Monday, January 30, 2012

Time to Head Home; What an Experience

Jan. 27, 10 p.m.: Friday was our final day at Skyport. I went up for the last time to make sure that when I return I will be able to perform the standard maneuvers and landings needed for my check ride. The great news was that, while I was not perfect, I fell within PTS standards for the check ride.

Marty Fass has been a great instructor; I feel blessed to have worked him, as do Franklin (Pillcorema) and Ryan (Barren). My last days were amazing; I got to do a solo cross country flight to Gillespie, Texas and back for a total of 160 nautical miles. I even collected souvenirs from every stop. On my return, I landed at San Marcos, taxied to Skyport and was welcomed by Marty and congratulated. It truly has been the experience of a lifetime and one that I will never forget. 

Roger Sharp, Skyport’s general manager of flight operations, has been amazing to us all. He helped us to succeed in every way. Roger is a very funny and kind person, but when it is time for business he is sure serious. 

Mr. Emerson Allen, a 757 captain for Continental Airlines returned with his wife, Allison. He is a great mentor, and his many years of experience have helped us to study and understand the challenges and responsibilities that come with being a pilot. I look forward to working with them all again four weeks from now and successfully earning my private pilot certificate. Special thanks also to all Vaughn College faculty and staff who came down to Texas during our training. It truly meant a lot to have familiar faces around.
—Erika Barcenes

Vaughn student Erika Barcenes with Continental Airlines
757 pilot Emerson Allen.

Proof That a Dream Can Become a Reality

Jan. 26, 10 p.m.: I can't believe it is already time to leave Skyport and San Marcos, Texas. It seems like we arrived just yesterday. The four weeks we spent at the facility were full of hope, fear, excitement and achievement. Mastering the speed and feel of the airplane was the goal, and it was a time when being stuck at the airport was a great reward. Learning to fly while being surrounded by extremely nice and decent people sharing their expertise and passion was unforgettable. The four weeks of experience gained at Skyport proved to me that yesterday's dream to fly could be a reality tomorrow. It is amazing and I am so thankful. I feel blessed and I am so eager already to come back.
—Margarita Cholakova

Monday, January 23, 2012

Challenging Conditions, but Great Day of IFR Flying

Instructor Marty Fass,
a valuable teacher  
Jan. 21, 11 p.m.: Today was an amazing experience for me. The weather in San Marcos, Texas was bad, but it was below ceiling, not above, so my instructor Marty Fass flew IFR (instrument flight regulations) today with me. He actually let me fly IFR up to 6,500 feet. It was amazing. It was the first time in my life in which I flew above the clouds; it was so beautiful that I flew on instruments halfway to Gillespie County, which is where I will do my solo cross country in the next couple of days.

I flew to Gillespie County, Texas then did a stop and go, continuing to Llano County. At Llano, I did one normal landing and then did a soft field, or turf, landing. It was amazing; I really enjoyed my flight today. But the best part was returning to San Marcos. The weather conditions were still really bad below so we set up for an IFR entry to approach for landing; the best part was that I got to do it with Marty. We were both flying as if we were in an airline, calling out minimums and decent rates. At 900 feet, we saw the runway and Marty and I landed together. I never stop thinking of how lucky I am to have an instructor as great as Marty.
—Erika Barcenes

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Solo Flight: A Dream Come True

Jan. 19, 7 a.m.: I soloed.

To say that leaves me speechless. But I did it.

After a rough start Wednesday morning that left me feeling like crying from disappointment, my instructor, Martin Fass, took us out of Skyport and the San Marcos airport for lunch and gave us a ride in his BMW convertible. It gave me a chance to think about the mistakes made during the morning and how to fix them. So after lunch we returned to the airport and I did my preflight checks. Off we went back into the sky for traffic pattern and landings again. I did five landings, which was great.

After my last landing, Marty asked me for my log book. As I was unplugging the headset and packing my equipment, he said: "You don't need to pack your stuff. You can leave it all in the airplane. You're going to be coming back to solo."  

I had the biggest grin on my face and could not believe what he had told me. So I headed back inside to refresh myself. When I headed out for preflight, the winds had picked up. After practicing in the simulators with Marty, we got word that the wind had died down a bit. I walked out to 170RB, my favorite airplane and the same one Franklin Pillcorema soloed in. I began my engine start and went over my checklist carefully. Ryan Barren, also from Vaughn, was so excited for his flight he was racing on the taxiway to get to the runway. I was more cautious and took my time, thinking, "well, I finally am leaving Skyport." 

