Goodbye Blog

Dear Friends and Mysterious Guest Readers,

I am leaving Blogger. In fact, I will begin the process of removing myself entirely from social media. What gives? As much as I LOVE to share my love aviation and adventures with everyone, this is necessary as part of my next big movement in life.

What's this? you ask.

I do not want to go into details here (kind of defeats the point of going private, eh?) so I welcome your questions, comments, well wishes, and contact details so we can keep in touch. Email me at sarahnejdl@gmail.com or call/text me. I am happy to "spill the beans" offline.

I will be back on social media some day. Until then, Auf Wiedersehen, Adios, Au revoir, and I'll miss you.

Hot Air Balloons Have the Right of Way

Today was Nicole Ticknors' bridal shower. She's a cousin on my father's side. While we're somewhat distant cousins, I definitely see some resemblances like our high cheek bones, our noses, and fair skin. But Nicole is a stunning beauty.

Nicole Ticknor & I


I'm very glad she invited me to her bridal shower in Durant. It gave me an excuse to fly and use our airplane for practical travel. While last week was solid instrument weather, today was clear and calm.

I flew on an IFR plan intending to do the GPS approach into Durant, but I was running late. I decided on a visual landing to save time. After the airplane was parked and tied down, I borrowed a courtesy van then showed up to the party in my new blue heels just in time to mingle and celebrate Nicole's special day.

After the party, I chatted up the nice guy at the Durant FBO. He told me the airplane off the runway is abandoned. It's a Fairchild FH-227D. The story is, students from the university purchased the airplane to restore it as part of a project, but didn't finish. It's now sitting on an old taxi-way off part of closed runway, abandoned. The city just wants to get rid of the airplane. The guy at the FBO thinks it will get scrapped by the city. He says this airplane was featured in the 1993 movie Alive. It was the only furnished FH-227D the producers could find, so the airplane served as part of the set.

The Fairchild at Eaker Field

So if you want a dirt cheap, twin turboprop airplane that was once in a movie, call the nice guy at Durant.

Leaving Durant was my first departure from a non-towered airport. I called up The Briefer and fumbled my way through filing then getting clearance. I say fumbled because I hadn't done this before and mixed up my terminology. I wasn't sure if I opened an IFR plan, or get filed, got clearance first or last- I didn't know. I'm sure I was informed at some point in my training. Now I'm all straightened out: file then get clearance, and do it within 10-20 minutes of departure if you're on the field. Otherwise, file then call again for clearance when you're almost ready to taxi.

Ooh, and I learned that hot air balloons can launch without ATC knowing. Luckily, I saw this one well enough in advance to deviate. There were three in the area, but this one was closest to my path.




Flight to the Red River

I promised roommate Stephanie Ponder that I would take her on a flight. On September 1st, her dream of a flight with me came true!

So where does a pilot go for sightseeing? I didn’t want to practice landings or shoot a practice approach. I didn’t have a destination. So I decided a fly-over destination was the best plan.

We took off from Addison in sweltering heat. As you can see from this picture, I can handle the heat.

Outside temperature: 98° F (36° C)


I didn’t file or do flight following. Instead, I just keyed the mic for a north VFR departure. After I left Addison’s Class D airspace and DFW’s Class B airspace, we cruised at 3,000 feet. It was just high enough to catch a break from the heat but not in the clouds, since I wasn’t on an IFR flight plan. The clouds above us were a good thing: shade!

East of Lake Lewsiville


After about 20 minutes or so, I could finally see the blue snaky image and state border dotted across the GPS map.

“We’re almost at the Oklahoma border.”

I flew us over the Red River then East a bit tipping the wings at times so my passenger could take pictures and take in the scenery. The Red River isn’t close to the magnificence of Niagara Falls, but around North Texas with no coast and no mountains, you take what you can get. 



The impressive part was getting there in about 30 minutes of flight. Ground speed getting there was 135 knots thanks to a hefty tailwind. That same wind slowed us to 85 knots on the way home even though indicated said 120 knots. I landed in a lot of headwind, but it was a smooth boring landing, the best kind!

