Monthly Archives: October 2013

Aw, “We’d like to remain in the pattern”

Today was my first flight after the first solo. It felt like a lot of pressure to nail the landings because I’ve been working on it for so long. Last time, I was told to study emergency procedures, short field takeoff/landings, and soft field takeoff/landings.

I’ve practiced an emergency 180 with CFI4 every time we’ve flown (he randomly picks a lap in the pattern to pull the power to idle when I’m abeam the touchdown point, I land without touching the throttle) and other emergency practices so I feel that my emergency procedures are good. CFI4 originally wanted me to do more solo pattern work today, but the lack of sunlight made it impossible. We used this evening to do soft field and short field work.

CFI4 rapidly became one of my top favorites at the flight school – but he flies military helicopters for his day job, so I could only schedule time with him starting at 5:30pm. There still isn’t snow on the ground in Fairbanks, so I’ve been forgetting that fall Fairbanks loses 6 minutes of daylight everyday. Sunset was 5:35pm today, civil twilight at 6:29. Aiiii.

Having grown up in Georgia, I also forgot that in places where it gets cold, you sometimes need to allot time to scrape the ice off your car windows. So I was about 3 minutes late, and CFI4 had been there really early because he felt bad about being so late last time I flew with him. Whoops. The sun was right on the horizon and I wanted to fly?

But 10 soft field/short field takeoffs&landings works for me – even in the dark. I’d only done short field takeoffs before and I looked forward to doing something new in the pattern (although I’d really wanted to fly away from the airport – I’m antsy enough I would have enjoyed the dreaded practice area next to the airport).

We used 2R, right base, like usual (the lack of left base practice worries me a little).  Even though it was night with cool air, we had a light wind/chop over the airport, so I got to practice crabbing into the wind – such a strange thing to have a ground track ‘off to the side’ of the plane.

Short field takeoff – always lots of fun. My work was good.

Short field landing – I don’t necessarily enjoy coming down so quickly after clearing my imaginary obstacle at the runway threshold (need more practice).

Soft field takeoff – I never used enough right rudder on any of these. I don’t pull back enough on the yoke. I have to use a lot of forward pressure immediately after takeoff to let the plane accelerate to 70 knots (maybe use trim next time).

Soft field landing – I don’t pull back enough on the yoke.

I need to be more patient when turning to final. I’m turning too early/steeply – subconsciously trying to get the turn over with so I can set myself up on final. I’m also much too worried about interfering with the parallel runway – I’m flying a 150 with only 100hp, I’m not going to zip anywhere really fast.

I need to be more patient on my emergency 180s. I still turn too quickly towards the runway so I use up a lot the length. Not a big deal, but it could be prettier.

Almost every landing was just awful. Most of these were definitely not straight/hitting a bit hard. All the instructor stories of small aircraft wheels crumpling under side loads has me a bit freaked out. I’m still overcorrecting when I try to pull myself to centerline just before flare. Then I’m not focused enough to get back to centerline once the main wheels are on the ground. I feel like such an impostor…having soloed and now I can’t even land straight (especially since landing straight never has been such a persistent problem in my other lessons).

ATC instructions- New jumble of stuff learned:

  • Initially contacted FAI ground before taxi and was told to immediately switch to tower (no mention of this on ATIS). Apparently this will usually be the normal operating procedures as we head into the colder months (less traffic).
  • We started out doing doing stop-and-goes but ATC told us ‘we couldn’t stop on the runway and that we were cleared for everything else.’ Not entirely sure why. There was only 1 other plane in the pattern [on ski2] and we weren’t close enough together to interfere with each other….oh well. This instruction came while I was on short final; I was told that I didn’t need to respond because it was a critical phase of the flight [didn’t know that could be a valid instruction] (I didn’t catch tower’s words and I do wish I had audio of this lesson so I could hear what I missed – PAFA doesn’t currently have tower)
  • And this isn’t new knowledge to me but just a mistake I should avoid: I once got cleared to land instead of being cleared for the option. I did my readback as ‘cleared for the option‘ – both ATC and CFI4 talked over each other telling me no. We were supposed to wait on the runway until cleared to takeoff (waiting for a plane to take off on ski2{ski2 is the gravel runway extension at the end of 2R} – the missing piece of my mental confusion puzzle). I let this debacle distract me enough that my base leg was way farther out then it should have been (past the river). I know, I know, always aviate first, then navigate, then communicate.


Last night, Fairbanks got the best aurora of this fall (finally, we get something!). I need to see if I can time my night cross country flight with a geomagnetically active night (CFIs tell me that auroras in a moving plane are extra awesome). Enjoy some pictures from UAF’s physics graduate students:

This looks like the only arc I saw last night. Man, I missed a good show. [M. Copper,]
Looking towards UAF’s West Ridge research buildings [M. Hsieh]
Looking east from UAF’s Harwood Building [M. Duncan]
Aurora was so bright it was visible through the street lights in town [M. Copper]


First Solo Today!!!

Today’s post is super long but I wanted to capture all my moments 🙂 You can just scroll down to the end and see the pictures.


Everyone says it happens when you least expect it, and I suppose it is true.

After my last lesson, I was talking to the admin person, self-pity party on how many hours I had flown, how I still couldn’t touch down on centerline…she was encouraging as always, mentioning that the CFIs all tell her that I’m really close….and we parted with the reminder that I should start ‘dressing for the part’ with old shirts.

