Took an early train back from NYC. My idyll here in the wilds of western Massachusetts is coming to and end; I have another week or two before I need to relocate myself away from here. Not because I'm done with my pilot's license, but because I need to stop imposing on my friends. They are wonderful, amazing people, and they are in no way telling me I need to leave - but I'm telling myself that. In much the same way I feel the loss of my solo life when I realize my brother has been living with me for three years, I can see that same look in the back of their eyes - the realization that they can't wander around the house in underwear because this guy is living in the basement and might have come upstairs for a drink of water.
In the meantime, can't afford to miss any flying time.
I'm not going to stop training, of course. My dad lives a couple of hours drive north of here - and although it's pretty much the same distance as NYC is, it's all straight highway miles. Plus, I don't think I can go back to NYC and keep flying. The shit dragging me down, the wreckage of my life that's there - while this summer may have helped a bit, and healed a couple of the wounds, there's just too much. I'm going to have to go back eventually, but before I do, I am damn well getting my pilot's license because if I go back without it, I'll never get it. And I'll have failed to get it twice. And I don't need more if onlys on my goddamn psyche.
Haven't flown in a week, but it's been due to thunderstorms (*cough* excuse me, unstable cumulonimbus clouds and squall lines). Yes, I've been studying for the FAA written test instead. I'm...not ready, but I'm also not having as much trouble with this stuff as I thought I would. Most of it - the actual aviation - is stuff I know, either from last time around the merry-go-round or from general knowledge or from quick study. The real hell is the goddamn regulations - because instead of being able to figure the answer out from my knowledge of, like, you know, how planes stay up, you get a question like this: "What is the minimum clearance from clouds required to fly VFR in controlled airspace? Is it a) 3 statute miles visibility, 1000 feet below, 1000 feet above, 2000 feet horizontal clear of clouds or b) 3 SM visibility, 500/1000/2000 feet clear of clouds, or c) 5 SM visibility, 2000/2000/1 SM clear of clouds?"
This is an important set of numbers. There is no doubt about that.
The problem is that unlike when I first trained for this, there isn't 'one answer.' There's a separate answer for each of 6 types of airspace (Classes A,B,C,D,E,G) and some of those have different answers depending on one's altitude AGL.
I won't even go into the questions that involve things like 'Which section of the FAA regulations govern powerplant repairs; FAR Part 31, Part 41, or part 141?' (not a real question, but TOO DAMNED CLOSE).
Got to the airport at 4:50pm today. A few showers and a small T-storm had gone through over the afternoon, and there were still piles of clouds in fairly fast motion around the region. However, visibility was excellent below them, and it looked like cover was perhaps 50-60% overcast; broken low and billowing clouds higher. There was a breeze across the active (whee, crosswinds) but it was light, perhaps 4 or 5 knots and steady. So I checked out an airplane.
My new headset finally got tested, and it worked (hooray!). Preflighted; all OK except a slight weird 'thunk' when I fully extended the elevators. Chatted with the guy on the desk; he said it was a known thing and had been checked out as not actually damage or wearing on the control systems - it was just a spot that needed lubrication. So I strapped myself into the airplane and fired it up. Did a quick trip around the pattern - today the wind dictated that I use Three Two instead of One Four - and came around onto final a bit high. Threw in all my flaps, still felt a bit hot, and the crosswind was being annoying - so although my instructor and I haven't really practiced it, I threw in a forward slip to get lower and slower. Worked a treat; swung the nose aligned with the centerline just past the numbers, held it off, and touched down at what felt like walking pace. When I got to the exit, the school light sport Gobosh was waiting to enter the active, so I taxied to the far end and looped back around to come up behind them. An instructor and student. They finished their runup, and a woman's voice indicated that they were back-taxiing.
"Light Sport three golf bravo, Skyhawk 12732- are you okay with me taxiing down with you and settling in the pocket?" (since you have to taxi on the runway to get to the takeoff end of Three Two, there is a semicircle of pavement at the end so that two or three airplanes can pull off to the side and wait in line for their turn to depart without blocking the runway).
"Sure, Custo (no, he used my real name), that's fine, tuck in."
So we tootled down the runway, with me following them at a respectful distance. I tucked in, and they departed. Gave them a couple minutes and then rolled out myself. But say- "Light Sport three golf bravo, are you guys headed for the practice area?"
"Skyhawk 12732, Light Sport three golf bravo, affirmative, were you going that way?"
"Had planned to but no worry, I can stay in the pattern."
"No problem, we'll stay west of the river, you can have the east side."
"Light Sport three golf bravo, many thanks, I'll make a turn to the left and head for the towers." So I did that, turning left at eight hundred feet, still climbing, and turning 270 so as to end up south of where they'd made a right turn off climbout. I aimed the nose at the towers at UMass, and continued my climb up towards 2000 feet as I crossed the river to the east. (note: electronic cameras do really weird things to fast-moving objects in pictures. Those wacky curvy lines are, in fact, the propeller on my Cessna. The instrument mounted atop the dash is the magnetic compass.)
