Monthly Archives: April 2014

Pattern Work

View from the space physics floor of the Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK
View from the space physics floor of the Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK. Fairbanks has a bit of snow left on the ground, but it’s melting fast. A beautiful day to go flying.

I can’t wait to solo again, but I definitely need to work on my landings first. We did all pattern work today, and it was actually fun. Did 9 takeoffs and landings. 2 landings were simulated emergency landings and 2 were practicing slips.


My normal landings were mostly straight; all good except for one. I was lined up dead straight, but forgot to reduce power to settle onto the runway. We flew in ground effect all the way down the runway, and I was very confused and miffed when told to do a go-around. I completely messed that up by first raising the flaps. Oops. Dropped onto the runway and was lucky we had enough pavement to get back up into the air. Sigh. Correct steps: throttle, carb heat, then take my time with the flaps.


I find that I really enjoy CFI6’s style where he gives you plenty of warning before asking you to perform a procedure. I know that in real life, you never get a warning before you need to perform a slip to lose altitude or an emergency landing….but hey, I’m a student pilot. I’d really like to practice those procedures at an unhurried pace at least once – I don’t feel I’d gotten that before today.


My simulated emergency landings were fine; I am now at the point where I don’t need to be told when to put flaps in (come on Christina, you know what the sight picture looks like when you are lined up on the runway). Trimming for 70kts sure does take a lot of turns of the trim wheel.


I’d practiced side slips in the pattern and forward slips at 2000′, but today was the first time I did forward slips in the pattern. We were on runway 20L with a left base so my first slip was the ‘easy side’ with the nose to the right. I managed to hold the configuration all the way down to the runway which surprised CFI6. Chalk it up to a lack of fear. It felt really fun.

On the next pattern lap, I was to forward slip to the left with a reminder to keep my airspeed up (I’d gotten really slow on the last run, and as we all know, if you stall in a slip when coming in for a landing, you spin…and bad things happen). So, the forward slip to the left wasn’t as good as the right because I was so worried about being too slow. But I walked away from it all with my desire to try it again intact – so I’ll call it a good day.


Notes to myself:

  • Don’t stop setting the plane up for landing when tower starts talking to me. Aviate, navigate, communicate.
  • Visually confirm that I’m in the white arc of airspeed before putting in the first 10 degrees of flaps. I always ‘feel’ that I’m slow enough but I really should visually confirm that I am. Keep the nose up when I reduce power to ensure that the airspeed will actually decrease! (plane is trimmed for cruise airspeed at pattern altitude. If one reduces power, the nose will naturally dip to keep the airspeed up at the speed the plane was trimmed for).
  • Ask CFI6 if I can handle the radio work in the pattern next time.

Back in the Air

I’m so happy that I finally have the time to finish my private pilot certificate!!! (well, mostly – I forgot about the need to take final exams next week…anyways…)

I was really nervous about getting back in the air after such a long hiatus (November 2013 was the last time I flew), but I think it went really well.

I got to fly with an instructor I’d never worked with before and I think it was a good thing. His explanations didn’t assume I would remember everything, and it was what I needed.

We did ground reviews of stalls, stall recovery, ground effect, and the 3 factors which cause left turning tendencies. Surprised at how much I remembered; sorely disappointed in the few things I blanked on (pride).

Had to fly the 152 – it used to make me nervous because I had started in the 150 (and things were just different enough to make me uncomfortable) but today was really nice.

We practiced power-off stalls ad-nauseam, but I found that it wasn’t as difficult as it was last year. Yes! I finally feel that I have a good grasp on the amount of right rudder pressure to maintain (although I frequently get lazy and let off). I also found that I liked practicing stall recoveries without dealing with adding full power and messing with the flaps – just tip the nose down and apply rudder in the direction opposite to the direction of the break. I only pushed the nose down too far once (which did indeed wake me up, ha) 😐

Did several turns and I found it was actually quite easy to stop directly on the heading I was asked to do. I almost can’t believe how much my headings wobbled in the past. Holding a certain degree of bank was more challenging , but I nailed it in the end.

