Wednesday, January 18, 2012

21 Down, 29 to go.

Recently we went on a family vacation to Arizona.  Ahead of our departure I looked up flight schools (fixed base operators of FBO in pilot speak) in the Phoenix area and there are plenty.  Unlike my seven state tour of earlier this summer, I knew I would not be crossing any state boundaries, and all I wanted was to land a plane.  I didn't even want to get checked out.  Just grab an instructor and head for the sky.

On Tuesday I started calling the FBOs on my list hoping to find an open spot on their schedule for me to fill.  We were staying at the Squaw Peak Hilton, making Scottsdale the most convenient airport.

I called Alliance Flight Schools during business hours and got their answering machine.  Weird.

Next I tried Arizona Flight Training Center and, the phone was never answered.  Even werider.

But then Alliance called me back, and I scheduled a flight for 9:AM Thursday morning with Mike.

I was just pulling out of the resort on Thursday when my phone rang.  I hit the button on the steering wheel (I love Bluetooth).  Mike was sick and had to cancel.  Bummer.

I switched to the aerobatic school in Chandler.  Flying inverted is always fun, and I want tail-wheel time.  But try as I might, I could not find a phone number on their website using the tiny browser on my phone. Turns out it is right there on the upper right.  In an image.  So my phone cannot find it to help me dial.  I wonder if these guys ever tried to use their own website while I send them an email.

Mark Bolstad from Alliance calls and says he is available Friday at 2:PM -- I book it.  The aerobatic school emails me back.  Too late.

My briefing with Mark is pretty simple.  We are flying a Cessna 172, a model with which I am very familiar.  I want to land at least once.  I want to fly around.  Mark knows the airspace, he will keep us out of trouble.  Plus he can play with my new Garmin 796 while I fly.

We take off and fly to the west of Squaw Peak, and then turn right and fly east bound between the south side of Squaw Peak and the north side of Camelback Mountain.  We look at the resorts at the base of the mountain, and make some turns around an abandoned swimming pool that Mark refers to as a "Skate Board Resort."


Track of the flight
We fly further east out past the Talking Stick Resort an around a redrock peak.  Mark pushes me close to the mountain to stay out of Falcon Field's airspace.

I ask Mark about Fountian Hills, and he points to the north.  We fly north.  Mark points down to the west at a golf course where his girlfriend works. As we arrive at the lake we find the fountain is turned off, but we circle anyway.  Mark says he grew up here, and is parents live on the northwest side of town.  We go circle their house.

We head further north to Carefree, and fly a big circle looking at the houses perched on the mountain.  As we cross around the east side we spot a new home being built wedged into the rocks.  It looks small at the base of a pile of BIG boulders.  I think if I were the owner, and saw it from the plane, I would question the wisdom of building there.

We turned pointed the plane back south east towards the Scottsdale airport, picked up the current weather conditions and called up the tower.  Mark took care of this and the playing with GPS.

No matter how good the flying was, every pilot is always judged by the final 3 feet before touchdown.  Drop too fast on those last three feet and hit hard or bounce and everybody in the plane knows what kind of pilot you are.  My first landing was pretty good.  I was proud of if.

We circled around for a second go at it.  Mark wanted to see if the little plane on the 3D vision display touched down at the same time we did.  My second landing was spectacular.  No bump or collision with the ground.  Just the soft scrubbing of the tires on the ground as we rolled out.  I was a thing of beauty. And Mark reported the GPS matched exactly our wheels touching the runway.


Adding Arizona, my 21st state.
He also said he wished he could teach his students to land like that.  I revealed my knowledge of good landings.  There are three secrets to a good landing, and no one pilot knows all three of them -- including me.

To prove my point, the third time around we arrived with a solid thud and we called it a day.  1.1 hours and one more state off my list.
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