Erika Barcenes with instructor Marty Fass 
I remember my taxi instructions: "170RB taxi to runway 17 via A,B cross runway 08, and continue on Juliet and hold short of runway 17." My heart dropped I was so excited. When I pulled that yoke and the airplane flew off the runway I couldn't believe I was in the air by myself. I was so full of joy; my dream finally happened, at least a part of it, and a new chapter began in my life. 

When I came around my first landing I was a little nervous. I didn't want to break the airplane. I was precise with what I was doing, and as I touched down my heart was speeding. As I landed, I said: "That was incredible. Let's do this again, two more landings to go." 

On my last landing I taxied back to Skyport and received a beautiful compliment from the air traffic controller. Marty and Roger Sharp, another instructor, pulled me out of the plane with a huge hug and congratulations. I wanted to break into tears. I still could not believe that I did it.

After my solo, Ryan, Frankin, Marty and I did a two-hour, night cross-country flight to Gillespie, Texas and back. My experience here has been incredible. It is a skill and a gift to be able to fly and I have so much respect for all professional pilots.
—Erika Barcenes

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where the Weather's Wonderful

Jan. 18, 12 p.m.: What is it about the area near San Marcos, Texas that makes it so flight-friendly? 

The San Marcos area, in south central Texas, equidistant from Austin and San Antonio, boasts more than 300 near-ideal flying days annually, defined as the number of days in which the flight ceiling exceeds 3,000 feet with unlimited visibility.

All flight students know that flying is weather-dependent, and few places in the country can boast of the weather commonly seen in San Marcos. High temperatures average a robust 63 degrees in December and January, eliminating any possibility of snow and ice. Summertime highs often exceed 90 degrees but even then monthly precipitation averages less than 2 inches. Indeed, humidity is significantly less than in Texas' coastal cities and the absence of a true "rainy season" makes for a year-round "flying season."

The ever-present south Texas wind can present issues, but flight instructors prefer that to dead calm. Some wind enables instructors to grade students on changing stimuli as they learn. Vaughn's eight students have faced windy conditions in their two-plus weeks in Texas and for the most part come out ahead.

"The weather here is wonderful, especially for flying," said Vaughn's Jaen Villalvir.   
— James Stephen Smith,
Director of Public Affairs

Vaughn's Margarita Cholakova takes off into
the San Marcos, Texas morning.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Back in the Air on Friday

Delayed by high winds for much of Thursday, Vaughn College's eight flight trainees were back in the air on Friday. Chilly temperatures lingered in south central Texas, but at least the winds were down.
Margarita Cholakova goes
through preflight checks Friday.

Depending on the skill level of the student-pilot, some instructors prefer a bit of wind; according to one instructor, 10 knots seems to be ideal. That enables the instructor to gauge the student's ability to adapt to changing stimuli such as he or she might encounter when flying solo.

On Thursday morning, gusts exceeded 30 knots (35 mph), occasionally blowing the doors open at Redbird's Skyport facility and isolating the students on the flight simulators.

By the afternoon, the winds had tempered a bit, allowing some students a chance to take off. Better weather was expected for later Friday and ideal conditions are anticipated for Saturday. 
-- James Stephen Smith,
Director of Public Affairs

Inspiration from Vaughn Visitors

Jan. 13, 8 a.m.: It has been a stressful time for everyone here the last three days: The training has become more challenging and everyone, including me, seems to have hit that point of feeling down and upset. Certain things just take longer to understand and perform. For my part, I could not perfect some of the maneuvers Thursday and started to feel as if I could not do this. Nevertheless, I strive to maintain a positive attitude and it helps so much to see familiar faces from Vaughn here to support us.

On Wednesday, (Director of Admissions) Celso Alvarez and (Associate Vice President) Vinny Papandrea arrived. I was glad to see them here, supporting us in every way possible. On Thursday, Vinny actually helped us study and tested us in emergency procedures during the afternoon. Our biggest surprise was the arrival Thursday of (President) Dr. John Fitzpatrick and the return of (Senior Vice President) Dr. Sharon DeVivo. Like children missing their mother, we all truly missed her while she was gone. In fact, we performed better today than when she was back at Vaughn. Dr. DeVivo even joined us in a little competition on the Xwind SE simulator, making a safe landing with no wind conditions and scoring an 859 out of 1,000. We are hoping to solo sometime next week; that is going to be a bigger challenge for all of us, but with a positive attitude comes great success.
-- Erika Barcenes
Dr. Sharon DeVivo on Redbird's crosswind simulator on Thursday.