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Dave's Flight  6 June 2018 

Dave is an interesting man who designs and builds optics for outer space.  He lives about four hours to the south and we had flown together September of 2016.  Since then he has taken the ground school that Tim O’Conner gives through the PRA and has built a gyroplane simulator for his computer.  He stopped by on his motorcycle as part of a Las Vegas, Laughlin loop.

At his request I had sent him a lot of information and pictures of the panel so he would be better prepared for his two days of flight training. I had also sent him a detailed explanation of exactly what we would be doing in lesson one. It would still be lesson one because I needed to find out how much he had forgotten in almost two years.

The wind was predicted to come up at 11:00 to 290 degrees at 17 knots so we got an early start.  I had Dave make the radio call to ground and he did very well. We felt making all the radio calls would be a distraction so we left that for another flight.  The tower had requested that I change my practice area so we headed south east along California Highway One.  It teaches different skills (ground track instead of pilotage) and I like the results.  I talk less about where to go and more about sight picture and aircraft control.

Dave did very well and despite the lesson running a little long we tried a couple of landings when we got back to Santa Maria that were just as nice as could be; right on the centerline with smooth, steady control inputs and a very gentle touchdown.  After a quick de-brief we headed off to lunch and a more in-depth briefing.

We were pleased to see that the wind had not come up as much as predicted so hoping to build on the morning’s success we set of to do some pattern work.  As is often the case in primary training (no previous flight experience) we took a couple of steps back.  We worked on over controlling (common as the wind increases) and somehow Dave had lost the centerline and the location of the ground.

My training aircraft (The Predator) is very forgiving so I can let a client get pretty deep into trouble before intervening.  Out of six take offs and landings I intervened twice on landing and just talked Dave through what we refer to as the drunken takeoff once.  The drunken takeoff happens because on the ground she steers with the rudder and in the air her lateral position is managed with the cyclic so the transition is difficult as suddenly the aircraft may move in a different direction than desired.

I felt he was making progress but Dave missed the success of the morning flight and blamed it on my fat head being in the way of seeing the runway.

The wind came up and Dave was feeling a little discouraged so we went to battle with the FAA’s website (IACRA) for his student pilot license.  After we had achieved success with IACRA by disabling my pop up blocker we decided it was time to get my fat head out of the way and transition Dave into the front seat.

The Predator has a free castering nose wheel and steers with the rudder or differential braking if there is not enough airspeed. I don’t have brakes in the back so this is something I have to count on the client to manage.  We typically have a tail wind when taxiing the mile to the run-up area so this is a skill that must be learned.

There is also more to do in the front seat.  They have to manage the radio frequencies, transponder codes, manage the mixture and the magneto check. Front seat has to manage start up and shut down in the proper sequence and they are responsible for monitoring the engine instruments.  We briefed on the front seat actions for close to an hour and I was pleased to see Dave follow the check lists.  We taxied around the airport till the steering felt natural and then called it a day.  Dave had done so well with his radio call to ground that we decided to add that challenge to his transition to the front seat.

There are very specific things I need to teach a primary student and the person doing their proficiency check ride would like to see them in the log book.

We headed out to the practice area to do recognition and recovery from low airspeed and a high rate of descent, slow flight and steep turns (considered an advanced maneuver).  Dave did all the maneuvers to practical test standards so we headed back to the airport for some takeoffs and landings.  Dave’s first landing from the front seat was a thing of beauty and his takeoff was very nice with a little hesitation about getting the throttle in.  He also did well with his radio calls and has a better appreciation for just how challenging good radio work is.  We were overflowing with the morning’s successes as we headed off to lunch.

The wind was starting to come up in the afternoon and I had to intervene on two of the six landings to preserve The Predator.

With fewer than six hours in Dave’s log book we just need to manage the different types of landings and plan and execute a cross country.  We touched on lots of things in the debrief and hope to be ready for his check ride in the minimum hours of dual.  The birth and arrival of his American Ranger may disrupt our time frame and we may encounter unanticipated setbacks.

We are both looking forward to Dave’s next visit and further progress toward his Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane rating.  Going from no aviation experience to becoming a certificated pilot is a big challenge that many don’t complete.  I feel Dave is on a solid path to that goal and love being along on the adventure.
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Chuck's Flight #2  31 May 2018 

I felt Chuck was ready to learn about cross country planning as it is a required skill for a Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane pilot.

I failed my first private pilot practical test by getting lost on my cross country.  I feel this may have distorted the importance I place on flight planning, yet I have never regretted a minute spent flight planning and there have been several times when I found great benefit from my flight planning.  I love to actually go somewhere in a gyroplane, despite how much fun just flying around is.  I feel good flight planning is a sort of aviation foreplay.  If I am going to a new to me airport it is not unusual for me to spend three times as much time planning the flight as it takes to fly the flight.

We had some weather down time Friday so we spent some time going over the process and planning a flight to Santa Ynez.  We had touched on a lot of it on our flight to Lompoc but demonstrating is not the same as having Chuck plan a flight and execute the plan.

I was surprised at Chuck’s enthusiasm as I showed him the role that the various sources played in the process.  We used AirNav, Sky Vector, Weathermeister, Google Earth and Flight Service.  We had waypoints no more than seven miles apart with an estimated time of arrival for each.  We identified or critical point and had back stops for every change in course.  We considered pattern entry for runway 8 or 26; whichever was in use.  We mapped out our radio calls and anticipated the traffic flow.  As I lay down that night I thought of the things I had missed.

Chuck was very excited about his 26 nautical mile flight.  As we had planned, it is was a 34 nautical mile flight and should take 44 minutes burning 9.4 gallons of gas including taxi and warm up.

Santa Ynez Airport Day was from ten to four Saturday and strong winds were predicted for the afternoon so, with our optimism about the weather, we decided to meet at 8:00 and were greeted by 500 foot ceilings that soon became 300 foot ceilings.

SMX did not go to visual flight rules till 11:25 so we had some time to cover the things I might have missed.  I checked the Automated Weather Observation System at IZA and the conditions were better than at Santa Maria. Chuck filed his flight plan and we were soon on our way.

Early on Chuck headed for Vandenberg’s restricted airspace and imagined he was seeing Harris Grade still eight miles ahead and a 90 degrees to our direction of flight.  He soon settled down and followed the plan well.  We were a couple of minutes behind and made them up by cutting a corner.  The flight took 46 minutes and we burned 8.6 gallons of gas.

We reversed the plan for the flight home and Chuck only was lost very briefly once and quickly recovered.  Our landing was going to be the last one for this trip so the pressure was on.  We were looking great till the round out and then off to the right we went. Touch down was as nice as could be; just not on the centerline.

I wish I could find the words to describe Chuck’s infectious enthusiasm. He was having trouble keeping both feet on the ground as I saw him to the exit and when I talked to him the next day he was still bubbling.

I love sharing the joy I find in the sky. I feel like I am sharing a gift that will last a lifetime.
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Paul's Flight  23 May 2018

Paul is out of Tacoma, Washington and wanted to stop in to say hello.

Chuck had postponed his lesson so I wasn’t flying Wednesday.

Paul had spent the night at Big Bear and flew his Cessna on to Santa Maria deciding to spend the night so we could fly the next day.

Paul is Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane rated so I asked him what his goal was.  He has flown with seven flight instructors and thought that the beauty of the area I fly and the opportunity to fly with one more CFI would make it worthwhile.

In an effort to provide value we decided to make our flight a flight review and he did very well on the ground portion and was very up to date on his Federal Aviation Regulations.  He is also a Private Pilot, Single Engine Land with an instrument rating.

We were anticipating afternoon winds so we got an early start and completed the ground after the flight.

I don’t usually start people in the front seat but soon realized that Paul was up to the extra responsibility.  As soon as I gave Paul the controls I realized it would be hard to find something to teach him despite his assertion that he has only a dozen hours in a gyroplane.

I could feel him doing the most wonderfully subtle control inputs that I consider very advanced piloting and I try to share with my more advanced clients.

His airspeed and altitude control settled down quickly as he became more familiar with The Predator as we made our way across the fields of the Santa Maria Valley to the Pacific.  Oso Flaco Lake appeared very blue as the Pacific called to us and we headed north along the shoreline luxuriating in the beauty and inhaling the ocean air.  We turned east toward the foothills of Arroyo Grande just before reaching the Oceano Airport (L52).  The mustard was blooming adding a golden tint to the green hills.  We turned south over the Highway 101 to return to the airport and then as I realized it was too soon to end such a lovely flight I had Paul turn back east over the hills toward Huasna.  We wandered over the hills till we reached the Huasna Valley and then followed the Huasna River to the Twitchell Reservoir before heading back to the Santa Maria Valley over the foothills.  We managed to pack all this into 1.1 hour of flying.

We finished up the flight review and I was still left with the nagging suspicion that I was not able to teach Paul anything because he is already a remarkable gyroplane pilot.  Paul said he had a great time and that is after all; the point.
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Sam Puma  23 May 2018

Thank you for your service Sam Puma.

Sam Puma has a sort of gyroplane project and wanted to learn to fly a gyroplane so he came to Santa Maria for an introductory day.  He is in his eighties and has had a remarkable life serving as a flight surgeon, fighter pilot and test pilot in the Marines and now helps people cure their airsickness.

http://www.pumamethod.com/meet-dr-puma/

Sam listened intently as I briefed him on our first mission and had clearly done some research and he had good questions.

Strong gusting winds were expected around 1:00 so we wanted to get to landing and taking off as soon as possible.  We decided to forgo the usual tour of the beach and the Huasna Valley.  The plan was to do turns around a point and S turns over a road, immediately before coming back to perform some takeoffs and landings if he didn’t scare me.

Sam still had his Marine issue flight suit and if fit him well.  As the years advance some joints have a tendency become painful and The Predator is not designed to accommodate uncooperative knee and hip joints.  Suffice it to say, Sam is a lot tougher than I am.  I could feel his pain.

I can’t do the required briefing well from the front seat and to get in the front seat I climb through the back seat requiring Sam to have the painful experience twice.

