Sorry it has taken an incredibly long time to post here…but the good news is that I am actually only a few days from taking my private pilot faa checkride (flight test). However, I wanted to update the blog about my solo cross country flights that I completed over the last two months…there will also be some pictures and videos from the flights below. There were three flights that I did, all which went really well. First, I flew the same flight that I had flown with my instructor, to Sullivan County (Monticello, ny), and back. Second, I headed south to Philadelphia, landing at Northeast Philly airport (right outside the city). Finally, I flew my long solo cross country (required to fly at least 150 miles, landing at three different places), from Caldwell to Sullivan to Allentown Lehigh International, and back to Caldwell. Here are some short recaps of the flights:

1. Caldwell-Sullivan – this was the easiest of the three flights. It was a short hop, no more than 1.5 hours total round trip. Once again, finding the airport turned out to be the hardest part, as it blends in really well with the rural scenery. It was quite as usual in Monticello, and there was very little traffic during the whole flight. On the way back, I was lucky enough to get VFR Flight Following with New York Approach Control, which helped spot out other aircraft. No problems with the route.

2. Caldwell-NE Philly – perhaps the most stressful of the three. I stayed at 2500 feet the whole time to stay below both New York and Philadelphia airspace…the skies were crowded, it was a gorgeous day, and I flew over numerous small airports. I think I passed at least three other small aircraft no more than a 3/4 mile off of my wings. Busy airspace. Anyhow, as I approached NE Philly, again, it was hard to pick out the airport. This time, the runways blended right in with the surrounding city, but I did manage to spot it out from 6 miles out, which was no problem. On final to runway 24, I actually got a little nervous that I was landing on the wrong runway, so I actually asked tower if I was lined up correctly for the approach. They were really nice about it, and just said yes, you look great…controllers are a great resource, and should not be feared. Flight back to Caldwell was no problem at all, transitioned through Morristown’s airspace, and landed back at CDW.

3. Caldwell-Sullivan-Allentown-Caldwell: This was the longest and most grueling of the three. Again, hop over to Sullivan was no problem, but luckily I picked up flight following with NY approach right away, which was awesome! Then, as I departed MSV, I got flight following from Wilkes-Barre approach, and they handed me off to Allentown. This means that I was talking to ATC the entire time which was great news. However, the flight got a little hairy as I neared the halfway mark. I realized I was over Lake Wallempaupack, which was at least 15 miles west of where I should have been. Thus, my headings were all wrong, and the winds must have shifted. So, I adjusted and flew towards my next landmark. This really required me to use my charts, which I did, but eventually, I flew over the Delaware River, and saw Allentown ahead…great news. Landing at Allentown was flawless, especially with the huge runway to accommodate commercial traffic. Headed right back to Caldwell, a flight I was already familiar with. Again though, my headings were wrong, so I ended up just flying by the ground….I saw landmarks, flew towards them, and made my way back. I really do feel like I know this area now (Western NJ/PA border), so I was able to navigate no problem.

All and all, the flights were great, and it was a major step forward in my path to getting the license…I created a video, with pictures, videos etc. from the flights, so here it is, take a look! Thanks!


After I finished the dual cross country’s, I realized it was time to start really flying solo, and build up time (and confidence/proficiency) as the flight test nears (hopefully?). Anyhow, I have gone up solo three times in the last week or so: two flights in the traffic pattern (practicing all different types of landings), and finally, I flew by myself to the practice area. This meant that for the first time ever, I left Caldwell’s airspace as a solo pilot – good news! I practice a variety of subject areas over these flights, including my maneuvers, navigation, and of course, lots of landings and take offs. Going to the practice area was fantastic – I really had to keep my eyes outside the cockpit however, as I have never encountered more air traffic in my flight training experience. It seemed like every time I looked, I spotted traffic – good practice though. For example, at one point, I was in the practice area (which is out by the Delaware river, by the way), and I noticed another Cessna just circling at the same altitude. I descended and flew out towards the North, so I could avoid him; always important to stay situationaly aware. Anyhow, there is no point in me talking about all of this solo flying, when I can show you this awesome video I put together. This chronicles a solo flight in the traffic pattern, of course, working on landings and takeoffs. Enjoy it. Hopefully I will be doing more of this solo practice, in addition to knocking off my cross country (solo) requirements. Here is the video:

Solo Flying in the Traffic Pattern from pilotraf on Vimeo.

