Cross Country lessons

Following our cross country to Sacramento Executive airport last week I had the student put together some things he learned firsthand. Sometimes talking about these things don’t make the impression it should, but living through them does. The tough job as a CFI is in letting things go just enough wrong in order to make a teaching moment out of it to get the point across, but never so far as to make it a hazard to anyone else or us.

These are the thing he learned from our short cross country, I hope they help you too.

1. Prepare better.
I could have taken planning more seriously. Would have helped to avoid picking the wrong runway to land on and I would have been familiar with their taxiways. The result was one irritated off ATC person.

2. Navigating at night is totally different from daytime.
Water and hills become voids. Familiar terrain becomes a sea of lights that I need to interpret. GPS will make you lazy, VOR navigation can help you if the plane is so equipped.

3. George is your friend
Not having to worry about drifting off course while i’m reading a map is great. (But never forget that hand flying is an important skill to maintain.)

4. Make sure to copy everything the nice man in the tower says.
We had him repeat a somewhat complex taxi instructions 3 times, boy was he cheesed off.

5. Sightseeing is great if you are a passenger
Pilot has to fly the plane at all times, this gets busy during certain phases of the flight like copying ATIS, Tower landing clearance, landing, taxi to park. When the wheels stop, you can look around.

6. Think 2 moves ahead
Do not get behind the aircraft. Think of the next thing to be done.

7. Know your place
Where am I, where am I going, How to get there, what do I do next.
(Asking yourself this will prevent getting lost or behind the airplane.)
8. The CFI is not going to save you
Don’t rely on them too much and get lazy. The point is so you can do this yourself.

9. Calm the heck down
You make more mistakes when your pressured. Flying is fun, enjoy it with the mistakes and all.

First Solo

Actually it’s 2 solos as this is my first student to solo as a new CFI! Here is Peter’s story of the day. I’m so proud as he’s come a long way during his training.

The morning of Sat. Oct 6 2012 started for most people the normal way. For me, it was anything but normal. The day before, I flew with a chief pilot aboard. He said I had it in me to solo, but today we would put that statement to the test. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, flying the pattern in my head and watching aviation videos till the wee hours of the morning. I imagined Lindberg had similar anxiety flying the Atlantic, 33 hours without sleep.

 0900- I make a cocktail of Redbull and Mountain Dew, and had a light snack. “Charlie-Alfa-Tango, Hold Short” I said to the cat as I made my way out the door. I looked to the sky and it was blustery, gusts to almost 18, Clear visibility. Would this be the day? Would I orphan my cat. Ultimately the answer was yes to the first question, no to the second. I take my first step out the door. I would return as a pilot.

1400-I brought along a photographer friend Johnny to document the event, waiting for me was a camera crew setting up GoPros in  N48849, a Cessna 152.  I did my preflight, checklist in hand, as I had a number of times before. To me this is an act that ties me to the Wright brothers, Chuck Yeager, Neil and Buzz, and Amelia Earhart. They all had their first flight alone…This one, however, was mine.

1530-It seemed to take longer than I wanted it to but we got thru to taxi and run-up. It’s a good idea to practice a few times around the pattern with Ron my CFI aboard before committing to the solo. The winds at KPAO rattled us around a bit for an hour, and I was getting fatigued and dehydrated so we decided to put her down and decide if it would be go, or no go. We talk aviation stories at the terminal till the ATIS weather is updated.

1650- The weather was not improving much, indeed, the wind picked up another knot. Crosswind component was 4.5 knots, I’ve landed in worse than that. After agonizing for a few minutes it came down to one question. Do you have it in you? Yes I do.

Back in the plane for a few more practice laps.

1800- Taxing back we felt good about my chances. Ron warned me that the plane would climb like it had JATO bottles stuck to it without him in the right seat. Filling out the paperwork it felt like, this is the real deal, it’s official. I get to do this. We turn this into a photo opportunity because the sun is lighting up the sky a pretty shade of orange. We shook hands.

1815- I turn to my instructor and say “Ron you’re good a pilot, a friend and a fine instructor…But get the hell out of my aircraft”. He smiles, shuts the door behind him, the cabin grows eerily quiet. “Well, that’s just great, now what am I supposed to do?” Ron’s voice in my head- Mixture in, Clear Prop, Master on, Key to ignition…Go. “Time to get some” I must have said as the little Cessna started rolling with one guy in it. That guy was me. Run-up and make calls to the tower like I did a hundred times before, then the “Hold short” call.


