Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From San Diego to San Francisco

Well, after 17 hours, 9 stops, 7 airports and 3 states later, Matt and I have finally returned safely to San Francisco and hung up our headsets. We left San Diego this morning together with John and Janis. They had hired a piper for Janis to practice her landings and we decided the night before to do some air-to-air work and try to take some photo's of each other in the air. We got some nice ones, but sadly it's hard to see us in the cockpit :-(

After some flying together, John and Janis said their goodbyes and peeled away and Matt and I continued Northwards towards Santa Barbara. We climbed up to 10,500 feet and flew right over LAX. We were mixing it with the big boys and could see some heavies taking off below us and even came face to face with a 737 climbing out. Pretty cool.

We had checked the weather beforehand and there was still the marine layer (clouds near the coast) hanging about, but we expected it to burn off by the time we got to Santa Barbara. When we got closer, we checked the weather broadcast at the station and they were reporting good visibility. But as we got closer, the clouds stayed put and even when we descended they remained thick. So Matt and I double backed and I found an alternate, Santa Paula. A busy little field in a tight valley. A boy was it busy. There was traffic doing both left hand and right hand circuits. Matt made a nice landing, even after the stress of the diversion and we found a place to have lunch. We spoke to some other pilots dining there and they gave us some handy tips. After an hour (and not much food eaten because I had lost my appetite) we fired up the engine and headed off again. Since the plane was heavily loaded and the runway short I did a short field take-off.

As soon as we took off the weather was much better and we climbed to get over the hills and head to the desert where it would be clearer skies. We then descended for another airport for a quick splash and dash as we didn't want to refuel at Santa Paula because of the weight and runway length. We elected to land at Paso Robles, an uncontrolled airfield with two LOOOONNNGG runways. For some reason the traffic was using runway 19 when the winds were blowing 280 degrees. So I chose to use runway 31, into the wind with less of a drift effect. A long taxi later and we refuelled and headed back off.

Last stop was to be Livermore. On the cruise up there we were back up to 125kts due to the
tailwinds and were making excellent time. Traffic was pretty busy again and we had to keep our eyes peeled, but soon we were already setting up for the approach in Livermore. A gentle touchdown and that was us back to San Francisco. We'll take a break from flying tomorrow and have fun on the roller coasters and in downtown San Francisco. But it was a fantastic holiday.

What have I learned? Well, I've learned a lot of things.

Firstly, I have really enjoyed the teamwork Matt and I developed together and the Crew Relationship Management. Both of us enjoyed flying together and if something was misheard, the other was there to help out.

Secondly, good planning is definitely the order of the day. I really loved it when my planning ended up having us over the target/waypoint bang on the minute and the fuel calculations were pretty
damn accurate also.

Thirdly, selecting visual references that are closer together rather than further apart, and the same with the radio nav aids. Some areas we flew were over plane desert with little or no reference points. GPS was great here, but we relied on it a bit too much in these cases.

Fourthly, good radio work will get you everywhere with ATC. The more confident you become, the easier and quicker ATC are at dealing with you. It makes both yours and their lives easier.

And finally....USE the guys in ATC. They were invaluable as an extra pair of eyes when trying to keep clear of traffic, and when we got into trouble at Santa Barbara they were a get out of trouble card that we had up our sleeve. The Flight Following service was fantastic. I use ATC in
Amsterdam, but will not fly without them from now on.

A big thank you yo everyone, Bob, Ron, John, Janis, Kevin and Bud. I can't wait to see you guys again soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sun, sea, babes and turbo's

Well, our $100 burger plans changed a bit. Matt was jaded from flying and Janis' friend wasn't moving from her hotel until 2pm, which would have put paid to any plans of going anywhere for lunch. So instead we had a really pleasant late lunch (English style with a proper bacon and eggs fry-up) and then met Kevin at Montgomery airport to check me out in the 182.

Janis dropped John, Matt and I off at the airport and Kevin walked me through the plane. It was a beauty. A 2005 Cessna 182 with a Garmin 1000 glass cockpit and a turbo engine. John and Janis also lent Matt and I their Bose noise cancelling headsets to try them out. With John and Matt in the back seat, Kevin and I in the front, just like the old days, we ran through the checklists and fired up the engine.

