Monday, March 31, 2008


Wow, I really fell off the wagon writing my flying blog. My last entry was back in August of 2007! Quite a bit has happened since. My wife, Kristina and I moved to Stockton from San Mateo taking advantage of the sagging real estate market. We have a beautiful two story house that is 100 years old and in really good shape. We have enjoyed lounging in the hot tub and weekend bbq's with the Knudsen kinfolk.

I finally passed my private pilot check ride, FINALLY!

I have been flying with Bob for the last 7 months and really getting in good 'flying shape' with him as an instructor. He was brand new when we first started flying and I would be his first student to go for the check ride. He was going to hone my skills like a piece of German cutlery. His approach was about examining who you are. What makes you tick and how is this fundamentally 'good' or 'bad' in the cockpit. One of the first things he told me was I tended to be impatient and slightly impulsive. I felt an overwhelming sense of 'should I even be flying' and 'who the hell is this guy to tell me something so acutely personal'?!?!

Why yes, I AM those things! (sometimes) Ugh! Never fun to have a mirror held up to that person you think is staring back at you'.

There are several personality factors to watch for in flying, 'Macho, Anti-Authority, Resignation and Impulsive'. He proceeded to tell me he knows well my issues because this is the exact same trait, Impulsivity, he fights on a regular basis and he's a flight instructor with a commercial and instrument rating! We all have little demons, commercial airline pilots have them too. You have to be aware of them and DO something about it. Slow down and think for a few moments BEFORE acting. Even in an emergency situation you usually have more time than you think to reason out what to do instead of doing the first thing that pops into your adrenaline addled mind. This really applies to ALL areas of life doesn't it(?)

So lots of flying and several stage III checks and .... then a license, or certificate as we geeky pilots like to call them.

My check ride was this last Monday, March 24, 2008 with an FAA DPE (designated pilot examiner) named Mike Shiflett. Mike has a reputation for being tough but fair. I was really over prepared for the check ride in many ways mostly because I wanted to be and was in no rush to go out and fail - not fun. I called Mike several days before and he gave me a cross country assignment to Salinas. I had to plot the course on my sectional chart (never call it a map) and derive a flight plan with magnetic headings corrected for wind with the time and fuel burn also figured. I arrived early the morning of and did my preflight on my very favorite plane, N5204A, and everything checked out. Grabbed the logs which include power plant (engine), propeller, avionics and airframe. You have to be able to show your DPE the proper inspections, annual, 100hr etc., and airworthiness directives. Have you heard about all of those Southwest Airlines planes grounded? Weren't up to speed on their rudder AD's.

Of course Bob meets me at the airport and we start going over my flight plan and all that's involved making sure everything is covered. I am actually pretty good at these flight plans even though I was a horrible student in math and science in high school. I enjoy figuring out time, airspeed, distance and fuel burn for flying purposes - weird. And then we begin.

I am all prepared with paper work and proper ID, change of address as noted to the FAA, etc, etc. Mike makes some small talk as he checks all paper work and my own log book to make sure I am test-worthy. He then asks me to prove the plane is 'airworthy' or fit to fly with all inspections, AD's and so forth. Let me restate that I was really prepared well, except with the log books. I had looked at them once and noted all inspection and where they are located in the logs. However as I began to look at the AD's and inspections it started to look like a foreign language and I had no idea how to translate. I knew where they were but did not have a set method to explain them to Mike. He sat there VERY quietly and observed me start to talk/squeak about the AD's and inspections. He could probably here in my voice the desperation of, 'please dear Lord don't let me fail in the first 5 minutes of the exam!' Somehow he managed to start asking me questions that took us down the primrose path of determining the plane was 'fit to fly'. I ACED all of the following questions regarding airspace, cloud clearances, how the plane is made, etc... I had to!! Mike would have surely failed me if I screwed up any other part of the oral exam.