“I’ve waited all my life for this” I said. “Cleared for takeoff” they said. “What do I stand for, What’s in you?…Throttle up, Gauges green, Airspeed alive, Rotate 50…..YeeHaw!” 849er went up F-16 style. I’m a seven year old kid flying his kite all over again. Today I’m not building a model airplane, I’m flying a real one!  Two times around, it feels like the plane was on rails tracing around the pattern. Training kicks in and you don’t think much about the nitty gritty aspects of flying, you just do it like you did a hundred times before, almost on reflex. A look left revealed the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. This is exactly why I fly. To experience firsthand the beauty, the majesty, the wonder of it all. There will not be another sunset like that one in my lifetime. I wanted the clock to just freeze right then.

It was my defining moment, Pete Nardo-Pilot.

I could have been in the pattern all day, but it was getting dark, and as much as I would have liked to stay, I had to put the plane down…Safely. Planes like this one don’t land themselves, It’s all on me. A little bit of crosswind wanted to blow me to the left, so I did a crab then a slip to maintain centerline. Flare, Flare (I could hear Ron’s voice in my head). The chirp of the tires meant I was on the ground, but no time to celebrate yet. I gotta park this thing. I roll to a stop, tower says “Great landing 849er” I said thanks but was too choked up with emotion to say much more. I take a minute at the taxiway to clean up the aircraft, and say “I did it, I’m a pilot”. Then I put on a Hachimaki (Japanese headband worn for inspiration, mine literally said Kami-Kaze) in honor of my Sensei’s (Teachers). I got clearance to park, which I did, and then the motor was silent.

1845-As I sat there in front of the flight school the sun was emitting the last of it’s rays, I was in a quiet moment of reflection. Everything about my life up to this point prepared me to do this. In my flight bag were three photos. One of my family, one of my Grandparents, and one with a seven year old kid who is flying a kite, and missing his front tooth. That kid, this pilot….Was me.

I must have had a tear in my eye, probably balling too, and I was so happy, I didn’t care.

Every pilot that solos has their own story to tell. This one was mine….What will your’s be?

Peter Nardo
Cessna 152, Palo Alto Municipal Airport
October 6, 2012


Photo’s taken by John Santillanes

Getting inspired

One of the great things I enjoy about AOPA Summit is the level of enthusiasm of all involved. Whether it’s the energy that Dave Allen brings to his interviews for Other Peoples Airplanes or just meeting “Joe Pilot” the excitement is noticeable.

I attended many great seminars covering topics from tips on Glass Cockpits from Max Trescott or gotcha’s that we may encounter while using the iPad we all love on an IFR flight. From time to time we need to take in these kind of events to reinvigorate ourselves about the thing we like to do most, FLY!

One of the most invigorating seminars was listening to Brian Shul talk about his challenges to overcome a fiery crash and burns to recovering and passing a physical to return to active duty. Later he was selected to fly the SR-71 and the pictures he took during that time are amazing. His story as told by him will inspire and show that anything can be achieved.

The other cool opportunity was to fly a Redbird simulator and experience two scenarios. One was a partial power loss on takeoff and attempting to return to the runway while managing altitude loss and keeping track of our position. That one wasn’t as hard as what came next.

Next was an IFR approach to minimums with the published missed approach. The Redbird was configured with the G1000 display. These flight training devices are touchier on the controls and it’s hard to just jump in and fly smoothly in IMC. I had a difficult time too and as a typical steam gauge pilot with limited experience with the G1000 I found myself chasing headings and altitudes.

But I started to settle down but I was starting to sweat. It didn’t matter that we were on the ground, I found myself trying to fly well for the strict instructor supervising the experience. She was knowledgeable and demanding like you expect a good instructor to be and also encouraging. She set a great example for me.

Shortly after my session Neil (Pilot_NGB on twitter) had a slot and I stopped by at the end and dropped in on the conversation his CFI was having during the debrief. I learned more then too, and the discussion continued for another 45 minutes as we chatted about flying and our experiences. These kinds of face to face chance meetings are invaluable to us. I meet a wonderful CFI and have contact info to keep in touch. I learned so much talking to him and will strive to pass it on to my students.

The hot topic seemed to be centered around iPad products and flight planning tools and apps to use in the cockpit. Everyone seems to be entering the market and trying to carve out a piece.

Also one everyones minds is ADS-B and the boxes that will deliver the weather and maybe traffic to the various iPad apps and displays boxes. This is still shaking out as some devices haven’t shipped yet so we can’t say how well they say they will do what they say.

It’s an exciting time despite the times and all seem to be inspired to try and grow the population and get the word out to young ones. Doing what he can is Dave Coulier, best known for “Joey” on Full House.

He has been an active pilot since a teenager and is talking about aviation any chance he gets when promoting his shows. His son has graduated Embry Riddle and is among a new generation of pilots.

