Top Work Cats House Flying Resume Links Click a Button! Top Work Cats House Flying Resume Links
Drew in name
A shot of the parking area at Stevensville Airport Learning
Bitterroot Aviation's Cessna 150G..the plane I am learning to fly

I've been playing flight simulators since the early days of the Commodore 64.  My uncle had a small plane when I was but a lad, and he would take me flying occasionally.  Between the two I've always wanted to learn to fly, but I've either not had the money, or I haven't gotten around to finding an instructor.  Last winter, my friend and co-worker Mel Ewing started taking flying lessons. I spent the winter and spring playing Microsoft's FS2000 and I finally got enough of the bug to ask Mel let me know where he takes his lessons.  The company is called Bitteroot Aviation, located at Stevensville Airport, located outside of Stevensville, MT (about 40 mins south of car).  I called and hooked up with Mark Roth, an experienced instructor and mechanic extraodinaire.  Lessons are taken in his C150G.  I decided to keep a diary of my flying experiences, for no particular reason.  With the Internet being the Internet, I might as well post it!
Woo first flying lesson!  After learning what to look for during the pre-flight inspection, we took off.  I guess all those hours playing flight sims on the computer finally paid off!!  Take-off, straight and level flying, and shallow turns were just like in the sims.  Actually, the big pay off from virtual flying is a rather instant familiarity with all of the instruments.  When we touched down I was feeling pretty good about flying.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 1.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.0  Night: 0.0
Okay, this lesson was a little harder.  Climbing and descending turns and transition to slow flight.  Slow flight is NOT something I ever paid attention to in the sims, but it's pretty darn important when you want to land the plane!  I still did okay, though, but I'm starting to notice that flying properly takes quite a bit more coordination than I thought!  I also notice that I'm still kinda nervous with the plane...I have to keep reminding myself to quit being so white knuckled on the controls.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 2.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.0  Night: 0.0
Due to bad weather one week, and then a trip I took to Maryland the next week, it's been 3 weeks since I flew last!  In this lesson I did more slow flight and then a couple of power off stalls.  Yipes!  I felt like I had no business being in a plane at all... it seemed like I had never flown before!  I realized that I am going to have to feel comfortable with the plane before I can start flying I bumped up the lesson schedule to twice a week.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 3.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.0  Night: 0.0
More slow flight and stalls...both power on and power off.  Then Mark demonstrated the routine for an engine failure.  Pick a landing area and head towards it at best glide speed...if you're too high by then time you get there you do a forward-slip to drop your altitude.  A forward-slip is where you turn the ailerons one direction, and kick the rudder the other you end up flying sideways.  WOW does that lose some altitude QUICK!  I was a little shaken up by this one...then we put on the 'foggles' to simulate instrument-only conditions.  The foggles block out your view out the window, so you have to rely soley on what the instruments tell you.  Another WOW!!  I was amazed at how much my body DIDN'T feel what the plane was doing.  By the time we came in for the landing I was pretty shaken by how much I don't know about flying. Jeez..these lessons are really killing my self-confidence!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 4.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.3  Night: 0.0
I'm now determined to learn how to fly this darn I enter this lesson with a renewed sense on well-being!! This lesson I learned steep turns...this is turning at about a 45 degree incline...which a little harder than you might think!!  The plane loses a bit of lift during the turn, so you have to really pull back on the elevator to maintain altitude.  Whoa...a few of these turns and not only was my arm a bit tired, but now I'm feeling pretty dizzy!! Next came some more practice with stalls.  Now that my body is completely screwed up it's time to put on the foggles for some more simulated instrument flying!!  By the time I took the foggles off I had NO IDEA where the heck we were!! One last thing before landing was to simulate an engine failure...I'll need to practice that routine quite a bit more! At least I starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of it all by the time we landed I was starting to feel pretty good again about flying!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 5.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.6  Night: 0.0
Well, the wind was calm today so we practiced slow flight, stalls, steep turns, and instrument flying.  By now I'm finally starting to feel comfortable with the plane.  I'm still a little rough, but I can see with more practice I shouldn't have any more trouble with knowing how to keep this thing in the air!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 6.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
Darn!  There was a bit of wind today so it was time to start working on ground reference maneuvers.  Up til now flying the plane has been a matter of keeping the plane pointed in the right direction.  With ground ref's you have to keep the plane moving in a specific direction relative to the matter what the wind wants you to do! S-Turns across a straight road, flying a rectangular course, and flying a circle around a point on the ground is kinda tricky when the wind is being strong and random!!  I didn't do HORRIBLE, but I certainly didn't meet the requirements for these manuevers!  I still felt comfortable with the plane, but this lesson the plane didn't feel comfortable with me!!  I need to spend a little mental time thinking about the plane's dynamics mixed with wind from different time I'll be ready!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 7.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
