The Rocket City Remembers

At the end of January each year, Huntsville remembers the astronauts who lost their lives pursuing the American dream of exploring space.  Grissom High School held its Virgil I Grissom/Apollo 1 Tribute Assembly to recognize the 50th anniversary of the tragedy on Friday, January 27th. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Marshall Space Flight Center held their NASA Day of Remembrance ceremonies on Tuesday, January 31.


The Space and Rocket Center’s audience, made up of Space Campers from the USA, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, media, members of the community, and tourists, were reminded of the inspirational lives and dedication of NASA’s fallen. Marshall Deputy Director Jody Singer reminded us that “as we build today the Space Launch System which has the power to put humans in space” that we should remember our mistakes, push forward, and remember the passion of the explorers we were honoring.  She reminded us that “This past year we have lost former astronaut Gene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon and former astronaut and Senator John Glenn.” She also mentioned how many people were behind the scenes at NASA making it all possible as in the popular movie “Hidden Figures.”

Robert “Hoot” Gibson, former astronaut, mentioned that we were there “to remember the mistakes of the past and learn from them, but more, to remember the people.” He listed the many astronauts NASA has lost over the years, not only the crews of Columbia and Challenger, which he knew, but also the crew of Apollo 1, and other astronauts such as Alan Shephard, Sally Ride, and Janice Voss. While discussing the SLS (Space Launch System) being tested at Marshall he concluded, “from our space past we have built our space future.”


In the crowd there was a boy of 6 years old, Jesse, and his mom, Angela Beavers, of Huntsville. They spent a lot of time at the Space and Rocket Center this summer. “I wanted him to see this,” Beavers said, “He loves space, he loves rockets. It’s his thing.” Jesse, future Space Camper, and who knows, astronaut, shyly lined up for his photo opp with the astronaut, Hoot Gibson, and then went inside to his promised meal at the Mars Grill. I remembered being his age, at my grandmother’s during the school day because of the chicken pox, and watching the Challenger launch in great anticipation that quickly turned to sadness and shock as my 6 year old brain accepted instantly what it took the horrified people on TV a few seconds to realize. I think space travel has become this oddly normal thing for most people, who don’t recognize the scientific achievement, the teamwork, the belief, and the drive to explore that leads people into space. It can’t be that normal for people who saw the moon landing live, or remember the horror accompanying the tragedies of Apollo 1, the Challenger, or Columbia. At the risk of sounding ancient at only 37, these young people don’t realize….. But, at the Space and Rocket Center at the remembrance I saw some younger people who “got it.” The space campers of the UAE, Taiwan, and the USA, as well as little Jesse, see the magic of space travel, that is, science at the pinnacle of human achievement. These younger people see, and they will remember.




Virgil I. Grissom High School’s principal, Becky Balentine, received a plaque for the school in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 1 at Grissom’s remembrance ceremony. Members of the community and NASA were in attendance as well as Grissom’s students.





For further reading/ listening:

Summary of the Apollo 1 tragedy at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Summary of Columbia Disaster on

Loren Grush interviews her parents, NASA engineers, about the Columbia tragedy — 35 minute podcast and very interesting

Infographic with summary of the Challenger disaster on

First Man to Orbit the Earth, Oldest Man in Space: NASA Profile of John Glenn

Last Man on the Moon: Gene Cernan’s Official Website



December 22, 2016- Last Lesson of 2016

1.0 hour

I had my last lesson of 2016 for a total of 23 flight hours in 2016.  The most memorable thing about this lesson is that when taxiing to take off on runway 9, we saw two deer run out of the woods to the left of the runway, through the ditch, and across the road.

In this lesson we did slow flight, steep turns, power off and power on stalls, simulated engine out, turns around a point, S turns across a road, a rectangular pattern, an aborted landing and 2 landings.  There are a few things I need to work on.  I stayed on heading well during slow flight, but need to maintain a steady speed.  I need to maintain altitude better in steep turns and not pitch the nose up or down.  On my landings I was consistently a bit high because I didn’t level off on the downwind.

I need to review the steps in an engine out and aborted landing so if I need them, I will be efficient.

Lesson #22 and 23

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stats: 1 hour, 7 landings

We stayed in the pattern and did 7 take offs and landings and one simulated engine out. I landed well every time, but need to fly a more consistent pattern. I’m taking next Saturday off to see family, so hopefully that won’t set me back too much.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stats: 1 hour, 7 landings, 1 aborted landing

After a week off I always feel like I’m going to suddenly forget how to fly. I don’t know why I feel that way! But, realistically speaking, I think missing a week, or 3 weeks like I’ve done once since I started my training, sets you back A LOT. I think, before you’ve flown, you don’t realize how much of it is muscle memory and just doing things a certain way repetitively, like you do when driving and you don’t think about turning on your blinker, or looking over your shoulder before you back up, but you still do it.