We taxied out to the run-up area, but during the run-up I was no longer able to hear Kevin on my headset. We swapped headsets and it soon became apparent that there was something wrong
with the intercom system my side. A quick faff about with swapping headsets (I eventually connected mine into Matt's side in the back) and we were ready to head off.

We took off so quickly, the plane leapt into the air and we were climbing easily at 100 feet per
minute, something that the C172 struggles to do. We climbed to 3,500 feet and the Garmin system was beeping to let me know we had a thousand feet to go. Kevin had me fly to Alpine and do some air work, so steep turns and stuff to get used to the feel of the plane. It really is a heavier plane to fly than the C172. The first steep turn had Kevin correct me and remind me that I was no longer flying an aerobatic plane, but I soon got the feel for the plane again, but I was having a wee bit of trouble nailing the altitude, climbing, then descending to correct etc. But when I rolled wings level I wasn't too far from the altitude I started at. So not too bad.

After the airwork, we headed off to Brown airport, near the Mexican border. We did some touch and go's, Kevin doing the first landing, and I did the rest. The first landing was a greaser, the second was with a few wee hops, but still soft, and then we headed back to Montgomery via the San Diego VFR corrider (which takes you right over the city and San Diego airport). We then brought the plane down slowly and made an approach to Montgomery field. The last landing I was a little fast, flared a little high after having to sideslip the plane in and then ended up getting a little slow. Kevin was quick on the controls in case I botched the landing but we came down eventually. I was a really embarrased by that though, thinking to myself I should have known better. But the guys were very magnanimous and said they thought I did well. (Thanks guys for your kindness, but I know it sucked).

We tucked the plane away for the day and then Kevin signed me off on my logbook to endorse my logbook to say I can now fly turbo aircraft. Cool....thank you SO MUCH Kevin.

The rest of the afternoon was spent by the beach in Mission Bay. Kevin, Matt, John, Janis, Janis'
friend Annette and I spent the day in the sun drinking beers, talking about planes and everything else and Matt, Kevin and I were enjoying the view on the beach. :-) A wonderful finish to a great day.

Oh, I almost forgot. I am now officially in Karma receivership. We went to the supermarket to get some food for dinner tonight, and John and I spotted one of those electric carts that disabled people use to move around the store. John went to sit in it, but then decided not to. But I sat in it and saw it was working, so I scooted around the supermarket in it. The guys were pissing themselves laughing, and of course everyone in the supermarket was ever so nice and moving out of my way, But I think I'm now going to hell :-)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

$100 burger trip today

John and Janis took Matt and myself out to dine at a really really nice Indian restaurant last night, and my instructor Kevin and his girlfriend also joined us. Over dinner we asked Kevin if he happened to have a Cherokee available for John and Janis to use as the one they would have used is booked solid today. The conversation then turned to all of us going somewhere for a $100 burger somewhere and Kevin said he'd try and get a C182 (bigger brother of a 172) for tomorrow and we'd all fly in the two planes up to somewhere like Big Bear or somewhere else that's nice for a spot of lunch and another chat of all things flying. Better go grab my shower and give Matt a shout (he wanted a lie-in today).

Back to sunny San Diego

We left Palm Springs this morning and flew down to San Diego where we learned how to fly. We had a few problems with the handler in Palm Springs, they never refuelled the plane and we had to wait for the refueller and then they tried charging Matt a $27 handling fee!!! What handling??? There was nobody there to meet us from our plane when we arrived, they never refuelled like we asked them and they basically did bugger all. Anyway, since we uplifted fuel there (quite pricey I might add) they waived the handling fee.

As I was preflighting the plane I saw three F-18's coming in to the ramp near where we had parked. SWEET!!!

I was doing the flying today and took off and was told to fly a heading to the North and then we were cleared to resume own navigation to Gillespie. On the way out though the ATC controller was having a REALLY bad day. He was giving out to the other pilots because either they read back everything incorrectly, didn't know where they were or spoke really bad English or had bad radio's. It reminded me of the grumpy controller back at Gillespie in San Diego.