He had me stay in the pattern at San Carlos to get all required landings accomplished. This included a short field take off and landing, soft field take-off and landing, missed approach and emergency power off approach to landing. I totally nailed all of my landings and after having made it past the oral exam was feeling giddy about going flying. I knew that I KNEW how to fly the plane well and perform the maneuvers. I had been doing them in my head for the last two weeks straight. He then asked me to initiate the cross country phase of the flight. So I called for a Woodside departure and we were off to Salinas. We got no further than my first checkpoint and he asked me to note the time it took to get there, (I had noted time of departure), and it was exactly 4 minutes as my flight plan indicated - always cool how that works out. We then went into slow flight, power off stall and steep turns. All done very well and even though I know he had me turn to clear the area I still initiated every maneuver with my own clearing turn. Funny thing is he never said 'that's ok we already cleared the area', so I am left thinking that it was better to err on the side of caution in that instance. You can't ask the examiner if the area is clear as I am technically pilot in command and he is just a passenger along for the ride - with a clip board and the ability to FAIL me at any moment.

He had me go under the hood(I can only see the instrument panel) and do a couple of simple altitude and heading holds with a 180 degree turn. He then had me close my eyes and recover from what are called unusual attitudes. He puts the plane nose high or low and wings banked 30 degrees left or right and I have to immediately look up and get the plane wings level and to the horizon. I do these exercises and he says 'ok put away your chart and I'll take us into San Carlos'. I know at this point I have passed. In an instant I have crossed that magical threshold of going from student pilot to private pilot. I will be able to fly anywhere I want (with appropriate weather conditions) with passengers. The first thing I feel is a sense of relief the test is over. I can relax and take a moment to feel the sense of accomplishment that I have waited for my WHOLE life. I have wanted to be a pilot since I was in the womb, it is hardwired into my DNA I think.

My wife, Kristina, and I flew to Napa this last Sunday out of San Carlos. It went pretty well, my landing in Napa was a real greaser, though it was really windy on the way back to San Carlos. We had a pretty bumpy approach and my landing was not the prettiest but it was on center line. I kept correction inputs going until we were fully stopped passed the hold short line on the taxi-way as well as to the ramp for parking. The wind was cranking in about 17 kts with a good 10 knot crosswind!! Kristina did an excellent job of spotting traffic, being fun and remaining calm when we hit turbulence coming into SQL.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Into the Deep End...

The floaties are off and today I moved from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool. I flew my first solo cross country! I will explain again here that a cross-country flight is 50+ nautical miles from your home airport to another airport and back again. That's right, by myself. Just me and my trusty Cessna 172, N5204A, making the trek to the San Joaquin Valley and Modesto where the Gallo wine company is headquartered. If I didn't have to fly back I would be very tempted to go over and have a tumbler or two of some of that lip smackingly good Hearty Burgundy or perhaps a coppa of Carlo Rossi. I will tell you that Ernest & Julio were some of the first to put wine in a bottle with a screw cap. Now some high-end wineries are doing the same and extolling the virtues of screw cap or Stelvin enclosures as they are now called. Bosh mate, those crazy-ass brothers may have been on to something. I digress.....

The instructor debacle continues.

If you have read my previous entries you will note that I have been playing musical instructors with Stan & Dan (not their real names). Stan's wife was in the hospital recently for some major surgery and then lengthy recovery. They have three little girls so he has been pretty much out of circulation these last several months. He turned me over to Dan for my cross-country lessons and this guy was/is really an excellent instructor. I have mentioned in previous posts that while I really respect Stan and his skills as a pilot his approach to instruction sometimes fell a little short of supportive. I don't need my hand held here but his critiques were sometimes a little de-spiriting. 'Your landings sucked today', ouch!

So Dan, YES, Dan! And then No, NOT Dan. His wife was pregnant and giving birth any day. She gives birth and it happens on the day I was supposed to do my first solo x-country. I WAS happy for Jill (wife) and Dan and was also hoping to finish up with him. His baby is now having some post-natal issues and so now Dan is completely out of the mix. I was an orphaned student pilot with a few more ticks on the engine clock until I get my private pilot cert. What to do??