I demonstrated the takeoff and gave Sam the controls.  I could feel him getting a feel for the controls.  He was having a little trouble with the rudder pedals and like most fixed wing pilots over controlled with the cyclic.  He immediately flew to practical test standards so we headed off to the practice area.  Turns around a point went well as did S-turns over the road and we decided to try landing and taking off.  Sam’s first landing was at .8 hours of dual and the landing was lovely; right on the centerline.

We stopped to debrief remaining in the aircraft and then headed back out to do some pattern work.  I demonstrated a pattern and then Sam took the controls and did well.  The wind was starting to come up and his last landing required considerable rudder and we landed with zero roll.

Time for some gas and we headed off to self-serve.  Rene, a Marine fighter pilot and flight instructor was filling up a Tri Pacer and as we waited I thought about Sam’s joint challenges I called the fuel truck so he would not have to get out of the aircraft.  The nice lady from the Jet Center was a little confused about why I would want the truck to bring fuel next to self-serve but managed it well.

Self-serve was not working correctly and Rene came over to apologize for the delay and explain that it was not his fault.  I told Sam who Rene was and they exchanged Marine Fighter Pilot talk for a bit.  Rene teaches unusual attitudes in a Pitts S2 and was understandably interested in Sam’s cure for airsickness.

It was handy that the fuel truck came by because he fixed the pump for Rene after filling us up.

As we were waiting we watched the wind sock on top of the big hangar become fully erect and quite animated.  I checked the ATIS and winds were 270 degrees at 19kts gusting to 29kts.  Sam made the decision that he had learned enough and we headed back to the hangar for to debrief and to learn about preflight.

After I wound down we headed off for a nice lunch at Pepper Garcia’s and Sam shared some of his wonderful adventures with me.

I agreed to help Sam with his project any way I could.
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Gad's Flight  11 May 2018

I love the interesting people I meet as a flight instructor.  Gad had contacted me to learn about gyroplanes.  He wanted to feel what it was like to fly a gyroplane and did not have a plan to become a licensed pilot.  Learning about gyroplanes was a part of his research for a project he is working on.  He has more than 60 patents and the swivel nozzle on the top of my WD 40 is his creation.  He was coming from about 250 miles away and was coordinating the trip with a visit to nearby California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo for a project he is working on.

I was concerned about the afternoon winds as the National Weather Service kept moving the forecasted strong afternoon winds closer to our proposed May 10 flight.  As late as Tuesday; winds were forecast to be below ten knots all day Thursday.

I checked the terminal aerodrome forecast the night before and the fog was supposed to clear out early with winds of 20kts gusting to 30kts predicted by one o’clock.  Gad is a morning person and we had already decided to meet at 8:00.

We met at the gate at 7:50 and I gave Gad an abbreviated briefing.  We knew our time to fly might be short so we decided to fly ground reference maneuvers and if successful return to the airport for some landings and takeoffs for a somewhat accelerated learning process.

The whole point of an all-day introduction to gyroplanes is to not have to hurry and I was trying to preserve value; just in a different order.  Gad seemed up to the challenge and together we planned the day.  Typically I spend at least an hour of preflight and getting people comfortable with the airport environment.  I figured we could do preflight after the wind came up so we just covered basic gyroplane aerodynamics, what "experimental" on the side means and how to operate the seat belts and emergency procedures.  This is required of every pilot in command giving a ride to anyone even if no money is involved.  People forget sometimes.  I would try to explain airport operations as we taxied out at 9:00.

Winds were 270 degrees at 6kts according to the Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS).

I first gave Gad the rudder and told him to wag the tail and at 800 feet I gave him all the controls.  His altitude and airspeed control were very good from the start.  We had a somewhat convoluted path as Gad worked at getting a feel for how a gyroplane is maneuvered.

Once outside the Santa Maria airspace I took the controls and demonstrated steep turns and a power off vertical descent.  Gad wanted to see how tight we could turn over the ground so I slowed to 30kts indicated air speed ad did a pedal turn with about a twenty foot diameter.

As we headed out to the practice area as I was starting to point out the center for our turns around a point.  Gad noticed a fixed wing aircraft flying well below our one thousand foot altitude (800 feet above the ground) maneuvering aggressively and not on the SMX tower frequency or the Oceano frequency.  I did my best to be recognized and either he saw me or just went away and we got down to our ground reference maneuvers.  I demonstrated a left turn around a point explaining my errors and corrections and gave Gad the controls.  He halved the practical test standards holding altitude to plus or minus 50 and airspeed to plus or minus 5kts.  I had him switch to a right circle and he entered it correctly and flew it well.  I took the controls and demonstrated S-turns over a road and after some initial feeling out the controls Gad did very well.

I felt Gad was ready to learn to land so back to the airport we went.  A couple of times Gad got slow and we picked up a quartering tail wind.  I felt like Gad wasn’t comfortable so I took the controls over the city.  The tower made me aware that the winds were now 270 degrees at 17kts.  The tower had someone coming straight in from three miles out so he asked me if I was able to do a short approach (a steep descending turn begun early).  The air traffic controller knows I don’t have low time students making a short approach.  I accepted the short approach and ran her up to eighty knots of indicated air speed making a single descending turn with an aggressive round out and flair.  I described what I was doing and Gad followed me though on the controls.
Even as we taxied to the hangar winds were increasing so together we made the decision to stop flying for the day.

During the debrief Gad admitted he did not feel ready to land after 54 minutes of dual instruction and he liked the short approach.

We got into some specific and somewhat advanced discussions on gyroplane aerodynamics and efficiencies.

I find being around someone as bright and creative as Gad to be exciting and challenging.  We headed off to a nice lunch at Pepper Garcia’s and more interesting conversation.

I offered to give Gad a discount for the weather shortened day and he refused.

​What a delightful way to spend the day.
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Kendall's Quick Lesson  9 May 2018

I had met Kendall before and briefly talked about gyroplanes.  Kendall is an accomplished retired fire fighter with a wonderfully inquisitive mind. He is also a CFII with over 500 hours of instruction given and has a multiplane flight school; Air Paso flight services out of Paso Robles; Ca.

He was coming to Coastal Valley Aviation at the Santa Maria Airport to get his transponder and his ELT certified on his beautiful Citabria and he thought it would be fun to go for a short gyroplane flight; so he gave me a call and we coordinated a meeting.

I love flying with flight instructors and always learn a lot.  Kendall listened carefully to my flight briefing without asking a lot of questions.  We were going to fly turns around a point and S-turns over a road in preparation for takeoffs and landings.  As soon as someone can fly those two maneuvers to practical test standards, I feel it shows they have control of the aircraft and they are ready to move on to the challenges of landing.

I demonstrated left turns around a point, gave Kendall the controls and he did very well.  His left turn around a point and his right turns around a point were equally good.  There was a fifty percent increase in ground speed from up wind to down wind and Kendall realized it was because we were flying so slowly and it didn’t bother him at all.

I demonstrated S-turns over a road; gave Kendall back the controls and he again did very well.  Most people struggle with pitch entering the turn; Kendall’s entrances were was as nice as could be.  The winds had increased to 270 degrees at 17kts at the airport and were probably stronger in the practice area ten miles to the North West and less than two miles from the shoreline.  The winds are at about a forty five degree angle to the road requiring sophisticated control inputs to manage the ground track and be at ninety degrees across the road.

I checked ATIS and called the Santa Maria control tower and was to make right traffic for runway 30 and report midfield down wind.

Kendall was working hard to keep his focus outside the aircraft and struggled a bit.  I took the rudders and throttle as he lined up nicely with the centerline and ballooned up just a little on his round out and I gave her a burst of throttle to cushion the landing and just a touch on the cyclic.

Typically we would debrief and brief for the landings but we wanted to be done by 4:30 so Kendall could talk with Phil at Coastal Valley so I took the controls and managed the takeoff and then gave the controls back to Kendall.  He was still operating off our initial briefing an hour of flying ago.

On approach I took the throttle and rudders and Kendall was substantially improved and greased the landing with just a little guidance.

On the next lap I gave Kendall the rudder too and just managed the throttle.  The winds were picking up a bit and Kendall managed the changing rudder requirements well.

He had a moment of insight when he realized we landed with zero roll in the wind we had.

Last landing was a greaser (very smooth with no bump on touch down) and we headed for a debrief that was somewhat disrupted by finding out from Phil that his ELT had failed.

During the debrief Kendall had a hard time focusing on what he did well.  After dragging a little out of him I listed; airspeed and altitude to practical test standards, good entrance and exit from turns, good ground track, smooth control inputs, nice landings, good exchange of controls and a constant improvement despite deteriorating conditions.

With some work on various takeoffs and landings Kendall will be ready for his proficiency check ride. I had demonstrated steep turns and a vertical descent and I suspect he can handle those well.  I feel he will be more comfortable in the front and not be distracted by the extra responsibilities so next time I will transition him to the front seat.

Kendall now has 1.2 hours of dual gyroplane instruction received in his log book with four landings and probably a full hour as the pilot of a gyroplane.

I asked him how I did as a flight instructor and in my opinion he was not forthcoming.

I love what I do and want to get better.

At 6:30 I had our local EAA chapter over to the hangar for a talk on the history of gyroplanes and what is involved in learning to fly one.

Life treats me well.
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Chuck's Flight #1  7 May 2018 

Chuck wants to learn to fly gyroplanes; he already owns a single place gyroplane.  He has a few hours of fixed wing experience many years ago.  Becoming a licensed pilot with little or no previous aviation experience is a huge commitment.  He needs to learn to fly to practical test standards, learn why a gyroplane flies, learn the rules and pass the knowledge test.  Most important, he needs to learn and practice the culture of risk mitigation and aviation decision making.

Chuck stopped by for a chat the other day and then decided to go for it, with me as his flight instructor despite living more than 250 miles away and having a four hour drive that, with traffic, can easily turn into a six hour drive.  I am honored and grateful to be along on his gyroplane adventure.

Chuck drove his motor home and arrived at one thirty Friday morning.  So much for the idea of getting a good night’s sleep so he is ready to learn.  He said he was too excited to sleep anyway and met me at the gate about fifteen minutes early.

I immediately lost control of the lesson and took three hours talking about preflight, aviation decision making and weather.  We went to a nice lunch at the Moxie Café and we were wheels up by 1:30.

