Category: AirlineReporter Francis Zera

Learning to Fly: One-Year Anniversary:

Likely my favorite C172 in Galvin's fleet

Likely my favorite C172 in Galvin’s fleet

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

March 20 marked the one-year anniversary of my having started flight training; my first ground-school class was already more than 12 months ago.

Deciding to pursue a pilot’s license has been, simultaneously, the most fiscally-irresponsible thing I’ve ever done, and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ll leave that to the reader to reconcile; I’m totally OK with the decision.

Progress has been sporadic, mostly due to a particularly bad winter with consistent low clouds that precluded flying and resulted in dozens of cancelled training flights. On the upside, now that spring is here, I’ve started to make progress again, although COVID-19 holds the potential for future disruptions. Our governor here in Washington state was kind enough to declare flight training to be among the exempted activities during the lockdown (at least for now).

Since my last post, I’ve completed both my day and night cross-country flights with my instructor, have been working a lot on navigation and flight planning, and now have returned to practicing basic maneuvers to kick off the rust from a winter’s worth of very little flying.

OK, I'll start taking more photos of us actually flying instead of only posting ramp shots; when I'm having a lesson, though, my thoughts are on flying more than taking photos

OK, I’ll start taking more photos of us actually flying instead of only posting ramp shots; when I’m having a lesson, though, my thoughts are on flying more than taking photos

The cross-country flights were wonderful. I’d done all the flight planning in advance to the selected airports (night, we went to Chehalis, Wash., which is a bit south of Olympia; day, we went to Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula), and we flew per the plans after briefing them thoroughly. In true instructor form, my CFI warned me he’d toss in a surprise diversion, so, soon after takeoff on the return leg of the day cross country he declared that we had to make a diversion to Jefferson County Airport (known colloquially as Jeffco). That procedure is to basically figure out where you are currently, where the diversion airport is located, then plot a new course to that airport, keeping on top of checklists, airspace, getting the weather at the new airport, finding appropriate radio frequencies, etc., all in a limited amount of time. It was big fun. We did a touch-and-go at Jeffco, and then flew the planned flight profile back to BFI.

One recent lesson was a bit frustrating; I remembered all the procedures, but the muscle memory just wasn’t there. My landings in the pattern also weren’t very consistent, nor very smooth. More frequent practice has already started to remedy that.

Once all this comes back together, it’ll be time for the stage two check ride with a different Galvin instructor; if I succeed in that, all that’ll be left is my solo cross-country and practicing for the final FAA check ride.

Last weekend, I did my first pattern solo since early December. It was wonderful. Everything clicked, even though I called it good after only about 30 minutes due to some squirrelly crosswinds that I didn’t care for.

Last weekend's pattern solo, recorded via the magic of ADS-B
The C-172S instrument panel is finally as familiar the one in my car
Yours truly, on the base leg to 14L at BFI. Photo by Carl Sanman

Next up will be another practice cross-country flight with my CFI up to Sequim Valley (W28 for those into looking up the airports by the IATA code) on the north end of the Olympic Peninsula. I’m getting pretty good at filling out the manual flight-planning forms; Carl (my instructor) isn’t into letting me use ForeFlight or similar electronic tools for planning; those are simple enough to learn, but he’s preparing me for eventuality of either an iPad failure or, far more likely, the FAA inspector simply taking it away from me in flight and asking me what happens now. The logic is that, if I’m not using electronics for flight planning and navigation, there’s nothing battery-powered that can fail. Plus, even if I were to use the electronics, I’ve got a paper backup.

The post Learning to Fly: One-Year Anniversary appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 04, 2020 at 01:48AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Learning to Fly: Icelandic Piper PA-28 Cherokee Edition:

Flying over Reykjavik in a PA28

Flying over Reykjavik in a PA28

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

The flying weather continues to be dismal in Seattle – I’ve lost track at how many training flights have been canceled due to low ceilings, low visibility, potential icing, etc. – I stopped counting after 14. Even by Seattle standards, we’ve had an exceptional stretch of bad weather this winter.

However, during a recent trip to Iceland with Icelandair (watch for upcoming stories about their maintenance operations, fleet and route plans, plus an economy-class flight review), a series of fortuitous introductions led to my being able to do something I’d only dreamt of – fly in Iceland.

That experience more than made up for all the weather-based frustration with my stalled Seattle flight training.

The Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior we flew that day

The Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior we flew that day

It happened like this: I’d asked Michael Raucheisen, Icelandair’s communications manager for North America, if he knew anyone who was willing to take a student pilot for a spin, even if just in the pattern at Reykjavik airport (RKV/BIRK).

He made a couple of calls, and the next thing you know, I was connected with Valur Sigurðarson, a furloughed Icelandair 737 MAX pilot. When I tried to thank Michael for the connection, he said that it wasn’t him, it was Iceland that did it – he says you’re never more than two or three people away from getting something accomplished, as it’s a tight community and people like to help out. Regardless, I’m grateful for his help.

We flew Valur’s Piper out of RKV, which is on the southeast side of the city; commercial flights use Keflavik International Airport (KEF), about 20 miles southwest of the capitol city. Not only did I get to fly the plane, I got to make a new friend. Especially now that I’m closing in on being a pilot, I’m discovering that the aviation community is an amazing family.

