You can’t just fly around the airspace!

A fellow pilot had a recent experience that he shared with me and I asked if he would write it up so others can learn from it. So here it is in his words about a Bay Tour in the SF area of California.

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Bay Tour route

My father-in-law, an instrument rated pilot, was visiting from the East Coast. I had just received my pilot’s license a few months earlier, and was eager to show him my new skills. With that in mind, on a perfect VMC day, we took off from Palo Alto Airport (KPAO) intending to do a Bay Tour.

A Bay Tour is a common thing around here, and it’s what it sounds like. You fly around the San Francisco Bay, taking in the scenery. The only obstacle is the huge Class B from KSFO. The typical Bay Tour includes a Class B transition, but it need not, and this is what we planned to do. Starting around Half Moon Bay (KHAF), we planned to skirt under and around the Class B, getting VFR flight following from Norcal Approach for extra safety.

As I went Northbound towards KHAF, I called into Norcal saying, “Norcal Approach, N123 10 miles South of Half Moon Bay three thousand four hundred for Bay Tour Northbound”. They were very busy but, eventually, they replied: “N123 radar contact 3 miles southeast of the Half Moon Bay airport cleared to enter the Class B maintain three thousand five hundred and South and West of the Bayshore Freeway”. If you are looking at my route on the chart, we were at point 1.

Whelp. I had never entered the Class B before, and like I said, I wasn’t intending to. But I figured, what harm could it do? Plus, the controller seemed very “generous” by offering, and it would have felt “rude” to say no. I read back and started climbing to my assigned altitude.

Half a minute later, the controller said, “N123 contact Norcal 135.1 have a good one”. I called in to the new controller, and they gave me an altimeter setting. We were probably around point 2 on the chart by that time.

Now let’s talk about the Bayshore Freeway. It snakes through the San Francisco Peninsula and is the main arterial connecting Silicon Valley to the hipsters in San Francisco. I was not sure where exactly it ended — I now know that it is considered to end somewhere in the middle of the city, as you can see in the chart. In its official designation, as US Highway 101, it continues through the City and over the Golden Gate bridge, and up North into California’s wine country. But by rights, my clearance probably ended at the dotted red line in the chart, before the Golden Gate bridge. Clearly, my controller was expecting me to do something as I went North. I figured he would tell me when the time came.

That time came and went. I was somewhere over the ocean between Point Bonita and the Golden Gate bridge, at point 4 on the map, and had heard no more from the friendly controllers. What’s to do? Well, I figured I had told them already I was doing a Bay Tour, and that this meant — well — that I would tour the Bay. Plus the frequency was really busy with “serious” commercial traffic, and so why would they want to hear from me? I turned right and flew over the Bay.

Around Oakland, at point 5 on the map, the radio crackled to life: “N123 you heading to Oakland now?” And with a very mild tone of admonition, “You can’t just fly around in the airspace, so, turn left heading 360”.

OOPS!

In what followed, the controller directed me out of the Class B, advised me of traffic, and handed me off to Oakland Tower to continue my trip. I was very contrite, and he was very nice. But the point was made. I had busted my clearance on my first Class B, crossing important departure procedures for San Francisco Airport (e.g. QUIET SEVEN) that I had just a few weeks ago flown as a passenger on a commercial flight! Had I been the TCAS warning for an outbound aircraft, nobody would be happy at all. And of course, though the possibility is relatively small, had this led to an accident, it would have been very, very bad.

In my later discussion with other pilots, I learned that pilots going North over the coastline often ask for a “Bay Tour” while passing over KHAF because local mythology is that they are more likely to get a Class B transition that way. Perhaps that’s why the controller didn’t bother with me and waited for me to ask. Or maybe he forgot. I found out that, on a real Bay Tour, people get clearance to descend for sight-seeing around Lake Merced, point 3 on the map, and that the sight-seeing portion of the flight is separate from the Class B transition.