We went through my standard lesson one and Chuck did great with a quick demonstration and a little coaching.  We did turns around a point and S-turns over a road.  I repeat lesson one until the standards are met before we try landing.  I felt we were ready to land.

I was explaining how to get back to the airport when the tower threw us a curve and changed us from left traffic to right traffic so we had to fly across the extended centerline of the departure of runway three zero.  We followed the Santa Maria River to stay well away from the departure end of three zero.  Chucks first pattern entry was pretty good with very little coaching.  He had established a nice rate of descent and was right on the centerline.  He started his round out a little high (typical for a low time gyroplane pilot) and dove for the right side of the runway (also typical for a low time gyroplane pilot because the arm does not naturally move straight back).  I took the controls and finished the landing.

The beginning of my debrief is always; “What did you do well?”. Chuck wanted to talk about what he didn’t do well.  I eventually had to impose the anti-denigration rule: No one denigrates the pilot under instruction at Breese Aircraft.

We went back up and did five more landings; where I managed the throttle and rudders so that all Chuck had to do was manage the cyclic (airspeed and location over the runway).  He greased three but the ending was always on the right side of the runway very near the edge.  His airspeed, altitude and ground track were great until the round out and then he would lose his ground track and wander to the right.

Chuck was foiled by the thick fog in his attempt to watch the rocket launch at Vandenberg at 4:00 AM.  He still had fun meeting a couple of Cal Poly Students, who were also foiled by the fog.  It was a wonder they didn’t hit each other.

The first mission Saturday day was more landing practice with the addition of making the call to ground.  Chuck got every word correct on the call and his read back was almost perfect.  His omission of the runway number was of no consequence.

Chuck greased four of the five landings but was still on the right near the edge.

We decided together that we had abused him enough and decided to fly to Lompoc just for fun.  We did a cursory flight plan and Chuck received a weather briefing from flight services.  We had a great briefer and a wonderfully complete weather briefing.

As we taxied out I pointed out the wall of fog that was headed toward the airport.  To my surprise and pleasure Chuck decided to abort the mission to Lompoc and do some more pattern work.  I was surprised because it was clear Chuck was really looking forward to a cross country flight to a different airport and pleased because in my opinion it was a good aviation decision.

This time the call to ground was perfect and his read back was perfect.

On our first pattern where I demonstrated what I would like to see the tower asked me to make a short approach for inbound traffic and I dove for the runway lining up before rounding out and touching down nicely.

On our second pattern the tower again asked for a short approach and I responded; “unable, primary student at the controls”.  The tower asked us to make a slow right 360 when we reached the numbers and Chuck understood before I told him.  Understanding what the tower wants often takes a lot more time.  We made a nice octagon as Chuck vacillated between the concept of “slow” and a “360”.

Day three was to be a short day so Chuck could get an early start for home.  The fog cleared two hours before scheduled so Chuck got the weather briefing and we reviewed out flight plan; with a reminder that the runway at Lompoc was 100 feet wind compared to 150 feet wide for Santa Maria and the sight picture would look very different leading to a belief we were higher than we were. We also had less tolerance for distance from the centerline before we would run off the runway edge.

Lompoc is a non-towered airport so it would be good radio experience.  I told him not everyone there would be following the AIM for pattern work and radio communication.  Chuck has been studying hard and has the book "Say Again Please".  I find new pilots assume everyone is trying as hard as they are to do things correctly.

His call to ground and his read back were perfect and he sounded like an airline pilot.

I asked for a left downwind departure to the south and it was approved as requested.  I gave Chuck the aircraft controls at 400 feet (150 feet above the ground) and his turns and airspeed control were as nice as could be as we climbed to 1,300 feet msl.  He was getting much smoother on the cyclic despite some gusts.  We followed California Highway 1 till it headed off to Vandenberg and followed the CA135 till we saw the road to Harris Grade.  Chuck did a great job finding the gap and the antennas on the ridge.
Our entrance to the right pattern for runway two five was nice despite two aircraft making a straight in approach.

Like most low time pilots, Chuck worked his way closer to the runway centerline once we were past the end of the runway and our base and final were one big turn.

We were lined up nicely and his round out was lovely as we headed toward the right side of the runway. Chuck greased the landed about the same distance from the right edge as we had at Santa Maria. There may be an answer there.

As we debriefed in transient parking seven sky divers rained down on us with an eighth almost two minutes behind.  Their landing zone is on our right downwind and it reminded Chuck how important it was to pay attention on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF).

Chuck was not successful at cracking the code to the pilots lounge and returned ready to depart.  I listened to the Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) before tuning in the CTAF.  “Jumpers away at thirteen thousand feet” was the first thing I heard and I shut the engine down to wait for the jumpers.  There was someone making nonsensical radios calls on the CTAF from a Skywagon and I explained that it could be the prelude to trouble and we would just wait it out.  The expected conflict between the Skywagon and the jump plane happened as predicted and the jump plane handled it nicely.  I announced White Gyroplane Two Mike Golf will hold short for landing traffic.

The Skywagon was flying closed traffic and after he flew a nonstandard pattern we had conflict on our downwind departure.  It was resolved with communication and off we went north over Harris Grade.  Chuck was flying even better on our return with very nice smooth control inputs and he understood all of the communication with the tower.

We were to report the Orcutt Y and make a base entry for runway three zero.  It was good practice for imagining an extended centerline and Chuck descended to our target altitude over the end of the runway perfectly.

I was afraid to say anything for fear I would screw up our last landing.  I reminded Chuck of the different sight picture of the wider runway and he greased the landing on the right side of the runway once again.

I had to again invoke the student anti-denigration rule as we debriefed and filled out his log book.  I have him down for another three days later this month and will post Chuck's flight #2 after it happens.

I loved the progress we made in such a short time.
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Submariner Jody  3 May 2018

A gyroplane flies like a submarine according to Jody, a retired submariner with no flying experience.  He backed it up with his flying skills.

I called him up Friday because the wind was predicted to come up as a front moved through on Saturday when we were scheduled to fly.  In my opinion gyroplanes handle strong winds and turbulence better than anything I have flown.  I have found it is hard for a primary student to separate the effect of their control inputs from the effect of the environment.  I had been watching the weather predictions closely all week flying with my anonymous client; “Bob”.  Basically the National Weather Service knew the winds were coming but were unsure about when.  Friday afternoon they decided the winds would reach Santa Maria Saturday.  The winds actually arrived Friday afternoon with winds 290 degrees at 20kts gusting to 30kts.

Jody was already on his way from San Diego and said politely yet firmly; “I am not turning around.”  I modified the plan and we agreed to meet at the gate at 8:00.  I would do the preflight the night before and forgo teaching preflight before we fly.  I figured on doing it after our flight and after the wind came up.

At 7:00 AM I checked the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast at Santa Maria (SMX) and San Luis Obispo (SBP) and they were predicting the 20+ knot winds with a ten knot gust spread coming up at 1:00.  The weather looked good for Sunday.

There is still a lot to cover before flight and I was surprised how many times that Jody would say; “sounds just like a submarine” to some complex description about how to fly a gyroplane.  Jody has a prevailing self-confidence without appearing arrogant.  The few questions he did ask were thoughtful and well-reasoned.

We were wheels up by 9:00 and I gave Jody the controls.  I could feel him getting a feel for the cyclic with very little altitude and airspeed divergence.  His cyclic movements progressively decreased and I felt he had control of the aircraft.  Our ground track was a nice as could be.

I briefly took the controls once we were outside the SMX airspace and demonstrated steep turns and a power off vertical descent before giving Jody back the controls and we heading out to the shoreline.

We were catching some lift off the beach and Jody handled it well. He followed each of my directions with precision.

I was explaining about the wires as we made our way through the Avilla Pass and Jody gave me the controls.  I demonstrated flying over the poles and it was a good demonstration of how hard it is to see the wires from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant (big power transmission lines).

I gave Jody back the controls at the most turbulent part of the pass and he handled it well.

Jody gave me back the controls on our downwind and the winds were already turbulent enough to cause some challenges.  We caught a lot of lift over the threshold so I did a power off vertical descent to about 150 feet above the ground before picking the airspeed back up to fifty knots and then, just as we were about to touch down, a gust stopped and an addition of power and an aggressive flair was required for a nice landing.

We decided to forgo brunch and the owner of the Spirit of San Luis restaurant was kind enough to let us use a table for the debrief.

A bold young man about 12 years old came up and politely started asking good questions about The Predator. He was working on his Boy Scout aviation merit badge.  It turns out Jody teaches Boy Scouts about all sorts of things in San Diego.  We both felt it was a very pleasant interaction.

I checked with flight service and the wind was coming up so we flew direct back to Santa Maria bypassing Lake Lopez and the Huasna Valley because of expected turbulence.

Jody wanted to see how it felt to fly at 7,500 feet so we began a climb. At a little over 4,500 feet Jody decided he was cold enough and he began some freedom of the sky turns and descents.  His flying was exceptional and I had little to say.

I checked the Santa Maria ATIS (automated terminal information service) and the wind was straight down the runway at 22kts with no reported gusts.
I checked in with the Santa Maria Tower and we were to make a right down wind for runway three zero and report midfield.

ATIS was wrong about gusts and Jody did a great job of lining up with the centerline so I took the throttle and Jody made a very nice landing.

As we filled her up at self-serve, I watched our fifteen knot wind sock remain fully erect as it twitched through about thirty degrees.  We were done flying for the day.

We had a nice lunch at the Moxi Café and I checked the weather when I returned to the hangar.  For the first time they were predicting big winds for Sunday so I called Sunday’s client and he was in route and did turn around.  He is a very experienced pilot and well understood the challenges of the weather.

We did a careful preflight on The Predator explaining the reason for each line item and explored what it would take for Jody to become a Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane.

It was a very nice way to spend a day.

We had only flown 1.9 hours so I told Jody if he is up this way we will do some take offs and landings.  In my opinion, Jody is ready.
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Anonymous "Bob" Adventure #1  1 May 2018

Misadventures with an anonymous primary student.

The next five days were filled with a client who will remain anonymous because there are things to learn from our mistakes.  I will refer to him as Bob to protect his identity.  Bob is a primary student who had done very well with a little over seven hours in his log book.  This was his third visit.  I had him for five days and we were hoping to get him ready for his knowledge test, do his cross country, improve his radio work and refine his landings.