We simulated an engine failure and came in nice and low over a straight local Fairbanks wilderness/snowmobile trail. My timing was way off so I wasn’t lined up on the trail at all (was about 2 wingspans to the right), but I think with more practice, I can become more comfortable with flying 500feet AGL.

Then landings practice. Well, these were terrible and involved a lot of help from CFI6. It was super sunny today and the thermal activity was bouncing me around too much for my liking. I landed way too long on my second try and missed tower instructions, arahh. But I feel quite confident that with a little practice, I’ll have it good again. Excited for the next flight!

Float Plane Sightseeing

I had a space physics conference in Juneau, AK this weekend – a destination where the tourist websites are mostly devoted to cruise ship passengers. I saw tons of recommendations for both helicopter and float plane trips to the 5 Juneau neighborhood glaciers. I had to try and do it!

Sitting in a Q400, ready for takeoff, PAFA (Fairbanks)

Almost at Anchorage

Coming in for landing, Juneau airport


CFI2 was able to recommend a float plane company to me owned by a buddy. Sadly, my trip was ~5 days before tourist season started, so no glacier sightseeing tours were operating. However, small island communities of the Alaskan inside passage are serviced year-round by float planes (or planes on skis where needed in the winter). I got booked on a cargo flight to Elfin and Pelican.


I’d never taken a small commercial flight before, so I was definitely excited. When I checked in at the counter, there was a minor concern about whether or not I’d be allowed to go since I was nonessential weight and there was an unusually high mail load going out. Happily, the company airplane dispatcher let me proceed 🙂

My carry on hiking bag was weighed and body weight entered into their weight and balance program. The funniest part of my morning was when the guy checking in next to me was asked for his weight.  He didn’t know and just proceeded to weight himself up on the luggage scale. Awesome! 😛

When it was flight time, the 2 other passengers (each going home) and myself were loaded into a van and driven to the float pond.


The pilot was loading the last of the mail and it was great to hear the other passengers comment on what was going where (mail included unwrapped paper towels, fishing gear, and food&drinks). I was thinking “Man, these communities must be tiny. Everyone knows everyone else. Mail includes paper towels. ” Oh yes.

Paper towels get a window seat

We were handed earplugs and I definitely got a little sad that I wouldn’t be able to listen to all the radio communications. Unlike the training aircraft I’m used to, the deHavilland Beaver only had flight controls on the left; I’m not sure if there was the option for multiple people to plug in headsets.

Funny moment: I was allowed to sit up front since I wasn’t expected to get out during the trip. I got to board first, but I completely forgot which side to sit on! All those student pilot hours got me. Ha, caught myself by remembering that I cannot operate the flight controls, sit on the right.


The pilot untied us from the dock and we taxied/floated to the end of the rectangular pond. Taxi was so slow compared to what I expected. Takeoff was incredibly smooth, I didn’t even realize we were airborne because it was essentially a soft field takeoff, get airborne and fly close to the surface for a while.

Heading out to Elfin


When we reached Elfin, we circled over the ‘normal’ landing strip at least 4 times (stomach churning really steep turns, mild turbulence). The pilot later told me that landing near the village would have been fine, but takeoff would have been a bit dangerous because of immediate downdrafts (coming over the the mountain between the open water and the village) and crosswinds. Amazing what the water surface can tell a pilot. The surface looked completely calm to my untrained eye.

Elfin Cove; yep, that’s all the buildings there are.

We landed right in the sheltered area right beside the mountain in the middle of the water. Scary exciting because our path was low right over mountain and then sharply down into the wind protected zone. A very smooth landing nonetheless. I want piloting skills like that someday.

We landed in the area sheltered from the wind (picture left).

A fishing boat met us out in the middle of all that water, and the pilot unloaded 1 passenger and some mail. The box made me smile – this company is everywhere, even remote villages with a population of ~10 🙂

I assume amazon still has free shipping even when mail has to be delivered via tiny plane 🙂
And we wave goodbye to the local airport shuttle boat 🙂

Back up we went for the short hop to Pelican.