Hey everyone,

Sorry I haven’t gotten around to posting recently – anyhow, I just wanted to update some progress that I have made.

First off, two weeks ago, I was able to complete that long attempted dual (meaning with my instructor) cross country flight, to Sullivan County International, in Monticello NY (KMSV). I already wrote about that flight in a previous post, so there’s not much new to add, other than the fact that it worked out really well. We made it round trip in just over an hour and 15 minutes. Turned around on the runway at Sullivan, and came right home to Caldwell. However, there was one minor issue, and that was actually finding the airport as we got close to it – I had a hard time picking out Sullivan from the rolling hills and farmland that dot the Catskill region of NY. Therefore, I set up a “lost” procedure – meaning, I circled while I identified my location, so I could narrow in on the airport. Finally, I spotted it, entered the traffic pattern, and made a landing. Getting back to Caldwell was a breeze. Just to recap, this was the route:

Next up, was a dual cross country to Allentown/Lehigh International Airport (KABE), in Allentown, PA. This flight was really helpful, as it allowed me to practice my radio communication skills. In addition, Allentown is a fairly large airport, with approach control, so I got the hang of flying into a busier field. The flight itself went very well – I took off from Caldwell, and quickly transitioned through Morristown’s (KMMU) airspace. Within a short period of time, I was ready to contact Allentown Approach control, about 20 miles out from the airport. In a busier airspace environment, approach control will actually vector you in and out of the field, meaning they will say, for example: Cessna 1493E, descend and maintain 3,000, turn to heading 320. Basically, they want to make sure you stay clear of other aircraft, and additionally, are trying to maintain a flow of traffic going into the airport. Before I knew it, I was lining up for the approach for Allentown’s Runway 24. Again, the challenging component of the flight to Allentown, was finding the airport itself. Unlike, Sullivan County, the problem here was differentiating between highways, mazes of cement, and the airport – picking out a runway amid a jungle of pavement and buildings is challenging. Anyhow, the landing was fine (it was a calm day). Again, we taxied right back to runway 24, took off, and were vectored out of Allentown’s airspace. Inbound to Caldwell required calling Morristown as well, so I transitioned through their airspace, entered a base leg for runway 4, and landed back at Caldwell. Second dual cross country done.


So…what’s next:

SOLO CROSS COUNTRY’S!!! Immediately after completing the KCDW-KABE flight, my instructor signed my logbook, and endorsed me to fly my solo cross country flights. Therefore, I will be making three solo cross country’s as soon as possible, weather permitting.

1. Caldwell to Sullivan to Caldwell (50 NM approx)

2. Caldwell to North East Philadelphia to Caldwell (50 NM approx)

3. Caldwell – Sullivan – Allentown – Caldwell (150 NM total approx)

Stay tuned for posts on these flights…this is a major step forward in my path to the private pilot certificate!

Liveatc.net is a great service (www.liveatc.net), which allows you to listen to air traffic control communications from all over the world. Whether you want to listen to whats going on at JFK tower, or at Sydney ground control, they have it covered. Recently, they put a feed online so you can listen to Caldwell’s tower/ground control, and this means that I can hear what I sound like talking on the radio. Liveatc.net archives communications for a month, so I was able to get a hold of recent recordings of me talking to the tower. I put this video together so you can see what radio communications entail – I transcribed the recordings so you can clearly understand what is going on.

These communications provide a good look into some basic ATC procedures: Asking for a taxi clearance, landing clearances, and other miscellaneous communications. Once you get the hang of talking on the radio, it becomes no problem – in fact, as you can probably tell from watching the video, I tend to talk to quickly….I need to slow myself down….Anyhow, check out the video below!

Stay tuned for more posts coming up soon!

Caldwell tower/ground control online feed via Liveatc:

This post chronicles a recent flight I did last week, where I practiced crosswind landings, at Caldwell. The wind was blowing 10+ knots directly across runway 10/28.