I had not seen Bob since the beginning of January and we were slightly concerned about how much he may have forgotten in three and a half months.  I had already transitioned him to the front seat where he is responsible for the engine instruments, operating all the electrics, radio, and transponder.  The Predator has a free castering nose wheel steers with differential braking and has toe brakes in the front.  I have no brakes in the back.

I recommended that we do some ground reference maneuvers first, but Bob was anxious to get started on takeoffs and landings, so we decided to jump right into pattern work.

Bob did very well on preflight and was getting better at getting the briefing from flight service.  He worked his way through the engine startup check list and things seemed to be going well with a few minor excursions from the check list.  I was concerned that I was being too pedantic as I double checked the items I have had problems with in the past.  I insisted on readout of each line item.  I double checked that the alternator was on, radio on and tuned to the correct frequency.  Transponder on and lean for taxi.  We listened to the ATIS and then changed to ground. I was going to make the radio calls to minimize distractions.  Most primary students find radio calls a distraction.

We received our clearance to taxi to the run-up area (“Experimental Gyroplane 142 Mike Golf, runway 30 taxi via Alpha, Alpha Eight”).  After getting our taxi clearance I again asked if we were leaned for taxi as it doesn’t take much full rich idling to foul the plugs.  Bob killed the engine by leaning too far as he added power to taxi out.  I had to talk him through a fuel injected Lycoming hot start that took several tries with ground asking if we needed assistance.  We again went through the startup list with some additions for hot start.

We taxied to the run-up area and the magneto check went well after I reminded Bob to go full rich for the check. I was concerned he had missed a check list item and double checked everything one more time.

After being cleared for takeoff and left closed traffic we began our takeoff roll.  Bob was rusty and trying too hard to keep the nose from coming up so he had the cyclic too far forward allowing us to accelerate faster than the rotor could keep up.  At my direction we stopped and did the pre-rotation over again.  We moved across the runway more than I would like and lifted off early because we had been hard on the tailwheel.  The takeoff was not dangerous, just a little inelegant.  The second takeoff was better and the third looked pretty good lifting off at 50kts and climbing out nicely.

At Santa Maria (SMX) we report downwind abeam each pass and receive landing clearance on each lap.  On our third round I did not hear a side tone when I made my radio and there was no response from the tower so I asked Bob to make the call.  I did not hear him make the call so I realized for some reason we had lost the radio and I took the controls and headed out of the pattern.  I did not hear the side tone on the intercom and suspected we had lost the intercom too.  SMX is class Delta so two way radio communication is required.

For some reason Bob had forgotten that in the case of radio failure to squawk 7600 and the intercom was not working.  I first tried to write 7600 on the body but because I was reaching over the stick the writing was difficult to read.  I tried passing Bob a very shaking note with 7600 on it but still failed to communicate.  A second time was successful and I headed back to the pattern.  I could see a green light gun signal and landed waiting for a second green signal to cross taxiway Alpha to parking.

After we shut down I called the tower on my cell phone and they said I had dropped off the radar (lost the mode C transponder) and they had given me a green light before I had departed the pattern.  I got the admonishment: “don’t fly that thing till it is fixed”.

Bob went through the startup check list and only heard clicking when he pressed the start button.  I walked over to Coastal Valley Aviation and got a tow back to the hangar for The Predator.  I still didn’t know what had happened but I suspected the alternator had been left off despite the check list and reminders.  We put her on my trickle charger and headed off to lunch.

I was surprised my Battery Tender was able to breathe life back into the battery over lunch and after a preflight and a quick maintenance flight Bob checked the weather and we were good to go.

Bob realized he had missed “alternator on” on the check list the first time around and simply glanced at the toggle switch each time I reminded him.  He had been misinterpreting the volt meter each time I had asked “temperatures and pressures in the green?” From twelve to ten volts there are red lines across a green background and from ten down it goes red.  We didn’t lose communication till it was reading in the red.  The lines are to tell you the voltage is low and the alternator is not charging and the red is to let you know the battery is not making enough power to run the radio, intercom and transponder.  I will add this explanation to my preflight briefing.

Bob did not miss that check list item the rest of the week although I did find the occasional missed item.  It is hard to slow down and methodically work through the check list when you want to fly.

I have a backup radio but I can’t reach it from the back and apparently had not briefed Bob properly because I was not able to communicate that I wanted it.  I was not able to communicate much of anything.  I will add that to the preflight briefing too.

I feel the story will have more value if I break it up so I will write more about my week of adventures with Bob.

I am off to change the ignition wires on The Predator and I will write more when time permits.  I feel there is a lot to learn from our adventures.  I find value in writing about things and hope you find value in reading about them.

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Anonymous "Bob" Adventure #2  2 May 2018 

More fun with my anonymous "Bob" client...

After my maintenance flight we flew for eight tenths of an hour out away from the airport so Bob would have less pressure.  The goal was to get his eyes outside and build a little confidence after the morning challenges.

Bob wants to do well and tends to focus on airspeed and altitude because they are part of the practical test standards.  It doesn’t matter how many times I say pitch and the sight picture is the point and the airspeed indicator is just part of an instrument sweep to calibrate the sight picture people still focus on airspeed and the altimeter.  Getting away from the airport means looser standards for airspeed, altitude and ground track so sometimes I can wean them off the airspeed indicator.

Bob flew well and managed his path back to the airport well with a nice approach and a good landing.

The fog was coming in so we had time for a couple of patterns.  I could see he was again focused on the indicated air speed so I told him to not look at the instruments and I would tell him if he was fast or slow, high or low.  It worked great and they were his best patterns yet.  I actually talked less.

We were flush with success as he made his final landing for the day with the engine at sixteen hundred RPM to manage the gusting wind.  The difference between a stop and go and a full stop landing is with a stop and go he leaves the power in and the cyclic back to increase the rotor rpm as quickly as possible.  With a full stop landing power goes to idle as soon as the mains touch and the cyclic goes full forward as soon as taxi speed is reached.

The tower was busy talking so I could not remind Bob of this and he did things slightly out of order.  We touched down and got the stick forward and we quickly began to accelerate because the power was still in and we had lost the drag from the rotor.  Bob used the toe brakes to slow down and could not manage directional stability.  I got the power back quickly but not before some wild gyrations on the runway and some tire smoke.

It was an exciting end to an exciting day.  It was also Bob’s birthday.

I stayed late in the hangar to do preflight and plan the next days missions.

​More on Bob's adventures coming soon...
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Anonymous "Bob" Adventure #3  3 May 2018 

More Fun with anonymous "Bob" (not his real name)...

Tuesday conditions were perfect with winds 300 degrees at 6kts.  Preflight went well as did start up.

We went out and flew around for a bit working on managing ground track, airspeed and latitude.  We did recognition and recovery from low airspeed and high rate of descent.

We returned to the SMX and made six stop and goes.  Bob’s airspeed and altitude control was getting better as were his control inputs.  His turns were nicer as well.

We visited the tower and let them know Bob would be learning about radio calls.

Bob wasn’t feeling well so we called it a day.

Wednesday preflight went well and we got a particularly helpful briefer from Flight service.  Startup went well as Bob carefully worked his way through the takeoff check list.

Bob taxied up to the movement area and called ground.  His call was near perfect and he sounded like an experienced pilot.  There was no response.  He double checked that we were on the right frequency, made a perfect call to ground and again, no response.

I can’t see the radio from the back.  I have made this same mistake myself so I guessed.  “Is the dot on the volume control at one o’clock?” Bob turned up the volume and made a third call.  Ground came back:
“Experimental Gyroplane One Four Two Mike Golf radio check, how do you hear?”

When Bob came back loud and clear and explained he had the volume turned down Ground cleared us to taxi to runway three zero via Alpha, Alpha Eight.

We left the pattern to give Bob a better chance to practice staying outside the aircraft and he did well and learned to better use the trim.

When it was time to make the radio call that we were inbound Bob slowed to 30kts and lost 100 feet of altitude as he focused on the radio call.  He did it again reporting right down wind mid field to land.  It is not unusual to lose situational awareness when multitasking.  The old pilot’s adage is “Aviate, Navigate and Communicate” in that order of priority.

Back at the hangar we worked on preparation for Bob’s knowledge test.  He had been studying with the Kings for sport pilot fixed wing and had learned his lessons well.  We covered the gyroplane material out of the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook and I signed him off for his Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane knowledge test that he will take when he gets back home.  We called it a day.

Thursday we got right to it and flew two forty minute missions with five landings a piece.  Radio work is something Bob can practice at home so he made the ground calls perfectly and I made the tower calls.  I felt there were still symptoms of focusing on the instruments so toward the end of the second mission I told Bob not to look at the instruments and I would tell him if he was slow or fast, high or low.  I actually talked less as he did a great job of staying outside the aircraft with his airspeed and altitude control vastly improved.

Friday the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast for SMX was predicting the wind would come up around 1:00 so we planned and executed a flight to Lompoc LPC, 14 miles to the south.  We talked about Vandenberg’s restricted airspace, the different sight picture of the hundred foot wide runway and radio work at a non-towered airport.

We used the chart to plan our navigation and picked out some way points and estimated out time in route.

Bob made a nice takeoff, had a good ground track, eyes outside, great airspeed and altitude control.  I could feel his confidence and delighted in his skill.  It felt to me like a pilot having fun.  We gradually climbed to 2,000 feet for Harris Grade.  Bob overshot the altitude target a little because our tail wind turned into an up draft when it hit the hills.

Our descent to pattern altitude was nicely done and the entrance to the right pattern for runway 25 was a nice as could be.  We were not quite parallel with the runway making our right base and final a single turn.  I reminded Bob that the narrower runway made it appear we were lower and talked him through a nice landing.

The debrief was mostly “GREAT JOB BOB!” with a little longer brief for our somewhat hard to describe exit back over Harris Grade to Santa Maria.

The takeoff and climb out from Lompoc were nice.  The winds were picking up and Bob handled the turbulence well with smooth, progressive inputs to manage our ground track.  Bob had a little trouble finding the pass until we were about 2 miles out.