Even better, this was a plane I’d never even been in before, so the whole experience was that much more fun. The Piper was a dream to fly – easier in some ways that the venerable Cessna 172s I’ve been training in back home, especially when it came to trimming the plane in a climb or straight-and-level flight.

The view from the cockpit over Thingvellir national park

The view from the cockpit over Thingvellir national park

Valur let me take the controls for pretty much the whole flight – we did the pre-flight and briefing, then I did most of the taxi, run-up, takeoff, and cruise flight to Lake Þingvallavatn, which is adjacent to Þingvellir national park, which is the rift valley separating Europe from North America. It’s located about 40km northeast of the city.

Flying over frozen Lake Þingvallavatn

Flying over frozen Lake Þingvallavatn

As my goal was to, you know, fly, there aren’t very many photos. I wanted to soak up the experience as much as possible.

Along the way, Valur ran me through some familiarization exercises with the plane, things such as turns and a power-off stall, so that I’d be more comfortable with the controls. He took care of most of the radio work, as I was unfamiliar with EASA radio protocols, although I discovered that they don’t differ much at all from FAA rules.

Interestingly, Valur explained that, as soon as someone speaks English on frequency at BIRK, everyone else on that frequency is supposed to switch to speaking English to avoid any language confusion. That was a good thing for me, as I speak absolutely no Icelandic. The airport’s tower controller was easy to understand despite his accent, so the experience in that regard was also great.

Icelandic pilots, he said, are well-versed in dealing with turbulence, especially of the mountain-wave variety, given the country’s crazy topography. That said, other than a couple bumps near one of the peaks we passed, it was a really smooth day.

I learned a lot about a different type of airplane and about Icelandic airspace, but, best of all, discovered that my flying skills are a bit better than I’d been giving myself credit for; Carl (my Seattle-based Certified Flight Instruction — CFI) had really set me up well for this.

I greased most of the landings (we did a couple laps around the pattern at the end of the flight), even though the runway was contaminated with a bit of snow and ice — I had awesome coaching from Valur in that regard.

On the downwind leg to runway 13 at Reykjavik Airport

On the downwind leg to runway 13 at Reykjavik Airport

After getting back home from that incredible experience, I was stoked for my next attempt at my cross-country training flight, scheduled for the day after my return. True to form, we had to cancel due to poor weather.

The post Learning to Fly: Icelandic Piper PA-28 Cherokee Edition appeared first on AirlineReporter.

February 12, 2020 at 04:37PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Learning to Fly with Francis: Dealing with the Pacific Northwest Winter Blues:

Doing some solo pattern work on a recent sunny Seattle afternoon. Photo by Dave Honan

Doing some solo pattern work on a recent sunny Seattle afternoon – Photo by Dave Honan

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

Progress is being made: I’ve done several more solo flights, and am feeling lots better about landings, maneuvers, and dealing with air-traffic control. We’re working on navigation and cross-country stuff now.

The blues part from the headline comes from the weather-enforced gaps in my training flights. Here in the Pacific Northwest, winter usually means low ceilings and visibility-lowering precipitation. Scheduling time in aircraft becomes a game of chance – you sign up for sessions in advance and then hope for the best.

We’ve tried three times now for a cross-country flight that will qualify for the FAA requirement of flying at least 50 miles away from one’s home airport. We’ve had to cancel all three because of poor weather.

The Cessna 172 feels reasonably big until you taxi past a 767. Photo by Dave Honan

The Cessna 172 feels reasonably big until you taxi past a 767 – Photo by Dave Honan

Related to that flight, there are standard planning forms that need to be filled out in advance, covering everything from routing and visual checkpoints to wind-correction angles, fuel burn, weight-and-balance calculations. It also includes looking up all of the frequencies for the airports/towers we’ll interact with along the route. At least I’m getting plenty of practice with the paperwork.

Night training is coming up, too, weather depending, of course. Carl, my Galvin Flying instructor, introduced the topic in the simulator so he could pause the flight and we could talk about all the various optical illusions pilots have to deal with when flying, and landing, in the dark. There’ll also be a night cross country flight with my instructor.

Breaks in the weather meant I was recently able to squeeze in some solo pattern work – one of those days was overcast, but the ceiling was 9,000 feet and visibility was 10+ miles, which very comfortably qualifies for visual flight rules. The reported wind was 9 knots from 130 degrees, which is a headwind when landing on BFI’s 14L/R runways. So I got my instructor’s approval and headed out for an hour in the pattern.

Turned out, though, that the winds at BFI’s pattern altitude of 1,000 feet were gusty and squirrely. In rapid succession, I got to enjoy some strong updrafts, downdrafts, a touch of wind shear, and a fair amount of turbulence. The wind was also strengthening a bit and shifting westward.

After two laps around the pattern, I decided that, even though I was managing everything quite well, including the crosswind landings, I should call it a day and changed my third touch-and-go tower clearance to a full-stop landing request and went back to the ramp early.

Seems I’m also learning prudence.

We’re trying for that cross-country flight this coming weekend – stay tuned.

The post Learning to Fly with Francis: Dealing with the Pacific Northwest Winter Blues appeared first on AirlineReporter.