Okay, I've gotten the hang of flying a bit, so now it's time to concentrate on landings.  Up til now we've done one touch-and-go when the lesson was I've landed a few times, but now it's time to drill the landing procedure into my skull!!  This lesson was nothing but take off, fly the traffic pattern, land, and repeat. I got lucky on a couple of landings...but I've still got a ways to go before EVERY landing is perfect!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 8.0  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
Oh my...this was a lesson I'll remember!!  The wind was pretty hairy when we took off, so instead of landings, it was time to work on ground reference manuevers some more.  I knew that my thought experiments would pay off!! I did fairly well in some heavy wind (if I do say so myself!)  Now, to give you an idea of what I mean by heavy wind, by the time we come back to the field for landing, the wind is coming at about 15-20 knots at about 90 degrees across the runway.  Mark took over the landing since I don't have really any experience with cross wind landings yet. The wind was just a bit too strong, though.  We attempted to land twice, but we couldn't get the plane straight, We had to abort and fly to Missoula International...which about 10-15 minutes away.  We land at Missoula, refuel, and go grab a bite to eat.  Mark calls down to a buddy of his at Stevensville and finds that the wind has calmed down a back in the plane to try this again!  Because of the amount of wind, Mark is at the controls for the take soon as the wheels leave the pavement we are crabbing pretty heavily to maintain the ground track of the runway!  As we are taking off, Missoula Tower informs us of a rain front moving in that extends down to Stevensville.  Oh boy, this just gets better and better, doesn't it??!!  Once in the air, Mark lets me take the controls for the trip back.  Yikes...what a ride!!  Intermittent rain, heavy duty choppy wind, and by now it's starting to get to be dusk!!  I was absolutely determined, though, to keep the plane on the right heading at a constant altitude even though the wind is tossing us around like a football!!  By the time we get to the airfield, it's dusk out and I'm feeling like I just fought a lion!!  Our luck returns, though, and we come in for a relatively gentle landing about 3 minutes before the rain front hits the field!!  Total flying time was about 1.7 hours...but it's been about 5 hours from take-off to touch down!!  I'm actually glad that we got caught in nasty weather....I figure sooner or later I would hit weather like that, and I would've been pretty nervous if I didn't have an experienced pilot instructor sitting next to me!!  All in all, it was actually kind of fun...I probably got some great experience flying through cruddy weather and now I can't wait to fly in calm weather again!!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.7  Total: 9.7  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
Had to cancel Wednesday's lesson due to flaky weather, and Mark wasn't in town on Saturday, so I had to wait 'til Sunday to fly.  Great day for flying, though...almost no wind with an occasional light gust; a few, high cirrus clouds; and the tempurature up in the 80's!!  I spent a few hours Saturday practicing touch-and-go's with Flight Sim 2000, so I was feeling pretty good by the time I climbed into the plane.  After flying through bumpy weather last week, I was having a pretty darn good time flying the traffic pattern in calm winds!! This lesson was nothing but touch-and-go's...I'm still a bit rough on the landing flair, but I'm getting better at this!  A few more hours and I just might have it!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 10.7  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
Touch and go, touch and go, and repeat!!  We did a simulated engine failure on one of the landings...yipes, it isn't too bad to do a forward slip to drop from 1000 to 500 feet, but using it to drop from 500 to 100 feet is another matter!!  That ground can come up quick!!  I didn't do TOO badly on most of the landings...but all that practice finally rewarded me with a perfect landing on the last one!! (Well, at least in MY mind!!)
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 11.7  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
More touch and gos!  Did another simulated engine failure on seems to be getting less nerve-wracking each time we do it!  One of the other things we practice on landing is a go-around.  Basically, you abort the landing somewhere on final.  You are all set up for a nice, slow, flap-down landing when you pour on the power... you have to fight the airplane to keep it from trying to jump straight up!  Actually, it can be a fairly nasty manuever...apparently many accidents occur during a go-around because the plane will start to climb so much when you apply the power (if you don't fight it back down) that it will stall...which is NOT a good thing to happen only 200 feet above the ground!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 12.7  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 0.9  Night: 0.0
Today we flew down to another local airport (Hamilton) to do some touch and gos there.  Whoa!!  First off, I had gotten so used to just flying the Stevensville pattern that I was a little thrown off by actually flying straight and level!  Then I kind of mucked up the landings at Hamilton.  You see, Stevensville aiport is located on top of a hill and is surrounded by farms.  Hamilton is on a flatland and is pretty close to a residental area.  So, coming in for the landing I got a little spooked by the fact that I'm REALLY close to all those houses!!  On top of that, the wind wasn't really helping me today, either!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 13.7  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 1.2  Night: 0.0
Touch and go time at a bigger airport!  We flew up to Missoula International where not only do I have to try and land properly, but I have to keep in contact with the tower.  Darnit...why do they make pilot-speak so fast and confusing!?!?  By the time we were leaving the airspace, I was finally getting the hang of the radio traffic.  Unfortunately, I made small flubs on just about EVERY radio call!  On the way back I put on the hood for some more simulated instrument flying.  Wow, it got really choppy for this turns out that Mark had me flying closer to the mountains (where the wind gets flaky) so he could spot out some trails that he wanted to hike on!!  HEY!!!!