I say we each take a new person up on a flight to show them what flying is like. Maybe one a month or 1 a year, doesn’t matter as long as we introduce new people to aviation. Someone is bound to get the bug like we have it.

Electrical failure

One of the most difficult things to teach a student pilot are the failures that can occur in an aircraft. Oh sure we talk about them, and what to do when they occur, but without being able to simulate them in the plane it’s just an exercise in the procedures. So when a failure happens it’s a good teaching moment as they don’t always just fail instantly. The failure can be gradual and may present itself as a series of failures.

This was the case recently while we were in the pattern practicing landings. The first indication was the intercoms and radio started sounding a little scratchy. Then at one point the tower repeated an instruction 3 times as they never heard the first two read backs. I thought that was odd as the student did a good job and I saw the “T” on the radio indicating he was transmitting.

A few minutes later tower reported they no longer were receiving our mode c from the transponder and asked us to recycle. We did that and still they weren’t getting our altitude readout. This was now the third odd thing of the flight. Even for me it snuck up on me as I have experienced an electrical failure twice so far. It’s a gradual failure of multiple systems that really makes one think.

It was time to get this on the ground. However with everything going on we were high on final and the student decided to go-around. I advised tower that we had an electrical failure and asked to get our landing clearance early in case the battery totally failed. They asked if we required assistance which is always an attention getter for me. I declined as mechanically we were fine as there was no smoke or evidence of something serious. After telling us we were number 2 to land if we needed priority to land just advise. I acknowledge and we flew a good pattern and landed normally.

On the taxi back we discussed what would happen if the battery failed before we got our clearance to land. He responded with the appropriate light gun signals the tower would use. Good answer. Next trip out to the airport I think I’ll have the tower shine a light gun at him so he can see what they are. It’s good to be familiar with these things.

We put the plane away and then debriefed the flight and discussed more scenarios that could have played out if it happened away from the airport and what would you do then? It was a good discussion and valuable lesson in another failure for him to file away in his experience.

What’s that beeping?

I remember a video I saw on youtube of a Cessna RG that was landing with less than good results. The link is here

As soon as it starts you hear the beep, beep of the gear horn and I wondered why they didn’t recognize it. Maybe they were distracted by their conversation and were just talking over the beeping.

I bring up the subject of distractions as my buddy Mark had an interesting experience. He was returning to his home field near Sacramento from southern California in a C182RG. It wasn’t a real long flight, only about 2.4 hours but as he flew the pattern he noticed a truck parked on the runway where the grass ended and pavement begins.

Turning base to final he decides to go around and figure it out. Power in, gear up, flaps up, climb to pattern altitude. He listens to the AWOS, checks his paperwork for NOTAMS again but finds no mention of a runway closure or work to be done.

Meanwhile it’s important to note that he’s mildly irritated at the inconvenience and the extra cost of the go-araound. So he enters downwind to attempt the landing. This is where the power of the distraction can come into play. Being perturbed at the crew working and having already gone through the checklist and lowering of the gear is where pilots make the mistake of not resetting and doing the checklist all over again.

Mark has been trained well and knows he must do the entire checklist again and gets the gear down and confirms it. The truck has disappeared now and he lands safely. We had a good discussion of how this could have started the accident chain by throwing us for a loop with something unexpected happening. This is the time we rely on our training to save us.

Whether it’s an unexpected go-around or diagnosing a gear issue we need to fly the plane first. Last weekend I did a checkout in a Piper Arrow. While doing one of the practice emergency landings the CFI asked what would I do if my landing gear failed to extend while in the pattern. I answered I’d leave the pattern and figure it out. Why turn a problem into an emergency by trying to solve it in the pattern?

He was excited to have someone give the right answer. The phrase that comes to mind is “FLY THE PLANE” I know it sounds simple but that simple task didn’t happen onboard Eastern 401 in 1972. A failed light bulb for the nose gear become the focus of all the crew members that they didn’t know the auto-pilot had disengaged and no one was monitoring “George”

So my friend Mark’s encounter is a good reminder that little things can dislodge us off or plan but we need to stay focused and follow our procedures, they are there to back us up.

Cross country to Harris Ranch

I recently went flying with two good friends to Harris Ranch for a steak dinner. The friend flying used to co-own a PA28 with the intent to learn to fly. It turns out that he wasn’t one of the few meant to fly so being roommates I gladly helped out whenever we wanted to take others up. So we were once again going to Harris Ranch just like the old days. There’s lots of silly conversation so please forgive me for that. It’s all in the name of good fun.


Cross country to Harris Ranch from Ron Klutts on Vimeo.

Winds are blowing, are YOU ready?