Afterwards, I had her help pushing the plane back into the hangar space and double checking that everything was off.




The flight was short and not exactly an adventure, in my book, but my friend really enjoyed her time which made it worth it. And I had an excuse/reason to go fly.

So if you are reading this and you would like a flight for the fun of it, let me know!  I need more excuses and reasons to fly with friends!

Stephanie

Crisscrossing Florida

Like any private pilot with a newly minted certificate, I was nervous before my first instrument flight being instrument rated. I was tempted to tell the Tower and ATC to go easy on me. But I decided to keep that to myself. Afterall, I had demonstrated proficiency to several instructors and ultimately an examiner.

Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.
~Winston Churchill

This past weekend I flew four instrument cross country flights. Three were in Florida. Ask me about Florida weather! That state is a cloud machine.

I could bore you with mundane details of each flight, but this time, I’ll keep it brief:


Trip #1
Opened in Mobile, AL (KMOB) going to Jacksonville, FL (KCRG). Right after departure, I was vectored slightly around a storm with heavy precipitation. Skies were fairly tame and a large part of visual meteorological conditions (VMC) meaning I could see the ground and wasn’t too close to clouds.

Mississippi River
Then we came up behind a storm already in progress. My real-time weather detector (the windshield) advised I go the south of it so we informed ATC of this request. While we went through a few bumpy clouds on the backside, it wasn’t so bad. I was told I couldn’t do an instrument approach into Jacksonville at night so I did a practice approach and landed visually. 3.1 hours

Trip #2
Opened at Jacksonville, FL going to Key West (KEYW). Right after take-off, we were in clouds. These fluffy white clouds were scattered all over Florida ranging from 3000 feet above the ground to 10’s of thousands of feet high. I was vectored around a couple of storms but they weren’t too imposing on my flight path. Around Naples, FL we left clouds and started the flight over ocean water. THAT was nerve wracking. I kept thinking to the airplane, please don’t fail me now! But for all the worry, it was over very quickly. I was allowed to do another practice approach. 3.6 hours

Somewhere around Ocala, FL

Above Marco Island, FL


Trip #3
Opened in Key West going to Tallahassee, FL (KTLH). Another flight in and out of clouds, and this time vectored only once around a storm. After we emerged north of Tampa, a convective sigmet was announced for the area. We had good timing! Tallahassee said the ILS and glideslope were inoperative so I didn’t bother with an approach. The skies were clear and I could see the runway. That was my only instrument flight without an approach this weekend. 3.6 hours

Somewhere east of Tampa, FL


Trip #4
Opened at Monroe, LA (KMLU) going home to Addison, TX (KADS). Rusty was exhausted from flying under clouds from Florida to Louisiana. He originally said he’d take that last flight but then later let me do it. Without hesitation, I took him up on the offer to let him rest on the right side. There was a convective sigmet (thunderstorms) over the Dallas area that was predicted to move off around the time we expected to arrive. I studied the weather information then spoke to a briefer. The trip was actually VMC the whole way and Rusty totally could have done it, but we just didn’t know. I was able to do my instrument approach to Addison landing on the 33 numbers.


Almost at YEAGR along DUMPY4 east of Dallas, TX
This whole weekend was a terrific start for using my new instrument rating. I got to plan, file, fly it, then shoot approaches in visual conditions. It was easy enough and a good confidence booster.


What’s next?
How about practice approaches to airports with DME arcs then a fly-in to Lubbock next month? Stay tuned for more!


Leaving Key West with my favorite co-pilot

Passed!!

Thank the stars, I PASSED MY IFR CHECK RIDE!!!

Details to follow...

To Lubbock under MVFR

Last weekend we flew to Lubbock to visit my mom. The original date to visit during Memorial Day weekend was thwarted by storms & rain in Dallas and in Lubbock. We rescheduled for mid July under the assumption, "Surely we'll have clear skies and 100 degree weather."

Have you met my friend Murphy? She's not much of a friend really.