Enter Bob - real name, what the hell I can't keep all of the aliases straight anyway. Bob is a great guy and he is a new instructor as in 'newly minted' and MY new instructor. New, you say, c'mon Russ, a new instructor? Bob has been flying single engine planes since the late 60's and he now has several hundred hours in small single engine planes. I don't care if you flew F-16's if you can't instruct well you are useless! He is a retired United Airlines flight attendant and has ALL the time, energy and enthusiasm. He has recently been through the very rigorous process to become a certified flight instructor. At this point I need an instructor to fine tune my skills and get me ready for the final FAA check ride. So Bob was there - checked out my flight plan and grilled me on every aspect from headings to fuel burn to the 'gotchas' along my route. It was a beautiful Indian Summer day in the San Francisco Bay Area with some light winds coming out of the Northwest. The temperature was 65-70 degrees and I was relaxed.

My flight plan to Modesto was about 62 miles from San Carlos. I used ground references to plan my flight and then cranked on the GPS for the actual flight. I also used the auto pilot function and had fun looking out at the scenery rolling beneath me. Not to worry though, I still keep my scan going outside the plane and a close eye on those needles. I called up Norcal Approach when I got across the bay and then onto the radar screen of a controller who lets me know about other aircraft and their activities in my vicinity. I made it over to Modesto with a perfect decent into the traffic pattern. Having never flown into this airport it was truly a new experience. My radio calls were flawless... almost. When calling up Approach Control they sometimes hand you over to another controller after a period of time and tell you a new radio frequency to do so. When I got handed off mid flight the guy had to repeat the new frequency 3 times!! Damn it was embarrassing but he was saying it really fast and my radio seemed to be cutting out during the critical time he was telling me the new frequency. The last time he said it he did so a little exaggeratedly - 'ooone twooo threee point eeiighht fiiiiiive'. I actually chuckled a little when I repeated the numbers back to him. I don't feel too bad because the commercial pilots are on these same frequencies and I hear them blow it every now and then. I'm a bonafide rookie student pilot! No worries.
When I arrived back at San Carlos Bob was there to meet me on the ramp and shake my hand, what a guy!

The flight was a success and some of the best flying I have done to date. I was ready to do the flight and felt pretty confident I would do well as I was over-prepared. Flying with your tanks topped off applies to more than just fuel. Having as much knowledge and experience as you can get helps keep you out of the trees. It is constantly a work in progress and there is a lot to learn. Even after I get my FAA stamp of approval.

I still get butterflies in my stomach when I get in and strap in for each flight however and hope I always will. A healthy respect for the plane, its capabilities AND yours, are essential to being a good pilot. I'll leave pushing the 'outside of the envelope' to test pilots.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

No-Go on X-Country Solo

When one goes to do a x-country solo you need two things.
They are as follows.....
Your primary instructor must sign off (endorse) your student pilot certificate that you are indeed qualified to fly by yourself more than 50 nautical miles from your primary airport. San Carlos (SQL) in my case.
Once you are at the airport ready to fly your instructor must approve your flight plan and green-light you to go it alone.

I was supposed to do my first x-country solo today however this was not to be.
Instructor #1, Dan, and his lovely wife Jill are in the hospital today as she is going into labor with their first child.
Instructor #2, Stan, is somewhere up in Santa Rosa working on his Lancair plane that he recently bought.

I had EVERYTHING planned and it was a really perfect day for flying. Soooooo very disappointing!
Maybe next Saturday.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Stage II - DONE

As I sit writing this blog I am listening to SF Tower on Puts me in the mood to write about my aviation endeavors

Tomorrow I make my first solo cross country flight. I will be flying out to lovely Modesto in the Central Valley of California from San Carlos here in the Bay Area. This will be about a 62 nautical mile flight and will take me across the Bay and then over the East Bay hills and then Easterly for a bit. The flight should only take me around 1 1/2 hours round trip with favorable winds. To drive this would take 2 to 2 1/2 hrs one way!!