A crosswind landing (or takeoff for that matter) is generally defined, according to most dictionaries as: “A landing/takeoff maneuver in which a significant component of the prevailing wind is perpendicular to the runway center line.” What does this mean? Basically, the wind is not lined up against the runway (usually you take off and land into the wind to shorten your ground roll; you can get into the air sooner), but instead, blows across it. This makes for some challenging situations. Now, there are set techniques to use, in order to compensate for crosswinds, but even the most experienced pilots still hone their cross wind technique every time they fly. Crosswinds are known to be some of the most challenging conditions to conquer, so it’s important to get as much practice as possible. How difficult can they make a landing? Well just watch this video first:

Notice how the pilot keeps the aircraft pointed into the wind for as long as possible, and just when he gets over the runway centerline, he straightens out, and gets the nose aligned. This technique is the most common to use when dealing with crosswinds, and is called crabbing. In order to maintain the right ground track, the aircraft is kept pointed into the wind. When just over the runway centerline, within a short distance of the ground, you straighten out the plane with your feet (rudder pedals), and then lower your wing into the wind, using your aileron (yoke control). This last part of the procedure is known as a slip, and technically means that you should land on one wheel first, the upwind wheel, before allowing the other main, and nose wheel to touch the runway. This technique accomplishes a few things, but primarily, it ensures that the crosswind does not flip the aircraft over, and most importantly, by landing on the upwind wheel, you are not putting excessive side-loads on the landing gear (otherwise, the landing gear could be overstressed, and fail).

Crosswind landings certainly don’t come easy to me, and I am still working to ensure better technique. They are uncomfortable, and feel awkward to perform. However, the more practice, the better, and going out in 10-15 knot crosswinds certainly helped develop better control in these tricky situations.

Stay tuned for more posts!

Diagram of crabbing:

These next two posts chronicle two recent flights that I did over the last few weeks.

Let me first start by saying it has been VERY hard to get in as much flying as I have wanted to recently – as most know, the weather in the North East has been harsh to say the least, and thus, it’s been a challenge to get up in the air. Hopefully though, February will provide some better flying days, and I can’t take some major steps forward in my training. The wintry weather that has pounded us lately not only obviously prevents one from flying, but also has wreaked havoc on the airport. For a while in fact, one of Caldwell’s two runways, 10/28 was closed due to snow and ice, and there are massive snowbanks lining each taxiway (and runway). It is a constant challenge navigating the aircraft around piles of ice and snow, but at least I am gaining some experience when it comes to winter flying.

Anyhow, the two flights that I was able to complete recently were focused on landings. Each landing that I do, I feel more confident at the controls, and it is so important to focus on landing the aircraft in a variety of conditions and configurations.

The first flight in this series was focused on what are referred to as “performance landings.” As part of the practical test standards (PTS), which are basically the FAA-sanctioned guidelines for what a prospective pilot needs to accomplish on his/her flight test, a student must learn a variety of maneuvers: these include stalls, turns, climbs and descents, emergency procedures, ground-reference maneuvers, and of course, a variety of different take offs and landings. Some of these take-offs and landings are classified as performance: these include four different maneuvers.

1. Soft field take off

2. Soft field landing

3. Short field take off

4. Short field landing

A “soft field” is traditionally regarded as an unimproved airstrip; a grass field, gravel, sand, etc. A short field refers to a runway where a maximum performance takeoff is necessary, in order to get off the ground as soon as possible to avoid obstacles, etc. (basically, a short runway).

The runways at Caldwell are 4500 feet and 3700 feet, so when performing these maneuvers you are simply simulating short and soft field conditions. To start, we practice short field take offs and landings. The takeoff involves using 10 degrees of flaps, and then keeping your feet on the brakes as you advance power, and climbing up from the runway at Vx, which is your best angle of climb speed (gets you the most altitude gain in a certain distance). The landing, up until your final approach is no different than a standard lap around the airport traffic pattern. The only difference for a short field landing is that you use a slower approach speed (around 60 knots in our case for the 172N), and you have a steeper rate of descent in order to get the aircraft down as quickly as possible. At Caldwell, this means landing on the “numbers” (the runway number marking), and then using full back elevator for aerodynamic braking, and applying forceful braking pressure.

Next up: the soft field take off and landing. The purpose of this maneuvers is to ensure that, seeing as you are on a “soft field,” you get off the ground without having your nose wheel dig in – essentially, you want to transfer the weight from the wheels to the wings as soon as possible. So, you roll out onto the runway, keeping the aircraft in motion, advance power (with 10 degrees of flaps), while keeping the elevator back – as the aircraft rotates off the ground, you use what is known as ground effect to allow the aircraft to accelerate, before climbing out. For landing, again, the traffic pattern is all the same, until your final approach, where you flatten out your rate of descent, and just over the runway, apply a touch of power to soften the touch down (again, in order to make sure the nose wheel doesn’t dig into the “soft field”)

Performance landings are important to practice – you never know when you might end up having to land on a short or soft field. It was a good flight, and I felt like my landings significantly improved.