Turns out the weather over Dallas on the Friday we took off was cloudy and unseasonably cool. Through the day, my husband and I watched radar and sky condition charts. He called off the flight preferring to drive or depart the next day. But I had a sense that we could safely make the flight with an amended route that showed higher ceilings than our normal route. So we switched pilot-in-command (PIC) and I assumed responsibility for a safe flight.

We departed flying 2000 ft above ground level (AGL) which was 500 ft below the clouds. The clouds lifted a little around Bridgeport, then lifted more around Abilene. After KABI, the cloud shelf ended and we were finally able to climb to 4500 and 5500. We stayed about 2000 ft AGL the whole trip.

Lubbock Executive was hard to find with the sun setting between us and the airport but we did find it almost below us eventually. I circled around the airport to descend and get into position to land.

But my pattern was all off and the landing didn't look like it would be good. I did a go-around and the second attempt was better resulting in a smooth landing.

The weekend with my mom was great!

Rusty was PIC on the flight home. The lucky guy got his clear skies most of the way and we enjoyed outside air temperature of 70F at 7500. Near Dallas, clouds were bunching up to a broken ceiling. We had to descend early to get below the clouds and then the Bravo airspace shelf. He did a very fine landing at ADS.

I'll upload pictures later. No video this time though. (The camera wasn't charged.)

What does it say about me that I made the call to fly under MVFR? I told my mom it was a calculated risk and my calculations were correct. What I didn't tell her was that I was prepared to deviate to the nearest airport at any moment if the flight wasn't safe. Being brave is good, being smart about risk is better.

Pushing (some) Tin

My friend Lee shared this amazing video that I must share because watching large Boeing planes maneuver "in the pattern" is fun to watch if you're me!  :-)

 From the expert himself, these beauts are made of "50+ % composite by weight (mostly epoxy resin carbon fiber), a fair whack of titanium, some aluminum and steel." [other source]

I suspect drink services were not available during this flight.


$100 Burger flight over Dallas

It was time for another excuse to fly the family! This time, for burgers in a neighboring suburb.

I flew us from Addison (KADS) to Grand Prairie (KGPM) to meet up with a friend for burgers at Mixed Up Burgers. The burgers were very delicious and service was great. Oh, and kid friendly! After burgers, pictures of the boys, bathroom breaks, and threats of no ice cream if there was any fighting in the backseat, we departed. Rusty was pilot-in-command going home to Addison.

Both flights were uneventful, although my visual approach into Grand Prairie was less graceful. I spotted Arlington's larger airfield just beyond our destination and mistook that for KGPM. I was on short base before I realized I where I needed to be, and was 1500 feet too high. So I flew the pattern to dump altitude and get coordinated for my landing.

Anyway, here's the video of Rusty's flight.


Oral Exam Passed!


I passed the Instrument Rating Oral Exam this afternoon.

There are area thunderstorms today so the flight is going to be this weekend (assuming fair weather), hopefully on Saturday.

I have a lot more studying to do to prepare for that. Just because I'm done sitting across from him at a table answering questions doesn't mean he won't drill me on some of the same topics I missed and ask other questions.

Details to follow as events unfold.  yay!

Weather Restricted (Still)

We were so hopeful and excited about flying to Chicago! I had paper maps, a departure, fuel stops, runway information, ground transit- it was planned, all systems go except- EXCEPT- the weather got in the way. AGAIN!

(I cannot wait to be instrument rated. Stay tuned, I’m working on it.)

So what happened? you ask.

We did our weather research days in advance like good pilots. By Tuesday, we were watching weather forecasts for the cities between here and there. Several weather forecasting sites all agreed that there would be storms across the Central part of the U.S. on Friday, and several sources agreed on storms the Sunday we wanted to return. We also saw forecasts for overcast skies across large portions of our route.

We decided not to chance it and bought airline tickets instead.

Friday, we departed Southwest Airlines out of Dallas Lovefield under dark, low clouds. I say that to make myself feel better. Really, we probably could have flown ourselves East under the clouds, or between layers, to the overcast shelf. After the shelf, we would have been in the clear for a bit, then we would have been stuck on top for much of the Central Plains flight.