December 07, 2019 at 01:38AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Learning to Fly: I Keep Plugging Away:

Always lots going on at BFI - that's an Air Canada B737 MAX 8 fresh from the Renton plant, landing next to one of Galvin's C172s

Always lots going on at BFI – that’s an Air Canada B737 MAX 8 fresh from the Renton plant, landing next to one of Galvin’s C172s

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

A few weeks ago, I completed the written pre-solo exam and Cessna 172S checkout paperwork. Both tests are specific to Galvin’s flight school/rental program. The former test covered lots of flight-safety topics, while the checkout test covered aircraft-specific things like performing weight and balance calculations, flight planning, fuel consumption, takeoff and landing distances based on hypothetical weight and balance figures, and so on.

Taking a spin around the west side of TIW

Taking a spin around the west side of TIW (Tacoma)

I’ve had to back off the frequency of flight training a bit; this is definitely an expensive exercise. I’ve gone from flying two or three times a week to three times every two weeks to stretch the budget a bit. This is, based on conversations with fellow students, also nothing out of the ordinary.

That pacing, though, has made me feel like my skills have been stagnating a bit. I had a frustrating flight a week or so ago, where nothing seemed to go smoothly and my memory of the required procedures needed refreshing by the instructor, rather than my just doing them without prompting; it was disheartening.

There have been a couple of flights like that.

On approach to BFI, we were following a business jet headed for the parallel runway (Carl Sanman photo)

On approach to BFI, we were following a business jet headed for the parallel runway- Photo: Carl Sanman

My most recent flight, however, was a great morale booster. It was a glorious Seattle afternoon – crystal-clear skies, mostly smooth air, and the wind was blowing straight down the runway. We flew to the Tacoma Narrows Airport (TIW), a lovely tower-controlled field on a bluff near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and phenomenal views of Puget Sound and the mountains.

And it was there that I became convinced that I finally have a handle on landings. I made five of them in the pattern, and all five were good – a couple were actually really good. Carl, my instructor, said he didn’t touch the controls once during any of them. It was a great feeling. The landing back at BFI was also pretty good.

Tacoma Narrows Airport is in the foreground, Tacoma Narrows Bridge is in the middle, and Mount Rainier is in the distance. This is why I love to fly in the Pacific Northwest

Tacoma Narrows Airport is in the foreground, Tacoma Narrows Bridge is in the middle, and Mount Rainier is in the distance. This is why I love to fly in the Pacific Northwest.

Handling the radios for the different towers, maintaining clearance from Sea-Tac’s overlying class B airspace, recognizing landmarks for checking in with the control towers, correctly reading back their instructions, and then following them while performing the required pre-landing checklist items, and then following pattern protocols and landing procedures (i.e., flying the plane), all went pleasingly well.

Now if I can only consistently repeat all of that, plus all the required stage check maneuvers, I’ll be well on my way toward being qualified for solo flight.

Until then, it’s practice, practice, practice.

The post Learning to Fly: I Keep Plugging Away appeared first on AirlineReporter.

July 31, 2019 at 07:14PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Alaska Airlines Kicks it up Several Notches with New Flagship Lounge at Sea-Tac Airport:

Alaska's new flagship lounge is huge, comfortable, and offers great views of the runways at SEA

Alaska’s new flagship lounge is huge, comfortable, and offers great views of the runways at SEA

Alaska Airlines has upped their game by opening a huge new flagship lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on July 12. We got to tour the new lounge during a media preview the day before it officially opened.

Plenty of room to sip that coffee

Plenty of room to sip that coffee

The new lounge is part of a $658.3 million update that the airport is currently building at the North Satellite facility; with the completion of this phase, the work is approximately 1/3 complete, according to Sea-Tac Airport Managing Director Lance Lyttle. Construction got underway back in February, 2017.

The project adds eight gates, 255,000 square feet of space, and several new restaurants and shops to the airport.



The lounge is huge – 15,800 square feet. Window walls provide views to the west and north, encompassing the runways, the Olympic Mountains beyond, and the tops of the downtown Seattle skyscrapers, all weather permitting, of course – Seattle is famous for its persistent cloud cover.

The new Alaska lounge is on the upper floor of the atrium-style entry to the new gate area

The new Alaska lounge is on the upper floor of the atrium-style entry to the new gate area

So, what’s it like? It’s shiny new, and, while not in the same league as, say, Singapore’s epic Changi airport, it’s perfectly Pacific Northwest in scale and vibe.

Even stuffed full of dignitaries and media folks, there's still plenty of room

Even stuffed full of dignitaries and media folks, there’s still plenty of room

Once Alaska opens its newest lounge at San Francisco International Airport, it will have a total of eight lounges systemwide, and will have invested $50 million on a combination of new construction and renovations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, and New York JFK.

This has got to be the best latte art ever

This has got to be the best latte art ever

There’s a large fireplace-centric seating area for relaxing, and plenty of smaller spaces for work or for trying to get a bit of quiet time between flights. The bar offers something close to a dozen microbrews, the coffee bar slings lattes all day long, along with scones and tea for those with a more British bent.

A pancake machine? You betcha

A pancake machine? You betcha

There are plenty of power outlets, WiFi, and flat areas for working or just for setting down your snacks and drinks.

The aforementioned bar area

The aforementioned bar area

Even on a typically grey Seattle morning, there was plenty of natural light in the space.

A two-story atrium features several large art pieces

Several years ago, Delta raised the bar at Sea-Tac with a large, two-story glass-fronted lounge; this totally evens the score, offering far better views.

