Category Archives: “A Pilot’s Logbook”

A series of stories about a journey of flight and faith.


“Show me the Money” – Commercial Pilot Training

tshirt            Soon after obtaining my instrument rating, my instructor Beth and I started training for my commercial pilot certificate check ride. Hours of study on regulations, weather, commercial operations, and aircraft systems resulted in my passing of the Commercial Pilot written exam. Speaking of regulations, it may be helpful to understand what FAA privileges and limitations exist for a commercial pilot.

According to Federal Aviation Regulation Part 61.133, a person who holds a commercial pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying persons or property for compensation or hire, provided the person is qualified in accordance with this part and with the applicable parts of this chapter that apply to the operation. You might think the before-mentioned legal lingo allows the bearer of a commercial pilot certificate to just put himself or herself out for hire, and fly anything and anyone, anywhere. However, there are other parts of the regulations that stipulate additional requirements for air carrier operators so, the commercial pilot certificate alone has its limitations. The holder of the certificate is allowed to conduct (within aircraft and additional certification requirements) the following operations: flight instruction, nonstop sightseeing flights, ferry or training flights, crop dusting, seeding, spraying, and bird chasing, banner towing, aerial photography or survey, fire fighting and power line or pipeline patrol, to name a few.

All that being said, before I could ferry aircraft, crop dust, banner tow, or fire fight (none of which I planned on doing), I had to complete a lot of training, and I had to meet the minimum hour requirements:

  1. 250 hours total flight time
  2. 50 hours of cross country
  3. 3 10 hours instrument training (already completed)
  4. 10 hours of training in a retractable landing gear, flaps, and a controllable pitch propeller or is turbine-powered
  5. One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine in daytime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure;
  6. One 2-hour cross country flight in a single engine airplane in nighttime conditions that consists of a total straight-line distance of more than 100 nautical miles from the original point of departure
  7. Ten hours of solo flight time in a single engine airplane: One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles, and 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.

ttail            You may think that this training plan was intense and for the most part it was fairly challenging, but the areas of training where I spent quite a bit of time, included learning to fly a complex airplane, and learning how to demonstrate properly the commercial pilot flight maneuvers. First, we began my complex aircraft training in a T-tail PA28-200 Piper Arrow. This aircraft had a 200 horsepower engine, significantly more “growl under the cowl” than the 100 hp Cessna 152’s and 165 hp Cessna 172’s I had been flying. Also, the Arrow had a variable pitch/constant speed prop and retractable gear both of which, brought two new operational systems into each phase of flight.            prop-zoom-v2

First, the variable pitch/constant speed prop is just that; variable and constant.Constant speed propellers work operationally, by varying the pitch of the propeller blades. As the blade angle is increased, it produces more lift (thrust). At the same time, more torque is required to spin the prop, and the engine slows down. The opposite is true when the blade angle is decreased: the torque required is decreased, and the engine speeds up. At higher altitudes when the air becomes less dense, the pilot can improve the efficiency of the aircraft engine, by increasing the pitch of the prop, and maintain the RPM of the engine, in order to “take a bigger bite” out of the air. That way when the air is thin, increasing its pitch can increase the propeller’s efficiency. It may sound complex (no pun intended), but it allows the airplane to be more fuel efficient at different flight phases.

retract           The Arrow also had retractable landing gear. You can imagine that in the takeoff and landing phases of flight, there are a whole new series of checks and procedures related to retracting the gear (takeoff and cruise), and lowering the gear (hopefully before attempting a landing). Even so, as a commercial pilot candidate, I had to learn the intricate details of both of these systems, how they operate, how to troubleshoot in the event of a failure, and what to do if a gear failure occurred.   Landings were the critical phase of retractable gear operations and in this training I learned a new aviation acronym: “GUMP’s.   On final approach, once lined up on the centerline of the runway, my instructor taught me to call out and verify GUMP’s (GAS – fuel pump on, UNDERCARRIAGE – gear down and three green lights, MIXTURE- mixture control rich, PROP – constant speed prop forward, SEATBELTS/SWITCHES). It was a constant reminder to make sure we landed with gear down, and that the prop was set in case we had to execute a “go around.” In time, I was able to master (or at least feel comfortable) flying the Arrow, and I came to love flying this airplane nearly as much as I now love flying Cessna 172’s and 182’s.