I called Santa Maria from ten miles to South over Harris Grade descending through 2,000 feet with Juliet inbound to land.

Bob was to make a base entry for runway three zero and report the Orcutt Y.

There was a Cessna 172 coming in with a failed charging system so the tower cleared him to land from ten miles out in case they lost communication.  The pilot did not want to declare an emergency.  Bob had good situational awareness and did not let the Cessna become a distraction.

Bob’s airspeed, altitude and ground track were great and I could feel his confidence building despite the gusting winds.

Our landing was slightly disrupted by a wind gust but completely acceptable without any help from me.

Looking back I feel Bob’s errors were learning opportunities that don’t exist if there are no mistakes.

I have him for three days in June and hope to finish his cross country and check off all the required duel instruction exercises and practice the different landings.  I am looking forward to hearing how he did on his knowledge test.

I love to see the progress and enjoy the strength I see when someone bounces back from a public mistake.  All of Bob’s errors were very public and could be taken as humiliation.
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Winthrop-Ian Flight  28 April 2018

Winthrop from Maryland wanted to share the fun of flying with his son Ian who is attending UC Santa Barbara.  His mother was an aviatrix on a high level so it runs in the family.  She was friends with my father who was a well-known test pilot in the day.  Neither Win nor Ian had any pilot experience.

Win and his wife were coming to visit Ian and his new girlfriend.  As can be imagined, with two generations and six people involved, there were some changes to the schedule.  We started at ten so we did not go through the preflight.  I was surrounded by six very smart people and found it more than a little intimidating.
Ian seemed very serious and absorbed everything I said.  He has experience with sailing so many of the air concepts were familiar to him.  He has a background in physics so the thrust line and stability made perfect sense to him.  I went through the required passenger briefing (seat belts, experimental aircraft and emergency procedures) and laid out our mission plan.  I was hoping for more questions because I am not comfortable with a monolog.

The tall fellow in the picture is Winthrop and after I found out he would in-fact fit in The Predator, I wanted the more relaxed environment of the Santa Maria Public Airport and the 8,000 foot runway to take him for a short flight, so time permitting we would go for a short flight when Ian and I returned from San Luis Obispo.

My concern about the truncated briefing evaporated almost as soon as I gave Ian the aircraft controls.  There was no change in the attitude of the aircraft and I could barely feel Ian’s control inputs.  I could almost see the gears turning in Ian’s head as he assessed his new environment relating it to his sailing experience and his knowledge of physics.  I could feel steady improvement and his confidence increase.  He is used to being an over achiever and this was no exception.

If it had been a check ride Ian would have passed easily managing his airspeed and altitude to plus or minus fifty feet and plus or minus five knots, halving the practical test standards.  He managed our ground track beautifully up the shoreline and did not seem phased in the least by the turbulence in the Avila Pass.

The shot of the panel was in the chaos of the San Luis Obispo airspace and in some pretty strong turbulence. The goal was 800 feet msl and 50kts.  I started to wonder if the instruments were sticking.

The tower was very busy at San Luis Obispo but they found a hole for us and I almost let Ian land taking the controls at the last moment because we needed to exit the runway quickly.

Win was already there with the women and we had a lively lunch.

The flight back was more of the same with Ian feeling very much like an experienced pilot to me with smooth gentle control inputs and a very precise ground track.  His responses to gusts were well managed and very smooth.

We were a little pressed for time so I let Ian fly all the way to a satisfactory landing without any control input on my part.  Right down the centerline, smooth control inputs and a nice round out with very little flair needed.

I had forty minutes to give Winthrop a flight so Ian’s debrief was somewhat truncated and I will have to mail him his endorsed log book with 1.9 hours of dual instruction.

Win had listened intently to everything I had said to Ian and had done his homework so I gave him the controls soon after we were airborne.  I found it interesting that his approach to control inputs felt very much like Ian’s.  He took a little more correcting (he did not have the benefit of youth being on the far side of 60) and I helped a little on the landing.  He was so excited during the debrief I thought he might need to use the restroom.  We were done by the target time of 4:00 because they had a long drive ahead.

Yes for those who read my post about Brad’s flight on Saturday that this is almost exactly the same flight as Brad.  One of the things I love about flying is the same flight is never the same.  There are always different challenges and different experiences because we are not following a narrow road.  We have the freedom of the open skies.

What a wonderful way to spend a lovely day with a wonderful family that I would not have otherwise encountered.
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Brad's Flight  23 April 2018

Brad wanted to learn about gyroplanes and see if they were right for him so he gave me a call the end of last year.  We talked a lot and he asked some good questions.

As someone new to aviation, it is a big commitment to become a gyroplane pilot and, in the fixed wing world, most don’t complete the journey.  I like to spend a day talking about the challenges and teaching people the basics of flying so they can make an informed decision.  For this reason, I have a special introductory rate of $450 for the day.  Typically we fly up to San Luis Obispo for lunch with the client flying most of the way and then talk about the flight over lunch; usually unlocking some misunderstanding and then fly back to Santa Maria over Lake Lopez and the Huasna valley where there is very little traffic and they can explore the freedom in the sky.  Brad agreed that spending the day was a good idea; he was coming from more than three hundred miles away.

Things finally aligned in April just when I was off the Bensen days and Sun N fun. We scheduled the flight for April 21.  April 20 I sent him an email saying the weather looked good and he began the first steps of his gyroplane adventure.

Brad was unusually patient with my explanations of gyroplane aerodynamics and demonstration of the preflight that takes about an hour when the client is anxious to fly.  We spent another hour checking weather and describing the process of flying.  It has been described as drinking from a fire hose as I try to get people familiar with how a gyroplane works and comfortable with the aviation environment.  We go over exchange of controls and emergency procedures.  Brad asked some thoughtful questions and had read the gyroplane portion of the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook.

We were up flying a little after 11:00.  I talked Brad through the procedure as I made the takeoff and first gave him the rudders at 500 feet (260 feet above the ground) and then at 800 feet, gave him all the aircraft controls.  He did the exchange of controls well.  He had listened well and was very smooth on the controls.  His track was surprisingly straight and his speed and altitude control good.

I briefly demonstrated steep turns and a power off vertical descent before giving Brad back the controls.  We turned north along the shoreline with an on shore breeze making The Predators nose point out to sea.  Managing the curved ground track of the shoreline can be hard for primary students because they are used to a car where it goes where the nose is pointed.

We slipped through the Avilla Pass and Brad gave me the controls for the landing.

We had a nice lunch debriefing and talking about the magnitude of the gyroplane adventure. Brad had been concerned about his fear of heights and did not experience it at all when flying.  I share his fear of heights and sometimes feel uneasy when I fly too high above the ground.

A quick preflight and a check of the weather and we began our flight back to Santa Maria.  This is a great test for fear of heights because we climb to 2,200 feet to clear the ridgeline while the valley floor is 200 feet so you can look straight down 2,000 feet.

We double down when we leave the ridge line and fly over Lake Lopez where the ground drops away very suddenly and we are about a quarter mile above the lake surface.  There is usually turbulence to add to the experience and today was no exception.  Brad handled it well as he maneuvered across the lake descending into the Huasna Valley where we did some turns, climbs and descents.  I felt no signs of trepidation.

I called Santa Maria Tower and reported “Santa Maria Tower, Experimental Gyroplane 142 Mike Golf; Ten miles to the north east over Twitchell reservoir, with information Foxtrot, descending through two thousand feet inbound to land.”  I was to make a left base entry for runway three zero and report two miles.  I asked Brad if he had the airport in sight.  To my surprise he did.

His approach was great, alignment over the centerline good and I took the controls near the ground as I talked him through the landing.

After a quick debrief we flew two more missions and six landings with Brad on the controls.  Brad managed the final takeoff as I talked him through it.

He had now done everything involved in flying a gyroplane and the rest is just improving accuracy and getting me to stop talking.  Brad left with three hours of dual instruction in his new logbook and eight landings.

I sent Brad the pictures and he is anxious to get back in the air before he forgets what he learned.  I look forward to being part of his gyroplane adventure.
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Fun Flight Lesson  29 March 2018

“How does tomorrow look for my next gyroplane lesson Vance?”  I checked the weather and it was predicted to be warmer and less windy than his last flight.  "Looks good to me Jeff, see you tomorrow at 8:00."

Jeff is a busy caterer so he doesn’t get to plan very far in advance.  He is coming from about 300 miles away.  He had done very well on our flight up to San Luis Obispo and he was landing and taking off by the end of the day.  It had been a very non structured flight in cold windy conditions and had been a long day but Jeff had shown remarkable stamina. 

There are things that need to get done and we agreed to stay focused.

Winds were calm when we arrived at the Santa Maria Airport (SMX) and it was hard to not just go flying.  One of the things I try to teach is to never hurry aviation so we spent two and a half hours on preflight, weather and mission planning. 

Jeff asks good questions and one was; "Why are we calling Flight Service and talking to a briefer when we are required to get the weather from the ATIS (automatic terminal information service)?"  As is often the case this question answered itself.  There was a fire TFR (temporary flight restriction) over one of the Channel Islands that was not reported on ATIS for SMX.  If we had been flying to Santa Barbara (SBA) we would probably have violated the TFR had we not checked with Flight Service.

The mission was to do the ground reference maneuvers of turns around a point and 'S-turns' over a road to practical test standards.  Plus or minus 100 feet of altitude and plus or minus ten knots of indicated air speed.

It was a good thing that we briefed extensively because Jeff was having trouble hearing me.  I like to do the training on the ground and demonstrate air work rather than try to give instruction in the air.

Jeff never broke the standards and at one point he was so steady he felt his altimeter was stuck. 

We then did recognition and recovery from low airspeed and high rate of descent.  Jeff wanted to get a feel for it and part of our mission was to keep his eyes outside, so he slowed to 15kts and waited till he could “feel” the descent.  We were getting close to 900 feet per minute descent when he lowered the nose and picked up air speed.  We still recovered in 300 feet. 

If this had been Jeff’s practical test he would have easily passed.  At that time he had three hours of dual in his log book.

The approach was perfect and the landing was as nice as could be with very little coaching.  It was a one hour flight lesson and we had lots to debrief on so we headed off to lunch at Pepper Garcia’s.