We didn't need to plot this route at all as it's quite close to Thermal airport which both Matt and I flew into on our long cross country. We were pretty much flying the route by memory and I tuned int he Julian VOR (navigation beacon) and followed it up the Borrego Valley and then the reverse bearing to the top of El Capitan reservoir and then towards Gillespie airport. The air was really really smooth so I flew her by hand the entire way leaving the autopilot off and just trimming for the altitude and checking the headings on the VOR beacon. It was a really nice flight.

Coming in to approach we could hear from the radios that Gillespie was as busy as ever. We were positioned behind traffic and then cleared to land on runway 27R. It's a nice long runway, but my landing was spot on and right on the numbers, and before we knew it were were parked up alongside the cafe for a nostalgic burger and fries. We then met my friends John and Janis (who are kindly putting us up for a couple of nights) and we did some catching up. I also gave my old instructor Kevin a call to let him know where we were at and he dropped by to say hello. We're planning to go out for some beers later tonight.

We parked the plane then in John and Janis' new hanger and then headed off to their hot tub and pool and just relaxed again in the sun. Tomorrow the plan is to do some air to air flying and take some nice shots of each other from the air. Looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Palm Springs

After a quick(ish) dash across the desert, Matt and I made it safely to Palm Springs. We were cleared through Las Vegas' airspace and then made our way safely to Palm Springs International airport....probably the biggest one we'll have visited on this trip. The descent down from the hills and onto the approach was pretty bumpy. My friends Bob and Ron (with whom we're staying with overnight) were telling us that they've had a few experiences with approaches in commercial flights into Palm Springs. Matt set the plane up for probably the best landing of the trip so far by either one of us.

We've spent the day at Bob and Ron's place (an absolutely stunning house at the foothills of the mountains) and Matt and I recharged our batteries and relaxed by horsing around in their pool. I've been spoiled by Ron and Bob's spectacular cooking (for which they're highly renowned) and of course their cocktails. I'm dreading the bill in the morning (only kidding) for the 5 star treatment they gave us during our stay. It's been nice to be able to just chill during our holiday. I think San Diego will be similar when we meet John and Janis there.

I've captaining the flight to Gillespie so it should be fun. I can't wait. Back to our old stomping ground. I'm looking forward to hearing the grumpy traffic controller on the radio too...hee hee.

Bob & Ron, I cannot thank you both enough for your hospitality. I hope I can extend the same to you when you're in Amsterdam next. Once again, thank you both SO much.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Grand Canyon

Today was my turn in the left hand seat and for Matt to navigate and do the radios. We got up early and I checked the winds and updated the navigation plot for a trip out to the Canyon. The ground handler in Vegas had already topped off the tanks so I preflighted the plane and we set off for the Canyon.

We used flight following again and ATC vectored us out over Nellis Airforce Base (I got a nice view of the jets parked at the base) and out over Lake Mead. We then did a dog leg around the
restricted airspace over the Grand Canyon area, but we got quite close for some nice pics from the air.

The route is over endless desert with little or no civilization to see....just scrub, hills, canyons and that's it. As we neared the Canyon the heat had already started to heat the desert floor and I was getting some thermals that had us bounce around the air.

Eventually we arrived over Grand Canyon airport and I got a wind check the runway in use was showing a tailwind so I asked to opt for the other. But then when I tried to land it I had a tailwind float me down and I couldn't stick her on the runway, so I did a go-around and came in on the other runway. By the time I had turned around and approached for the second go the winds had died down. A nice landing and taxy back to the parking area had us ready to go see the sights.

We took a taxi to the Canyon's visitor centre and made our way over to the ridges to take lots of photo's. We also went to grab something to eat and I had a very tasty burger and lots and lots to drink as it was pretty hot outside.

After a few ours of enjoying the sights, we got a taxi back to the plane. Matt went to pay for the fuel and I did the pre-flight again. The heat was pretty intense and so the plane used up a good chunk of runway. But soon we were back in the air and heading back the way we came. Once again the turbulence was quite strong as the thermals were now in full effect. A few times I got around 1500 feet climb rate on the VSI (vertical speed indicator) and a few times I was in full power and still descending!!!