I was in Italy this last month, July, hanging out on the Amalfi coast with Kristina. Since coming back to SF I have passed my Stage II checks, first with Dan since he has been my primary instructor for my x-countries. Passing your Stage II check-rides means you are endorsed to fly 50 nautical miles, or more, from your primary airport. I like flying with Dan - he makes me feel relaxed and positive about my flying. The second part of my Stage II was with Stan who, while being my primary instructor for the last 6 months, was the final Stage II 'check-ride' instructor. I have to admit I do not like flying with him as much. He says things like, 'that landing sucked' or 'you lallygag on the runway too much'. Definitely things I need to correct but perhaps different language could be used?? My wife has even noticed that I am in a better mood when returning from flying with Dan than with Stan. I may be keeping Dan as my primary instructor until time for the final check-ride.

There was a lot that went into the Stage II check. I had to plan the flight getting weather information with winds aloft for both the SF area and the Sacramento Valley. Then I had to plot the flight with magnetic headings accounting for winds and getting out from under the SF Class B airspace, etc. After I preflight the plane I sit down with Stan and he questions me on the flight plan and any 'gotchas', weather or terrain, that I could expect when flying. He also questioned me on general weather items and flight systems and then finally had me go up to the board and figure the 'weight & balance' of the airplane. This includes the weight of the pilot and passenger, Stan, and then fuel which is 6Ibs per gallon which with a full tank, 56 gallons is 336Ibs. We got our CG or center of gravity and then looked at the graph in the handbook to make sure we were within limits. Everything checked out and we were out to go fly after about an hour of answering questions. Whew!

Going out to the plane I got in and buckled up , Stan got in buckled up and I began going over my checklist. I got to the part 'ties and chocks removed' and... STOP. When I went back in to do my oral exam with Stan I tied down just the tail. I had not removed that tie-down. Would have made for a very rocky start and probably would have failed me. Tie-down on tail removed and final walk around complete. Checklists are our friends and we must use them EVERY time, and I do.

We taxied out to the run-up area to bring the engine up to 1800 rpm, checking magnetos and gauges and all that fun stuff. I then programmed in our flight on the GPS. I have become reasonably good at doing this and though I had my flight plan with lovely headings I was going to make liberal use of my GPS coordinates out to Modesto. I plugged in my radio settings on comm 1 and comm 2 for Norcal Approach and the ATIS for Modesto. Better to get as much radio stuff done on the ground as possible.

I taxied up to the hold line of runway 30 (three zero). I called up tower for a right downwind departure for Modesto and was told that I was cleared to take-off 'without delay'. This means you get on the runway and start rolling ASAP. After passing over the Bay we headed over Coyote Hills in the East Bay and I attempted 3 times to call up Norcal App to get 'flight following' to Modesto. This is the great radar service that puts you on the map with a controller who can advise you of other aircraft in the area. Good stuff!

On these check rides you never actually fly to the intended airport, in this case Modesto. Instead Stan notes that I am following my course both with proper altitudes and headings and then mid flight says 'please divert me to Byron Airport'. At this point I start doing a 360, maintaining my altitude of 5,500 ft. While doing this I have my aeronautical chart out and note where I am. Then I get out my plastic plotter and figure distance and use a VOR radial to figure my heading. I then use my E6B flight computer (glorified slide rule) and figure time and fuel to the airport. This is like trying to change clothes in a broom closet. I still have to fly the airplane and maintain altitude and not get disoriented. You return back to the area where you originated the 360 and get on heading from there. When I looked at the VOR radial I noted 035 when it should have been 305. When I looked at the direction I should be heading and my heading indicator I knew I made a mistake. Stan remained silent and then told me that I need to make sure I don't confuse the headings when I had oriented myself. I flew in to Byron and made the calls to land. Byron does not have a tower so you are merely advising other pilots in the area of your intentions. We landed and then he had me do soft / short field landings and take-offs. I do not feel like describing them but they require some coordination and I managed to do them relatively well. We eventually flew out and back toward San Carlos. Stan informed me that I had passed the Stage II and I felt pretty good about it though had a nagging sense that my flying that day was not as good as it could have been. I was happy I passed but really wanted to have a super sharp day of flying and felt I came up a little short. I landed and tied down, came in and Stan signed my logbook with an endorsement I needed for solo x-country. I will need Dan's final endorsement to take off next weekend when I do my actual solo x-country flight.