Clearly there were many mistakes here, and from this I learned some important lessons:

  1. To fly in Class B, pick a “procedure” and follow it. Everyone else in there is following procedures that ensure separation and allow different controllers to work different parts of the system. So should you. Clearly, there were locally known (if unwritten) “procedures” for a Bay Tour, and had I studied them and chosen one, I would have known when I did not have enough information to proceed, and reminded the controllers.
  1. If you are not prepared to do this, stay out of Class B. I wasn’t prepared, and didn’t know I needed to be. Now, reading this, you know.
  1. If you are accustomed to VFR flight, then know that flying in Class B is different. Your clearance is paramount. How do you know what it is? It begins when your controller says “cleared” and ends when they let go of the mic button. Anything else — any wishes, hopes, fantasies, empty chit-chat on frequency — is not part of your clearance and does not count. In my case, it did not count that I had asked for a Bay Tour; that was not my clearance.
  1. Reject any clearance you are not prepared for. You are the PIC, and it’s not “rude”.
  1. When in doubt, ASK. Even if the frequency is busy with “important” traffic, you too are in the airspace, and a collision with you is just as “important” as anything else. So speak up!
  1. If you don’t know what to do, STOP. Had I orbited near the Golden Gate bridge near point 4, waited for a quiet moment, and called in to ask, the problem could have been averted.
  1. It’s possible I had the Bravery to enter the Bravo because my father-in-law, with his experience, was with me. But he was happy to have someone else “drive” for a change, and sight-seeing and enjoying himself. And anyway, he was not familiar with local customs and airspace. His experienced pilot mojo was not going to transfer to me by osmosis just because he was sitting in the plane. So, unless you have previously agreed that someone’s ROLE is a CFI, or a safety pilot, or a more experienced “guide”, their QUALIFICATIONS are completely immaterial. I was on my own on this flight.
  1. Finally, COOPERATE. The controllers – at least the ones in Northern California — are here to help, and are truly not out to catch pilots with FAA violations. If you realize you made a mistake, admit it and fix the problem right away. It’s safer, and you’ll learn.

I certainly hope I did!

A new Pilot!

This hardly needs an introduction so I’ll keep it brief. I received an email from Varun on March 9th, 2012 with this as the introduction.

“My name is Varun and I am interested in earning a Private Pilot Certificate. I have no prior flying experience (except for a 30 min discovery flight a month ago) and I am really excited and looking for help to get started as soon as possible. I have a full time job and I am looking for availability mostly on weekends and probably one or two evenings in the week.”

These are the challenges many pilots living in Silicon Valley face, but with solid determination and a steady flying schedule the results are huge.

I was intrigued first as to how he got my email address, and if this was a legitimate request. I’ve had a few odd ones come in via email. Much to my delight it was legit and the rest is now history and a successful new pilot is out there living his dream. Its been a pleasure to teach and fly with you!

Varun’s journey to becoming a Private Pilot!

2nd Jan 2014, KPAO, Cessna 747ZP

 I believe that most of us pilots have always wanted to fly. And often, with all the daily routine and focus on immediate needs, we somehow tend to forget our wants. It all started during a visit to my hometown in Dec 2012. It is a small place with no flight service by any airline carriers. And there, someone mentioned that an ex-airline pilot has recently started shuttling passengers in an 8 seat Cessna between my hometown and another major city. The word, “Cessna” stuck in my mind.

So, I Googled “Cessna” and the Cessna website appeared first in the search list. I learned a little about their airplanes on their site and then went to the link “Learn to fly”. And from there on I went onto “Pilot Center Locator” and put my US residence zip code. Diamond Aviation based out of San Carlos appeared first on the list where I learned about their discovery flight.

After I was back from vacation, I arranged for a discovery flight with Diamond Aviation. And that was it! From there on I had to learn to fly as soon as I can. I did some more research and decided on Advantage Aviation based out of Palo Alto. I reached out to a few CFIs and Ron was the first one to respond. I met Ron and I had no second thoughts.

My first flight lesson was on 24th March 2013 and I soloed on 23rd June 2013 (you can read more about my solo experience here). After a few more lessons, both dual and solo, I went through a phase check at the club with a former DPE for the oral and the assistant chief pilot for the flight school. The phase check helped discover areas where I needed improvement. I worked with Ron on improving them.  More lessons, a lot of study and I passed the knowledge test with a good score. Now the time had come for the checkride!

The checkride was on the 21st of Dec 2013 at 09:00 at the club. The weather was good that day – sunny, very light winds. I arrived early to get the weather briefing, complete the x/c plan (KPAO to 1O2) with the latest winds, and get myself setup. Ron arrived early too. The DPE arrived promptly at 09:00 and we went through the paperwork (IACRA, logbook, etc) right after he arrived. After everything looked good, we decided to begin with the oral.

A good thing happened and the DPE asked if my instructor would like to join us for the oral. It was comforting just knowing that Ron is sitting with me in the same room. The oral started off well. There were a couple of questions towards the end that tripped me off – one on the aircraft performance and the other on the validity of charts. In the back of my mind I wasn’t sure if I will make it through the oral. But in the end the DPE said that I did well and that I should go preflight the airplane for the flight. It was a relief to get through!