Best part, IMHO, are the airfield views

Best part, IMHO, are the airfield views

With the huge increases in passengers volumes at Sea-Tac Airport — it’s grown from handling 30 million passengers in 2010 to 50 million in 2018 — the additional, comfortable space has arrived none too soon.

The post Alaska Airlines Kicks it up Several Notches with New Flagship Lounge at Sea-Tac Airport appeared first on AirlineReporter.

July 17, 2019 at 02:54AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Flight review: JetSuiteX Offers Semiprivate Travel to the Masses:

A JetSuiteX ERJ135 getting a water cannon salute at Boeing Field - Mount Rainier provided a dramatic backdrop

A JetSuiteX ERJ135 getting a water cannon salute at Boeing Field – Mount Rainier provided a dramatic backdrop

Simple, fast, efficient, comfortable, and reasonably-priced air travel. What’s not to like?

JetSuiteX kicked off scheduled service between Seattle and Oakland, Calif., on July 1, with three flights per day between the two cities.

This means that the metro Seattle area now has three airports offering scheduled passenger service: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA); Paine Field (PAE) in Everett; and Boeing Field (officially King County International Airport, BFI).

The airline euphemistically referred to the route as the “nerd bird” in a press release, no doubt calling out their hoped-for clientele: business travelers between the two tech hubs.

No fuss here - you just walk out of the terminal building and onto your plane

No fuss here – you just walk out of the terminal building and onto your plane (for the curious, that’s a GOL B-737 MAX 8 on a test flight in the background)

We’ll soon have a separate story offering background on the airline and more on their plans for routes, so I’m going to focus primarily on the flying experience here. And what an experience it was.

Arguably, one of the best parts of flying with JetSuiteX isn’t the flight itself so much as the removal of pre- and post-flight hassles. Lines? Not really. There are only a maximum of 30 people on your flight, and you’re either flying out of a relatively quiet secondary airport or an executive-style FBO (fixed base operator) at a major airport.

Boarding is a simple and quick process

Boarding is a simple and quick process

TSA? Nope. They’re below required passenger minimums for that, operating under Part 135 charter operator certificate, on aircraft with 30 or fewer seats, exempts them from many TSA requirements. I asked the airline about their safety protocols; below is their reply, verbatim:

At JetSuiteX, the safety and security of our customers and crewmembers is always our number one concern. Any customer over the age of 18 will be required to show valid government issued photo ID or two alternate forms of identification with at least one issued by government authority. JetSuiteX has also implemented several additional controls that far exceed the TSA requirements and norms of the industry, to include ETD screening and the same TSA background check system used by the major airlines. JetSuiteX is proud to be the leader within semi-private travel in using these measures. Regulators at the TSA, FAA, and DOT have approved all JetSuiteX security measures, and we have deep cooperative relationships with local law enforcement. We also have various other, unseen mitigations constantly at-work behind the scenes.

So, simply because passengers don’t have to deal with the formal TSA processes does not mean there isn’t any security; it’s just that the security is done in a different way because of the small number of passengers on a given flight.

In that vein, the airline suggests checking in a mere 20 minutes before your scheduled departure time, which harkens back to the glory days of air travel. I was even able to park all day for free right in front of the terminal (word is that Boeing Field will start charging for parking at some point, so that perk likely won’t last long).

In Seattle, Boeing Field is just five miles south of downtown, adding to the convenience factor for business travelers working in the city.

Alex Wilcox, JetSuiteX co-founder and CEO (he was also one of the founders of JetBlue), said that these things alone can shave three or four hours from a standard round trip flight.

“As an industry, we’ve managed to screw up short haul travel,” Wilcox said, explaining that people don’t mind getting to the airport a two or three hours early for a 10+ hour flight, but not for a 90-minute flight. So, he said, those travelers either look for other options, such as driving, or just skip the trip altogether.

JetSuiteX uses a fleet of Embraer ERJ135s. Candidly, the only time I’d flown on one before was on a feeder airline in the upper Midwest. It had about 37 seats and felt like being in a sardine can, so I was curious as to how comfortable the trip would actually be.

Turns out, my concerns were unfounded. Business-class seats, and only 30 of them, made for plenty of personal space in the relatively small cabin. I could even stand up straight in the lavatory (the planes have one lavatory, all the way aft), something that’s not even possible on some larger jetliners.

2-1 seating - everyone gets a window or an aisle

2-1 seating – everyone gets a window or an aisle

For the flight from BFI-OAK, we left within 10 minutes of scheduled departure, with the tardiness mostly due to the inaugural celebration.

That delay was inconsequential, and was only worth mentioning because everything else went off like a Swiss watch.



At the BFI terminal, a newly-redecorated lounge welcomed us with big windows overlooking the ramp, and free coffee and snacks were available. I didn’t spend any time in there, though, because what AvGeek would pass up an opportunity for some ramp time to sit in a lounge, even a comfy one?

The flight took about 90 minutes to cover the 675 miles between Seattle and Oakland. Did I mention that the fare was only $99 each way? Sure, you can find cheaper sale fares with the major carriers, but then we’re back to the original conundrum of having to get to the airport at least 90 minutes early for your flight, etc., which effectively doubles the transit time for a round-trip flight.



And those cheap mainline fares get you the cheap mainline seats; JetSuiteX’s service is comparable to any domestic premium-economy product I’ve experienced, and is every bit as good as some domestic first class offerings, especially when comparing apples-to-apples on short-haul routes. BFI-OAK is currently JetSuiteX’s longest route. You can even earn JetBlue air miles on these flights.