  I'm going to prepare a bit more for the radio work next time I go to MSO.  I bought Comm1 VFR radio simulator software and I borrowed a firends scanner to listen to the traffic occasionally!  I'm gonna learn this darnit!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.1  Total: 14.8  Solo: 0.0  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
No flying today...the wind was a little too heavy and the temp a little too high, plus Mark had to do an annual on a Cessna 210.  Since I had driven down to the airport anyway, Mark put me in front of his computer to take a practice written test (from Gleim.  I only scored a 64%, but I haven't started learning all the navigation things yet.  Since we keep having to cancel the Saturday evening flights due to weather, we decide to switch to Sunday mornings from here on.
I pass my physical!  Woo Hoo!  I'm ready to try and solo now!!
I've been all jumpy with anticipation for today!!  Mark and I went up and did a few touch and gos.  Then, we landed, shut down, and Mark jumps out!!  With a wave and a "Have Fun!", he leaves me to run through the checklist and try and keep my heart-rate down!  Take off...nice and smooth. Whoa!!  This little C150 wants to FLY with only one person in it!!  I come in for my first solo landing a little high, but touched down easy enough.  The second time around was pretty much the same...not perfect, but sufficient.  The third time, however, there's another plane waiting at the taxiway to take off.  Ego gave me the extra adrenaline boost I needed to come in for a near-perfect touch down!! (I didn't want to look like an idiot in view of a REAL pilot...except for Mark, he already knows I'm an idiot!!!)
TIME:  Lesson: 0.9  Total: 15.7  Solo: 0.4  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
Some more touch and gos.  Mark was with me for the first few to make sure I've got a grip, then he jumps out and I'm off doing it all solo again!!  On the first take off, go around, and land...everything is nice and pretty. Then, I'm rolling down the runway about to power back up for take off when a DEER hops onto the runway about 100 yards in front of me!!  YIPES!!!  I hit the brakes and come to a full stop about 50 yards away.  The deer kind of gives me a look of "What're YOU looking at??" and promptly hops away.  Shaken, but not stirred, I apply power and take off again.  I'm sure anyone in the area got a small chuckle as I radioed in a slightly shaky voice: "Stevensville Area Traffic, be advised that there are some deer in the vicinity of the runway at Stevensville."  The rest of the landings went fairly smooth, although I notice that my flairs are still a little choppy.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.2  Total: 16.9  Solo: 0.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
Today I did a full hour of solo touch and gos!  No deer this time, but the darn wind kept freaking me out!!   On the ground there was NO WIND...the windsocks were completely limp!  But, about 100 feet above the ground, it felt like there was about a 5-10 knot gusty crosswind!!  Well, a pilot must be prepared for ALL types of weather, so by the end of the hour I started getting the hang of it all!!  My flairs were again a little rough until the last two landings...when I almost heard an audible 'click' inside my head as I realized I'm not pulling back far enough.  My last two of the day were what could be termed 'greasers'!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 17.9  Solo: 1.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
I had a good 1.6 hours of flying today!!  Mark and I went out to the practice area (about 5 miles south of the airport) and did some basic manuever practice for about 30 mins.  The we go back to the airport where I drop Mark off and off I go solo into the wild blue yonder!!  I spend about 30 more minutes practicing basic manuevers on my own.  Then...I just couldn't help myself...I spend the next 30 minutes just flying around; really enjoying the ride!!  A little sight-seeing, a little laid back straight and level flying...It kind of brought back the feeling I had when I first drove a car...except this is WAY more fun!!  Finally coming back in for a landing, somehow I was high and fast, so after a go-around, I came in for a nice, gentle landing.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.6  Total: 19.5  Solo: 2.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
Mark and I are STILL waiting for a good day to practice cross-wind landings..unfortunately, today was nice and calm!! (I probably won't ever say THAT again!)  So, we go to the practice area and review steep turns and stalls.  Then back to the field for some touch and gos (can't get enough of 'em!!).  We did a simmed engine failure on one of the landings...I ALMOST did it completely without Mark touching the controls!!  For some reason, forward slips don't seem to scare me as much any more!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 20.5  Solo: 2.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
About a month ago, Mark and I had talked about hooking up a video recording system in the plane so students could video tape their lessons for reviewing.  Mark had already tried a couple of years ago to rig up a camcorder..but the FAA didn't like his mounting bracket (plus the camera didn't take too well to the plane!!)  Being the Internet geek that I am, I told him I'd research a system.
Well, Friday I finally got all my parts together...a 12 VDC portable VCR, a 3 inch long color 'bullet' camera, and a tiny portable LCD TV for camera aiming.  I figured out all the cable hacking I needed to do, and installed the whole shebang in my car for testing.  As toys go this one is pretty cool!!