Las Vegas Approach cleared us into their airspace and gave us a pretty cool ride into the city. We were asked to fly directly to the Stratosphere hotel (the one we're staying at here) and we had 4 helicopters to the city flights 500ft below us on our right. Pretty cool!! We were then vectored for the approach and I took us in for a landing. This time there was a strong crosswind and I had to use a lot of rudder to land us. I landed slightly left of the centre-line but it was a gentle landing. All in all a great day out in our little plane. Matt and I are off now to take pics of Vegas at night and Matt's got some money burning a hole in his pocket at the roulette table :-)

Palm Springs tomorrow...think I'm navigating and Matt's flying, but we've been there before already, so should be an easy flight.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Viva Las Vegas!!

Well we finally made it. After a mammoth almost 5 hour cross country flight from Livermore, Matt and I safely navigated ourselves across the mountains and deserts of California/Nevada to land safely here in Sin City.....Las Vegas.

We took off from Livermore at around 9:30 this morning. I elected to do the navigation today and let Matt fly. While Matt checked the fuel and pre-flighted the plane, I w
as busy checking the winds and weather and on hold with ATC on the phone for a half an hour trying to file our damned flight plan. But eventually we were all set to go.

We flew out of Livermore and I immediately called the folks in ATC to activate our flight plan and ask for "Flight Following". This is a Radar Advisory service that you can get from start to finish along your route and you just get handed over from one controller to another as your flight progresses. We wanted to do this in case we got into trouble at all along our route. And it was nice to have an extra pair of eyes watching out for traffic conflictions and advising us (we got close to a couple of other aircraft during our flight) and steering us out of trouble.

In order to break the monotony and also spare our legs, we decided to have a stopover at a small airport int he arsehole of no-where in Lancaster, California. The airport is called General Fox and is in the middle of "Hickville". But it had a nice greasy spoon where Matt and I could top up both the planes tanks and our own with some food :-) Yummy.

A breakfast and coffee later we were ready to head off again on the second leg to Las Vegas. On our way down to General Fox, I was glad that we had the GPS and autopilot as it took the strain off of trying to maintain a heading and gave us peace of mind with the navigating. But when we were climbing out over the desert the far side of the mountains, the autopilot
was having trouble maintain a heading and Matt was having trouble keeping altitude because the air would thermal us up at a thousand feet per minute and toss us about a bit.

But eventually, after about 4 hours or so and 15 controller handovers later we came into range of Las Vegas. We were cleared for our descent and routed West over the city to our destination airport and when we were about to turn final the wind changed and the controllers asked if we wanted to change the runway. I looked at Matt and he said yes, so I confirmed and we changed at the last minute. We were a little high, but Matt side slipped the hell out of the plane and landed beautifully. The two boyo's had arrived in Vegas.

We then rented a car and drove out to the hotel. We're staying in the Stratosphere (see the pic) and after a quick shower we went and hit the strip. A few first impressions....I am amazed at how many fat people there are here. And also how damn hot it is here. And the casino's have brought tacky to a whole new level....I've never seen such tat and tackiness in one place....but I guess that's Vegas for you.

Matt and I went on some of the roller coaster and thrill rides (we both weren't very impressed after having performed loops and aerobatics in Livermore) and then grabbed dinner and had a quick look about the strip.

Tomorrow will see us fly to Grand Canyon (I'm flying, Matt's navigating) and then back to Las Vegas to see some of the strip all lit up. Off to bed now as I have an early start tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sight seeing the San Francisco Bay

Today was the first day that we had our 172 to ourselves, so just to get a feel for her and get ourselves used to ATC again in the US, Matt and I took her for a spin around the Bay Area.

We had started up "Sierra Papa" and taxied out to the run-up area was and Matt commented about trying not to twang the Pitts that was already there. And then I remembered we had no renters insurance. D'oh!! We called ATC and asked to taxy back to Attitudes hangers and we shut down the plane and went to organise the insurance.

20 minutes later and $350 lighter in my pocket, we were ready to go again We fired up "SP" and taxied back out and got ready to fly in the sky's of San Francisco by ourselves.

Matt was do the flying and I was doing the navigating and radios. I made a couple of cock-ups, but nothing major or dangerous, just a silly mistake here and there. But we got to talk with San Francisco Approach (called NORCAL Approach) and they kept an eye on us on radar until we were out of their region.

The flight we took was North from Livermore towards Walnut Creek and then West direct to Angel Island. From Angel Island we overflew and circled the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz and got some nice views of the city.