There are no overhead bins in the small cabin, but the business-class sized seats have tons of room underneath for computer bags and the like. Everything else gets checked – you get a baggage allowance of two bags with a combined total of up to 50 lb. For this quick out-and-back trip I brought only the camera backpack I normally use for international travel, and had no problems fitting it under the seat – there’s more room than most domestic economy seats.

Is there onboard WiFi? Sort of, and it’s scheduled to improve. The onboard network is currently named something along the lines of GoGoTextOnly, and that network name pretty much explains the deal.

The WiFi is fast enough for texting, mostly. Even texting was slow, and forget about texting anyone a photo while in flight — the in-flight photo I texted to a friend as a test didn’t get sent until after we landed and my phone connected to a cellular network.

That said, things are slated to improve later this year. According to a JetSuiteX spokesperson, the company is working with SmartSky Networks to implement next-gen, ground-speed onboard WiFi. Originally planned to be launched in late summer, it’s been delayed until Q4 2019.

There was plenty of space onboard

There was plenty of space onboard

Once in California at Signature’s Oakland terminal, the vibe was more upscale bus station than airport; it was loud, there weren’t enough seats, and lots of people seemed determined to make messes faster than the very busy staff could get things cleaned up.

Free coffee, soft drinks, and light snacks were available, but, unlike BFI’s surprisingly good cafeteria in the main building, there are no easily-accessible food options at either the FBO or on that side of the Oakland airport. Granted, this isn’t meant to be a hang-out place, it’s meant for quick transfers, but soda and pretzels only go so far.

Uber Eats solved nicely solved the problem — I had Indian food delivered within 30 minutes during my two-hour layover.

On the outbound leg I was in the middle of the plane in seat 5C, a window. For the return, I was in 10B, an aisle seat in the very last row. The aft-mounted engines made for an unsurprisingly louder ride in the back, but despite that I was still able to carry on a pleasant conversation with the person seated next to me for much of the trip.

Talk about curbside service - this is where we parked in OAK - right in front of the Signature FBO terminal

Talk about curbside service – this is where we parked in OAK – right in front of the Signature FBO terminal

There is one flight attendant on the plane and an appropriately small galley, so the in-flight service consisted of beverages and packaged snacks, perfectly appropriate for such a short flight.

A peek at the ERJ135 flight deck

A peek at the ERJ135 flight deck

I’m definitely a fan of this type of flying. There’s lots to like: prices that are competitive with the major airlines, no long TSA lines, quick and easy check in, comfortable lounges, and solid in-flight service.

The only drag is they only currently have one route out of Seattle.

Disclosure: JetSuiteX invited AirlineReporter on board at its expense for the round-trip flight; our opinions remain our own.

The post Flight review: JetSuiteX Offers Semiprivate Travel to the Masses appeared first on AirlineReporter.

July 10, 2019 at 12:32AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

FAA written exam passed; next step is preparing for stage 1 checkride:

I told you Boeing Field's airspace was busy. That's a USAF KC-46 Pegasus tanker returning from a test flight and a bizjet taxiing to the right; Galvin's ramp is in the foreground.

I told you Boeing Field’s airspace was busy. That’s a USAF KC-46 Pegasus tanker returning from a test flight and a biz jet taxiing to the right; Galvin’s ramp is in the foreground.

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

I passed the FAA written exam two weeks ago. I’ve never been so excited about what amounts to a B+ on a test. But it was a solid pass, as a 70 (or the equivalent of either a C or C-, depending on where you’re from) is the minimum required.

Those free online practice tests are really helpful for exam prep, but I credit the combination of dedicating tons of spare time to studying, along with all of the knowledge and tips shared by Robin, our most excellent ground instructor.

You can’t just toss the books after the exam, though – keeping on top of this stuff seems to be a never-ending task, as several more exams of differing complexity await, as well as a series of so-called stage checks. These are flight-skill milestones, the first of which is probably the most daunting — stage 1, which, if successful, sets you up to do your first solo flight, and the checkride done with a different CFI for both safety and evaluative reasons.

This is a view I'm getting very familiar with - the approach to 14L at BFI (the smaller runway on the left). We're not yet lined up because we were dealing with a crosswind. I was a passenger in a friend's plane for this photo, BTW

This is a view I’m getting very familiar with – the approach to 14L at BFI (the smaller runway on the left). We’re not yet lined up because we were dealing with a crosswind. I was a passenger in a friend’s plane for this photo, BTW

For the longest time, I’ve been struggling with overcontrolling the plane at the last few seconds of the landing process. The idea is to do the approach lined up on centerline and staying on the glideslope, which I at least feel like I’ve got a decent handle on.

As the plane gets to the last few feet above the runway, you’re supposed to catch the descent and settle into ground effect, which is, basically, a situation in which the plane is sort of floating on a cushion of air something less than one wingspan above the ground. From there, you set the plane down smoothly on the main wheels, and fly the plane down the runway to a point where the wings are no longer generating enough lift to fly and the plane settles to the runway.

We overflew Sea-Tac Airport (SEA) on a recent flight back from the Olympic Peninsula. The route is called the Mariner Transition, and it requires both advance permission and active coordination from air-traffic controllers at SEA.

