Getting Skunked by Weather DURING My Lesson

I’d been receiving Severe Thunderstorm Warnings all day, but the weather didn’t seem too bad in Brooklyn. On the train out to FRG, still looked OK. It all seemed to be holding to the north of us, across the Sound, in Connecticut. So it worked out that my CFI told me we would be staying around FRG for this lesson and for future lessons until I solo.

  • Airspeed – Indicating Zero
  • Attitude Indicator – Alive Within Five Minutes of Engine Start
  • Altimeter – Plus/Minus 75 Feet of Field Elevation
  • Turn Coordinator – Wings Level, Ball Centered
  • Heading Indicator – Matched To Compass
  • Vertical Speed Indicator – Indicating Zero
He previously had told me we would be doing pre-solo work at BDR (because it is so quiet over there), but he said he wants me to be 100% familiar and comfortable with the chaos of FRG since it serves as our base of operations.

The Flight

Everything went well as we started up and taxied out. I keep forgetting the standard callouts my CFI uses for the instrument checks, but I wrote them down after this lesson so I won’t forget next time. I really like saying “Wings Level, Ball Centered”, it makes me feel like an F/A-18 pilot about to land on a carrier.

There was a 10 knot crosswind, about 10-20 degrees off of Runway 19, so not too bad. My CFI keeps hammering crosswind takeoff technique into my head. He said no one taught it to him properly at the beginning, and his flying suffered for it. It is rather neat when I do it properly, though, and I lift off and automagically I’m in a crab, tracking runway centerline perfectly, without drifting off to the side.

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We requested to stay in the pattern, and started our touch and goes. As soon as we made it to 800 feet or so, ready to turn crosswind, I looked to the west where my first crosswind turn would be, and saw a wall of cloud/haze. My CFI quick confirmed we probably wouldn’t be up for long. It was a good lesson, though, on how things can look OK from the ground, but not so good from the air. We were OK to do a pattern or two, but we were surrounded by IFR weather; heading to another airport would’ve been impossible. We took a couple of turns around the pattern, and got in some good crosswind landing practice, reinforcing the things I had learned in Bridgeport, before we had to call it quits as even worse weather moved in.

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Weather

This has been one of the more interesting things about flight training: I look at weather in a completely different way now. I’m learning more about it than I’ve ever known, thanks to studying for the written test. But at the same time, I’m even more confused by it than ever. It can look pretty darn good from the ground, with METARs (aviation weather reports) that also look good, but as soon as you get up in the air you realize things are not good at all. It’s further complicated by the fact that I’m traveling ~35 miles for an hour on the train. The weather can change drastically over that distance and time. Especially in coastal areas like Long Island, where there can quite literally be a wall of cloud over the ocean, with perfectly clear skies as soon as you cross the beach. I’ve seen that a number of times, and while impressive, it definitely rules out the use of the southern practice area!

Gettin’ Rusty

I felt pretty rusty since it had been a week since the flight to Bridgeport. I hope that’s just because I’m such a low-low-low-time pilot. I definitely won’t be able to afford 2-3 flights per week once I get my license, which is the frequency I’m requiring now to keep my skills sharp. I’m hoping that frequency requirement gets a little less stringent with more experience. I definitely don’t want to have to spend 100% of my time in the air as a licensed pilot knocking off the cobwebs from the last time I went flying.

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