This is now the period of time where I get in a few solo x-countries, one being more than 150 nautical miles landing at two other airports. My next stage check will be the final sign off to take my check-ride with the FAA examiner who, IF I pass will hand me my private pilot's certificate.

I recently took my FAA written exam and passed with a score of 93 pts. Not too bad.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Big Valley

The cross-country work continues...

Stan is still out of commision so Dan and I took on another cross-country flight this morning out to Stockton in the San Joaquin Valley. I've become more efficient with my flight planning and now my time in the air exceeds my time on the ground plotting the charts. It was a really beautiful day in the Bay Area and with a review of my flight plan by Dan while I did my pre-flight on N5204A we eventually hopped in and were off to KSCK (Stockton).

We opened our flight plan on the ground with Oakland FSS (flight service station) and with a right downwind departure we turned East to follow a heading that I had not only charted on paper but had programmed into the GPS before taking off. You can program GPS way points into the system which aren't visible (necessarily) from the ground. They show up on the moving map and make for a nice tidy way to verify certain features against what's outside the window. We flew out at an altitude that did not make for the most expeditious route, 5,500ft, but made for a better way to slow things down while in the climb and get my bearings. I got flight following and am constantly amazed at the amount of air traffic in the vicinity that you don't see but hear about.

I had a really nice flight out and feel pretty comfortable with all of the aspects of a good cross-country. I made a pretty sweet landing at Stockton and we inverted our flight plan and proceeded to make a left crosswind departure out of Stockton for some training on how to use the autopilot feature of our Cessna 172S. Once we climbed out to an altitude of about 3,500ft Dan instructed me on the really easy to use autopilot. Turn it on and once you have achieved your desired heading and altitude you press the altitude button and heading button and the plane is now on cruise control. To adjust your heading and altitude is just as easy and it can really take a load off the pilot as the autopilot flies with very tight tolerances aaaannndd maybe holds altitude and heading better than me at this point. I really can do all of these things pretty well but it takes a lot of work to constantly tweak the controls. FYI, when you fly commercially and except for take-offs and landings that sucker is pretty much on autopilot. I really like the autopilot feature and plan to us it liberally when cruising for distances at a time.

We also practiced diverting to another airport when your primary route and destination must be discontinued for any reason, fog, runway closures, etc. Diverting can be, well, a diversion from flying the airplane. You get out your chart and measure the distance with the straight edge that measures distance and also determine where you are and where the alternate airport is located. You also have to figure time and fuel burn to the alternate airport. You do this by determining where you are and then circle this area until you literally get your bearings. Then move on to the alternate airport all the while flying the airplane and maintaining altitude. This will all be part of the FAA checkride so it's a safe bet I will have done a lot of diverting on the ground to different airports in the area before getting in the plane.

After 'diverting' our flight for a few minutes we took a tack back to San Carlos where I did a few soft field landings and greased those in for a nice day of flying. I really wished we could have stayed out a little while longer. I was fresh and on top of my game. Next week is a little ground school lesson and then a stage check. This will be what's called a Stage II check for my cross-country. This means I will be endorsed to fly to certain airports that are more than 50 nautical miles from San Carlos airport. I cannot wait because I am getting really bored flying to Hayward and Palo Alto. I have also been endorsed to take my FAA written exam this next week. I have been doing pretty well on the practice exams so feeling confidant that I should do OK. It is a lot of work to get your private pilot's certificate. I have over 70 hours of training in the plane and have been attending course classes (ground school) every Thursday for 3 hrs since January of this year. Interesting stuff though and I love to do it all. It is also nice to be learning something complex since leaving college. Keeps the neurons firing on all cylinders.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I didn't ride into Hollister on a motorcycle as depicted in the movie, 'The Wild One'. I did however make a bad-ass teardrop in for a nice 45 degree entry to downwind on runway 24. The x-countries continue...