IChandellen my next blog post, I will share with you the flight lessons that taught me to execute the commercial pilot flight maneuvers: Lazy 8’s, Chandelles, “180 degree spirals,” and “Eights on Pylons.”  It took some time, but I was able to learn these performance maneuvers well enough to take and pass my FAA check ride. More later.




“Snoozin’ and Cruisin’”: Crossing Florida in a Cessna 172

 During my professional flight training, I had to build up my total hours for the Commercial Pilot Certificate requirements. I also needed to build simulated instrument time, as I was working on my Instrument rating. So, it was necessary for me to fly several instrument cross countries with a “safety pilot.” I flew a few flights with another student at the school, who already had an instrument rating. One day we discussed and planned a 5-hour cross country that would take us from Naples to West Palm Beach, to Vero Beach, to Sarasota, and back to Naples. This flight would be all “under the hood” and each of us would fly a different leg of the journey.

The morning of the flight, I asked my daughter Erica, “Honey, would you like to see the East Coast of Florida today?” She was only 9 years old and with glee said, “Yes Daddy, that sounds great!” So, we drove to the airport and met my fellow student at the school. After a quick check of the weather, a thorough briefing and pre-flight, we were sitting on the ramp awaiting our clearance.

The takeoff was uneventful, and almost immediately, the tower advised us to contact departure control. The controller gave us further clearance to our assigned altitude and vectored us to intercept our filed route. It was a beautiful day in Southwest Florida. Over the headset, I was pointing out to Erica the many beautiful towns and lakes along the route. After about an hour of quiet, I asked Erica if she could see that little village off our right wing. “Erica, do you see that town?” I said. There was complete quiet over the intercom. “Erica, you ok,” I asked. Still quiet.

I turned around and my sweet daughter had taken a pillow, put it up against the window, and was fast asleep. The hum of the engine, the smoothness of the air, and serenity of the sky was just enough to put her fast asleep. I don’t believe Erica saw any of Florida that day, but she sure enjoyed a great rest. I have had the privilege of flying with my daughter and my wife Terri many times. It is a great joy to share this avocation with those you love. Many times, Terri and I have made little side trips to Key West and even Miami for the day. Maybe in one of my future posts, I will share one of those stories. In my next post, I will tell more about my Commercial Pilot Certificate training in beautiful sunny Florida. Stay tuned.


“Flying Blind” – Instrument Rating (Circa 2000)

            My father-in-law’s health began to decline in 1999, and my spouse I wrestled with the decision to move closer to him and his spouse, so Terri could spend time with her father before he died. That decision would require us to leave our careers, and embark on a new way of life. At the same time, I had been dreaming about the possibility of returning to aviation as my vocation. I had been doing quite a bit of flying in Alabama, and I had already started some cross-country and simulated instrument flying to prepare me for additional ratings.

So, we made the decision, left our jobs, sold our home and moved to Southwest Florida. Terri returned to store management when we arrived, and I found a flight school where I could begin my professional flight training. Prior to our move, Terri made a visit to Florida to see her dad and while there, she visited a local flight school to checkout their instructors and their airplanes.   Terri met one of the instructors from the U.K. named Beth, whom Terri immediately found to be friendly, positive, and knowledgeable. After that encounter, Terri called and said, “I have found your new flight school and flight instructor.”

            After my arrival in Florida, I visited the school and met Beth. She was as Terri described; positive, friendly, knowledgeable, and kind. We decided to begin working on basic instrument flying during our first lesson and we would utilize one of several IFR certified Cessna 152’s on the ramp. In no time, I had mastered the T-Scan, constant airspeed/constant rate climbs and descents, turns, timed turns, and partial panel.