“In American aviation lore, the traditional removal of a new pilot’s shirt tail is a sign of the instructor’s new confidence in his student after successful completion of the 1st solo flight. In the days of tandem trainers, the student sat in the front seat, with the instructor behind. As there were often no radios in these early days of aviation, the instructor would tug on the student pilot’s shirttail to get his attention, and then yell in his ear. A successful first solo flight is an indication that the student can fly without the instructor (“instructor-less” flight). Hence, there is no longer a need for the shirt tail, and it is cut off by the (often) proud instructor, and sometimes displayed as a trophy.” -from somewhere on the internet


I went to my lesson today with the expectation that I’d get lots more landing practice in, maybe be solo at the end of this week (hoping this year’s record Fairbanks ‘no snow’ time would continue).

Got to add engine oil for the first time today. I’m a little worried at the growing size of the oil stain under the 150. Eh.

Preflight went very smoothly except I somehow got a superficial centimeter long cut under my right hand middle finger – no bleeding, but it hurts with every little pressure on the digit – shoot, I need that hand for the throttle!

My first and second laps around the pattern (right base on 2R) were pretty nice, very level touchdown because the winds were completely calm, and only about 1 foot off centerline (oh and 2nd lap I forgot 20° of flaps in the turn to base). My turns to final were too early, but touchdown was fine. I was really getting my hopes up at this point because when I rode with the pre-solo student a few weeks ago, he did 3 decent landings and was immediately allowed to solo.

The third landing: CFI headset off – it’s just me and the plane. It was okay except I landed about 3 feet off center. CFI2 indicated to go up again and my heart kind of sank. But not too much – I still needed the landing practice (darn centerline). I wasn’t expecting to solo today anyways right?

The fourth landing I ballooned slightly on flare (and turned to final too early again). I was slightly annoyed with myself since the first 2 landings today were pretty nice all the way down – ah! Why can’t I consistently do it nicely? Then CFI2 abruptly took the controls and radioed that we were doing a full stop. My mind started racing. I remembered watching him do this with the other student – that time, on the dead silent ride back to parking, I was trying to figure out if the student had done something terribly wrong since CFI2 didn’t even let the student taxi back to parking – and it turned out that he was going back into to sign the solo paperwork. This was happening to me!

I got 100% on my pre-solo written exam (got teased for setting my maximum crosswind limitations at 4 knots), scotch tape to keep pressure on my finger (so it wouldn’t hurt every time I touched something – yeah, yeah, ghetto-rific but I couldn’t find a band-aid), and I was off [so alone! :)].

I’d never had so many thoughts go through my mind on any flight. I’d always been really calm (or my mind would go blank when asked something). Not this time. It was kind of annoying (sheesh, calm down brain).

Waited for 2 planes to land and was told to line up and wait. Uh…I’d never had to do it before so I wasn’t sure what it meant. Well, you can’t go wrong waiting at the hold short line, so that’s what I did. Thankfully, I got cleared to takeoff before anyone noticed. (On a student solo last weekend, the student was told to go-around just as she touched down…she wasn’t sure what to do but land and taxi to parking. Luckily she wasn’t told told to report to any FAA officials, no 1-800 numbers to call – but this was prominently in my mind the entire time. I’m too close to the beginning of my flying days to be in trouble with the government!)

The first lap was as perfect as one could get – and I landed perfectly on centerline!!!!! So happy!

2nd lap: ATC told me to extend upwind (that’s a new one for me) but easy enough to follow. They cleared me for the option while telling me to turn crosswind. I didn’t really hear the option clearance; on base, I’m glad I had the presence of mind to confirm that I was cleared for the option (I was). I turned final too early, ballooned a little, flared too high, touched down 3 feet off center, and forgot you steer with your feet when you’re on the ground. I recovered quickly, and went up again.

Final lap: on downwind, ATC told me some long spiel about another plane coming in from the south on a direct final. Thoughts: ‘Was there an actual instruction in there? ohhhh, how do I respond?’ “Say again” was what came out of my mouth. I was abeam the touchdown point and it was time to descend. ATC repeated most of their words again, and I again didn’t hear an actual instruction.  “roger” – yeah, that’s a good response… ‘I heard you but I didn’t agree to do anything’ … My mind started racing again because I couldn’t remember if I was cleared for the option. Could I turn base? I wasn’t explicitly told to extend downwind….so confused. “Have patience during your landings” were CFI2’s paring words to me before the solo – so that’s what I did. Only had to extend downwind a little bit before ATC told me to turn base. Finally! Something I can follow! And this was when I finally remembered to say I was doing a full stop (I usually forget until I’m on the ground). This lap was the hardest to get set up on the right glide path – lots of shallow oscillations before I was able to pull myself to center. Deep breaths, relax. Thank goodness for the last minute save! I was getting mentally ready to do a go-around but I’d rather not have to explain the extra lap to everyone (‘silly me, I couldn’t line up on the runway even though there was no wind’). This touchdown was my worst of the day – I flared high and then not really enough as I came down again. Didn’t touch down hard, but I’m not proud of it.