When I got to UMass Amherst a few minutes later, I realized that the clouds were in fact only maybe 3000 feet above the ground, maybe even a couple of hundred feet lower than that. Actually, I'd known that was likely while I was sitting at my computer before flying. Want to know how? WELL I'M GOING TO TELL YOU, so there. See, I was looking at the weather reports on Weather underground, and that site is helpful enough to give you both the current temperature and the dew point. When I looked, the temp was 84 F and the dew point was 70 F. This is relevant because the dew point is that temperature which, if you cool the air to that point in current conditions, will result in the air being supersaturated with humidity - and as a result, moisture will begin to condense. In other words, if the temperature reaches the dew point, you get clouds or fog. Now, unless there is a temperature inversion, in general the dry adiabatic lapse rate of the air is around 5.4 degrees F per 1,000 feet as you climb. This means the temperature of unsaturated air drops that much as you go up. The dew point tends to drop by around 1 degree F per 1,000 feet (as pressure drops, the amount of water the air can hold drops too).
So the temperature and the dew point will converge by around 4.4 degrees F per 1,000 feet of altitude. When they converge, bam, that's where the clouds (if there are any) start - that's where their bases are. So 84 -70 degrees = 14 degrees; 14 / 4.4 = approximately 3, X 1000 feet = 3,000 feet.
Anyway, I realized that sure enough, there were clouds around 3,000 where I'd planned to be maneuvering, so I leveled out at 2,000. This meant I couldn't really practice stalls - you must (according to the FAA) only stall the aircraft if you can recover the stall above 1,500 of altitude. While I was pretty sure I could, that's pretty tight - and no reason to push it. So instead I practiced turns, steep turns, turns about a point, and S-turns along a road. As I began, though: "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is over UMass towers at 2,000, maneuvering."
"Northampton traffic, Light Sport three golf bravo is five miles north of the field, west of the river at 2,000, maneuvering." It's good to hear other people up there announcing - it reminds you that yes, we're all up there looking out for each other. The FAA says the majority of midair collisions occur on clear days. Counterintuitive, but not when you think about it - on clear days, there are VFR pilots out relying on the Mark 1 Eyeball to avoid each other, whereas during lousy weather the only planes up are flying IFR. There are fewer of them, and they're going to be under ATC guidance.
I'm still having trouble maintaining a steady turn around a point. I tend to end up getting too close, and then too far, and so on. I still need more experience with the turn rate (on the ground track) of the Cessna. But things are improving. I had a bit of an issue with my S-turns across route 116 before remembering - duh, there's a 5 knot wind directly across the road. The object of this maneuver is to cross the road with your wings directly aligned with it - i.e. fly perpendicular to the road's path. As soon as you cross the road, enter a medium bank and begin a steady turn to the right or left. The goal is to end up crossing the road the other way with your wings once more aligned - in other words, to fly as close to a 180 degree turn as smoothly as you can, and finish the turn right as you cross the road.
If there's a wind, however, you have to compensate for it (that's one of the main reasons this maneuver is done, it teaches you to recognize and compensate for wind when doing ground reference maneuvers). I'd started across the road with the wind - so by the time I finished the 180 degree turn, I was not yet back at the road as I'd been blown away from it during the turn. Then, on the opposite turn, I had to turn more quickly because I was being blown back towards the road.
Got that one to a satisfactory result, finally. All this time, I'd been watching some medium sized clouds scud overhead, perhaps 700-1000 feet above me (yes, in this airspace, the requirements for VFR flight are in fact 3 SM visibility - I had 15 at least - and 500 feet below/1000 feet above/2000 feet horizontal from clouds, so I was fine). A few minutes into my maneuvers, I heard three golf bravo head back to the airport and enter the pattern. After a half hour of work, I too turned back for the airport to work on landings. By the time I got back into the pattern, 39B was nowhere in sight as I looked around me, announcing "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk 12732 is entering a long crosswind for Three Two Northampton at the Route 9 Bridge."
Made it all the way around the pattern and onto the ground - no 3GB. There was a twin-engine seaplane waiting to backtaxi as I slowed (Grumman G-21 Goose? Grumman G-44 Widgeon? Uncertain; looked like a four or five-seat aircraft with the two engines up on the high wing, though). So I went around the long way and waited for them to depart (ah, the callsign was Grumman, but didn't say which...) As I taxied past the ramp, I saw 3GB back in its hangar, the instructor and student debriefing as they put the plane to bed.
I rumbled back out to Three Two and went around a few more times - a total of four - before bringing the airplane back into the parking area.
Radios - off; transponder - off, electrics (beacon light, strobe light) - off, mixture - full lean, throttle - idle cut-off. '732 sighed, coughed once, and fell quiet. I shut down the master switch and the ignition and listened to the lowering whine of the gyros behind the instrument panel, grinning, before unbuckling to get out and tie down the airplane, put on the gust lock, and fill out the clipboard with the Hobbes time and tach time.
Then I collected my headset, filled out my logbook (1.1 hours pilot-in-command time; total flight, 1.1 hours, 4 landings, 7B2 local) and headed for my car to go to dinner.
...and now I've missed the deadline I promised Zephronias. I'm still working, Zeph, I promise. Saturday.