It was 24°F out and the plane, which is in an open hangar, exposed to the air, had its own blankie and space heater. When I did my preflight and climbed up to check fuel levels, I hated to remove my gloves to get a good enough seal to check the fuel! Of course, I did it, because, as they say, the only time you believe a fuel gauge is when it’s on empty.  When I put my hand on the plane while checking the oil it was warm to the touch over the engine, as if the plane had been in the sun instead of cold and windy shade under a tin roof.  JC had plenty of oil and gas, and the one water droplet pieces of ice were on things other than the plane.


(For anybody wondering why the plane had a blanket and heater, it is because cold starting a plane is not good for the engine, and is the equivalent to several hours of wear. The heater is turned on a little before the lesson.)

We spent my lesson today in the pattern, with me feeling varying degrees of frustration mixed with the happy/ hardworking/ concentrating feeling that only a person who is learning to fly can feel. Mr. King tells me often that I am too hard on myself, and that I “haven’t invented anything new” in the way of mistakes.  He also says that “everybody feels that way” and then suddenly they’re doing it right.


My takeoffs were fine, although on the first one, I felt like the plane didn’t want to leave the ground. That was a bit different, as normally it feels to me like you are trying to restrain the plane while it wants to fly, before you achieve your rotation speed. I asked Mr. King about it, since neither of us had suddenly gained tons of weight or anything, and he said maybe the ground was softer than I was used to.

On my first takeoff, I didn’t “relax back pressure” (Mr. King’s words) quickly enough so I lost a little speed. As I know the dangers of that, it was perfect the following 6 takeoffs, and hopefully isn’t a mistake I will repeat. The 55, rotation, 59 best rate of climb, 73 best rate of climb speeds are something I have beaten into my head, for sure. If you are a student pilot and don’t know where to find these speeds for the specific plane you are flying, you should check the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for that specific plane. You need to know these speeds!


I felt a little like I was veering from one small mistake to the next while flying the pattern. I’m flying at a non-towered airport with a left pattern if using runway 9, and a right pattern if using runway 27. I am not fabulous as right hand traffic patterns, which I mentioned in a previous post. I haven’t used runway 9 in awhile, so I’m curious to see if I’m as sloppy in the pattern that direction, because the last time I took off on Runway 9, my pattern was fine. Could the right pattern really be that much of a factor? I don’t know, it’s something to look for, I guess.

On some of my circuits around the pattern I was not reducing the power from 2300 to 2100 RPM quickly enough, so I was gaining excess altitude or speed, depending on which circuit in the 6 I did we want to criticize. This was causing me to be either faster than I needed to be in the pattern, or climbing through pattern altitude of 1450 to about 1550.  I corrected that on some of my circuits, but I need to be more consistent with this, as it seems like I was doing it at the same point in the pattern each time. Another thing I did a few times was to creep in toward the runway on the downwind. When I would look to the runway on my right to see when to turn on the carb heat, I would drift in toward it. So, the correction was to look at a point ahead of me and fly straight to that so I would maintain a good distance.

Every time around I remembered to turn on the carb heat opposite the center of the runway when I was on the downwind and to reduce power opposite the touchdown point, so at least I did that right. We practiced an aborted landing also, but most of the lesson just focused on flying the pattern consistently and landing correctly. I felt pretty frustrated for part of the lesson, as I feel like I’m stuck at the same point I was last lesson. I think scheduling two lessons closer together to fix this problem is what I need to do.  Next lesson Mr. King said we would do ground maneuvers again and work on flying a rectangle with reference to points on the ground to help me fix the pattern issue.


Mr. King said I did well at flaring and landing every time, so at least I was consistent with that. I felt like if I could have done 2 or 3 more I could have put it all together, but the next student had arrived. So 6 so-so patterns and 1 almost right would have to do for this lesson.



Chair fly the pattern, CALL OUT everything step by step!

Review pre-solo info, learn the weak spots!

“Professional” Development

I’ve been acquiring some professional development in aviation the last couple of months, so I thought I would fill you in on that, and how you can find the free learning opportunities I have. I put “professional” in quotation marks, not because the presenters weren’t professional, but because I’m not. I’m not a professional pilot, just a student, but I’m treating my aviation studies like a job and want to be the most professional and safe pilot possible. I’m working my way backwards on telling you about the webinars and MOOCs I’ve taken, starting with the one I did today.