Taxied to parking and was pleased I didn’t get distracted by the crowd watching me. Also actually managed to do straight down the taxi line 🙂

I wanted to do something crazy for my flight school wall picture – I’d decided on the alien a while back but I was so nervous I forgot to take him up!
—Also note: no Fairbanks snow as of late October!
Christina shirt cutting
Traditional first solo shirt-tail cutting time; methinks someone enjoys the scissors a little too much, jk 😀

Rhinestone ‘stars’ because the flight school people are tickled that I work in space research – purple because it’s the best color.

I’m really disappointed that no one saw my first solo landing since it was so nice! CFI2 only watched the 2nd landing – not perfect but at least he wasn’t watching the 3rd (sorta kidding).

All students I’ve talked to remark on how quiet their first solo flight is. I never get a lot of chatter from the CFIs (so I thought) so I wasn’t expecting to be surprised at the silence. Surprised to say that I did notice. (jokingly: on solo, there is no praise if you do something correct, ahh! *wink wink*). Did the plane take off faster without the weight of the instructor? Uhh….maybe? Not too noticeable to me.

The next student discovered something weird on her run-up magneto check and the 150 is down for a while. I was worried when she first came back to the office that it was something related to that icky last landing I did, but whew, mags, not me!

Cross country time now! Yes! But it means I have 4 large ground school sections to read before the next lesson….


Still Working on Touch-and-Goes

This is technically a sunrise picture from earlier this week, but tonight's sunset looked the same. Our geographical latitude is high enough that the sun rises and sets in the 'south' (minor sun placement to the east/west)
This is technically a sunrise picture from earlier this week, but tonight’s sunset looked the same. Fairbanks’ latitude is high enough that the fall/winter sun rises and sets in the ‘south’ (minor sun displacement to the east/west)

Touch-and-goes at sunset tonight. The air was so clear and the Alaska Range was beautiful. I did a set of 6 touch-and-goes with CFI3 tonight – got to do 3 before the runway lights came on, 3 after.

This was my second lesson on 20L (with a left base). I was nervous because I’ve done ~all my practice so far with a right base. When turning, I can’t see anything because the wing is in my way. Even knowing the runway heading, I find myself overwhelmed and can’t ever figure out a 90° turn (ahhhhh, you just subtract 9, but I’m too tense to do the math).

Turning to crosswind: I turned about 110 degrees every single time. I really just need to have my heading numbers in my head before the lesson.

Downwind: I had to correct my visual reference points because I kept angling in towards the runway. I think I’ve got it now. I’m glad the Carlson Center (ice rink) downtown is a distinctive green-blue.

Turning to final: was too early 3/6 times.  I have this same problem with a right base too…. 2 times I had to wait to turn because of traffic on ski2 and those turns ended up being straight down the runway. I just need to learn to wait longer.

The first 2 ‘landings’ were flying about 1.5ft above the runway – and those were really awesome, if I do say so myself. Really centered, great altitude control.

Then 4 actual touch down landings. Today was the first time I was a bit crooked and slipped a bit across the pavement (I feel bad for taking a layer of rubber off the tires). At least my other landings were straight – although all were still about 2 feet off centerline.

The final 2 landings were the most frustrating (although not bad).

Landing 5: Had a harder time controlling my airspeed (was at the top of the white arc even with 20° of flaps) – it never happened before so I wasn’t sure what to do. Instructor told me to go with full flaps and it was really weird feeling the plane immediately slow down *so* much. But then I had to add soooo much power to keep from stalling.

Landing 6: 3 planes coming in at the same time. One coming in from the west to land on the ski strip, me flying north in my downwind leg for 20L, and a 737 from the north on straight in final for 20R. I was #2 and had to extend downwind way north – it was fun because I got to fly all the way over Fairbanks (which was a first for me) – but then the 737 was getting really close…. I made the turn too steep and had to angle really far right to line up on the runway. I also had 4 red on the PAPI which is always nerve-racking. CFI3 was really happy with the actual touchdown – I guess I should be too because it was nice and soft and I was able to get back on centerline really quickly…..but ah! 2 feet off!


I was asked today if I felt ready to solo. Ready to takeoff and fly the pattern? Yes. Ready to land? Sometimes. For example, landing 5 would have been a go-around if I had been alone in the plane. It is frustrating because it was a completely ‘savable’ landing – but I didn’t immediately know how.


My flight was the first since the 150’s leaky fuel tank was replaced. Hurray for being a guinea pig. I’m sad I didn’t check the fuel shutoff switch when I lowered the flaps in preflight. Ahh! Sorry CFI3, I always check it – I’m not sure why I didn’t today. It did explain why nothing came out of the fuel strainer, embarrassing. I got to add gas to the plane for the second time today (I’m ashamed to admit I finally figured out why we cannot fill the tanks up completely – instructor+student+16 gallons is approximately the 150’s max load, sheesh Christina…..). I feel that as we start moving into to colder weather, I’ll “get” the pleasure of fueling up a lot more. 😉

Adventure Time in the Arrow: Air Tour of Fairbanks

I tagged along on another flight after my lesson today. My hour-building friend only had time to fly a semicircle around the Fairbanks area, but that is fine by me as I hadn’t seen the area from the air at all.

Fairbanks, Alaska. Oh hey, you can see the running track.