We overflew Sea-Tac Airport (SEA) on a recent flight back from the Olympic Peninsula. The route is called the Mariner Transition, and it requires both advance permission and active coordination from air-traffic controllers at SEA.

Practice makes perfect, though, and over the past few flights it finally feels like I’m starting to get the hang of things, at least now recognizing the point at which the plane enters ground effect and understanding a bit better about how gently (or, frustratingly, how not gently) to handle the controls.

That, and steering the plane to centerline with the rudder and not the control yoke. The instinct to steer the plane with the yoke is hard to overcome for someone used to driving a car – “steering” with the yoke activates the ailerons, dipping one wing and causing the plane to actually veer farther off course. Frustrating, and a bit confusing when all sorts of stuff is going on during the last bit of the approach.

Speaking of frustrating, then there’s the radio. Talking with ATC while still getting the hang of the whole flying thing, and having to both accurately understand and read back their instructions, still causes a bit of fluster for me. Apparently it’s also not an uncommon issue – Carl often just smiles and shrugs after he has to jump in and correct my botched radio calls.

We’ve also visited a few new airports – Tacoma Narrows (TIW), Bremerton (PWT), and Paine Field (PAE). I’m also in possession of the initial paperwork (read: more written tests) to begin the solo process, something that I’m oddly simultaneously excited and terrified about.

But that’s all part of the fun, I suppose.

The post FAA written exam passed; next step is preparing for stage 1 checkride appeared first on AirlineReporter.

June 25, 2019 at 11:31PM Source: http://bit.ly/2Ex2ezu

Big Fun During a Behind-the-Scenes Ops Tour at Paris Orly Airport:

The ORY airport fire department during a training exercise

The ORY airport fire department during a training exercise

Behind-the-scenes airport operations tours are almost always amazing experiences, but Paris Orly Airport (ORY) seems to have set the bar for me with this one. Orly is the second-busiest airport in Paris (after Charles de Gaulle Airport), the 11th-busiest in Europe, and is located about eight miles south of Paris.

An Air France Hop commuter flight departing ORY

An Air France Hop commuter flight departing ORY

It’s a proper international airport and the busiest domestic airport in France. It serves 143 cities, saw a total of 33,120,685 passengers in 2018, and its three runways had 229,654 aircraft movements in 2013, which is the most recent year for which records are available.

A French Bee A350 at the gate

A French Bee A350 at the gate

Orly serves as a hub for Aigle Azur, Air France, French Bee, HOP!, Transavia France, and Corsair International. It’s also a focus airport for Air Caraibes, Chalair Aviation, easyJet, Royal Air Maroc, and Vueling.

La Compagnie also runs its all-business-class 757 service out of ORY to Newark (EWR)

La Compagnie also runs its all-business-class 757 service out of ORY

The airport’s terminals are undergoing major renovations, and Orly South and Orly West have already been renamed to Orly 1, 2, 3, and 4. The planned result through the renovations is a much-improved passenger experience.

A Rossiya B-737 taxiing for departure as seen from ORY's excellent observation deck

A Rossiya B737 taxiing for departure as seen from ORY’s excellent observation deck

As mentioned in my recent French Bee flight review, ORY has a great glassed-in observation deck that’s open to the public and accessible before security. But, I came to see what’s airside, and, with the help of both French Bee’s marketing team and the operations and fire department staff at ORY, I got the royal treatment. I had hoped to see some cargo operations, but that didn’t pan out this trip. What did happen, though, was something beyond what I’d expected – a full-on fire drill.



Orly’s airport fire department has an old Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelle for training – it’s secured to big concrete posts behind the fire station. It once held registration number F-BVPZ with Corse Air International, which is now known as Corsair International.

Cooling down the Caravelle

Cooling down the Caravelle

We spent more than an hour with them, watching the drill, touring the aircraft, and the station. The trucks roared out of the station, sped to the plane, and doused it with water. Then firefighters dragged out hoses to spray down the engines, cool the wings, and soak the wheels.



We even got a ride in one of the airport fire trucks after the drill. My inner 10-year-old was delighted.

Communicating with ground control before driving on a taxiway

Communicating with ground control before driving on a taxiway

Heck, my current 53-year-old self was delighted, too.

The Orly Airport Fire Department has its own tower

The Orly Airport Fire Department has its own tower

The fire department is very well integrated into the airport’s operation system – the fire station even has its own ground tower to better keep an eye on things.



Fun little things of note: at ORY, each vehicle that accesses the taxiways and ramp areas only needs clearance from ground control once each shift; this is different from what I’ve experienced at Stateside airports, where tower clearance is required to transit outside of marked airside vehicle lanes.

Corsair International, the same airline that once owned the fire department's Caravelle

Corsair International, the same airline that once owned the fire department’s Caravelle Corsair

The airport fire trucks have ADS-B transceivers with moving maps on large display screens, allowing them to monitor both aircraft and other similarly-equipped vehicles.

French Bee really does have a fantastic livery

French Bee really does have a fantastic livery

Seeing the highly-trained fire department in action was an amazing experience. I’m definitely hoping for a return visit once the airport’s renovations are complete to see all the improvements.

The post Big Fun During a Behind-the-Scenes Ops Tour at Paris Orly Airport appeared first on AirlineReporter.

