge.

Wish me luck!

2013: Year in Review

As I kicked-off 2013, I promised myself to take my flying to the next level. 2013, has been an incredible year for flying.

After some training flights, getting IFR current and comfortable flying with iPad and Sratus (See iPad + ForeFlight + Stratus = Awesome), we headed off to the Bahamas for some exotic times in the Tropics at the peak of winter.


Flying to the Bahamas in a C172 was an incredible journey. Not only was it my first longest cross-country ever, but the lessons learned were unbelievable. Once my feet were firmly back on the ground and no longer floating on clouds, I had a challenging experience of flying through ice/snow in C172. But all ended well.

Nothing could match Bahamas Flying. This was the year, I wanted to fly as much as I could. For the March flyout we planned a flyout to Blacksburg, VA.  Flying to Blacksburg brought back fond memories of fun times, old friends and even ones no longer among us.


April was all about flying to Connellesville, PA to see Falling Water. While third year in a row, I couldn’t pull off this flyout, three of us pilots, decided to drive over instead and had a marvelous time!

IMG_3820Every two years, May means Bi-annual. Each of my flight reviews have been with a different instructor. They are always fun and most times, I come away learning something new.

After my original experience with gliding, I never really got back in a glider. This past summer, I took a fun ride in the Stemme S2 at the second highest airport in the country, Telluride, CO. I could absolutely try gliding again!

telluride1July-August is usually about Oshkosh and Airventure. While I have made it to Airventure 8-9 times, this year’s experience was unbelievable since I flew in to Oshkosh!

bitsandpiecesOctober it seems, is a bad month to plan for Niagara Falls. While we did not end up driving there, although I have done this a few times, maybe next year I will plan a different month.

Niagara2November flyout was to Hampton Roads: fun and enjoyable. Meanwhile I learned to quilt….

photo(32)December is a time to spend with friends and family. To wind down, rejoice, reflect and plan exciting new adventures next year. Bahamas is again in the horizon… How can I get to Oshkosh again any other way, than fly myself? Niagara, fall in the Northeast, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and so much  more! I did not quite finish my commercial as I hoped, but no rush for it.

I also attended several safety seminars and online webinars hosted by my flight school,  AOPA, EAA, Sporty’s etc.

Rusty Pilot Seminar
Rusty Pilot IFR Seminar
Night Flying Seminar

2014 is a whole new year with innumerable possibilities.

Have a safe and happy holiday season. And see you back here next year!

Glorious Fall Flying

It was dark. And it was a Saturday. Sunrise was not for another 2-2.5 hours later. I need a few more hours sleep, I thought, as my Classical 90.9 buzzed a wake-up call. Most weekends, I usually remembered to turn off my alarm, so it would not inadvertently wake me up.


I was out the door by 6:30 am. A quick stop at Starbucks, for some wake me up coffee and a bagel, and I hit the road to the airport. This was the only time that my instructor and I could coordinate for a lesson. The last one was almost three weeks ago, and considering the sorry pace I am making, each day it appears maybe, I might not finish this year after all!

Although we are deep into fall weather, the day was gorgeous – warm for this time of the year. Almost like a late summer day. Sunlight was breaking, as I arrived at the airport. After a briefing and pre-flight, we were off.  The earth was vibrant with dashes of orange here and there. The sun’s rays washed over the earth’s surface gently as the sun started it’s slow rise, the bright streaks giving character and meaning. White, low clouds and fog hugged the surface in snatches as if a painter had added dashes of white to emphasize the orange glows of autumn. Off in the distance the Shenandoah mountains rose gracefully. The air was clear and crisp, and the mountains clearly visible to serve as landmarks for the commercial maneuvers, I needed to master.

photo(21)When I trained towards my private pilot license, many a time I had shown up bright and early for a quick lesson, before heading in to work, especially during winter months when there were few daylight hours.

This early in the day, there were hardly any flights to clutter the airspace or the airways. The air smooth. And the earth… beautiful beyond words.

I had forgotten how calm, soothing and glorious early morning flights are.

photo(22)Photographs: Courtesy E. Kontanis

Night Time

The one key reason, I couldn’t finish my commercial rating back in 2006 was that I couldn’t complete the required night solo flight time requirements. FAR  requires 5 hours of night VFR solo flying with at least 10 take-offs and landings  at an airport with an operating control tower. Official night time is defined as the time between the evening civil twilight and  morning civil twilight. During summertime this can be as late as 10:00 pm or as early as 4:00 am. The best time always seems to be when the clocks are moved forward during daylight savings time when winter is upon us and it gets dark rather early in the evening.

I have said this many times, I am essentially a day, VFR pilot. I love to see where I am going.  Granted night flying on smooth, full moon days can be fun. I can count the number of night cross country flights on my fingertips. There has never been a reason for me to  be in the air during the night, other than to satisfy the requirements of the private pilot license. I tried to do some night cross country flying with my instructor (cross country to Fresno, CA) after I obtained my private pilot license, to determine if I liked it.