Then we headed South towards Half Moon Bay where there is a little uncontrolled airfield. We checked the winds and determined the runway we should use, gave out a call to any traffic about who we were and what our intentions were.

Matt made a nice approach and landing. We did a touch and go and then climbed out and flew back North.

We then tuned in the folks in NORCAL again and kept a listening watch before heading back to Livermore. Even though the weather was hot on the ground and like a sauna when not flying, the air vents in the plane when flying were good enough to keep us cool. But we've realised that a full on 4 hour flight non-stop would be hard on the legs so we've plotted our route to Vegas tomorrow with a stop-over for some food and a stretch of the legs.

So tomorrow is the big day....our ULTRA LONG cross country to Las Vegas. I can't wait

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Flying upside down and straight and level

Todays flying was a mixed bag. I started the morning with a new instructor who was to take me up in the Citabria and perfect some of my aerobatics manoeuvres and then take me back to try my landings in the taildragger.

Yuichi is the name of my instructor and he is a competetion aerobatics pilot. He currently owns his own Pitts (see pic below) and also takes up pilots in the tandem Pitts to get them checked out in the Pitts. He has a very mellow air about him and he told me that to him, aerobatics is just like a cross country flight to him, in other words easy. So I felt right at ease in the cockpit.

We took off headed to the practice area and tried my hand at some barrel rolls, aileron rolls, knife edge climbs, loops and a few spins. I had lots of fun and tried filming a loop which I'll upload to You Tube later.

We then flew home and I did a really nice landing, albeit pulling back on the elevator a bit too soon in the flare. But it was pretty smooth.

The afternoon brought back the steady flying of the Cessna. Matt and I had our Biennial Flight Reviews (BFR) in the Cessna and our instructor also took the time to explain the GPS functions etc in the plane as we'll be taking this particular plane on our trip to Vegas and Grand Canyon.

I was asked to demonstrate slow flight, steep turns, a practiced forced landing (PFL) and various types of landing and take-offs (soft field, short field etc). All in all it went well, although my PFL ended up with me side slipping the plane a lot just to get it down into the runway as I began my descent too close to the field. But I would have landed it on the runway and that's the main thing.

Matt then went up in the Pitts with Yuichi to let him loose and see if he could make Matt get sick. Happily he came back safe and sound and not the green colour I was expecting. In fact, he was shouting "More, more" when they were flying. Seems he enjoyed it.

We're planning to do a Bay Tour next and then head off firect to Vegas tomorrow. Will keep you all posted.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Tasting the grape

Well, all the flights today were cancelled because the wind was so strong. It was blowing directly across the runway and beyond the crosswind limits of the airplanes in the fleet, so Matt and I were grounded. So in true European style, we decided to go drinking. We drove up to Napa to try some of the wines there and try out a few wineries.

I was the lucky one due to the fact that Matt was driving, which meant I could do the drinking :-) We got a coupon from the Information Office and that listed about 8 wineries that would let us sample lots of wine for free.

Driving around the area we enjoyed the scenery and the gorgeous homes and architecture of the area. Thankfully, even though it's busy with wine tasters and tourists, it hasn't been destroyed or over-run with too many buildings or people.

We then headed back and Matt had a great idea of playing mini-golf. So a short change of clothes and a short drive to the mini-golf course we were ready to do battle. I started off quite well but then lost form and ended up losing something silly like 12 strokes behind. Hmmmmm I just hope I fly better than I putt :-) There are two seperate golf courses, so we will do battle again tomorrow evening :-)

Our BFR checkrides are scheduled for tomorrow. I've brushed up on my studying and feel OK about the oral part. Will see how well my flying holds up with an instructor though.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

It's blowing a gale out there....

....Well, not quite, but Matt and I have had another lesson scrubbed because of the wind. I just hope that the wind will calm down enough, or at least blow straight down the runway instead of across it, so that we can get checked out on the Cessna and continue the second part of our adventure.

We're going to head to the school anyway to look at the large regional map they have. I spoke to an old pilot over breakfast and he told me to be careful of Reno because it's a high altitude airport, is prone to icing this time of year and we could find ourselves in trouble. Based on that info, Matt and I are going to find out if it's possible to route direct to Las Vegas via a more Southerly route. We'll wait and see.