June 06, 2019 at 05:10PM Source: http://bit.ly/2Ex2ezu

Ground School Complete; Getting Beat up in the Pattern, Slowly Getting Better:

In the traffic pattern at Boeing Field. The view doesn't suck - that's Mount Rainier on the horizon, and the airfield is on the lower-right side of the image

In the traffic pattern at Boeing Field. The view doesn’t suck – that’s Mount Rainier on the horizon, and the airfield is on the lower-right side of the image.

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After six weeks, which went past in a seeming eyeblink, I’ve completed ground school. Drinking from a fire hose is an appropriate analogy. Still, I passed all three written stage tests, and just passed the written comprehensive finals, which consisted of two separate tests over two class sessions. Next up will be scheduling and taking the proper FAA written exam before all this hard-earned info leaks out of my brain.

I’ve also been flying quite a lot with my CFI (aka my instructor) – two or three hours a week on average. I’m learning new skills like crazy, but am also burning through money like a Silicon Valley startup. In contrast with most of my stories, I don’t have very many photos to share for this series, not at least so far. Learning how to fly is hard, and if I’m on the controls the whole flight, there’s no time for taking photos. I’m considering finding a way to mount a GoPro either inside or outside the plane so there’s at least some video to share.

Anyway, we started doing pattern work a week or so ago; that means pretty much flying in the airport’s prescribed traffic pattern, doing a touch-and-go, then re-entering the pattern. Lather, rinse, repeat. At Boeing Field (BFI), you can get about six laps around the pattern into a one-hour lesson.

The first time we did this, it was utterly demoralizing. I’m flying a plane, which is amazing and fun, but landing is *hard*. Especially when dealing with BFI’s notoriously squirrelly crosswinds.

Preflight briefings include departure and approach procedures. This one is for the Lincoln departure from BFI

Preflight briefings include departure and approach procedures. This one is for the Lincoln departure from BFI.

Well, that, and being totally new to this thing, having to learn to think and control a vehicle that moves in multiple attitudes at once, all the while developing the correspondingly new muscle-memory skills. Then combine all of that with flying in a conga line of aircraft piloted by fellow students, who are all doing similar maneuvers. Oh – and there are business jets, 737s, and a sprinkling of UPS heavy freighters tossed in for good measure. I guess I did say I wanted to learn at a busy airport; I’m definitely getting what I asked for.

I was ridiculously bad at landing the first few times (OK, all of the times). Fortunately, my attempts weren’t legendarily bad, but they were apparently bad enough to at least slightly stress out my CFI, who has to be one of the most unflappable people I’ve ever met. His normally calm, encouraging, and measured voice actually went up a couple octaves on at least one occasion when I goofed up very close to the ground, but I guess I’m holding up my end of the training bargain by providing Carl with a few challenges to repay all of that patience.

There are plenty of things to occupy your attention in the cockpit; every one of those instruments is important, some are just more important than others

There are plenty of things to occupy your attention in the cockpit; every one of those instruments is important, some are just more important than others.

We’ve also done more ground-reference maneuvers, which consist of turns around a point (in this case, a tall water tower) and S-turns along a road, all designed to sharpen control skills. The first time we did this, the air was quite turbulent, at least by my newbie standards. The turbulence made it tricky for me to keep the nose level while in the turns, etc., but it was still fun.

The second time we did these maneuvers, there were gusty 20-knot winds to contend with, making it that much trickier to fly in a circle around the point – I kept flying ovals instead of circles, and kept gaining altitude in the turns instead of maintaining level flight. The S-turns were every bit as tricky. It was so gusty that, once back at BFI, Carl wouldn’t let me do the landing, and even he wound up doing a go-around on our first landing attempt.

This is a process best practiced by those with a lot of patience, persistence, and no small amount of humility; overconfidence and machismo are rewarded with prompt smackdowns from some combination of the four forces of flight.

4,000 feet above the Olympic Peninsula is apparently a good spot to practice stalls

4,000 feet above the Olympic Peninsula is apparently a good spot to practice stalls

Did I mention stall training? We did that on a calm day (well, the first time, anyway), flying the plane in slow flight then pitching up until we lost lift. It was actually quite difficult to do that – the Cessna wants to fly straight and level; guess that’s why it’s such a successful training aircraft.

We also did power-on stalls; those are to simulate a stall during takeoff, which is something to be avoided (all stalls are to be avoided; practicing them in safe conditions is essential for knowing how to handle one if things go a bit wrong). Knowing how stalls feel, and the resulting knowledge of how to avoid and recover from them are great for confidence.

Illustration of a power-on stall, from the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook

Illustration of a power-on stall, from the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook

We’ve also gone through simulated engine failures, beginning in the simulator, then practicing them in the aircraft. In the sim, Carl said he’d discovered a new failure mode in the software and was eager to try it on me. He actually giggled while I was doing the takeoff and climbing to the assigned altitude.

Once I was established in level flight, he asked if I was ready. A couple seconds later, the sim went silent and the nose pitched up, quite dramatically. He asked how the plane felt; I was guessing, but asked if he’d programmed parachuters who’d just jumped out. He laughed. “Your engine just fell out of the bottom of the plane.”

That explained the nose-up pitching moment I was dealing with. I did manage to run through the memory items and set the plane down on a runway at an adjacent airport, albeit very hard, but I was generally pleased with how it went, at least this time.

Flight training, Boeing Field, Seattle (BFI) from Francis Zera on Vimeo.