Landing at Pelican was super tame, taxied right up to the dock. We unloaded passenger 2 and the remaining mail.  Pelican doesn’t currently have a grocery store (closed due to the economy) so there was undoubtedly snack food in some of the the mail parcels.  Also took on boxed frozen fish. Pelican is a fishing community and since a supply ferry only comes once a month, the fish being sold is flown out to Juneau. I estimated at least 500 pounds of fish were loaded, 50 lbs at a time. We also took 2 packages on. Each was covered with about 30 $1 stamps – So much prettier than the normal labels the post office places on your parcels.

Pelican, AK straight ahead.
Floated right up to the dock
Pelican, AK
Mail being flown from Pelican to Juneau, so many boxes of frozen fish!

When we tookoff from Elfin, some mist had hit the plane’s windshield. The water evaporated but left behind a salt residue. I was given the task of cleaning the windshield (and not falling into the water).

Me, cleaning the windshield of salt residue, trying not to fall into the water 🙂
See the whale?

On the flight back, the pilot took us low when he spotted breaching whales! I didn’t get pictures from the air but did see whales later on my beachside hike:

This was such as beautiful day!

Flying from Pelican to Juneau

I never got to land on a glacier on this trip, but at least I did get to see one from the air on the way back to Juneau:

Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier!!! Glacier is that blueish valley between the mountains.

And here we are, coming in for the final landing at Juneau. Landing on water is still such a weird concept for me.


I’m so excited that my flight school has recently started offering float plane training. I can’t wait to try it myself.

Short Term Survival

One of the things that terrifies me about learning to fly is ‘what happens if I have to emergency land in a remote location/crash?’ My morbid mind knows that if I don’t survive, then I won’t be around to care, and the fear is moot; however, my instructors keep reassuring me that if you take the correct actions, most small-airplane crashes are survivable. Yay.

But then what? In Alaska, if one goes down and survives, it will likely be in really remote brush and tundra. I know nothing about the wilderness. My job is to process satellite data in a cushy office building. I’ve never been fishing, I’ve only cooked deboned fish filets from the freezer section, never gone hunting, never gone camping away from a main road, never made an outdoor cooking fire, never taken a first aid course, have forgotten all my CPR training – you get the picture.

If one files a flight plan and doesn’t close it, local law enforcement starts looking for you at the landing airport at T+30 minutes after expected arrival. It’s likely that it will be about T+2 hours before any aircraft takes off to look for you. Best case scenario: the 406Mhz ELT can be location accurate to within ~2miles? (assuming it actually activates in the crash) Factor in travel time for the rescue planes to get to your general location and add in time for them to actually physically see you. A crash survivor needs the ability to stay alive for several hours to days for rescuers to get to them.

Alaskan winter: The ‘interior area (Fairbanks)’ is famous for its ability to get down past -40F. Brr.

Alaskan summer: watch out for bears, maternally protective/aggressive moose, swarms of mosquitoes.



My flight school has a short course for creating a short-term survival pack – which I took this evening.

We started with many stories of crash impact survivors who subsequently died from lack of survival supplies.

  • Alaskan pilots who lacked proper winter clothing because they didn’t dress to survive the terrain they were flying over (those aircraft heaters are really toasty – it’s tempting to go flying without a parka).
  • Crashes where the pilots died on impact and passengers survived – but then passengers died from a lack of food&water because they didn’t know about the aircraft’s emergency radios and emergency supplies in their pilots’ vests. [Alabama case]
  • Float plane crashes where the plane’s emergency kit sinks with the plane. Uninjured survivors on shore with no supplies.
  • A duo who crashed into a 150ft tree and survived (only 1 person had a broken leg); they got down on the ground safely but forgot their survival gear in the plane. They couldn’t climb up the tree and died. Sad!

In a crash, you may just have to survive with just the clothes on your back. To increase your odds, you can wear a vest/fanny pack with survival gear.

The instructor showed us his personal vest. It was an inflatable life vest with pockets (inflatable vest because he exclusively flies float planes).

A lot of items were expected: knife/mini-saw (which every Alaskan seems to carry around in all occasions), strike-anywhere matches, waterproof matches in waterproof cylinders (include the special striking surface that comes with the original package! They usually won’t catch fire otherwise), swiss army knife (to dismantle plane parts), alcohol pads (prevent infection in the cuts a crash survivor is sure to have), bandaids, asprin, flashlights (batteries kept separate to prevent corrosion!), signaling mirror, compass, granola bars.