After preflighting the N48849, the DPE met me at the airplane. He mentioned that he doesn’t need a passenger briefing. And as I would have done many times before, I followed the checklist, started the engine, taxied to the runup area and completed the runup. After clearance from ATC for a “right Dunbarton departure”, I started with a soft-field takeoff as requested by the examiner. It went well. My first checkpoint was VPSUN. At KGO, the DPE asked me a time estimate to VPSUN. I gave him an approximate time and he seemed good with it. Then he asked me to find the time, distance and fuel to Salinas from our current location. I complied. We were at 2000’ and had just crossed the Dunbarton Bridge when the DPE noticed engine roughness in the airplane. We immediately made a call to head back to KPAO and he suggested not changing the engine configuration (carb heat, throttle, etc) in any way until we were within safe gliding distance of the airport. We were cleared for a short approach. It is supposed to be simulated but I did an actual power-off emergency landing on a checkride!!! After we touched down safely, on our taxi back to parking the DPE mentioned, “you are going to remember this checkride forever”. I surely will.

Being a Saturday, there was no mechanic available to confirm the problem (later it was found out to be a bad cylinder). And the other C152 (747ZP), had more fuel than the both of us could carry. A notice of discontinuance was disappointing but it was the right call. I ended up doing some solo pattern practice that day in 747ZP. And after a couple of reschedules later, I was finally able to book a slot on the 2nd of Jan 2014 at 10:00 for continuing with the rest of the checkride.

I arrived almost an hour early at the club. I called FSS for a briefing, preflighted the airplane (747ZP this time) and rehearsed all the maneuvers in my head before the DPE arrived. He arrived at 10:00. We went straight to the airplane. And this time, for some reason, I wasn’t nervous at all. It was a short field take-off and a “left Dunbarton departure”. We leveled off right after crossing the Stanford Stadium, did slow flight, power on/off stalls and a steep turn. Then we diverted to San Carlos airport. It was the first time for me at KSQL and I didn’t know the TPA. I was reaching for the A/FD when he said it is 800′ and said that the passenger happens to know it :-). The first landing was a soft field landing. I had never done a better soft field landing before! Then we did turns around a point near the cement plant and entered the pattern for a normal landing. Right after we crossed the runway threshold, he asked me to go around. We climbed back and did a straight out departure. This is when I put on my foggles and did some under the hood flying. I also did an unusual flight attitude recovery and then we headed straight back to KPAO. Things were moving along quite well.

He asked me to do a short field landing at the threshold. The touchdown went well and was within 200′ of the threshold. However, it was not the best approach for a short field landing as I was a little below the glide path. It was the last maneuver and I started wondering if I busted the checkride. The DPE had seemed to be an easy going person and had made me quite comfortable by making cool conversations right from the beginning. But now, to add to the uneasiness, he had not said a word after we had touched down. We continued to taxi to the parking.

At the parking, I looked at the checklist and followed it to shutdown the engine. That is when he said, “Congratulations, you are a private pilot now. You did very well and I will see you inside for the paperwork”. I did not know how to react and I only responded with a “Thank You” as a reflex. It was while I was walking back to the club when it finally sunk in me and I realized what I had achieved that day – I was a PRIVATE PILOT !!!

Once inside the club, it only took 10 minutes for the paperwork. The DPE congratulated one more time and asked me to go celebrate my achievement. I wished my CFI and/or my wife were there at that moment; I was feeling so exultant. The front desk guy was very kind and took a photograph of me with the temporary certificate and the airplane. Later I shared it with almost everyone I knew. It took me 9 months and 9 days from my first lesson to earning my certificate! And it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my wife and the patience and relentless effort put in by my CFI to make a pilot out of me.

 

Varun Checkride - PPL

Check ride prep

The time has come for a student to do a phase check before he goes to the DPE for a private check ride. This is my first student to get this far and I was as anxious as the student. I know he was prepared as he has been very diligent in studying and has a great memory, but there’s always that anxiety of not knowing what is in store.

It was a check on me as well as to what I have taught along with what did I miss so I can improve for the other students I’m training and 1 other is getting close to needing a phase check as well.

As pilots we like the flying part of the test, but we usually don’t do as well with the paperwork side of things.

Showing how all the AD’s have been complied with by finding the records in the airframe logbooks takes time but is a necessary part of the exam.

Some of the tips I learned is to make a simple description of all the systems to make it easy to explain. By doing the work of putting it into a concise description then it also serves as a memory aid and you may not to read it, but its available.

Keep you answers as short as possible while answering what was asked. Don’t expound on something unless its really relevant as too often we start to dig our own hole that makes it hard to climb out of.