Anyway, today Mark and I took it out of my car and installed it in the plane.  We tied down the VCR in back, and velcro'd the camera to the ceiling.  Everything runs off a single power lead that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and the audio is split off of the intercom.  We took the plane out for a test flight (take off and land) and checked the tape.  It's actually pretty neat to see it...with a glare shield over half of the lens, the instruments show up fairly readable and the forward view is quite good!  The camera is so tiny that it doesn't get in the way of anything!  The whole system ended up costing about $500 total.
The temp was too hot and the wind a little too squirrelly to go flying solo, unfortunately, so we then spent some time in ground school preparing for my first cross-country flight!  Sheesh!!  And I thought I was DONE with math when I finished Calculus (many years ago)!!  Well, I guess it IS about time I hit the books again and learned all the chapters in my 'How to Fly' books that I skipped before!!
The first cross-country flight...oh boy!!  We intended to start out nice and early to beat the heat, unfortunately, another student was still having a lesson at 9AM, so it was about 10AM by the time I called up Flight Services to get the current weather info and register my flight.  Take off, climb to cruise altitude (5,500 feet MSL), and head off towards Missoula Intl. (MSO) for the first leg.  MSO was a little busy directing fire bombers (it's heavy forest fire season), so we didn't have too much to talk about with them as we passed over the town of Missoula.
We followed the main highway east for about 45-60 minutes to get to the town of Anaconda.  By the time we touched down at Anaconda, the day was starting to get quite warm.  We refueled, and I spent some time calculating the flight plan for the return trip.  By the time we were ready to take off, it's noon and about 95 degrees out!  Fortunately, Anaconda has a nice long runway, and we needed all of it to take off!!  (If you're wondering why...basically, planes have a tougher time flying in hot weather.  As air heats up, it gets 5000 feet at 95 degrees is equivalent to something like 7000 feet at 65 degrees.)  It took us quite a while to climb up to our cruising altutude of 6,500 feet!
About an hour later, we are about 10 miles east of MSO, so we call them on the radio to request a touch and go.  Surprisingly, there is really no other air traffic at this time, so they vector us to a nice and leisurely 6 mile final approach!!  No problems the whole way down except for the last 10 feet!!  With the temperature being the way it was, I didn't realize I would have to maintain a higher speed for the touch the landing was a little heavier than I wanted.
(oops...this last sentence should actually read "...have to increase power to maintain airspeed for the touch down"  Thanks to my uncle Jerry for nitpicking my diary!!)
We take off again and fly the last leg to Stevensville.  All in all it was a good flight!  I finally got to see a bit more on Montana from the air than the practice area and the traffic pattern!!
Two new things about this flight:
This was the first time I used the radios to navigate...this was definately one area where all the hours of playing with the flight simulator paid off!!  I had already flown virtually using VOR navigation, and reality turned out to be about the same (well, except that in reality, the mountains tend to block the signals half the time!!)
Also, I coughed up some money to purchase a new headset for myself.  I decided that it will keep me on the serious track towards buying my own airplane one day!!  I got the Pilot Communications PA 17-79 DNC XL Noise Cancelling Headset.  It's lightweight, comfortable, and the noise cancelling really helps me to concentrate on listening to Mark and the radios.  ANR headsets are a little pricey, though...but in my opinion they are well worth the cost!
TIME:  Lesson: 3.0  Total: 23.5  Solo: 2.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.0
I didn't get much sleep Tuesday night (darn work!), so I cancelled flying Wednesday morning, but Mark said it would be okay to fly in the evening.  It doesn't get dark here around this time of year until about 10PM, so I scheduled to do about an hour of solo touch and go's at 8PM.  During the preflight check, however, I noticed that the power cable to the video system had gotten crimped under one of the seats, and the insulation on the wires was looking less-than-acceptable.   (I'm a ex-electronics tech, so I get nervous when a wire shows signs of wear, plus, I tend to be anal about keeping cables all nice and tidy...that's why I check any non-permanent cables lying about!).
I wanted to fly, but not bad enough to have even the slightest risk of an electrical I was ready to just remove the video system.  Mark had a soldering iron and solder, however, so I spend a few minutes clipping out the bad section of wire, splicing the lines back together, and rerouting the cable so it will have less chance of becoming crimped.  After testing and the time I spent talking with Mark (I'm a wannabe airport bum!), it's now about 9:30PM.   I figure it's too late to fly, but Mark notices that the temp has dropped enough to fly duel.
"But,'s....ahhh...getting kinda dark" I point out.  Well here's where I'm reminded that I need some night flying before I can be a pilot on with the preflight!!  Plus, a 5-10 knot crosswind picked up, so...oh's time to also learn crosswind landings!!  Yipes!
Well, crosswind landings aren't TOO hard, (actually they're kind of neat in a way!), but night flying is for the bats!!  The darn runway is next to you have to rely on the perspective of the runway lights.  There is a landing light on the plane, but it doesn't show you anything until you are about 20 feet above the runway.
With both the wind and the lack of light, I was able to land each time...just not very well!  Finally, on the last landing, Mark turns off the landing light to simulate it burning out!  "But it's NOT burned out, so why don't we just turn that thing back on, hey??" was the first thought that crossed my mind!!  But, it's actually not too much different than landing with it I ended up landing about the same as I did the other times (in other words...I think I'll need a bit more practice!!)