“Best Tips, Tricks and Sites for Self-Briefing”

I’ll start out by filling you in on a free webinar you can attend, that I (virtually) attended tonight (Wednesday, November 30) and enjoyed. I registered earlier and watched tonight, but there are some more opportunities coming up, so you haven’t missed out. I read about it in that email the FAA sends. It was called, “Best Tips, Tricks and Sites for Self-Briefing” and was given by Delia Colvin, author of aviation books and video classes on weather. You can read a description of the free webinars available here.

When I saw the webinar’s title I knew I should take it. I’m not a weather nerd, and I kind of glaze over when the weather is on TV. This is not best practice if you’re a pilot, and calling WX Brief for the weather seemed like information overload. Learning more about weather, and fast, is a priority of mine. I wrote in another post about my weather study so far and gave some resources that helped me. I’ll continue to add to those resources as I come across them.

In the webinar Colvin went over the types of briefings you can get: standard, abbreviated, update, outlook, and how you should get a good weather overview BEFORE you call 1800WXbrief. She gave a good list of resources to use to check the weather and discussed what we should be looking for on satellite images. She discussed AIRMETs, checking VAD Winds (Velocity, Azimuth, Display), winds aloft, and reviewing the current weather. Her “Top 10 Tips to Get a Better Weather Briefing” will be how I conduct my wxbrief calls from now on.


One important thing I would like to point out about the webinar, is that it was NOT boring. Delia Colvin’s incorporation of her personal experiences as ATC and accident investigation stories that were relevant to the discussion made it interesting and memorable. After the class she also emailed several handouts that will be useful. One of the handouts is the notes for the webinar and includes everything she covered.

Upcoming Free Webinar

I plan on registering for her next Free Webinar “Six Steps to the Perfect Preflight Brief.” It looks like some of the information may be an overlap, but in my opinion, review never hurts. During the webinar she gives a short and painless plug for her book and on-demand videos to learn more about the weather. If you have attended the webinar you can get them at a discounted rate. I will probably buy that at some point in the future, as some of what I learned today was a little over my head/ out of my experience level, and I need to study basics more before moving on to anything more.

How it works:

To register you just go to the website and fill out a short form. Then click on the link in the email at the start time for the webinar. During the webinar, if you have any questions you can type them and they will be answered. I was redirected from the FAA’s website to her website, so you sign up that way too, or follow the link below. I went to the one on the left and hope to do the one on the right.

Fly-Rite Free Webinars

Free Webinar Descriptions


I will write soon about the other learning opportunities I’ve been taking advantage of so you can see if you’re interested in them too. Other resources you can look to for webinars are The AOPA, EAA, and The 99s.

What I’m working on this week:

I’m going to needlessly check the weather when I’m not about to go flying so I can get some practice interpreting all the abbreviations.

No lesson this week. 😦

Lesson #19, 20 and 21

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stats: 1 hour, 3 landings, .2 simulated instrument

Today’s lesson went better for me than last week’s lesson did.  The weather was beautiful and calm. We practiced slow flight first. I spent time in the foggles (view limiting device) practicing instrument work and did steep turns, power off stalls, and power on stalls. Mr. King said I showed improvement in the foggles.



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Stats: .8 hours, 5 landings

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Stats: 1 hour, 1 landing

It was windy today, so no pattern work, and we went to the practice area. I felt like something clicked and suddenly I was more coordinated. I was coordinating use of the aileron and rudder better when entering and rolling out of turns.

We did steep turns 45 degrees to the left and right a couple of times and I maintained altitude well. Then we did two power off stalls. I had begun to do the steps to recovery from a stall almost automatically prior to this lesson, but today it seemed like I was having to think about it too much. I also need to guard against accidentally turning slightly right when pulling up.

Then we did two power on stalls. I have never felt totally comfortable with those and today was no exception. The gusts of wind added to this. I just need to do more of them, maybe a few each week.

I asked to do steep turns again and so we did a couple more. Then 2 or 3 more power off and 2 more power ons, followed by more steep turns. I don’t remember exactly what order we did some of this in, but we also practiced slow flight and constant speed maneuvers.

Mr. King said I was doing a lot better today at everything especially keeping constant airspeed and staying within 100 feet on the step turns.

Even though today’s lesson was a lot more work because of 16-21 gusts and I was constantly adjusting something, it was a very satisfying and fun hour of flying. Mr. King said I did especially well considering the wind situation. The weather was pretty cool and the sky was beautiful. Looking down you could see spots of fall color, especially the isolated red trees. As an added bonus, it was a comfortable temperature in the cockpit.