Then there were items I thought were truly brilliant: surveyor’s [flagging] tape (neon colored thin plastic you can mark your path with if you leave the crash site), rescue laser with a line filter (makes a red laser line instead of the normal dot), high powered Cyalume glow sticks, homemade altoids-mints-tin sized fishing kit (hooks, line, etc), 9V battery + steel wool (for starting fires), candles (importance described below), [wool] working gloves (stay warm and prevent blisters when building shelter), butane lighter, fresnel lens (for starting fires), Waterproof match case/film canister filled with cotton balls soaked with petroleum jelly (use as tinder), polarized sunglasses (to prevent snow blindness), whistle, wire saw (although many people consider these useless), waterproof-paper notepads (leave notes if you leave the plane/keep a diary/stave off boredom), pencils and pens, mini survival book, prescription medication, mini backup ELT+instructions+extra battery.

These items should be enough for short term survival, a few days – one is expecting rescue in the near future. Personalize your kit by adding or removing items.


Alaskan law (AS 02.35.110. Emergency Rations and Equipment) requires certain longer term survival equipment in small aircraft. It includes mosquito headnets, a week of food for each passenger, first aid kit, knife, axe, and more. Winter regulations include snowshoes, wool blankets, and a sleeping bag. In his larger (longer term) emergency kit, our instructor also includes 33 gallon trash bags (great for carrying water&berries, covering large wounds, acting as a raincoat/mosquito net, shelter, collecting condensation from a tree branch to drink, etc), large roll of duct tape, Dinty Moore instant meals (ex. pot roast, no water needed), water pouches (they won’t burst on impact like a gallon container might. I didn’t know they made these!).


Random tidbits from the class:

The importance of candles: heating snow caves! When building a snow shelter, we were told that one should dig all the way down to the bare earth, beneath leaves and branches. Bare earth is approximately +14F (geothermal heat!), warmer than having a snow floor. Googling only show sites that say to have a snow floor. I’ve not tried a snow shelter so I still don’t know what is best. Candles can warm a snow cave a few degrees, which can make a bit of difference in sub zero temperatures.

Never fly with bear spray in the cockpit. Law enforcement pepper spray is 5% ‘pepper’. Bear sprays are typically ~20%. There are cases of bear spray accidentally going off, incapacitating the pilots, and causing fatal crashes.

Gun: anything smaller than a 45 probably won’t stop a bear.

When a brown bear charges, it may stop about 15 feet short of you since they don’t typically eat humans. Then again, they might kill and leave you. Black bears will eat you. Thanks instructor for that nightmare-inducing warning, humph 😉

Winter: don’t seek shelter in the plane. Build an insulated shelter. Pull padding from the seats for insulation.

Signal fire: use tires, plane oil, plane fuel to create thick, black smoke when you see search planes coming towards you/across your field of vision. (this is where the multitool is invaluable)

Not a cold weather secret: batteries die super fast. ELT batteries normally last for a day but one will be lucky to get 4 hours in the cold. Don’t rely on battery powered devices if possible!

After a crash, drink water! [if you have enough]. Adrenaline rush of the incident can dehydrate you and lead to brain impairment. Take a break and inventory all your supplies.

Steps to take are outlined here:


I’ve always carried a few personal survival items on my previous flights: knife, granola bars, flashlights, extra Spot GPS batteries, lifestraw (large diameter straw with built in filter), a plastic bag, mylar thermal blanket, a sparkie firestarter (1 handed operation capable, works when wet), lip balm, chemical hand  warmers, and spare glasses. I am now going to invest in a fanny pack and strap essential items to my body.

Idea for me: I’m working on a solar powered purse for charging my phone. I should look into building something more powerful for general charging purposes.

**I am not experienced in wilderness activities. The information in this blog should be verified with a professional before its use in any real life situations.**


I really look forward to getting back into flying next month. I haven’t piloted a plane since November – far too long.