Next post: working on crosswind landings.

A REAL short field (and soft field!) landing:

Watch this video first:

This post chronicles my flight from yesterday, January 15th, 2010.

This was one of my best lessons, period. First off, a week ago, I scheduled this early morning flight to finally try and accomplish that duel cross country to Sullivan County that I posted about earlier in the year. At the time, the dispatcher at Century told me that because they are down an aircraft (see second to latest post), I would have to take one of their Cessna 172 S/Ps (the latest model of the Cessna 172). I have only been flying the standard Cessna 172N or Ps so far. These aircraft are from the late 70s, and they make up the majority of the Century fleet. They are fine for training purposes: they have no moving map systems, basically no GPS built in, and just a standard VOR navigation package. Nothing fancy, just a pure training aircraft. In fact, often times, when it is raining outside, it is raining in the cockpit as by 2010, the water proofing isn’t what it used to be in the 70s. Anyhow, I have always wanted to move up to flying the S/Ps – it was just a matter of time. So, I told dispatch I would love to take it, and I was schedule to go. Friday evening, I called Barry and told him I wasn’t comfortable with the weather out at Sullivan County – low ceilings. So, he said to just come in anyway, and we would get started learning how to operate the S/P.

So, that’s what happened. First off, the preflight inspection is more involved for the newer aircraft. There are more systems to check, and I had to get accustomed to this. Dealing with all the snow and ice everywhere doesn’t help either. Once we were in the cockpit, Barry went over starting procedures with me. Perhaps the biggest difference, besides the fact that the S/P is faster, and is a better performing bird than the older Cessna’s, is the fact that it has a fuel injected engine. No more carburetor heat to deal with! What doe this mean? On the older aircraft, because they have carbureted engines, I am constantly pushing in the carburetor heat, in order to prevent the carburetor form icing. Whenever you slow the engine down, or descend rapidly, you need to pull the carburetor heat on to prevent this form happening. No longer. You want to reduce rpm, just pull out the throttle, simple as that. It really makes flying much more enjoyable! There are a variety of other features that are different in the S/P, but I want to list the important ones below:

  • Fuel injected engine
  • More advanced avionics including:
  • Moving map/GPS
  • Advanced three axis autopilot
  • Annunciator panel (panel that tells you if systems are good, and also talks to you as part of the autopilot)

So, this means that there is a lot more to do when starting the engine, and warming it up. For example to start, you have to hold down the aux. fuel pump for five seconds, and then start the ignition while enriching the fuel/air mixture. Also, before takeoff, you have to check the autopilot system, and make sure the avionics are a go.

Finally, we got in the air, and boy what a feeling that was. Flying the S/P felt like the real deal. After over a year of flight training, it finally felt like i was flying, and it felt natural. I felt like I was really flying!!! It was an amazing feeling – the aircraft was a joy to handle, it was just an all around amazing experience. After practicing a few basic maneuvers, like stalls, turns, etc. Barry wanted to demonstrate the capabilities of the autopilot, and GPS. So he had me relinquish control of the aircraft, and armed the autopilot. First he dialed in a desired altitude, which the aircraft started flying too, then he put in a descent rate, followed by a heading, and then told the aircraft to fly direct to Andover-aeroflex airport. Before I knew it, I was lined up for an approach on runway 21 at Andover, without having to do anything. At 600 feet above the ground, I clicked the autopilot disarm button, and hand flew the landing. What a joy.

Same thing going back to Caldwell. I took off from Andover, and headed out West, and inputted Direct to KCDW into the GPS. I clicked the Autopilot onto altitude, gave it 2500 feet, 400 feet per minute, and pressed Nav to get it going to Caldwell. Again, once I entered into Caldwell’s airspace, all I had to do was turn the heading bug (selects the desired heading for the autopilot) to my desired course, and the aircraft flew to that. In fact, I put down my first notch of flaps, and the autopilot adjusts for that. Every time you leave your altitude, the autopilot announced “leaving altitude,” so it does take some getting used to the plane talking to you all the time.

I can’t stress enough the advantages of having an autopilot plus a moving map GPS system in the cockpit. It improvers safety, reduces stress and workload, and adds to the fun of flying, greatly. I LOVED flying the s/p, and I’m sure I will be back in N506SP shortly.

I took two videos introducing, and then wrapping up the flight. Enjoy!!

Keep flyin’

– Rafi

Moving map system:

The cessna 172SP:

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