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 24.5  Solo: 2.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.7
Well, if you've been watching the news lately, you might have seen that we've had some problems with forest fires here in MT.  The skies have been filled with smoke over Missoula/surrounding areas which has grounded any VFR flight training.  We finally got a break this weekend, up in the air we go!!   Nothing but touch-and-gos this time (have to make sure I remember how to fly!!)  Did a few with Mark and then spent an hour taking off and landing solo.  Yeah!!  All the practice and studying (a LOT of studying!) is all coming together...I really feel like I'm staying "ahead of the airplane"!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.5  Total: 26.0  Solo: 3.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.7
It was pretty windy today, so I decided to work on my ground reference maneuvers for a bit, then do some touch-and-gos.   I noticed that the ground ref maneuvers seemed a little scarier when I'm doing them solo!!  But on the brighter side, I'm starting to really enjoy landings!  My final approach could use some more work...but by the time I start the flare (at around 10-20 feet up), everything seems to come back together and I've been getting smoother and smoother on the touch down!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 27.0  Solo: 4.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.7
Well, I had planned on doing my second cross country for quite some time now...but the weather hasn't been too cooperative!   Finally, though, we have a nice, cool, sunny day so it's 'pack up the pop-tarts time' and head out into the wild blue yonder.   I planned this trip to take us from Stevensville to Kalispell (about 1.5 hours away), but Mark told me that we weren't going to make it that far.  About half-way there he has me put on the foggles (well, we couldn't find the we made a blinder from some cardboard!), and then he had me do some random turns for about 15 minutes. This is to simulate what would happen if I wen t crazy and flew into a cloud!  Then, we moved onto 'simulated dropping of the pencil' maneuvers...also known as 'unusual attitude recovery'.  This is where Mark had me close my eyes while he contorted the plane into a basic 'bad' condition, then he would give the controls back to me.  Using only the instruments (I still had the foggles on), I had to recover the airplane to straight and level flight.  We did two of these..and the second one shook me up a bit!!  (I opened my eyes to find the nose of the airplane pointed down and the airspeed climbing for the boiling point!)
Ah well..that wasn't too bad!!
But WAIT..there's MORE!!  Now that I was pretty well disorientated, it was now time to see if I could figure out where I was and land at the closest airport.  Fortunately, the countryside here has many landmarks, so I didn't have too much trouble pinpointing our location on the map!
After a landing at Polson airport, we had an uneventful (and quite enjoyable...since I stole a few minutes to do some sight seeing!) flight back to Stevensville.
TIME:  Lesson: 2.4  Total: 29.4  Solo: 4.9  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.7
Well, today is another landmark day in my flight first solo cross country!
Mark made the planning easy for me and had me fly to Anaconda using the same route I took on my first x-country.   The weather was great for flying...hardly any wind, and slightly chilly.  Actually, by the time I got up to cruising altitude, it was downright COLD!!  The temperature outside was reading a brisk 20 degrees F!!   (Someone remind me to buy some gloves for my next flight!)  Anyway...even though it was a day to mark in my calender...truth be told it was a rather uneventful flight (a GOOD thing!)  I hit all the checkpoints according to schedule, and I had no problems at all flying the plane...even my radio calls to Missoula International went without a hitch!!  It's almost like I have a clue now on what I'm doing!!
TIME:  Lesson: 2.8  Total: 32.2  Solo: 7.7  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.7
(It's been brought to my attention (many times) that I've been deliquent on updating my flying diary!!   Sorry about that folks...I'll try to stay on the ball a bit more!)
I did my second solo cross-country!  This time I flew up to Kalispell...which if you check on a map is just south of Glacier National Park.  Great scenery up there!!  My route took me over Flathead Lake..which was pretty neat in and of itself (it was mirror-smooth from 3000 feet)!  After a refuel and some Pop-Tarts© at Glacier Park Intl. airport, it was back south with a stop and go at Polson (right off the southern tip of the lake), and a touch-and-go at Missoula.  Clear skies, smooth air, and the great scenery brought back to me why I'm learning to fly!!
TIME:  Lesson: 3.5  Total: 35.7  Solo: 11.2  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 0.7
Just when I think I've got this flying thing figured out, it comes time for a night cross country flight!!   This wasn't a solo I had the security of somebody who knows what they're doing next to me!!   Our route took us up to Ronan...which is about 2/3 of the way to at least I was familier with the route.  It's been a while since I landed at night...and it showed!  Landing at Ronan wasn't too bad, but on a touch-and-go at MSO on the way back we touched down before I started the landing flair!!  Although it was a smooth landing, it sure wasn't "textbook"!!  (note to self: must spend more time practicing night landings!)    All in all it was a good flight...with my only nervousness coming from the fact that I KNEW there was mountains out there, but I just couldn't SEE them!!