Stan's wife underwent surgery this last week and will be out of commission for several weeks. Stan and his wife have three little girls which means my main flight instructor will be out of commission at least as my instructor for several weeks as he tends to his brood. Enter Dan my interim instructor until Stan is back on line. I like this guy. He differs from Stan in several positive ways and I may retain him as my instructor when I get my instrument cert. His style of instruction has a more finessed touch it. I like Stan but sometimes get a chapped hide from his blistering critiques with slight twinges of impatience. Stan has made me a very diligent pilot and for this I am grateful to have been learning from him. Dan has a good sense of humor which makes flying with him feel more enjoyable and relaxed. I am pretty proficient these days and need a little minor tweaking but otherwise I am really doing some nice flying.

We took off yesterday from San Carlos for a 55 mile trip down to Hollister along the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains with the Monterey Bay off to my right. I had a great preflight and nailed my radio calls to open my flight plan and get flight following from Norcal Approach. One thing I have never had before was clearance into Class B (Bravo) airspace. The Class B airspace surrounds SFO and is airspace that surrounds the bigs like NY, Dallas, Chicago, you get the point. It is taboo to go joyriding in this airspace unless you get clearance from a controller who must say 'YOU ARE CLEARED INTO THE SAN FRANCISCO CLASS BRAVO'. They can call out your tail sign a thousand times but until you here those words keep out. They typically vector (give headings) 747's coming in from the Pacific right over San Carlos. They are at 5,000 ft or more but you don't want to get too close and can't with the airspace restrictions. So anyway I got the Class B clearance. Must have been a lag in big jets coming in from Asia. I climbed out to 5,500 and locked on to the Woodside VOR then Dan showed me a few tricks to lock on to the VOR using my GPS and then enter some way points also right into the GPS as well. This was really helpful and I had a lot of fun cruising down the SF Peninsula. I had the Bay to my left and the Santa Cruz mountains to my right with the Monterey Bay off the right tip of my nose. Damn nice place to learn to fly. You see this stuff on commercial carriers but usually you are staring at one portion of it out a little porthole of a window - usually with some jackass sitting in front with the seat leaned all the way back. It's like flying in bloody steerage class! Cessnas are slower but you get a better view.

We passed over Lexington Reservoir then Uvas Reservoir and over Gilroy before descending in to Hollister for a landing. Hollister is an interesting airport because it does not have a control tower. It is still a very busy airport with glider operations and big tanker planes carrying fire retardant materials to those ubiquitous California wild fires we experience during this time of the year. You gotta watch your tail feathers when maneuvering around that airport.

I made a great landing and took off Northwesterly for our trip back to San Carlos. The flight was great and we were 'stepped down' into Class B airspace in no time to get down to under 3,000 ft for our approach into SQL. As soon as I passed over the salt ponds on the outer edge of the Bay the wind really picked up. Pretty soon I got clearance to land and was angled in to the left crosswind to keep my ground track moving towards the centerline for runway three zero. As I crossed over the runway threshold I powered to idle and kicked in right rudder and left wing low to keep moving down the centerline of three zero. The wind was at max for my Cessna and I had to really fight off getting blown to the right. Dan gave me a little help as I touched down to the right of centerline despite my efforts. I then wobbled around a little bit on the runway like a drunk duck forgetting to keep the yoke to the left which keeps the plane from being being blown further to the right. OY! It really pissed me off that my perfect flight had such a sucky landing to finish. That was some serious wind and I was glad to have Dan in the plane with me. I am going up with Dan again this Friday and will be practicing all my maneuvers which I had scheduled before just to make sure I am sharp for the runup to my FAA check ride. We will be practicing landings and if the winds are right I can get in some good cross-wind landings also.

Good day and despite my sketchy cross-wind landing I felt like I had a really strong flight.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Going X-Country

I was just reading my last posting and mentioned something about how the writing was going to be coming along, etc., etc. & blah, blah, blah. I may have mislead here because the writing has really been non-existent. In reality my x-countries have been in a holding pattern a bit due to Stan's unavailability, my unavailability and some cancelled flights due to wedding showers and, oh, what's that? Yes, Stan forgot to show up to one of the lessons!