           Later Beth taught be how to fly VOR, NDB, and ILS approaches with published holds. After lots of instrument practice, we decided to build some time toward my Commercial Pilot Certificate, which we would tackle next and thus, we flew several instrument cross country flights across Florida. During this time, I also was studying for and eventually passed my Instrument Written Exam, as well as learning as much as I could about the regulations, weather, and navigation.

           One month later, after flying nearly every day, I successfully passed my oral and practical check ride with the local FAA Designated Examiner. Nineteen years after I had soloed at age 16, I had earned an instrument rating. My spouse and daughter were very proud of me, and I too had a little pride in my accomplishment however, there was so much more training that was before me.

           The next lesson right after my instrument rating check ride, Beth said, “Let’s get to work on your commercial pilot certificate training.” “Next flight, we will start training in the Piper Arrow T-tail, so you I can give you your Complex Airplane endorsement.” In my next blog, I will share a little about my Commercial Pilot training, and few fun adventures flying throughout Florida.   Stay Tuned!


“Coming home” – USAF Aux./Civil Air Patrol (1999)

Parisian-at-Summit-for-Website-1-940x599            Nineteen years ago (1999), Terri and I left the Chicago suburbs and the buying offices of Sears Roebuck and Company, and moved to Birmingham, AL. This move came about, because we were offered and accepted buying positions with a large, growing, regional retail conglomerate. After we were settled in our new jobs and new home, I set out to find a local airport, where I could rent an airplane, and continue my aviation hobby. A quick trip down the road from our house, there was a great little airport with a 6000’ hard surfaced runway, and an FBO that rented Piper Warriors.

pa28         Now, most of my flight training and recent flight experience had been in Cessna 150’s, 152’s, and 172’s, and I had never been pilot in command of a low-wing Piper. After a thorough check out in one of the flight school’s PA-28’s, I was back in the air and enjoying flying with Teri in the beautiful skies of Alabama.   After a few cross-countries, and many takeoff and landing practices, I was ready for another challenge. While flying one evening, and as I walked back into the FBO, I saw several Civil Air Patrol cadets in uniform, mulling around and waiting for the meeting to start.

Alabama_Wing_Civil_Air_Patrol_logo            I spoke with the Squadron Commander who was present and I asked, “Would you welcome back a former Spaatz cadet to work with you all?” He beamed and said, “You’re kidding right, let’s get you some paperwork.” A few weeks later, after fingerprints, a completed application, and new uniforms, I was back in CAP active and serving as Aerospace Education officer in the squadron. What a joy it was to put on that uniform again, to be working with cadets again, and to be teaching something that I so enjoyed.

CaptainsHat            It was this experience that would eventually lead me begin dreaming about an aviation career again. It was the joy of teaching and sharing the art of flying again that would lead me to become a flight instructor. Within a few months, the squadron commander asked me to serve as Deputy Commander for Cadets, and I readily took on the task. I also began flying the CAP aircraft and eventually completed a Form 5 Check ride, which qualified me to serve as a Transport Mission Pilot.

Although, this experience of working with cadets, teaching, and flying deepened my love of aviation, and did eventually led me to become a professional teacher of flight, our short time in Birmingham was not the end of the story. In my next blog, I will share the story of an unexpected move to Naples, FL, the time spent with my wife’s father, and the time when my professional aviation training began.

Stay tuned,

Bitten by the Aviation Bug Again (1997)

sears-holding-campus            My wife Terri and I were working at Sears Corporate in Hoffman Estates in 1997. I was the Associate Buyer for Cookware and Terri was a Merchandise Analyst for Men’s Outerwear and Accessories. Working at Sears Corporate Headquarters was an amazing experience. We lived in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago where fun activities, restaurants, and beautiful countryside abounded.   Each weekend, Terri and I would go and explore the surrounding villages, or we would trek down to the city to take in the art museums, restaurants, and the plethora of shopping venues.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 6.09.03 AM            We were exploring “things to do” one upcoming weekend, and in the local paper we read about the Air Expo taking place at Lake in the Hills Airport, just down the road a few miles from our home in Algonquin. “Terri, can we go check out the airshow,” I asked. “Sure,” she said. The following Saturday, I was excited and ready to rekindle my then, thirteen year absence from aviation. Walking around all those airplanes, checking out the interiors of some of those incredible machines, talking to pilots about their love of aviation was an amazing experience. We watched the airshow and folks I must say, “the Aviation Bug bit me once again.” On the drive home and for days afterward, all I talked about was my glory days in aviation and how much I missed it, and Terri heard what I was saying.