Before the lesson I was worried I would have forgotten everything, or suddenly become newbie awkward again, but everything was alright. I hated missing on November 5th and 12th, but it couldn’t be helped. A few things I did while not flying that were flying related were: go to a WINGs seminar and study. Not as fun as actually flying, but still productive.


Lesson #18 Saturday, October 22, 2016 Important Lesson in self-confidence and crosswinds

Beautiful, but Windy!

I was happy about getting to fly today! First off, the sky was a beautiful, perfect blue but there was a cross wind and it had been described as rough and bumpy. I would like to blame my issues today on the crosswind, but I like to learn from mistakes, not make excuses. I also seem to have worse lessons when I use runway 27 which has a right traffic pattern, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.


The Thorough Pre-flight that Wasn’t

I did what I thought was a thorough preflight. Looking back at it, critically, it was thorough, EXCEPT for the slight deviation from routine, but in that deviation, I missed a problem.

You know how sometimes you make a mistake, and it gets in your head, and then you make more? Well that was the theme of this lesson. Mr. King, however, thinks I’m being too hard on myself. Well, maybe not about what we will call the “tire incident” but about the rest of the lesson.

The Wobbly Taxi

When I first started lessons I felt like a drunk driver trying to taxi an airplane.  On the ground you steer with your feet on the rudder and brakes and it’s really a bit awkward at first, because if you’ve driven a car you really want to “drive” with your hands, and airplanes don’t work that way. Trying to make them work that way by steering like you would a car just makes you look like an idiot. Well, I quickly got over trying to “drive” and swerving all over the place.

Only, as I was taxiing out, I felt like that newbie driver again. I even was in the process of telling Mr. King I felt like I’d regressed when we got a call on the radio that our nose wheel tire was flat. Oh, yes, it was flat, and how did I miss that?! Slight deviation from routine, is how. I moved the ladder around the plane in anticipation of pre-flighting the other side. Then came back to do the nose part of the checklist including the tire. The item on my checklist reads “Nose Wheel Strut and Tire” and I glanced at it from the front. It didn’t look flat from the front to me, but I didn’t look at it from the side. So, that’s why I was steering like an idiot and it suddenly seemed hard. So some guys who were hanging out inside, Mr. King, and myself pushed the airplane up to the air tank and filled the tire.

Lessons Learned

Lessons learned here were two fold. One was religiously follow the checklist. I felt like I had improved on this a great deal. I had been to a WINGs seminar and thought carefully about what I learned there and my first few lessons I missed a few things like a chock, but have been religiously following the checklist ever since. The other thing mentioned at this WINGS seminar was walk around the airplane again and make sure nothing looks “off.” Well, I didn’t do that thoroughly, or possibly at all. I will from now on, let me assure you! The second lesson is that if something feels wrong, it might be. I shouldn’t have assumed that I was the problem. I KNEW something felt odd, and yet I was blaming myself instead of stopping and checking it out.

I did 7 landings this lesson and remained in the pattern. I think the mistake, and the ensuing beating myself up about it, got to me. Mr. King said it was the learning plateau that everyone hits, and the crosswind, and not to worry about it. Of course, he did point out what I was doing wrong. I seemed to be pulling a little to the right on the flare, and I was able to correct that by the end of my lesson. Out of the 7, one was a rough landing, Mr. King did one, I had four relatively smooth ones, and my last landing of the day was very good.

I definitely wasn’t too happy with this lesson as it felt like a regression, not progress.




Thursday, October 20-Birthday No Go

I scheduled a lesson because it was my birthday and who doesn’t want to fly on their birthday?  Unfortunately, the storms didn’t agree. My mom was excited as it would be her first time to fly with me, but we will have to reschedule, maybe sometime in November. We did go to the airport anyway, to pick up a DVD of photos someone took at the Fly In back in September. I will post some of those and our photos and write about the Fly In later.  Watching the weather change from stormy to beautiful and back again over the airport was a lazy way to spend a couple of hours. In the less than two minutes it took me to shoot the three photos below the sock blew every direction but straight up.

Even though I didn’t get to fly, I did have a great birthday, and I enjoyed showing the airport to my mom, eating dinner with some of my favorite people, and attending “Day of the Diva” at the running store. As an added bonus, one of my airport friends, Jim “Pat” Patterson, a CFI, gave me a headset case he made for me. He upholsters airplanes, and gave me a beautiful headset bag that he made. It was a great coincidence because he didn’t even know it was my birthday. I got the headset a few weeks ago as an early birthday present and had just been putting it in the top of my bag and hoping for the best while trying to be gentle with it, but now it is adequately padded.