The post Ground School Complete; Getting Beat up in the Pattern, Slowly Getting Better appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 31, 2019 at 10:20PM Source: http://bit.ly/2Ex2ezu

Learning to Fly: Stage 1 and 2 Written Tests Complete, Flight Training Underway:

That's us, coming in to land at BFI following my first training flight with Galvin Flying. Photo credit: Huy Do

That’s us, coming in to land at BFI following my first training flight with Galvin Flying – Photo: Huy Do

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the introduction here.

As of now, I’ve completed the stage one and two ground-school exams. These exams are administered by the ground-school instructor at Galvin Flying and serve as checkpoints; they don’t count toward the FAA exam.

I’ve passed them both, which is encouraging (a passing grade is 70% – I did quite a bit better than that).

We’ve already covered basic aerodynamics, powerplants, flight instruments, airspace, airports, communications, and flight safety. We just wrapped up the comprehensive weather and FAA regulation sections; now it’s on to flight planning, which is where the math starts. We’ll learn to compute things like fuel consumption rates, time/speed/distance, endurance, airspeed, density altitude, and wind correction angles.

Believe it or not, this weather stuff is starting to make sense

Believe it or not, this weather stuff is starting to make sense

Ground school wraps up on May 25th with a comprehensive knowledge test, which is basically a full-on practice version of the proper FAA exam.

Theoretically, if we’ve successfully completed the course, we’ll then be prepared to plunk down the roughly $165 to take the FAA written test; a grade of at least 70% is required to pass.

I’ve also started flight training. I didn’t mention before, but basically my butt is a bit too heavy for the Cessna 152, which is the aircraft I’d originally planned to train in, primarily for the $60/hour cost savings over the larger C172. Putting two 200 lb. adult males (my CFI isn’t a small guy, either) in a C152 means no cross-country flights, as the aircraft’s maximum payload limit leaves room for no more than ½ tank of fuel. I won’t lie, though, I do like the larger plane.

Aviation charts also have a bit of a learning curve

Aviation charts also have a bit of a learning curve

My first lesson with Carl, my CFI, was in a static (meaning not moving, although it does have a hydraulic system that simulates control resistance) FAA-approved, OneG G650 C172 flight simulator. As such, it even has a registered tail number for logbook and maintenance tracking. Galvin also has a full-motion simulator, but I’ve not used it yet.

So, for the first lesson, I basically did a simulated takeoff, a flight to the local practice area, and a return. I managed to crash the sim when landing. It was a humbling experience that felt uncomfortably real.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a gamer and am unused to such experiences, or maybe it’s because I thought I’d just waltz in and nail it, but I went home a bit more shaken than I expected I could be following a simulator flight. Maybe that’s why Carl likes to start people in the sim — it’s a good way to rid folks of any pretenses that this is an easy thing.

My pre-flight briefing for ground-reference maneuvers

My pre-flight briefing for ground-reference maneuvers

My second flight lesson was a real flight in a C172 on a gloriously clear Sunday morning. We started the session by spending 45 minutes on a very thorough training preflight of the airplane, going slowly through all of the checklists, with Carl explaining the details behind each item.

Taxiing is, well, kind of a trip. You don’t steer these planes with the yoke; that’s connected to wing control surfaces that need a lot of wind flowing over them to do their jobs. You steer with your feet, using either the brakes (the top each rudder pedal also serves as the brake for either the left or the right wheel), or the nose-wheel steering, accessed via the bottom of each pedal. It takes some serious practice to keep the plane tracking even close to straight.

Speaking of taxiing, at a Class D airport like Boeing Field you’re in frequent communication over the radio. You need tower clearance to taxi, then takeoff clearance before leaving, along with having to keep in touch with the tower while in the Class D airspace, and then tower acknowledgement to re-enter the airspace, then clearance to land, then clearance to taxi back to the ramp, and so on. Yet another whole set of procedures to learn.

Getting ready to run the checklists

Getting ready to run the checklists

Anyway, once we stopped at the run-up area to do the pre-takeoff engine and electrical checklists, Carl performed the takeoff, handing me the controls at about 200 feet AGL (above ground level; aviation loves its acronyms). I flew for the rest of the hour, traveling to a nearby bit of airspace called, creatively enough, the northeast practice area, which is located about a dozen miles northeast of Boeing Field.

It was somewhat turbulent (Carl later described the conditions as being “a bit zesty”), so it was tricky to keep the turns smooth when we kept getting knocked around. But it made for very good practice – Carl talked me through making level turns, climbing turns, and descending turns while bouncing around a bit. The one-hour flight was over in a seeming eye blink.

Living the dream. Photo: Carl Sanman

Living the dream – Photo: Carl Sanman

The overall nice weather also meant very crowded skies (they don’t call Seattle the Jet City for nothing).

I flew back to BFI, then Carl took over for the downwind leg and landing, because a business jet was on short final to the big runway at the same time as we were lining up behind another Cessna on the smaller, parallel runway.

The jet landed beneath and behind us, and, at the same time, the Cessna ahead of us decided to do a go-around, and then we landed. Everyone was in contact with, and directed by, the control tower. Despite how hectic that sounded, everything went very smoothly.

This learning process has basically turned into a full-time job.

And do I ever have a lot of work to do.

The post Learning to Fly: Stage 1 and 2 Written Tests Complete, Flight Training Underway appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 15, 2019 at 10:18PM Source: http://bit.ly/2Ex2ezu