Leaving Dallas

What aviation nerds do during commercial flights.


It might have worked out! Or, it might have ended in disaster. What if we had issues stuck on top? There was a lot of turbulence (at airliner flight levels) that might have also been at lower altitudes. Would we have been tossed around?

Arriving into St. Louis, the clouds were breaking up and I could see ground well before we went through the cloud layer. Some time after St. Louis, the clouds cleared up and was all clear into Chicago. We totally might have made it.


Somewhere between St. Louis & Chicago

We had a most excellent time in Chicago!



Sunday morning, we woke up early to catch our flight. There were low scattered clouds about 1000 feet off the ground that disappeared well before our scheduled flight. Same as last time, there was no lack of overcast clouds to trap VFR pilots on top. This time though, we arrived in Kansas City, MO to more scattered than broken, meaning there were patches of visibility between clouds, meaning we totally might have made it. Departing Kansas City then into Dallas, clouds began to break up and clump into fluffy compact sky pillows.

Enroute to Kansas City, MO

Over Kansas City
Back at Dallas

The clouds looked ominous but there was no rain and little wind. Totally. Could. Have. Flown. That.

But here’s the thing. It would have been a huge risk as VFR pilots. There would have been long stretches of flying on top with no way to get down without breaking the law and possibly bumping into something. And there was no way to know that at the time we flew into St. Louis and Kansas City that there would have been enough of a break between clouds to get down. It could have been solid overcast, but it happened to break up. Weather forecasting has gotten much better in recent years, but it has a long way to go before pilots can reliably predict the when and where on clouds.

So this blog post is about me whining that I could have flown but chickened out after forecasts for storms seemed so sure. This is not a story about an accident or incident that I regret. Hopefully that flight doesn’t happen for a very long time, if ever at all!

Your Weather Forecast for This Weekend

The weather this weekend will be scattered area thunderstorms across much of the Central Plains area from Oklahoma to northern Missouri. There will also be thunderstorm activity for the same area and extending into North Texas on Sunday.

And this is why we bought airline tickets to attend the wedding in Chicago.

The False Start and The Bad Deal

I was so pumped, so confident, so nervously ready for an oral exam and checkride last weekend.

Yet, I wasn't ready.

As I faced the examiner across the table from me, my heart was pounding, my hands shaking, my breath short, my eyes wide, my emotions on the edge of erupting either with joy or sorrow depending on how the exam went. My confidence going into the exam was full of hope but quickly deflated as I began to stumble over basic questions, some I knew I knew but panicked and froze up. My brain and my confidence went into a graveyard spiral. I wasn't as prepared I could have been. I thought I was close enough, but really, looking back I can see know how woefully I wasn't.

That was my false start.

The examiner offered his time to review material with me and even shared his notes as to what I missed during the exam so I could review. I gathered my things and walked solemnly back to my airplane. I covered up the canopy, locked everything up, then cried in the car.

I had too much going on that weekend: Joshua's birthday party at 5pm followed by a neighborhood pool party and pressure mounting for a long cross country trip to Illinois. That's not my excuse and it is no excuse. I simply wasn't as ready as I could be.

I had a conversation with the manager of US Sport about what I should do next. He advised me to get with one of his instructors. I scheduled with a guy who I thought would be a Finisher type of CFII. He seemed military to me: little emotional connection, very factual, very methodical, even a bit rigid.

Things were going well. I was being challenged and nitpicked on details from the FARs and equipment and aeronautics. I was asked to make a flight plan from scratch (pencil, paper, E6B, maps & weather data), asked to reread the POH, asked to call in a flight plan, not just use my iPad. It was good! I was actually enjoying the Bootcamp treatment because I believed it was going to make me better, stronger and more ready for the next exam. No stone was left unturned.
"Do you have GPS user manual in the airplane?"
"I have a few-page cheat sheet in my pilot bag."
"The user manual is a 50-60 page book."
"Well, no, I..."
"That mistake will cost you $500."

gulp!