“So Eric, what would it take for you to be able to get back in the air,” Terri asked. “I guess I need to find an instructor that would be willing to give me an extended flight review and help me get back up to speed,” I replied. “So, your birthday is coming up soon, why don’t we do just that,” she smiled. “You’re kidding right,” I said. “You are so passionate about flying, and it is something you gave up a long time ago, let’s get you back in the air,” she grinned.

dacy           I began searching for flight instructors in the area and it seemed that most of the local instructors were “time builders,” looking only to teach enough to build enough hours in order to be hired by the airlines. I was looking more for an instructor who taught because he/she loved it. I was looking for someone like Evelyn Johnson, who cared about her/his students and the only time building they were interested in was the time they could spend helping a student become a safe and proficient pilot. With some suggestions from a few local pilots, I found just such an instructor, teaching at a little grass strip called Dacy Airport in Harvard, IL.

014089            A few days later, I found my old logbook stored away in a footlocker, and with great excitement, Terri and I left for Harvard, IL. “Hi, my name is Maggie Dodson,” the flight instructor greeted me with a smile. “What can I do for you,” she asked. We exchanged introductions, and I told Maggie that I had been away from aviation for several years, and it was my desire to begin flying again. She asked if I had a current medical and I told her that I was going to take care of that soon. She then looked through my logbook, smiled, and said, “We should be able to get you back in the air soon Eric.” “Let’s get you working on some ground school study so you can get back up to speed on the regulations, flight planning, etc., and then schedule your first flight,” she beamed. I was so ready to fly again that I began my studies with a renewed vigor and commitment.

Despite the wonderful flight training Evelyn Johnson had given me, the thirteen-year absence from flying made me more than rusty with my flying skills. I needed to review the basics again, and Maggie was so patient. Within a few hours I was able to handle all the basic air maneuvers, and my landings were improving.   We even flew a cross country or two, to help me re-discover my pilotage and dead reckoning skills. After about ten hours in the airplane, and after a thorough oral examination of FAA Regulations Part 91, Maggie said, “Congratulations Eric, I am going to endorse your logbook for your flight review.” “Welcome back to aviation my friend,” she said.

1930294_23872293740_2241_n           Since 1997, I have made a commitment to fly at least once a month to maintain my currency and proficiency. As a flight instructor, CAP Mission Pilot and CAP Instructor Pilot, I usually am able to get up in the air at least once a week, and sometimes more. For the past 21 years, I have not only flown for fun, I made the choice in early 2000, to become an aviation professional, and to pass on my love of aviation to others.

In my next post, I will share with you a few stories about my professional pilot training in Naples, Florida where I earned my Instrument Rating, Commercial Pilot Certificate, Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, Multi-Engine Rating, and Instrument Instructor Rating. In future posts, I will share with you some of my adventures as a full-time flight instructor and now, part-time instructor.   Stay tuned!


An Aviation Hiatus

ibelonginthe air          Like most newly minted private pilots, when I earned my wings back in 1983, I took the members of my family for a flight, and then flew with most of my friends. There was nothing like sharing with others the joy, the thrill, and the beauty of seeing our world from those lofty heights. However, other things in life got in the way of my new hobby, like it does for so many others.