We went north from the airport and I got my first good view of UAF and its trails from the air. We passed it so quickly! I remember it took me 3 hours to cross country ski the loop around the trail boundaries…arrr 😀

University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Next point, northeast of Fairbanks: Fort Knox mine. It’s an open pit mining operation and is one of the largest gold producing areas in the state. I believe the pit about a mile deep – woah.

Partially frozen reservoir for the mine
Approaching the open pit mine, Fort Knox
Ooo, water at the bottom of the mine. And tiny, tiny trucks going down the spiral 😀

We continued northeast to UAF’s Poker Flat Research/Rocket Range, Chatanika Lodge, and the burned out Chatanika gold dredge (a historic relic; 1928 boat structure that was ‘accidentally’ set on fire earlier this summer). I’d been to all the buildings of Poker Flat before, and it was really cool being able to list what was housed in each building. I also saw Poker Flat’s radar facility for the first time (on the ground, my view of it is usually obscured by terrain).

Gold mining dredge in Chatanika, Alaska; prefire [wikipedia]
Chatanika dredge, October 21 2013 []
Chatanika dredge, October 21 2013 []

See the cluster of buildings (Chatnika Lodge)? The dredge is across the road, located where that waterway splits in two
Poker Flat Research Range – this is a great view of the lower buildings (and the incoherent scatter radar! – lower right whitish panel)
Poker Flat – lidar building (think ‘laser radar’ – you can actually see the green laser beam at night 🙂 )
Poker Flat – aurora observing room (and the sky cameras) are down there
The upper buildings of Poker Flat (lidar & aurora)

Onwards: southwest to Minto Flats (directly west of Fairbanks): a wide open space with lots of (partially frozen) lakes/streams. Gorgeous view of the Alaska Range (south of Fairbanks).

Looking south of Fairbanks, Alaska towards the Alaska Range
Looking south of Fairbanks, Alaska towards the Alaska Range

Minto Flats is a good winter hunting spot and we flew around looking for moose. I must be bad luck because we didn’t see any animals. I saw a handful of standalone houses on some islands and it was truly picturesque. It would be spectacular to live there – remote, on the water, and remarkably beautiful.

Minto Flats: so many ponds!
Minto Flats: we thought we saw a moose in the water! but it was just a rock.

Lastly: Nenana (town ~60 miles southwest of Fairbanks). I’ve only ever driven through here on my way to Denali National Park. There was a ~30knot crosswind on their runway so no landing. It’s okay though – a lot of my cross country flights will be to this airport, I’ll see it again.

Nenana, AK
The bridges by Nenana, AK

Back to Fairbanks: We saw lots of clouds south of town – so strange how ‘suddenly’ the sky can shift from clear to overcast (stationary clouds but look at how sharply the clouds start!).

So fluffy!
Some mountain peak south of Fairbanks

Got to go straight in to land on runway 2R. From our perspective, there was a fog bank just over the Tanana River (river path separates Nenana and Fairbanks), obscuring the airport until we were 5 miles out. My pilot knew where to look (of course) but I’m still having trouble recognizing the airport against the terrain. Fortunately, I realized today that the airport float pond is a large recognizable shiny area. 😉

Fairbanks Airport – Cloud bank over the Tanana River obscured the runways until we were really close
Back at Fairbanks, 2R

I love that planes that are so much faster than cars (especially the Piper Arrow). Nenana, Fairbanks, and Poker Flat are laid out on approximately a straight line (southwest to northeast). It would take about 2 hours to drive to these 3 places. This afternoon’s flight was 1.5 hours – plus we got to circle the mine a few times and search for moose over Minto Flats.

I’ve noticed a remarkable improvement in my recognition of what people are saying (approach/departure control, tower, ground). Lots of heavy aircraft being vectored in to Eielson base today! It was non-stop chatter – so amazed at what air traffic controllers are able to do with a radar.

Touch-and-Goes: Will It Never End?

A set of 10 takeoffs and landings on 2R with CFI1 & the 150 today. He is the only instructor at the school who I hadn’t done pattern work with yet, and I was curious if he had any magical hints. As it turns out, he did give me a really good comment: “don’t suffer from complacency syndrome”. His analysis: I can almost always get myself set up beautifully on final….then I stop being as hypervigilent and let up on the right rudder. That in turn makes me drift left, I use right rudder to correct, and then relax my foot again when I shouldn’t => oscillations left and right cause me to ignore my cues to flare at the right height, and I land left of centerline.

I loved the feedback because I’ve done this minor mistake on every landing, but no one has phrased the fix quite as he did. 🙂 But today’s flight did highlight why I chose to stop flying with him for my pre-solo work: he is too nice. And not just with criticism; I felt him making minor corrections for me with the rudder (because I kept whining about wanting a perfect landing) and I’d really prefer that he didn’t. When he was showing me the first time, sure, he can do whatever he wants to. But I want to have full control the rest of the time.

On initial descent on the downwind leg, I noticed today’s vertical descent rate was consistently larger than it should be (like when I flew the 152 last time). I think I’ve figured out that it comes from remembering CFI2’s constant taps on the yoke to remind me to pitch down further on my landings…So I’m now pitching down too much on downwind, and not enough on base and final. Gah…

I was either too high or too low on all landings today (a full 4 red or 4 white) but I’ve figured out how to perfectly correct for both during final, no instructor words/inputs (yay!).