Then today happened.

We were to go up into low cloud IMC on a flight to Tyler, TX. I made the flight plan on paper quickly, picked out the alternate airport, looked up pertinent weather, called the briefer, and preflighted the airplane. I was ready to go, fully expecting to be diverted then tested on a variety of flight maneuvers and approaches.

As I started up the airplane going step-by-step with my checklist, the instructor asked what the yellow words on the GPS screen said.

The 530/430 WAAS GPS system showed that the obstacles database had expired in February of this year.

"Can we legally shoot a GPS approach with outdated information?" he asked.
"I did not read anything in the FARs about an obstacle database being required."
"But if the database is expired, is that safe to do a GPS approach?"
I think it is safe enough. Obstacles like towers and buildings don't change very quickly.
We went back and forth on the issue for a moment, then the conversation evolved to my ultimatum:

"I feel confident that GPS course laid out into Addison is clear of obstacles and that clouds are high enough that we could safely get back. What do you want to do? Are we a go or a no-go?"

The instructor said he did not feel safe going on a flight and so the flight was canceled. I taxied back to the hangar space, shut it all down, tied it up, covered the canopy, and collected my things. A perfectly good flying day was canned on the basis of having the GPS obstacles database expired by four months. None of the other instructors had made obstacle mapping a requirement of GPS flight. None of previous FOUR instructors took issue with it. I had current paper plates and maps (VFR and low IFR) to reference.

I called Rusty to discuss the change in plan. He felt as incredulous as I did.

I tried to reschedule. He's booked with another student. Tomorrow- booked. Monday- booked. Tuesday- booked. Wednesday, available after 5pm.

"Can we do ground time, review material to prepare me for the next test?"
"I need to see you fly."

I didn't have enough time to run home to update the database then be back for a flight before his next appointed student would arrive. And he didn't take my offer for ground time to study other topics.

My female brain heard "We're done."

I later did update one Garmin card with a new obstacle database at the cost of $200, and read carefully Garmin's terms of use,

... to use the Database in a Garmin GPS receiver or System and, if applicable, use as a VFR reference tool, but not for primary airborne flight navigation, during the effective period stated on the Database download page.

Not for primary airborne navigation. This explains why plates for GPS approaches show obstacles depicted. The maps and procedures updated every 28 days are certified for primary airborne navigation, but obstacles are not.

I reluctantly paid for my time with him, then left, crying and pissed. Angry that I had just paid, over two days of time, $275 for an instructor who wasn't available to help me with my goal to prepare for a retest, and who wasn't available to see me finished any time soon, angry that the very FBO that got me started wasn't able to finish me with a rating, angry that so much effort and time and money had been spent only to be stuck, and dumped again by yet another instructor. I have had CFII instruction by six instructors, seven if you count that one girl CFII who was a no-show the second time we were scheduled. I understand that flying with various instructors is good to learn various perspectives and techniques. But none of these guys were Finishers. There was no sense of ownership to see me get rated.

I was in the self-checkout lane.

I have decided I am done using that FBO as a student. They are terrific with mechanical issues, super friendly in passing, helpful in many ways, but not adequately staffed to serve pilots seeking higher ratings.

After a couple of hours of reflection and emotional cooling off, I called Torrey Zook. He put me on his schedule to fly on Tuesday for my biennial flight review checkride, and to evaluate my progress since we last met.

I was so hopeful and tried so very hard to get an IFR rating secured before Rusty and I embark on our long cross country to Illinois for a wedding next week. It's highly likely we'll encounter clouds and weather that will mess with our desired route and timing. But it's just the way it will have to go.

My plan of action is to continue test-prepping information, continue my review of material, continue to polish and prepare for the next opportunity to test. I feel confident that by then, I'll be way more on top of my game!

IFR Rating Home Stretch

My Facebook page has been accumulating a little dust while this blog has a thick layer of neglect to wipe off.

Every year, April to June is the busiest time of the year of me and the family. After Easter, there are 3 birthdays to prepare for, Mother's Day, volunteer obligations, and the various outings that celebrate the warm weather. This year, my attention has been laser focused on finishing my instrument rating.