This is reminding me of the last few days in San Diego last year were I was sitting around waiting for the weather to improve. Hope it does and that it improves quickly.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Advanced stalls and preparing for the spin

Today's flying was more about preparing me for landing the sucker (when the winds are not so strong) and more advanced stalls.

Again we donned our parachutes as we were preparing for entering spins and stuff. I took off, flew us over to the training area and then watched Ed show me the Slipping and Skidding stalls. They were fun, and only small rudder inputs would get you into trouble eventually and then we almost entered a spin. Good fun and the stomach was behaving itself too.

The we did some advanced stalls (high angle turns putting a high load on the wing resulting in the wing stalling and having to recover the airplane. We then flew to Byron airport to try and do some touch and go's (went OK but not great) and then flew back home. This time though the winds had picked up and were pushing the crosswind limits on the plane.

I did the approach, having to crab considerably and then Ed took her in for a landing. Just on touch down thought eh wind gusted to 28kts and Ed had a time trying to keep her on the ground and land safely. He told me afterwards that had he known earlier the wind was that strong he'd have gone around.

The plan was to do more aerobatics in the afternoon, but I got a call from the school that Matt and my flights have been scrubbed for the day as the wind has picked up a lot. Oh well...guess it's a day out in Napa Valley drinking wine, or out to La Honda to see the Sequoia trees.

Loop the loop

Started the next sortie with some general ground school about the aerobatics manoeuvres we'd be doing before we set off. This flight would consist of some loops and some aileron rolls. Both of which consist of yours truly flying upside down :-)

Before we would go anywhere though, we had to don our parachutes. I was a little apprehensive because of the fact that the parachute has no reserve in it. I've done over a thousand jumps and am not worried about parachuting....because I know I have a reserve if it all goes wrong. But Ed was going on about how the plane was our reserve.....sorry Ed, don't think you quite get it. The parachute is our reserve if the plane is fucked....what happens if the parachute itself fails. Hmmmmm....anyway, I digress.

We took off (actually I did the take-off, yay) and headed off to the training area. Weather was a little better, clouds were higher than the morning. So were were able to climb and get plenty of height beneath us. We did some slipping stalls first, they were fun and I was able to hold the plane in the stall for ages, although my legs were getting tired cause the rudder is a wee bit heavy.

We then decided we'd do some aero's. Ed showed me the loop first. We would descend and pick up speed to 140, then level, then pull hard hard hard and stop, relax the elevators and float over the top of the loop, then pull a wee bit harder again and level when we completed. So it was my turn.

I was a bit apprehesive with the descent at first. Partly because the illusion with sitting so high is that the nose is diving quite considerably, but it's not really. Then I levelled and pulled hard hard hard and relaxed, floated and then pulled hard again and levelled out at the bottom. Good fun. I did anopther one and I realised that I relaxed a bit too much on the float over the top and then pulled a wee bit too hard on the roll back. But it was still good fun.

The next move was the aileron roll. This consists of a descent to 130, pull level, pull nose up 30 degrees and apply full aileron (no rudder input) so that you roll 360 degrees and end back where you started. A few of those had my stomach wondering why it was left behind a few hundred metres back. So I called it a day and we flew home. But a good intro into aero's and Ed seemed at ease with what I produced saying it's just a case of more practice. Sweet!!!

Intro to the world of taildragging

So yesterday was my introduction to flying a plane which drags its arse on the ground.....hence the name "Taildragger". They're much more difficult to handle on the ground that a typical Cessna. This is basically because the plane has a tendency to weather-cock into the wind like a big wind-vane, and also the tricycle landing gear configuration is inherently more stable.

My instructor is a guy called Edward Doerr. A very young and VERY dry guy who barely cracked a smile. I asked him when we made our introductions "So is it Ed or Edward" to which I got a sharp reply "Edward will do just fine thanks".....Hmmmmmm. Fair enough.

We did the walk-around and checked out the plane during pre-flight. A few little extras to look at versus the Cessna. And then we climbed in. I'm sitting in the front seat, and it has a very good view. I started the engine and Edward (I'm gonna call him Ed in my blog, screw it) taxied out. He gave me control and let me taxy the rest of the way, which I managed without any problems.