I was gleeful with Jeff’s performance and had trouble with spontaneous bursts of laughter. 

Jeff admitted that he felt completely lost on takeoff as it had been almost a month since we had flown.  He had quickly recovered from his bewilderment and felt at home in the sky.

After a nice lunch it was time for some pattern work. 

We did ten takeoffs and landings in .9 hours and I only touched the controls once.

As we were getting gas Jeff noticed that one of his ear cushions was missing so we went back to the hangar and retrieved my back up helmet. This solved the communication challenge nicely and made it all the more amazing that Jeff did as well as he did only understanding half of what I said.  Or maybe it just means I talk too much.

Jeff felt he had worked hard enough and it was time for some fun.  I showed him how the Santa Maria River is just outside of the SMX.  There is not much traffic out there so he can maneuver however he wants with me looking out for traffic.

I didn’t realize the challenge this presented to me till Jeff made an aggressive 180 degree turn and lowered the nose.  We very rapidly went from 50kts indicated air speed to over 75kts and lost over 300 feet of altitude.  As a flight instructor it is my job to figure out if something is wrong with the aircraft and I can usually tell when the aircraft is not responding correctly because I know what we are trying to do.  In this case I didn’t know lowering the nose in the turn was intentional so I was trying to diagnose the problem and about to take the control when he finally responded to my pleas of “NOSE UP! APPLY BACK STICK!” 

Jeff wanted to see how altitude expanded our view so he climbed to 3,300 feet and we could see over the first line of hills to the second and third line. We could see the fog over the ocean eighteen miles away. 

We flew over some oil fields and descended down a little valley to stay out of the approach path for runway 30 at SMX.

I asked Jeff if he knew where the airport was and he had to admit he did not.  We could see the antennas on top of the hill that we use for managing our downwind for runway 30 so we knew it was just on the other side of the ridge.  We could have followed California Highway 101 to the airport but we would have been directly in the path of the faster aircraft inbound to SMX so we headed west along a lovely valley toward Vandenberg’s restricted air space and then up California Highway One toward Orcutt.

Finding an airport is not as easy as most would think particularly if your too high to read the signs and too low to see over obstacles. 

Because we were over the city and following ATC’s (Air Traffic Control) instruction Jeff had to imagine the fixed wing traffic pattern base leg and then turn to final a mile from the field.

Jeff made a perfect landing once again calling into question the value of my practice, practice, practice.  He had learned things on our “flight just for fun” that helped his final landing be the best of the day.

We finally finished up at the hangar at 7:00 and Jeff asked another of his good questions;  "How many more hours do think it will take before I am not a hazard?"  I had only touched the stick once during the 3.1 hours of dual instruction and that was just an effort to save wear and tear on The Predator.  We determined what was still needed was better radio communication, better lost procedures and being more familiar with the aviation environment.  I don’t know what challenges we will run into and it is not likely we will fly more often than every three weeks.  We may still make the minimums (15 hours of dual and five hours of solo) for his Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane practical test. 

Next time Jeff is going to try to stay for two days.

I look forward to it and find great joy in his progress.​​
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SLO Flight to EAA Meeting (Part-1)  18 March 2018

Because of intermittent showers I had not flown it two weeks.  Many of my clients are coming from out of the area so if there is a good chance of rain we reschedule.  I don’t fly when it rains and Saturday’s flight to Santa Ynez was canceled for rain.

Sunday was looking good and there was an EAA meeting with a representative from Cal Fire giving a presentation at San Luis Obispo (SBP).

As is often the case there was some winds trailing behind the storm but I had the fever and wanted to fly.  It was 43 degrees F when I left the house with the top down so I was bundled up.  The temperature had risen to 45 degrees by the time I reached the airport.

Because I had not flown for a while I was extra diligent with check lists and procedures.

As I taxied to the run up area the wind changed directions so many times it wrapped my yaw string around the mount.  Each of the wind socks was blowing in a different direction and indicating a different wind velocity.

I asked for a right turn out to the north.  Air Traffic Control (ATC) came back with the words that start each flying adventure; “Gyroplane 142 Mike Golf, Runway three zero clear for takeoff; right turn out approved.” 
Takeoff and climb out was lively in the cool air and I pulled the camera out as I reached 1,000 feet.  

There were lots of people out barbequing in Santa Maria and a few of them waved as I skirted the edge of the city at 1,000 feet above the ground.

As I crossed the dry Santa Maria River the air tasted clean and I could see all the way to Avila Bay.  The hills were starting to turn a lush green from the recent rains.  I marvel at how quickly that happens.

The turbulence made holding my altitude take constant adjustment of the throttle.

I meandered along California 101 past the five cities and started to work my way toward the Edna Valley. 

SBP ATC greeted me and asked me to make a straight in and report four miles.  At five miles I was cleared to land runway two niner but it had to be amended several times as I made my way across the Edna Valley and toward SBP at 45kts of ground speed.

I asked for a long landing and taxied to the hangar where the EAA meeting was.  I was warmly received and needed about ten minutes to bask in the afterglow before I secured The Predator and joined the meeting. 

It was a great presentation with lots of interesting information.  I found myself reliving my recent flight and longing to be flying again.  I feel more at home in the sky than on the ground.

Flight Back Home from SBP (San Luis Obispo) to SMX (Santa Maria) (Part-2):

As I listened to the speaker at the EAA meeting I felt distracted by the call of the sky.  I was very interested in Cal Fire but a part of me was planning the flight back to Santa Maria (SMX).

San Luis Obispo (SBP) is nestled in the Edna Valley with two thousand foot hills to the east.  I am often haunted by the childhood question of what is on the other side of the hill.

After a careful preflight and checking the weather I asked SBP ATC (air traffic control) for a right down wind departure to the east.  “Gyroplane 142 Mike Golf, runway two niner clear for takeoff; right downwind approved.”

Flying The Predator solo is a somewhat different experience and she sort of leapt into the air and was climbing out at eleven hundred feet per minute as the Edna Valley opened up before me on down wind.

I pulled the power back a bit and caught some lift as we came closer to the hills.  The clouds ahead had some vertical development and dark bottoms suggesting turbulence ahead.  Once over the ridgeline I pulled the power well back and just sort of floated along, marveling at the view and our capabilities.

The ridge line ends abruptly with a 1,300 foot drop off to the surface of Lake Lopez.  I pulled the engine to idle and began my descent to the swishing sound of the rotor blades.  It doesn’t matter how many time I do it, it still feels like magic to me.  Once on the lee side of the ridge the sink increased and I added power to enter the Huasna Valley above the wires from the Diablo Nuclear Power Plant that march across the hills.

I like flying around the Huasna Valley on a windy day because there is very little air traffic and there is beauty in every direction.  I could smell the wet earth and feel the clean cool air on my face.

I followed the winding river to Twitchell Reservoir, banking left and right in a wonderful expression of the freedom of flight.

I checked the weather over Twitchell Reservoir and called SMX ATC inbound to land.  “Gyroplane 142 Mike Golf; make right down wind for runway three zero; report downwind abeam.”

As I got closer traffic picked up and ATC restricted a Piper’s altitude to stay above me and a landing jet.  As I was about to call downwind abeam I heard; “Gyroplane Two Mike Golf make short approach, no delay on runway.”  I pulled the power and turned right around the tower making one steady descending bank and touching down as nice as could be at taxiway Alpha 4 and scooted off the runway.

“Gyroplane Two Mike Golf, taxi to parking via Alpha; monitor ground.  Thank you for your help Vance”.

What a lovely way to end a lovely day of flying.

It took me about a half hour of siting in the afterglow before I was ready to climb down and push The Predator into the hangar.

I down loaded the pictures from my little camera and relived the flight.

Now I get to fly a third time as I share this with my friends.

I love being a flight instructor because I get to open the door to this magical world for others.

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Sibling Rivalry  7 March 2018

I had flown with Jeff’s brother Jim; who had done very well, so being the trouble maker I am I encouraged sibling rivalry.  My time with Jim was cut short for his work commitments.  I had Jeff for all day for $450 so we could take a more casual approach.

Jeff said he would rather have some fun and go somewhere so we headed up the coast to San Luis Obispo (SBP) for lunch.

We were expecting some strong winds and San Luis Obispo is in a valley so the winds tend to swirl around and can change direction and strength rapidly. Jeff was up for the challenge.

Jeff received a text from Jim saying he wanted us to fly over Pirate’s cove so we modified our flight plan to accommodate him.

Jeff had seen my post about Russ and how much being prepared helped, so he was very well prepared and it showed in his performance.

I gave Jeff the controls at eight hundred feet (540 feet above the ground) and immediately felt comfortable with his piloting skills.  The first picture of Jeff flying is with less than two minutes at the controls making a straight out departure from the Santa Maria airport (SMX).  I don’t take pictures when I am afraid.

Once we were outside SMX airspace I briefly took the controls and demonstrated some maneuvers and then gave Jeff the controls again.

He was handling airspeed and altitude very well with a good ground track and very smooth entries and exits to turns.  He seemed to have a good feel for the machine.

Flying up the shore line from the Guadalupe Dunes toward Pismo Beach is not as easy as it looks.  If you look close you can see considerable crab (the nose is pointed out to sea) because of the onshore wind.  It changes as the hills began to block the wind and create turbulence.  Other than some reminders about altitude (we were flying 600 feet above the ground and we are not supposed to get closer than 500 feet over people and property); Jeff was on his own.

There are very few emergency landing spots near Pirate’s Cove (a clothing optional beach) so I took the controls and climbed to 1,500 feet to give us more options.  Neither of us saw Jim waving as we made our way close to the mountains.  It was stunningly beautiful but I was busy dealing with the turbulence and the close proximity of the mountains to take pictures.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) at SBP was having challenges with two long winded pilots and starting to get backed up with six aircraft in the pattern.  They were still able to accommodate us.  Downwind mid field we were number two for runway two niner behind a Cessna and ahead of a reginal jet on a three mile final.

After a nice lunch and a conversation with four flying members of the Coast Guard, we did a preflight and checked the weather.  Winds had come up to 27kts and there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence so we canceled our plans to fly in the Huasna Valley for some maneuvering exploration and decided to fly direct to SMX.

