Flying into frustration

I am at the end of two weeks that was supposed to be the next stage of my flying experience.

After logging just one hour of flying in the last week I was already feeling more than a little frustrated.

I am leaving as a less confident and less capable pilot than I arrived.

With Alex, my 19 year old son, about to start his second year at Olin College we thought we would spend two weeks flying from KBED; Hanscom Airfield, in Bedford, Massachussetts.

KBED, although only Class D, is the second busiest airfield in New England, based upon aircraft movements. Only about 15 miles west of Boston, there is plenty of corporate traffic as well as flight training.

We both signed up with Executive Flyers Aviation:

Why these guys? Their emails to us were efficient and, for Alex, they have a Piper Seneca twin.

So I flew from Dubai to Frankfurt on Friday 12 August and onwards on a Lufthansa 747–800 from to Boston on Saturday 13 August.

Alex and I are staying out in Burlington — five miles or so from the airfield.

We visited the airport on Saturday evening. To say hello, collect the local ifr and vfr maps and an airports/facilities directory. But we also found that no flight lessons had yet been scheduled for either of us despite emails advising of our dates and objectives. The issue appears to be a lack of instructors; and plenty of student demand.

On Sunday we drove out to Rockport for lunch, a self-consciously pretty down on the coast northeast of Boston.

It was Tuesday before I flew for just one hour and Wednesday before Alex had his first flight.

My flight was not scheduled in a 172 with a Garmin 1000 glass cockpit but in a round gauge traditional cockpit. Not exactly what I had asked for. And it almost feels like starting all over again. I had about one hour experience in a 172 round gauge. I only have about 6 hours in a 172.

My preference for a glass cockpit was based upon some 100 hours in a Skycatcher with Garmin G300.

My instructor is Ralp Mangianello. Nice guy. Builder by trade who flight instructs three days a week. He is fairly new as a CFII.

In misty and overcast weather we checked the airplane and flew for an hour. Leaving from and returning to Runway 11 at KBED. As class Delta the procedures are a little different from Sarasota. No need to ask for a vfr clearance; just announce that you are ready to taxi. No squawk code assigned. Taxi, run-up, tell tower that you are holding short and ready to depart and where you want to go. And leave. No calling big airport approach or departures as long as you do not bust their airspace. So we can just fly with a vfr squawk of 1200.

It was a murky day. So we just flew out to their west practice area and I got used to flying again. That and spotting a few local landmarks for future reference.

Back to KBED for a Runway 11 arrival after a very long straight in approach.

A planned Saturday flight was cancelled due to IFR weather. The irony being that I had wanted to start IFR training but was neither VFR current or checked out.

And that was it until Monday 22nd when I had a second flight with Ralph in much better weather. So we did the basics of VFR PPL practice — power on and power off stalls, emergency procedures, slow flight and a touch and go and second landing at KBED on runway 29 with a very sporty wind gusting to 22 knots.

One more flight on Wednesday 24th scheduled with Rob Dumovic, the assistant chief pilot at Executive Flyers. Rob is a top notch instructor, aerobatic pilot and knows how planes fly; he understands the systems; the dynamics; the sound and the feel.

But he left me feeling like I have not learned anything. We flew four short sectors with a touch and go at each of the intermediate stops — Beverley, Lawrence and Nashua before returning to Bedford. All the airports are towered so there is a lot of radio work — and setting up in the pattern to approach and land. Rob is much more rigorous than Ralph; more on that later.

I learned a lot — but that is in part because I felt I knew nothing. every instructor teaches differently. And as students we react differently to each instructor.

On Wednesday evening I was wondering whether it is really worth the cost and effort of continuing to fly. It is still in my mind.

I came here thinking that I could fly every day — maybe twice a day — get current; get signed off to rent the flying school’s C172s and make a decent start on my instrument rating.

I have only done the first. I am current. But just three instructor flights in my two weeks here is really disappointing. All I have learned is how much I either do not know, have forgotten, or am unable to effectively execute.

My total instructor hours in two weeks here — just 4.1hrs.

One last note from yesterday’s flight with Rob. We were coming back into Bedford and Rob was selling me on the view — so I gave him the controls and took a couple of pictures.

He then asks if I would mind if he flies the landing — you have already flown three landings and I don’t often get to fly one he says. I did not think much but said sure — and it was a lesson in itself to watch how a good pilot flies a short approach and a crosswind landing…left wheel, right wheel, nose wheel. It was that good that I could almost hear him purr!

Did I learn from watching him land? Yes. But it was my lesson. And it was also the last lesson that I have scheduled with Executive Flyers and my last landing. I flew OK landings at Lawrence and Nashua. But thinking about it afterwards the last landing back at KBED really should have been mine. Because I have not landed a plane since.

Thinking about the three flights some more, the first two were not very useful time. Ralph is a thoroughly nice guy and easy to fly with. But he was far to easy going on someone who had not flown for five months. All he really confirmed was that I was safe and that I could fly the basics. His reassurances that I was making his life easy made me complacent.

The message is that if you have not flown for some months and need to get current and checked then fly with someone who wants you to work hard and sets expectations high.

Flying with Rob was actually harder than my private checkride. I felt under pressure; his questions added to my frustration.

If I had flown with Rob from the outset the few lessons might have gone very differently.

So there I was current; but not checked-out. Not able to fly as PIC from the flight school.

Which takes us to Thursday and an opportunity for Alex and I to fly together.

Alex has had a good week. He has had his bi-annual check ride and has been checekd out by the flights school on the 172. We had N224TA to ourselves from 10am until 3pm.

We can fly together but with Alex as PIC. Honestly, this is a bit dispiriting. Yes, he has been flying a year longer than me; and all his experience is with round gauge airplanes. But sitting in the right seat feels strange. And I cannot do much other than monitor the radio and work with Alex through the checklists. And watch and learn.

That said, he is an excellent and sensible pilot; he understands the physics of flying; his radio work is good. His short approach and landing when we returned to KBED were top class.

So we flew from KBED to New Bedford, KEWB, and onto Martha’s Vineyard, KMVY. Then back to KBED.

Lunch was at the Airport Grille in the terminal at New Bedford. Excellent aviation-themed restaurant with good, reasonably priced food, and nice people.

KEWB is Class D; but quiet. ATC were welcoming and helpful, advising us to park by the playground!

KMVY is much busier Class D. It is where the Obamas have their summer holiday. They were there last week. We just stopped for twenty minutes for a quick hello and coffee.

Martha’s Vineyard

New Bedford

Holding short of 23 at Hanscom Field

Captain Alex — he is a very capable pilot.

Pilatus country at Marthas Vineyard

Lunch at New Bedford

We hoped to fly together again on Friday 26th but the weather was no co-operating for VFR flight.

And that is it. It was great to spend a couple of weeks with Alex. I love his enthusiam for flying and for all things aviation. But as a flying and learning experience I have gone backwards rather than forwards; and in an airplane that is less than ideal.

New airfields on this trip:

Hanscom Field — Bedford. KBED
New Bedford Municipal KEWB
Marthas Vineyard KMVY
Beverly Municipal KBVY
Lawrence Municipal KLWM
Nashua Boire Field KASH

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