The costs associated with aviation can become excessive, and unless you use aviation for personal or business travel, or you begin working on an additional rating, or you purchase your own airplane and just buzz around he skies for fun, a new pilot can become inactive long before she/he has acquired enough experience to be proficient.

shield_logoI was in my freshman year of college when I received my private pilot certificate.  Between my activities with Civil Air Patrol, the difficult classes of my first year in college, and a necessary transfer to another university, my time and financial ability to fly once a week, or even every two weeks diminished. By early spring of 1984, after only a few months after earning my wings, I was no longer current, nor was I proficient.   School was difficult, my finances were all going to support my education, and I was attending a college that was nearly 100 miles away from my home airport in Morristown, TN.   In 1984, I reluctantly hung up my wings, and I did not fly again until thirteen years later in the fall of 1997


In my next post, I will share with you, how my attendance at an airshow, a birthday gift from a loving spouse, and the patience of a flight instructor in a neighboring village in Illinois, brought me back to aviation. Since that time, I have not only flown for pleasure, but I now teach others how to experience this amazing sport, this incredible past-time, and this unexpected avocation.

Stay tuned,   Eric+

Check ride Prep and the Big Day

cap pilot wings                     After I successfully completed my solo cross-country flights, and after I successfully passed the FAA Private Pilot written exam, it was time to begin preparing for my check ride. The FAA check ride is an oral and practical exam through which, an FAA Designated Examiner evaluates the pilot’s flying and knowledge abilities, and then determines if they qualify for the FAA Private Pilot Certificate. If a student pilot’s flight instructor is also the FAA Designated Examiner, the required three hours of preparation for the check ride, must be conducted by another flight instructor.

Evelyn assigned Noble a kind, patient flight instructor to conduct my preparation for the FAA check ride. Noble spent a few hours with me reviewing for the oral portion of the exam, by covering all of the FAA regulations, the aircraft systems and performance charts, cross-country planning, emergency procedures, etc. Next, Noble conducted two preparatory flights with me to evaluate my ability to fly all of the maneuvers to standard, and to assess my airmanship. After that flight, Noble sat me down and said, “Eric, you are ready my friend. Let’s tell Evelyn that you are ready for your check ride.” I beamed and said, “Thank you Noble!”

A week later, nervous and anxious, I arrived at the airport and met Evelyn who said, “OK Eric, are you ready?” I said reluctantly, “Yes ma’am.” “Well, today I am not your flight instructor. Today, I am the examiner and I will evaluate your knowledge and airmanship. I will be fair, but I will not give you any instruction,” Evelyn directed. We sat down at one of the tables in the airport lounge and began the exam. An hour later, I was sweating and mentally exhausted.  Evelyn told me, “You are ready to do the flight portion Eric. I will give you time to pre-flight the, then we will do the air work,” she said.

After a thorough pre-flight, and after several pointed questions about the aircraft, required documents for flight, etc., we were airborne and flying toward the practice area. After demonstrating stalls, slow flight, steep turns, and the rest, we descended to 1000’ AGL and I demonstrated the ground reference maneuvers to Evelyn. Next, we flew back to the airport and I demonstrated normal, short field, soft field, and takeoffs and landing, and simulated emergency landings. “Let’s taxi back to the airport Eric,” Evelyn smiled.

Evelyn said, “Go ahead and tie down and secure the airplane, and I will see you inside Eric.” I was confused though, because Evelyn did not tell me whether I had passed or failed. I was uncertain whether I would have to retake the check ride or not. As I walked into the office though, there was my Dad and Evelyn beaming and clapping. “Congratulations Eric, you did it, you are a pilot! “ She handed me my temporary pilot certificate, gave me a hug, and said, “You did so well, I am proud of you.”1200px-Private_Pilot

In my next blog, I will share a few stories about some flights I made with my high school friends and family. I will also talk about the long hiatus from aviation, which took me away from my passion and vocational aspirations. Stay Tuned.




Cross County Flight Training

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.37.38 AM            The Federal Aviation Administration defines a “cross country flight” as a flight that “requires a point of landing that is more than 50 nm straight-line distance from the original point of departure.” As a part of the training to obtain a private pilot certificate, the student must accomplish at least 3 hours of dual cross country training, and at least 5 hours of solo cross country flying (along with some additional distance and leg requirements) and a dual night cross country flight.