The weather was pretty crappy the first day of flying (on Friday) so we were buzzing through holes in the clouds and eventually climbed above them. When we reached the training area I was then shown some stalls....the usual power on and power off stalls and then shown how differently this plane handles versus the Cessna. We did some Dutch rolls, steep turns and a few other moves and then headed back to Livermore. Ed did the landing (it's apparently difficult in a taildragger) and I taxied us back to Attitude's hanger.

A good first intro into the plane. Next flight will be the start of the light aerobatics.

The toy box

Here at Attitude they have some of the best maintained aircraft I have ever seen, and also some of the most powerful ones all in the same hanger.

When Matt and I learned to fly in San Diego at Anglo American Aviation, we were flying in very beat up, worn out and knackered flying beer cans. They were forever going tech and needing to be coaxed back into the air by the mechanics. I got used to it and eventually would always choose the more reliable out of the three Cessna 172's to do my training in.

But then I came home to Holland and found Polder. Their fleet was well maintained, clean, reliable and safe. But it was the simple mish mash of Cessna's and Pipers.

Enter Attitude Aviation, toy box supremo's. They have a number of Citabria's (aerobatic tail
draggers on which I'm training) and Cessna 152 Aerobat, a Super Decathlon (another tail-dragger aerobatic) and Grob 115 (tricycle aerobatic which Matt's flying) a PITTS Special (which is going to burn a hole in Matt's wallet) and BEAUTIFUL Waco open cockpit bi-plane and the piece de la resistence.......an L-39 Albatross Jet Trainer called the Firecat.

So many toys in the toy-box not enough money to try them all out :-(

Here are some pics for you to enjoy.

This is the Citabria I'm flying and chucking about the sky upside down.

This is the Waco open cockpit bi-plane

And this is the Pitts Special which is beckoning Matt to go fly. He wants to take it up with one of the competitive aerobatics pilots instructing here and go nuts. I fear I will be left pick up the pieces tomorrow when he lands and his stomach is still somewhere over the skies of Livermore.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Licence to thrill....

Well the FAA in the U.S. have found it in their wisdom to validate my European licence. It was a fairly painless exercise, just a form to fill and show him our licences and we were then issued a "Temporary Airman's Certificate". The actual licnece will be sent to us in the post in a few days.

That now means I can beat up the sky flying upside down with my hair on fire :-) Only problem now is that the weather is pretty crap here. I left Amsterdam where there wasn't a single cloud in the sky and it was about 22-25 degrees. Here in Livermore it's overcast, raining and only about 14 degrees. It's supposed to improve by tomorrow though.

So we have a pretty busy couple of days ahead of ourselves. Am supposed to get two hours flying today (don't see that happening) then 3 tomorrow, 3 the day after that and 3 the day after that. It's almost like the bad old days in Anglo American when I was getting my licence.

To tell you the truth, I'm not that worried about the aerobatics course, I'm more frightened on the flight review with the instructors. I haven't done a lot of slow flight or emergency practices and so I know I'm going to cock them all up and I'm worried they won't sign me off. I'm going to go and brush up on my techniques again and read up on the manoeuvres.

Yesterday was spent showing Matt around San Francisco. We tried to take a trip to Alcatraz, but it seems we missed the last boat over there. We'll try later on when we get back from our trip I think. But we then went up to Lombard ("the crookedest street in the world") and took some pics, then he had fun driving down it. We also went to look at the sealions at Fisherman's Wharf and then the obligatory drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped to take some photo's and then drove back into town and had dinner at Izzy's and met up with my friend Bud for some beers and catch up on his news.

We got back pretty late, my eyes were tired and I fell asleep a few times in the car. Thankfully Matt was driving home.

So today will be a waiting game. See what the weather brings and keep my fingers crossed that it clears during the day.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The start of something great

Well, when I heard at the check-in desk that the flight was delayed by an hour, I thought to myself "Oh, here we go". But it seems that this was not the start to something horrible, because once we boarded the plane everything has gone from good to great to fantastic.