Non-centerline mistake of the day: When starting the initial descent, I put carburetor heat on and then forgot to throttle back. I just pitched down, wondered by it wasn’t slowing to the white arc, and wondered why it sounded strange. Didn’t notice until CFI1 tapped on the tach. – we were already at the point where I was supposed to turn base. Arrr.

CFI1 mentioned that I may be looking too far down the runway (I’ve only ever been told to look at the end of the runway) – meaning my depth perception is off. I was surprised to find how how significantly closer to the plane he looks than what the other instructors have been telling me (not just in front of the plane of course, but maybe ~200 ft.) Of course, everyone’s eyes are different – I’ll see if his advice is helpful in my next lesson.

CFI1 is the most proactive pilot I’ve seen when it comes to wake turbulence. A 737 departed the parallel runway while I was in the pattern (I was the only one on the general aviation side of the airport) and CFI1 got clearance for us to sit on the runway as we waited for 2 minutes to pass. It was a little windy today so the wake turbulence probably blew away quickly, but waiting the full 2 minutes after the 737’s takeoff was very prudent.

CFI huddle after the lesson: everyone says the best fix for my rudder problem is to do some rudder-only landings (no aileron). I’ve done a few in the past but they haven’t quite done the trick yet. Today’s rudder-only landing was spoiled by me because I turned final too late and had to angle way back towards the runway. No real time to try out the small rudder corrections they wanted me to. The other suggestion was having an instructor mark each shoe with a sharpie (L and R) every lesson we forget to use the rudder – not sure why it was effective with the other students….the shame? 😛

It is kind of strange to me how much people at the flight school talk about each other about us, the students — in a good way, of course, because they want you to do better (and because all the students fly with so many different instructors) – but that doesn’t make it any less awkward.

Fun moment of the day: on one landing, just before flare, CFI1 asked to take control to show me just how ‘crazy’ I can get with the ailerons – and how one can still remain over the centerline. It was downright terrifying how much bank one could do (or so it looked anyways) – and so close to the ground! ATC’s opinion my my piloting abilities must have gone down a lot after that ‘landing’.

Late note: 9am is a beautiful time to fly in October Fairbanks – the sun is just rising and the airspace is super quiet. My car was harder to clean off than the plane – lots of frost and graupel.

150 got a new keyring 🙂
I love that airplane keys are so small compared to the ‘bulk size’ of an airplane….and that they resemble padlock keys

Poor 150; it had a fuel tank leak after its next student so it will be in the hangar for a few days, having its tanks pulled out. Awww….

Touch-and-Goes, At Night!

Viewing Fairbanks from UAF’s Reichardt Building; 5pm, mid October

An unexpected twist in today’s flight: got my first hour of flying at night! I wasn’t scheduled to fly at all today because a lot of people had beat me to the scheduling program, but the entire afternoon cleared out ~11am today. I wanted to fly at 5:30pm because that’s when CFI4 gets done with his day job (he had a lot of free time with the government shutdown, but it’s a lot harder to find him at the airport since everything reopened). Strangely though, he never got the scheduling notice, and didn’t start heading to the airport until 6pm. I went ahead and preflighted the 150 while waiting.

Fairbanks/UAF at 5pm, mid October

By 6:20pm, the air temperature cooled enough that the wings started frosting up. Another student was able to de-frost the 152 at 5:45pm with warm water so we started the same process with the 150. All we succeeded in doing was putting a nice thin ice layer on the wings because we couldn’t wipe the water off fast enough. Darn it. Air temperature cooled off so fast!

Civil twilight is 7:01pm today in Fairbanks – it was already 6:30pm and we were losing sunlight fast. I was getting sad that I spent the effort to preflight and ‘defrost’, was still waiting for CFI4 to get to the airport……and I wasn’t going to get to fly.

Surprise though! CFI2 told me to wait for the 152 to come back and do night stop-and-goes! You need 10 takeoffs and landings before the practical test anyways, so I did 8 today and will do the final 2 when I do my night cross country. Woohoo! While waiting for the 152, I quickly went through all the Jeppesen online ground school sections on night flying.

The flight school has the great tiedown spots right next to the lit up fuel site, so only a minimal amount of flashlight gymnastics was needed during preflight.

Taxiing all the way out to 2R at night was lovely with the blue taxi lights. I believe west ramp has the green taxi centerline lights – which I look forward to using one day.

My first 2 patterns were near perfect stop-and-goes. Each turn was 90degrees (which I didn’t expect without my normal ground references), pattern altitude was good, downwind was the perfect distance from the runway, flare height fine, very stable approaches. My only issue was that I landed about 2 feet off centerline.

Then pattern and landings all kinda went downhill. Takeoffs stopped being along the extended runway centerline (eek, lost my visual reference points in the dark). Winds picked up at my base and final legs which made me nervous. I kept turning base and final too early, my crosswind turn was consistently greater than 90degrees, I kept rising 100feet above pattern altitude. I started turning towards the runway on downwind. On final, I couldn’t stay lined up on centerline and definitely kept overcorrecting. I couldn’t properly level out before flare. I think CFI4 is perplexed as to why I can’t get the centerline thing down after so many landings. Me too.