TIME:  Lesson: 2.4  Total: 38.1  Solo: 11.2  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 3.1
Months have been passing by, and when I haven't been able to fly, I've been spending my time with my nose in books and practice tests in preparation for this day:  The Written Exam!!  Mel and I drove up to Helena bright and early in the morning.  We spent the 2 hour trip going over test problems.  Well, all the studying and review paid off:
    I scored a 95%!!! WOO HOO!!
(Mel scored a 93%...I beat him out by one question!!  (Sorry Mel..hee hee!!))
I have one or two things more to learn before I start practicing for the practical exam (the FINAL test!)... namely, short and soft field take offs and landings.  Fortunately, due to some snowing earlier this week, I was able to practice REAL soft field take offs and landings on the runway at Stevensville!  For take off, you pull back all the way on the yoke as you power up the engine...this lifts the nose off the ground as you start the take off roll.   In other words, to keep the wheels from slowing you down during take pop a wheelie and keep it that way until you're airborne!  The tricky part about it, though, comes as soon as all the wheels leave the ground...due to ground-effect, you are actually in the air, but too slow to actually fly.  So you have to go against instinct and push the nose of the plane back down to stay a few feet above the runway until you've built up enough speed to fly.
Landings are more or less the same as regular landings, except you try to keep the plane in ground-effect for as long as possible so you touch down as slow as possible.
After the first few, it dawned on me that soft field take offs and landings are really pretty fun!!   There's something about just 'floating' a few feet above the ground that seems exciting!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 39.1  Solo: 11.2  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 3.3
This lesson was short field take-offs/landings.  Basically, it's a matter of using the least amount of runway possible.   Taking off wasn't too difficult...just pull back at the lowest safe flying speed and keep it there until you've cleared any obstacles, then lower the nose until you're climbing normally.  Landing, however, is a little scary!!   Using the maximum flap settings (40 degrees on the 150), you drop down pretty quick.  The idea is to hit the runway as close to the end as possible and then stop as soon as possible.  When doing this, most of the time it ends up looking like your trying to fly the plane into the ground right before the runway!  Once again, though, after a few times doing this I found it to be kind of exciting!!
With this lesson, I've just about wrapped up learning new it's a matter of practicing everything until I'm good enough to take the practical exam!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 40.1  Solo: 11.2  Inst (sim): 1.6  Night: 3.3
(Between winter keeping me out of the air, and the fact that I temporarily had to shut down, I haven't been keeping up to date on my logs now I have to go back in my mind to remember some of these lessons!)
The weather has not been kind lately, so it's getting harder to get a good day to go flying!  Fortunately, we had a break up we go!   Not too much new in this lesson...just practicing short and soft field landings and take offs..but man it felt good to get back in the plane again!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 41.1  Solo: 11.2  Inst (sim): 1.9  Night: 3.3
Sheesh...more than a month since I last flew!!  During the off-time, Mark painted 2298J!!  Same just looks all new and shiny now!!  With a window in the nasty weather, we go up for some test prep.  Back to the basics:  slow flight, stalls, steep turns, and some sim-instrument flying.  Jeez I'm a bit out of practice!!  It took a couple of tries on a few things before everything was clicking in my head properly!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.7  Total: 42.8  Solo: 12.3  Inst (sim): 1.9  Night: 3.3
More test prep...some slow flight and touch and go's at Missoula Int.(MSO)  Since MSO is where I'll be taking the practical exam, I'd better get much more familiar with it's 9600 foot runway!  (Stevensville is only 3000 landing on a runway that is built for jets can be a little disorienting at first!)
TIME:  Lesson: 1.3  Total: 44.1  Solo: 12.3  Inst (sim): 2.3  Night: 3.3
Once again, some landing practice at MSO.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.5  Total: 45.6  Solo: 12.3  Inst (sim): 2.8  Night: 3.3
Time for some solo flight since Mark is out of town.  After some power-off stalls and steep turns, I couldn't resist just flying around a bit and enjoying the ride!  But, it's test prep time, so back to the runway for some TO and landing practice!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.5  Total: 47.1  Solo: 13.8  Inst (sim): 2.8  Night: 3.3
Mark's back, and we realize that I haven't done the required 3 solo landings at a class D airport (MSO), so up in air I go!   The only really exciting thing about this trip was that there was a decent amount of other traffic at MSO today, so the tower had me change my pattern on apporach.  I almost felt like I knew what I was doing!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.1  Total: 48.2  Solo: 14.9  Inst (sim): 2.8  Night: 3.3
Well, Mark's set the date for the exam:  Sunday, the 25th!!  Time to really buckle down and make myself a pilot!!   After a short bit up in the air to keep myself in trim, it's time for some ground school!  There's more to being a pilot than just keeping a plane off the gorund....WAY MORE!!  The written exam covered a lot of the rules and regulations, but it doesn't cover in-depth what you need to know to fly safely.  So, it's back to the books to brush up on everything I should know about airplanes.