I gave Jeff the controls as soon as we climbed out of the Edna Valley and he did a great job of managing the gusting winds.  He later admitted to a little fear of getting blown out of the sky.  He did a great job despite his trepidation.

Jeff entered the pattern well and I was very impressed with his increased situational awareness; so I asked if he was ready to land and he felt he was up for the second hardest part of flying a gyroplane after less than two hours of dual instruction. 

I took over the rudders and throttle and he did a nice job of managing his airspeed.  I could tell my rudder use was confusing so I pointed The Predator’s nose down the runway at five hundred feet above the ground and helped him find the centerline.  As we were about to touch down an emergency was developing (a Cessna was not developing full power and needed to return to the airport) so I took the controls and went around side stepping to give him a clear runway.  The Cessna pilot was cleared to land on all runways and taxiways.  Things seemed to be working out so ATC told us to make left traffic and report midfield down wind.

ATC extended our downwind incase the Cessna stalled on the runway.

We had a nice stabilized approach and a nice landing so I felt it was time for Jeff to take off; arguably the hardest part of flying a gyroplane.

It was windy enough to where we were off before Jeff could get into trouble. I was pleased and Jeff wanted to give it another try.  It was getting a little windy and turbulent so we called it quits after a nice landing and I asked ATC if we could visit because Jeff had expressed a desire to learn about what goes on in the control tower.  It was approved as requested and after climbing a lot of stairs we had a very nice visit with the controller and he demonstrated many of the tools he had to work with and shared his philosophy of air traffic control.

When we climbed down the wind had died down so we decided to do a few more takeoffs and landings even though it was getting late.

As we were taxiing out the wind direction and airspeed were changing enough to where the tower gave us several wind checks and asked me if I wanted runway two.  I decided to stay with 30 because the direct cross wind 020 degrees at 7kts seemed like less trouble than the changed sight picture of the 75 foot wind cross wind runway compared to the 150 foot wide runway 30.

As we were on our take off roll the wind sock became straight out (15kts) and I decided to change to runway 02.

Jeff had a little trouble with the narrower runway and I could not let him go quite as far, so on our last landing I had him fly down the runway at about 15 feet and he said it helped a lot.  The last landing was a nice as could be.  Every takeoff and landing had been to practical test standards with a little coaching.

It was a little after 6:00 and we had started at 8:00.  The debrief and filling out his log book lasted till a little after 7:00.  He had flown for two and a half hours and had been learning every minute of the 11 hour day.  Jeff is tough!

He is planning on moving forward on his gyroplane adventure and I am looking forward to it.

As I read what I wrote to find some of my spelling and grammatical errors; I realized I was not able to communicate how much fun I have as a flight instructor as I open the door to the world of aviation I love.  I feel learning to fly a gyroplane is a life altering experience.  It was for me. 

I am grateful that my friends let me join in the fun of their aviation adventure.
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Lazy Hazy Days Flight   5 February 2018

Lazy hazy days of summer in February in California.  I checked the weather Sunday and there was a high pressure dominating with stable air. Smooth air makes for a haze that adds romance to the view.

The first Sunday of the month is open hangar day at the Santa Paula Airport.  SZP is a magical place with lots of aviation luminaries and lots of interesting aircraft.

A flight to Santa Paula involves traversing six weather systems and they are often not favorable.  I have to fly through the busy Santa Barbara class C airspace.  The favorable weather made the Santa Barbara airspace very busy.

I had not been down that way since the Thomas fire so I wanted to see what it had done to my hills.

I never hurry aviation so I got a late start.

I took my time wandering over the hills and valleys climbing to 3,500 feet over the San Marcos Pass where the ground drops away to see level in less than a mile.

Once over the pass I caught some lift along the ridge all the way to No Name pass, so I pulled the power back and just sort of rumbled along at 2,000 feet, immersed in the beauty of the California coastline.  I love the way the ocean air feels on my face.

No name pass opens up to the Lake Casitas and the feel of the air changes.

Once I reached the remnants of the Thomas fire I found turbulence and lift from the sun heating the black hills before coasting down to the Santa Paula airport.

I was greeted as the prodigal son and had a wonderful time hangar flying with old friends and meeting a few new ones.

The setting sun reflected off the mist on the way home so no pictures.  It makes the familiar territory look unfamiliar and mysterious.

I pushed a ten to fifteen knot head all the way home.

I sat in the afterglow for a long time before I was ready to step down.

I have made this flight many times and each time is a unique Magical Mystical Adventure.
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Low and Slow, Lompoc Flight  29 January 2018

I have been busy with training and Sunday seemed a lovely day to fly.

The Predator needed some attention and it was past 15:00 before I was ready to go.

I called flight service to check the weather and there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence below fourteen thousand feet and lots of pilot reports of severe turbulence.

I don’t like to fly at night so a short flight to Lompoc seemed like a good plan.

We have had a little rain so the hills are beginning to turn green.

I heard the magic words; “Gyroplane 142 clear for takeoff, left downwind approved.”  The Predator leaped into the air and climbed out at 1,100 feet per minute.  I wanted to make the flight last so I trimmed her for 50kts and just sort of rumbled across the sky, slowly climbing to the two thousand feet mean sea level (MSL) that I like to have over the hill to Lompoc.

I caught some lift as I neared Harris Grade and pulled the power back further.

As I crested the ridge the Lompoc Valley opened up and I made a five mile radio call.  The skydive plane announced he was about to depart and there was no one in the pattern so I announced “Lompoc Area Traffic; White Gyroplane Two Mike Golf, three miles to the north at 1,200 feet, will make a right base entry for runway two five to land”.

I picked up my speed a little to better manage the timing because the jump zone is over my right down wind for runway two five and I suspect the jumpers find my rotor disquieting.

I talked myself through the landing process just for practice and called “Lompoc area traffic, White Gyroplane Two Mike Golf, clear of runway two five, Lompoc.”

I had a nice time visiting with some pilots and had to answer some questions about YouTube gyroplane crashes.

The last skydiver was down as was the jump plane.

I checked the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) and prepared to depart.

I called Santa Maria Air Traffic Control (ATC) from nine miles to the south descending through 1,700 feet with information Tango and was to report the Orcutt Y.  ATC asked me to make a slow left 360 for clearance from a Citation.  It was a pleasure because I was not ready for the joy of the flight to end.

Back at the hangar I sat in the afterglow for over half an hour replaying the magic moments of the flight.
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Fixed-Wing Flight Instructor Leaning to Fly a Gyroplane  1 Janurary 2018

Russ retired from the USMC nine years ago and was an EA-6B Prowler Naval Flight Officer.  As a military flight instructor, he would take new pilots to the carrier for their first day and night arrested landings in a EA-6B Prowler.  He is now an engineer at Vandenberg and a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) flying out of Lompoc, CA.  He is a high-time flight instructor and has more time as a flight instructor than I have as pilot in command of a gyroplane.

I met Russ when I was a freshly minted gyroplane CFI at a “Toys for Tots” event at the Lompoc Airport (LPC).  I felt like I was standing with giants, as there were several other aviation luminaries there.  Russ expressed an interest in getting a gyroplane rating and I jumped at the chance to fly in my gyroplane (The Predator) with Russ and try out my instructor skills with the sort of flight instructor I would like to be.

Russ is very focused on briefing, debriefing, procedures and check lists so we were aligned in our thinking about flight instruction. 

He did very well on managing airspeed and altitude and had fun with low altitude open cockpit aviation. I snuck in some performance maneuvers.

We looked up the requirements for adding Rotorcraft-Gyroplane to his Commercial Pilot privileges.  He felt the time required (money) for Private Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane was outside of his budget for fun ratings (he has several).  Several of my clients have added Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane privileges to their Private Pilot Certificate and I need to train them to proficiency and then have another CFI give them a proficiency check ride and endorse Russ for Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane privileges.  Proficiency is very specific with practical test standards. Typical was a little over ten hours of dual instruction with an equal amount of ground.

I had seen Russ a couple of times at FAST meetings over the years and talked briefly but it had not occurred to me to share what I had learned because I did not think he was interested in Sport Pilot.  I was always impressed by his focused demeanor.

I received a call from Russ and he had read up on the regulations and felt it would be fun to add a Sport-Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane privileges to his fixed wing certificate.  I shared my experience, successes and specific challenges in teaching a fixed wing pilot to fly a gyroplane with Russ at length and he decided to make it happen.  

Russ takes success seriously and had me email him my pilots operating handbook, all the check lists and written instructions I had.  He is not the first to request this but he is the first to print them out for his kneeboard and asked for clarification on nearly everything.  I re-did two of my check lists and the pilot’s operating handbook based on his review.  I loved the opportunity to up my game.

He also carefully studied the chapters about gyroplanes in The Rotorcraft Flying Handbook and was familiar with all the ground reference maneuvers and common errors.

The morning of his first lesson finally came and as I expected Russ was about 15 minutes early.  I checked his log book and was very impressed with his experience.  We took a half hour for orientation, an hour to preflight The Predator (a gyroplane has very different critical systems), and another half hour familiarizing Russ with the cockpit instrument, switches, controls and procedures.  He had really done his homework studying the picture of the instrument panel I had sent him, asked good questions and paid attention to the answers on an unusually high level.

I usually start people in the back seat to avoid task saturation.  I felt Russ was ready for the responsibilities of the front seat and I felt I was going to need to run to keep up with him.  He has to manage the radio frequencies, transponder, monitor the engine instruments, pre-rotate and operate the rotor brake. He also has the brakes for steering.

My method of teaching is to brief on the ground, demonstrate in the air and then give the controls to the client and talk him through the maneuvers; typically two or three per flight.  I have learned not to hold students back because many exceed my expectations (they do much better than I did as a primary student pilot).

The takeoff is probably the most challenging maneuver in a gyroplane both procedurally and how it feels compared to a fixed wing aircraft.  Because of the proximity to the ground I have less time to identify and fix mistakes, so if a student is doing well I might have him take off near the end of the second hour; after talking him through several of my takeoffs and landings while he is still in the back seat.

Russ felt he was prepared to take off and I did not disagree.  I figured on talking him through the takeoff procedure and expected to take the controls at some point.  We briefed extensively.