To date, I've flown 48 approaches and just over 40 hours of simulated and actual instrument conditions. On a couple of weekends, I flew 4 times! Plus a lot of landings, tracking VOR radials, holding procedures, following ATC instructions, airplane control and flight planning. While 40 hours doesn't seem like much considering that's normally a work week of time, for me, it's lasted since Nov. 2012. There were pauses of time due to new airplane ownership, weather, maintenance and general scheduling. I've flown with six different instructors, plus a couple of CFIIs in a simulator.

I feel more than ready to get this rating, and a bit of fatigue from being a student of it for so long.

My last flight with Torrey Zook went very well minus a couple "gotchas", which we discussed. This week I'll be reviewing concepts in preparation for the oral exam and reviewing approach procedures for various airports.

If I can pass my rating checkride this Friday, I'll feel more prepared for our family flight to Lubbock next weekend. And don't worry, when I receive my rating, I promise to share it here! :-)

Busy with IFR Practice Flights

I have been flying a lot lately doing IFR practice flights. The only time I can seem to get up is on the weekends so I'm scheduling myself any time I can squeeze in between family obligations and instructor schedules.

Last weekend, I flew four times in three days:
Friday evening
Saturday morning
Saturday afternoon
Sunday afternoon

This weekend, only twice. Friday's scheduled flight was canceled due to area thunderstorms. booo.

One of the instructors I'm flying with, Torrey Zook, brings a video camera that provides audio inside the cockpit during flight. I'm loving this! I can rewatch portions of our flight to review where I got off (or where I was spot on) and actually see what's going on outside the airplane as I'm flying "under the hood". I have plans to slice up the videos into short segments and post to my YouTube channel. But video editing takes time, and I'm short on that these days. Some day (or night) I'll find loads of time to crank out a few videos. Until then, 17.6 GB of footage will have to wait.

Here are a few pictures of recent flights taken by the instructor from today:



Dallas, TX

Over Lovefield in Dallas, TX
(you can see a commercial flight on the taxi way)

Why to Flunk an Inspection

Yesterday I attended a very insightful FAA Safety webinar titled "How to Flunk an Annual Inspection"*.

Since most service centers will repair items to meet inspection standards, you'll likely need to specifically ask them to fail your inspection.

And you're asking, why on Earth would you ever want to fail?

What I Learned:
You can ask the Inspector or service center to put things back together and fail the inspection. When that happens, you'll get a special note in the aircraft logbook that essentially says that the aircraft owner was presented with the list of discrepancies.

With this, the inspection is now officially complete and not due for another 12 months.  yay!

And now you can take this list of discrepancies to:

  • a specialist for particular repair, like for the airframe
  • another mechanic for a lower price
  • another service center for a second opinion
  • your hangar to make repairs yourself (if it's one of those permissible types of repairs like a flat tire)
If your alternative mechanic or specialist is at another airport, you can get a ferry permit from the FAA from the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) then fly there. My understanding is that it's not a big deal to obtain and there's flexibility.

You do have to have the discrepancies addressed. If another mechanic determines a repair is indeed not necessary, such as a manufacturer's recommendation or replacement service bulletin that's isn't required by the FAA, then they can sign off stating that repair/replacement was not performed and the airplane is airworthy. voila!

For the non-owners reading this, regulations state that ...no person may operate an aircraft unless, within the preceding 12 calendar months, it has had an annual inspection ... and has been approved for return to service by a person authorized [to do so]. Whether your airplane needs it or not, you must have your airplane opened up and thoroughly inspected if you plan to fly it. It's much more intrusive than a car inspection which tests exhaust and basic safety like lights and brakes. Annual inspections range in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the type of airplane, the condition it's in, and the service center's baseline fee for an inspection.

For us, we know there's an airworthiness directive that needs to be addressed and a few things that need repair.

Our airplane is being examined this week for its annual inspection. Stay tuned for details!

*Thanks to Mike Busch from Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management for presenting!

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