TIME:  Lesson: 0.7  Total: 48.9  Solo: 14.9  Inst (sim): 2.8  Night: 3.3
We're getting down to the wire and there's still a few rough spots that I need to smooth over in my flying ability.   With this flight, I'm confidant that the 'transitioning to slow flight' bump has been worked out and smoothed over!  I'd still like to get some more time landing and taking off at MSO, though.
TIME:  Lesson: 1.4  Total: 50.3  Solo: 14.9  Inst (sim): 3.1  Night: 3.3
With 4 days to go, I ask Mark if we can test my ability on ground ref maneuvers...since I haven't done them in a while.  Oh jeez... they did NOT go as well as I would have liked!!  I stayed within limits for the most part, but I just wasn't 'one' with the plane!   By the time we were done, I felt pretty good about them, though...and was glad we practiced them.  Hopefully, the weather will let me get up to MSO at least once more before the test...then I'll feel ready!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.0  Total: 51.3  Solo: 14.9  Inst (sim): 3.1  Night: 3.3
The weather hasn't been kind, and I didn't get my practice in at MSO like I wanted...but, I still feel ready!
5:30AM  I am awake.  The exam is scheduled for 8AM, so I want to give myself planty of time to work the sleep out of my eyes. Better check the weather....
5:45AM  Uh oh...I had been keeping my eye on a low pressure front moving in last night...and it hasn't gotten any better.
6:00AM  Darn darn darn double darn....As I watch, the weather is getting progressively worse...unfortunately, it's still right on the edge of flyable!!
6:30AM  I'm pretty sure the weather is not up to par, so I call Mark to confirm...he agrees.
7:00AM  I call the examiner and he agrees with my decision of 'no-go'.  We reschedule for next Friday.
Well, hopefully this means I'll get a chance to practice just a little bit more!!
Mel is scheduled to take his exam today and the weather looks good.  So good, in fact, that the examiner would also like to do MY test today!!  So I get to spend Tuesday morning mentally preparing myself!!

EXAM DAY (part duex)!!
  The examiner's name is Ken Fielding.  His full time work is flying a King Air for Life-Flights between here and Seattle.   Ken is a very likable person...I feel at ease with him as we set down to work on the oral part of the exam.  For about 2 hours we go over the flight plan I made for a trip to Helena, airplane physics, rules and regs, and any other information I should have in my head.   He stumped me on a couple of questions, but everything else my brain seemed able to cough up the knowledge.
  After a short break and a weather check, it's out to the plane to see if I can fly like a real pilot!
  I preflight the airplane as I normally do (I had already decided that I didn't want to try and be 'extra careful'...if I'm doing something wrong I want to KNOW about it...I want to be a good pilot...not just a 'good pilot for the test'.)   After taking a few extra seconds to force my brain to work and remember the darn radio calls, we finally take off!
  We're in the air only a few minutes when he has me put the foggles on for the simmed intstrument check.  Weather being weather, we got bumped around quite a bit and I had a heck of a time trying to keep the plane flying within parameters.  After flying around a bit getting me lost (and doing an unusual attitude check), I take the foggles off and try to figure out where I am.  Fortunately for me, I've seen this particular spot a couple of times, so I pretty much know immediately what our location is.  However, I figure I'd better double check it on the map....the map??  Where's my map??  DARN...I forgot to take it out before takeoff (I knew I'd do something stupid like forgetting something basic...)  I quickly extract the map and plot our position...all the while cursing myself and already thinking "better luck next time"!!  But, I'm correct in my positioning, and I didn't lose control when I fumbled for the map, so it's off to the next phase.
  As we cross over a mountain ridge, I find out I'm lacking in some mountain flying knowledge (you cross a ridge at an angle, not straight on)... it's not required for the test, but it darn well is required if I'm going to fly here in the I make a mental note to buy some books on mountain flying and ask Mark for some more lessons.
  Transition to slow flight goes text book perfect. Huh...all that practicing DOES come in handy!!  While puttering along with 20 degrees of flaps just above stalling speed, Ken reaches down and lowers the flaps to 40 degrees.   This should, in reality, make this airplane stall...but we must have been in an updraft, because even though the stall horn is screaming, and the airspeed indicator is pegged at the bottom, we maintain 7000 feet!!  After about 15 seconds Ken remarks, "Pretty amazing, huh?!" and has me kill the power.  Finally, the plane stalls!!  During the recover I realize that the flaps aren't coming back up...I figure Ken has pulled the fuse! (He did that with Mel)  When I point this out, Ken is surprised...we actually blew the fuse!!  No problem...another fuse is handy, so it's back to normal flight.
  We fly back to MSO and I make the radio call that we are inbound...then I realized I made a mistake:  I forgot to check ATIS (weather and other info that's repeatedly broadcast on a different frequency).  I then compound this mistake with another:  I switch radio frequency to get the info without asking the tower first.  This is a BIG no-no...but it's not a failure only due to the fact that we were still outside of the class D airspace (but I STILL shouldn't have done it).   I chaulk up these two errors due to nervousness...because I KNOW better than to do either one of them.  It's a mistake I'll not forget, though.