There were at least 2 times that I remember being ~150ft above the runway and was still oscillating over the runway edge lights – should have probably have been go-arounds but I managed to somehow touch down on pavement (way off centerline). Those were definitely some of the more scary moments of flight training so far.

Did 2 short field takeoffs – my first 2 ever – love the power 🙂

Only got to fly ‘inches’ off the runway once today. Not my finest work, but I have done worse. This was after landing a smidge harder than I should (a few times) on the main wheels….CFI4 let me fly 30feet over the centerline instead of making it be inches.

My radio work is getting more confident – was even able to report having traffic in sight right when tower told me about it. Only one mistake today: after reporting my final landing would be a full stop, I said “cleared for the option” instead of “cleared to land”.

One of the more interesting moments was when I turned base just as a Boeing 737 was passing me on final for the parallel runway. Wonder what the passengers thought of me flying straight at them. 😉

City lights…..the airport is southwest of Fairbanks. On 2R, there are only city lights on the takeoff and crosswind legs. It is pitch black for downwind and base. A strange set-up to a novice pilot.

The new wing covers for the 152 are awesome. The only issue with putting the plane to bed was that the water used to defrost earlier had turned into a thin sheet of ice all over the ground. I guess it is finally time to dig out the no-slip snowboots.

Overall, I think I like pattern work at night better than during the day. No distracting terrain features (!), less traffic, easier to see approaching planes, and I like the pretty city lights 😀


Things to work on:

  • At night, my initial descent kept going from a nice 500ft/min to 1000ft/min. Not sure why, but once I saw that it happened consistently, I was able to use trim. The 152 is the first plane where I’ve had to consistently use trim (and am getting confident doing so). I think the rapid descent is a personal nighttime flying thing for me – be sure to watch out for it in the future.
  • Push the nose down at all times on base and final (I tend to pull up during my turns)
  • Make smaller corrections to pull myself to the centerline.
  • Find a non-visual nighttime reference to takeoff on the extended centerline.

Turning Stalls, Unusual Attitudes, and Touch-and-Goes

I flew the 152 today because the high schoolers had first dibs in the 150 – they were doing their first solos 🙂

Maneuvered to a new section of the practice area today – farther west of the buttes then normal. It is way greener and more interesting terrain than I’m used to (even though all the leaves have dropped from the trees).

I had my first experience with turning stalls today. Not quite as bad as I was fearing they would be. I was able to stay very nice and coordinated (to my great surprise!) both for landing and takeoff stalls, but didn’t pull back as far as I needed to on the yoke until told to. I’m terrible at remembering to use rudder to do my direction corrections – not aileron. I’m worried that the 150 won’t behave as nicely – the 152 has been much tamer for all my previous stalls. I’d also forgotten how to set up for slow flight (‘doh). Must remember to review my notes before my flights.

Also got in some unusual attitudes & recoveries today. CFI4 was way trickier than CFI2 was: way more dramatic climbs and dives. I was starting to get a little queasy! I was again really timid with pulling back and pushing forward on the yoke. Don’t take your time Christina, recover quickly! Remember to level out the wings before recovering from a dive, be prepared to reduce power if needed, and don’t forget that the trim settings may have been changed by the tricky instructor.

Touch-and-goes on 20L today – finally! My first experience landing with a left base. I didn’t like it at all. Couldn’t see anything when turning to each leg of the pattern. Definitely makes things like using 5 seconds for my crosswind leg more important. When using 20L, FAI is set up so that the ski strip (gravel runway ‘ski20’) is just before the paved runway. There were 2 planes in front of me in the pattern doing touch-and-goes on ski20 so I had to constantly look for them, extend my downwind, and worry about accidentally not giving them enough time to take off again. There was an aeronca who kept turning base when he was clear across town – so annoying! How did he have time to fly that far anyways?

Did my first sideslip to lose altitude today. Although CFI4 seemed fine with my performance, I felt the plane seemed….unstable through it all. I would love to some more practice in.

One no flaps landing – it was okay but I’d also like more practices doing this.

Only got to fly inches off the runway (I really do love that exercise) for 2/9 landings today. My fault for constantly flaring too late. I never touched down nosewheel first, but kept landing completely level so all three wheels touched at the same time. I don’t think I did any damage, but I’m glad it’s not my plane. My first ‘dragging the strip’ run was absolutely beautiful – completely on centerline the entire time and a perfect altitude – I now know that I can do it properly, but haven’t repeated it yet. Hoping to do it right next time.

I flew my first own emergency 180/simulated engine failure landing today – aside from turning mildly too quickly/steeply, it was actually pretty fun.

Learned the importance of always shutting down the engine with the rudder peddles configured so the nosewheel is straight. During preflight, I noted that left peddle was all the way in, nosewheel turned as far as it would go – and I couldn’t straighten it out no matter how hard I tried – even with CFI4 raising the nosewheel off the ground. Couldn’t check that the rudder could move freely. I promised CFI4 that I would never intentionally make another student do through that. Naturally though, during shutdown, I did the same thing (for the first time ever…but nosewheel only a little crooked) – arrh. CFI4 was able to easily fix it by turning the tire. How did he do that? I couldn’t turn it as hard as I tried!