Have you ever been on a trip and discovered the winds have picked up while you were enroute? Or maybe you need to divert and your chosen airport has strong crosswinds. What will you do? Is your crosswind technique polished and ready to use or does the pucker factor go up and you just hope for the best?

I had the experience a few years ago where I checked on the weather about 50 miles out at an intended fuel stop and the winds were in the high 20’s with gusts close to 30 knots. I was approaching a non-towered field and the winds were calm there so I chose to divert and spiral down. But what if I hadn’t checked weather until I got the ATIS 10 miles out and facing a low fuel condition? I wasn’t ready to handle those kinds of winds then, and if there’s a less windy alternate available it’s probably wise to go there.

This is about the worst case scenario where we are stuck by whatever circumstances that we now need to land in a serious crosswind. I call it a “FWA” style landing after the landings I’ve seen on Flying Wild Alaska.

On a recent flight review I conducted we went over to Tracy airport (TCY) for some landing practice. Winds were 230º @24 gusting to 28. After a practice emergency decent from an engine failure we landed on runway 26 to get warmed up. The crab angle on final was dramatic as was the reduction in groundspeed.

After demonstrating short and soft field takeoffs and landings we head over to runway 30 for an extreme crosswind landing. I brief the pilot that if he feels he can’t make a safe landing we can always go-around if he doesn’t like it. It will be good practice to fly the pattern correcting for drift and to establish the crab on final.

This time the crab angle was even more severe as the x/w was about 70º, the nose was pointed what seemed to be about 20-30 degrees left of centerline. The gusts made it bumpy too. Needless to say we were the only ones in the pattern. The transition to the wing low landing went well and to correct for drift with liberal right rudder to stay aligned with the runway. On the rollout it was FULL left aileron into the wind and we felt the airplane wanting to weather vane into the wind. It was interesting to say the least.

We decided once was enough so we taxied over to RWY 26 to depart for home. It was a workout for the pilot but a good exercise to brush up skills and build confidence in something that we may rarely do. Isn’t that the point of a flight review or an occasional dual session with a CFI?

So if your unsure of your ability in any area, grab your friendly CFI and go brush those skills up and get ready for those winds.

Cross Country Flying and Navigating

I’ve always enjoyed exploring maps. Whether it’s a state road map to explore a new road trip or better yet an aeronautical chart to plan a new flight, the possiblitites are intriguing. One thing I learned long ago is that map reading is an art. The seemingly simply chart can suddenly become complicated when read in the air. Trying to match up a road I see with the chart can send even the best cartographer into a tizzy.

So the day started with high expectations and a long list of tasks to achieve and train for. Our first objective is to fly our planned x/c to a little used airport to practice various landings. The student planned the route and did the wind corrections and we hit our first checkpoint. I told him how the central valley is lots of farming area’s and it can be hard to pinpoint location as one patch of farm looks like another.

Sea of Squares

As we cross into the valley about 6 miles SE of course he discovers the sea of squares and he realizes he’s lost. All that preflight planning at a table that isn’t hurtling through space at 120 mph is far different than being in the plane and and trying to match up what we see on the ground to what’s on the chart. We discuss the airport he did see that was nearby and as he turn towards it to reacquire our landmarks we spot our destination.

Cross Country (Sea of Squares) from Ron Klutts on Vimeo.

We were abeam the airport we wanted and so it was a 90 degree turn to see it. The lesson he learned here is that what we want may not always be in front of us. Subconsciously we always think we are going were we should and therefore we just look straight ahead for our landmarks.

11,800 feet of Runway

Our ultimate goal was to go to Castle KMER and their 11,800′ x 150′ foot runway. It’s an old Air Force base and was home to B-52’s. So the long and wide runway is our training environment for the afternoon. I wanted the extreme length so we can practice flaring and flying down the runway for a mile, yes, a mile of it so he can develop the sight picture of what it’s like a foot or two off the runway. In addition we are transitioning to the Cessna 172 from the 152 and the sight picture over the cowling is very different.


All this proved to be a little taxing for him and we were pushing his skills into new areas. It was a long day with many objectives and he was feeling a little overwhelmed. The return flight proved to be the saving grace in this. We departed the pattern after our low passes and turned on course. This time the planning worked out and we hit the landmarks he planned on as the sun was setting. It was a glass smooth evening and no traffic and it was serene and everything we wanted a flight to be.

The grin is returning to his face and the struggles of earlier are fading away. Any thought of not continuing flight training is washing away as the sun sets and the city lights come into view. It’s what I love about night flying, smooth air and great views of the city lights and the Bay. The flight ends with a spectacular view of the SF Bay Area as we return to Palo Alto. We are both energized despite a long day of training. We decompress at a local restaurant with great food and a well deserved beverage.