  On approach to our first landing (a soft field landing) I come in way too high, so I ask Ken, "Do you mind if I go-around?"  To which he replies, "YOU'RE the pilot in command here, why are you asking me?"  So I call the tower and go around for another try.  During the go-around, Ken reminds me, "Remember what I said in the preflight...YOU are the pilot...YOU make the decisions."  This is where my warped humor decided to pop up and I say, "Well, in reality, I only asked if you MIND if we went around!"  Fortunately for me, Ken has a good sense of humor!!
  On our second approach, another plane lands on the runway that crosses ours, so we go around AGAIN!!  Finally, on the third try, I make the approach, I flair and add a little power (we are still doing a soft field landing), I gently ease the power back to touch down nice and slow.  Everything is perfect...except I'm about 1-2 feet too high!!  (This is why I wanted just ONE MORE PRACTICE at MSO!!)  Ah well, it was a little rough, but it was still a successful landing!
  Taking off again, we switch runways and come in for a short field landing.  I still misjudged the flair height..but only by about a half a foot this time.  Again, a little rough, but I stopped the plane within about 1000 feet (I think!)
  We do a short field take off and enter the pattern for another landing.  About halfway through the pattern Ken reached down, pulls out the fuse for the flaps, and starts studying it intently!  He informs me, "Okay, this is our final landing, you can land any way you want, but you only have the same 2000 foot limit we did on our last landing."  "Well, I might be needing that fuse you have in your hand there", says I.  "No, I'm not too sure about this fuse, I should study it a while" Ken replies!
  "Oh that's just GREAT" I say to myself...but after a few seconds thought, I figure "No problem, I can land with no flaps...that's what a forward slip is for."   About the time I'm mentally geared up for this, Ken pulls the power on the engine and says "Ooops...engine failure...what now?!?"   Well, we don't practice engine failures for no reason!!  I immediately trim to best glide speed and turn towards the runway.   About halfway there I'm suddenly struck with a thought and say, "Oh no, do we still only have the first 200 feet?!?!?!"  Ken laughs and says, "I was wondering when you were going to remember that!!"  Thinking quickly I try and figure out if I have enough altitude to turn back to the beginning of the runway when Ken says, "Don't worry about it, you have the full runway!"  WHEW!!   About this time we are over the runway, and we are still pretty high!  With no flaps to work with, I slip the plane down and make a fairly successful landing! (Probably the best one of the day!)
  We taxi back to the hanger and shut down.  Finally Ken tells me "You've passed, congratulations!!"    I PASSED!!!  WOO HOO!!
  We go back in for the paperwork and debriefing on the exam...after which I am handed my Temporary Airman Certificate!!

  All in all...I have to say Ken is a great examiner...and not just because I passed!  I learned quite a bit in the 2 hours on the ground and 1.6 hours we were in the air.  I know a bit more about the things I still need to work on.  I recognize the mistakes that I made, and more importantly, what I need to do to correct them.

A major congratulations also goes to Mel Ewing, who also passed!!  NICE JOB MEL!!!
TIME:  Lesson: 1.6  Total: 52.9  Solo: 16.5  Inst (sim): 3.1  Night: 3.3
  For my final entry in my Learning to Fly diary, I feel I should describe flying the plane back down to Stevensville after the exam.
  I don't know if the weather had calmed down, or perhaps I just wasn't nervous from being in a test, or maybe I had a new sense of confidence in me since I was now officially a pilot...but I don't think I've ever flown that plane better than the return flight to Stevensville!!  I climbed to 5000 feet, set the trim, and flew like I knew what I was doing!!  With only minimal control adjustments, the plane kept dead on altitude and heading.  All radio calls were done without any flubs.   Entering and flying the pattern at Stevensville was done text book perfect.  And finally I came in for a 'greaser' landing (hardly any bump at all when I touched down)!

  It was just turning dusk during the trip down, the radio was nice and quiet, and the air was smooth.  Such an enjoyable hop it was...I felt again the same thrill of moving along only supported by air that I felt the very first time I was in a small plane.   Thoughts of birds, the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh, Earhart, Yeager, and other great aviators filled my mind.  Suddenly I realized that I felt a new thrill...a thrill that comes from being known as a 'pilot'!!
TIME:  Lesson: 0.4  Total: 53.3  Solo: 16.9  Inst (sim): 3.1  Night: 3.3
  I'm not sure if I'll continue to keep a diary of my future flights.  It doesn't take too long to jot down my feelings of a maybe!  I do intend to try for advanced certifications...the next step:  Instrument Rating!   From there, who knows...I've entertained thoughts of getting a commercial rating so that perhaps one day I could become an instructor   (I've noticed that both Mark and Ken seemed to enjoy the unusual attitude theory is that it's the only time they get to have some real fun flying the plane completely WRONG just to scare the student!!)
  Regardless of what I do, if you, the reader, has actually READ this far without falling asleep...then go fly!!  If you are a pilot, go fly now!!  If you aren't, then go learn to fly!!  It is one of the most worthwhile and enjoyable things I've yet done in my life!!