Things to work on:

  • Don’t balloon, don’t balloon, don’t balloon! Today, I didn’t go as high as I normally do, but that’s not the point, I shouldn’t be going up at all. Need smaller control movements.
  • Keep looking all the way down the runway, not at the ground just in front of me (I just realized that I do this while driving too). I need to be on centerline!
  • I turned base too early almost every time, once too late. That parallel runway makes me nervous – especially since I couldn’t see it.

You Guessed It, Touch-and-Goes

Uggg. Today was the first day I left the airport without being happy about having gotten to fly a plane.


Yesterday evening (~5pm), a Cessna 172 crashed at Fairbanks International Airport, killing one of the three people onboard. It freaked me out a little to read about it online ~midnight ( The plane reportedly crashed just after takeoff, just south of the fence at the end of runway 20L (airport’s general aviation side).

Out of morbid curiosity, I downloaded the PAFA radio feed off of and listened to it. All I was able to learn is that after an accident (even if the incident was only on one side), both runways at FAI are closed (only Fairbanks ground and Fairbanks approach/departure frequencies seem to have been posted online, no tower). Within 20 minutes of the first mention of a crash, both runways were up and running again.

I think it really shook me because I fly a lot of my lessons ~5:10pm. Given where I am in flight training, I would have been in the pattern doing touch-and-goes. Would I have been in any danger? (probably not, but I still worry) What would I have needed to do if I was in the air? I don’t have recordings of tower frequencies, but I assume that those in the pattern would have been allowed to land at the ski strip or 20R? Or the nearby military’s Ladd field which abuts FAI’s class D airspace? The Chena Marina airstrip in town? I suppose that if I were allowed to land on the other side of FAI, I would have to sit around til runways reopened, take off on 20R, and land on 20L to park the plane? (since taxiway bravo, which connects the two runways, is still closed – see post PAFA Taxiway B Closed)

I was going to ask CFI2 these questions, but before my flight, the school was really busy; after the flight, I just felt blah – unpleasantly surprised that I didn’t enjoy flying even though I didn’t make *major* errors that would scare anyone. I’ll ask next time.

More morbid curiosity led me to read most of the aircraft crash articles in the local news site ( and do a quick search of the NTSB database. I’m actually really glad I did this. There are so few accidents in each year (as compared to car accidents).

The crash was cleaned up by the time my flight happened so there was nothing to distract me….except my really high-strung mind. CFI2 joked that he was going to start slipping me prozac – can’t hurt right?


Today’s lesson began with an oral pop quiz: List every step one needs to take for touch-and-goes. Yuck. I know all the steps but did stutter a bit – as well as forgetting to talk about 3 parts until prompted.

For my personal reference: Cessna 150 – Line up on runway, throttle in, climb at 7degrees pitch, letting the horizon just touch the nose in my sightpicture. Turn crosswind ~500ft AGL, turn downwind about 5 seconds after that. 150 reaches pattern altitude, 1000ft AGL, on downwind leg. Reduce power, maintain level flight. When abeam runway touchdown point, carburetor heat, throttle to 1700 rpm, pitch down (~500ft/min), 10 degrees of flaps. When runway is about 45 degrees behind the wing, turn base, go to 20degrees of flaps while turning. Next, turn final. Establish plane on correct glideslope. Line up on centerline; adjust altitude with throttle. 5ft above runway, pitch to level flight, reduce power to idle  slowly, then flare (pitch to climb attitude). Let main wheels touch, control direction with rudder, keep pulling back on yoke, let nosewheel sink down when plane is slow enough. Flaps up, throttle in, carb. heat off, do it all again.

5 takeoffs and landings today with CFI2. He covered the airspeed indicator with a post-it the entire time to show me that I don’t need to chase the indicator needle in the pattern. I know what my sight picture should look like on all steps. Look outside of the plane Christina.


I’m still doing the same mistakes I’ve been doing – and it’s a real downer.

First, the good: all takeoffs and landings are noticeably closer to centerline than before! Good! But still distinctly off…always end too left. I attribute the improvement to looking down at the end of the runway each time – I remembered!

CFI2 says he feels that I finally understand when to level out and when to flare. Uh, I’ll just have to take his word for it. Every once in a while, I get it right….but it doesn’t feel very consistent to me (probably because I still don’t feel I entirely know what to look for).

Last landing was really pretty until I pulled the power to idle too quickly and we sank like a rock. My instinct was to pull up but I went too high. Oh man…

  • Initial taxi: forgot to turn on the taxi light (why can’t I remember to do it when CFI2 is in the plane?).
  • Tower’s initial clearance for takeoff: I forgot the words “cleared for takeoff” but remembered everything else…
  • My climbing turns are coordinated at the beginning but usually end slightly uncoordinated.
  • I almost never automatically correct for the crosswind at pattern altitude – I drift towards the tower until prompted. Today it was harder because that wind was gusting and the dips and bumps distracted me. The sudden, seemingly extreme changes from level wings did scare me a couple times because I wasn’t expecting it.
  • When tower says something besides “cleared for the option”, I still can’t quickly figure out the correct response. I saw that disappointed look in CFI2’s eyes. I’m greatly saddened also. I should know what to do by now. Wilco, looking, in sight, #__ in the caravan, etc
  • After turning to base and final, I never pitch down far enough. Sometimes the instructor has to tap on the yoke on downwind after that first notch of flaps. -> I’m usually too high on final.
  • Taxi to parking: I (like always) forgot to say where I was to ground.
  • upwind leg and after the main wheels touch runway – starts nice and centered but at the last second, I’m off centerline. Araahhhh! How did the messup even have time to occur?!?