Soon after my first solo flight, Evelyn Johnson my instructor began preparing me to begin the next phase of training, which was cross-country flying. Now, this training took place long before we had GPS satellite navigation in our aircraft. We were using land based navigational aids such as the NDB (non-directional beacon) and VOR (VHF omnidirectional range) that showed us with some precision, where we were throughout the flight.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.37.16 AM            Before we ever jumped into the airplane and took off for a distant airport, I spent hours studying about Sectional Charts, the navigational aids just mentioned, and how to: plot a course, correct for wind drift, correct for magnetic deviation, plan time and fuel usage. I learned about controlled airspace, how to communicate with Air Traffic Control, and how to understand the different runway markings and taxiway signs. All of this study took a few weeks and during that time, I would go to the airport and cram, and spend some solo time perfecting my landings and maneuvers.

Eventually, Evelyn said, “I think we are ready for our first cross-country flight, Eric.” I want you to plan a trip the Tri-Cities Airport for our next lesson. Do all of the planning and conduct a “Weight and Balance” check for the flight. Bring all of your planning to me and we will review it, and then we will make the flight.

The following week I showed up with all of my flight planning materials, and Evelyn meticulously reviewed all of my paperwork. She made some suggestions and corrections but overall, I had successfully planned for the flight. “OK Eric, go on outside and pre-flight the plane, and I will be out in a minute,” she commanded. Soon we were rolling down the runway and climbing out to our cruise altitude of 3,500’ MSL. I leaned the engine, checked out all the of the engine instruments, and turned to my True Heading, which should have taken us to Tri Cities airport.

dead reck           After a few minutes Evelyn asked me, “Eric, where are you, show me on the chart?” I looked outside and looked at the chart and said, “I’m lost.” “OK Eric, where is the largest road below us,” she asked. “Right there Evelyn,” I pointed. “What road do you think that is on the chart,” she pointed. “This one I believe, because there is a railroad track paralleling the road, and here it is on the chart,” I said. “You’re right Eric,” she beamed. “Now keep your head out the window, check your Directional Gyro and maintain your True Heading, and in a few minutes tell me where you are again,” she directed.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.37.58 AM           I was able throughout the rest of the flight to show Evelyn where I was at all times. I was able to use dead reckoning and pilotage, to make the flight all the way to Tri-Cities airport. Soon we landed safely, and we went into the FBO to ask the attendant to sign my logbook as proof of my landing. “When you do this flight solo Eric, make sure you get someone to sign your logbook to show you were here,” she pointed. “So Eric, on our way back, I want you to try and navigate home using pilotage and dead reckoning, but I also want you to fly the VOR from the Tri –Cities back home,” she stated. Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.38.06 AMAgain, we took off and headed back home. I picked up my True Heading, leaned the engine, and checked all the engine instruments. “All OK,” I said. “OK, let’s pickup the 265 degree FROM radial from the Holston Valley VOR, and see if you can track it back home,” Evelyn taught. I did and I was able to correct for the southerly winds that were blowing us off course.

Soon, were back home on the ground and Evelyn spent some time critiquing our flight and providing me with some really fine instruction. “OK Eric, you did very well today; next flight we will go to McGhee Tyson and then Chattanooga airport for your next cross-country,” she said. “Do all of your planning and let’s discuss it before we go,” she said. That next flight went very well, and I learned quite a bit through some mistakes I made. Evelyn taught me on that flight how I could contact the Flight Service Station in the event I became lost. She also taught me how to use the NDB to track my progress and to navigate using that instrument.

My next phase of training was my solo cross countries, where I took off from that little airport and flew to Tri Cities airport all by myself, and then the next flight which was Morristown to Tri-Cities to Morristown to Knoxville to Chattanooga and back. All of those flights were safe and yet, I learned so much from some minor mistakes.   With all of my cross-country flights complete, the next phase of training included night flying and the preparation for my check ride. I will share more about those flights in my next blog post.


Stay tuned,