All in all it was a good 2 hours spent listening in on the phase check and to be honest he would have failed the oral exam if it was for real, but on the positive side it was on one small topic that we are correcting. This was handled by a former DPE and now a full time CFI, so this was about as realistic as it gets.

I learned as well so I can better prepare the following students. I don’t want to be stuck in a rut and teach things that aren’t accurate. So I’m patching up the holes in the things I didn’t cover as well as I should have to better prepare the next batch of pilots.

Hopefully I’ll have news of a check ride soon, so stay tuned.

If you have any other good tips for check ride prep you found useful please add comments or email them to me at ron@rightseatflying.com

Am I safe to fly?

Every once in a while as we run the IMSAFE checklist we may get stuck on the initial “I” for illness. We may think I’ll be okay, its just a runny nose. Maybe its just a quick sightseeing flight so its easy to cancel. But what if there’s more on the line like a weekend away with your significant other? Do we allow the pressure of a nice weekend and non refundable hotel reservations sway our decision?

I bring this up as I just encountered this situation myself. I had a hotel room paid for in Reno for the Best in the West Rib Cook-off. Plane was reserved and while there was some lingering smoke from the Yosemite fire we were looking forward to going.

Reno-ribs

So it was with great frustration when I started getting the sniffles Sat and awoke to a sore throat Sunday morning. We had planned to leave that afternoon around 5pm. But I knew deep down that I just wasn’t safe. Despite possibly losing the money for the prepaid hotel I knew I had to cancel. I was still running the scenarios of “what-ifs” so we could go but I knew that wasn’t safe or feasible. With a stuffy head and fatigue caused from the fever I would be in a world of hurt just handling the normal tasks of flying. What if conditions changed and visibility decreased from the smoke and the storm that was forecast to move thru? Nope, I wouldn’t have been 100% capable to handle that and I would be putting myself, my wife and those on the ground at risk. It’s not worth it.

How’s your decision making process? Are you mentally ready to handle the disappointment a canceled trip can reign down on you from friends and family? Its something we need to be ready for as the its our role as PIC to keep everyone safe.

Where are we going?

After doing some maneuvers to get a student familiar with a C172, we decided to go to a nearby airport for landing practice. We have been to this airport many times before but always arriving from a different direction. I was also showing him how to use the Garmin 430 and walked him through the steps to enter the airport as a Direct to. With that done the magenta line was showing about a 5º heading to the left. Hmm, I see the runway dead ahead. I started talking about the winds may be stronger and causing us to crab some and I fiddle with North up vs Track up as we continue to the runway. We were about 10 miles out when we started. Its been about 4 minutes now and tower calls and asks if we are headed to their airport as we are 3 miles north of them. HUH?

Something is off I finally concede and look towards the area the GPS has been pointing all along. Whoops, yes I say we are as I have the student make an immediate left turn and get lined up with the correct runway. These 2 airports are only 5 miles apart and have similarly orientated runways on 10º apart.

The lesson we both learned is to pay attention and look outside as I did see a different runway layout from the airport we should have been heading to, but it didn’t rise to the level of triggering an alert in my brain. Also the magenta line is usually right as long as its correctly programmed which I checked and it was. So don’t let a runway in sight cause you to deviate from where you really want to go.

Ground School that pays you back!

At EAA Airventure Jason Schappert of MzeroA.com announced a program that will award the hardest working member of that month of the online ground school $5,000.00. The students accrue points by watching his training videos and participating in forums and more.

MzeroA Logo

The Ground School Contains
– Over 320 Full HD and Mobile Friendly Videos
– Weekly Webinar Workshops
– Monthly Mock Checkrides
– Customized Written Test Prep
– Exclusive iPad Training
– 100% Checkride Pass Rate
– 100% Written Test Pass Rate
– 97% of Students Who Start Finish Their Certificate
– $5,000 Given Each Month To The Hardest Working Members

For more information go to http://groundschoolcontest.com

To enroll use my link here groundschoolacademy.com/rightseatflying

Oshkosh Day 6-Friday

There was hope that the balloon launch would happen as the sky was clear and the winds were light but they were blowing towards the lake and that doesn’t make for a good landing spot. We awoke early and headed out to see the balloons on static display and got some shots early in the morning as the sun came up.

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Oshkosh Day 5-Friday

Many of the social media folks arranged to do a Ford Tri-Motor flight and fill it with friends rather than going it alone. It’s hard to imagine how large the EAA Airventure event is and how many times we walk all over the grounds.

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