Silly mistakes – I hate that I keep doing these things wrong. I wish flying was like learning to parallel park – very cheap to go out and do hours of practice every day until it was perfect.

Reminders (my new knowledge for the day):

  • Even when tower extends your downwind leg, you still do the normal initial descent procedures at the same places you usually do.
  • Don’t need transponder in pattern practice unless told to.

Touch-and-Goes Again

Look, a rainbow at the airport this morning:

Early morning rainbow at Fairbanks Airport (right). School’s 152 on the left.

A set of 5 touch-and-goes today with CFI2. No wind today, whew, but still had to use runway 2R. Maybe I should be glad not to have my sight picture change just when I’m getting the hang of everything, but a right base makes it so hard to figure out if my pattern actually makes a rectangle.

Standard takeoffs and landings today, no extended flying inches above the centerline. I was surprised I wasn’t chastised for being so far off centerline. Usually CFI2 is so harsh (in that paternal way)….perhaps he’s just glad I didn’t do oval shaped patterns like a student  yesterday evening, yikes, haha.

Anyways, it is great to see him in an uncharacteristically good mood 🙂

On the downwind leg of landing 2, CFI2 told me I’d never learn anything if he kept talking to me and promptly took his headset off. Uhh….

That landing was pretty much perfect except it was ever so slightly low (easy correction) and I flared way too late (scared the instructor a bit….nose down near runway=bad, but ha, take that for making me worry about having to deal with tower potentially needing me to extend my downwind or something [anything besides normal pattern radio talking still happens too quick for me to correctly respond to]), then ballooned. Instructor headset back on.

All my landings were really soft on the nosewheel – cool. All ‘good’ landings, but not ‘great’ – room for improvement (centerline!).

I’m really proud that I didn’t let myself be distracted by the airport firefighting exercise about 800ft from the runway touchdown zone. Billowing smoke? Don’t faze me 😀


Things for me to remember:

  • Look down the runway! Not just at the ground near the nose
  • Downwind is parallel to the runway. Sigh. Stop turning towards the airport.
  • Minor nitpick: when putting in flaps, don’t let the plane balloon up.

More Touch-and-Goes

Today’s lesson brought me to the last line of the first page in my logbook. 9 takeoffs and landings today, bringing me up to 32 of each. We used runway 2R so it was all right base. I want to see if left base is easier! Maybe Fairbanks winds will turn later this week.


Today was the first time I found water mixed with the gasoline. About 4 thimbles of water from the fuel strainer – woah! Definitely made me pay more attention to the rest of the preflight.

Super calm evening – no winds!

1 simulated engine failure today and CFI4 used it to demonstrate a slip. Looked like he was showing off for the plane holding short at runway 2R :D. Totally cool to just come straight down. Sideways.

Most of the time we did our ‘dragging the strip’ exercise again. I’m more centered on the runway centerline today, but it desperately needs work. I’m waiting to hear the tower personnel just laughing at me. I’m self conscious because I noticed tower watching today as I checked the fuel levels in the wings (Probably thinking it’s ridiculous that I need to grab a ladder every time; if I were 6 inches taller, I wouldn’t need a ladder, I’ve tested this 😀 ). Anyways, landings: my left hand is probably exerting too much pressure on the yoke, leading to my need to correct what started out as absolutely beautiful finals. Me, having terrible muscle control, would then botch the whole thing by using too much rudder (in both directions), not enough ailerons. Darn it.

Fright 1: Today was the first time that I was consistently low on turn to final (PAPI with 4 reds, ahh!). For my non-aviation friends, PAPI = precision approach path indicator. You’ve probably seen them on your commercial flights. Anyways, those trees on the island past the end of the runway were looking way too close for comfort. When’d they get so high?

Precision Approach Path Indicator []
Fright 2: One time we were 10 feet off the ground, but weren’t over the end of the runway yet. I’m glad the instructor knew we were going to make it (without adding power) because my physics senses didn’t have a good feeling about that one.

My new cushion allowed me to see the cowling of the plane for the first time! Sadly, it is not a magic fix for everything….and I usually still had to stretch my neck up to see the centerline. Going for 2 pillows next time.


Things to work on:

  • 1000 rpm before applying brakes
  • Use right rudder when adding full power!
  • Right rudder on climbing turns. Also reduce angle of attack by a degree or so in climbing turns.
  • Downwind leg: first, pitch to level at pattern altitude, let airspeed increase (to 85 knots in the 150), and then reduce power.
  • I still turn slightly towards the runway on downwind instead of going parallel.
  • Tap lightly on the rudder peddles to stay on centerline, I’m much too lead-footed.
  • I pull back way too much trying to stay inches off the runway. CFI4’s movements were so small they were barely noticeable.


I’m usually the last person to fly in the evenings – meaning I get the unenviable task of protecting the plane from frost. Here is the 150 tucked in for the night:

The 150 all tucked in for the cold night with an engine blanket, wing covers, and elevator covers. Not sure where the windshield cover went. If CFI2 asks, it was CFI4 that did this parking job (oops, we’re not quite on the green marks). Oh no, we forgot to plug in the oil pan heater!