To start with, Matt and I were living life large in Business Class. We had two of the best seats in the house on the top deck of our 747 flying Big Blue (KLM) across the Atlantic to San Francisco. Matt had also bought a book on aerobatics and was reading it on the plane and leaving it placed strategically on his lap or chair (secretly hoping one of the pilots would see it). Turns out that on the plane, sitting in the row opposite to us was none other than Sir John Hall, owner of Newcastle United football club. He spotted the book and started asking us about our flying and of course telling us all about his Learjet he used to fly etc. He asked Matt what team he supported and Matt replied "I guess you support Newcastle?", to which Sir John replied "I OWN the Newcastle football club!". Hahahaha. The conversation quickly turned to Newcastle's performance in t
he league and the price of players today etc. Was quick nice hob-nobbling with the likes of Sir John, even though he did take a privilege is taking the piss out of the only Paddy in biz class....i.e. me!!

Matt and I enjoyed the excellent wine (they had a lovely South African red) and the port etc and tried to get some sleep on the plane. But it didn't really work.

We arrived in San Francisco an hour late but in line with the late departure and we headed off to passport control. Amazingly, that also went without a hitch and we were at the baggage carousel really quickly. Then the bags came out in the first batch. That has to be some kind of record....fastest transit through U.S. immigration. Funnily enough, they didn't have the mini interrogation in Amsterdam the way they used to have.

Matt and I went to pick up the car and had fun with the lady who kept trying to sell us an upgrade and then after we refused that she tried selling us every insurance under the sun. If only she knew what we were embarking she would have realised that we'd never get car insurance if we're willing to risk all to learn how to fly upside-down ;-) But full marks to her for her perseverance.

On the way to the airport we stopped of at Attitude Aviation to find out if we should drop by the next day. We were treated to a wonderful tour of the hanger and their operations. Some of the toys they have in the hanger are GORGEOUS....an L39 Jet (Soviet Fighter Jet Trainer) some old WWII war birds, a couple of Pitt Special aerobatic planes and the nicest Cessna's I've seen in a long time. And they're SO professional....a far cry from those clowns in Anglo in San Diego. The receptionist/office mgr, Natasha was sop friendly, not like Jessica in Anglo, who basically saw everything as a pain in her ass to do.

The night ended with some free food and beer at the hotel we're staying at. So all in all it's been a VERY good start. We'll see if Uncle Sam screws that up for us tomorrow when we go to get our U.S. licence. Keep your fingers and toes crossed.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The holiday begins....

Well the holiday has begun and Matt and I kicked it off in style. When I picked Matt up at the airport in the evening we rushed back to drop off his bags and ran back out the door to go to Lelystad for a quick bimble around Amsterdam.

It's Matt's first time flying in Holland and since the weather was truly gorgeous, literraly not a single cloud in the sky, I thought it would be nice to show him Amsterdam from the air. I had run Wouter in Polder Aviation earlier that afternoon and booked a C1
50. Our steed for this mission was PH-GRA. Apparantly the guys were going home early that evening, so Wouter said he'd fuel up the plane and leave the keys in the cockpit for me. Pretty sweet.

So we arrived in Lelystad, pre-flighted GRA and fired her up. I have to admit, it was a tight squeeze in there and we both said we were glad we're doing the long haul journey in the U.S. in a C172.

Lelystad was pretty quiet that evening, and shortly after taking off I called up Amsterdam Info, gave them our position and let them know we were on route to the Amsterdam Sector. They passed along our info to Schiphol and then passed us to Schiphol Tower. I simply LOVE calling those guys up because I chatting away amongst the KLM and BA pilots and I feel like a REAL pilot then :-)

Anyway, Schiphol gave us a squawk code and told us not above 1000 feet....SWEET. We descended to around 800ft and came in above Centraal Station and did some orbits of the city. Matt was a real shutterbug, snapping away with the camera. Then we finished up and left the sector letting Schiphol konw when we were clear. I gave Matt the controls for the flight back and he brought us home to Lelystad. I then asked Lelystad Radio for a straight in, to which we were told "Keep a sharp lookout". We then set her up for the landing and I told the controls back. Few notches of flap and a gentle descent and shortly followed by one of the best landings I have EVER had. I joked and told Matt not to expect them all to be like that when we're in the U.S.

We secured GRA, completed the paperwork and then headed off for a nice beer in the Martinair restaurant.

What a nice way to start to our holiday.