It wasn’t a great takeoff because we were a little slow when she lifted off with a little over-control that Russ quickly addressed.  It was right down the centerline and we were soon at our target lift off speed making a nice climb out with the control inputs becoming progressively smoother.  Every little hint I gave him made a positive change.  The takeoff and climb out met practical test standards.

I directed Russ toward the practice area and he was flying so well that I just told him to make a clearing turn and enter a turn around a point first left and then right without demonstrating the maneuver.  He made a proper entry and it was all to practical test standards.

Next were "S-Turns" over a road and again, with only the slightest instruction, he flew to practical test standards.  Russ then performed slow flight maneuvers, recognition and recovery from slow airspeed and high rate of descent and a power off vertical descent and recovery.

This would typically been at least two separated hour long missions.  At .9 hours of dual (54 minutes) and two hours of ground Russ made his first landing with only the slightest warning that we were a little slow a little high.  I could barely feel her touch down after responding perfectly to my input.

I never once was on the controls and gave very little instruction throughout the mission.

It was both a pleasure and a challenge to fly with someone with so much aviation experience and such an intellectual focus on exactly what we were doing.

We are going to fly again in a couple of weeks and if he keeps going the way he did I expect to sign him off for his proficiency check ride.  We will be working on precise landings, engine at idle landings (emergency landings), engine out on takeoff and steep turns.

I loved flying with Russ and learned a great deal.
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Fixed Wing Pilot Transition to Gyroplane Pilot  12 December 2017
I got a call from Peter who is from Los Angles, asking about gyroplane training.  He has a strong Bulgarian accent that is a cross between the Terminator and Boris Badenov and is a little hard to understand when he gets excited.  He has an airplane single engine land certificate with an instrument rating.  I suggested we spend a day together so I could access his skills and so he could find out if flying a gyroplane is what he wants to do for $450.  He was going to borrow an airplane and fly up from Santa Monica (SMO) to Santa Maria (SMX). He is a United States Marine.

After having things not work out with the plane three times, Peter called me up and said: “If I drive up and stay for three days will you sign me off for the proficiency check ride for Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane?”  My reply:
“It is not likely Peter; my typical minimum for a sign off is ten hours of dual flight instruction.  I don’t like to have a student fly much more than two hours a day broken down into four missions and the rest of the day will be spent learning on the ground.  If you are willing to work very hard, we can try.  A week would be better.  We will basically do a practical test for Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane and correct what is not up to the practical test standards (PTS).”

Two weeks later, November 28 at 7:40 Peter was at the gate at the Santa Maria Public Airport and we were ready to start.  It took from 8:00 to 11:30 to preflight, review gyroplane aerodynamics, check the weather and brief for the first mission explaining the standards and reasons for each maneuver.  We would be working through the various maneuvers in a practical test and working on them if he was not up to the PTS.  I put Peter in the back seat because there was less responsibility there and it is easier to fix something that is not working out if I am in the front seat.

I would demonstrate a maneuver that we had briefed on and then Peter would take the controls and fly the maneuver.  He had listened well and studied the Rotorcraft Flying Handbook.  Peter had a good grasp of how to control a gyroplane and because all of his maneuvers were to PTS, we headed back to the airport.  Peter managed the airspeed and altitude well and followed the somewhat confusing directions from the practice area to the right downwind for runway three zero well.  I let him set up for landing intending to take the controls and finish the landing before round out; his approach to land looked so good I talked him through the round out and flare for a perfect landing.

We gassed up and debriefed and then briefed for the next mission, refining his landings and introducing takeoffs.  We had some of the usual excitement and missteps but overall things went very well.  Lunch was spent charting progress and developing our syllabus.

The winds came up in the afternoon and except for the typical over control inputs things went pretty well.  We could cross crosswind takeoffs and landings off the list.  In the debrief we decided to put him to the front seat tomorrow where he has to manage the steering on the ground with differential braking, make the frequency changes on the radio and is responsible for the engine instruments.  We also realized that I sometimes didn’t understand his perspective and he laughed and said with a dismissive wave; my wife would say; “it is a cultural thing!”

We decided together it was time for Peter to start making radio calls.  We worked hard from eight to five and flew three missions for a little over two hours.  It was a great start.  I warned Peter that progress is seldom steady and at some point he would probably back slide.

Peter did great on the preflight and getting the weather from flight services.  I carefully briefed him on his responsibilities in the front seat, where everything was and how it worked.  The radio call to ground went well, as did the run up with some minor specific items that weren’t up to PTS; but they were easy habits to correct.  Peter was very good about reading the check lists aloud.  Because I can’t see the switches, instruments and mixture control, I insist on this from the beginning.  In my opinion it is proper pilot procedure and I read the lists aloud even when flying solo.

Someone new to The Predator (My training gyroplane) tends to grip the cyclic too tight and high and it is easy to press the push to talk button accidently.  This is commonly referred to as “a stuck mic”.  It prioritizes the front microphone so I can’t be heard on the intercom and blocks radio communication at the airport.  We had briefed on this extensively but task saturation got the better of Peter taking a while for the pounding on his back to get through and abort the takeoff despite our prearranged signals.  The tower scolded us and made certain we understood the gravity of a stuck mic as we made our way back to the run-up area for runway three zero.  I asked Peter if the error required some recovery time and he said he was unaffected with a dismissive wave of his hand.  I figured it was a cultural thing.  This mission was not entirely successful either and at lunch I prepared Peter for our “three day to gyroplane pilot plan” failing.

After lunch Peter redeemed himself and we flew until sunset.  We both agreed to study the practical test standards that evening and make certain we had covered everything that he would be tested on.

The morning of the third day we spent some ground time trying to find holes in Peters knowledge and he did remarkably well identifying hazards on the chart, lost procedures and diverting to an alternate airport.  Being one of my first clients to recognize a low level military operations area in the way of a diversion to Santa Ynez scenario.  His airspace identification and procedures were flawless.

After a preflight with Peter’s explanations of why each item is important and a weather briefing we headed off to do steep turns (considered an advanced maneuver) with success.  After a debrief we briefed on how to improve takeoffs and landings.  Every takeoff and landing was to practical test standards and we explored short field and soft field operations.

After lunch we headed out for some slow flight and the tower asked us to do a go-around, two more items checked off the list as we taxied back to the hanger to begin paperwork.  I called Don Bradly who will be doing the Proficiency Check Ride and he was kind enough to look over our paperwork (8710-11).  We are hoping to make it happen in a couple of weeks.  Peter has a little over seven hours of dual gyroplane instruction in his logbook.

Throughout the training I taught Peter how to fly all gyroplanes and transition him into Don’s Magni.  I took a picture of Peter with The Predator and, after I downloaded the picture, I asked him why he wasn’t smiling after such a successful three days?  “That is my smile; it is a cultural thing.”  He said with a dismissive wave.

Please understand I still expect a transition from fixed wing to Rotorcraft-Gyroplane to take ten to fifteen hours of dual with probably twice that in ground.  Peter is a remarkable pilot and it was also “a cultural thing”.  

It has been a couple of weeks and I just received a message from Don saying that Peter flew well and he now has a Sport Pilot, Rotorcraft-Gyroplane endorsement on his single engine land private pilot certificate.
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Santa Paula - Nope!  11 November 2017

This story is a week late due to training a new student for the whole of last week.  Between lesson plans and training I couldn't find the time to write.  I always try to make my students and The Predator (my aircraft) my number one priority.  As a result of these two vital things I did not find any time to share with you my love of flying and a worthwhile reminder that the destination is not the point.

Sunday morning around 9:00am I called flight service for a weather briefing and it sounded like great winter day to fly from Santa Maria (SMX) to Santa Paula (SCP).  It is a lovely 100 mile flight with many magnificent Vistas!

I checked with flight service and AIRMET Sierra was rapidly improving for low ceilings and Mountain obscuration.  AIRMET Zulu for moderate Icing at 9,000 feet didn't give me much to worry about.  Typically, I fly 500 feet to a 1,000 feet above the ground and the highest ground is about 2,500 feet over the San Marcos Pass.  AIRMET Tango for light to moderate turbulence was in effect along the entire route. I have flown in moderate turbulence a lot along this route. 

The air had a nice bite to it for a more intense experience and the Predator’s performance was lively!  About 25 miles east of the San Marcos VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Range Navigation System) I began to climb from 3,500 feet to 5,500 feet to maintain the required 1,000 feet above the clouds and fly an appropriate VFR altitude for my easterly flight.  I called Santa Barbara approach and they gave me a squawk code and altitude was verified.  I found my fingers were cold enough to make operating and knobs on my transponder difficult and my cold lips were not working well for Radio Calls.  I let approach know I was climbing through 6,100 feet for VFR (visual flight rules) cloud clearance and saw what appeared to be a high wall cloud somewhere around Carpentaria.  My next VFR altitude would be 7,500 and I figured it would be a lot colder up there so I called approach and told them I was heading west to San Luis Obispo (SBP);  Radar Services were terminated and I was to squawk VFR (1,200).

As my altitude increases it feels like I am crawling across the sky barely moving.  I had built up a lot of energy (altitude) and had 60 Miles to bleed it off.  I pulled the power back and delighted in the feeling of just floating along.  I planned my course to catch some updraft along the hills and it feels like the hand of God Is Lifting me up... climbing when I should be descending.  A few times I slowed to 40kts indicated air speed;  slightly below my minimum power required speed of 46kts just to bask in the feeling.  As I turned west I flew all along the Nipomo Bluffs to catch some.  It took me almost all the way to the shoreline. Despite the cold, there were quite a few people on the beach and it was interesting to see the White Caps start as I made my way north along the shoreline.

I called SBP Tower over Shell Beach and was to make left traffic for Runway 29 and report downwind abeam.  The wind was picking up and when I called downwind abeam air traffic control (ATC) gave me a gratuitous wind check and cautioned for wake turbulence from the departing regional jet.  There was enough wind to where I was nearly stopped over the runway and gently lowered her down.

I feel this is a good reminder to turn around when things aren’t going well.

I love to fly and I'm not sorry I didn't make it to Santa Paula.  I flew just as long and loved every minute of the flight!

Kind Regards to All!
Vance
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