The second attempt was when I started to think about obtaining my commercial rating and the need arose to actually log night solo flight time. During a routine flight review I scheduled an incredible session with my favorite instructor, Lee Jaykell, that also applied towards my wings certification (see BFR: It can be fun and Night and Actual)

The third attempt was when I realized doing touch-goes to obtain 5 hours of solo night flight time were tedious and boring, and that I could achieve this time so much faster if I could fly cross country. While it is easy to achieve the 10 take-offs and landings, it barely adds an hour of solo night time. This realization arrived when I lost the opportunity to complete my commercial rating with my favorite instructor back in 2006. So I planned my one and only solo night cross country in 2009 and believe it or not to South County Airport. How ironic is it that this is the airport I flew to for my first long solo cross country?

Those days, my home base was Palo Alto Airport. How difficult would it be to fly down south, tracing the 101 freeway to the ever reliable South County airport? Since I am loathe to try this during summer, when I have to attempt it rather late, after the tower closed. So it was a crisp, and clear January night when I set off to achieve my night solo time. It did not worry me that it took me three attempts, the last time I was here 🙂

And I am happy to report, that I took one attempt to find and land at this airport, before taxing back and departing to arrive at PAO, all during official night time and before the PAO tower closed. This one trip helped bump my solo night time that much closer to the required time.

There is one other night time I cherish. It was not solo time. And I definitely wasn’t PIC.  But it was the one and only time I flew a multi-engine: Beech Baron. See From the Right Side for that incredible adventure.

Chandelles, Steep Turns and Steep Spirals

After the hectic last few weeks, I suddenly found myself with plenty of free time.  And fortunately enough, so did my instructor.

It was seven years ago, I took my first orientation flight in an Arrow and officially launched my commercial flight training. I was racing against time to complete it with my favorite instructor, who planned to leave the area in four months. I should have known, that four months was not going to be enough. Still I accomplished all my requirements except my night solo flying requirement and mastery of the maneuvers to the required precision.

With a sudden availability of free time, I have re-started my commercial training with double vigor. After three consecutive lessons: one not so good, one tolerable, and one can quickly go to worse, I realized what it was. Stay tuned.

It was a glorious fall day, when armed with  a safety pilot, I set off to practice some steep turns, Chandelles and steep spirals. My key assignment if I have to pass this test: articulate, conduct and execute everything to the required commercial standards.

Switching aircraft during training, always adds additional time to relearn little quirks inherent in that aircraft that can, slow you down or make some tasks more challenging. Changing weather patterns also play a key role in how well you can execute a maneuver. Even more important: bad habits accumulated over the years, can also slow you down and dampen your moods!

After a relaxing break, I planned and prepared thoroughly for the maneuvers I wanted to practice. My goal was also to focus on outside references, so I could recognize them, choose landmarks that would serve as references for the maneuvers I had to master without my instructors help and even more importantly to enter the maneuver correctly and execute it to commercial standards. Armed with a safety pilot who would not only help with monitoring traffic but also who would monitor my maneuvers and ensure overall safety, I set off to the local practice area.

Last few lessons, I realized, although I am good with using checklists especially before starting the engine, I no longer refer to them again, all other checks are conducted by memory. While this may work on a normal flight, it is a distinct no-no during any oral exam. So step one, I had to re-learn the habit of referring to check lists during every phase of flight. And be vocal about it!

Calm wind helps. A lot. Learning to trim the aircraft correctly during all weather conditions, helps even more. Steep turns at 60 degree bank angles are so much easier and smoother, with trim then trying to hand fly them using erratic pitch maneuvers. Keeping the ball centered with adequate rudder, also, is key to a well coordinated maneuver.

Holding the yoke with a death grip is counter-productive… Use 2 fingers and apply gentle pressure, is what I have been told for ever. This is one bad habit, I would love to rid myself expeditiously. That I have been doing it for several years now, tells you it is not going to be easy. I should also note, this only happens when I am demonstrating maneuvers and not necessarily during normal flying. I think it is also due to the fact that the aircraft is not trimmed well and to maintain proper pitch and bank, I tend to grip the yoke too tightly with the resulting corrections being more aggressive than necessarily resulting in over or under correcting and resulting in constant adjustments: what is commonly known as chasing the needle. The root of the problem is maintaining proper trim. Learning to make the correct trim adjustments are the key to rid myself of this habit.

In addition to recognizing visual references, flying more precisely almost to commercial standards, I am happy to state that in calm weather I can achieve this reasonably:

  • Steep turns, yeah check!
  • Chandelles, getting there…
  • Steep spirals, almost, but can be better…

I still have ways to go, but at least this is a good start!