I neglected to write about the last x-country I flew with Stan that was pretty exciting and beyond the limits of the Bay Area and allll of the flying I do in the vicinity of SQL. By the way a x-country is defined as flight of +50 nautical miles or more. Nice to get out and, well, stretch me wings a bit. We flew to Columbia this last May. Columbia is an old gold mining town in the Sierra Foothills. I can tell you that I spent more time planning for this flight than the length of time the flight actually took. I had to determine weather which includes weather and temperatures at San Carlos, Columbia and the weather aloft in between the two airports. I figured out our course headings, time en route and fuel burn (to-ing and fro-ing) and wrote it down on my flight planner pages. Stan and I briefed and then headed out to the plane which I already had preflighted. I called for a right downwind departure and we hopped across the Bay to Coyote Hills and turned East to a direct heading straight out to Columbia.

I used different types of basic navigation techniques. One called pilotage (used in the 1920's by airmail pilots) requires that you note distinct landmarks along your route from ones you noted on your aeronautical charts like lakes, reservoirs and mountains. We are really lucky to have very distinct land marks in N. Cal with big mountains and large bodies of water like oceans. Dead reckoning allows you to navigate by using elapsed time, true speed, wind direction and compass heading. I was surprised by how accurate these techniques turned out to be. We are also really lucky to have GPS. If the GPS is working and you know how to use it properly YOU CANNOT GET LOST.

When we left San Carlos we called up Oakland Flight Service Station on 122.5 and opened my VFR flight plan., pretty easy. I then learned how to get what's called 'flight following'. You call up Norcal Approach on a certain frequency, 135.65 in this instance and tell them who you are, where and what altitude you are and where you are going. They issue you a special transponder code and become your fairy godmother. The look out for other aircraft that are in the area along your route and will advise you of where they are and how you can avoid them, verrrry cool. This all went well and we sped along with a nice 10 knot tailwind at about 120 knots and were up to 5,500 ft in no time. We cruised on a heading toward a VOR station called Manteca VOR which is a radio navaid. If you tune into a VOR there is an instrument on your panel with a needle that centers when you set your course indicator on one of the radials going out around the VOR station in 360 degree increments. Set the course for 090, for example, and then turn the plane until the needle is centered and you will be on a heading towards that station and you will know where you are. There is even a to/from feature that lets you know when you have passed over the station. Lot's of ways NOT to get lost.... and I'm pretty sure I will find them (ways of getting lost) eventually. It all looks different when you are in the air.

We flew for about 35 minutes when we got close to Columbia and even though I had the GPS working I was really trying to navigate by the dead r. and pilotage. I got one of the bodies of water wrong that I marked as a way point when we were approaching Columbia. What can I say, they aren't labeled like they are on the charts. Then I looked at the GPS and got back on course. Loving the GPS. We made it in and I cut the 45 degree to a downwind too short so I went around and landed, sort of pretty well. This is an airport that does not have a tower so you have to announce who you are and what your stated intentions ar for landing. You sincerely hope that other pilots are doing the same.... sometimes they don't as we found out when we took off again. Another plane decided to take off in the opposite direction of the runway we were about to take off from, basically head on.... niiiiice! But I was looking and we missed him.

We cruised back and it was pretty easy with Mt. Diablo looming 100 miles in front of me I just had to aim for it and scoot to the left a little to make it back in to the Bay Area and back to San Carlos. My attempt at calling up Norcal Approach leaving Columbia was awful and I managed to embarrass my instructor by announcing what a rookie idiot I am to all pilots in the area including the major carriers. These guys are generally on Norcal Approach before being handed over to Oakland tower or SF tower, etc. Stan got pretty hot and lectured me a bit on practicing in my head what I'm going to say before I depress the mic button. If you ever see me in my car and my lips are moving odds are I am not singing along to my car radio however practicing what I am going to say to Norcal Approach or some other facility. Smooth sailing across the California Central Valley however and into the Bay Area with what I would consider a very nice landing back at home base, SQL.